Thursday, November 27, 2014

Give thanks!

There is so much to be known, that one will never master it all. Keep learning, and you will keep discovering wonders. Indeed, millions of scientists are working hard to provide you with more to learn -- more marvels to stir your wonder.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Support for Reading about Holmes' Great Dissent

I recently posted comments on The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind--and Changed the History of Free Speech in America by Thomas Healy. If occurs to me that it is hard to understand this book if one does not understand the times in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, wrote his opinions in 1919 that concerned freedom of speech.

Of course these were written in the aftermath of the First World War, known as The Great War at the time. Fighting had started in Europe in 1914, the United States had entered the war in 1917, and the Armistice had come in 11/11/1918. During the war there had been German sabotage in the United States, which had been widely recognized. Indeed, the war had fueled prejudice against large classes of immigrants:
In 1916, President Wilson warned against hyphenated Americans who, he charged, had "poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life." "Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy", Wilson continued "must be crushed out".
American soldiers were returning in great numbers from Europe; they and U.S. soldiers who had not yet been sent to Europe were being demobilized by the million. They needed civilian jobs.

Blacks had migrated from the south to the northern industrial states in great numbers during the war, in part to take jobs in war production and jobs that had been left by men going into uniform. Thus Blacks too would be competing for jobs in ways that they had not before the war.

Foreign immigration to the United States was also important:
Throughout eastern and southern Europe after 1880, Poles, Ukrainians, Greeks, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Jews, and dozens of other ethnic groups were fleeing repressive regimes in Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire, seeking both economic opportunities and personal freedoms in North America. Millions of others came from Britain, Scandinavia, Italy, and other parts of Europe. With very few restrictions on European immigration to the United States and a booming economy, immigration reached all-time highs in the decade prior to the Great War. Whereas immigration had averaged about 340,000 per year during the 1890s, between 1905 and 1914, it jumped to more than 1 million per year. Although Canadian policy was more restrictive, the trend was the same. During the 1890s, immigration to Canada averaged about 37,000 per year; between 1905 and 1914, the figure rocketed to almost 250,000 per year.
Thus in the immediate aftermath of the war, large numbers of immigrants were also competing for jobs in the United States.

I some time ago read 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs--The Election that Changed the Country by James Chace. Teddy Roosevelt and Taft, both progressive Republicans, both wanted to be president. Taft won the Republican nomination, and Roosevelt ran as the candidate of the Bull Moose Party. Wilson, ran as a Democrat, but also as a progressive and won the election (as well as the election in 1916). Eugene Debs, running as a Socialist, received some 6 million votes. This was the high mark for Socialism in national politics. Justice Holmes himself was the target of an anonymous bomb sent through the mails -- one of some 30 letter bombs attributed to anarchists.

World War I had also led to the fall of several empires, and to the rise of Bolshevik government in Russia. With increasingly grave doubts about the ability of monarchs and aristocrats to govern, democracy, socialism, Bolshevism, and anarchism were all in the air; fascism was soon to follow. It is perhaps not surprising that those holding power in the United States were concerned about the spread of ideas antithetical to those on which the USA had been founded.

There was a recession after the war
After the war ended, the global economy began to decline. In the United States 1918–1919 saw a modest economic retreat, but the next year saw a mild recovery. A more severe recession hit the United States in 1920 and 1921 (see: Depression of 1920–21) when the global economy fell very sharply.
This must have further complicated the employment picture as black and foreign immigrants competed for jobs with servicemen returning to private life and the job market.

The Ku Klux Klan had been reborn in 1915 as an organization of white, native-born American, Protestant men. Opposing Catholics, immigrants and blacks, it achieved a membership of some five million in the 1920s, perhaps one-third to one-half of all eligible Americans.

