Archive for July, 2012

Progress (??)

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

My blog on the Higgs boson drew interesting comments.

Jinny S., an artist in Tucson, wrote: “Good Blog! My comment since you mentioned artists is that many do pay attention to art history … Some smart guys came up with perspective after the Middle Ages and just about everything got to be 3-D.  The Impressionists broke up color and lit up the whole art world.  Cezanne thought of creating depth and flatness at the same time and Picasso and Braque took the hint and invented Cubism.  After the abstract Expressionists added their two cents and a few other people I am the happy beneficiary.  I don’t think I could have figured all that out myself!”

She has a point and I stand corrected. Art does show progress.

My progressive friend in Madison, Michael B., had a different take on progress and zero-sum stagnation.

“I’m sure that people lived in the Nile Valley 3500 years ago, didn’t think of their lives as stagnating.  They controlled the water of the Nile and made a good, satisfying living.  They begat children, worshiped their god, created their monuments … They lived long periods in relative affluence, untroubled by outsiders, protected by their deserts.  From time to time the Nile would fail and the grain stored would fill the gap most of the time. When I taught Egypt, I would read love poems found in pit graves or mastabas.  The kids recognized the emotions and often commented that it could have written today. As archeologists have pointed people had purpose, organization, skill and life was good … unlike Hollywood and Stonebarger portrayals.  Shift the focus to the Ganges during the time of the Guptas [or the Zhou or the Han or the Tang] and you will find similar experience.  …

“If one looks back at the life of these people full of purpose, stable in their relationships and connections, able to appreciate the life around them, connected to their environment and the seasons of life.  There are people who say that the greatest example of unregulated growth (capitalism) is cancer, so enormous growth need not be a positive development.  …  in what year in our history were we not at war with someone, for something.  We killed each other (dealing with that enormous population growth and using those enormous resources and destroying that enormous wealth) during our Civil War, our Imperialist Wars in Cuba and the Philippines, joining the Europeans to kill each other for ‘good reasons’ and then the Big One leading to Korea, Viet Nam, … it just goes on and on. …

“Ahhh growth isn’t it an unqualified wonder!  So we wonder at the Egyptian farmer all those years ago and realize how disconnected we are from real life and community.  But hey, that’s not what you are into … make more babies, make more things, live ever longer even though you sit there with the drool running down your face unaware of who you are, where you are, what you are.  And if you continue to live a few more years with your memories, what will stand out for you.  Will it be the time you spent in your house in front of that computer or worrying about whether or not the product was going to sell this month or how capitalism is the best darn economic system to come along.  … Your counterpart in Egypt all those years ago may not have lived as long, but can you really say as you look at your life that his was as unfulfilling or as fulfilling.   Each age praises its own and denigrates the other … it is a very ugly aspect of our character.”

Leaving aside the “drool” for the moment, Michael’s attacks on progress, capitalism, population growth and U.S. belligerence are revealing.

Progressive leftists want to claim the moral high ground in “establishing justice” and “promoting the general welfare.” Michael goes so far as to claim that the relative affluence of ancient Egypt, India and China may be preferable to the enormous wealth of a modern U.S. household. That’s quite a stretch. Michael’s Egyptian (or Indian or Chinese) farmer was a peasant, serf or slave; died before the age of 35; spent most of his or her life in drudgery and pain; had to cope with more violence and genocide than a modern citizen of the U.S. can even imagine (Michael’s claim notwithstanding); and lost 8 out of 10 children to disease or malnutrition. If the parents survived long enough they could mourn the eight who didn’t make it. It was zero population growth.

Denigrate them?! No way!!!

I am struck dumb with admiration for the courage, savvy and tenacity of peasants, serfs and slaves, past, present and future. (Some were my ancestors.) To survive with such steep odds, they had to be a better men than I. Heck, I am struck even dumber for the ones who managed to get past 35, drooled a little, had doubts about who, where and what they are in the vast scheme of things, and read the love poems they had written as youths. Even had their surviving children put them into their graves.

