Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Watch for falling wages! (and jobs moving south)

Those who've bought into the rhetoric and enthusiasm of globalization
can, I suppose, only applaud the trends noted in the Bob Herbert
column below. It's astonishing that American educators and politicians
remain so quiet about these matters.

NY Times, January 26, 2004

Education Is No Protection

The conference was held discreetly in the Westin New York hotel in Times
Square last week, and by most accounts it was a great success. The main
objections came from a handful of protesters who stood outside in a brutally
cold wind waving signs that said things like "Stop Sending Jobs Overseas"
and "Put America Back to Work." No one paid them much attention.

The conference was titled "Offshore Outsourcing: Making the Journey Work
for Your Corporation." Its goal was to bring executives up to speed on the
hot new thing in corporate America, the shipment of higher-paying
white-collar jobs to countries with eager, well-educated and much lower-paid

"We basically help companies figure out how to offshore I.T. [information
technology] and B.P. [business process functions]," said Atul Vashistha, the
chief executive of NeoIT, a California consulting firm that co-hosted the

Several big-name corporations had representatives at the conference,
including Procter & Gamble, Motorola, Cisco Systems and Gateway. Because the
outsourcing of white-collar jobs is so controversial and politically charged
(especially in a presidential election year), there was a marked reluctance
among many of the participants to speak publicly about it. But Mr. Vashistha
showed no reluctance. He was quick to proselytize.

"These companies understand very clearly that this is a very painful
process for their employees and for American jobs in the short term," he
said. "But they also recognize that if they don't do this, they will lose
more jobs in the future and they won't have an ability to grow in the
future." He said his firm had helped clients ship about a billion dollars'
worth of projects offshore last year.

Noting that he is an American citizen who was born in India, Mr. Vashistha
said he is convinced that outsourcing will prove to be a long-term boon to
the U.S. economy as well as the economies of the countries acquiring the
exported jobs. Whether it becomes a boon to the U.S. economy or not, the
trend toward upscale outsourcing is a fact, and it is accelerating. In an
important interview with The San Jose Mercury News last month, the chief
executive of Intel, Craig Barrett, talked about the integration of India,
China and Russia ÿ with a combined population approaching three billion ÿ
into the world's economic infrastructure.

"I don't think this has been fully understood by the United States," said
Mr. Barrett. "If you look at India, China and Russia, they all have strong
education heritages. Even if you discount 90 percent of the people there as
uneducated farmers, you still end up with about 300 million people who are
educated. That's bigger than the U.S. work force."

He said: "The big change today from what's happened over the last 30 years
is that it's no longer just low-cost labor that you are looking at. It's
well-educated labor that can do effectively any job that can be done in the
United States." In Mr. Barrett's view, "Unless you are a plumber, or
perhaps a newspaper reporter, or one of these jobs which is geographically
situated, you can be anywhere in the world and do just about any job."

You want a national security issue? Trust me, this threat to the long-term
U.S. economy is a big one. Why it's not a thunderous issue in the
presidential campaign is beyond me. Intel has its headquarters in Silicon
Valley. A Mercury News interviewer asked Mr. Barrett what the Valley will
look like in three years. Mr. Barrett said the prospects for job growth were
not good. "Companies can still form in Silicon Valley and be competitive
around the world," he said. "It's just that they are not going to create
jobs in Silicon Valley."

He was then asked, "Aren't we talking about an entire generation of lowered
expectations in the United States for what an individual entering the job
market will be facing?" "It's tough to come to another conclusion than
that," said Mr. Barrett. "If you see this increased competition for jobs,
the immediate response to competition is lower prices and that's lower wage

We can grapple with this problem now, and try to develop workable solutions.
Or we can ignore this fire in the basement of the national economy until it
rages out of our control.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Why didn’t I think of that?

Speaking at the very important World Economic Forum held in Davos
recently, Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, delivered an uplifting talk
on how to rid the planet of one of its most persistent ills – Internet spam.
He noted:

"Lots of mail you get is from people on your contact list. So what's the problem?

Filters could do a lot to sort spam from real mail, Mr Gates said: "Does the
e-mail say it's about 'enlargement' - that might be spam."
- - - - - - - - - -

Wow! It’s easy to tell why he’s a billionaire. It takes someone with a keen grasp
of techno-social problems and innovative solutions to come up with an
incisive analysis of that kind. Gates went on to suggest some other remedies
for this menace (which the software he peddles has so greatly fostered – oops!).

