5 Best Monday Columns

The myth of the Conquistadors, evaluating Head Start, and an unusual approach to reducing drug violence

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  • James Carroll on Columbus Day and the Microbes behind European 'Superiority'  "The racist myth of European superiority still shapes the story of the colonial conquest," argues the Boston Globe columnist, "starting with how the Caribs, Mayans, and Aztecs are remembered as never having had a chance against Spanish steel and gun powder." In fact, the Europeans' largest advantage was "the accident of disease." Native Americans proved highly susceptible to unfamiliar European viruses but "for reasons still unknown, the immune systems of the conquistadors knew no such vulnerability to unfamiliar pathogens encountered in the New World." That's crucial: "If Spaniards had fallen sick instead of Mayans and Aztecs, the post-Columbus narrative would be very different."
  • Gregory Rodriguez on Undocumented Workers  "When it comes to illegal immigration," writes Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times, "nobody seems to take responsibility, and we are all, through action or inaction, complicit." Employers depend on undocumented workers, particularly "as the share of low-skilled native-born Americans falls." Entire sectors in some states rely in large part on their labor. Yet, argues Rodriguez, "the more we blamed those awful illegals for coming to this country, the less willing we became to claim any responsibility for their being here, or for treating them decently."
  • Ron Haskins and W. Steven Barnett on Evaluating Head Start  "The bottom line," say the pair--one at Brookings and the other a professor of education at Rutgers--is that, despite the hype, "a substantial number of Head Start programs are so ineffective that they do little or nothing to boost child development and learning," and "taxpayers get little for their annual investment of $8 billion in Head Start." Thus, they applaud the Obama administration's decition to "[take] the strongest action in the history of the Head Start program to force improvements," reviewing Head Start and "proposing a system, even better than the one recommended by [a Bush administration panel], to shut down failing programs." This assault on Head Start's "charmed existence" and the chance at making a real difference, they conclude, is "almost enough to restore a person's faith in the federal government."
  • Mary Anastasia O'Grady on a Novel Approach to the Drug War  What if we could reduce Mexican drug violence by simply making our drug borders more porous, thereby breaking Mexican cartels through competition? It sounds nutty, but it turns out, explains O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal, that the "crackdown on Caribbean narco-routes has driven the business through Mexico, though it hasn't reduced U.S. drug use." An economist O'Grady talks to "argued further that if cocaine moved more easily through the Caribbean as it once did and the Mexican border were more porous, it would be harder for a big cartel to monopolize the traffic, even through violence." O'Grady realizes that the proposal "runs totally counter to the direction of U.S. policy.  But if that policy is proven wrong," she continues, "it wouldn't be the first time in the long history of the drug war."
  • Michael McCarthy on the Real Origins of the 'Modern Green Movement'  It wasn't global warming, British publication The Independent's Environment Editor reminds readers. It was Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and other "incidents involving large-scale industrial, chemical or nuclear pollution." In making environmentalism today synonymous with activism against global warming, we "[miss] something fundamental. ... Pollution ... has now almost vanished from the to-do lists and mindsets of some green groups and activists, along with other critical issues such as the protection of wildlife and natural habitats." It's worth recalling, argues McCarthy, that "there is more to protecting the planet than protecting its climate, vital though that is."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.