Friday, June 16, 2006

Three Cheers for Immigration!

I keep finding myself sucked into the ongoing immigration debate at 2Blowhards.

In this anti-immigration video clip, Roy Beck of NumbersUSA calls 1925-1965 a "golden era" of immigration in which there was "little or no resentment" of new immigrants. I couldn't help notice that the period in question included Jewish refugees being turned away to die and Japanese families losing their homes and being locked up in internment camps.

Roy creates the impression of a scary upward trend in immigration by (a) not adjusting for population size, and (b) leaving out the true golden age of immigration, 1820-1920. Immigration levels in the 1990s were actually quite low by historical standards - much lower percentage-wise than a hundred years earlier.

My dad's immigrant parents were poor and spoke little english. They started a deli in the Bronx and raised three sons - a businessman, a scientist, and a doctor. I expect the current round of immigrant families to produce many similar success stories.

We need new blood! More people with more ideas and skills and diverse backgrounds. Our current and recent immigration rate is anemic; we are turning away hundreds of thousands of people every year who could help make our country even more successful. These people believe they could be safer, happier or more productive here than in their current country, and who am I to question that belief? Just as I don't speak any Yiddish, I doubt the grandkids of current immigrants will speak much Spanish.

The reason immigration dropped precipitously (both in raw numbers and even more as a percentage of population) in 1925 is that we passed laws just prior to that to keep out all those Jewish refugees. I think it's pretty clear in retrospect that this was a mistake. Penniless or not, the Jews that fled eastern europe to make it here prior to (or during, or after) that crackdown have done very well for themselves. Their kids and grandkids were among our best scientists and academics and financiers of the last century.

That my dad and his brothers come from such stock gives me a personal stake in the matter but it's also a somewhat representative anecdote -- Jews in America in the 1900s have been a success story. But it sure didn't look that way at the time, did it? They looked like a bad bet. The jews were poor, they had ties to other countries, they didn't speak the language, they were insular, they came from countries with terrible policies and brought with them a lot of bad political ideas.

Just like Mexicans today.

In the last century we consistently tried to limit immigration from those who most wanted to come here for economic and political reasons - Jews, Chinese, Irish, Italians. The arguments against letting those groups in then were very similar to the arguments used against the Mexicans today. And these arguments were wrong then; all those groups assimilated.

The Mexican immigrants will too.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I just saw Gore's new movie/campaign ad. The arguments and presentation favored rhetorical force over strict truth or defensibility, so if I were already inclined to trust Gore's judgment, I'd likely find the film powerful. As it was, I kept noticing selective presentation of data designed to imply a stronger case than was actually present. Plus the occasional big whopper.

Take the story that a frog in slowly-heated water won't jump out until it dies or is rescued. This is a great metaphor for Gore and he uses it well with cute computer graphics and a twist ending, but it's an urban legend. Gore doesn't say "there is a story that..." but presents it as a solid fact that frogs act this way, leaving the audience a little dumber than before - a little more certain of a false fact.

Take the claim that US gas mileage standards are pathetic by comparison to China's. Al Gore makes fun of our automakers for claiming they can't meet tougher standards if even China can do better. Left out is the fact that China's cars don't yet meet their own announced standards and that their cars really aren't of comparable quality to ours.

Take the claim - both direct and implied - that Katrina in particular is evidence of global warming and a portent of things to come.

At one point the film shows a chunk of ice falling off the outside edge of a glacier into the water while the voice-over says that people who come to see glaciers witness this. Strongly implied: crumbling isn't normal behavior for a glacier's edge that meets the water (and there aren't any places one might witness glaciers growing).

Gore is wearing a filter that only admits bad news. Warming is undoubtedly good for many species, including a few endangered animals, but he manages to dwell on the negative - "invasive species", mosquitoes, and diseases will do better too! When he brought up the example of baby birds that eat caterpillars but now the caterpillars are born earlier due to warming so the birds have less food, my thought was: "Hey, this must be GOOD for the caterpillars, right? And for some other predator that is getting the caterpillars that before would have been eaten by birds?" Why, exactly, am I supposed to sympathize with this bird more than the caterpillar or whatever else eats it?

The end of the movie directs viewers to the site "". There's a page on "The Science" here but it's pretty sketchy. Looks like we'll need to look at the book to see where Gore's numbers and charts come from.

Gore is a religious fanatic, and his religion is environmentalism. The scientific consensus is that man is having some influence on climate, but there's little consensus on how much, either now or in the future. The IPCC tends to produce patently ridiculous predictions (based on bad economics) and Gore is even more alarmist than they. So if you enjoy being alarmed, go see this movie. Taste, but don't necessarily swallow.