Friday, February 29, 2008

LibraryThing: "Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction"

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction [Very Short Introduction #78] by Charles Townshend. As you will see if you read my review, I did not like the book and hope to write more about it sometime soon.


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If We Scare People Enough, Maybe They'll Be Willing to Sacrifice the Bill of Rights

A truly frightening commercial has been airing over the last week or so, in which the US House of Representatives is lambasted for "crippling" surveillance efforts against terrorists. The commercial is not frightening because of the content of the allegations made; rather, the commercial is frightening because the allegations are made, despite their falsity and the inaccuracy of the statements in the commercial. The commercial can be seen on YouTube (for those who haven't seen it):

I'd planned to write about everything that was wrong with this commercial, but I was beaten to the punch by, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group. Please take a look at's examination of this misleading commercial.

One has to wonder why so many media outlets have been willing to air this commercial. More importantly, think what this commercial really says about the ongoing dispute in our country, both in terms of the debate over the balance between civil rights and protection from terrorism, but also in terms of the opposed viewpoints of those who are willing to forego your liberty in the name of security or those who believe that we can be secure while maintaining the individual rights and liberties that make us so different from so much of the rest of the world. Unfortunately, rather than engaging in principled debate where the issues are examined honestly, one side has resorted to name-calling, fear-mongering, and lies. That is not how the democratic process is supposed to work, but then laws that take away individual liberty is not how the democratic process is supposed to work either.

One final point: The one thing that keeps getting left out of the discussion is the real point of dissension between the House and Senate versions of the anti-terrorist surveillance legislation. Republicans and the Bush administration are pushing very hard for retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the government's illegal wiretapping.

First, the notion of granting retroactive immunity just sounds wrong, especially when the immunity is to cover potential issues arising out of the government's own illegal activity. In other words, the Bush administration wants telecommunications companies to get a free pass for improperly granting access to private information that was being sought illegally by the government. Is that the way your America works?

Second, if anti-terrorist surveillance legislation is really that important, then why not pass the legislation without the retroactive telecommunications immunity. Pass legislation that is "needed" to keep the country safe, and then worry about the telecommunications industry separately. Or, perhaps, to the Republicans and the Bush administration, the real issue isn't safety at all, but, rather, corporate profits. Best not to think that way, right? Then again, does anybody remember Haliburton? Perhaps I'm just cynical, but I find it hard to attribute good motives to the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans given their past acts.

I have a bad feeling that we're going to see more and more of this kind of advertisement (remember the Swift Boat campaign from 2004?) as the election gets closer. When people begin to make decisions and pressure their elected representatives on the basis of fraudulent fear-mongering like this, it will truly be a sad day for American democracy. Let's home that day has not come.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Now Accepting PayPal

For no good reason, I decided to add a PayPal donation button to the blog. So, if anybody has a great urge to thank me for the blog, feel free to throw a little cash my way. You never know, with enough donations, I just might be able to afford that World's Largest Music Collection that I mentioned last week...
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Monday, February 25, 2008

LibraryThing: "The Bourne Betrayal"

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of The Bourne Betrayal [Jason Bourne #5] (a/k/a Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal) by Eric Van Lustbader.

One additional note about The Bourne Betrayal (repeated here for those who don't go to my LibraryThing page):

I was thrilled when I saw Eric Van Lustbader's dedication to Adam Hall, author of the Quiller novels. Quiller is one of my favorite characters of all time and I've always said that Hall's Quiller books are the best espionage books that nobody has ever read. Over the course of the 19 Quiller novels (and 1 short story), we learn very, very little about Quiller (we don't even know his name). One thing that we do learn is that, upon his death, Quiller wants a dozen roses to be delivered to Moira. We have no idea who Moira is (mother, sister, daughter, ex-wife?) or why Quiller wants her to receive the flowers. But fans of the Quiller books grab on to these rare nuggets of insight into who Quiller is and what makes him tick. So, imagine my surprise and giddy glee when, late in The Bourne Betrayal a main character, shortly before dying, asks Jason Bourne to be sure to deliver a dozen roses to Moira. I can't think of any better way for Lustbader to tip his cap to Adam Hall. After reading that passage, it took me quite a while to wipe the goofy smile off of my face.

I am now reading Into the Volcano [Mallory and Morse #1] by Forrest DeVoe Jr. (I have no idea what this book is going to be like; I saw it in hardback a few years ago and, for some reason it stuck in my mind. I wanted to wait for paperback [unknown author, etc.], but the paperback never made its way to the bookstores [just a trade paperback on Amazon]. So I finally bought the eBook...)

Update (February 28, 2008): I heard from Eric Van Lustbader and he corrected my use of his name. "Van" is his middle name, not part of his surname. So, I've corrected the reference above. Next, I need to go back into my book cataloguing software and correct references there.


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Columbus' Finest -- Not

They say you only have one chance to make a first impression. A police officer in Columbus, Ohio, blew that chance over the weekend.

We were in Columbus for a cheer competition (my daughter's team finished 1st!). While trying to find where to park for the Greater Columbus Convention Center, I stopped to ask a police officer for directions. He appeared to be directing traffic, but in reality, he was too busy chatting with another officer on horseback. Even though I said "excuse me" several times (quite politely, I believe), it wasn't until a sergeant in a squad car pulled up and pointed to me that the "traffic" officer paid me any attention. Strike one.

When I was finally able to tell him what I wanted, rather than offering help, he merely laughed at me. Strike two.

So, I asked again. He waved in a general direction (away from the Convention Center) and said, "surface lots that way." I asked if that was all; he laughed and said I should just go back to the hotel and walk (8 blocks in the cold). Then he laughed again. Strike three.

Columbus: You're no Indianapolis. Thanks (not) for making my family feel (un)welcome.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

For Those Who Think I Have a Large CD Collection (update)

Just a quick update on the CD auction that I mentioned yesterday. The winning bid was just $3,002,150.00. So, when I add up all of the donations that I received to help me bid on the collection, I was only $3,002,150.01 short! Thanks for all of the help and support! (Kidding...)


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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

For Those Who Think I Have a Large CD Collection

Many of my friends will attest to the fact that I have a large CD collection. However, it appears that I am but an amateur. If anybody has a $3,000,000 or so just laying around, take a look at this auction. Now that is a music collection. (Please note that eBay will give you back $10 following your purchase!)

I did a quick calculation. If you buy the collection and sit down to listen to the 300,000 CDs (forget about the vinyl...), you should be able to get through them all in about 34 years (assuming 1 hour per CD and listening 24/7 without sleep, vacation, or bathroom breaks). And a friend figured that it should only take about an 18 TB iPod to let you carry your music around with you (but query how easy it would be to "carry' an 18 TB iPod...).

OK. Back to reality.


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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

LibraryThing: "Stone Cold"

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of Stone Cold [Camel Club #3] by David Baldacci.

I'm now reading The Bourne Betrayal [Jason Bourne #5] (a/k/a Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal) by Eric Van Lustbader.


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Castro's Resignation Should Be an Opportunity for Engagement

Last night, Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's President. His resignation should be seized upon by the United States as an historic opportunity for Cuba and the US to resume diplomatic relations and try to move forward, constructively, to resolve our differences. Don't take the following to mean that I support Castro or his regime or the communist system in place in Cuba. I don't. But I've never understood the US position of trying to isolate Cuba, both diplomatically and economically.

We don't have diplomatic relations with Cuba, yet even at the height of the cold war, we never cut off diplomatic relations with the USSR. We have a trade embargo against Cuba (which irritates our allies when we try to get them to recognize our embargo). Yet we didn't "win" the cold war by trying to isolate the USSR economically. And there are lots of other countries around the globe with political systems that we don't necessarily approve of, yet we don't cut off all contact with those countries unless they are viewed to be supporters of state-sponsored terrorism, a claim that hasn't been leveled against Cuba in a long time. Americans can travel almost anywhere on the planet, even to regimes where genocide and civil war are occurring, but Americans of Cuban lineage can't visit relatives in Cuba. Sorry, but this policy makes no sense to me.

Let's try to "spend" Cuba into capitalism and the 21st century. Let's flood their stores with American consumer goods and, more importantly, American-produced foodstuffs. Let's allow Americans to travel to Cuba in huge numbers, so that Cubans can see the benefits of a free, democratic, capitalist society. Let's engage Cuba diplomatically so that Hugo Chavez loses a prime ally in his rhetorical war against America. Let's help Cuba on the road to democracy instead of putting so many roadblocks in Cuba's way that the island nation will be forced to stay stagnant in the communist 1950s.

After I wrote the above, I decided to take a quick look to see what the Bush administration has said about Castro's resignation. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte stated that Castro's resignation would not cause the economic embargo to end any time soon. And President Bush said:
The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy and eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections.

I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin ... a democratic transition.

The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.

Pardon me for asking, but how exactly will the US "help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty" if we don't talk to Cuba, don't visit Cuba, and don't trade with Cuba. It seems to me that we should seize the opportunity, not wait for Cuba or the international community. I'm surprised, frankly, that China hasn't decided to flex its newfound economic muscle in Cuba.

Unfortunately, it appears as if the leading contenders to be our next President don't view Castro's resignation as an opportunity to change our policy either. (See "White House hopefuls on Castro's resignation".) Rather, it appears as if they all believe that we need to wait for Cuba to begin the democratic process. I think that a candidate with the courage to stand up and say, "Gee, why don't we start talking to Cuba, even if we don't like them; I mean, hey, it worked with the USSR" would gain a lot of support (at least outside of South Florida).

Let's seize upon the opportunity presented by Castro's resignation and start a new course to help Cuba become a democratic ally.

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Indiana's Proposed Response to Undocumented Immigrants (Update)

Several days ago I posted a long examination of Indiana Senate Bill 335. Yesterday, a committee of the Indiana House of Representatives revisited SB335 and proposed several amendments to the bill. The proposed amendments are fairly extensive and I have not yet had a chance to sit down and analyze the entire bill in light of those proposed amendments. However, one of the proposed amendments seems, at least to me, to go too far in the opposite direction from the problem that I described in my original post. Thus, this post.

