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Opinion
What you need to know for 01/21/2017

Keeping eye on Obama, nanotech

Keeping eye on Obama, nanotech

In case you’re wondering, I did hie myself over to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering
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In case you’re wondering, I did hie myself over to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany the other day to see President Obama. I figured it was the least I could do since he had come all this way to see us, but as it turned out I wasn’t able to get close enough to ask him what he was doing there in the first place, as I had intended.

As any pundit can tell you, if he wants to get re-elected he has to concentrate on the so-called swing states, not on a state like New York, which is in the bag for any Democrat who draws a breath.

The Secret Service thought I was close enough where I was, behind the press railing, so I never got a chance to sing out my question.

He gave a jolly speech, as I was sure he would. He may be the only politician alive who can read a speech from a teleprompter consisting largely of platitudes and make it sound heartfelt, spontaneous and intelligent. I listen to him and I think, if I could do that I’d be president too.

He declaimed against the outsourcing of jobs but declared optimistically that “more and more companies are insourcing,” which I immediately made note of as a word-watch item.

“Outsourcing” was defined by Dave Barry as a “business term meaning to source out,” which I like very much as a way of indicating the nuttiness of it.

Out-source? Source-out? What the devil does that have to do with hiring someone else to do a job for you? And now “insource,” meaning presumably to do a job yourself, or hire someone close to home to do it, rather than abroad.

Business is the backbone of America, as we all know, but it is NOT the backbone of level-headed language. But now we’re stuck with the word. I’ve even heard someone talk about outsourcing the mowing of their lawn.

The president came with a “to-do” list for Congress that was heavy on economics and especially job creation, it having been decided that that’s what will decide the election — not human rights in China or nuclear weapons in Iran.

He wants Congress to give tax credits to small businesses for creating new jobs, to create a job corps for veterans, to reward businesses for insourcing, and so on.

With unemployment still around 8 percent (down from a high of 10 percent), it makes sense, though the idea of a Republican-led House of Representatives giving him anything at all in an election year is pretty funny.

He wants the Capital Region, with its nanotech center and its GlobalFoundries factory (which, Abu-Dhabi-owned, got only a passing mention) to be a model for the rest of the country. “I want to create more opportunities for hard-working Americans to start making things again and selling them all over the world stamped with those proud words, Made in America,” he read from the teleprompter, though you really couldn’t tell that’s what he was doing.

Of course he toured the center itself and “inspected” — that’s the official word — sophisticated machines that process silicon wafers. I wondered, how many factories does a president visit in a four-year term, and how many machines does he inspect? It must be a devil of a lot, and he has to appear interested in every one. It can’t be an easy job.

He inspects these things, of course, the same way a king or a president inspects the troops, by walking past them and looking either regal or presidential, as the case may be.

He said the high-tech workers in Albany were “the best workers in the world,” and I wondered how many times he has said that in how many different factories. How do presidents and governors manage all of this without gagging? It has long been a puzzle to me.

I didn’t get invited on the walk-through, so I didn’t see much of the joint myself — only the cold garage-like space where the press entered, a long corridor and a staircase, and the big industrial-feel room where the event was held, with tatters of yellow police tape hanging incongruously from the high ceiling, bushels and bushels of it, and please don’t ask me what that was all about. At first I thought it might be what’s known in the contemporary-art world as an installation, but that couldn’t be.

I had seen the green-glass complex many times from the outside, driving past it at the intersection of Fuller Road and Washington Avenue, but this was the first time I was ever inside. If anything high-tech entered my system as a result, it has not yet been diagnosed.

I had my camera with me, and you can see the results in the photo gallery above. My camera was thoroughly inspected by one of the Secret Service’s bomb-sniffing dogs, so if any of the pictures appear smudgy it could be because the dog was a little too sniffy at the lens end.

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