The summer of 1919 was known at "the Red Summer".
The Red Summer refers to the race riots that occurred in more than three dozen cities in the United States during the summer and early autumn of 1919. In most instances, whites attacked African Americans. In some cases many blacks fought back, notably in Chicago, where, along with Washington, D.C. and Elaine, Arkansas, the greatest number of fatalities occurred. 
The riots followed postwar social tensions related to the demobilization of veterans of World War I, both black and white, and competition for jobs among ethnic whites and blacks. The riots were extensively documented in the press, which along with the federal government conflated black movements with bolshevism.
This was also the time of a government move against purported immigrant radicals.
The Palmer Raids were attempts by the United States Department of Justice to arrest and deport radical leftists, especially anarchists, from the United States. The raids and arrests occurred in November 1919 and January 1920 under the leadership of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Though more than 500 foreign citizens were deported, including a number of prominent leftist leaders, Palmer's efforts were largely frustrated by officials at the U.S. Department of Labor who had responsibility for deportations and who objected to Palmer's methods. The Palmer Raids occurred in the larger context of the Red Scare, the term given to fear of and reaction against political radicals in the U.S. in the years immediately following World War I.
The Palmer Raids are thought to have been an early important boost to the career of J. Edgar Hoover.

Perhaps this situation in 1919, and especially the summer of that year, encouraged Justice Holmes towards a more favorable position towards freedom of speech. His "great dissent" was published in November of 1919.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Higher Education After 2015

I was asked to comment on the question “What will 2015 mean for higher education? Where are we coming from, and where are we going?” 2015 marks the end of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and also the end of the Education for All effort, so there has been an effort to consider what if anything should be put in place after 2015 as goals and objectives in international development.

It is almost 60 years since I entered engineering school as a freshman. The world of the student has changed completely since that time. The tools of the engineer have changed, as has the task of the engineer. Indeed, there are whole fields of engineering now that did not exist then. Still, a knowledge of mathematics and language are still fundamental, as are understanding of how to analyze and synthesize.

A decade later I started working in a University computer center in Chile. The machine there was much less powerful than the decade old machine in my home on which I am writing this. My first job was to get software for the simplex algorithm for linear programming and PERT chart calculations up and running. I had undocumented binary decks of cards with the programs, not debugged, from the users group to start with. There were no journals, few books and few colleagues with any computer experience. When I taught Fortran the next year, I had to write and mimeograph a manual for my students – there were none available in Spanish.

The changes are obviously huge. Higher education has expanded greatly in recent decades, both due to an increased demand from qualified students and to an increase in the number of institutions of higher learning offering educational services. The role of the private sector has increased. Higher education has diffused from rich countries to former colonies, and globalized with many more students studying abroad. There has come to be a huge problem of quality – great universities are not built overnight. The promise of new technology and new insights into learning has become apparent, but in my view it has not yet been fulfilled.

As I think of higher education in the United States, in Brazil, in China, in India, in Western Europe, and in Africa, I suspect that the differences are greater than the similarities. Certainly the economic resources for higher education are very different from country to country. If the role of institutions of higher education is not only education, but knowledge creation and organization, and service to the community, then the challenges faced in India are different than those faced in the Russian Federation, Mexico or Uganda. I think it important to recognize that each country has to recognize its own challenges, opportunities and resources for higher education; global benchmarks may not be very helpful.

We are a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, but the specter of conflict is still with us. A challenge remains in the 21st century to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. Climate change now seems inevitable, and the world is challenged with thinking through how to limit its extent and ameliorate its impact. It appears now that population projections were too optimistic, and the challenge of feeding an ever growing population with limited land and water resources and changing climate is even more daunting. Poverty remains a huge global problem, and the inequality of income and wealth militates against economic progress. Thus the future presents huge challenges for all countries, and all countries will be looking to their institutions of higher education for help in meeting those challenges.

A Metaphor

“What should any well educated person know?” If one asks that question I think there would be some common grounds. A well educated person should command at least a native language and possible another tongue, should have some facility with mathematics and some knowledge of geography, science, books, and culture. But I suggest that once you got down to details, the answer would be different in Japan than in China, in India than in Pakistan, in Brazil than in the United States, in England than in France. However, that to me seems a fundamental question that should be asked in each country as it looks past 2015 and plans for the development of higher education.

Clearly the institution of higher education should and must provide different learning experiences for someone who will become a professional historian, versus a physician, an architect, lawyer, or teacher. Perhaps one might think of the common core that any well educated person should command as the trunk of a tree, from which different branches extend. Those branches grow. The body of world knowledge today is much greater than when I began my university education; of course, some branches have died and been pruned from the curriculum, while others have ramified (thus aeronautical engineering has changed to include space technology). But the tree must continue to grow and ramify, with a canopy expanding as human knowledge expands.

