30 May 2010

My School Does Hydroponics

On a random day a roommate and I explored part of the School's greenhouses. We found that the does hydroponics, something that I had never seen before:

Also, they had a neat cooling system that ran water down stacks of seaweed like paper:

27 May 2010

A Blunt View of Immigration Reform or What Patriotism and America Mean to Me

Recently, in my Capstone (also known as: how to have an opinion and argue it well) class, we began a discussion on illegal immigration. We needed to answer any three of 10 questions. I chose the following three:
  • What should be done with the existing illegal immigrant population? What should their status be? (required)
  • How can/should the inflow of illegal immigrants be stopped?
  • Why are only five thousand [unskilled labor] visas issued annually?
While I do not normally like to delve into such useless politics as debating about things that will never really be settled, I found half way through writing this essay that I was not arguing about what we should do with immigrants but rather what we should do with America. While this essay contains my blunt views on immigration reform, they are more accurately a reflection of what patriotism and what America means to me. Below is my essay response to the questions:

What should be done with the existing illegal immigrant population? What should their status be?
This is a difficult question to answer because whatever choice is made will affect the entire nation and will set a defining precedence for the future. The choice: do we define America as a place for the elite to grow and test themselves in exclusivity, or do we define America as a place for all to come and try their hand at the common game.

I choose the later: I would choose to make America a place where all are invited to come and have an equal opportunity to play the common game called ‘America’. Let me be clear on the sometimes ambiguous term “equal”. By equal I do not mean that all forced or propelled, depending on their status, to start the game at the same line or that the government constantly steps in to ensure that everyone is playing fair. This is not equal; rather it is a low and childish dream of fairness.

Such interventions dampen the desire for the achievers to excel because any reward gained is later taken away, this is artificial deflation. It also gives the lazy and handicapped an unfair advantage in that they are given opportunities that they did not earn or deserve, this is artificial inflation. Both are disastrous to our system of economies: if there is no incentive to excel then players only put forth the required effort and the status quo becomes the status perpetuus; if there is an allowance for laziness or handicap then the weak never learn to fight and will soon die, much like a butterfly that is released from its cocoon dies as its wings are too weak to fly.

No, true equality would involve a very simple system with very few rules, namely: whoever wishes to join the race can do so as long as they can get to the track without exceptions to the rules. This is equality. None would be repressed for superior achievement or original thinking. None would be elevated by special exceptions to the rules. While equality would not be ‘fair’ in the childish sense of ‘everyone being forced to share and none being allowed to truly excel’, it would be just in the true sense of ‘everyone being reward according to the price that has been paid’.

This equality is what the immigrants, legal or not, are looking for. They do not demand that they receive special exceptions to the rules; that they should not need to work in order to obtain sustenance or shelter. (Please note that I am specifically referring to the immigrants themselves – those who have paid the price of arrival – not their descendants or others who have not paid this price and are obtain as elitist as us Americas.) In fact the opposite is true: they demand the right to prove that they can pull their fair share of work and only ask for the corresponding share of social respect. This is evidenced by their willingness to work in jobs and at wages that others, the unemployed, refuse in distain.

Because of their willingness to work, almost without regard for the job or the wage, we should liberate our immigration policies allowing those who want to come and work to do just that: come and work. While this will create a flood of cheap labor – people who are willing to work for less than the common unemployed – such a flood would soon break down the pride of the America people, lower unemployment and foster innovation.

This would also nearly abolish the Illegal Immigrant labor ‘black market’ because most immigrants would be legal and thus traceable. While some would certainly continue to work ‘under the table’, the threat of ‘immigration blackmail’ would be virtually eliminated and immigrants would be better suited to bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. It would also allow the now traceable and legal workers to pay their fair share of taxes and thus help support the very social services that help make America so attractive as a place to live.

(How can/should the inflow of illegal immigrants be stopped?)
Immigration Services should return to its roots: a service that documents and tracks immigrants while attempting to filter out the villains and convicts. This single change would have two affects: first, we would be able to document most of the immigrants who are coming to America, including those who are currently undocumented and thus unaccounted for; second, as a natural law of wants, once American borders were more open, fewer people would want to come thus helping to stem the flood of immigrants.

This move would, in many ways, equalize the game in that all, who could get to America, would be allowed a chance to play the game. The game, following the natural laws of consequence, would then reward those who played well and punish those who did not. Many who played the game would realize that the American game could be better played in their home nation, would eventually return home and flourish where before they had failed. Thus, ‘Americanism’, or American democracy, would spread throughout the globe into all but the coldest and most repressed corners of the earth.

Further, this exodus to the ‘promise land’ of America would challenge oppressive and corrupt leaders of other nations. What use is it to rule absolutely if you have no one to rule over? By opening our borders, we would see a great change in the governments of the world and many of them would become more free and open in hopes that fewer citizens would leave. Our goal of ‘liberating’ the world would then be more easily accomplished.

This is what it means to be American: Not this poppycock about pushing democracy onto other nations, not this worrying about protecting the poor and improvised, not the ridiculous notion that we are somehow elite and superior – all despite our pompous sense of grandeur, slacked work ethics, this failed legacy of ‘liberating’ other nations.

This is what America, this great nation, should be about: Giving an equal chance to whomever wishes to come, leaders reforming their countries in an effort to ‘compete’ with American democracy, allowing the marvel of human innovation to charge the nation with power and creativity – all in spite of the natural obstacles of geography, grand overtures of global political mellowing, repressive and corrupt dictators who would reduce the most magnificent soul to the dust it is bound to.

