October 01, 2022

Don’t let the pallid, monitor-hued complexion and the spindly junk-food frame fool you. Beneath the emaciated exterior of the high-tech industry beats the heart of a truly with-it grifter.

The scam — or, if you prefer, the innovative public/private partnership — announced by the White House Monday is this: the government (that’s you) will pony up $28 million so the computer industry (which rakes in $28 million a day just in mouse pad revenue) can fill its 200,000 vacant jobs with a new generation of drones.

The plan has several components, all of which bear a striking resemblance to the type of things right-thinking businesses do for themselves: $3 million to retrain laid-off workers; $8 million to build a help-wanted Web site; and $17 million for a media campaign to convince kids that programming isn’t just for geeks. Some of the freshest dudes and dudettes hangin’ in the `hood write code, dig?

Harris N. Miller, who, as president of the Information Technology Association of America, must have only the purest of motives for dunning the taxpayers on behalf of an industry that grossed $865 billion last year, says the campaign will show that it’s a hip line of work. You don’t have to wear a pocket protector or a propeller-head beanie or have an 800 on your SAT’s to work in computers.

Certainly, one should not judge a book by the way it accessorizes its cover, but the 800 SAT comment reveals the root of the problem — either the industry has erred by recruiting kids who barely meet minimum standards for Division 1 football scholarships, or it has placed its fate in the hands of those who think the verbal half of the test booklet is scrap paper for the math problems.

The media campaign is the intriguing part, a modest outlay that may well buy a lot of entertainment value. Designated pitchman for the no nerds need apply campaign is actor Jimmy Smits, whose out-of-focus buttocks can be seen weekly on TV’s NYPD Blue. Make my day, dirtbag. Learn Java. The ad copy virtually writes itself.

In all fairness, it must be noted that not all in the technology sector are eager to go on the dole — some actually believe the approximately $1 trillion local, state and federal taxpayers shell out annually to provide 12 years of good old-fashioned literacy is quite enough; they’ll handle the computer literacy part. A dandy little story in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal cites a number of companies — Ashland Oil, Corning, Motorola and Eastman Chemical to name but a few — that are making heavy investments of time, effort and money to boost technology education in high schools and technical or community colleges. Good for them, the chumps.

This $28 million may be loose change to the Bills Gates and Clinton, but the wary, paying public might well wonder why the money isn’t just stuffed down the nearest rathole, thus saving everybody a ton of further ado and paperwork.

And, in the interest of self-preservation, an extremely cool concept, the high-tech industry may want to pause and reconsider. If its new partner brings to this project anything resembling the success of the War on Drugs and the cost-effectiveness of the ethanol program, the abacus soon could be making a major comeback.

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