Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
February 22, 2013
Mr. President: There is little human wrought around us, little discernible by our
senses, that does not owe its existence to engineering and its hierarchical forbears,
science and mathematics. However, the demand for STEM (science, technology,
engineering and mathematics) workers has become globalized. The HI-B visa
scheme is our bid in this global market but it is no longer a winning bid; instead, it is
being used by employers as a cheaper alternative to the local market, and it hobbles
any entrepreneurial talent in the immigrants recruited.
The visa is of limited duration running out after three years and renewable for another
three, and it can take a decade or more through the arduous labyrinthine immigration
passage to Green Card and citizenship. A start-up under an HI-B while possible, is
almost impossible because of the employment guarantees required for the non-U.S.
In contrast, China lays out the red carpet for the smart newly-minted Chinese PhD
from a top-flight U.S. university. The Chinese 'sea-turtle' program (the word
apparently is a pun on 'returnee' in Mandarin) puts him on a plane, a limo awaits, as
does a house, a car, an office, a job, a partner if necessary for the start-up, and a
salary in the interim.
China's subsidies run from $160,000 to $800,000 to fund research projects.
Launched in 2008, the government's 'One Thousand Talents' program is aimed at
attracting academics and potential entrepreneurs. It had an initial budget of RMB 40
billion (about $6.5 billion). They mean business.
Chile's 'Start-up Chile' program offers $40,000, help in learning Spanish, office space
and a year to get going to those accepted in their program.
The STEM Jobs Act of 2012 secured bipartisan support in Congress until blocked by
the White House to await a comprehensive immigration package. Why should it have
to be part of a comprehensive immigration package? Mixing apples and oranges, and
harming ourselves while we wait does not appear rational.
On the other hand, support for the brain mapping program just announced is to be
welcomed. The Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, funded by a half billion
dollars from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, started out with a mouse brain map
showing when and where different genes are switched off. They are now following up
with a chart for humans. Europeans have not been idle. At the Federal
Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, a joint project with IBM begun in 2005
produced the 'Blue Brain' with IBM supplying the Blue Gene Supercomputer. Now
under the EU's Future Emerging Technologies Flagship program, a Human Brain
Project with a one billion Euro budget is in the offing. It will bring together Europe's
best neuro-scientists, engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, etc. in
developing an understanding of the brain to include genes, cognition and behavior.
The brain mapping effort is worldwide and certainly not too soon for us.