I don’t like the zero-sum agricultural system these ancestors had to cope with. The slave-based plantation system in our southern states before the civil war was one example. The zero-sum situation in Egypt, China, India—in fact everywhere—for thousand of years was not good. “From the dawn of history until the 18th century,” Charles Murray writes in a recent article, “every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top.” That includes life in Medieval Europe. That time had a saving grace though. It gave birth to the Western Civilization that eventually led us out of the zero-sum agricultural age into the modern age of capitalism, science and democracy.

Murray adds, “Then came capitalism and the industrial revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn’t take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.”

Many left leaners like Michael B. disagree. They claim the free market is a myth and capitalism is fatally flawed. They denounce growth of economies, technologies and populations as a cancer about to destroy the earth. They promote instead sustainability and zero-population growth.

It’s a different story though when it comes to building their cabin in their woods; going on expensive green adventure trips; traveling thousands of miles to wedding, family reunions or vacations in Hawaii; moving into air-conditioned homes with flat screen TVs; surfing the web with iPhones; lobbying for more pension, health and welfare benefits and opposing the free market transactions that make these things possible. Some try to repent by recycling their trash, composting their garbage, buying organic or driving a Prius with a Recall Walker bumper sticker.

What I want to know is where does the anger and passion of these lefties come from. Why are so many so bitter about the United States and its capitalist economic system? Why are they like the lines from The Mikado, “The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, 
all centuries but this and every country but his own.”

My hypothesis is that the zeal and anger comes from a toxic combination of adolescent rebellion and leftover Vietnam War protests.

Adolescents rebel against their father and the establishment (remember the famous quote of the 60s, “never trust anyone over 30”). This normal rebellious attitude was given a cosmic booster shot during the Vietnam War days from students who were loath to risk their lives for a cause they neither understood nor approved of.

During those days many young people went to great lengths to avoid the draft. Many of the brightest went on to graduate school and became college instructors on the road to professorships. Today they are the establishment. The toxic combination is especially strong in academia.

The establishment is getting long in the tooth. Tomorrow they will be the droolers and young venture capitalists and business entrepreneurs will inherit the earth.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. If you want to learn more about the synergies of science, capitalism and religion, see my new book, Twilight or Dawn, a Traveler’s Guide to Free-market Liberal Democracy.

The French canary

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

July 23, 2012

From Thomas Jefferson to Ernest Hemingway the French have been favorites in America. Their help was crucial in our revolutionary fight with England. French for many years was the most popular diplomatic language. Among sophisticates, French savoir faire outclasses German Gemütlichkeit by a wide margin.

We have been good for the French too. Our revolution in 1776 inspired their revolution in 1789. We yanks bailed them out of two world wars in 1917 and 1945.

So?

In May of 2012 the French elected a socialist president, François Hollande, who ran for office on a platform remarkably similar to Barack Obama. He won. My leftist friend and sometimes blog contributor, Michael B. here in Madison, thinks Hollande and Obama are on the right track. I have doubts.

My friend claims I don’t pay enough attention to social science studies. He sends me articles with graphs and statistics that purport to show the free market is a myth and capitalism is passé if not downright evil. I disagree and argue that the free market and capitalism have been and still are the economic base of our prosperity as well as the bill payers for our welfare and safety nets.

Could we have a real-life experiment to decide who is right? France offers possibilities—like a canary in the economic coal mine today.

President François Hollande promises: to raise taxes on the rich; bring the compensation of corporate CEOs down and that of ordinary workers up; have the government take over more private industries; lower the retirement age; restore jobs in education that were cut by the previous president; give residents without European Union passports the right to vote in local elections after five years of legal residency; control rents; use punitive measures to compel towns and cities to build public housing; and buy land for more public housing.

This is pretty close to the platform of OWS and the left wing of the Democratic Party.