As you may recall, the definition of "employee" in the version of SB335 passed by the Indiana Senate did not include an individual who worked less than 1,500 hours. (I queried whether this limit was per employee or per employer.) One problem with that limitation was that it excluded from the bill seasonal and part-time employees (and created a giant loophole that could be exploited). So, the Indiana House committee has adopted an amendment that elimintes this component of the definition of "employee".

Yet I'm not sure that doing so is an improvement. Now, an employer could run afoul of the immigration laws for employing an undocumented worker, however briefly. Moreover, and more importantly, this amendment to the bill would have the effect of having each of us constantly policing each other. What do I mean? Well, let's say that you hire a cleaning lady for 2 hours per week, or 104 hours per year. Under the bill, you are an employer because you have a license issued by a state agency (your driver's license, issued by the BMV). So now you have to sign up for the e-Verify program to be sure that your cleaning lady is legal. Some of you may say that this is a good thing, as "domestics" are frequently illegal (I'm not sure if evidence would really support that stereotype). But what about other limited employments? What if you hire a roofer to replace some missing shingles? What if you hire a tutor for your child? What if you hire a neighborhood child to rake your leaves or shovel your driveway? And what about your babysitter? I can just envision the scene now: The babysitter shows up, mom and dad are hurrying to make the movie, but then dad says, "Wait, we can't leave until we run an e-Verify check on Sally to be sure that she is in the US legally!" Of course, if Sally isn't 16, she probably doesn't have the type of photo ID required by the e-Verify system... And, if mom and dad don't run Sally through the e-Verify system (she's a blond-haired, blue-eyed cheerleader...), then mom and dad may have just violated the nondiscrimination provisions of the bill.

I will acknowledge that I haven't read the tax code to see if these sorts of "employees" fall within the scope of people for whom tax withholding is appropriate (the other limitation on the definition of "employee"). But do we really want to put ourselves in the position of having to verify the citizenship status of our neighbors and their children?

And before you say, "Well, that's not what the bill is all about; nobody will care if you don't run an e-Verify check on the babysistter," just remember that one of the principal reasons articulated by supporters of SB335 for why it is needed is the "rule of law". In other words, if we are creating a new statutory framework to recognize and enforce the rule of law, does it make any sense for that same statutory framework to create legal fictions and rules of law that will be routinely ignored?

Again, as I mentioned at the outset, I have not not reviewed the amendments in detail. However, this one change caught my attention and I felt the need to comment.

One further note: In my previous post, I offered some criticism of the e-Verify program. On Saturday, February 16, 2008, The Indianapolis Star included the article "Feds trying to fix system to screen out illegal workers" that discussed both SB335 and some of the problems with the e-Verify program.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

An Open Letter to Steve Berry regarding The Alexandria Link (part 1)

As I've mentioned in previous posts and in my LibraryThing review, I had quite a strong (negative) reaction to the book The Alexandria Link by Steve Berry. And, as I've also previously mentioned, I've been working on an open letter to the author concerning the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli narrative of the story. Unfortunately, my letter has gotten longer and longer, because there are so many points that I want to make, because I want to sure that potential readers are alerted to the problems in the text, and because I want to be thorough and accurate in my comments and criticism.

Thus, with the foregoing in mind, I have elected to post the first half of my letter now while I continue to work on and revise the second half. I'm posting the first half now because I'm hopeful that by cutting the length in half, more people will be willing to read what I've written and because I am interested in any suggestions that people may have to make my letter even stronger. When I have finished the second part of the letter, I will post it here as well and then, after people have had an opportunity to read and react to that part of the letter, I will synthesize those comments, make any additions or corrections that may be necessary, and forward the letter to Steve Berry and his publisher.

Therefore, what follows should be thought of as a "work in process" subject to further revision. And, though it should go without saying, the following statements and analysis are my opinion. Finally, the use of quotations from The Alexandria Link is without the permission of the publisher; however, those quotations are used for the purpose of criticism, comment, and scholarship, pursuant to the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 107).

With that said, what follows is part 1 of my open letter to Steve Berry:


Dear Mr. Berry:

I have just recently finished reading your novel The Alexandria Link, the second of your novels to feature the character Cotton Malone. Unfortunately, the novel proved to have numerous issues with which I became gravely concerned and which I have elected to address with you by way of this letter. However, prior to doing so, I would like to make a few preliminary points.

First, I have read each of your previous novels. Some, like The Amber Room, I liked very much. Others, like The Third Secret, I found less enjoyable. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed each of the books enough to add each new novel to my reading list.

Second, please understand from the outset, that my concerns with The Alexandria Link have nothing to do with the central premise of your novel, that certain information hidden in the lost library of Alexandria might reveal that the land G-d promised to Abraham and the Jews might not have been the same land upon which the modern State of Israel exists. This is just the sort of fanciful plot device that I frequently enjoy, even if not particularly plausible.

Just for the record, I did a bit of quick Internet research on Kamal Salibi, the author of the basic premise upon which your plot rests. It is worth noting that his ideas have apparently met with scorn within the academic community including the following comments from Philip C. Hammond, of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah (as apparently printed in the August 1990 issue of the International Journal of Middle East Studies [although I acknowledge that I have not had an opportunity to review the original article]):

A proper review of this book would unfortunately subject the reader to a volume far larger than the one being reviewed. The sheer enormity, page by page, of “identifications,” transmutations [sic!], blatant historical error, misconceptions, and similar problems with the scholarship, preclude considerations within the scope of any “review.” It is difficult to understand how such a volume could have been foisted upon an unsuspecting public. Perhaps the scholarly reader will find a certain degree of amusement in appreciated the skill of the author in his attempted linguistic exercises, but the lay reader might, regrettably, be misled by the appearance of the “scholarship” presented. To assume that similar, or even identical, place names are proof of “identity” between two places is palpably absurd. To declare that archaeology, with its modern chronometric techniques, cannot place occupations correctly is contrary to fact. To ignore the linguistic analyses of biblical Hebrew from the Massoretes to modern scholarship is presumptuous. To dismiss casually all modern scholarship in the field is unscholarly in the extreme. To display ignorance of published archaeological and other data in favor of selected, “favorable” quotations is likewise not the way knowledge is advanced. [¶] In short, this reviewer can see no reason why this volume was published, either in its original German edition, or in English translation.

Nevertheless, the plot device, while fanciful, is not the reason for this letter. Instead, my concerns are related to your treatment of several, related issues: The 1948 Israeli War of Independence, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, anti-Semitism, and other matters of import to Jews and supporters of Israel. Before diving into these areas in more detail, let me make one more thing clear: I did not object to making Israel a “villain” in the story. While I am both unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with the idea of Israel as villain, I decided that, so long as it made sense within the framework of the story, then I could put that element aside and allow you to tell me the story that you wanted to tell. The problem with The Alexandria Link is not that you have made Israel a villain, but rather your treatment of the aforementioned issues. I can only conclude that the book was written as it was because you were not particularly thorough in your research or because you actually intended to espouse an anti-Semitic viewpoint.

When I finished The Alexandria Link, I was curious to know if other readers had reactions similar to mine. Imagine my surprise to find the essay “Evil Fiction” by well-known author Orson Scott Card (winner of two Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards). Before finally addressing my specific concerns with The Alexandria Link, allow me first to quote several points that Card makes in “Evil Fiction” about The Alexandria Link. I offer these quotations as background and so that I will not have to rehash the points that Card makes in my own critique and commentary.

[T]his book, to the degree that it is read by people ignorant of history (i.e., practically everybody), will move us closer to a future in which our society permits or even approves of the murder of Jews and the destruction of the state of Israel.


[W]hat Berry is providing is pure propaganda – the propaganda created by terrorists and murderers to “prove” that Jews “deserve” to be blown up suicide bombers.


So when a novel like Berry’s The Alexandria Link treats such events as background, as if everybody knew that this is how Israelis act, what it is really doing is furthering the propaganda of one side in a desperate war.


One can argue for or against many decisions of the Israeli government, but it takes a flagrant disregard for historical accuracy or standards of fairness to pin any significant part of the blame for the killings in Palestine on Israel.

Berry’s novel is not just a book that happens to mistake some Palestinian propaganda for truth. It is a book that systematically and continually makes false and damaging charges against Jews, Zionists, and Israel, while denying or ignoring the massive number of betrayals, lies, atrocities, and crimes against humanity committed by Israel’s enemies.

Anybody who reads Steve Berry’s The Alexandria Link is opening his mind to pro-terrorist hatred and lies. This is not a situation where you read both sides and assume the truth is somewhere in the middle. This is a situation where Berry’s work is based on lies designed to goad people into supporting or tolerating the murder of innocent people.

So, with those comments in mind, allow me to address certain aspects of The Alexandria Link in more detail, including a number of elements that were outside the scope and focus of “Evil Fiction”.

Word Choices

Throughout The Alexandria Link, you interchange the words “Israeli” and “Jew”. For example, in Chapter 17, a character refers to “Jewish spies within the Palestinian Authority”. The novel’s narrative provides no evidence that the spy was Jewish rather than a person (Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, working on behalf of Israel). Thus, an Israeli spy, certainly, but a Jewish spy? Similarly, in Chapter 21, a character (Hermann), referring to actions taken by Israel (on the basis of information from “Israeli spies” – most likely the same people as the “Jewish spies” referred to above), says that “The Jews had overreacted, as always...”. Not, “the Israelis had overreacted”, but “the Jews”.

Once again, in Chapter 27, a character (Sabre) thinks of Israel as “the Jews”; what is odd about this moment is that in a previous chapter when Sabre heard Hermann refer to the “Jewish problem”, Sabre noted that he “wasn’t aware there was a problem” and that was after deciding not to comment on Hermann’s statement that “Jews are a problem... They’ve always been difficult. Being different and obstinate breeds unmitigated pride.” So, in essence, we have a character that, at first seems surprised or at least indifferent to one character’s anti-Semitic remarks, but who then adopts a similar referential viewpoint later.

In Chapter 53, yet another character (Daley) substitutes “Jew” for “Israeli”. While I can certainly see one anti-Semitic character (Hermann) doing so, it makes little sense for Daley to do so. And, even if it makes sense for Hermann, Sabre, and Daley to frequently substitute “Jew” for “Israeli”, it makes absolutely no sense for Thorvaldsen, himself a Jew, to do so as he does in Chapter 87, noting that “the Jews seemed satisfied”. For my part, I have never heard a Jew refer to Israelis as “the Jews” rather than as “Israelis”.

