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Sunday, October 14, 2012

A story about fish

This is a story about fish. Specifically, it's a story about a lack of fish in certain places. It's an analogy. I'm not really talking about the Santa Clara Valley water system. I'll leave it to you to figure out what I'm actually getting at for now.


So let's say you're the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD), and among your many jobs is to keep the waterways working. This means they are free of garbage and pollutants, and also try to advance them towards the state they were in before industry screwed them up. One of the things missing from those waterways? Fish. There are tales from just 100 years ago talking about the variety of fish which could be found in our rivers and streams. Today? Not so much.

Obviously, fish come from the ocean via the SF bay. Okay, so it's time to make sure all of the waterways have a good connection to the bay. We'll make sure that any fish who want to come into those rivers and streams can actually do it. We'll give all sorts of incentives to coax fish out of the South Bay shallows and into the streams.

Maybe we'll build robotic fish with the pheromone equivalents of "follow me" signs and have them lead the way. We'll occasionally take the rare fish we do find upstream and get it to give a "fish pep talk" out in the bay to convince others to follow its lead. Fish magazines will write tales about how it's sad that there are not enough fish in the rivers and streams, and how it's bad for the environment.

This will start to encourage some brave fish to try the rivers and streams again. They will leave the bay behind and go upstream towards the landlocked cities. They'll go to places where few fish have been seen for many years.

Unfortunately, once they get far enough in, they'll find out why. There's a gigantic sucking inlet pipe to a factory up there which traps fish and turns them into cat food. Sorry, but thank you for playing!

This fish-chopper has been running this whole time, but nobody paid any attention to it. After all, once the fish have entered the stream, they did their jobs. Nobody cares about the fish after that point. If they encounter really crappy conditions and it causes them to fail, what difference does it make? As long as we get one or two who we can pluck out and use as "examples to follow", we're happy.

It's silly, but it's plausible, right? If you don't fix the actual problem upstream, what's the point of feeding more victims into the system? They'll just be wasted by the cat food plant.

So, what if I said that instead of waterway maintenance, I was talking about expanding the diversity of certain industries and careers?

What if instead of "recruiting fish", I was talking about getting certain marginalized groups of people to join up by choosing specific careers and by taking certain jobs?

How about if instead of a "cat food factory", it was "the kind of crap people in those groups encounter which grinds them up and spits them out"?

Would it still be plausible for you? If not, why not?

If you know what lies at the end of a path and it isn't a good thing, would you send someone else down that same path? Maybe if you're some kind of psychopath, you would, but I would hope that any good-natured individual who cares for others by default would think twice.

Friends don't give friends bad directions on purpose.