On Politics

Most people fall into two extremes where politics are concerned: either they couldn't care less and are sick of hearing the word months ahead of elections, or they are closely (sometimes obsessively) following anything they can about the upcoming events.

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
I don't mind the occasional political diatribe and I also sometimes participate. Disturbing to me, however, is the current trend of sore losers in politics. A friend of mine wrote about seeing a bumper sticker that said "I want my country back!". He notes the false implication that there was something fraudulent that happened in the last elections, when in fact a majority (slightly over half) of Americans are the ones who chose those in office. While belonging to the slight minority, I think it's ridiculous to place so much blame on the politicians themselves, as they were chosen BY THE PEOPLE.

This isn't to say we have to agree with the policies enacted, but it does mean we need to be civil and patient with the choices others make. We can voice our opinions and debate, and soon it will be time for the next elections, where we can vote our say. That's what a democracy and a republic demands. When a voter's side loses, it doesn't mean it was a wasted vote. It simply means the other side outweighed the first side for the time being, at which point the losing side concedes (some candidates don't know when to quit, though).

Source: Justice Today
There are also plenty of uninformed voters out there that don’t understand what they did vote for and what they will vote for when electing candidates. Sure, promises made by candidates are broken or stalemated, but the responsibility belongs to the people who vote (another reason to restrict this right to those who are citizens). And when the common voter doesn’t know what he voted for, he can’t hold his candidate responsible for doing something he didn’t want.

I think recent events have done both good and bad. Take the Tea Party: it has polarized politics even more (bad), but it has also encouraged the active role we citizens should be filling (good). We just need a better system of depolarizing the issues so we can talk and compromise across political stances without getting angry and excited.

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Some countries have a truly multi-party system; Israel, for example, has twelve parties represented in their Parliament of 120 people, with 21 more parties that ran last election and did not win a seat. However, this often complicates politics even further, and as we can hardly keep up with the issues of the two main parties in our country, two is enough. I like a primarily two-party system. It allows for a check and balance of policy much like the branches of the government. I don’t like the polar opposites people try to make from it. I really wish politicians would focus on the issues at hand that voters are passionate about, but politicians now generally avoid these key issues at all costs, making a superficial platform with a few shallow commitments. We need politicians that put wisdom above knowledge and selflessness above personal motivation.

Why do YOU like and/or dislike politics?
Source: JollyPeople.com

Illegal Immigration: Some Thoughts

The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, known more frequently as Arizona's Immigration Law (SB 1070, see here for the full law) has generated heated arguments on both sides.

Source: Immivasion
While this law is currently not in full force due to legal challenges, it and other ones from over twenty states are attempting to tackle immigration issues (with a majority support by their residents) by cracking down on lax immigration policy enforcement. Americans all around the nation are faced with these issues. Since it's impossible to cover all angles, I'll just make four points:
  1. An illegal immigrant is just that. Illegal. The federal government requires the registration of any immigrant who is in the country for 30 days or more. Any law seeking to enforce registration or expel those that violate an already-existing law is most certainly valid, even if it is practically redundant.
  2. Some people push for amnesty for illegal immigrants. At least to me, rewarding an action that is not just illegal by the laws of the land, but violates the virtues of honesty and integrity, is clearly a mistake. The action of coming into the U.S. is not a technical mistake but instead requires calculated effort, often with falsified documentation. Beyond that, they fail to pay taxes but continue glean the benefits of government-funded education and other services. Just as a criminal in prison has no right to expect parole, illegal immigrants have no right to expect amnesty. And yet Congress has passed seven amnesties since 1986, encouraging the illegal behaviour.
  3. The rationalisation that the illegal act was done for the benefit of the family or children may be true. Would one also be justified in robbing a bank to save their family from fiscal responsibilities, or murdering an abortionist to save unborn children? Tho' the situation may be rationalised in the mind of the perpetrator, the ends do not justify the means.
  4. America is open to those that come legally, with over one million migrants admitted yearly. One person I associate with spent 15 years earning the proper cards and renewals and eventually becoming a citizen. While this shows there are flaws in the system, it frustrates him most to think that people can simply come to the country illegally and be treated as equals. Is that fair to those that work their way through the proper avenues?
Source: Independent Christian Voice
I've had some exposure to the difficulties faced in entering and residing in the country legally. My brother-in-law is one of over 30 million legal immigrants in the U.S. and will soon become a citizen, and I'm proud of his achievements. I also understand that there are millions who are here peacefully and their only crime is their illegal entry into the United States. I'm not afraid to have them here as honourable workers and contributors to society—after they return to their country and reapply legally. I do believe there needs to be reform, as do Democrats, Republicans, and probably any other party. Until U.S. government starts showing that they are willing to enforce the current laws and any future reforms, though, there will be no change in (and no incentive to change) the real-life illegal immigrant behaviour.

Environmentalism or Conservationism?

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, known for its environmental awareness and activism in the United States. I spent years hiking with my family in the mountains, enjoying unspoiled nature in its raw beauty. From a young age, my parents taught my siblings and I to separate newspapers, bottles, plastics, and other paper into their appropriate bins (even now, I feel guilty throwing something away in the trash can when I know it could be recycled).