After the Second Word War France, like other European democracies, moved to a social-welfare system with universal health care and generous pension and welfare benefits for citizens. Since then, like other European states, France has moved sometimes left and sometimes right. Under the left-leaning François Mitterrand they increased the government’s role in the economy. Under right-leaning Nicholas Sarkozy they tried to rein in pension and welfare benefits and boost the private sector. Today the socialist François Hollande is leading another leftward expansion of government.

How will France’s turn toward more socialism work out?

If Hollande succeeds in revitalizing the French economy, increasing productivity and the GDP, decreasing inequality in income and wealth, and increasing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in its population it will add credibility to Obama and the Democratic left. If the efforts of the new socialist president lead instead to a decline in productivity and GDP, a decrease in entrepreneurial activity, malaise and/or stagflation, continued high unemployment and more street riots it would add credibility to the efforts of Romney and the Tea Party Republicans.

Would a “canary” test like this be anything close to a scientifically valid experiment?

No. Not really.

Despite my friend’s partiality for graphs and statistics, economics and politics are not rocket sciences. But the results of France turn toward socialism, like that of the  canary in a coal mine, will be instructive if not definitive.

We did have one real-life “experiment” in economics and politics that came close to being conclusive—Korea. When WW2 ended North and South Korea were roughly equal in resources, population, poverty and wartime devastation. If anything North Korea had more natural resources and more industry. South Korea had a slightly larger population and more agriculture. They were identical in ethnic culture.

In June of 1950, egged on by Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union, North Korea attacked South Korea hoping to unite the two under one government, a communist one. President Truman resisted and with the support of the United Nations sent troops to counter the North’s attack. After a bitter three years of war an armistice left Korea divided still into two nations, North Korea and South Korea.

In North Korea the communist government resumed total control of all economic and political activities. In South Korea the government took control of most political activities (Syngman Rhee, the strong-man dictator, was similar to Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan). Economically, however, (as in Taiwan) capitalism was given free rein and markets were encouraged to do their thing.

What was the result of this real-life experiment?

In a few decades South Korea (like Taiwan) turned into a vibrant democracy. North Korea is still a communist totalitarian state—one of only two such states in the world (Cuba is the other). The GDP per capita in South Korea (2009) is $28,300. The GDP per capita in North Korea (2009) is $1,800. South Korea is an important manufacturer and exporter of automobiles, ships, electronics, robotics and petrochemicals. North Korea has no significant production for export except military hardware and a few minerals. South Korea has a vibrant middle class. North Korea has desperate poverty where two million citizens died of starvation in the 1990s.

Korea is admittedly an extreme case but similar changes in other countries after WW2 offer valuable comparisons of free-market capitalism and command-economy socialism. China, Taiwan, India, Vietnam, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, Brazil, Columbia and many other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have all, in different ways, tried command-economy socialist strategies to boost their economies in the 20th century. Today almost all are moving strongly in the capitalism and free markets direction. Middle classes everywhere are dramatically increasing and poverty is dramatically declining.

France (and most of Europe) is another story. France is the third largest economy in Europe and a good example of European social-welfare democracy. Like most European countries France has high taxes, large deficits and worrisome debt. It also has generous social benefits, a robust middle class, a relatively high standard of living and a long-time commitment to equality as well as liberty. (Despite this commitment, it does have substantial inequality of income and wealth though not as great as the United States.)

On the down side France, like most social-welfare states in Europe, has high unemployment (especially among minority youths), serous immigration problems, a chronic shortage of entrepreneurs and innovation, health-care rationing, birth rates at all-time lows and a shrinking population. Like other social-welfare democracies in Europe—and like the United States—it is struggling with recession now.

We too have high unemployment (not as high as France), generous social benefits and entitlements (not as generous as France), large deficits, skyrocketing costs for health care and an increasing and worrisome national debt. Unlike France and other European allies, our taxes are relatively low, entrepreneurship is high, innovation is strong and regulations on industry are relatively low but increasing as I write. On balance the U.S. private sector is powerful but the government sector is growing faster and the private sector seems to be losing confidence as I write.

