Frum: Dead Wrong on Immigration

Published at 11:14 on 7 April 2019

In a provocatively-titled article published in this month’s Atlantic, David Frum (himself am immigrant to the USA) claims that “If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will.”

He points out (correctly) that the current level of immigration in the USA is historically high, then starts using lots of rhetorical hand-waving to imply that this is certain to cause all sorts of problems and resulting discontent in the voting public. And then, if liberals refuse to clamp down on the immigration, the scenario in the article’s title will presumably play out.

The problem with Frum’s contention is, what statistical evidence there is doesn’t precisely support the presumptions of his hand-waving very well. (That probably explains why hand-waving and not hard evidence is used in his article.) In fact, what evidence there is directly contradicts most of Frum’s assertions.

The Cato Institute recently published an article showing that public support for more immigration has actually increased since a fascist administration (and yes, Trump, is a fascist) took office in the USA. Actually, it’s been increasing since the mid-1990’s. Then, roughly 65% wanted immigration to be decreased. Now only about 30% do.

That’s right, roughly 70% want immigration kept the same or increased. And that’s after a decade of high levels of immigration! In a country with a fascist president who uses his bully pulpit to regularly promote xenophobia! There is, simply put, no evidence of growing public support for reducing immigration.

And let’s consider who tends to support restricting immigration? Republicans, that’s who. Where do Republicans tend to live? Away from the big cities. Likewise, Democrats (who support continued or increased immigration) tend to live in or near big cities. Where do immigrants tend to live? Also in or near big cities. That’s right, those who live near immigrants tend to view immigration in a positive light. Exactly the opposite situation one would expect if the mere presence of immigrants produced unease about immigration.

This goes for the border wall, too. The closer a person lives to the US/Mexico border, the less likely he or she is to support building Trump’s wall.

Finally, the Pew Research Center has done comparative surveys on immigration in multiple countries. Here’s the most recent one. Note that, compared to the world as a whole:

  • Americans are more likely to believe immigrants are a source of national strength.
  • Americans are less likely to associate immigrants with crime.
  • Americans are less likely to associate immigrants with terrorism.
  • Americans are less likely to support the deportation of illegal immigrants.

In short, there’s simply not much evidence in favor of Frum’s contention.

Quite the contrary, I would say. Support for fascism in the USA comes primarily from rural right-wingers who have little or no regular interaction with immigrants. Simply put, they fear that which they don’t know.

Newly-naturalized citizens naturally see such fascist proclivities as personal threats and as such oppose them. Therefore, increasing the number of immigrant voters will improve the quality of the electorate, by increasing the fraction of it that has a profound revulsion to fascist politics.

And it’s not just the situation on the electoral battlefield that will be helped by the presence of more immigrants. The electoral battle itself will tend to be less fought and more conceded in the pro-immigration, pro-diversity direction. Remember, the mere presence of immigrants tends to cause a more positive attitude towards immigrants.

“You’re promoting immigration because you want to destroy America,” the fascists say. And on this one, they are right; or rather, we should act in ways that make this accusation correct. When fascists say “America” they are referring not to what actually is but their fascist vision of what they believe it ought to be. That vision is evil and should be destroyed.

Politics is war by other means. Fight it. Support continued and even increased immigration.

New Software Won’t Fix the 737 Max

Published at 07:18 on 4 April 2019

Disclaimer: I am not an aircraft engineer. But I am a software engineer, one who looks at my own field with a critical enough eye to see how software is often used inappropriately, and I see the signs of the latter all over the place in this latest story.

The original software didn’t fix its fundamental unairworthiness, so why should new software be able to? The problem with the 737 Max isn’t that it has buggy software, it’s that it should never have been built in the first place. Its safety should come from its airframe being compatible with its engines. It can’t come from a software-and-sensor kludge that tries to compensate for an unsafe physical design.

In an article in today’s Washington Post:

Boeing said it would take about an hour for technicians to load a software update for the planes. The company’s software fixes will change the way the MCAS receives information, requiring feeds from both outside “angle of attack” sensors, rather than one, before it is triggered.

The system will also have more limits on how often it will engage, and Boeing will make changes that prevent the anti-stall feature from angling the plane’s nose too far downward in its attempts to correct for a possible stall.

