February 1, 2006


Bush grants valley's wishes (Jim Puzzanghera, 1/31/06, San Jose Mercury News)

After a series of reports warning of the growing economic threat from China and India, ``competitiveness'' has become the latest catch-word of Silicon Valley's high-tech industry.

President Bush elevated the issue for the nation Tuesday, announcing a decadelong ``American Competitiveness Initiative'' that would pour $136 billion into scientific research and the promotion of math and science education.

``The American economy is pre-eminent -- but we cannot afford to be complacent. In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors like China and India,'' Bush said. ``And to keep America competitive, one commitment is necessary above all: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity.''

Bush's comments were music to the ears of Silicon Valley executives -- and a tune they worked hard behind the scenes to persuade him to sing on America's most prominent political stage, the annual State of the Union address.

High-tech leaders praised the proposal Tuesday night.

``I was heartened by the amount of time he spent talking about competitiveness,'' said Carl Guardino, head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. ``To hear him focus on math and science, especially in middle school and high school, was terrific.''

Bush's plan includes longtime priorities of the high-tech industry and echoes calls made by academic and business leaders in reports on competitiveness dating back to 2004.

Imagine what a huge lead we must once have had since we've been falling behind in math and science since at least Sputnik and there's still no one close to catching us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 1, 2006 12:51 PM

You're doing a little whistling past the graveyard here, OJ.

Frankly, if we import the talent from the world instead of using home grown talent, that is fine with me, provided they stay here. But what if they don't?

It isn't only about raw position (re: science & math 'pre-eminence') but momentum. Ours in dead in the water, and our competitors are just getting rolling.

The scientific illiteracy of the populace is a pretty good indicator of just how bad things are, and Bush's 'initiative' is worthless in the grand scheme of things.

We need to stop trying to reform or improve public ed, and just get about the business of destroying it.

I liked the speech, and continue to support Bush, but his energy and education stuff was pure pabulum.

Posted by: Bruno at February 1, 2006 1:12 PM

The "We're falling behind in math & science" is a scam that the science & education establishment has somehow been getting away with for 50 years now.

Posted by: b at February 1, 2006 1:25 PM


Name anything you use that was invented, not merely assembled, elsewhere.

Where are they going to go?

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2006 1:28 PM

It would have been better if he had foregone the extra federal spending and instead boosted the R&D tax credit even more.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at February 1, 2006 1:35 PM

"Name anything you use that was invented elsewhere."


The blue LCD was invented and perfected in Japan, and made LCD televisions possible.

However, pace Bruno, American "mo" is both near the highest peacetime level that it's ever been at, and is currently the highest in the world.
The blue LCD might have something to do with that, too - the Japanese chemist who came up with it won a Nobel Prize for it. While he did benefit from having his research supported by his employer for twenty years, which is not a small thing, his official reward from the company for winning a Nobel Prize was -- a $ 50 bonus.

A FIFTY DOLLAR BONUS, for winning the Nobel Prize, from a Japanese company.
There's a reason that top talent likes to work for American firms.

Sure, the Chinese are throwing up office buildings and factories like crazy, but America already did that, over a hundred years ago.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is engaged in bleeding-edge biotech and computer science research and development.

Biggest Mo-builder in the world, over the past decade: the Web.
Invented and still run by America.

Posted by: Michael "Low Sympathy" Herdegen at February 1, 2006 1:48 PM


I don't dispute your general premises, but guys as bright as y'all must see the writing on the wall.

To OJ's point, it isn't just where, but who. Look at the last names of the people with patents.

Link that to Mike's point re: Internet. What happens when anyone can invent anything anywhere, and gain the benefit for inventing it right where they live.

While we certainly aren't there yet, we are approaching that day. On that day, intellectual capital will flow to where it is taxed that least. This may not be the US at that time.

Further, intellectual capital development IS faltering here. Regardless of b's point re: scams, the knowledge of and interest in science is waning here.

I'm not as pessimistic as some, but to say there isn't a problem is far too Pollyannaish.

We can't produce a greater number of uneducable morons for generations and continue to rely on immigration and the occasional genius.

Posted by: Bruno at February 1, 2006 2:16 PM

Uh, I'm as gung-ho for America as the next guy (provided the next guy is G. Gordon Liddy) but wasn't the World Wide Web invented in Switzerland by Tim Berners-Lee?

Posted by: Bryan at February 1, 2006 2:27 PM

Bruno, I agree that our edbiz desperately needs fixing, but that has nothing to do with this topic.

We lead and others follow. When I was dismayed that my son couldn't spell, he said he could hire people who could spell and develop the software and hardware he needed. He has the vision. He was right and that's where we excel.