Personally, I have my own approach to spammers. When I find that I’m
running low on cash from buying all the better-than-viagra and “enlargement”
products, I just send away for several million dollars from one of those nice,
deposed princes in Nigeria.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away ....

Alas, the same Internet that helped propel Howard Dean to prominence is now helping devour him alive. See the LA Times story below. Videos and images of Dean’s shriek are proliferating on the Net like crazy.

The best philosophical account of this phenomenon is Hannah Arendt’s discussion in “The Human Condition,” describing public life as a “space of appearances” in which no one can ultimately control the impression people have of his/her identity and character. As someone who finds Dean basically appealing, I regret he gave today’s image shapers the very ammunition they need to shoot him down. It’s possible, but not likely, that he’ll recover. Setbacks like this – e.g., Edmund Muskie tears -- tend to be terminal, a verdict endlessly echoed in the hollow, mocking spheres of propaganda.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - -

Dean's Late-Night Battle Cry May Have Damaged Campaign
By Mark Z. Barabak and Faye Fiore
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

January 22, 2004

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Howard Dean's overheated concession speech in Iowa may have inflicted irreparable harm on his campaign, intensifying concerns that Vermont's former governor is prone to outbursts and fits of pique that make him unqualified to be president, analysts said Wednesday.

The image of Dean repeatedly punching the air in a performance some likened to an emotional meltdown has played endlessly on cable news networks and offered instant fodder for late-night comedy monologues.

"He's a very rational, pleasant human being, but he looked like a rabid dog," said Charlie Cook, publisher of a nonpartisan Washington political newsletter. "To say he appeared unpresidential is an understatement."

The damage was immediately quantifiable. Surveys showed a fall in Dean's approval ratings and a tightening race in New Hampshire — where he faces a major test Tuesday, when the state hosts the nation's first presidential primary.

Adding further insult, the medium that had been the most powerful force for delivering his campaign message was being used to mock him Wednesday as samples of his Iowa speech were turned into shrieking soundtracks on the Internet.

Dean, who has been criticized for his peevish personality since his days as Vermont governor, abruptly shifted his style to a more measured approach since arriving here after his third-place finish in Iowa.

Conducting a series of television interviews from Burlington, Vt., Wednesday, the former governor was asked repeatedly about his caucus night speech. Dean defended his tenor, saying he was reaching out to his tireless volunteers.

"There were 3,500 screaming kids in that room who'd worked their hearts out for me in Iowa, all of them waving an American flag," Dean told KWTV in Oklahoma City. "I thought I owed it to them to buck up their spirits and I was pleased that I did."

But the price could be one of those frozen-in-time moments that forever defines his campaign. The round-the-clock broadcasts of that isolated appearance come at a time when many voters nationwide are just tuning in to the election now that the balloting has actually started. . . . .

Monday, January 12, 2004

The promise of nanotechnology clarified

It's time for me to apologize for all those years I spent as a
technology skeptic. The moment of contritition came as I watched
a Hewlett-Packard advertisement during a football game on
television last Sunday. The HP commercial clarified the promise of
nanotechnology (and a great deal more):

"These are nature's building blocks, and they can be used to
build some amazing things. Like a cell phone so small an ant
could use it, or a tiny computer that can hold every book ever

My only remaining question -- will the ants have those
nifty cell phones that take and send digital photos?

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Citizen participation included in nanotechnology legislation

Readers of last spring's "Technopolis" may recall news that the
House of Representatives version of a bill funding nanotechnology
research included provisions for occasional evaluation of this research
by citizens panels. As the legislation passed through the labyrinthine
corridors of capitol hill, this feature of the bill encountered some
criticism, especially the mistaken claim that attempts at citizen
participation in technology assessment had not been effective.
The last I heard during the summer was that language about
citizens panels and consensus conferences had been cut from the
bill the Senate passed. Oh well....

Now it turns out that Public Law 108-153, the 21st Century
Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, restored some
of the content. The relevant text from Public Law 108-153
which Bush signed, is given below. I believe that reference
to citizens panels and consensus conferences in these matters
is something of a first in U.S. lawmaking!

