Friday, April 15, 2005

Back To Mayberry

How many times have you written an email and then swiftly hit the send button only to recoil in horror that you sent it to the wrong person or group of people? I think I have finally learned my lesson on that one…maybe.

So can you blame President Bush for not wanting to use email to communicate with his daughters? He’s right; any of his private communications could end up becoming fodder for the dailies and the late night comedians. He’s the President of the United States, who wouldn’t be tempted to try to hack his internet correspondences?

"There has got to be a certain sense of privacy," he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "I don't want you reading my personal stuff."

But just because he’s adverse to sending email doesn’t mean he has to be averse to teaching children how to use computers, email and the web. However, it’s crystal clear his fellow Texan, Joe Barton, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for goodness sake, is completely opposed to America’s children learning these essential skills. Barton has fixed his sights on evaporating the E-rate.

“If I had to vote today, I’d vote to abolish it,” he said. “If I can’t kill it, I’m going to do everything I can to so under fund it that it goes away.”

How special.

The E-rate that funds the neediest and poorest school districts in this country and allows these severely disadvantaged districts to access telecom, internet services and construct internal connections. The E-rate that has helped hundreds of thousands of children in our public schools to have half a fighting chance of overcoming the digital divide. The E-rate that the telecommunications companies have been trying to murder ever since its inception because they are, after all, telecommunications companies and that’s the kind of stuff they do.

Meanwhile the University of Illinois just came in 17th at the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest or as it’s commonly known, the “programming Olympics.” China was first; Russia was second and then came a long list of Asian and European schools.

“The relatively poor showing of American students is a red flag about how well the United States in general is doing in technology compared with its global rivals,” said Jim Folery, chairman of the Computing Research Association.

Seems it could portend the shift of business from Silicon Valley and other areas to China, Korea and India. Great! More outsourcing. They’re celebrating in China while Joe Barton passionately declares his intentions right here at home. Of course that makes Barton an odd bird; he’s a politician who doesn’t pay attention to polls.

A couple years ago CBS News, National Public Radio and Gallup conducted separate polls regarding preparing youth with technology skills. Parents thought it was hugely important as did Teachers. But the group that really thinks kids need every advantage they can get was Bizness.

In 2002 alone, companies projected the aggregate demand for IT workers at 1.1 million, of which they predicted a shortfall of almost 600,000. Seems to me that were we serious about everyone who wanted a job being able to get one we would make darn sure that we started early in elementary school to prepare these kids for full employment. Seems to me that our national health is at risk as long as we refuse to admit that we are living in the era of the “knowledge based economy.”

Even Verizon understands that simple concept.

On their website at they have this whole thing about reading and computer literacy. They say:

“Verizon believes that the ability to read, write and communicate is the foundation for success in life.”

So maybe somebody from Verizon should call up Barton and clue him in?

My daughter is looking for a new job. She does all her applications through the net. She wouldn’t be able to get a new job were she net illiterate. My son is looking for a summer internship, he cruises the web looking for companies and organizations who are offering internships. My husband spends his whole day transmitting and receiving messages in his important role at the Defense Intelligence Agency. I sit here making a living and scrolling out pithy pontifications and certainly would not be able to do so if I didn’t have some command of how this whole system works.

Yet we got Barney Fife Barton running around Capitol Hill threatening to “kill” what may be some kid’s only hope for breaking out of a life of poverty and minimum wage jobs. I just hope that somebody forces this dolt to keep his only bullet in his pocket and his gun pointed at the floor.

Preparing Youth With Technology Skills: What Voters Think (The Children’s Partnership, California Community Technology Policy Group, PolicyLink)
ZDNet News, April 7, 2005
Reuters, April 14, 2005
Forbes, April 13, 2005
TR Daily, April 12, 2005

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Unmuddling The Metaphysical

Some people go insane and some are driven to insanity.

The picture that accompanied the story showed a man with wild eyes, a frightening expression of anger and defiance. The 41 year-old Daniel Taugher had ridden his bicycle to a Comcast service center to complain about his bill. Once inside he began yelling and threatening to blow up the place. The police later said he was probably drunk. He’s now being held on $200 thousand bail and could face 20 years in prison.

And that might be the best thing to have happened to Daniel Taugher, at least in prison he won’t have to pay the cable bill.

When I told my normally mild-mannered husband this story, he began laughing. It’s not really an occasion for humor, but maybe deep down inside we all understand what drove the already shaky Mr. Taugher over the “cliff” as they say.

Report after report catalogues the rapid increase in cable rates over the last few years. Some say as much as six percent a year. My own cable bill was $45 one month and mysteriously became $50 the next. Just like that, a 9% increase. Then you look at the 1205 report Dick Treich and Garth Ashpaugh did on Comcast (posted on my website at and you find out that Comcast charges way too much for installations and equipment. Next is the passing on to customers what it costs them to upgrade their systems, which in my opinion should be absorbed by the companies themselves, and you could easily arrive at the conclusion that we all should be paying $20 to $30 dollars less per month.

Stuff like that used to be called “gouging.”

Comes then the familiar refrain from the cable operators singing the blues that their programming costs are going up and that’s why they have to jack up the bill. I’ve even heard several say it’s ESPN’s fault.

The push toward insanity is probably at its nadir right now in Arizona. You actually have a cable operator claiming they give a hoot about how much the customers are paying. Cox Communications has become the Nurse Ratched of the cable industry. It’s really wacky because you know she’s not telling you the truth, you know she’s the one who is crazy and yet she’s the one holding the syringe and any minute now she’s going to stick it to ya.

What can be done?

You already know the answer to that. Rip off that straight jacket and start chanting like Chief Bromden, “Telecom Act, Telecom Act, Telecom Act!” Feel yourself empowered! You are big, you are strong, you have a voice!

I’ve seen people exhibit some pretty zany behavior when they felt weak and victimized, I’ve even done a few eccentric things myself under those circumstances, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Take a split second to pick up the phone and call your Congressional office and tell them you want rate regulation in the new Act. Then follow it up with a letter. It’s too bad what Daniel Taugher did, maybe if he hadn’t wigged out at the Comcast service center he would have wigged out someplace else, like the gas station. Or maybe it all could have been avoided if the cable operators weren’t so fanatically driven by greed.

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