It doesn't matter who actually invented what. What matters is who knows how to put that invention or idea to good use.

Posted by: erp at February 1, 2006 2:36 PM


Why is knowledge of science and intellectual capital development in the US faltering?

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at February 1, 2006 3:19 PM


I believe it has everything to do with this topic.

Your (and your son's) proposition breaks down eventually. The child that knows 3x3=9 is in a far better intellectual state than the one who knows how to "look it up."

As 40 something with a smattering of interest in science, I immediately questioned the global cooling/warming nonsense put forth by the idiocracy.

A numerate person can quickly discern the utter lie of the "1 in 5 women are rape victims" and "10% of the population is gay" nonsense.

A literate person knows which news stories are crap just by thinking about it for a few minutes.

What your son told you is 100% public ed. spoon fed bullcrap. When my son (16) told me the same nonsense, I rhetorically reamed him a new one, and gave him 3-4 demonstrations proving he was wrong, and challenged him to give one example of how a kid who can't spell had an advantage over one who can.

(he had the last laugh - it had no effect)

It amazes me how we let our people get away with these demonstrably false arguments in favor of willful ignorance.

Someday your son will have to leave some superior a hand written note explaining something of importance...

Unless, of course, Suzie Chang or Vashti Sudharshan already has that position.

We can't all become millionaires playing X-box games and selling ring tones, but I hear Starbucks pays nice benefits.

Posted by: Bruno at February 1, 2006 3:32 PM

"Further, intellectual capital development IS faltering here. Regardless of b's point re: scams, the knowledge of and interest in science is waning here."

Total balderdash. The average person has never needed or wanted to know a whole lot of science in order to do just fine. Knowing how to operate a Windows machine doesn't require any particular expertise.

The US produces a few thousand physics majors every year. That's about the same as the number produced throughout the Cold War, but I see no evidence that it is insufficient. Universities are hooked on federal money, and use fear-mongering to try to get more. They have done this for decades now, and it still works.

I'm not claiming that we should be totally complacent and not worry. What I object to is the fear-mongering that is simply dishonest.

Posted by: b at February 1, 2006 3:40 PM


In terms of output/nation it may appear that we aren't. As I said, OJ, ERP, and Mike make good points.

In terms of closely watching the culture around me, and as someone who has a keen interest in same, I'm noticing an increasing number of people (of all ages - but youth is the worst off) whose response to life's questions is "I don't know and I don't care,"

I blame this on intellectual laziness, and I blame public education for promoting that laziness. I also submit that a nation cannot stay pre-eminent in technology and science once too many people have such a mindset.

Does that explain why?

Posted by: Bruno at February 1, 2006 3:41 PM

what is the commercial value of a batchelors of science degree in physics or chemistry ? about the same as a first year teacher's salary. and if you keep going and get a doctorate in physics, how much does your commercial value go up ? $0. the fact of the matter is that there is a huge glut in doctorate degrees being awarded.

Posted by: toe at February 1, 2006 3:48 PM

I started seeing the true worth of college degrees when I saw an ad for a warehouse in the DC area, which stated "College Degree required. Along with the ability to lift 50 pounds":)

Posted by: Brad S at February 1, 2006 4:09 PM


This nation's society and economy was built on the backs of not only a few select people with technical knowledge, but those same select people all too willing to hoard the knowledge for themselves.

If there is a decent profit margin in making sure more are able to obtain the scientific knowledge, more will do so. During the first half of this decade, profit was a darned hard thing to come by.

Posted by: Brad S at February 1, 2006 4:12 PM


I think you prove my point.

There will soon be a "decent profit margin" everywhere.

The "select few" will no longer be limited to the USA.

Further, the "select few" must be drawn from a pool, which I argue (and others here disagree) is shallowing in the US while deepening elsewhere.

I'm 100% with you on college degrees and other such paper. I'm worried about the raw level of knowledge.

Posted by: Bruno at February 1, 2006 4:18 PM


The idea that there is a raw level of knowledge that is drawn from a pool makes absolutely no economic or social sense. There are always work-arounds around any situation, even one where inertia is prevalent. Why do you think Sylvan Learning Center and the University of Phoenix (along with its competitors) exist?

Posted by: Brad S at February 1, 2006 4:23 PM

Yes, we've been behind since Nobel.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2006 4:44 PM

Bruno, I didn't say my son was illiterate or innumerate, only that he didn't waste his time on things he could hire people to do for him. This particular "kid" is 42 and making big bucks in the field of high finance.

What actually brought the exchange with my son to mind was an amusing episode on the TV show, "Numb3rs" last Friday. The resident mathematical genius had been spelling "anomaly" incorrectly all his life.