Obama and the Democrats are eager to follow the example of European social democracies in expanding the government’s economic role, raising taxes (especially, but not only, on the rich), increasing entitlement coverage and increasing regulations on the private sector. Their focus is on using government clout to promote community and equality (“we’re all in this together”), especially as it applies to ethnic, racial and economic groups.

Romney and the Republicans are resisting and advising more entrepreneurial and corporate freedom, reducing taxes and regulations, maintaining a safety net by reforming entitlement programs and reining in some social welfare benefits. Their focus is on the private sector to promote freedom and opportunity (“success should be rewarded”), especially as it applies to individual citizens of all ethnic, racial and economic groups.

Keep an eye on the canary, France, over the next few months. It may not prove anything but we may learn something.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. If you want to learn more about the synergies of science, capitalism and religion, see my new book, Twilight or Dawn, a Traveler’s Guide to Free-market Liberal Democracy.

The Higgs boson

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

July 16, 2012

Do you know what a Higgs boson is?

Neither do I.

Physicists tell us it is important. Some claim the apparent discovery of the Higgs boson two weeks ago is as significant as Copernicus’s claim that the earth is not the center of the universe. Some call it the God Particle.

Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman gave it the “God particle” nickname because the particle is “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.” He added, though, that he chose that name (one many scientists hate) because “the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing.”

I taught physics in high school. In my day we taught, and you probably learned, that the universe is made of tiny particles called atoms and powered by four kinds of energy: gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear forces. Atoms were made of tinier particles called electrons, protons and neutrons, which were made of weird things called quarks and leptons. All of which were not really “things,” but more like “fields” or “strings.” Whatever that meant.

This was more or less the “standard model” that explained how stars and planets behaved, how electricity worked, how stuff held together and moved—in short, how everything existed and how it everything worked.

The trouble was it didn’t quite explain everything, which since the days of Democritus and Aristotle in ancient Greece has always been the goal of physics.

Gravity, for instance, did not fit into this model. Astronomers found that the universe was expanding when gravity said it should have been contracting. Only 4% of the universe seemed to be made of atoms. The rest was a mysterious “dark matter” powered by an equally mysterious “dark energy.”

Enter the Higgs field and the Higgs boson. This apparently is the keystone that corrects the standard model so that now the model accounts for pretty much everything. Or so they say.

I don’t really understand this very well so I looked around on the Internet to get help. One of the most lucid explanations I found was from How Stuff Works. The explanations on NOVA were also helpful. An article in last week’s Science section of the NY Times by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss is also enlightening, especially about the difficulties of the search at Fermilab in Illinois and in Switzerland with the new Large Hadron Collider.

I am writing this on a top-of-the-line iMac computer that has one terabyte of memory on its hard drive (1 terabyte is 1,000,000,000,000 bytes of information). Krauss writes, “every second at the Large Hadron Collider, enough data is generated to fill more than 1,000 one-terabyte hard drives—more information than in all the world’s libraries.”

“The physicist Victor F. Weisskopf” Kraus goes on, “once described large particle accelerators as the gothic cathedrals of our time. Like those beautiful remnants of antiquity, accelerators require the cutting edge of technology, they take decades or more to build, and they require the concerted efforts of thousands of craftsmen and women. At CERN, each of the mammoth detectors used to study collisions requires the work of thousands of physicists, from scores of countries, speaking several dozen languages. Most significantly perhaps, cathedrals and colliders are both works of incomparable grandeur that celebrate the beauty of being alive.”

Like last week’s ruminations on Bugs, what are we laymen to make of this? I dearly wish it were easier to understand the details of this new creation. It would probably inspire awe as profound as the great cathedrals to which it is compared. Apparently if it weren’t for the Higgs field (sometimes likened to a kind of molasses that permeates space) and Higgs bosons (likened to messengers that give mass to all matter), bugs would not exist. Nor would we. Nor would anything anywhere anytime!