While Israel may be a Jewish state, any actions that it takes are Israeli, not Jewish. Don’t forget that a large percentage of the population of Israel is Muslim or Christian (somewhere in the neighborhood of 25%). Moreover, it is worth comparing that to much of the Islamic world where it is often illegal to be a non-Muslim or where non-Muslims are often denied full citizenship; in fact, Muslims are represented in the Israeli Knesset, at present making up approximately 10% of the governing body. Thus, one must question your motive for continually interchanging the terms “Jew” and “Israeli”; was it a means of denigrating Jews? Was it a means of somehow calling into question the patriotism of American Jews (more on this subject later)? Or were you just sloppy? I don’t imagine that you would refer to the Indian government as “the Hindus” or the South African government as “the blacks”. So why refer to the Israeli government as “the Jews”?

Odd word choices are not just for Jew and Israeli. In Chapter 13, Brent Green, the Attorney General of the United States, refers to “Palestinian militants” rather than “Palestinian terrorists”. While the media may be loathe to use the term “terrorist,” few in the US government, especially in law enforcement, use the term “militant”. But the term “terrorist” might be inflammatory if applied to Palestinians, so you have substituted the more mundane, less threatening term. Militants appear to have a legitimate right to their actions; terrorists do not.

In Chapter 74, Thorvaldsen says that “Jews will learn that the Old Testament is a record of their ancestors from a place other than Palestine.” Forgetting the portion of this statement that deals with the actual plot of the book, a Jew is highly unlikely to refer to the “Old Testament”; doing so implies the existence of a New Testament. Instead, Jews refer simply to the Bible or the Torah. Another odd reference can be found in Chapter 42, where you note that Thorvaldsen “was a Jew. Not devout or overt, but still Hebrew.” I’m not sure what exactly that is supposed to mean, but somehow, the use of the word “Hebrew” reads as nothing less than a racial or ethnic slur, no different from “nigger”, “wop”, “spic”, or any of the other words commonly used to denigrate those of a different racial or ethnic background (for the record, I find the use of such terms to be reprehensible, and I use them here merely as examples).

Also troubling is your substitution of the word “Palestine” for “Israel”. While I understand this in the case of dialogue by a Palestinian or an Arab or even a critic of Israel, in Chapter 22, an Israeli official says that Haddad telephoned “Palestine”. I can see an Israeli official saying that Haddad called the Palestinian Authority or Ramallah or the West Bank or Gaza, but that Israeli official would never have used the phrase “Palestine” in a conversation of that type. After all, at present Palestine does not exist as an entity. (More discussion on “Palestine” will follow.)

Thus, it appears that, throughout The Alexandria Link, you have been either repeatedly careless with word choices or, more troubling, made intentional word choices that serve no purpose other than to subtly promote and advance an anti-Semitic viewpoint. Given that you are, by profession, both an attorney and an author, it seems hard to believe that you were so careless with word choice so many times; yet if you were not careless, then that means that your word choices were intentional, in which event the meaning of those words reveals something about your feelings about Jews and Israel.

Actions of Jewish Characters

Beyond the word choices of Hermann and the Israeli official mentioned above, The Alexandria Link also contains numerous instances in which Jewish and/or Israeli characters act or say things that, at best, make no sense or, at worst, run completely contrary to Jewish culture and belief.

One of the most offensive passages in the book can be found in Chapter 49 when Malone’s 15-year old American son asks Thorvaldsen (who, you will recall is Jewish), “Why do people hate Jews?” The colloquy that follows demonstrates what I believe is either the depth of your anti-Semitism and/or your lack of understanding of some of the simple fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity:

“Why do people hate Jews?”

He’d [Thorvaldsen] many times pondered that question — along with the philosophers, theologians, and politicians who’d debated it for centuries. “It started for us with Abraham. Ninety-nine years old when God visited him and made a covenant, creating a Chosen People, the ones to inherit the land of Canaan. But unfortunately, that honor came with responsibility.”

He could see the boy was interested.

“Have you ever read the Bible?”

Gary shook his head.

“You should. A great book. On the one hand, God granted to the Israelites a blessing. To become the Chosen People. But it was their response to that blessing that ultimately determined their fate.”

“What happened?”

“The Old Testament says they rebelled, burned incense, credited idols for their good fortune, walked according to the dictates of their own hearts. So God scattered them among the Gentiles as punishment.”

“That why people hate them?”

He finished fastening his mantle. “Hard to say. But Jews have faced persecution ever since that time.”

“God sounds like He has a temper.”

“The God of the Old Testament is far different from the one in the New.”

“I’m not sure I like that one.”

“You’re not alone.” He paused. “Jews were the first to insist that man is responsible for his own acts. Not the gods’ fault life went bad. Your fault. And that made us different. Christians took it farther. Man brought his exile from Eden on himself, but because God loved man He redeemed us with the blood of His son. The Jewish God is angry. Justice is His aim. The Christian God is one of mercy. Huge difference.”

“God should be kind, shouldn’t He?”

Several things should be noted about the preceding passage. First, the Jewish character responding to the question of why people hate Jews never mentions the charge of deicide, that Christians blame Jews for killing Christ. Talk about the proverbial elephant in the room. Nor does Thorvaldsen mention any of the litany of charges leveled against Jews over the centuries, from the blood libel (using the blood of Christian babies in the Passover Seder) to causing the Black Plague to controlling the world’s money or media to simply being “different”. And nor does Thorvaldsen respond that people are simply wrong or bigoted or uninformed or xenophobic. And finally, he doesn’t say, “I don’t know.” Instead, and I can’t imagine any Jew responding to such a question the way you have Thorvaldsen respond, he focuses on ancient biblical understanding without referring to the birth of Christianity, the death of Christ, or any of the other reasons that have been used over the centuries.

Second, I find it absurd that a Jewish character would describe the “Jewish God” and the “Christian God” as different, with the focus on that difference being anger and mercy. While I don’t want to get into a theologic debate, such a ridiculous simplification can serve no purpose other than to denigrate Jews, Jewish theology, and the “Jewish God”. That a Jewish character would say this is beyond nonsense; it is patently offensive. Add to this the statement, again by the Jewish character, that “because God loved man He redeemed us with the blood of His son.” (Italics added.) Who precisely is the “us” to whom Tharvaldsen refers? Jews certainly don’t believe that Jesus was the source of redemption. That may be a Christian way of looking at things, but it certainly is not the Jewish perspective. A Jew might say that Christians believe that is what happened, but would certainly not articulate the statement in the way that you ascribe to Thorvaldsen. So why would a Jew, when asked why people hate Jews, respond in such a way? Is this your way of telling the reader that it is, in fact, acceptable to hate Jews? After all, if the “Jewish God” is not the same as the merciful “Christian God” then perhaps it is acceptable to hate (and kill?) Jews. Add to this the statements by the American character that he does not “like that one” (referring to the “Jewish God”) and that “God should be kind” and it appears that you are telling your reader that, from the American perspective, it is acceptable to dislike the “Jewish God” and that the “Jewish God” is not “kind”. Offering this sort of subtle anti-Semitic perspective, disguised as a thriller, is dangerous.

Then in Chapter 60, Thorvaldsen is given the chance to utter another bizarre and totally misleading statement:

These books,” he said to Gary, “supposedly tell us how history unfolded for the people of Israel thousands of years before Christ. They were a people whose destiny was tied directly to God and the promises He made.”

“But that was a long time ago?”

He nodded. “Four thousand years in the past. Yet Arabs and Jews have warred with one another ever since trying to prove them true.”

Once again, history does not support this statement and it is ridiculous to think that it would be made by a Jew. In point of fact, Jews and Muslims enjoyed a very healthy relationship until the early part of the 20th century. Muslims often refer to Jews as “people of the Book” and for centuries afforded Jews special status within Muslim culture (that of dhimmi). Jews thrived in the Ottoman Empire and in Moorish Spain while European Christians put Jews in ghettos, forced conversions at the point of a sword, and blamed the evils of the world on Jews. Show me examples of Jews and Muslims fighting over the promises made by G-d prior to the rise of the Zionist movement in Europe. Basically, there aren’t any. Arabs and Jews lived together in relative peace for centuries. Only when Jews tried to reestablish a homeland in the latter part of the 19th century did Jews and Arabs find themselves at odds. Any Jew with a rudimentary history of his religion or the world knows this, so Thorvaldsen’s crazy assertion must be seen for what it is: yet another attempt by you to subtly influence the reader with your anti-Semitic viewpoint.

Another troubling aspect of The Alexandria Link is the impression given to the reader by two Jewish characters, one Israeli and the other American. Heather Dixon appears for much of the book to be a villain (although she is somewhat rehabilitated late in the story). You tell us that she is an Israeli citizen, a Mossad agent, and that she is attached to the embassy in Washington. Yet how many Israeli citizens do you reasonably think are named “Heather”? I looked online at a number of databases of Israeli names. I found lots of Hannah and Esther and Ofra and Shoshana and Yael and many other names from the Bible, but not a single instance of “Heather”. Moreover, you’ve given her the married name “Dixon” leaving the reader with a name that is about as American girl-next-door as would be possible to create. Why is this meaningful? Keep reading. You have also created an “off camera” character, that of a “successful lawyer with an Atlanta firm, a senior partner, but also a Jewish patriot. Huge supporter of Israel. Homeland Security believes that he’s helped finance one of the more militant factions in the Israeli government.” (Chapter 39.) Putting aside what precisely you mean by a “militant faction” of the Israeli government (as if some factions of the Israeli government want violence and bloodshed, I suppose), let’s look at what you have, in fact done. With the characters of Heather and this unnamed “Jewish patriot” you have, in essence, shown American readers that Jewish spies could be anywhere in their midst. A Mossad agent could be the girl next door, Heather Dixon, or the successful lawyer could, in fact, be an Israeli spy. In other words, a casual reader of The Alexandria Link could be left with the impression that any Jew that they meet could be a spy for Israel or, said another way, a “Jewish patriot” as opposed, I suppose, to an American patriot, who also happens to be a supporter of Israel. Was it your goal to make your readers wary of their Jewish neighbors?