Public Law 108-153
108th Congress

An Act

To authorize appropriations for nanoscience, nanoengineering, and
nanotechnology research, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States of America in Congress assembled,
. . . . .
[Here is the passage:]

(10) ensuring that ethical, legal, environmental, and other
appropriate societal concerns, including the potential use of
nanotechnology in enhancing human intelligence and in developing
artificial intelligence which exceeds human capacity, are
considered during the development of nanotechnology by--
(A) establishing a research program to identify
ethical, legal, environmental, and other appropriate
societal concerns related to nanotechnology, and
ensuring that the results of such research are widely
(B) requiring that interdisciplinary nanotechnology
research centers established under paragraph (4) include
activities that address societal, ethical, and
environmental concerns;
(C) insofar as possible, integrating research on
societal, ethical, and environmental concerns with
nanotechnology research and development, and ensuring
that advances in nanotechnology bring about improvements
in quality of life for all Americans; and
(D) providing, through the National Nanotechnology
Coordination Office established in section 3, for public
input and outreach to be integrated into the Program by
the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions,
through mechanisms such as citizens' panels, consensus
conferences, and educational events, as appropriate;


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dick Sclove has pointed out that the National Institutes of Health
has been using what it calls "consensus conferences" for a while,
but that these are a far cry from the open, deliberative citizens
meetings used in, for example, the Danish model of technology
assessment. Hence, an important challenge now is to make sure that
the real promise of democratizing this dimension of science and
technology policy-making is accomplished in authentic ways, using the
best practices available, not a counterfeit that merely consults the
"experts" and special interests for their limited, self-interested views.

During these dreary times in U.S. public life, this novel provision
of the nanotech law can be counted one small step for American

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The meaning of the WTC "Freedom Tower"?

At the same moment that public officials and architects proudly
unveil the ghastly, twisted, windmill-powered 1,776-foot 'Freedom Tower"
to be plopped down at Ground Zero in New York City, we're regaled
with a steady stream of news stories about the freedoms lost since
the 9/11 attack. Is there a subliminal message here?

See the visual commentary, "Two Symbols of Freedom," by reclusive
New Hudson River School artist, Frederick Clinker.

A story from the New York Times describes the latest assault on
what's left of the Bill of Rights.

* * * * * * * *
January 8, 2004, NY Times

U.S. Reasserts Right to Declare Citizens to Be Enemy Combatants

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 ? The Bush administration on Wednesday reasserted
its broad authority to declare American citizens to be enemy combatants,
and it suggested that the Supreme Court consider two prominent cases at
the same time.

The Justice Department, in a brief filed with the court, said it would seek
an expedited appeal of a federal appeals court decision last month in the
case of Jose Padilla, jailed as an enemy combatant in 2002.

The divided Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled on
Dec. 18 that President Bush lacked the authority to indefinitely detain an
American citizen like Mr. Padilla who was arrested on American soil simply
by declaring him an enemy combatant. Mr. Padilla has been held incommunicado
at a military brig in South Carolina. American authorities say he plotted with
operatives of Al Qaeda overseas to detonate a "dirty" radiological bomb in
the United States.

But the Justice Department said in its brief that the ruling was "fundamentally
at odds" with court precedent on presidential powers.

The decision "undermines the president's constitutional authority to protect
the nation," Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson wrote. ....

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Willie Nelson's new Christmas song

From the Austin American Statesman:

Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth
December 30, 2003

Willie Nelson, who has endorsed Dennis Kucinich for President,
and who will lead a fundraising concert for Kucinich's campaign
in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 3, 2004, wrote a new song on
Christmas that he will perform in public for the first time at the
Austin concert.

There's so many things going on in the world
Babies dying
Mothers crying
How much oil is one human life worth
And what ever happened to peace on earth

We believe everything that they tell us
They're gonna' kill us
So we gotta' kill them first
But I remember a commandment
Thou shall not kill
How much is that soldier's life worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

So I guess it's just
Do unto others before they do it to you
Let's just kill em' all and let God sort em' out
Is this what God wants us to do

(Repeat Bridge)
And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

Now you probably won't hear this on your radio
Probably not on your local TV
But if there's a time, and if you're ever so inclined
You can always hear it from me
How much is one picker's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

But don't confuse caring for weakness
You can't put that label on me
The truth is my weapon of mass protection
And I believe truth sets you free

And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth


Fascinating. And, hey, this is a prominent voice of the South!