In the show, he was shown to be annoyed at being called on it, but the mathematicians and physicists, not to mention high fliers in finance, I know would laugh at the thought they could care about spelling.

Posted by: erp at February 1, 2006 5:39 PM

Isn't the problem, really, a lack of solid fundamentals, rather than not enough advanced scientists and engineers? Not to denigrate the importance of the latter, but my concern with American education is that it is producing too many people who are marginally literate, at best. My wife's grandmother, who only went through eighth grade, spoke better, wrote better, and managed her affairs better than many a "college graduate" today.

Or take a look at what constituted popular culture and was written in the newspapers as recently as the pre-World War II period. It was at a much higher level of complexity and sophistication, e.g., in terms of historical and literary references, than today's popular culture. To argue otherwise strikes me as simply untenable. Of course, we're a nation of 300 million people, with lots of very smart, very educated businessmen, professionals, etc. But I think it cannot be denied that the average American is less literate, in every sense of the word, than our grandparents' generation.

Posted by: Steven M. Warshawsky at February 1, 2006 6:00 PM

Another point: There has been effective universal public education in this country throughout the 20th century. Comparing what is taught in the schools today with what was taught, say, in 1940 demonstrates the watering down of the curriculum. This cannot be denied. And if one argues that this is comparing apples and oranges, then focus strictly on the curricula offered at elite secondary schools and universities. The same watering down has occurred. So even the most privileged in our society, on average, are not educated as well as they were in the past.

Posted by: Steven M. Warshawsky at February 1, 2006 6:06 PM

Steven, I was in public school in New York City from 1940-52 and attest to the accuracy of your comment. The curriculum even then was watered down compared to the earlier part of the 20th century when Latin and Greek were routinely required.

It's a different world, but as you say, it's a less cultured and literate one. I'd be satisfied if kids today were taught what they needed to know to make their own informed decisions about their lives.

Posted by: erp at February 1, 2006 6:32 PM

Frankly, if we import the talent from the world instead of using home grown talent, that is fine with me, provided they stay here. But what if they don't?

Bingo. Since 9/11 the US Dept of Immigration was been actively forcing the world's best and brightest science & engineering post-docs to return to home when their student visas expire. They can no longer stay while applying for green cards or petitioning for naturalization.

Previously they would stay, become US citizens, and win Nobel prizes and found billion dollar companies.

The Dept of Immigration is causing more long-term damage to the US economy than OBL could ever dream of doing.

Posted by: Gideon at February 1, 2006 6:40 PM


I didn't mean to imply anything about your son. I do however, look down on the notion that we can all hire people to do the things we don't deem "important."

This harkens back to a similar debate here months ago, where I made a similar argument re: overspecialization.

The same folks disagreed with me there too, so the model must be the same. Count me as one of the people who cares about spelling, hand writing, and just about everything else. (Steven made the point better than I did)

The idea that we should all do what we get paid well for, and just pay others to do everything else is all fine and good. I simply make the point that this will break down when we approach the point where no one is capable or interested in understanding the world around them (save their own little bubble).

OJ often points to 'libertarianism' and liberals as living in the party of the "self". I could go on, but I think you are all smart enough to know where I'm coming from - whether you agree or not.


I don't think we are in disagreement on most of this. I was talking more about a pool of people who understand the world around them (and actually care to think about it) than I was about a "raw pool of knowledge."

Again, I'll stipulate to the notion that it is highly unlikely that mankind will get dumber (or less 'knowledgable'. I'm arguing with the proposition that this font of knowledge will always be America's forte - absent the work necessary to maintain pre-eminence.



Posted by: Bruno at February 1, 2006 6:41 PM


The "font of knowledge," FWIW, will always be with us. The ability to work-around and tinker, combined with legal and financial protections for the fruits of your labor, is the egg-laying golden goose NOBODY (not even senators from Massachusetts!) wants to kill.


Care to guess what the HS Graduation rate was in 1940? Also, what was the main purpose in establishing the GED, which was a part of the GI Bill in the 1940s?

Posted by: Brad S at February 1, 2006 7:53 PM

Ideas are actually pretty easy to come by. What is needed is an entrepreneurial culture, transparent financial markets and the rule of law. Nothing all that hard to duplicate, but not only is nobody else coming close but those who used to be good at it (we're looking at you, England) are moving in the opposite direction.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 1, 2006 7:55 PM

We will not avoid the Fear of All Sums and achieve competitiveness without competitive schools. Vouchers Now.