As to practical consequences we will have to wait a while. In my teaching days we usually put Einstein’s relativity theory at the end of the standard physics course when there wasn’t much time left for student questions. Most of us found it hard to explain the details of the Einstein’s theory.

He created his relativity theory (a cluster of mathematical equations similar in complexity to the ones supporting the Higgs boson) around the turn of the century, a hundred years ago. It didn’t have much practical application until it did when we dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to end WW2, and a few decades later we sent a man to the moon. In each case Einstein’s equations proved essential.

The basic work of physicists on electromagnetism was done way back in the 19th century. Fairly soon it had practical consequences like electrical power, telegraphs and telephones. Quantum theories of the early 20th century added insights about atoms and molecules that led to DNA biochemistry, and then to the new world of electronic and communication wonders of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Unlike literature, art, and religion, science is cumulative. Artists, poets and saints today can appreciate the work of Shakespeare, Michelangelo and St. Francis of Assisi but they can’t use their achievements in the same way that Einstein could use the discoveries of Galileo, Kepler and Newton. Or biologists today can use the insights of Darwin, Crick and Watson. Science, in other words, builds on what came before—refining, improving and revolutionizing itself and all of society in the process.

This is also true of free-market economics. It builds on win-win transactions of the past and leads to greater resources and greater wealth.  For everyone. It is the opposite of the zero-sum mentality that underlies so much of socialist theory or all agricultural and hunting/gathering societies. This mentality prefers zero-sum transactions that divide up presently available resources and wealth, and spend precious little time or energy creating new resources or wealth.

I must amend this a little. Religion can be cumulative. Sometimes. Some religions. There is good evidence that our Judeo-Christian religious heritage with its emphasis on rationality (reconciling reason with faith as in Thomas Aquinas) and progress (Protestant work ethics) is cumulative. Its history of rebirth and renewal in the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, is testament to its power of change and progress. I am not a scholar but I don’t think one can say the same about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or other major religions practiced today.

It is this synergetic combination of science, free-market win-win capitalism and Judeo–Christian religious values (memes?) that came to fruition in the birth of the United States of America. It is what makes our country the exceptional world leader it has always been.

So let’s welcome the Higgs field and the Higgs boson to our party. We don’t know them very well yet but, like most new immigrants, we can expect surprises.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. My new book was written before the Higgs discoveries but if you want to learn more about the synergies of science, capitalism and religion, see, Twilight or Dawn: a Traveler’s Guide to Free-market Liberal Democracy.

Bugs

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

July 9, 2012

“So nat’ralists observe, a flea

Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,

And these have smaller fleas that bite ‘em,

And so proceed ad infinitum.”

—Jonathan Swift

“Ad infinitum” is close enough. New reports from scientists say that we have 100 trillion microbes in the average human body. There are 10 times as many bacteria in our body as there are human cells. There are over 500 known species of bacteria that thrive in our mouth alone. At the rate new ones are being discovered scientists guess there may be as many as 5,000 species that make their homes in somebody’s mouth.

These living “bugs” have co-evolved with us and now enjoy permanent homes in our bodies. Bacteria are the main squatters but viruses, yeasts, molds and worms also live inside us in impressive numbers.

The human gut contains on average 40,000 bacterial species. That means 79 million unique bacterial genes. According to one bacteriologist, “Between them, they [human microbes] harbor millions of genes, compared with the paltry 20,000 estimated in the human genome. To say that you are outnumbered is a massive understatement.”

Your body in other words is an ecosystem as rich and complex as a rain forest.

We may have to consult ecologists rather than doctors to diagnose our health problems. Already antibiotics are taking a hit and probiotics are the in thing. Last year the probiotics industry sold over 28 billion dollars worth of supplements (most of which are probably useless since very few probiotic potions have been tested as rigorously as conventional drugs are). Just as it is fiendishly difficult to find an antibiotic that will kill harmful germs without harming useful ones, so it is equally difficult to find a probiotic that will foster the good bugs without helping the bad bugs.

