Thursday, June 26, 2008

Add a Zero

George Will, writing in today's Washington Post, seems to have identified a no-brainer action that Congress should take immediately:

Two-thirds of doctoral candidates in science and engineering in U.S. universities are foreign-born. But only 140,000 employment-based green cards are available annually, and 1 million educated professionals are waiting -- often five or more years -- for cards. Congress could quickly add a zero to the number available, thereby boosting the U.S. economy and complicating matters for America's competitors.

....Solutions to some problems are complex; removing barriers to educated
immigrants is not.

Makes sense to me....why would we not want to most educated people in the world working in America?

You can read Will's entire essay here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

36 Up, 3 Down

For any of you that think gas prices will ever come back down significantly OR not continue to increase for a long time, consider some powerful yet simple facts about the American demand and willingness to pay for gasoline:

Gasoline prices are 36% higher today than they were a year ago, but American consumption last week was only 2.7% lower than the corresponding week last year.

We can guess about the role of speculation, cartel price manipulation or the impact of Chinese and Indian economic growth, but the fact above is all you need to know to be certain that prices will not only fail to come back down, but also continue to rise steadily for the foreseeable future.

I found this fact in this article.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My previous post on cancer research reminded me of an article that I read a while back about the tiny number of "scientists" in Congress. Even applying the loosest definition of the word, there are only 30 scientists out of 535 Senators and Representatives.

This is not a surprising fact, nor does it necessarily have to be a problematic one. A strong and curious mind can quickly be brought up to speed on the ways in which science can and should impact public policy - provided of course, that our politicians have both the desire to learn and an inner circle with sufficient expertise to recognize when a scientist's input is warranted.

Sadly, the testimony of the politicians in this article indicate that most of their colleagues seem to be lacking both. Representative Rush Holt (one of the 30 scientists) characterizes the issue perfectly when he says:

“We (the scientists in Congress) know more than our colleagues...but not more than they could know.”

So what does this mean for a voter?

My personal recommendation is to look for evidence of critical thinking ability in your candidates. Do they demonstrate an ability to handle nuance or do they grossly oversimplify issues? Do they change their mind in response to new facts? Does their background demonstrate an ability to work effectively in very diverse jobs or environments - and with diverse teams?

It seems that we usually don't have the opportunity to vote for someone that can clearly demonstrate any of these qualities. Fortunately, the article lists another, more actionable recommendation that we should demand our next President adopt:
Move quickly to appoint a science adviser and keep that person in the presidential inner circle.

This seems absurdly obvious to me... but I guess many of the best ideas are....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cloning Technology and Curing Cancer

I ran into an extraordinary article today that discusses the potential of specific types of cloning technology to fight cancer.

The basic idea is to find a sample of the small percentage of cells in a person's immune system that attack cancer cells, clone them in large numbers and then re-inject them into the body. This therapy is powerful and innovative due to the fact that few immune system cells usually attack cancer because cancer cells are not recognized as being foreign to the body.

I love stories like this because they give us a glimpse of the extraordinary things mankind could accomplish in the future. This technology is pretty far from being widely available, but it is exciting nonetheless.

You can read more about it here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Perspective on Fatherhood

I read these remarks on fatherhood this morning and wanted to share them. I want to say clearly that these are NOT my words, but I do not want to cite the source.

Whether it be in business, government or just every day conversations, the speaker is too often dramatically more important than the validity of the content s/he is delivering. This is a topic that we should all evaluate strictly on merit and that idea is what I am trying to promote by keeping these remarks anonymous (though many of you may know exactly who said them).

The remarks I read are based on three priorities for excellent fatherhood (and parenting in general). I am citing just this core in lieu of the entire speech.

The first [priority] .... – as fathers and parents – [is] to instill [an] ethic of excellence in our children.... And that means meeting those expectations ourselves. That means setting examples of excellence in our own lives.

The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy – the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft – that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness.

But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so it’s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. That’s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers.

