For the Week of April 28, 2003
America is in the fight of its life. But unlike the War with Iraq, this is no easy game of cowboy-and-indians. This is the real thing, an economic and political death-struggle with our kids' lives on the line.
Not only are we losing, we seem to be throwing any hope of victory away, by giving in to the Luddites among us. These are not the kinds of Luddites who smash factories. They are the kind that restrict scientific inquiry, regulate engineering, and teach nonsense to children.
The war I'm talking about here is an economic war, the battle for leadership in science and engineering. The opponents here are neither Old Europe nor New Europe. And we can't depend on our corporate buddies to win this for us, because they're quite happy to do business with the other side in order to maintain their own leadership.
Intel chairman Craig Barrett put it pretty well last year, at a Supercomm press conference. He said he was looking to China for hardware, India for software, and Russia for new algorithms.
China, India, and Russia...dragons and tigers and bears (oh my). We can't bomb them, nor should we. This is a competition which, if played right, everyone can win. But we have to be engaged to compete here, and we have to be focused. Right now we're not.
Let's first look at the competition:
- China's economy grew at a rate of 9.9% in the first quarter . China is rapidly climbing the manufacturing ladder, with chip plants and PC plants and big telecomm equipment companies. China will be in space this year , to the Moon in a few years, and to Mars long before we get there. (Red planet, indeed.) If you put the same expensive factory in China that you would in Texas, staffing both with locals, the Chinese factory will eat your lunch.
- India is a huge threat to our software business . Indians are educated, hardworking, and they know English better than most members of my family. They are even taking over the preparation of our taxes . If you have a white-collar job, be very afraid about India.
- Russia is filled with brilliant mathematicians and scientists. The mathematicians are solving puzzles that have stumped the rest of the world for generations , and their engineers are keeping us in space .
The only way we can compete is by staying ahead of the curve, climbing the value chain ahead of other countries, passing lower-value work to raise their standards of living. The only way we can compete is by being the unquestioned leader in science and technology.
So why are we tossing that lead away? Luddites are attacking the basics of science, like evolution, and (more important) getting away with it. As a result Congressmen are editing science out of government documents, and state legislatures are endorsing the teaching of nonsense. Entire branches of science are moving overseas because this Administration has moral qualms about what they're doing.
The biggest assault, however, is happening in computer science, where the DMCA has not only made certain kinds of software illegal, but has made talking about it illegal as well . State legislatures, of course, are piling on, halting talks on security problems in the name of "anti-hacking" statutes . A University of Michigan graduate student has had to take his dissertation offshore to avoid local Lud-laws . The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a complete listing of this DMCA Luddism on its Web site .
Some hard questions must be asked. Are all Russians going to stop working on cryptographic and steganographic algorithms just because we say so? Are Indian programmers going to obey a U.S. law, namely the DMCA, just because we say so? Is China going to stop working on biology just because we say so?
We can't win the future if we're just even with our rivals - both China and India now graduate far more scientists and engineers each year than we do. We have to be better. We either keep rising up the value chain or our children will have incomes no higher than those of the countries just mentioned.
We still have advantages. Money is an advantage. Our great institutions are an advantage. But liberty is becoming less-and-less of an advantage. Chinese scientists know that, if they just avoid political questions, they can conduct their work pretty much unhindered. Indian college students don't face harassment of their dissertations by Luddite politicians. Russian scientists work in a hungry land that is desperate for innovation and won't be dissuaded by religious interference.
This should not be a partisan issue. There are many Democrats, especially elected Democrats, who are as ready to throw in with Luddism as any Fundamentalist preacher if they see a short-term advantage in it.
But scientists and engineers can no longer be silent. You can either fight for your right to research, undiluted and unemcumbered, or you can lose it, bit by bit, as you are losing it now. If you want the U.S. to win the larger war, in fact, you must fight for your right to seek the truth unhampered by Luddite preachers or Luddite laws. The stakes are too high.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
The reviews (well, some of them) are in. "Dana, it is GOOD," raves Pete duPont, lawyer, futurist and once a candidate for President. "This is some really powerful 'stuff.' I think you've got a winner," says Drew Kaplan of DAK Catalog fame.
Find out what the excitement is about. Buy The Blankenhorn Effect at Amazon.Com , then go back and say nice things. You can use the ASIN number, 1553953673, and recommend it to readers of other, similar books. You can also save on shipping when you buy the book at Amazon, over the cost of buying it elsewhere.
