Biological Knock

Gregory Benford does an excellent job of setting the stage for the coming centuries' miracle technologies ("Biology: 2001," November).

Like all good science fiction writers (and he is one of the best) he extrapolates the technical aspects of these developments into the logical consequences in all fields.

But I disagree with one of his conclusions. Over the course of history, the wealthy have never gained much more advantage over the rest of us than they have always had. Progress invariably makes luxuries affordable to the masses.

At first genetic "cosmetics" will probably be an astronomically priced extravagance, but market forces will generally make versions of these techniques available to any budget in packages that may differ but will be just as effective. After all you can't afford a BMW on a Ford Escort salary, but both will get you from one spot on the map to the next.

The rise of the technological plutocracy makes for great fiction, and it will likely remain just that.

Clifford W. Acre
Seattle, WA

Guns and Mutters

Many thanks to William R. Tonso for finally documenting the public's ignorance of so-called assault weapons, as fueled by the media and the anti-gun lobby ("Shooting Blind," November). I would like to add a few points.

First, the term "assault weapon" itself is an invented propaganda term. What the military developed is an assault rifle, a weapon designed to gain advantage in armed combat through "firepower," i.e., spraying a large number of smaller, less lethal bullets. While the military and police later borrowed this concept and procured large-magazine 9mm pistols for self-defense, these weapons are poor choices for an "assault" and were never labeled as such, except by propagandists.

Second, because these weapons were designed as a deliberate trade-off of lethality and accuracy for firepower, they are not particularly deadly weapons, compared to revolvers, hunting rifles, or shotguns. For criminal purposes, they are an advantage only against armed adversaries, such as rival gang members or the police. When used in ordinary armed crime, they actually create an advantage to the victim, who is more likely to survive.

Third, though the media often imply these are fully automatic weapons, they actually argue against themselves; fully automatic fire is less, not more, deadly, because of the resulting loss in accuracy.

Ironically, we should be encouraging people to own these weapons, not banning them. While they are excellent for (perfectly legal) self-defense and Second Amendment purposes, they are less hazardous in the spontaneous crimes that legal gun owners commit, and the professional criminals who can use them to advantage will always get them anyway.

Kevin J. Gately
Glen Rock, NJ

I agree with your reasoning on every issue except the matter of guns and their control.

Let's face the facts. In 1994, the Census Bureau reported that between 1974 and 1994, deaths by firearms rose from 33,056 to 40,230 while deaths by car accidents declined from 46,402 to 40,880. Data from Handgun Control of Washington for 1990 (the latest available) show that handguns were used to murder 13 people in Sweden, 91 in Switzerland, 87 in Japan, 68 in Canada, 10 in Great Britain, and 10,567 in the United States.

Those figures speak for themselves. The use of handguns in the United States is completely out of control. Reason dictates that we should follow the action of our brother democracies and control handguns. Don't you agree?

Robert F. Bigham
Sebastian, FL

William R. Tonso replies: Even if for brevity's sake we take Robert F. Bigham's figures at face value, they hardly speak for themselves.

1. It is meaningless to compare the annual number of gun-related murders in a small country like Switzerland (7 million) to the number in a much larger country like the United States (250 million), or to compare the number of gun-related deaths in the United States in 1994 to the number in 1974 when we had 45 million fewer people. Only rates (so many per 100,000) can be meaningfully compared.

2. Gun-related-death numbers include homicides (even justifiable ones), suicides, and accidents, while car-related deaths are almost all accidental, though some so classified may actually be suicides or homicides.

3. U.S. non-gun-related homicide and armed-robbery rates are still five or six times higher than those of England and Wales, guns included. Though still much lower than ours, Britain's homicide rate is considerably higher now than it was before strict gun controls in the 1920s.

4. Handgun control in Switzerland is minimal, and 11 out of the country's 26 cantons don't even require carry permits.

5. Since practically every Swiss male between the ages of 20 and 50 (55 for officers) is a militiaman, he keeps a government-issued fully automatic assault rifle (or if he is an officer, a semi-automatic pistol) in his home.

Open Admission Policies

Virginia I. Postrel's "Honest Admission" in the November issue left out one very important difference between immigration in the "days of Ellis Island" and immigration today. To those coming through Ellis Island, America was a land of opportunity and freedom, and that was all that was offered. Today we "bribe" people with offers of welfare of all kinds. Those seeking "honest" work and opportunity are not nearly the problem as are those looking only for a handout.