The Microbiome Project studied 242 healthy individuals over two years and found just as each person has a unique DNA, so each of the 242 individuals was unique in his or her bug family. These good bugs help synthesize vitamins, digest our foods, keep our skin moist and protective, keep our colon healthy and, surprisingly, they also seem to  train our immune system. It’s far from clear how they do this.  Some microbes apparently are able to communicate with the cells of our immune system and help us resist harmful microbes. Some researchers think they may have a role in preventing obesity, asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases. Once we get a better handle on the healthy ones doctors will prescribe more effective treatments for these and other maladies.

Bugs outside our body are also far more common than we used to think. Scientists have identified only a tiny fraction of the bugs on Gaia, the earth’s ecosystem. According to Penn State researcher Jennifer Loveland-Curtze, “Microbes comprise up to one-third or more of the Earth’s biomass, yet fewer than 8,000 microbes have been described out of the approximately 3,000,000 that are presumed to exist.”

A teaspoon of good soil has between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria, along with equally incredible numbers of other bugs—viruses, insects, molds, grubs and who knows. With so many bugs inside, around, above and below us, we have a long way to go to understand earth’s ecology as well as our own bodily functions. The more we know the more it also makes sciene/society issues like species preservation, pollution control, resource availability and global warming more complicated and uncertain.

New DNA sequencing techniques have shown that there are far more living things than we thought possible under glaciers 120,000 years old and deep below the earth’s surface almost everywhere. Even pure distilled water harbors millions of bugs. Despite the elaborate precautions that NASA took to sterilize equipment and use expensive clean rooms there is concern now that we may have inadvertently sent bugs along to contaminate environments on the Moon, Mars and the asteroid belt.

I have made fun in the past of the radical views of the environmental pediatrician, Dr. Helen Caldicott. In one of her speeches, for instance, she claimed, “bacteria have as much right to live as we do.”

Dr. Caldicott would be a poor choice for your children when they come down with strep throat, diphtheria, whooping cough or an infected finger. However, considering the overwhelming ubiquity of bacteria and other good bugs in our bodies perhaps she has a point, however bizarre and exaggerated. Even if they are not candidates for species preservation or civil rights legislation, bugs certainly do deserve our attention.

What in the world are we to make of this flood of new information about our rain forest selves? What is man anyway? Darwin took away our unique souls a hundred and fifty years ago. A few decades ago biologists told us our most important role may be as custodian for 20,000 selfish genes (maybe a few thousand or million memes too?). Now scientists are telling us that our unique bodies are really just luxury hotels for bugs of all shapes, sizes and kinds. What’s a homespun philosopher to think?

Poets may have the best (or only) good answers to unanswerable questions like these. Enter William Shakespeare.

For old folks like myself Prospero’s parting lines in Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, are the gold standard.

“You do look, my son, in a moved sort,

As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and

Are melted into air, into thin air:

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

Before you sleep though, consider Hamlet’s line.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. See my attempt at answering unanswerable questions on, Spaceship Earth, especially Part Six: A Little While Aware.

Independence Day

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

In one of his travel books, Holidays in Hell, P. J. O’Rourke writes. “Each American Embassy comes with two permanent features—a giant anti-American demonstration and a giant line for American visas. Most demonstrators spend half their time burning Old Glory and the other half waiting for green cards.”

Happy Independence Day.

A few decades ago Jane and I helped a Chinese engineer get a green card. He was a mechanical engineer on a visiting fellowship at the University of Wisconsin and living with us in Madison. One day he surprised me on our back deck. “Bill, can I ask a big favor?” “Go ahead,” I answered. “I am afraid for my life and I want to defect.”

