Re: US Science Education Sucks

From: Olga Bourlin (
Date: Sat Aug 25 2001 - 20:03:16 MDT

From: "Greg Burch" <>

> Olga, relax. "Mexican" is the word in English for people from Mexico. It
> so happens that in LA and Houston and, I guess from Brian's post, Atlanta,
> the most numerous population of recent immigrants who are just starting up
> the socio-economic ladder are from Mexico.

I understand about the word "Mexican" - there's nothing wrong with that word
per se
any more than using the word "Portuguese" or "Thai" or "French," but I was
reacting to the WAY it was used ... and not so much in Brian Atkin's case
I had some questions, to which Brian kindly replied just before he plonked
me). If you will recall, in tandem I pasted in something from Natasha's
recent post: "At first, only those with money or connections had them.
Today, in downtown Los Angeles, there are more Mexicans using cell phones
than executives."

What was the implication in that sentence? That once upon a time when cell
phones were expensive they had a certain cachet as only rich hoity-toity
CEOs could get their hands on them; but now these formerly exclusive handy
little gadgets have become so cheap and plentiful that "Mexicans" have them
(Mexicans in this case standing for a catch-all word meaning what? -- poor
people? riff-raff? the hoi-polloi? illegal aliens?).

I was wondering how that would read if the sentence were altered slightly,
i.e.: "At first, only those with money or connections had them. Today, in
downtown Los Angeles, there are more Asians using cell phones than
executives"; or "... there are more blacks using cell phones than
executives"; or "there are more Jews using cell phones than executives."
If you were Asian, black or Jewish - how would you react to a sentence like
that? Again, what is the implication here (using what I wrote in this
paragraph as an example): That there are no Jewish executives? That Asians
couldn't afford cell phones until cell phones came down in price (implying
there are no rich Asians)? That there are no professional black people?

I had the same question when I read the sentence about "Mexicans" in
Natasha's post. I lived in San Diego for 8 years, and got to know a number
of Mexican-Americans who were lawyers, teachers, executives, and physicians.
Even though this was 20 years ago (when I lived in San Diego) I could just
imagine their reaction if they'd read Natasha's sentence about "Mexicans":
"How ignorant."

Maybe Natasha meant "poor people." Maybe she meant "illegal aliens" or
"immigrants." I'm not sure what Natasha meant, but I don't think she really
meant to say "Mexicans." Not all Mexicans are poor, for one thing, and
there ARE Mexican executives. So it seems prudent not to characterize
"Mexicans" in an offset example to "executives," any more than
characterizing Jews, blacks, or Asians in the same way.

> > > Actually where I live, housing construction continues to boom to the
> > > point where if we didn't have all those Mexicans moving here we'd be
> > > in a real shortage of labor.

> Brian's point about having lots of inexpensive labor supplied by a huge
pool > of immigrants from El Sud in the US raises an important point: Unlike
Japan, > we don't have the same incentives to roboticize a lot of
entry-level jobs.

Greg, this is a good point. The only icky feeling I got from Brian Atkin's
post is in the wording he used regarding "all those Mexicans." These are
people - not just some amorphous source of "cheap labor." It seems to me
that if anyone can be kind, appreciative and compassionate about a group of
laborers, it is people with seemingly every privilege in the world going for
them - leisure time, money, brains and power.

What you said about roboticizing entry-level jobs makes sense to me. But
while we are still using people to do our dangerous, exhausting, low-paying,
"low status" types of jobs, can we show some compassion and humanity? Can
we treat people who are willing to do our hard labor with respect as our
fellow human beings, and not refer to them dismissively as "all those [fill
in appropriate nationality blank]."

I don't know if Extroprians or the Singularity Institute has a SIG which
addresses social concerns and damage control in the here and now (before the
Singularity). If not, I would suggest starting one. Brian Atkins has
already made it known that he doesn't "have time for PC crap. Why not take
it somewhere else and waste their time with it?" (I understand, he is a
busy guy.)

Let me end by saying - and I don't mean to be churlish, but -- I believe
"somewhere else" is already here.


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