In a single novel, you have managed to add messages telling your readers that it is acceptable to dislike the “Jewish God” and that those same readers should distrust their Jewish neighbors.

You also put Israel in the position of engaging in actions that are completely out of character and don’t accurately reflect reality. The prime example of this is the plot device that has Israel detonating a bomb in a Jerusalem café in order to kill Haddad. Do you honestly think that Israel, a country besieged by terrorists and suicide bombers, would resort to a terrorist bombing of its own in Israel? Assuming, for the point of your plot, that Israel in fact wished to kill Haddad, don’t you think that it would have been more likely for them to kill him with a gun or an exploding cell phone (as was used to kill a Hamas bomb maker) or a targeted missile attack on an quiet desert road or even a knife in a dark alley? If you were to conduct an honest analysis of Israeli military and anti-terrorist actions (and not just rely upon Palestinian propaganda) you would find that Israel frequently aborts attacks against terrorists in order to minimize civilian casualties. Israel could easily flatten Jenin or Ramallah or Khan Yunis, but does not. So does it really make sense that Israel would try to kill Haddad with a bomb that would certainly kill Israeli citizens? Of course not, unless you honestly believe that Israel goes about indiscriminately killing civilians as some Palestinians falsely claim. But the use of this plot element furthers your point in making Israel out to be, not just the villain, but a nation of terrorists. The use of an Israeli bombing of a café takes attention away from real life Palestinian terrorism on buses, in discotheques, in pizzerias, in shopping malls, and at Passover Seders.

Similarly, the “Jewish patriot” lawyer from Atlanta is apparently killed by Israel, simply to tie up a loose end. Even assuming for a moment that Israel would use an American citizen to engage in the sort of espionage work that you’ve described, does it really make sense that Israel would then kill that man (especially if he was useful to Israel)? Several Americans have spied for Israel; they’ve gone to jail. Israel has petitioned for their release, but, so far as I’m aware, Israel never tried to kill them to keep them quiet. In other words, the Israel in your world will kill its own citizens and its own supporters, apparently without conscience. That may be what the Palestinians tell you about Israel, but it is not the Israel reflected by facts. But that is precisely what Palestinians do. A quick look at news reports will show numerous examples of intra-Palestinian violence (remember when Fatah and Hamas each threw a supporter of the other group from the roof of a high rise building or when the Palestinian Authority allowed a mob to dismember an Israeli police officer?).

And, just to be sure that readers don’t miss your messages, you even have the Palestinian character Haddad convert to Christianity. Perhaps you were worried that your readers would not be able to sympathize with Haddad and his cause because he is a Muslim; if the reader can’t sympathize with Haddad, then it is less likely that the reader will be swayed by the anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian messages throughout The Alexandria Link. But, by having Haddad convert to Christianity, you make him more similar and sympathetic to your readers, thus making it easier to espouse and have readers accept your viewpoint. And given that there is no real reason in the story itself for Haddad to have converted, then your reasoning for doing so must be something outside the story. And, it is worth noting what you actually say about Haddad’s conversion to Christianity: “He became an academician, abandoned violence, and converted to Christianity” (Chapter 12). The subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle) message in this passage, is that Muslims are, by definition violent while Christians are peaceful. Again, without going into a detailed analysis of history or theology, I think that it is safe to say that plenty of violence has been conducted by Christians in the name of G-d. All one needs to do is read your previous book, The Templar Legacy, to be reminded of the violence that has been committed within Christianity.


Thus, ends part 1 of my letter to Steve Berry. Part 2 focuses on the Palestinian narrative of history (in particular related to the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, but also more recent matters) that Berry adopts without challenge in The Alexandria Link. Just to whet your appetite for some of what is to follow, allow me to quote two very brief passage from the book: First, Thorvaldsen (who you will recall is Jewish and a supporter of Israel) says that the term nakba (Arabic for disaster or catastrophe, and the term that is used by the Arab world to describe Israeli) independence is a "fitting term" for "both sides". Second: "Stephanie [a senior American intelligence officer and one of the clear "good guys" in the story] knew that, of late, the Arab world had been far more accommodating than Israel".

For discussion of those points (and many others), you'll have to wait for part 2.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Indiana's Proposed Response to Undocumented Immigrants

On Friday February 8, 2008, I had an opportunity to participate in a conversation regarding Indiana Senate Bill 335 (SB335). This bill, which has been passed by the Indiana Senate, aims to address the "problem" of undocumented immigrants in Indiana. While I put the term "problem" in quotes, I don't necessarily disagree that illegal immigration is a problem; however, I'm not sure that the alleged problem that SB335 seeks to address is the same problem caused by illegal immigration, generally. Perhaps, a more thorough discussion of the overall issue of illegal immigration and undocumented aliens would be a good topic for an essay, but I'll (mostly) leave that for another day.

Anyway, during last week's discussion, I and several others asked questions or raised issues concerning SB335. A supporter of the bill with whom we were speaking told us that the bill did not provide for or prohibit some of the things that we raised as concerns. I acknowledged that I had not read SB335 and promised to do so. So, as a follow-up to my promise, I printed out the version of SB335 that passed the Indiana Senate and is now before the Indiana House of Representatives. (Information about the current status of SB335 as well as the current text of the bill can be found on the Indiana Legislative Services Bill Info page for SB335.) Thus, the following is simply my reaction to the contents of the bill as I read through it. Generally, I have not endeavored to elaborate on broader points concerning immigration reform and have, instead, mostly limited my comments to this specific bill and to specific provisions within the bill. That said, I suspect that many of my comments can be extrapolated to the immigration issue in general; however, any such extrapolation should be done with care as I have not endeavored to synthesize my overall thoughts on immigration issues (other than a very brief conclusion related more to SB335 than to immigration reform in general).

(Note that SB335 adds some sections to the Indiana Code and revises others; for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to provisions by the statutory section identified in the current version of the bill.)

Indiana Code §§ 5-2-18-2(3) and (4) would prohibit any governmental body (for example a city government) from restricting another governmental body (specifically including a law enforcement officer) from "maintaining information" or "exchanging information" with other governmental bodies. What I read this provision to really mean is that a city could not set itself up as being "friendly" to or a "sanctuary" for undocumented aliens. Thus, if Bloomington wanted to direct its police officers not to enforce the provisions of the sB335 within Bloomington, this provision would prevent that. On one hand, the idea of uniformity in laws and enforcement of laws is a good thing; on the other hand, I thought that Republicans preferred to give as much local control as possible.

Indiana Code § 10-11-2-21.5 would require the superintendent (I'm not sure if this is a single state officer or a position for each police force; I didn't research the meaning of the term elsewhere in the Indiana Code) to "negotiate the terms of a memorandum of understanding" with the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland Security. The bill goes on to say what is supposed to happen once this memorandum of understanding is negotiated. Oddly, however, the bill never explains what the memorandum of understanding is supposed to say or what the parameters of negotiation are for the superintendent to follow.

Indiana Code § 22-4-14-9 would require a person applying for unemployment benefits to be screened through the federal Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlements (SAVE) program (which, I believe, is now actually referred to as the e-Verify program, as discussed below). At present, I don't know much about the SAVE program. However, a quick review of some literature online, reveals some concerns with the SAVE program. According to The Washington Post:

Reviews of the pilot program have found that though it has the potential to limit illegal immigration, it suffers from serious deficiencies. A Government Accountability Office report issued in August criticized it for its inability to catch identity fraud, for flaws in the databases and for the possibility that employers will abuse the system.

[Tyler] Moran [policy analyst with the National Immigration Law Center] said she is especially concerned by the relatively high error rates when it comes to legal immigrants. Nearly one in three noncitizens the electronic system cannot initially verify are later cleared based on a manual search of the records, according to government statistics.

Even some citizens have had trouble. Fernando Tinoco, a 51-year-old Mexican immigrant, has been working in the United States for three decades and has been an American citizen since 1989. But when he reported for his new job at a Tyson Foods Inc. factory in Chicago in March, an automated search of government records raised questions about his status. Two hours into his first day of work, Tinoco was fired.
In addition, according to a report by the Government Accounting Office entitled "Coordinated Approach to SSN Data Could Help Reduce Unauthorized Work", the program does not include the so-called "earnings suspense file" which includes nearly 250 million entries and which might be more effective for targeted enforcement. Perhaps the SAVE program has been improved since those reports from 2006. I don't know. But I am troubled with relying on a system with a high rate of false positives (or would that be false negatives?) which could deny benefits to people entitled to those benefits or lead employers to fire people who are eligible to be employed. I am also troubled with relying on a system that does not appear to include the best set of data to allow for targeted enforcement.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-1(a) would provide that the provisions of the chapter (to be discussed next) only apply to an employee that is hired after September 30, 2009. I guess that means that employers can stock up on undocumented workers before October 1, 2009. I'm not sure that I understand the purpose of this grace period. I suspect that it is either to allow time for undocumented workers to leave Indiana or to allow employers time to be ready to make use of the new verification systems. If you are undocumented worker and you want to stay in Indiana, you need to be sure that you have a job before October 1, 2009.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-1(b) would exempt certain employers from the provisions of the chapter, including public utilities, hospitals, and nonprofit corporations. So, if I'm reading § 1(b) correctly, public utilities, hospitals, and nonprofit corporations can hire undocumented workers while the for-profit sector cannot. First, I'm not sure that I understand the reasoning for the exclusion. Second, doesn't this simply force undocumented workers who want to stay in Indiana to become hospital workers or employees of nonprofits? It seems to me that hospitals and nonprofits (especially houses of worship) that view compassion among their missions, will find ways to hire undocumented workers who want to stay in Indiana. Do we really want a law that practically forces churches, synagogues, and mosques to become sanctuaries for undocumented workers?

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-3 would provide the definition of "employee" for use in Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5. The odd thing about Section 3(a) is that the definition of "employee" is limited to an individual who "works or is hired to work for at least one thousand five hundred hours (1,500) hours during a twelve month period". This definition has several problems. First, if the goal is really to punish employers who hire undocumented workers, why is the hour limit so high? Assuming 52-week year (with no vacations), an undocumented worker could still work over 28 hours per week and not be an employee. Said another way, assuming a 40-hour work week, a person could work 37 weeks without being deemed to be an employee under the bill. Thus, only true "full time" employees would appear to be covered by the bill. I'm not sure how many hours seasonal farm workers, gardeners, or construction laborers work, but my guess would be less than 1,500 (at least in that particular job).