A liberal education has intrinsic worth. But if Eng. Lit., Poli Sci, Journalism, etc. all teach the same thing, i.e.; "Bush Sucks, America Sucks", students are robbed of a truly liberal education. We've got to break the Leftist grip on academia too.

And instead of arguing about race preferences at law scools as in 'Grutter', we should close them entirely. And open medical schools. We'd be much better off with a doctor on every corner than a lawyer.

Posted by: Noel at February 1, 2006 8:53 PM


Paraphrasing OJ from the following post...

You apparently don't understand the Senators from Mass. and/or the ideology that guides them.

They DO want to kill the goose, as they wish to destroy the world that the goose inhabits.

Accuse me of "ad absurdum" argumentation all you want, you can draw a straight line from "Mass. Liberalism" right to Auschwit'z ovens, Stalin's purges, Cambodia's Killing Fields


they're preaching (not teaching) it in our schools.

It isn't as if I don't agree with much of what OJ, you, Mike & erp say. It's just that I temper the optimism with a dose of reality - brought on by observing what is going on around me.



Though Blair's reforms haven't passed yet (and may not), it appears that AU and UK will reform schools before we will.

Posted by: Bruno at February 1, 2006 8:57 PM

Regarding Brad's remark about high school graduation rates in 1940. I have no idea what they were, but I'm sure they were nominally lower than today. So what? Same thing could be said about the "explosion" in the number of students going to college. This doesn't mean that the average American is educated as well as, or better than, his grandparents' generation. I rather think not.

But, again, compare the same populations -- students at elite secondary schools and universities. There is no question that on average they are educated less well than in the past.

I think the only people today who can say they are better educated than those of previous generations are advanced scientists and engineers (because their fields have advanced so far so quickly). But where the measure is knowledge of history, literature, general math, economics, languages, etc., today's students simply cannot compare. Surveys of high school and college students taken over the years clearly demonstrate this.

So what's the solution, according to today's education establishment? To define the problem away. Hence, the goal of education now is not to learn actual facts and ideas, but supposedly how "to think." And don't forget self-esteem and multicultural brainwashing. These are the goals of "education" today. So today's students might not know anything, but they are really good at expressing feelings (especially hurt ones) and "thinking" about "diversity."

This is a national disaster in the making.

Posted by: Steven M. Warshawsky at February 2, 2006 11:03 AM


Phrases you could have your child memorize for future use -

1. Do you want fries with that?

2. You wanna supersize that combo meal?

3. Hello and welcome to Wal-Mart!

4. My name is ______ I'll be your server for this evening.

5. Two large pepperoni and one order of hot-wings comes to $23.65

Posted by: Bartman at February 2, 2006 2:50 PM


What if I were to tell you that a HS Diploma/GED has little, if anything, to do with being a standard of academic proficience? And, what if I were to tell you that the Associates Degree is fast heading toward being something other than what society thinks it is?

Would you then think we were heading for a "national disaster?" Or would you let practicalities lead you toward different thinking?

Posted by: Brad S at February 2, 2006 2:58 PM

"But again, compare the same populations--students at elite secondary schools and universities. There is no question that on average they are educated less well than in the past."

Gee, I wasn't aware my dearly departed grandparents were aware of the World Wide Web back when they were my age:)

Posted by: Brad S at February 2, 2006 3:04 PM

Brad, thanks for your comments, although I don't think they get at the issue.

Frankly, I have no idea what you're arguing re high school diplomas and Associates degrees. That they mean less and less in today's world? That they mean more? That formal education is becoming outmoded? Or that only advanced degrees carry any weight? Your position is unclear. Stop beating around the bush, tell me what you think, and I'll give you my reaction.

As for your remark about your grandparents not knowing about the Web, surely you don't think that just because we live in more technologically advanced times, the average person is more knowledgeable than in the past. If so, all of us who sit at our computers and have these debates would be geniuses. Not.

Posted by: Steven M. Warshawsky at February 2, 2006 3:42 PM


You persist in arguing a point no one is really debating. Of course your grandparents were unaware of the WWW.

Were we able to bring them into this conversation, they would immediately recongnize it's value, while you would seem to persist in arguing that there was no value in knowing what they new.

With the current generation, on the other hand, an increasing number likely have no background on the history, culture, or the science of the world that tney live in.

Nor are they able to spell, write, read instruction manuals, nor do they contemplate the value of knowing such, after all, somebody taught them how to "look it up"

You seem to have bought the moronic public ed. myth that "being able to look something up" is the functional equivalent of knowledge.

To me, that is an ideology that is laughable on its face. A populace dumbed down to such a degree will soon lose steam to a culture that values the creation of content-rich, well-rounded individuals.