Pogo: Earth Day 1971 by Walt Kelly
I want to be very clear that I am supportive of effective and efficient ways to conserve. I applaud the research efforts that push the limits of creativity in order to find ways to incorporate better practices in our lives. The materialism of today's society pushes for the selfish exploitation of any resource at our disposal. One of my favourite quotes on this subject is from LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley: "I deplore waste. I deplore extravagance. I value thrift."

What I do have issue with is environmental extremism. I identify said extremist groups as follows:
  • Eco-terrorism, which results in millions of dollars of damage in the name of the environment. Often targeting luxury and commercial sites, they not only make victims of the owners with no regard for human life but also fail to think of the surrounding environment (for example, the potential consequences of firing rockets at a nuclear power plant). Despite being built specifically to be green, the luxury homes of Seattle's Street of Dreams (linked above) were burnt to the ground. Some of this extremists, like James J. Lee, who took a group of people hostage at Discovery Channel, go so far as to claim that humans should stop procreating in order to restore balance in the environment.
  • Eco-freaks, who seek to force impractical and costly practices onto the everyday user, through pressure or policy (even when the reasoning behind it is severely flawed). It's not like Americans dislike being environmentally friendly. Sometimes it's just better to choose to be so than to be forced. Ironically, the environmental issues Americans are most concerned with are the least important to the news and political agendas.
  • Greenwashers, who exploit the "green" craze by claiming their products are better for the environment. According to one site, ninety-eight percent of green products employ at least one deceptive tactic of greenwashing. I'm not too concerned about the detailed reasons as to why they should or shouldn't be considered green, but instead the focus companies have solely on their outward "green", "organic", or "all-natural" image. Below pretty much sums my thoughts on that:
Source: Joy of Tech
In one of the above links, Nicolas D. Loris wrote that "producers and consumers do not need government mandates and subsidies to be more energy efficient. If being energy efficient saves consumers money or reduces costs for businesses, they do not need the government mandates or the taxpayers’ help." In the same vein, there are plenty of ideas out there that, if truly innovative and implemented efficiently (like paperless banking), will easily supplant our more wasteful practices. Economic prosperity does not always result in destructive environmental practices. Instead, they often have a symbiotic relationship.

While we are supposed to be stewards of the earth, nature is there for our benefit. It is there for us to enjoy and preserve rather than collect and set aside. That to me is the difference between conservationism and environmentalism: the former is appreciation of and harmony with nature, and the latter is prioritization of the environment over all other issues.

Comments are Fixed

Sorry about the problems with comments on my blog. This should now be fixed, so feel free to comment on my "Friends" and "Education" posts!

Schooling and Our Expectations

I've been thinking about education a lot lately, and came to a few conclusions primarily regarding K-12:

1. Despite what people say throughout the world, schools in America work. They could be better, but in the end who cares about test scores across the world when in the real world (post-school) we produce more patents, more research, and almost more anything per capita? There's a reason why, regardless of the "low" scores (which don't take into account technological training, group collaboration, or any number of arguably more important things that one can't test), people come here to study, and we shouldn't be trying to copy what other schools around the world do when ours are obviously outputting as good or better end results. The traditional philosophy in the United States on schools has been to inspire productivity, adaptability, and creativity (albeit a recent push away from this); elsewhere, they often cram facts and numbers. The keyword there is inspiration. I argue it's more important to have the former attitude, because with it you will end up with any conclusions the latter does, along with unique paradigms and ideas.

2. The second shortcoming is the seeming decrease of responsibility of parents to their children. There is so much emphasis on putting kids into school for more hours, but would it not help more to have the kids around their parents to learn directly from them? These days, so many parents push off the responsibility of education to schools, whereas I argue schools are simply there to maintain a basic minimum standard as well as provide creative and adaptive interaction, and little more. We don't need more money for schools (although perhaps the money could be better allocated), more time in schools (although this is on Obama's agenda, or more facts and work in school, and rarely do we need the school to bend over backwards to cater to the individual students. The flaw often lies in the parents themselves, who fail to educate in the home and thus fail to ignite the spark of loving to learn for learning's sake.

3. Never let school get in the way of your education, to paraphrase Mark Twain. Formal schooling is helpful to the extent it should be (that is, enforcing a minimum standard of knowledge and understanding as well as providing an environment for students to grow as a group and learn to adapt to others), but once again, education is far above schooling. Part of the reason I never bothered to finish high school is the lack of return I felt from going. Some of the greatest minds began in a one-room school, and those that succeed in the world of academia often learn parallel to higher education, not as a direct result of it. An inward motivation fostered by a mentor's enthusiasm is all it takes to excel and progress your education.

Some people think that schools shouldn't have competition, and that what matters most is that a student gains self-esteem. I disagree (reread point 2). Others argue that mediocrity can be fixed with more money, smaller classrooms, or rather choose to blame failure on societal prejudice. A lot of fingers point toward teacher quality degradation (however that can be quantified). I don't think that even if these were valid points they would attack the issue at the root.

A cross-discipline of basic schooling, continuous learning, and real-world experience and challenges will continue to bring out the best minds in our world today. A focus or failure in any of these categories will stunt the growth and productivity of an entire generation.