In this metaphor, the tree is rooted in the culture of the country and the social and economic needs it recognizes that its institutions of higher education must fulfill. Higher education is dependent on the economic and human resources it obtains from that general society in which it is rooted. It may benefit from material from the global higher education system grafted into its structure.


Education is a human right, but how much schooling must a country provide to its citizens gratis? How good must that schooling be? That seems to me to be a decision that must be by each country for itself. Clearly a rich country can provide more schooling on average to its citizens than can a poor country. I enjoyed the right to attend university virtually free as a young man, at campuses of the University of California, because the people of California treated that as a right for its people; that allowed me to study at very low cost through the level of PhD. California no longer makes that choice.  I would guess that a rich country can also provide a wider variety of school choices to its citizens than can a poor country; one country may choose to train concert level musicians or artists of international caliber at government expense (choosing the most talented applicants for such government grants) while another may not choose to do so, perhaps finding it can not afford to treat such aspirations as rights of its citizens.

Schooling is also an investment. The return to the society for training some professionals is so high that that investment is more cost-effective than other investments. Here we are talking about higher education, and investments in schooling in institutions of higher education. The investment in training people trained to quickly detect and stop outbreaks of communicable disease, before they become epidemics is one such investment. So too is the investment in training people to build and maintain the infrastructure that the nation needs – roads, ports, airports, electrical power, dams, canals, railroads, etc.

Schooling is also a service that a country can provide to those willing to pay its cost. The citizen who wishes to take a management course in order eventually to enable a transfer to a more responsible job in another country may well be able to finance that training personally or have an employer do so; I see no reason why a country might not provide such opportunities, and no reason why they should be subsidized by the government. Another person may chose to study French poetry, Japanese painting, or Russian ballet; perhaps such course might be offered if a sufficient number of students exists for their justification, but again perhaps a country can justifiably decide that they must be funded privately.

The Creation and Organization of Knowledge

Knowledge can and should be shared internationally, but it has become clear that some knowledge is site specific. Examples might include knowledge of Andean crops, tropical forests, or the ecology of the Great Lakes of Africa. Institutions of higher education in all countries may choose to contribute to the global stock of scientific and technological knowledge, as well as knowledge of history and culture, and their governments may choose to support that work as part of a national responsibility. However, there are areas of knowledge in which universities and other institutions of higher learning must invest, because they are vital to the people that they serve.  Clearly Ebola must be studied in Africa, where it is found, and the genetic diversity of quinoa and other Andean crops is best studied in the high Andes. Of course, research of these kinds is relatively useless unless it is published, and unless it is communicated in an intelligible manner to those who can utilize the results. Thus a university agriculture field station, creating knowledge of greatest utility to local farmers, must publish its findings and is best operated in conjunction with an agricultural extension service.

 A traditional area of work for people in institutions of higher education is the writing of text books, organizing knowledge for the students it serves. So too, faculty must translate the literature of other nations into that which can be understood in their own. Faculty members are often the gatekeepers, seeking out information from other countries and introducing it to their own. They design curricula which organize old and new knowledge, traditional and modern understanding, and materials from foreign and domestic languages, providing the teaching materials and aids that make the new synthesis available to their country’s students.


I come from a country, the USA, in which service to the community is generally accepted as a responsibility of universities. It is not always so, and I feel that the university-community linkage should be strengthened. I do so in part based on personal experience.

Many years ago, working in a technical university computer center, I helped faculty provide services to the community. We conducted an operations research effort in one company, showing it how to greatly expand its business. In another case we discouraged a company from adding to an already overly complex product line. In a third case, we encouraged a company to focus more attention on its production facilities which were in fact the limiting factor in its growth, and less on its marketing. Thus a university can provide services to the private sector.