He went on to tell me a little of what life had been like for him in China under Chairman Mao. Not good. Mao was dead now but China was still a communist dictatorship. Deng Xiaoping had just come to power and was about to introduce market economics that would revolutionize their society in the next decades. But now, in the early 1980s, China still kept a short rein on its citizens. Mysterious disappearances of Chinese scientists and engineers on fellowships in the U.S. were not uncommon.

It was not easy but eventually we were successful in helping him get a green card. He went on to get a good job with an aerospace company in southern California, married a Chinese-American nurse, and together they lived happily ever after.

Happy Independence Day Dr. Yu.

Dr. Yu apparently was a harbinger of the future. Last year there were more immigrants from Asia than from Latin America or anywhere else. These immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and India more often than not were college educated, spoke good English and had jobs waiting for them in this country. They were also more likely to be similar to our original colonists in old-fashioned Protestant work ethics. Without their skill and help we would be in a deeper recession than we are now. Yahoo, Google, Apple and Microsoft would not be the leaders they are and the Third Industrial Revolution might never have happened.

We are growing increasingly dependent on foreign students for future science and engineering talent as well. “NSF data reveal that in 2006, the foreign student population earned approximately 36.2% of the doctorate degrees in the sciences and approximately 63.6% of the doctorate degrees in engineering.”

We are also increasingly dependent on immigrants for low-skilled jobs in farming, fishing, restaurant and factory. A report last week said 40% of our milk supply is dependent today on Hispanic immigrants, often illegal, working on dairy farms. Farmers say the jobs go begging when it comes to native citizens.

Happy Independence Day to all immigrants.

We are a nation of immigrants. Even Native Americans were immigrants a few thousand years ago. They came to this continent from Asia. When they got here, over centuries they grew in numbers and split into tribes. Each tribe staked out a territory and defended it from neighbors.

On the Lewis and Clark expedition in the 18th century, for instance, one of the Native Americans who guided the expedition across the plains would not guide them into Rocky Mountain country because he feared that the native tribes there would kill him for trespassing. He would be an “illegal immigrant.”

When European immigrants came these territorial wars increased in size, frequency and intensity.

Immigrants have always been braver and more adventurous whether legal or illegal. Until recently they usually had to fight for their place in the sun. P. J. O’Rourke’s politically incorrect bumper sticker, “give war a chance,” has been only too relevant. So believing that peace is better than war, and forgiveness is an important virtue, I say …

Happy Independence Day to Native American immigrants—and to their progeny.

and …

Happy Independence Day to European immigrants—and their progeny.

These July 4th thoughts give me pause in the current controversy over illegal immigrants. I come out on the liberal side here, not the legal one. Yes, the 12 million or so who do not have citizenship papers by strict legality should be deported. Apparently President Obama has set something of a record in that respect by deporting more than his immediate predecessors. I agree with the President though—and with some Republicans—that we need a new immigration “dream” law that offers hope for both immigrants and natives. And for our economy! If it includes amnesty, so be it.

All of our ancestors chose (African-Americans excepted) to come to this country as immigrants, often at great risk and hardship. Many came as indentured servants, only a step up from slaves. It is hypocritical to deny present day immigrants the same opportunities. Especially since we need their work, skilled and unskilled. Do we really want to say, “Sorry Jack, I’ve got mine, too bad about you”?

On the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is a poem by Emma Lazarus with these famous lines.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

An Italian immigrant saw that statue coming into Ellis Island  and said to himself, “Lady, you’re such a beautiful! You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America.”

Independence above all means freedom and opportunity—a chance to prove your worth, do something, be someone. Over and over again freedom and opportunity have proved their worth. So let’s say again:

Happy 4th to all immigrants. Welcome. E Pluribus Unum!

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. For more details see my new book, Twilight or Dawn: A Traveller’s Guide to Liberal Free-Market Democracy. Out of 764,448 self-published titles (in 2009, probably over a million in 2011), 52 got full reviews last month in Publisher’s Weekly Select. The 52 included my book. Give it a try.