Monday, February 1, 2010

Obama's State of the Union Address (Part 4)

In the last installment, the topic of Wal-Mart came up. Understand, Wal-Mart is not evil. Wal-Mart has become a force of nature. This is due to their size. They are the globe's largest retail outlet.

When Wal-Mart moves into a region, they tell the local establishments to find a niche market. Find something that is not a main stream item and the locals will find plenty to go around. That is all fine and dandy advise. However, what is a niche market today may be tomorrow's main stream commodity. That was the case in 2004 with Gourmet Coffee. Suddenly something that was left for specialty houses was in the middle of Wal-Mart's already well stocked coffee isle. The small operators, let alone the likes of Starbucks, got crushed.

In another topic raised even before the President's state of the Union Address we were talking about unions. Part of that discussion, more to the side, was about the contribution of the labor to the demise of Chrysler and General Motors. It is worth remembering that the UAW also represents Ford's workers at the bargaining table. Ford, as you may have noted is still doing quite well. Could it be that Ford's management was in a better place to weather these storms of change?

Having mused of all that, let us get back to the issue at hand. The President's State of the Union Address delivered before congress on January 27, 2010; only five days ago.
President Obama: You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations -- they're not standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America.
This passage has one glaring point that begs to be addressed: They're putting more emphasis on math and science.

That phrase has been the mantra of our elected officials for as long as I can remember. And, yet, after landing on the moon, after building the Personal Computer, after implementing the internet with all the complex calculations, after all this, we still hear that we are failing in math and science. Is that really where we are failing? This is enough to make one go screaming into the night.

I guess this is the place to pass along a quote from Senator Kohl a Democrat from Wisconsin. The quote is from the "Crisis in Math and Science Education" hearing in November of 1989.

There are young people out there cutting raw cocaine with chemicals from the local hardware store. They are manufacturing new highs and new products buy soaking marijuana in ever changing agents, and each of these new drugs is more addictive, more deadly and less costly than the last. How is it that we have failed to tap that ingenuity, that sense of experimentation? How is it that these kids who can measure grams and kilos and can figure out complex monetary transactions cannot pass a simple math or chemistry test?
That was over twenty years ago. Since then we have had two Republican Presidents, and two Democratic Presidents, and yet we hear the same tired mantra. Why?

Perchance there is a key in something said by Philip Kovacs in “Gates, Buffett and the Corporatization of Children

Data worship results in a myopic view of what the world could and should be. Children, we might remind corporate America, are more than math and science scores. While math and science play important roles in our lives, there are other scores we might help children increase: their creativity score, their empathy score, their resiliency score, their curiosity score, their integrity score, their thoughtfulness score, their take-initiative score, their innovation score, their critical thinking score, their passion score, their problem-solving score, their refusal to follow leaders who lie to them score, their democratic engagement score...and so forth.
Maybe there is a myopic mesmerizer in the bottom line of a spreadsheet that we can no longer see the end result. Too, maybe it is simply "not cool" to be educated in math and science because in the end there are no laurels awarded to the team who huddle in tunnels under the earth to find the secrets of the cosmos.

At one time, in the 1960s, boys had dreams of passing beyond the envelope exosphere and setting foot on the moon. That dream was ended on December 19, 1972 when the last Apollo mission (Apollo 17) splashed down in the Pacific off the cost of American Samoa. We gave up on the moon and all other endeavors became petty, small, and commercial. The space shuttle had its moments, but even those are best remembered in the failures and not the successes. Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, Harrison H. Schmitt were the last of the great heroes of math and science.

There may be some good news. It really depends on the corporations. To put the best spin possible on the story, Obama is passing the torch of space exploration and development to the private sector; Obama is cutting the budget for the proposed lunar landing in 2020 (ten years from now). Rather than argue if the private sector is up to the task, let us ask if they are willing? That is the only real question.

There is little doubt on this side of the computer monitor that the private sector can do the job. They can do it for less. They can do it faster. They can do it in a shorter time frame. That is so apparent that it is not worth wasting bits in any argument. If the likes of Gates, Jobs, Brin and Page wanted it, we would be on the moon and setting up the first lunar hotel in two years. The question is, do they want it? Will Buffett back it?

That is the challenge of this era. Will the private corporations who can move humanity off this globe, do so?

More to Come

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