Yearly Archives: 2006

Technology and the Politics of War

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., caused a political firestorm recently when he said he wanted to reinstate a military draft. His radical proposal brings to light a growing theme that both political parties should consider very closely.

In a world where science provides better health and improves the prospects of longevity, death is no longer glamorous, particularly the early variety.

Rangel is incoming chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, making his proposal worthy of attention even if the two top House Democrats — Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader-Elect Steny Hoyer — have no intention of supporting conscription.

According to a June 2005 Gallup poll, 62 percent of adults oppose mandatory military training and reserve service. This opposition calls for a closer look at Rangel’s thinking. It is clear that he is trying to stop, not start, a war — and it seems he has discovered the politically powerful idea that unnecessary death is unpopular.

“There’s no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft, and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way,” Rangel said.

It is true that there is growing resistance to body counts, a factor in the recent Republican defeat in the House and Senate. However, resistance to casualties doesn’t necessarily mean that war will end — it simply means that Americans need to stop dying in battle. That is where a political lesson for Republicans or hawkish Democrats presents itself.

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Le Web 3.0

Remember web 2.0? Well, Europe has now moved on to web 3.0. My husband went to a conference in Paris oraganized around that idea and here is his post. Apparently the conference was good, but the few politicos that showed up made some stupid remarks. The winner in the stupidity contest is this one:

“The Internet is very important”, Nicholas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior – France

Yes, and the sky is blue. Yikes.

The difference between proprietary and open source software

Over at ZDNet, Ed Burnette asks an interesting question. He wonders if Microsoft has just as many troubles with patents as everyone thinks Linux does. His answer is that they must be in the same boat, but he’s missing a key distinction that stems from the fact that Linux is open source and MS’s code is (for the most part) proprietary.

Proprietary firms like Microsoft have strong incentives to make sure their code actually belongs to them and this includes hiring lots of attorneys. Indeed, MS is known to seek out patent deals to protect its customers and the company also provides indemnification to its customers (unlike Linux). This is in contrast to the open source community where sharing is the norm and the incentives to protect the code are not quite as strong. This is not to say that there are no incentives, but just think of how many lone coders you’ve known who’ve said they would really like to copy from here or there.

Net Neutrality Shopping Is Bad for the Economy

Shopping is normally good for the economy, but not when the shoppers are net neutrality advocates looking for friendly deals on a regulatory forum. Policy makers in Michigan, their current target, should tell pro-regulatory activists to go home, with good reason.Those who support net neutrality legislation frame themselves as proponents of the Net, but in reality their recommendations would have an anti-Internet effect. The worry is that network providers like AT&T or Comcast will start charging some Web sites more than others. It is true that network providers would like to charge high-traffic Web sites for their larger usage of the network, but it remains unclear why that would be wrong or unfair.

Voip.com, an Internet phone provider, is one of the corporations calling for government intervention. Without government oversight, it argues, “consumer-friendly applications like VoIP, online gaming, and streaming homegrown video would likely be squeezed out by the larger corporations that can afford to pay for unfettered service.”

It’s obvious that Voip.com is simply trying to avoid the risk of paying more for their network use, but the thing Voip.com’s executives have missed is that the Net is getting crowded. If network operators can’t recoup their costs for the higher bandwidth use, then the network will slow down for everyone and services like VoIP, online gaming, and streaming video won’t work so well anymore.

Read more here.

Generating the Longevity Dividend

New scientific studies showing that it is possible to slow down the aging process are important for those interested in life extension but also key for those who want to see greater economic growth. That’s because life-extending treatments generate what some call the “longevity dividend” — an idea that deserves more attention.

Two recent studies reported on the benefits of a compound called “resveratrol,” naturally occurring in the skin of grapes and red wine. Red wine enthusiasts are always happy when scientists prove the benefits of their hobby, but this time professional athletes and baby boomers have cause to be excited, too. Dr. Johan Auwerx and his colleagues at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in France found that resveratrol not only protected mice from gaining weight and developing metabolic disturbances, but also doubled their physical endurance. “Resveratrol makes you look like a trained athlete without the training,” Auwerx said.

Harvard’s Dr. David Sinclair also found that resveratrol protected mice from the metabolic effects of a high calorie diet. The compound is thought to activate a group of enzymes that protect against aging and significantly prolong life.