Why are only five thousand [unskilled labor] visas issued annually?
One simple reason: with the US unemployment at an average of 7.1% over the past two decades (a high of 10.6% in February 2010 and a low of 3.6% in October 2000) there is more than enough unskilled labor already within the US without needing to go looking for foreign workers. When the unemployment rate begins dropping near 2 or 1 percent, then we would have cause to bring in outside laborers. (Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from January 1990 through April 2010)

The most ridiculous part of research this question was finding the vast number of opinion pieces that thought we should increase the visa limits. While this would seem be a good solution to fix illegal immigration issues, it would end up hurting American citizens, those unemployed who make up the above statistics. The government must first worry about its citizens, the American family, before it seeks to assist others by bringing them into this great family.

26 May 2010

The Nasty Business of Repentance

Sin is a nasty business. The one thing worse than sin is repentance. Sure, there is a nice, peaceful feeling that comes from repenting but it can be hell to get there, literally. I speak from experience. A year ago, on 11 May 2009, to be exact, I experienced some indiscretion that I have regretted ever since. It was a mistake that I had made many times before, but that I had vowed to not make again.

My penitent heart had remained clean for several months before that fateful Monday. I don't even remember why, only that I had been distracted enough to not guard against failure and thus I failed. I had a simple task that day, one that could have been done all morning; I never did it. I will confess: an inventory report seems a simple thing, even an innocent thing unlikely thing to cause so much grief. In the end it did.

The way the inventory report works is that it takes a snapshot of the inventory as it stands at that very moment. There is no going back, no time travel, no way to make up for a lost report. Thus, for one who fails to run the report, the only way to repent is to wait a whole year until the blemish of a missing data point is erased by the natural course of circulating data as the charts only have one year, or 52 data points, worth of data.

In this case I had to wait the entire year to repent and am relieved to report that as of 10 May 2010, one year after my folly, the charts are again pristine and my repentance is complete. The cleansing graces of atonement can once again abide with me.

19 May 2010

24 pound paper, how I love you!

Have you felt the difference between 20 pound (normal copier paper in the blue packaging) and 24 pound (better printing paper in the red packaging) paper? It may sound like a tiny difference, and it is. But when I turn a page of 20 pound paper it feels cheap and nearly worthless; when I turn the page of 24 pound paper it feels like turning the page of a heaven sent, blessed work approved by God himself and thus not only worthy but demanding of my time and attention. It's like watching Michael Jackson's feet do the moon walk, listening to Enya's "The Memory of Trees", smelling fresh rain all while eating a cookie monster and drinking raspberry sorbet dissolving in tonic water, plus 1.

I love it.

You should try it.

It's wonderful.

08 May 2010

Slow Degradation in a Metaphorical Fire

Analogies are powerful tools. We use them a lot, really we do. We use them anytime we are trying to describe a complex topic when all other metaphors fail. Analogies are in fact a form of metaphor that we use to describe something in parallel to something else. When we use a metaphor we use other items to describe the subject at hand; with an analogy we compare the subject at hand to another topic and thus infer using “if, then” statements how one works based on the other.

Analogies simply enough; you pick a complex topic, say ‘life’, then you pick a less complex thing to compare it to, ‘skydiving’: life is like skydiving. This statement is of course true, to a point. When you go skydiving you instructions from an expert while you’re on the ground, then you load up in a plane, take off and jump. When you jump you get to prove how well you listened to the instructions. Once you’ve landed safely a little car comes and picks you up and takes you back to base. You get a little piece of paper congratulating you on a successful dive (and if you paid enough money you get pictures and a video too). Now you are a skydiving expert. So it is in life that you start out for about 18 years getting instructions from an ‘expert, before you load up into a plane called “school”, take off and then jump into your own life. When you jump you get to prove how well you listened to the instructions. Once you’ve landed safely you get in your little car and drive back to your home. You get a little piece of paper saying “you’re married” (and if you paid enough money you get pictures and a video too). Now you are an expert on life and can raise a family.

Only it’s not really like that at all. Life isn’t so clearly divided into instruction and action. While skydiving even once gives you some experience, having been a child does little to teach effective parenting skills. Particularly considering how little of our earliest years we remember. Skydiving allows for little feedback in new experiences: that is you can’t keep making small tweaks the entire dive. On the other hand, life allows, and in many ways demands, that you make constant modifications in order to land safely.

The metaphor works on the beginning levels – when talking about the stages of skydiving compared to the stage of life – but breaks down as it gets more analogous – when we continue the metaphor into having been a child allows one to be a good parent.

Degradation should be expected as the analogy gets deeper. If there was something that was a perfect analogy of something else you would find that they are in fact the same thing, at least morally and philosophically. They have to be.

But the point of an analogy is to help others understand something by relating it to something they already know or can at least imagine. In the skydiving example, most people can at least picture described process of preparing and jumping in a way they might not be able to imagine preparing and jumping into life. This parallelism is what makes analogies so rich and important in our daily communications: they are designed to expand understanding in a new field.

It is important when participating in metaphors and analogies, or expanding our knowledge in any other way, to be able to separate the tools of expansion, that is the metaphor and the analogy, from the actual expansion itself: a deeper understanding of preparing for, and jumping into, life. Coupled with this ability to separate is the ability to identify when a given metaphor has grown into an analogy through complexity and later what the analogy has outgrown our knowledge, breaking down and falling apart, and thus is no longer able to sustain our newly gained understanding. This process is similar to the expansion of truth, rather our perception of truth, through time as we grow our understanding and expand our knowledge.

As metaphors and analogies break down it may be necessary to develop a new analogy, but caution should be exercised before doing so. Remembering that the entire purpose of the metaphor or analogy was to help us understand something we couldn’t otherwise grasp we should ask: “has understanding expanded enough to allow us to learn the actual thing instead of something that is like the thing?” We should always strive to get along without any metaphor or analogy as they can hinder a more real understanding. Plus, not using the crutch of an analogy removes the problem of degradation altogether.