Thursday, March 30, 2006


A North American summit meeting is going on in Cancun, Mexico. Mexico's Fox, Canada's Harper, and the United States's Bush are all meeting to discuss issues of mutual interest. On the top of the agenda is immigration reform, according to a Reuters report.

Fox, who has failed for five years to convince Washington to let more Mexicans get jobs in the United States legally, is making one more push before leaving office in December.

His government worked with the Mexican Senate to produce a written document that recommends a crackdown on people smugglers as well as housing and economic incentives to attract undocumented immigrants into returning to Mexico.

That may help Bush win over some doubters in his party, but opponents of his approach will demand decisive action by Mexico, which accounts for more than half of all illegal immigrants in the United States.

Is proposed immigration reform, being debated around the country and in Congress, as ill-conceived and inhumane as the war on drugs? That's what an editorial in the Houston Chronicle suggests.

Demonstrations, including one in Los Angeles over the weekend that attracted half a million marchers, vividly conveyed the passions of a large segment of the U.S. population. However, the protesters who carried Mexican flags and shouted "Viva Mexico" fueled many Americans' fear that uncontrolled immigration would foster wholesale, unwanted change to U.S. culture.

The United States for too long has dealt with its illegal immigration issues through hand-wringing unaccompanied by effective action. But the growing unease with the immigration status quo should not lead the country to make capricious decisions that soon will be regretted as prisons overflow and inhumane exploitation of workers increases.

As we are learning from the negative consequences of harsh antidrug policies, troubling times do not, in fact, always call for drastic measures.

Some Christian leaders are concerned that the recently proposed bill (HR 4437) amounts to criminalizing good Samaritans by outlawing acts of charity for illegal immigrants. Rich Lowry writes that the bill stipulates that to break the law requires assisting an illegal immigrant
"knowingly or in reckless disregard of his status—because it is not aimed at social workers, but at the vicious 'coyote' smuggling rings that exploit illegals in the course of bringing them here for exorbitant fees." But a law written so poorly that it could criminalize such charity seems a bad law, despite the law's supposed "intention". In any case, Mr. Lowry writes that:

Even opponents of the [recently proposed] bill are careful to stipulate their opposition to illegal immigration. In a New York Times op-ed, [LA's] Cardinal Mahony laments “the baleful consequences of illegal immigration. Families are separated, workers are exploited and migrants are left by smugglers to die in the desert. Illegal immigration serves neither the migrant nor the common good.”

There is much to offend the moral sensibilities of everyone about our current immigration system. The first step to putting it on a more rational and humane basis is to get a better handle on who comes here. The Catholic bishops have affirmed that “sovereign nations have a right to control their borders.” The forces who want to exploit illegal immigrants aren’t those who favor exercising that sovereign right, but the U.S. employers who desperately want Mexicans to keep coming.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

New Scientist article on space tubes

When I checked my mail on Saturday, the topic on the cover of my New Scientist magazine looked familiar. It appears that they decided to run a story on these tubes through space, acknowledging work by myself as well as colleagues in Germany. It was kind of shocking to see images which were totally based on my own pictures, but without any credit. But I suppose these images and the concepts underlying them do not belong to me. In the spirit of scientific inquiry, they belong to the world. And I should be grateful that lay people interested in science find them important enough to read about!

In any case, another article, this one written by myself and more comprehensive, will be appearing in a few weeks in American Scientist, the magazine of the scientific research society Sigma Xi. There may even be a cool cover picture of two galaxies exchanging stars through galactic tubes.

Friday, March 24, 2006

H.R. 4437: Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005

Some online info regarding a recently proposed federal bill.

The bill itself, H.R. 4437.
Official Title: To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to strengthen enforcement of the immigration laws, to enhance border security, and for other purposes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

patenting the laws of nature

I was looking at two posts by fellow blogger Nick Szabo which mentioned recent Supreme Court cases and their relevance for the possible patentability of "laws of nature" and "algorithms" (posts 1 and 2).

For now, the U.S. patent office says that laws of nature are not patentable.

And get this, neither are inventions that are "not useful" or "offensive to public morality". I wonder what glorious gadgets we're missing out on! Executive desktop toys like a rhino-vomit-based perpetual motion machine?!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The American quest for identity


Have you wondered about your ancestry? Are you really part Native American like your grandparents say you are?

According to a recent article in New Scientist, our "country's turbulent history of immigration, slavery, and displacement of Native Americans means each American has a different story. To unravel the threads of this short but complex history, an increasing number of companies are promising to help Americans uncover their ancestry through DNA testing."

By comparing your DNA to a reference database taken from thousands of other individuals whose ancestry is known, you can figure out your genetic make-up compared to reference populations: Sub-Saharan Africans, East Asians, Native Americans, and Europeans.

Clients of DNA testing services are told what percentage of each is in their DNA, e.g.,

  • Sub-Saharan African: 4%
  • East Asian: 0%
  • Native American: 12%
  • European: 84%

    Critics are worried about accuracy, but more concerned that these tests could be divisive. "Reinforcing the idea that these cultural entities can be defined genetically is a disservice," says Hank Greely of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences in California. Grouping people in three or four discrete groupings could reinforce racial stereotypes.

    But proponents of the tests say the test results do exactly the opposite by showing that individuals don't fit into single categories. "It breaks apart the whole issue of race," according to Rick Kittles of the DNA testing company African Ancestry.

    DNA testing of ancestry could reveal just how much mixing has gone on in the "melting pot" of America. Early last century, the Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcellos wrote a book entitled La Raza Cosmica, dreaming of the future possibility that all races would merge into one type of man, a mestizo race, the cosmic race. DNA testing is a way to measure just how close we are genetically to seeing the cosmic race in America.

    But then just looking at the genes may be wrong. Just because a people are all genetically mixed does not mean the end of conflict and the dawn of an age of harmonious cooperation. Aren't some of the fiercest fights between family members?

  • Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Trip to Chicago

    Before I forget, let me share some pictures of a trip we took to Chicago about a month ago. It was the weekend before Valentine's Day and after my last interview, at UIUC. Jessica flew out and we spent a little more than 48 hours in the Windy City.

    It was pretty cold. We can truly say we were freezing as the temp hovered around 32 degrees. We both sported warmness gear, like gloves and jackets. We began our jounrey having no guide to Chicago other than my fuzzy memory of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and a hankering to try the local pizza. The pizza was extreme--a lot more cheese than we expected and that pastry style crust, my goodness! It wiped us out. We thought we could handle two pieces but one piece of that stuff was quite enough.

    In the spirit of Ferris, we headed off to the Art Institute of Chicago, where we saw American Gothic and other paintings:

    This next picture is for Fran, who once noted the resemblence between Jessica and a stick person:

    After the art institute, we nearly froze our extremeties off while walking to the Sears Tower. Jessica wasn't so sure about going up to the 103rd floor, but I think she liked it okay.
    After dinner we walked around a park area where there was an outdoor ice rink. It was too cold to get out on the ice, but it looked fun.

    We also came across two huge srceens made of glass bricks where slowly blinking human faces would appear against the night sky.

    The next day we had some excellent crepes for brunch, went to the natural history museum to learn about the ancient volcano stricken city of Pompeii, and then headed home.