Which raises another issue. The definition does not make clear whether the 1,500 limit is for all work done by a particular employee during the year or only for the work done for a particular employer. If the former, the statute should certainly be clear on this; otherwise, it is just asking for a legal challenge on this point. If the latter, then seasonal employees and employers would appear to be exempt. So to, I imagine, would be businesses that operate through franchises or separate corporate structures for each business establishment. Consider for a moment an undocumented restaurant employee. If the 1,500 is per employer rather than per employee, then the restaurant could probably transfer the employee to another restaurant for half the year, so long as that other restaurant is technically owned by a different owner. (So far as I am aware most chain restaurants are franchised, so that each restaurant is actually a separate business.) Similarly, I can conceive of very easy ways for construction companies to avoid the statute by simply shuffling employees back and forth between related entities.

Whatever the intent of the this provision of the bill may be, it should certainly be clarified so that questions such as those set forth above are addressed before passage rather than being a "loophole" for employers and/or workers to jump through or a dispute to be resolved through costly litigation.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-4(a)(1) would limit the definition of "employer" to a person that a "has a license issued by an agency". Do all business in Indiana need to have "a license issued by an agency"? Off hand, I don't know. If not, I'd be curious to know whether the exclusion of those businesses was intentional or not and, if intentional, why. It may be that, given that the enforcement of the statute relies upon suspending or revoking a license, it might do no good to include non-licensed businesses within the definition.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-4(b) would extend the definition of the "term" (I presume that the "term" in question is "employer" but the drafting of this provision leaves much to be desired) to include "the state, a political subdivision ..., and a self-employed person." Thus, apparently, the license revocation provisions at the center of the bill would also apply to the state, towns, and cities. I'm curious to know how exactly the state enforces this provision against itself. More importantly, the bill also includes "a self-employed person" as an employer. Thus, even small "mom & pop" operations will fall within the scope of the bill.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-5 would provide that the term "knowingly" would have the same meaning as Indiana Code § 35-41-2-2, which, in turn (in part (b)), provides "A person engages in conduct 'knowingly' if, when he engages in the conduct, he is aware of a high probability that he is doing so." Given some of the issues discussed above and below, the "high probability" standard may be difficult to apply.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-6(b) would provide that the term "license" does not include an occupational or professional license. Thus, it would appear that doctors, lawyers, architects, pharmacists, and others with such licenses could hire undocumented workers without coming within the scope of the bill. I'm not sure what sorts of business have "occupational" licenses (and not business licenses), but it would be interesting to know.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-9 would provide that the term "unauthorized alien" would have the same meaning as in 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(h)(e) which provides:

As used in this section, the term "unauthorized alien'" means, with respect to the employment of an alien at a particular time, that the alien is not at that time either (A) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or (B) authorized to be so employed by this chapter or by the Attorney General.
What I found somewhat odd when looking up this definition was that 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(a) already makes it illegal to "hire, or to recruit or refer for a fee, for employment in the United States an alien knowing the alien is an unauthorized alien". If we already have federal law on the subject, it would certainly seem to me that Indiana's proposed law would be overstepping the Constitutional limit on the powers of the state in relation to the powers of the federal government.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-10 appears to be the core provision of the entire bill: "An employer shall not knowingly employ an unauthorized alien." Oddly, while "employee" is defined (as discussed above), "employ" is not. Thus, the question is whether or not the employment must meet the criteria of "employee". It seems that this core provision of the bill should be much more closely linked to the term "employee" (if that is the intent) to avoid just these sorts of questions. Also, is the "employment" of a person as a independent contractor considered to be employment under the bill? If not, that would appear to leave a gaping whole in the entire legal scheme.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-11(a) would specifically provide that the obligation of the Indiana Attorney General to investigate a complaint that an employer hired an unauthorized alien would be "[s]ubject to the availability of funds". One thing that proponents of SB335 have claimed is that the bill is all about "the rule of law" yet this limitation on enforcement seems to reduce the validity of that claim. We don't tell the Attorney General that the obligation to enforce other laws is subject to the availability of funds, so I'm not sure that I understand the inclusion of that limitation here, other than to address the suggestion that the state is created an unfunded mandate upon itself.

Finally we come to Indiana Code §§ 22-5-1.5-13 to -25, the actual enforcement provisions of the bill.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-13 would provide the situations under which the Attorney General could notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the successor to INS) or the county prosecuting attorney. Essentially, it becomes the responsibility of the Attorney General to investigate to determine whether the employer has "knowingly employed an unauthorized alien" and whether any of the statutory defenses available to the employer apply. Two things about this provision cause me some concern: First, remember that § 11(a) limits the obligation of the Attorney General to conduct an investigation on the basis of the "availability of funds". Second, recall the discussion above about the definition of "employee". This provision uses the term "employed". As I mentioned previously, the question becomes whether or not the employment must meet the criteria of "employee". And, once again, does hiring an undocumented worker as an independent contractor qualify as "employed"?

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-15 would allow a court hearing an action brought by a county prosecutor against an employer to hold an expedited hearing. While this may sound like a good idea, it is important to recognize that if one hearing is scheduled on an expedited basis, it means that other matters before the court must be given a lower priority. Thus, while the court prioritizes a hearing against an employer for hiring an undocumented worker, other matters before that court, including things like criminal cases, child custody disputes, probate matters, and all other types of legal actions, may be forced to be shuffled on the court's calendar. While immigration may be a critical issue, is an action against the employer so critical that it should trump other matters properly before a court?

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-16(a) sets forth the remedies that can be imposed against an employer found to have knowingly employed an authorized alien. Included in the list of remedies is the possibility of ordering the employer to terminate the employment of all unauthorized aliens employed by the employer (§ 16(a)(1)(A)). Does this give the court the power to order an employer to fire an unauthorized alien who is not an employee (for example, a part-time worker)? Does this give the court the power to order an employer to fire an unauthorized alien hired before October 1, 2009 (recall that the provisions of the bill only apply to employees hired after September 30, 2009)? This provision would also allow the court to order the employer to file a quarterly report with the Attorney General regarding each new "individual" (and why is that the word used, rather than "employee"?) the employer hires (§ 16(a)(1)(A)). I presume that someone at the Attorney General's office will need to review these reports; talk about a drain on governmental resources. Finally, § 16(a)(2) would allow the court to order the suspension of the employer's business license for 10 business days. While this may prove to be a deterrent to employers, imagine where the real hardship will fall when this remedy is imposed. I suspect the employer will be in a much better position to weather a 10-day business interruption than will be the employer's legal employees. Query how would you would handle the situation if your employer was forced to cease business operations for 10 days. Could you go 10 days without salary or wages, especially if you had not planned on taking "time off"?

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-19 is the real "hammer" of the bill. Under that section, if an employer is found to have knowingly employed an authorized alien for a third time within a ten-year period, the employer's licenses can be permanently revoked. Yet it does not appear that anything in the bill would prevent the employer from simply starting a new business with a new (even slightly different name) and starting over again. Imagine a contractor (John Smith Contractor, Inc.) who gets a third strike and loses its business license. Nothing would appear to stop Mr. Smith from starting a new business (John Smith Contractor II, Inc.) and "continuing" business under that name (John Smith Contractor II, Inc. d/b/a John Smith Contractor, Inc.). A really crafty employer might have a series of successor entities established, licensed, and ready to go, "just in case".

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-20 would require a state agency that learns of a court order to suspend or revoke a license to suspend or revoke the license "immediately". Why is this a problem? What about the possibility of an appeal? Is the license suspended or revoked before the employer has had an opportunity to appeal the "conviction"? And what about the suspension or revocation of a license while the employer appeals the constitutionality of the statute, potentially all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court? We may put convicted criminals in jail pending appeal (although it usually depends on the nature of the crime), but we certainly don't execute them before they've had a chance to exhaust their appeals.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-22(a) would provide one of the most problematic provisions of the entire bill (emphasis added):
In determining whether an individual is an unauthorized alien for purposes of this chapter, a trier of fact may consider only the federal government's verification or status information provided under 8 U.S.C. § 1373(c).
What is wrong with § 22(a)? First, just consider for the moment the mere possibility that the federal government's information could be wrong or incomplete. Has the government ever made a mistake? Of course. Yet, according to § 22(a), only the government's information, even if wrong, could be considered. Just imagine an employer brought into court for allegedly hiring an unauthorized alien and bringing to court that alien's validly issued visa or work permit (or, worse yet, proof that the "unauthorized alien" was, in fact, a citizen). But if the bureaucrat who originally entered that data into the federal government's database made a typo so that the government's database did not verify that employee, then the employee will be fired and the employer sanctioned. Shouldn't the court and/or jury be able to consider all of the evidence? Just to add to the confusion that this could all cause, § 22(b) says that the information which is the only information that may be considered creates a "rebuttable presumption"; yet, if that information is the only information that can be considered, how can the presumption be rebutted?

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-23 would provide a safe harbor to employers who verify an employee's eligibility with the SAVE program or the e-Verify system (to be discussed below). In other words, so long as the employer checked the employee with e-Verify and received verification, then the employer cannot be sanctioned in the event that it turns out that the e-Verify information was incorrect. I find it odd that the bill explicitly recognizes the possibility of a false positive (that is, a person who is verified by the system but who is not actually eligible for employment) while not allowing for the possibility of a false negative (that is, a person who is not verified by the system but who is eligible for employment). In my opinion, the false negative is a far worse problem (as it would unjustly prevent the employment of a legal alien or citizen) than the potential to accidentally employ someone who is not properly authorized. The bill provides a safe harbor for employers without a corresponding safety net for workers.

I believe that the e-Verify system (also called the "pilot program") is the same program as the SAVE program referred to above, but I'm not entirely clear on this. It is my understanding that the SAVE program has simply been re-branded with the "e-Verify" moniker, but I will readily acknowledge some confusion on this (and that I did not spend too much time researching the issue). Some states, most notably Arizona, have adopted immigration laws that rely upon the e-Verify system. On the other hand, Illinois, has passed legislation that essentially prohibits employers from relying on e-Verify out of concerns about the reliability of the data in the system. The Department of Homeland Security and the State of Illinois are currently litigating this dispute.

