Sunday, August 30, 2009


Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More on Charges of Corruption in Hosny's Ministry

In a previous posting I noted that:
The Government of Egypt is ranked by the World Bank as relatively low in government efficiency and quite low in terms of control of corruption. Hosny has run an organization for decades in Egypt that is thought to be inefficient, and that has even been charged with corruption; he has offered his resignation in the past for its shortcomings. (See also this reference.)
A website managed by French students titled Save UNESCO has published the following (28/8/2007):
The problem is that one of the candidate, Farouk Hosni, is a real threat to this capacity of finding funds. His own very personal way of managing his Ministry of Culture, in Egypt, is totally corrupted, as 3 of his deputies were sentenced to imprisonment (including his chief of staff Aymane Abdel-Moneim).
In an earlier posting, Save UNESCO referred to a good general article on corruption in the government of Egypt on Quantara titled "The Fallen Pharaoh". However, I want to quote especially from an article by Sameh Fawzy on the Global Integrity Report:
In August 2007, the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), which tracks corruption within government agencies, arrested two aides to the minister of Culture on charges of corruption. The first was Ahmed Hussein, caught red-handed with a bribe of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,800) from a contractor competing for a contract for the restoration of the Nubian Museum, while the second, Ayman Abdel-Moneim, was accused of collecting bribes from contractors working for the Ministry of Culture. The investigations revealed that both defendants have been on the take for some time, collecting bribes ranging from meals of fish to luxurious apartments.

The minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, is the Egyptian nominee for the post of director-general of UNESCO (United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), with elections slated for 2009 in Paris. Hosni defended his aides, stating that they were competent in their work, but insisted that he would not protect any corrupt employee.
"Corruption in Egypt…A dark cloud that does not vanish," a long report by Egypt's Kifaya Movement focuses in part on the illegal trade in Egyptian antiquities, indicting the Ministry of Culture with at least the blame for failing to create adequate controls to monitor and prevent the theft from Egypt of such treasures.

The Executive Board should consider very carefully whether Farouk Hosny, given the reports on the ministry he led for more than two decades, could assure the honest and transparent administration of UNESCO, and indeed whether his election to the post of Director General would send a bad message to the world.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thinking About the Election of the New UNESCO Director General

A critical determinant of the behavior of an agency is its mission, and for UNESCO that mission is still best described by the preamble to its constitution. Here is that preamble in its entirety:
The Governments of the States Parties to this Constitution on behalf of their peoples declare:

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed;

That ignorance of each other's ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war;

That the great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races;

That the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfil in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern;

That a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.

For these reasons, the States Parties to this Constitution, believing in full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth, and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, are agreed and determined to develop and to increase the means of communication between their peoples and to employ these means for the purposes of mutual understanding and a truer and more perfect knowledge of each other's lives;

In consequence whereof they do hereby create the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for the purpose of advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind for which the United Nations Organization was established and which its Charter proclaims.

Which of the eight candidates for the position of Director General of UNESCO is likely to be most committed to that mission? Which is likely to do the best job of leading UNESCO as it carries out that mission? (Commitment to the mission is only one factor in the ability to lead well.)

The eight active candidates come from eight different countries. They have different life experiences and different professional histories. All have achieved very senior professional positions indicating considerable accomplishment. All are multilingual, all have lived in more than one country, and all have experienced living in more than one culture. Perhaps most important, all have been nominated for the position by one of more UNESCO member nations, and thus require serious consideration for their candidacies.

Leading towards peace

There appears to be a difference among the candidates in terms of experience in the promotion of peace. One has graduate educational training in the promotion of peace. Two have direct experience in international negotiations for the promotion of peace. One has a long history of opposing cultural exchanges that might have diffused potential conflict due his demand that the other country should reform its policies before exchanges would take place.

Recognition of Geographic Priorities/Sensitivity to Cultures

UNESCO works in the real world. The task of "advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind" will differ from situation. It will depend in part on the specific cultures involved. The different candidates have personal experience with different cultures, and it seems likely that they have different capacities for the appreciation of cultures not their own.

UNESCO's mission must be seen in terms of the importance of conflicts, the urgency of efforts to reduce conflict, and the relative power of UNESCO to make a difference. The threat to the world of a breach of the peace between two powers, each with weapons of mass destruction, is obviously greater than that between to less well-armed powers. Active conflict, such as that in Afghanistan raises more urgent problems than do potential future conflicts. For some countries UNESCO can be expected to have relatively little influence as compared with other international organizations, while in others UNESCO may well be comparatively well positioned to make an impact.

UNESCO has very limited resources, and thus must focus its efforts carefully. The Director General has great influence in how those resources will be allocated. Therefore, the Director General should have broad understanding of global issues, and should be able to rise above the specific issues of interest to his/her home country in order to be able to lead in the most effective application of UNESCO's efforts to problems of global importance whereever they arise.

Consider some of the issues faced by a global agency. The problems of Arab-Israeli relations have received a great deal of attention in the media coverage of the current election. The occupation of Iraq by Coalition forces, the war in Afghanistan, and the potential development of nuclear weapons in Iraq all direct attention to the Gulf rather than the Levant?

Societies in flux, such as rapidly developing, transition, or failing states, offer special challenges and opportunities for UNESCO. Sub-Saharan Africa has been the site of the most deadly conflicts over recent decades, and has been identified as the priority for UNESCO by its governing bodies. The fall of Communism has led to radical social and economic transformations in the former Communist nations of Europe, and those transformations would seem to require their own priority from UNESCO.

Asia, with its huge population, includes a number of countries that have experienced rapid economic development in recent decades. Several are nuclear powers, and these countries are expanding international markets for both raw materials and finished products. Asia has been the greatest rural to urban migration in history, and some Asian countries are experiencing major environmental problems.