Living longer may not appeal to some, because they fear they will simply be around longer with health problems — but growing research on anti-aging solutions means that it will be possible to live longer in a younger biological state.
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Arnold Appoints California’s Broadband Task force

Today, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of Ellis Berns, Rachelle Chong, William Geppert, Charles Giancarlo, Paul Hernandez, William Huber, Christine Kehoe, Wendy Lazarus, Lloyd Levine, Michael Liang, Bryan Martin, Timothy McCallion, Sunne Wright McPeak, Milo Medin, Peter Pardee, Peter Pennekamp, Debra Richardson, Rollin Richmond, Larry Smarr, Jonathan Taplin and Emy Tseng to the Broadband Task Force. The purpose of the Task Force, according to the press release, is to identify opportunities for increased broadband adoption and enable the creation and deployment of new advanced communication technologies.” There are 5 Republicans on the 21 member Task Force, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be pro-government. Levine, a Democratic Assemblyman, has been very good on broadband issues.

Federal government – no sex for those under 30 years old

Government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, yet dusty old bureaucrats are always trying to push their way in. The lastest news on this score is that “the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs.” With everything that’s going on in the world, this is the last thing we should be wasting our tax dollars on. If people can join the army and die for their country before 30 years old then what’s wrong with sex?

America: Wake Up on Immigration

This week the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) released “American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness,” a new study that reveals something that Silicon Valley netizens already know but scream for others to recognize: The immigration debate affects America’s economy in a big way.

When most Americans think of immigration, illegal workers from Mexico usually spring to mind. In Brad Pitt’s new movie “Babel,” for instance, the housekeeper who endangers his character’s kids is sent back to Mexico after being caught by border control. Adding fuel to the fire, various politicians have hired illegal workers. Not all immigrants are illegal or a burden, however.

Indeed, apparently unknown to Hollywood and many in the political fray, a bunch of hardworking immigrants have been creating huge numbers of jobs and wealth for the very Americans that want to keep them out.

Immigrant-founded, venture-backed public companies today employ an estimated 220,000 people in the United States and more than 400,000 people globally, according to American Made. That’s a lot of people — and a lot of future voters who wouldn’t be happy if they were unemployed.

The study also found that companies started by immigrants and initially backed by venture capital account for more than US$500 billion of total U.S. market capitalization. That’s a lot of hard work and capital going toward making American lives better. Consider the immigrant influence on some of the companies everyone already knows.

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Milton Friedman died today

Nobel-Prize winning economist Milton Friedman died today at the age of 94. This is a tragic loss for humanity, as one of the greatest advocates for individual freedom and choice has ceased to exist. Milton was a close friend of Sally Pipes, my President at the Pacific Research Institute, so I had the good fortune to meet with him and his wife Rose on many occasions. He was one of the brightest and nicest people I have ever met. He had the ability to explain difficult concepts in a way that anyone could understand and he always treated everyone with respect. He will be missed a great deal.

Anousheh Ansari is very cool

I met Anousheh Ansari last Friday before she gave a lecture to an audience at Stanford University. She was the first woman to go into space on a private exploration. She was also the first person to blog from space. For a woman who made it big in the private sector before going on to start the Ansari X-Prize, she was surprisingly shy-seeming and incredibly nice. She hopes her story will inspire women all over the world and I will admit to being one of them (that said, my husband was pretty inspired too). Ansari is very cool.

Sonia and Aydin with Anousheh Ansari

Novell and MS — the market brings a new beginning

I almost choked on my morning coffee when I saw the headline last week that Novell and Microsoft announced a deal to make their software work together. As someone who once employed VMware to use Word on a machine running Linux OS, I have to say that I was both surprised and thrilled. And, as someone who closely followed the Microsoft antitrust cases in both the US and Europe, I was astounded. I wish I could call Judge Jackson right now and ask him why he thinks these two competitors who once looked to be arch enemies are now joining forces (Novell accused MS of antitrust violations and sued over WordPerfect). But of course Jackson didn’t think Microsoft had any competitors, so perhaps he wouldn’t really understand the question.

The fact that Microsoft and Novell are now teaming up to provide consumers with something they have been clamoring for (interoperability) is proof that the marketplace can deliver benefits to consumers without government help even if the two competitors have a bad history.

I’m back

After being away for two weeks for my wedding and honeymoon, I’m back. Regular columns will resume at TechNewsWorld next week.

Thank You for Gambling

In the recent movie “Thank You for Smoking,” a tobacco lobbyist comes under fire for working to protect people’s right to smoke. A similar movie could be made about gambling and the villain would be Representative Bob Goodlatte.

The Virginia Republican has been fighting to enact legislation on Internet gambling for some time, and he can now finally claim a good deal of success with the passage of HR 4954, a port security bill with an anti-Internet gambling attachment. Goodlatte’s Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) is set to make it illegal for American banks and financial institutions to process online gambling payments from the United States.