Illinois is not alone in expressing concerns about e-Verify. Consider, for example, the following (from the report "E-Verify System: DHS Changes Name, But Problems Remain for U.S. Workers" prepared by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in July 2007 [internal footnotes omitted]):

A broad expansion of E-Verify has severe implications for national and individual security, civil liberties and privacy. At a Congressional hearing in June 2007, the Government Accountability Office detailed the many problems associated. The system is vulnerable to employer fraud or misuse. The databases used by E-Verify are error-filled. Expansion would create enormous backlogs. Also, the cost would be enormous.

By mandating that more than 200,000 federal contractors use E-Verify, DHS will increase the number of employers using the system by more than 1,076 percent. Such a massive expansion would likely overwhelm the system, which is already backlogged by the 17,000 employers currently registered to use the program. Further, only 8,863 registered employers are "active users," defined by DHS as "employers who have run at least one query in fiscal year 2007." This new mandate would effectively increase the number of active users by 2,157 percent.

In August 2005, Citizenship and Immigration Services officials told the Government Accountability Office that a substantial expansion of the program would create significant backlogs in employment verification, in part because of the staff and resources that would be needed for manual verifications and investigations into "nonconfirmations." With 8,863 active users of E-Verify, the Social Security Administration says that "for every 100 queries submitted to the System, SSA field offices or phone representatives are contacted three times," and SSA expects a corresponding increase in workload under a program expansion.

Currently, about 8 percent of queries require manual verification by DHS or SSA. In fiscal year 2006, there were about 1.74 million verifications, which can take up to two weeks to resolve. Imagine the number of manual verifications and "tentative nonconfirmation" investigations that will occur when the number of active users is amplified by 2,157 percent.

DHS estimated that nationwide mandatory use of E-Verify could cost Customs and Immigration Services "$70 million annually for program management and $300 million to $400 million annually for compliance activities and staff," and "costs associated with other programmatic and system enhancements are currently unknown." The cost to SSA of such an expansion is unknown. Currently, SSA spends $5 million to $6 million on E-Verify, but the cost of expansion "would be driven by the field offices' increased workload required to resolve SSA tentative nonconfirmations."

The majority of such "tentative nonconfirmations" occur because of another problem in the E-Verify system: Information in the databases queried is incorrect or untimely, according to DHS and SSA. These databases have high error rates in determining work eligibility status, causing these verification problems and backlogs. In a 1997 report and a 2002 follow-up review, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice found that data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the predecessor of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), which E-Verify queries, was unreliable and "flawed in content and accuracy." In August 2005, the Government Accountability Office investigated and found errors in information from Department of Homeland Security databases.

A December 2006 report by the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General also found accuracy problems in databases of Citizenship and Immigration Services and Social Security Administration. SSA's Numerical Identification File ("NUMIDENT") is used to check employment eligibility status, but the Inspector General estimated that about 17.8 million records in NUMIDENT have discrepancies with name, date of birth or death, or citizenship status. About 13 million of these incorrect records belong to U.S. citizens. About 15.3 percent of the U.S. workforce is foreign-born, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Such erroneous records could lead to "tentative" or "final nonconfirmation" notices for affected employees. These errors have profound consequences for U.S. citizens and documented immigrants. In June, the Government Accountability Office explained that E-Verify still "is vulnerable to employer fraud that diminishes its effectiveness and misuse that adversely affects employees ... such as limiting work assignments or pay while employees are undergoing the verification process." These problems have been highlighted since 2002, yet they remain unresolved.

In 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) commissioned an independent analysis of the employment eligibility verification system. The analysis found that mistakes in the system led to "false negatives," where workers eligible for employment were deemed ineligible. For example, out of a sample of employees who received "final nonconfirmation" notices, 42 percent were "false negatives" and were eligible to work. The report also found that "employers do not always follow Federally mandated safeguards for the ... program." The researchers found that employers took adverse action against an employee because of a "tentative nonconfirmation," though it is illegal.

Thirty percent of pilot employers reported restricting work assignments while employees contest a tentative nonconfirmation. Among the 67 employees who decided to contest a tentative nonconfirmation, 45 percent reported one or more of the following adverse actions: were not allowed to continue working while they straightened out their records, had their pay cut, or had their job training delayed.

Current law also prohibits employers from pre-screening job applicants before making a hiring decision, yet some employers were doing just that. In December 2006, the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General reviewed the employment eligibility verification system and found that 42 percent of employers used the program to prescreen employees, and 30 percent of employers used the program to verify the employment eligibility of their existing workforce. In 2002, the independent analysis found that, "[a]mong a sample of individuals classified on the transaction database as unresolved tentative nonconfirmations, 28 percent said that they did not receive a job offer from the pilot employer." Also, these job applicants were not informed they were being pre-screened through the employment eligibility verification system, and "[c]onsequently, they were denied not only jobs, but also the opportunity to resolve any inaccuracies in their Federal records."

This problem ties in with another found by the researchers; though "procedures were also designed to protect employee rights to resolve verification problems . . . not all employers inform their employees of verification problems." The report stated that, "73 percent of the employees who should have been informed of work authorization problems were not." Because they did not know about the "tentative nonconfirmations," the employees were not able to contest the "tentative nonconfirmation" notices. A failure to contest a "tentative nonconfirmation" results in a "final nonconfirmation" decision against the affected employee. Employers are required to terminate the employment of any individual who receives a "final nonconfirmation."

Eligible workers are not compensated for wages lost because of an incorrect "tentative nonconfirmation" determination. This certainly a nightmare scenario – a person is rejected for a job she was qualified for because the government made a mistake, and she might never learn of this problem. This illustrates the fundamental problem with E-Verify: workers are presumed unauthorized for employment unless they prove otherwise. Currently, the Social Security Administration's Inspector General databases have an error rate of at least 4.1 percent. If each of the 5.9 million employers nationwide used E-Verify for a different employee, then the error rate suggests more than 240,000 eligible workers would receive incorrect "no match" designations. There are about 143.6 million authorized workers nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even a one percent failure rate would affect millions of people.

Assuming, for the moment, that the general concepts of SB335 are sound, I am uncomfortable with relying upon government data that may be prone to errors that could jeopardize the ability of people to obtain jobs to which they are entitled. So long as the possibility of a false negative (a nonconfirmation) remains more than a remote possibility, I am troubled by the notion of requiring employers to rely upon that information as a basis for deciding when an employee must be fired.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-24 would give the employer the right to prove that the employer acted in good faith in accordance with the provisions of 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b). But shouldn't it really be the job of the government to prove that the employer did not act in good faith? Why are we putting the burden on the employer and not on the state. The last time that I checked, we generally don't require people to prove their innocence; rather, as the old cliche goes, in America we are innocent until proven guilty. It seems as if this bill flips that notion of justice on its head.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-25 would require the Attorney General to post on the web information about employers who were sanctioned. While those sanctions may be a matter of public record, do we really want to treat employers, especially employers who may have made a mistake or who may be appealing a sanction, in the same way that we treat convicted sex offenders?

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-26 is an odd provision. It states that the bill "does not require an employer to take any action that the employer believes in good faith would violate federal law." Yet the statute does not appear to exempt the employer from prosecution for taking that action. Query whether a court order issued under the immigration bill ordering an employer to fire unauthorized aliens could be enforced if the employer, in good faith, believes that the order violates federal law because of a good faith belief that federal immigration law preempts state law and/or that firing the unauthorized alien would violate a civil rights statute.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-27 is also a slightly odd provision. § 27 requires employers to use the e-Verify system for all employees commencing October 1, 2009. What is odd about the provision is that it requires the employer to use the e-Verify system after hiring the employee. Shouldn't the employer use e-Verify (presuming it is an acceptable verification method) before hiring the employee. Well, it turns out that the e-Verify program itself is, under federal law, not to be used until after an employee is hired. I'm still not sure that I understand why that is.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.5-30, the last provision in this chapter, is one of those provisions that appears sound on its face, but is, in reality, very problematic. The provision provides that the immigration laws "shall be enforced without regard to race or national origin." What about religion? Sex? Disability? Just imagine the enforcement of the immigration laws only against Muslims. That would not violate the provisions of § 30 but it would still be wrong.

Indiana Code § 22-5-1.7 applies to public contracts for services. It is largely a subset of the provisions of Chapter 1.5 and I elected not to spend any real time examining that part of the bill.

Following these provisions, the bill next addresses offenses that individuals could commit with regard to "Illegal Aliens" (Indiana Code § 35-44-5). Query why the criminal components of the bill refer to "illegal" aliens rather than "unauthorized" aliens as in Chapter 1.5.

Indiana Code § 35-44-5-1 would exempt from the criminal provisions of the law churches or religious organizations, those providing assistance for health care for the treatment of an emergency, a health care provider providing health care services, an attorney providing legal services, or the spouse, parent, or child of an "alien". At least the bill offers a glimmer of humanity by allowing emergency medical attention and allowing "illegal" aliens to obtain health care and legal services without jeopardizing those who provide such services.

Indiana Code § 35-44-5-2 would provide that the term "alien" would have the same meaning as in 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a) which provides that the "term 'alien' means any person not a citizen or national of the United States." Unless I am mistaken, it would then appear that the criminal portions of the bill are not limited to "unauthorized" or "illegal" aliens, but, rather, to any person in the United States that is not a "citizen or national of the United States." In other words, it appears that the criminal provisions of the bill will subject people to possible punishment for their actions with regard to a resident alien, a person in the U.S. on a student or work visa, a tourist, or others who may not be citizens, but who are in the U.S. legally. Again, I query why one part of the bill uses the federal definition of "unauthorized alien" while another portion of the bill uses the federal definition of "alien".