If you can convince some more published reviewers to read The Blankenhorn Effect and recommend it to their readers, please send me a name and address. In exchange, you'll get the PDF version of my second book, The Blankenhorn Effect: Boom, Bust & Beyond. This is a collection of columns from a-clue.com, organized chronologically and by subject, with additional commentary from yours truly.
I have begun working full-time for MediaPost , but I have also written lately for BtoB Boardroom and Mobile Radio Technology . You can follow the continuing story of The Blankenhorn Effect on my "Moore's Lore" blog . I also contribute to NowEurope and GreaterDemocracy .
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Takes on the News
Curious Ratchet In Anti-Spam Fight
Just as the network ends are finally getting a handle on spam , with tools like Mailwasher and Spam Assassin being deployed by users and ISPs alike, big businesses and government have suddenly become active in the Internet core.
Australia, home of non-working Internet pornography statutes, has turned the same man (Richard Alston ) on spam, passing a host of anti-spam legislation with fines for both spammers and vendors who send unsolicited messages.
The best explanation for the move might be the distress of large carriers, like Australia's Telstra. Their internal costs are doubled by spam even if that spam goes unread.
The suspicion becomes a certainty when you see how troubled AOL (the home of lots and lots of spam) is practically divorcing itself from the Internet in the name of spam fighting. Yes it has its lawyers engaged but when you make a blanket disconnection of residential e-mail servers you are no longer an Internet network, but a private network.
My guess is there are really two motives at work here. Yes, on the cost side, carriers want to can spam (and who can blame them). But AOL's move shows something more sinister at work. With consumers prevented from creating their own lists, only corporate spam (both editorial and advertising) will be legal.
Leave It To Readers
Newspapers are learning that the way to maintaining their monopoly is to discredit anyone who gets in the way. Bloggers are in the way.
Thus, we're getting a spate of articles (many behind firewalls) from "reporters" that are actually thinly disguised editorials questioning whether blogging is journalism at all.
The answer is simple. When journalists blog, then blogging is journalism. But newspapers and the "journalism profession" (an oxymoron to put next to "military intelligence") are no longer in a position to be judge and jury on who is, and isn't, practicing journalism.
When I started in this business it was costs that decided the question. A journalist was someone who worked for someone who bought ink by the barrel. Now anyone can buy the equivalent of ink by the barrel, so we go back to the 18th century answer to this question.
It's readers who decide who journalists are, and what journalism is. The test is the market. The test has always been the market, not some "profession" (it's a trade) that licenses the practice through salaries.
In the end personal blogs give a personal slant to journalism, and to everything else. Some (like mine (http://www.corante.com/mooreslore)) collect, comment on and collage existing stories from other sources. Others offer first-person accounts of whatever the writers want to account for (and are far more in the tradition of real journalism). Blogging software itself, of course, is groupware, and to confuse its capabilities with the output of some users is like confusing the World Wide Web with personal Web pages.
Now You Tell Us
Having spent $20 billions and hundreds of western lives (not to mention those of thousands of Iraqis) assuring a steady supply of oil, we found out last week you can make the same thing with greasy, grimy turkey guts. (Or greasy, grimy gopher guts, if you prefer, but it's easier to find turkey guts.)
The secret, said inventor Paul Baskis, is to pressure cook waste, in water, to a temperature of 500 degrees. When the pressure is released the water flows out naturally. The cooking breaks down virtually carbon-based material into basic chemicals, with minerals settling out at the bottom for use as fertilizer. The rest goes into a device much like a coke oven, where it is heated to 900 degrees, breaking up the long molecular chains. This is then distilled (much as oil itself is "cracked") into a variety of products, with gas rising to the top, oil coming out the center, and carbon powder coming out the bottom.
Both organic and inorganic compounds can be cooked in this way. The same system that turns turkey guts (and human waste) into oil and other compounds also works on the plastic cases of old TV sets. An industrial-sized project has already been opened in Carthage, Missouri, and if it works the process can be sold to any city that's now running out of landfill space.
The only danger, of course, is that this extends the hydrocarbon life cycle, but there are other things you can do with oil other than burn it.
Clued-in is Dow Jones' resort to international law to halt an Australian libel action against an American-made report . Of course if Dow Jones really took the Clue they would endorse international law generally, not just when it suits their purpose.
Clueless is the cellular industry's legal appeal on number portability which claims the FCC lacks authority to order it. Judges are not likely to buy the argument.
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