R.N. Maddox
Stillwater, OK

With the climate of the First Amendment hospitable to people who have ideas we desperately need, immigration is vital! If you argue that intellectual capital is becoming relatively more important than money capital, we must create a climate that attracts it. That's immigration.

Political nationalists and others should remember that other than Native Americans, all of us are immigrants–it's just a matter of when we got of the boat. America is the only country that renews itself with this energy, skill, and intellectual capital that migrates to our shores. That's why we will survive and prosper where closed societies that keep people away from their borders will have a difficult time.

Gordon J. Lee
Los Angeles,CA

As a legal immigrant I appreciate the generous impulse behind the open-arms, open-borders immigration policy advocated in your November issue. However, to allow free–that is, uncontrolled and unrestricted–immigration is a policy that no American government can adopt. A nation has the right as well as the duty to control its own borders. Without that control a nation is not in charge of its own destiny. History is full of examples of nations being overrun by uninvited outsiders. Some of the nations benefited from the infusion of new blood and some did not. In either case the destiny of the nation was taken out of the hands of the native population.

The United States could have a relatively open immigration policy in the past when immigrants knew that a newcomer had to work or starve. That knowledge screened out a lot of people. Today, new immigrants come because they know that they can live better here than in their own country whether they work or not. This is an invitation that no sensible person (not necessarily an ambitious one) living in a poorer country can resist.

Unfortunately, the United States is in no position to give a job or a welfare check to all the poor people of the world. Does that mean that we must tell workers that "they must stay where there is no work, seekers of liberty they must endure dictatorship, parents they cannot seek a better life for their children?"

Yes–because each nation, including the United States, has to solve its own unemployment problem, its own political problems, its own family problems. The nations of the world will not solve their problems by sending their unemployed and their political enemies to the United States. Nor is the United States in a position to integrate them into a society that is already overburdened with economic, ethnic, and family problems.

Let's have an open-door policy but let's admit into our house only those who are here to contribute, not to take advantage of our hospitality.

Joseph S. Duarte
Whittier, CA

I strongly disagree with your November editorial regarding immigration. I believe your arguments were not based on reason, but on emotion.

There are many examples throughout history where groups of individuals of distinct religion, race, language, or other characteristics were parts of a single government and enormous human suffering was the result. In contrast, there are few examples where they mixed and enjoyed the benefits of unity. Except for blacks, the United States enjoyed that status for many years. Several forces are now rapidly wrecking this unity, to our great detriment.

We are stupid to willingly balkanize the United States. We do not owe citizenship to others. We have a strong obligation to be concerned with the well-being of our present citizens and their descendants. We need a long time to blend what we have or in some reasonable way to organize long-term peace and unity in our land. Opening our borders would be a disaster.

Frank D. Werner
Teton Village, WY

Congrats on the fine Virginia I. Postrel editorial on immigration. However, I note that she finds flaws in all of the various schemes that have held sway during the past century. How about spelling out for your readers what immigration policy should be?

Joseph W. Johnson, Jr.
Lincoln, NE

Virginia Postrel replies: The purposes of my November editorial were twofold: First and foremost, to point out that as recently as 1965, the United States had no numerical limits on immigration from countries within the Western Hemisphere. And second, to suggest that the very real problems of central planning do not go away simply because the subject at hand is immigration.

The first point is a fact conveniently omitted by anti-immigration polemicists such as Peter Brimelow, who try simultaneously to scare white (and, to a lesser extent, black) Americans with the specter of an overly brown population and to blame perceived immigration problems on the 1965 act. You cannot have it both ways; immigration policy prior to 1965 was designed to keep out Asians, Jews, Poles, Irish, and Italians–not Mexicans, Haitians, or Cubans. As at Ellis Island, admission was restricted to people who would not become public charges and posed no threat to public health; later, literacy tests and an entry tax were added, increasing both illegal immigration and permanent residency in the United States, as moving back and forth across the border to work became more costly and difficult.

Unfortunately, in the current climate any changes in immigration policy will be in the direction of more restriction, more central planning, and more government intrusion in the lives of all Americans. The immigration "crisis," like the health care "crisis" of two years ago and the environmental "crisis" of five years ago, is the latest excuse for expanding activist government. In a more rational climate, and one more suspicious of government power, it might be possible to craft policies that used the principles of Ellis Island–no claim on the public trough (except for genuine public goods, over whose definition we would undoubtedly argue) and no central planning of the makeup of the immigrant population. On the latter principle, Gary Becker and others have proposed an auction system while Peter Salins has advanced a "first-come, first-served" system that would essentially be a visa lottery; Salins's plan would probably operate along the lines of the "diversity visas" now given to people from "underrepresented" countries, led by Poland and Japan, and to Irish immigrants. In either case, however, Americans would have to be willing to live with a certain amount of slippage, a certain level of illegal entry, or give up huge amounts of personal liberty.