Indiana Code § 35-44-5-4 would criminalize transporting or moving an alien for the "purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien has come to, entered, or remained in United States in violation of law". It seems obvious that this statute is aimed at those who intentionally transport illegal aliens (so called "coyotes"). Yet the bill, as written, seems much broader. For example, would Greyhound be in violation if they transported an alien who was illegal? One might argue that there was "reckless disregard" if Greyhound didn't check whether the person was legally in the U.S. before transporting that person. Another technical flaw in the bill is the phrase "come to, entered or remained". In other words, if a person transports an alien that the person knew came to the U.S. illegally, even if that alien was now here legally, then that person would have committed the crime. Certainly that is not what the law is designed to do. Also, I wonder about the decision to exempt church or religious organizations from this portion of the bill. Isn't that just asking for the establishment of religious organizations whose sole purpose is to transport aliens (the Church of the Holy Transport, for example, with its place of "worship" in an old school bus)? One other concern comes to mind with regard to this provision: If a police officer pulls over a van with 15 Hispanic people crammed into the back, that officer may very well look into the immigration status of those people, perhaps to see if the driver is violating the provisions of this bill. Yet would that officer look into the immigration status of the passengers if they were not Hispanic? That sort of profiling, even if unintentional, worries me.

Indiana Code § 35-44-5-5 would criminalize concealing, harboring, or shielding from detection an alien. The provision uses the same language quoted above in the discussion of § 4. At least the bill exempts parents, children, and spouses from being required to turn each other in to authorities, but it does not expand the exemption to larger family units (grandparents and siblings, for example).

So there you have it. The substance of SB335. Allow me to offer a few concluding thoughts (again without getting into a full-blown discussion of whether immigration reform is necessary or what such reform should look like). Apart from the concerns expressed above, several other potential problems worry me, several of which can be demonstrated through a series of examples.

Consider the following scenario: Husband and wife live together in Indianapolis. Husband is here illegally, while wife is a resident alien. Husband and wife have two children, one 12 and one 4. The 12 year old is also here illegally, but the 4 year old was born in the U.S. and is, therefore, a citizen. In addition, wife's brother, a resident alien and his wife, a citizen, and their children reside with husband and wife. All of the adults are employed, but they need all of their collective income to make ends meet. It appears that SB335 is only aimed at husband and the 12-year old as only they are here illegally. But let's look at what the bill could really do in a scenario like this. First, brother and sister-in-law are not exempted out of the criminal provisions of the statute. Thus, if the authorities were to discover that husband was here illegally, brother and sister-in-law could be prosecuted for harboring an illegal alien. But, you say, they weren't harboring husband for commercial advantage or private financial gain. Oh? Weren't they? If husband is deported, won't that adversely impact the ability of the family to pay their bills? A zealous prosecutor could easily argue that brother-in-law and sister didn't report husband because they needed his income -- a private financial gain. Second, if brother-in-law were to drive husband to a job (as husband probably can't get a driver's license), could brother-in-law be convicted of "transporting" husband (and if you think the answer to that is no, ask whether your answer changes if husband shares with brother-in-law the cost of gas)?

Now, let's move forward to a date after October 1, 2009, and husband needs to get a new job. When he is run through the e-Verify system, it becomes evident that he is illegal. So he is fired. Now, husband is not employable. Well, that is what the bill seems to want as a result. But consider the unintended consequences. If husband is not employable, I guess that he needs to leave the U.S. But that will create a single-parent family. Do we really want to split up families? Should husband take the 12-year old with him? And what happens if wife goes to get a new job and the e-Verify system says that she is not eligible, even though she is legal? Now, she too is not employable. Sure, she can appeal, but query how exactly an unemployed person can afford to appeal while remaining unemployable. Should she be forced to leave the country and take the 4-year old, an American citizen, with her? On the other hand, perhaps husband can convince employer to hire husband to work just 1499 hours a year. As written in the bill, husband, in that situation, would not be an "employee" and employer would appear to be on safe ground.

And what if an employer was sympathetic to their problem or didn't really care and only wanted to make a bigger profit and, therefore decided to hire husband illegally. When employer is caught, employer will be punished. But won't employer's other employees suffer as much, or worse, including employees who did nothing wrong and who aren't here illegally? How is an employee supposed to protect himself from a sympathetic or unscrupulous employer?

It appears to me that immigration reform is probably necessary. But it also appears to me that any immigration reform must be national in scope, not piecemeal and different from state to state. And, to the extent that states are going to enact and enforce their own immigration laws, we really need to be sure that those laws are narrowly tailored to really attack the problem, not cause unintended harm. I'm worried that SB335 will cause far more harm than good.

I think that discussion of the issues that gave rise to SB335 as well as the issues raised by SB335 is good and healthy. I hope that Indiana can continue to discuss those issues. But I don't think that SB335, at least as written, is the best way to address those concerns.

Update: The Indiana House of Representatives heard testimony on SB335 on Wednesday February 13, 2008. During that hearing, many of the concerns that I discuss above were raised. It appears as if the bill may be amended and brought back for another hearing next week. One of the amendments that may be included is a reduction in the number of hours in the definition of "employee" (perhaps reducing the number from 1500 to 500).

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Good News in the Effort to Stop Genocide in Darfur

Last year, I had the privilege to help lobby the Indiana General Assembly to adopt legislation that required Indiana's public pension funds to, essentially, divest from companies whose business was assisting the government of Sudan with the ongoing genocide in Darfur. One senator asked me why that particular conflict was worth more consideration than other conflicts around the world. My answer to him was simple: Genocide. Genocide is different than other disputes. Genocide is not a question of political viewpoints or geopolitical strategies. Genocide is a core human rights issue that transcends nationality, race, religion, or politics.

That same senator then asked me why I cared so much about Darfur. His question, put far more bluntly than when it was asked, was really why I, a Caucasian, non-African, non-Muslim cared so much about the plight of the people of Darfur. Once again, my answer was simple. For more than sixty years we've heard and voiced the refrain "never again" with regard to genocide in the form of the Holocaust. Yet, genocide has continued. If we truly mean for "never again" to really mean never again, then we have to stand up and do what we can to put a stop to genocide when it occurs.

Thus, I was gratified when I saw the announcement from Steven Spielberg that he was withdrawing from his position as artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games this summer. In his statement, Spielberg said:

I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual.

At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies but doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.

Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering.

China's economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change.
I commend Spielberg on his decision to take this position and to do so with a public statement. Hopefully, China will finally get the message that viewing the world solely from an economic or geopolitical perspective will not always be tolerated by people of conscience. China is learning to flex its economic and political muscle; now China must learn to flex that muscle for the greater good of humanity.

To learn more about the ongoing genocide in Darfur, please visit SaveDarfur. To learn more about why Spielberg and others believe it is appropriate to put pressure on China, please visit Olympic Dream for Darfur.


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LibraryThing: "Blasphemy"

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of Blasphemy by Douglas Preston.

I'm now reading Stone Cold [Camel Club #3] by David Baldacci.


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Sunday, February 10, 2008


A few weeks ago, I mentioned that my daughter was going to be competing in a cheerleading competition. Today, she had another cheerleading competition and I finally decided to join the YouTube generation and upload a video of her competition. I know that lots of friends and family have heard my wife and I (well, mostly my wife...) talk endlessly about these cheerleading competitions and I thought that people who haven't had the "opportunity" (and I meant to put that word in quotes) to attend a competition would enjoy the chance to at least see what they are ... um ... missing.

In all seriousness, while I may not be the world's biggest fan of cheerleading competitions, I will say that the sport (and yes, it is a sport) has been wonderful for my daughter. She has learned some very valuable lessons, including the importance of commitment, hard work, and teamwork. When she started cheerleading (in kindergarten), she wasn't able to do much of anything; cartwheels were the extent of her tumbling skills. When she moved to her current team before 1st grade, she was working on her back handspring, but she was adamant that she was not going to be a flyer. By the end of her 1st grade season, she was not only a flyer, but, in my humble opinion, she had become a star. Now, midway through 2nd grade, she has mastered her back handspring (and, in fact, can now string four of them together...) and is probably just a few weeks away from adding a tuck to her tumbling repertoire. And, as I think you'll see when you watch the video, she really is a star. And, as her Papa (grandfather, that is), told her after the competition today, not only is she a star, she is also quite a ham.

When the video begins, you will see a group of girls. My daughter is on the far right of this group and will be the "flyer" in the first stunt. After that, the camera (mostly) stays on her ('s my daughter, so that's where the camera went; if you want a video of the whole squad, I'm sure it's available for purchase...). In the big stunt in the middle, she is the flyer on the far right, and in the ending sequence, she is the girl who does the tumbling pass across the front of the stage and then finishes on the ground right in the middle of the stage.

Post a comment to let her know what you thought of her routine. I'm sure that she would be thrilled to hear from family and friends across the world.

Oh, and if you're wondering, her twin brother really enjoys these competitions, because they provide him with several hours of uninterrupted opportunity to play his PSP and/or GameBoy. Life is good.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Pardon the Dust and Lack of Updates

Sorry for the lack of substantive posts over the last week or so. A combination of things have kept me from posting any "serious" essays. I've been spending quite a bit of free time working on my letter to author Steve Berry regarding The Alexandria Link. I hope to have that finished sometime next week. It is unfortunately (fortunately?) very long, but I'd rather be thorough and make the points and address the issues that need to be made and addressed.

I also had a long discussion this morning with an Indiana legislator regarding the proposed immigration bill now working its way through the Indiana General Assembly. Frankly, this is not an issue that I'd given much attention to, but I was intrigued by some of the points that were disucssed and I'm going to spend some time learning more about the legislation.

Finally, over the next week or two, this site may undergo a bit of design tinkering (you may have even noticed a small graphical glitch). I'm trying to work out a way to make the area set aside for the actual text of the blog to display in a wider box. I'd prefer not to have the big right margin that higher resolution monitors have. Also, I'm working on a few other bits and pieces that may make the site easier to use. So, in the meantime, please pardon the dust. I've even been offered a little cash to include an advertisement; I'm not sure if I want to go that route, but money allegedly makes the world go 'round.
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Monday, February 4, 2008

Rambo (David Morrell's thoughts)

Over the weekend, my wife and I saw the movie Rambo. Overall, I enjoyed it (I didn't love it, but it was much better than I'd anticipated). Hopefully, I'll get around to posting a review on my personal website sometime soon. (Note: The film is very gory; I suspect that Sylvester Stallone added the gore to drive home the point that war is an angry, ugly, nasty thing, not the glorified vision depicted in Rambo II and Rambo III). Anyway, one of the things that I was interested in was the review of Rambo by David Morrell, the author of First Blood, the book upon which the first Rambo movie (also called First Blood) was based.