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Capitalism can answer John Rawls

Tuesday’s WSJ had an excellent piece (subscription required) by Ed Phelps where he argues that capitalism answers the Rawlsian test of justice because “the introduction of entrepreneurial dynamism serves to raise Rawl’s bottom scores.” Phelps just won the Nobel Prize in economics and I can see why. This is a brilliant piece.

Microsoft’s New Security Problem: McAfee

For years, Microsoft has come under heavy fire for not making its systems secure enough. Now, with the upcoming release of its new operating system (OS), Windows Vista, the company is being unfairly attacked by self-interested competitors for adding more security to protect consumers.

Back in 2002, when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates announced that the company would be making security a priority, the computing industry responded with a collective, “Finally.” Thomas Greene, writing for the Register, reported at the time that “Bill finally admits that the company has wrongly emphasized whistles and bells over security, and decrees that this shall change.” He went on to say, “Hallelujah. He’s finally arrived on the same page as the rest of the computing world.”

Greene’s analysis would have been more accurate if he had written, “the rest of the computing world except for those who will lose business when consumers’ computing lives become more secure.” But Greene wrote long before McAfee decided to place a full-page advertisement in the Financial Times predicting doom and gloom if Microsoft is allowed to make its own product more secure.

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The Politics of Repairing Humans

This week, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced that his mouse brain-mapping project has finally been completed. This major undertaking arrives in tandem with other advances in medical technologies that will soon force political leaders to face difficult policy questions.

Mapping a mouse’s brain is significant not only because mice share 90 percent of their genes with humans, but also because mapping is the first step towards the goal of reverse engineering. Computer science uses reverse engineering to understand how a device or program works, usually with the goal of copying and improving the technology.

Researchers interested in extending human longevity, such as Ray Kurzweil, believe that reverse-engineering the brain can lead to great advances, not only in understanding how to repair the human body, but also in the field of artificial intelligence. This potential is exciting, and it challenges many of our current practices and beliefs. Consider, for instance, a procedure being tested to wake up patients that many doctors consider brain dead.

Using electrical stimulation of the brain, a type of human “reboot,” scientists have discovered that it is sometimes possible to wake people in deep comas. Dr. Edwin Cooper, an American orthopedic surgeon, has had some encouraging success with his technique, including awakening from a coma Candice Ivey, a woman doctors wanted to terminate by pulling her feeding tube.

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Will Google Learn Government 101?

A decade ago, Microsoft thought it could ignore bureaucratic rumblings with little or no fallout. That attitude led to the historic Microsoft antitrust trial and the realization that bureaucrats can indeed wield bigtime impact. Google is now learning a similar lesson, albeit in a different way.

In the race to provide WiFi access to Internet users, one strategy that looked like a shortcut was to partner with government bodies that seemed inclined to offer a near monopoly to companies who agreed to provide citywide wireless Internet service for “free.” In April of 2006, Google was awarded permission to build such a network in conjunction with Earthlink.

Local governments control the so-called “rights of way” for companies to set up their broadband wireless equipment throughout a city. When a company is awarded the main rights-of-way permissions, one might think that future service provision would be in the bag. In a world where everyone followed the Google motto, “don’t be evil,” that would be the case, but in San Francisco, reality has set in for the search giant.

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Europe’s Technology Problem: The EC

European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes is touring the United States this week. Her visit comes during a nasty spat between the commission and Microsoft that could seriously hurt technology businesses and consumers.

Microsoft is planning to launch its new operating system, Windows Vista, in November for corporate clients and in January for consumers. Before launching in Europe, it hopes the EC will explain if there is anything in its software to which the commission seriously objects. Normally, a corporation shouldn’t have to get permission from a government body in order to launch a product, but in this case, Microsoft and the EC have a history that changes the norm.

In March 2004, the EC ruled that in addition to paying a record fine of 497 million euros (US$632 million), Microsoft had to sell a copy of Windows without Media Player software and hand over the specifics of its Windows server technology to rivals. Both these mandates were meant to correct Microsoft’s allegedly harmful market power.

The company appealed the decision, and in July, the commission slapped Microsoft with an additional fine of 280.5 million euros ($356.9 million) for supposedly not complying with its orders. Given this history, it isn’t hard to see why Microsoft would want to know in advance of its next product if the commission has problems with it. Unfortunately for everyone except EC bureaucrats, an answer will not arrive in the near future.

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My very own Robosapien

My birthday is this month and my fiancé bought me a robot. It’s been a lot of fun — I especially like the fact that if you walk too close to it, it will scream. Its standard programming makes it tell you to “get your own coffee” so I’ll have to figure out how to change that…

I’m back

After spending the summer in NYC working on a book project, I’m back in SF. The book is on the politics of longevity. It isn’t exactly done yet, but I got a good chunk of it finished.