Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Building fences

This is not a political blog. I have my views, and the astute reader can draw appropriate inferences; but I’m trying to stay professional here.

I was just listening to the news and heard an interview with Arizona’s governor, discussing the speech President Bush made last night. The governor said, among other things, that she is pleased with the idea of devoting resources to building miles of high-tech fencing along the border.

So who actually builds fences? Government agencies do not send their own civil service employees out into the field to operate equipment and wield tools. That is not how government works. No, they bid the job out to contractors. But what is a contractor? It is a company that has a small core of full-time salespeople, managers, and engineers and then hires workers when it succeeds in landing a contract. So the federal government is going to put out a request for quotations and select the low bidder from among qualified contractors. And the winning bidder is going to open a hiring office for workers to do hard labor in the desert. And who are those workers going to be? If you have ever spent time anywhere from Texas to California, I think you know the answer to that question. I wonder if INS is going to raid the worksite and check documents while the fence is being built.

The irony is at least a little amusing, whether or not you agree with the proposed plan.


Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Ha! That's great! That point hadn't occurred to me, Dick, and I grew up in Texas. Thanks for making it.

Dick Margulis said...

I had a fourteen-month tech writing contract in Houston once. Longest five years of my life. When Christmas came, during that stay, my boss, knowing I was there alone, invited me to join her family for the day. After our noonish Christmas dinner, we went for a walk in the neighborhood. We heard hammering and, as we rounded a corner, saw a full crew of (presumably Catholic) Mexican workers framing a new house. I was appalled, but I wasn't surprised.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

I was appalled by many, many things I saw as I grew up in the Houston area, including racism. It was one of the many reasons I left the state as soon as I could, which was at age 23. My sister and brother still live there. She's become one of the stereotypical racist, homophobic Texans I don't like, and he is a gay man living in a very homophobic place. Texas is, in general, a place that's at least 20 years behind the rest of the country in attitudes toward human rights, meaning it's not a good place for nonwhites, GLBT folks, or women.

Dick Margulis said...

My impression when I lived in Houston was that Texans still believe in slavery, but they've learned to apply the practice in an equal-opportunity fashion, with employment law and practices more reminiscent of the way southern plantations were organized than of the way most workplaces are organized elsewhere.

Compared to other parts of the country, housing, workplaces, and public accommodations such as parks and restaurants that I encountered in Houston tended to be far more diverse in terms of both race and social class. Any burger joint might have a falling-apart clunker of a pickup truck parked next to a new Cadillac with a pair of steer horns mounted on the hood and the drivers of those vehicles eating at adjacent tables and sharing jokes.

You may remember Dick Gregory's famous line, captured in his book, From the Back of the Bus, "In the South it doesn't matter how close you get as long as you don't get too big. In the North it doesn't matter how big you get, as long as you don't get too close." I think that's largely still true.