Furhter, there is plenty of evidence, in terms of prevention of Alzheimers, self reported "happiness" indices, etc. etc. that having a broad base of knowledge has raw physical and mental advantages as well.

This discussion creates an interesting thought exercise for directed evolution. Shut the power off long enough, and a culture that needs;

* Permanent electrical tittilation to remain conscious

* The internet to "look things up"

* Paid experts to tell them how to educate their kids and live their lives and fix their toilets...and so on...

will soon collapse.


I restate my dismay that so many thoughtful individuals parrot the moronic public ed. drivel about "learning to learn" and "looking things up" while whole swaths of knowledge and skills are drained from our culture.

The argument for willful ignorance from such intelligent people is shocking. No wonder the Nurse Ratchetts who run the schools lead the nation's ding bat soccer moms, their emasculated husbands, and their children as cowboys lead cattle.

Posted by: Bruno at February 2, 2006 3:56 PM

You may now all berate me mercilessly for misspelling "titillation"

Posted by: Bruno at February 2, 2006 4:23 PM


What I am suggesting is that a HS Diploma/GED (and, increasing, the Associates Degree) is but a mere "gateway document." Meaning, you use it in order to gain access to, among other things, a job, an apartment, a car, etc. The Associates Degree is fast becoming the only way to get into trades such as auto repair or electrical work.

Neither have remotely anything to do with demonstrating a "font of knowledge" or of demonstrating proper social skills.

Bruno, can you please demonstrate to me where, at any point and time, where our culture and economy (always intertwined, BTW) ever valued "well-rounded individuals?" You can't. Knowledge, in the past, was hoarded among the self-appointed "intelligentsia," and that intelligentsia always erected a fairly high barrier to entry. Today's Internet erases that barrier.

Posted by: Brad S at February 2, 2006 4:45 PM

Bruno, nobody here will berate you either for misspelling or for impassioned opinions.

You are frustrated because we are at the mercy of those who really wish us harm, so am I and so are others who comment here, but I'm more optimistic now than I was ten years ago. When Clinton was elected I thought it really was the end of history . . . and geography and civics and science.

You must remember to keep keep your cool when among the moonbats and whatever else you you do, keep smiling, if only because it drives them crazy.

Posted by: erp at February 2, 2006 5:53 PM

so where are the super advanced genius kids being raised ? uhm...uhm..uhm, borneo ? this is all relative, and i doubt very much that people in general are less educated today than 50 years ago. sure they used to teach greek in h.s. and guess what, they still do today! along with calculus, biology, chemistry, etc. what a bunch of faithless fearful chicken littles. if today's economy and opportunites cause all this hand wringing then just go stick your head in an oven because it doesn't get any better. as i have said before, this kind of article/discussion was first conducted in latin.

Posted by: toe at February 2, 2006 6:14 PM


For an answer to your question, try these 3 things.

1. Get the book (by a Brit, of all people) called "They made America"

It's a coffee table monster that catalogues the march from "steam engine to search engine."

These are the people YOU are talking about. Read the entire book cover to cover and you will at least see what I'm talking about - even if you don't agree.

If you read all the lines, and the value between them, you get a sense of MEAT, DENSITY, CHARACTER entirely lacking in most of the brightest techno-brats plying their "mile-wide/inch-deep" wares.

2. Read Hamilton/Chernow - Adams/McCollough etc etc. Try to visualize any of today's "intelligensia" building (or even conceiving of) this nation. It's absurd. This isn't a function on Adams/Jefferson/Washington/Hamilton genius alone.

It is also function of the culture and society that supported them. Your point may be that there are plenty of Adams and Jeffersons today. Fine.

My point is that we live in a culture that would turn them off and tune them out, change the channel to watch Oprah or Springer, and obnoxiously argue that when they need Jefferson and Adams, they'll "look them up."

If you have to "look them up" it might be too late.

3. Watch "Band of Brothers" Pay close attention to the last episode, where the Real Jack Winters ends the entire series. That man holds more of DNA of the glory and strength of Western Civilization in his fingernail that every one of "your" internet savvy techno-brat intelligensia could muster in their entire being.


In closing...

I get a kick of you telling me "I can't" show a time when well rounded individuals were valued. If they weren't valued it was for the same reason that fish don't 'value' water. We used to be swimming in them.

Rather than continue, let's call it a day. You and I aren't antagonists as much as we are simply debating where we stand in a point of time.

I'd gladly enjoy being proven wrong. Some day, when we all get together at a bar for a meeting of "Band of BrothersJudd", we can hash this all out over copious quantities of Maker's Mark.



I'm fine. Really. I practice your advice every day, but thank you.

Posted by: Bruno at February 2, 2006 8:34 PM