David Morrell is one of my favorite authors. Like any author, some of his books are better than others; but when Morrell is "on" he is as good as any writer I know at capturing suspense in the written word. I might go so far as to say that, other than Adam Hall, no other author is as good at capturing suspense (at least in the thriller genre). His novel The Brotherhood of the Rose is one of my all-time favorites; Testament is one of the most emotionally jarring and draining thrillers that I've ever read (just read the first sentence of that book, "It was the last morning the four of them would ever be together", and you'll get an idea what I mean), and First Blood is simply a great post-Vietnam book. I also highly recommend, The Totem, The Fraternity of the Stone, The League of Night and Fog, The Fifth Profession, Assumed Identity, Desperate Measures, Extreme Denial, Double Image, Burnt Sienna, and Long Lost. (Morrell's books that I haven't mentioned aren't bad, they're just not as good as his others, but most are still much better than a lot of generic thrillers.)

I've always had fun with John Rambo, but much as I prefer Ian Fleming's James Bond to the caricature that he became in many of the movies, it is the Rambo from the novel First Blood that has stuck with me.

So, when I first heard that Sylvester Stallone was working on a new Rambo movie, I was curious to know what Morrell thought. I was distressed to learn that he was not involved at all. Thus, my hopes for the quality of Rambo weren't high. The fact that Morrell wasn't even given an opportunity to review the movie before its release was troubling. Was the studio afraid that he would pan it the way Clive Cussler trashed Sahara before it was released (which led to litigation...)?

As I mentioned, I didn't love the movie, but I did enjoy it. As I said to my wife when we left the theater, the movie did seem to capture the character of Rambo and didn't try to be anything more than a Rambo movie.

Well, Morrell has finally posted his thoughts on the movie Rambo on his website. Ordinarily, I would leave it at that and let readers go to his site and read his review; however, as I couldn't find a permanent link to the page with the review (it is on a What's New page that appears to change each month or so), I decided to copy his review below (I hope that he doesn't mind).

Many of you contacted me to ask what I think of the fourth RAMBO movie. I'm happy to report that overall I’m pleased. The level of violence might not be for everyone, but it has a serious intent.

This is the first time that the tone of my novel FIRST BLOOD has been used in any of the movies. It's spot-on in terms of how I imagined the character—angry, burned-out, and filled with self-disgust because Rambo hates what he is and yet knows it's the only thing he does well. The character spends a lot of time in the rain as if trying to cleanse his soul. There's a nightmare scene involving vivid images from the three previous films (they indicate the emotional burden he carries). There's a scene in which Rambo forges a knife and talks to himself, basically admitting that he hates himself because all he knows is how to kill. At the start, Rambo is gathering cobras in the jungle, and he's so comfortable with them, it's as if, because of his past, the most developed part of him is his limbic brain. He has nothing to fear from another creature of death. In the cathartic violence of the climax, he uses a machine gun that evokes the way wounded William Holden uses a machine gun at the end of THE WILD BUNCH (one of my favorite films). Indeed much of RAMBO has Peckinpah overtones while it also uses tropes from the novel (again, for example, there's an exciting sequence in which Rambo is hunted by dogs).

Another excellent element involves the film's archetypal, mythic overtones. Rambo is hardly ever called by his last name. Instead, he keeps being referred to as "the Boatman" because he earns his living with a boat on a river in Thailand. But after he's called "the Boatman" enough, I start thinking of the River Styx and the journey of death as depicted in Greek myth. Similarly, the knife-forging sequence reminds me of Hephaestus, the armorer of the Greek gods (in the sequence, Rambo even talks about whether God can forgive him for what he's done). Sly is definitely sophisticated enough to embed these sorts of allusions. The earlier Rambo movies were a combination of a Tarzan movie and a western. That is also the case here. The knife (again designed by master blade-maker Gil Hibben), the bow and arrow, Rambo racing through the jungle—these scenes are primal and breath-taking.

Some of you sent me emails, suggesting that maybe a younger actor would have been better for the fourth movie. But it’s important to remember that Rambo (unlike James Bond) is specific to a historical period: the Vietnam War. My novel FIRST BLOOD was published in 1972. If Rambo were a real person, he would have been perhaps 22 at the time. In 2008, he would be 58. Sylvester Stallone is a few years older than that, but basically he is the correct age, and in the new movie, he interprets the character in an older way. That's one reason he put on the weight—so he would look different from the trim muscular image he had in the 1980s Rambo movies.

Some elements could have been done better. The villains are superficial, to say the least. A lot could have been done with the connection between drug lords and the military in what the film calls Burma, dramatizing that money earned from the heroin trade motivates their brutality. Instead, they’re merely depicted as psychopaths. In a baffling moment, heroin somehow gets equated with meth, which is something entirely different and has nothing to do with the poppies grown in that area of the world.

Otherwise, I think this film deserves a solid three stars. Even the NEW YORK TIMES treated it well, emphasizing the way the character is given depth. Rambo is no longer the jingoistic character of the second and third films. The most telling line of dialogue is, “I didn’t kill for my country. I killed for myself. And for that, I don’t believe God can forgive me.” While that statement is in keeping with my novel FIRST BLOOD, it’s jaw-dropping when compared with the dialogue in the second and third Rambo films.

Some posters list me as an associate producer. This is an error. I was not involved with the production, and this time around, I didn’t write a novelization for the movie. But I do receive two credits. One is a single card "created by" credit before the names of the screenwriters. At the end, after the final surprising, poetic, redeeming sequence, another credit says "From the novel FIRST BLOOD by David Morrell." Two credits aren’t the way Hollywood usually treats a novelist. The second reference seems to acknowledge that the series has returned to the tone of the original novel. To say again, the violence is a solid R, but the intent is serious. I was blown away.

If you have any questions about the original book or how I invented the character, etc., please go to the FAQ page of this website. There are several items that might interest you, including the fact that Rambo's name is partially indebted to a Pennsylvania apple.

Happy reading.

So go visit Morrell's website, take a look at his background and the books that he's written, and then, go buy one of his books and read it! You'll be glad that you did.

Update (February 8, 2008): I received permission from David Morrell to include his review. Also, he noted that when he posts his "What's New" for March, he will move his review of Rambo to the FAQ page of this website. I thank Mr. Morrell for allowing his review to be posted here.


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LibraryThing: Two new books

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and The Alexandria Link [Cotton Malone #2] by Steve Berry.

I have much more to say about The Alexandria Link and plan to post some additional thoughts on that book in the near future. In the meantime, I suggest reading the short essay "Evil Fiction" by Orson Scott Card (about 5 1/2 pages). While I don't necessarily agree with all of Card's political views (some yes, some no...), I found much to like in "Evil Fiction" which summed up many of the feelings that I had while reading The Alexandria Link.


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Super Bowl Sunday (update 3)

Would you believe that there was something about Super Bowl Sunday that was even better than the Patriots losing?

It has only been in the last two months or so that my 8-year-old son has started taking an interest in football. I took him to two Colts games toward the end of the season and we watched some of the playoffs together. He didn't watch much of the Super Bowl; we had a bunch of kids over and they were having more fun playing Xbox and PSP and Nintendo DS (and don't forget bothering the girls) to pay attention to the game.

But as the evening wore on and many of the families left (school night, after all), my son and a few of the other boys made their way downstairs to watch the game with the men. My son and I were cuddled up (manly, huh?) on the sofa for most of the 4th quarter. As the Patriots began what looked to be a game-winning drive, my son kept saying "we're going to lose" ("we" in this case, of course, being the New York Giants). I kept telling him not to think that way just yet; there was still a lot of time and a lot that could happen. Alas, Brady found Moss and the Patriots took the lead.

My son said, "See, Daddy, I told you we were going to lose." I told him that he shouldn't give up yet, but he replied that there were only two minutes left and the Giants had to go the length of the field and score a touchdown. I explained that, in football, two minutes could be a lifetime (especially with 3 timeouts and the 2-minute warning...), but he was not to be convineced.

As the Giants started moving the ball, my son was cheering loudly with the rest of us, but with each play, as the clock inexorably wound down, he would repeat his fear that the Giants would lose. Finally, just before one of the big third down plays, my son said, "I can't watch" and turned and buried his head in a pillow. Only when the rest of the room erupted in cheers did he peek and see the referee signalling first down. Together, we watched the rest of the game as the Giants won, the Patriots lost, and Bill Belichick proved, yet again, that he is a jerk.

But the best moment of all came moments after Eli Manning took the final snap and the Super Bowl came to an end. My son looked over at me and said, "Daddy, I guess that I should never say we're going to lose until the game is really over." You can't pay for a life lesson like Super Bowl XLII gave to my son.

Thanks, Eli.
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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl Sunday (update 2)

18-1! 1! 1! 1! I feel soooo bad for the poor Patriots (dripping sarcasm intended). I told the kids that were watching that this was a moment that they will tell their kids about 20 years from now! Open the champagne, Miami; we're doing so here in Indy!

We had about 20 people take our Anti-Patriot pledge. It must have worked.

(And now I can go back to detesting teams from New York...)
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Super Bowl Sunday (update)

I prepared an Anti-Patriot Pledge for guests at my Super Bowl party:

I _________ [state your name] do solemnly pledge, that I will not, under any circumstances and under penalty of death and/or exile from all that is good and right in the world (or at least in Indianapolis), support, cheer for, give aid or comfort to, or say anything positive about, the New England Patriots (also know as "The Dark Side"), and, even though I may detest all sports teams from New York, I will nevertheless, support, cheer for, and speak positively about the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLII (42).

So Help Me Tony Dungy
(Hey, the guy seems to think he has a direct line to the big fan upstairs, so it can’t hurt...)

If you want a copy of the pledge for your guests, download it here: Anti-Patriot%20Pledge.pdf.
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Super Bowl Sunday

I'm taking a few minutes away from preparing for our Super Bowl party. One quick, semi-rhetorical question: Do you think fans in New York are rooting for the Giants more than folks here in Indianapolis? We even bought Giants napkins! This will be the first time that I can ever recall rooting for a team from New York in any sporting event. But, don't worry; I can't see any situation that could ever lead me to root for the Yankees...

My daughter asked why I wanted the Giants to win. I explained to her that I didn't want the Giants to win; I just want the Patiots to lose.
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