Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Time for a Truth Commission

Supposed links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were one of the main justifications for the Iraq War. Dick Cheney in particular continued to point to those links long after they had been debunked by both the 9/11 Commission and the Pentagon.

That's bad enough. But now McClatchy is reporting that the search for proof of such links was one of the major motivations for the torture of "high value" detainees.

Let that sink in for a minute. Techniques used by Communist regimes to extract false confessions were deployed by American interrogators searching for evidence of a conspiracy that didn't actually exist. The Bush regime sacrificed the rule of law and 200 years of hard-earned American moral authority in order to achieve their own political goals.

(And incidentally, that last link is truly scary stuff. Katrina-level incompetence applied to interrogation policy.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yes, it really is that bad

I just had a look at the latest equipment book-to-bill numbers, and they're pretty ugly. Both bookings and billings are below the levels reached in the depths of the dot-com meltdown, which was itself a historic downturn for the IC industry.

Worse, the ratio has not been above one since January 2007 (although it lingered in the upper 0.90s until May). The two years of the 2000-2002 downturn seemed like an eternity, and this one clearly isn't over yet.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that bookings seem to have stabilized, although at painfully low levels. I'm not going to call a bottom just yet, but I'm hearing hints of optimism rather than the unmitigated doom of a few months back.

The other good news is that the rise of consumer electronics in the last few years probably means a faster bounce off the bottom, at least for IC volume. It takes a lot less to get people to buy hundred-dollar gadgets than thousand-dollar computers. Of course the gadgets bring in less revenue, too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The customer is always right, 450-mm edition

I've had my differences with Robert Castellano in the past, but I think his view of the proposed 450-mm wafer transition is pretty accurate. The switch to 300-mm wafers was great for the chip companies, not so great for the equipment companies. So there are likely to be some tough negotiations about development funding and equipment purchase commitments before 450-mm equipment moves forward.

The bottom line, though, is that fighting with your customers is never a winning strategy. If big customers like Intel and Samsung are determined to build 450-mm fabs, the equipment companies who help them do it will be more successful than those who can't or won't.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Clean coal is part, but only part, of the energy answer

Environmentalists often argue that investments in clean coal technology are just wasted money. It's a dirty fuel, it will always be a dirty fuel, and so the ultimate answer is to tax it into fiscal oblivion.

In a perfect world, I would agree with them.

But in this world, coal-generated electricity isn't going to go away. Coal is too plentiful and too cheap. Given a choice between turning the lights off and burning coal, countries will choose coal every time. Any workable energy or climate change policy is going to have to deal with the problem of coal.

Which is essentially the point Energy Secretary Chu made this week in comments supporting clean coal investments. Yet his other point was equally important: the problem of coal isn't going to be easy to fix. Clean coal is important, but it's not a strategy by itself.

There's something to be said for putting smart guys to work on energy policy.