Messrs. Maddox and Duarte raise the legitimate issue of the welfare state. It is, I believe, absolutely critical to separate the issue of welfare from that of immigration. Income transfers would exist if every immigrant vanished tomorrow, and far more immigrants are paying taxes to support such payments than are taking out of the system. The one serious exception is the abusive way in which some adult children have brought their parents to America with the expectation that Supplemental Security Income will support them. Congress is addressing this problem by changing the SSI law (and restricting other welfare payments to legal immigrants, even those who have paid taxes).

Anti-immigrant lobbyists still talk about welfare, but such talk is utterly cynical: They are not the least assuaged by reforms on the welfare side, since their goal is to keep out even self-supporting immigrants. That's why Alan Simpson's Senate bill, for instance, is designed to slash the number of highly skilled, tax-paying professionals entering the country legally. And it is why Ira Mehlman of FAIR argues that we have to keep out parents of adult children even if they are no longer eligible for government benefits.

This isn't an argument about illegal immigration, about welfare, or about skills. Those are merely handy tools for people who believe that the well-being of Americans is best protected by keeping the population small, static, and racially pure–even at significant costs to our prosperity and liberty. I prefer to live in a free and dynamic society, one that, as Mr. Lee suggests, constantly renews itself and reaffirms its identity by welcoming people who are here by choice.

V Is for Various

In the November issue, Nick Gillespie identified obvious problems with implementing so-called V-Chip technology ("Chip Off the Block"). Certainly a chip programmed by the networks, or worse yet, the government, is abhorrent to anyone who values freedom. And yet the combination of deregulated airwaves and First Amendment protection has resulted in a profusion of programming, much of it dreck and garbage. Libertarians must admit that the V-Chip initiative is responding to a real problem with the deplorable content of much TV, and that even the most conscientious parents are not able to monitor every minute of their child's viewing. Knee-jerk opposition to the V-Chip will only further confuse libertarians in many minds with libertines.

Gillespie asks the important question, "Who will program the chip?" But who says there has to be only one kind of chip, or that it must be installed in the factory?

Why not a technology that allows the consumer to insert the chip (or later, simply push a button), and why not a market for V-Chips, with offerings from any group with a point of view? Then we can have chips from the Christian Coalition, Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptists, Orthodox Jews, Unitarian Universalists, or Hindus–not to mention People for the American Way, the National Rifle Association, or Reader's Digest (a premium for subscribing).

The second generation of chips could identify programs that are especially worthwhile or enable a person to fashion an individualized program with the proper instructions. I would appreciate the opportunity to eliminate all the daytime talk shows from my set in advance. Not to mention any show with Geraldo Rivera. A third-generation chip should be able to distinguish on the fly between Roots and Rambo, based on criteria that even a computer can recognize, without straining its memory or its intelligence.

Mike Roeder
Ft. Myers, FL

Nick Gillespie replies: I disagree with Mike Roeder regarding the "deplorable content of much TV," but yes, yes, yes to his suggestion of many and varied types of voluntarily enacted programming aids. Indeed, as I indicated in my editorial, dozens of those tools are already on the market in some form. Unfortunately, the proposed V-Chip legislation bears no resemblance to such filters.

Connie Chung Syndrome

Thank you for Michael Fumento's "A Confederacy of Boobs" (October) concerning breast augmentation. I was performing between 120 and 150 breast augmentations each year until Connie Chung's program about their alleged hazards. I dropped to zero breast augmentations the following year. The number of breast augmentations is coming back slowly, but now we're using the saline implant, which has some inherent problems that were not found in the silicone-gel implants.

In my career, I've performed in excess of 2,000 breast augmentation operations. No other operation resulted in the same percentage of patient satisfaction. The horror stories which became so abundant following Connie Chung's program have not occurred in my practice, nor in the practice of those with whom I'm familiar. We began referring to the panic-stricken patients who called following Connie's program as suffering from Connie Chung Syndrome.

James Michael Bestler, M.D.
Martinsville, VA