Saturday, December 22, 2018

Literary Corner: Wallternatives

Stretch of the Great Wall in a rural region, somewhat in disrepair, photo by Mark Holmquist/Wikimedia Commons.

When Trump started saying "wall" without an article and Kirst Jen Nielsen decided to imitate him, as if this was the latest style ("From Congress, I would ask for wall. We need wall" and "DHS is committed to building wall and building wall quickly. We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall"), I was inspired to some song parody after Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, 1955:
The attached video, a rapid tour of the US-Mexico border made out of Google Earth shots, is a really extraordinary piece of film and I urge everybody to watch it, even though it looks kind of long.

Trump's latest summary of his infatuation with wall covers a tremendous number of bases in a very compact way, in one of those song-like forms he sometimes experiments with:

Walls Work
by Donald J. Trump
The Democrats are trying to
belittle the concept of a Wall,
calling it old fashioned.
The fact is there is nothing else’s
that will work, and that has been true
for thousands of years.
It’s like the wheel, there is nothing better.
I know tech better than anyone,
& technology on a Border is only effective
in conjunction with a Wall.
Properly designed and built Walls work,
and the Democrats are lying when
they say they don’t.
In Israel the Wall is 99.9% successful.
Will not be any different on our Southern Border!
Hundreds of $Billions saved!
It's fun to try imagining how people have been figuring out alternatives to walls for millennia, you might call them "wallternatives", and all the time coming up short ("What if we made them horizontal instead of vertical?" "Nah, that'd just be ceilings"). Wall may seem old-fashioned to you, but it's like the wheel; nobody throughout history has ever come up with anything better, says the man who "knows tech better than anyone" (as many people pointed out online, he doesn't know how to use a computer). Though for borders, if the purpose is to keep out incursions, I'm not at all sure that the wall is everything.

Hadrian's Wall in Britain, which is actually some 68 miles south of the Scottish-English border, was "never expected to stop tribes from migrating or armies from invading" according to Wikipedia, "and while a frontier protected by a palisade or stone wall would help curb cattle-raiders and the incursions of other small groups, the economic viability of constructing and keeping guarded a wall 72 miles (116 km) long along a sparsely populated border to stop small-scale raiding is dubious. Another possible explanation for the wall is the degree of control it would have provided over immigration, smuggling and customs." But we don't know how effective it was at that.

The various Great Walls constructed in China from the 3rd century B.C.E. through the 15th century C.E. known in Chinese as Zhang Cheng/长城, the Long Wall, certainly did not stop innumerable incursions from the north in addition to at least two conquests of all of China. It's also worth pointing out, because I totally did not know this, that the Great Wall is not visible from the moon, a fanciful idea made up by the English antiquarian William Stukely in 1754, who obviously did not know whether it was or not, and barely visible from low earth orbit or 100 miles up; Neil Armstrong is recorded as not having found anybody who did see it, and apparently he asked a lot of people. Do I love Wikipedia? You bet I do.

Israel doesn't use walls to block off other countries, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, but to minimize encounters between two nations inhabiting the same territory, the Israelis proper and the Arab (Muslim and Christian) Palestinians confined in the Gaza Strip (more fence than wall, I think, and very thickly patrolled by the Israeli Defense Force) and the hamlets of the West Bank, and the official purpose is not to prevent people from applying for asylum in Israeli territory, but to stop suicide bombers, which I really can't argue with on principle.

(I can argue as to whether it works—in 2006, Haaretz reported, "[t]he security fence is no longer mentioned as the major factor in preventing suicide bombings, mainly because the terrorists have found ways to bypass it," while former Israeli Secretary of Defence Moshe Arens says that the reduction in Palestinian violence is largely due to the IDF's entry into the West Bank in 2002—and I can argue over how Israel conducts its relations with Palestinians, but let's just say that suicide bombing is never a good thing.).

Whereas at the US-Mexico border, suicide bombing is truly not a thing at all, and given that the customary sneaking in of Mexicans to get jobs seems to have virtually stopped, the purpose of the wall is basically to stop people from Central America from applying for asylum, as in Hungary or Poland, or at least to stop them from applying elsewhere than at the proper border posts, and since their object is to surrender immediately to the authorities and file their applications, it seems reasonable that we should just get more staff at the official posts, but maybe I'm just dumb.

Hungary-Serbia border, via Reuters/Laszlo Balogh. The flow of asylum-seeking migrants from the Middle East and Africa (who didn't even want to go to Hungary but to move on to Germany or Sweden) had virtually stopped before this "intelligent fence" went up in early 2017, but that didn't stop the Hungarians from putting it up, at no doubt tremendous expense; but even the stupid Hungarian government didn't make an array of 30-foot steel slats.
I'm tantalized by the bit at the end, where Donald proclaims an entirely different purpose for the wall, that it will "save $Billions" Anybody who knows how that's supposed to work please let me know in the comments.

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