Let’s take the fix of requiring both sensors to concur. We know the angle of attack sensors are unreliable, because they sometimes falsely indicate an excessive angle of attack. Being unreliable, it seems reasonable to presume that they also sometimes fail to indicate an excessive angle of attack. So this “fix” will actually fix nothing. It will merely trade one form of unsafe behavior for another.

The second fix is in fundamentally the same category as the first: like the former, it makes the system more conservative in deciding when to engage. That system was put there for a reason: the attempt to compensate for an unairworthy plane, whose airframe mismatches its engine size and placement. The physical plane will remain as unairworthy as before, only with less software compensation for it. Again, one problem is merely being traded for another.

Instead of tragedies caused by planes falling out of the sky because MCAS engaged in error, we will have tragedies caused by planes falling out of the sky because MCAS didn’t engage and they stalled.

I strongly suspect the only fix for these planes will be to scrap them and sell their bodies to recyclers, who will turn them into new metal stock from which fundamentally safe planes can be built. Those “fundamentally safe planes” will mostly be Airbus A320neo’s. Boeing’s attempt to get out of the corner they found themselves in the cheap and devious way is going to end up costing that company a lot.

The 737 Max Scandal

Published at 08:18 on 2 April 2019

I was going to make a long post of my own about it, but Vox just preempted me. Executive summary (I encourage you to read the Vox article):

  1. Boeing found themselves painted into a corner by decades-old design decisions whose consequences they couldn’t have foreseen.
  2. Basically, it was not possible to easily and quickly make a safe aircraft that was more fuel efficient, to compete with the new Airbus A320neo.
  3. Boeing should have sucked it up and taken the loss involved in playing catch-up with Airbus.
  4. Instead, they decided to bolt new, more efficient engines on the existing 737 airframe (even though they didn’t really fit) and christen the result the 737 Max.
  5. The new planes had kludges installed (sensors and software) in an attempt to paper over their fundamental unairworthiness.
  6. A corrupt relationship with the FAA allowed the kludged-up planes to be approved and sold.
  7. The inevitable happens.

Really, it should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that a plane that substitutes good engineering practices based on the laws of physics operating in the real world, for software operating in cyberspace, ends up sometimes startling and surprising pilots, sometimes with tragic results. It should also come as no surprise that said software has bugs, also sometimes with tragic results.

The most important overall rule of software development is that it’s extremely difficult to get right. As someone who’s worked in that field, I know this by first-hand experience.

Bad Advice from Rick Wilson

Published at 11:50 on 1 April 2019

In a recent New York Daily News opinion piece, Rick Wilson claims:

That’s why the Democrats have two options for the 2020 presidental race: Make the race a referendum on Trump and Trumpism, or lose.

No. No those are not the two choices the Democrats face. This is not even remotely true.

The Democrats already have had an election where they campaigned as a referendum on Trump and Trumpism: the 2016 presidential election. That was most of Hillary Clinton’s platform: being the Not Trump candidate. And we all know how well that worked out.

Moreover, opposition parties facing authoritarian movements have generally failed when they campaign on the “at least we’re not them” platform. It’s what doomed the opposition for decades in Venezuela and Italy. They campaigned on being Not Chávez and Not Berlusconi in multiple elections… and lost every one.

It was only when the opposition changed their campaign tactic to “what we can do better for you” that their fortunes changed.

Ignore the Not Trump line. Everyone interested in voting Trump out already knows that means voting for the Democrats in 2020. The Democrats have an absolute lock on the Not Trump vote; as such, any additional effort focused on this sales tactic is wasted.

Look, I get it: Rick is a conservative. For him, personally, about the only thing good about the Democrats is that they are Not Trump. He’s not enthused about any of their other policies. He’s not looking forward to holding his nose and voting for a Democrat. But hold his nose and vote Democrat he will.

One of the greatest errors in thinking one can make is to extrapolate one’s own beliefs onto others. For millions of Americans, Trump is not so abjectly repugnant as he is to Wilson (or, for that matter, yours truly). Yes, it would be a great thing if he was: Trump would have never been elected. But wishing something were so does not make it so.