...the final lesson we must learn as fathers is also the greatest gift we can pass on to our children – and that is the gift of hope....not idle hope that’s little more than blind optimism or willful ignorance of the problems we face. I’m talking about hope as that spirit inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us if we’re willing to work for it and fight for it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Next Generation's Role in the Iraq War

In 2000, one of George W. Bush's central campaign promises was to cut taxes. Prior to 9/11, when the federal budget was running a substantial surplus, this was a respectable idea.

However, after it became necessary to invade Afghanistan, history would have suggested that these tax cuts be scaled back or eliminated. Actually, if Bush and the Republican Congress had followed the example of every single other wartime government in American history, they would have raised taxes. Instead, they proceeded as if it was still 1999.

If only the fiscal irresponsibility had stopped there.

As we all know, less than two years after the invasion of Afghanistan, we went to war with Iraq. Many of you might also remember that in 2003 the Medicare Prescription Drug Act was passed. Fewer of you probably know that this was the largest increase in entitlement spending since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiatives passed in the 1960's. The price tag for this program runs well into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Despite these enormous new financial obligations, the Congress passed another round of tax cuts in 2003.

No one seems to care about this issue. There is no outrage.

You might explain that by saying that it's hard to get people outraged about NOT having their money taken away from them. But I would respond by asking "what about their children's money"?

This war WILL be paid for, it's just a question of when, who and how much interest they will pay.

Our politicians (I now refuse to call them our "political leaders") have rightly concluded that their careers are enhanced by passing the bill to people that will not be old enough to vote until they are no longer running for office.

Let us hope against the likely scenario the these future citizens, our children and grandchildren, aren't also also paying for their own wars at the same time they are paying for ours....

I read an article on the Washington Post a few days ago that sparked my thinking on it this issue (again). You can read it here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Brooks on Mature Leadership

David Brooks has rapidly become on of my favorite thinkers over the last couple years.

Today he published an essay in the New York Times in which he ponders the value of a leader truly coming to terms with his/her greatest weaknesses (before gaining power). He considers this idea through the lens of Abraham Lincoln's experience.

I recommend the entire short essay (it's here), but wanted to quote the end of it directly as I think it captures some true wisdom:’s not fair to compare anybody to Lincoln, but he does illustrate the repertoire of skills we look for in a leader. The central illusion of modern politics is that if only people as virtuous as “us” had power, then things would be better. Candidates get elected by telling people what they want to hear, leading them by using the sugar of their own fantasies.

Somehow a leader conversant with his own failings wouldn’t be as affected by the moral self-approval that afflicts most political movements. He’d be detached from his most fervid followers and merciful and understanding toward foes. He’d have a sense of his own smallness in the sweep of events. He or she would contravene Lord Acton’s dictum and grow sadder and wiser with more power.

All this suggests a maxim for us voters: Don’t only look to see which candidate has the most talent. Look for the one most emotionally gripped by his own failings.

A Martian Sunset...

Another departure from politics...

Click here for an absolutely breathtaking picture of a sunset on Mars.

I'm guessing it was taken by the new probe that landed last month.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Watching History..and Feeling Good

Last night, Barack Obama became the first African American to ever clinch the nomination of a major American political party.

Please forget - for just a moment - whether you intend to vote for Obama or not.

Instead, remember that barely more than a generation ago, in many parts of this country, African Americans were not allowed to share the same restrooms or water fountains with Caucasians. In many places, African American children were not allowed to sit in the same classrooms with white children.

Regardless of your political beliefs, it is hard to argue that last night was not a huge symbol of America's exceptional ability to continually move closer to the ideals expressed by our Founding Fathers in our founding documents.

This capacity for self-improvement makes me proud of the United States...and it reminds me why we can always be hopeful for our prospects in the future.

I feel good.

Yes, I am pleased that Obama won. But much more importantly, I feel renewed optimism that our biggest challenges might indeed be overcome and that our greatest opportunities may one day be realized.

I don't feel this way because of a particular candidate. I'm not excited by an unrealistic vision of overnight or otherwise short-term solutions. I am excited because I have been reminded, once again, that over time, America tends to get better and better.