In that same setting we helped a local government to schedule its traffic lights, and helped the national electric company to better plan the location of its power lines and to decide whether to build an integrated power generation and water desalinization plant. In another country, years later, my graduate students helped the local health officials evaluate alternative sites for a new major hospital. Other students helped the same officials evaluate the pharmacy policies used in the network of health centers in the region, suggesting major improvements.

What then Would I Suggest?

The world is generating knowledge quickly. It is also becoming a more complicated place, in which huge challenges are must be met. Countries must utilize their higher education resources to meet the challenge. Of course, part of the effort will be to continue to expand higher education to meet increasing needs and demands for educational services, creation and organization of knowledge and service to society. That means in all probability not only more “bricks and mortar” but also more professors, instructors, and support personnel.

There will be a need for more emphasis on continuing education and education of adults; the world is changing, and people need to keep up. They will need to adjust to faster changes in the workplace and in careers, to faster changes in the economy, and indeed to changes in the physical environment. An ever increasingly urban population will be expected to need and want more information.
It seems to me that the organization of higher education will have to change. Financing will have to be rethought and restructured in many countries. I am a fan of the U.S. system of two year colleges which prepare some students for paraprofessional careers and prepare others for further education in universities; I hope other countries will consider building networks of these institutions.

There is a huge task facing developing countries in improving the quality of higher education. That task is not only complicated by the lack of financial and human resources, but also by the simultaneous need to expand.
Higher education will need to expand the use of science and technology in accomplishing its own missions. It will need to draw on advancing understanding of how people learn. I fully expect that information and computer technology will become a more effective aid to the educator, the researcher, and the provider of services to the community. I would also expect that the social sciences will play a greater role in helping higher education institutions understand their role in society and improving their function in that role. Management science will help to better organize universities and improve their service orientation.

A central role for the institution of higher education is, ultimately, the promotion of cultural change. Yet this is also potentially the most dangerous of its activities. Fortunately, institutions of higher learning are the natural home of the humanities and of public intellectuals. They must find a way to help preserve cultural heritage, be informed and led by cultural leaders, and sensitive to the potential for doing damage to their cultural matrix, while at the same time helping a culture to adapt as it must to changing circumstances. The political realities of the necessary promotion of change, and the education of a new generation of men and women to live actively in a changing world, must be met and successfully navigated.

I can only wish the best for the educators, and especially university educators in the 21st century!

Monday, November 24, 2014



Chikungunya is a viral disease spread by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Thus it is a disease that is especially problematic in places where those mosquitoes are common -- the humid tropics. There is no treatment or vaccine and the first human clinical trials are at least several years away.

Since the first case was identified in the Western Hemisphere (in Saint Martin) last December, nearly a million cases have been reported in the Caribbean and Central America. It is epidemic in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and El Salvador. An outbreak apparently has been contained in the United States.

“Chikungunya” means “bent over” in the Makonde language. The name describes the stooped appearance of those with joint pain caused by the disease. Patients commonly suffer painful and swollen joints, fever, headache, fatigue and a rash -- symptoms that usually disappear within three weeks. However, arthritis, especially in the wrists and hands, can last for months, or years in some people, causing long-term disabilities. The virus can also cause diarrhea and vomiting, mouth ulcers, visual problems and meningitis. The disease poses the greatest threat to vulnerable groups including elderly people, babies, pregnant women and those with existing conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. (People at high risk might consider avoiding travel to places in which Chikungunya is known to be present.) About 150 people have died so far in this epidemic, a low case fatality rate. Still, the Chikungunya epidemic is a major public health problem in this hemisphere.

Travelers can protect themselves from the disease even in areas where it is prevalent by preventing mosquito bites. When traveling to countries with chikungunya virus, use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning and/or that use window and door screens.

Read more: in The Guardian and from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

(as of November 18, 2014)
*Does not include countries or territories where only imported cases have been documented.
Note, that while the map of the United States is fully shown as a place where the virus has been reported, one would not expect it in Alaska or other northern states where these mosquitoes do not survive. The transmission of the disease has only been (rarely) reported in Florida.

Chikungunya virus disease cases reported by state – 
United States, 2014 (as of November 18, 2014)
Add caption

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Red and Blue Cities and Institutions

Thanks to my friend Guy for showing me this data. I know with which cities and institutions I identify.