It may well be that some of these situations involve long term potential threats to peace rather than immediate threats, but UNESCO's approach to the promotion of peace is long term also, and the magnitude of the threats must be taken into account as well as their immediacy.

The candidates would seem to differ considerably in their experience with these global problems. Two are culturally Arab, one of whom appears most focused on Arab-Israeli issues while the other is experienced in Latin American issues as well as those of the Levant. Three are from transition countries, one of whom is a senior official of the Russian Foreign Ministry with experience representing that country at the United Nations. One is a senior official responsible for aspects of foreign policy of the European Commission, who also has experience as foreign minister of her own neutral country as well as experience in the United Nations. Two come from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Prioritization of Types of Knowledge

The task of "advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind" also requires understanding of real world sources of conflict.

Some of those sources are physical. Thus, climate change is likely to force massive population dislocations in the coming century and those dislocations may occasion conflict. Exhaustion of water resources in increasingly heavily populated arid lands is also predicted to be a source of conflict in the 21st century. Both of these factors may result in dramatic changes in patterns of agricultural productivity, and hunger is a powerful motivation for conflict.

Some of the sources of conflict are socio-economic. Globalization is resulting in new economic rivalries that in turn have the potential to spawn conflict. The development of the global information infrastructure is driving massive new exposures of formerly isolated cultures to the culture of the Western nations that dominate the global media, and we have seen that that clash of cultures has been a source of conflict.

If UNESCO is promote educational, scientific and cultural relations among peoples, given the huge range of such relations and the limited resources of UNESCO, it should focus on the exchanges that will do the most to prevent the escalation of conflict. Thus, for example, it may be important that UNESCO focus on education and science relating to water resource and climate change, to globalization and the cultural impact of media.

In consideration of the candidates for Director General, it is important that the person to be elected have a deep understanding of these real-world, physical, economic and social sources of conflict. Unfortunately, little of this understanding can be inferred from their biographies nor their vision statements for the future of UNESCO.

Final Comment

The purpose of this posting is to help think through the issues, not to come to a conclusion. Even if there appear to be significant differences among candidates in the breadth and depth of understanding of and identification with global issues, as suggested above, the leadership ability will also depend on the ability to motivate people within and outside UNESCO, the understanding of the educational, scientific, cultural and communications tools available to UNESCO, and the organizational ability to manage the resources of the organization to pursue its mission.

Why are English and Spanish Tweets so Different on HIV Education?

UNESCO has published International Guidelines on Sexuality Education. It is a serious effort to extract lessons from research studies and experience with programs in many countries that can be useful to policy makers planning for sex education programs. The report was written by an American team, at the request of UNESCO and the UNFPA, with support from the Hewlett Foundation. It comes from the community seeking to educate kids to protect themselves against HIV and AIDS.

It recognizes explicitly that local policy makers must create education programs responsive to local cultural norms and values in this sensitive area. It also makes clear that evidence supports the hypotheses that sex education programs have not only reduced the rate of HIV infection, but also tend to result in students delaying the beginning of sexual activity and recognizing more fully the responsibilities invoked by sexual activity.

From the point of view of this blog, focusing on knowledge for development, this report:
  • summarizes knowledge from a wide variety of sources to make it more available to educational policy makers.
  • supports the importance of dissemination of age-appropriate, culturally-appropriate information to children of a kind that may be life saving.
It seems prototypical of the work that should be done by international agencies, making information available and leaving decisions to legitimate authorities.

What occasioned this posting however is the difference in treatment of this report in the Twitter universe. I have read scores of tweets about the report in recent days. Those in English primarily share a very conservative viewpoint, expressing anger that there would be guidelines suggesting that schools provide sex education; some are clearly responsive to a story on Fox news criticizing the study. (My own tweets, in English, have been the exception, suggesting that people read the report itself rather than judging it based on short, sensationalizing news reports or blog postings.)

The tweets in Spanish and Portugese generally are neutral in tone, simply sharing the news that the publication is available and providing a link to download it.

I don't know what conclusion to draw from the fact. But I much prefer the Latin language postings.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Western Culture Versus Modern Culture

Developing nations complain about the threats of "Western Culture" to their indigenous coultures. So for that matter do Francophone nations complain about the threats of Anglo culture to their French culture. I wonder whether they are confounding the cultural changes accompanying changes in economic bases of their society with changes due to adoption of foreign "memes" or cultural elements from the cultures which are more dominant in the global economy.

If a national culture changes due to longer life expectancy or in an attempt to improve health it will probably seek prototypes for those changes in other nations which have already improved health. That would seem to be an inescapable aspect of modernization. The issue would be whether the people involved chose the right memes from abroad and wether they adapted them appropriately to their own cultural matrix.

On the other hand, a generation of kids abandoning the musical traditions of their own culture to listen only to foreign popular music, especially if this it the result of dumping of CDs or domination of the local media by foreign music vendors. would seem to be a real intrusion of the foreign in local culture.

Of course, it is not always clear which memes should be adopted to make possible theircontribute to social and economic development, and which have little social nor economic value but simply debase existing culture.

Copyright Laws are supposed to promote dissemination of information and opinion

The New York Times has an article which states:
Opposition is mounting in Europe to a proposed class-action settlement giving Google the right to commercialize digital copies of millions of books.

The settlement would permit Americans to buy online access to millions of books by European authors whose works were scanned by Google at American libraries......

The German government, supported by national collection societies in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Spain, plans to argue against it and encourage writers to pull out of the agreement.
Comment: Surely governments should put the public benefits of free access to information ahead of the financial interests of a few publishing firms! JAD

10 Ways Obama is Helping Higher Ed

Suzane Smith has posted this list on the Accredited Online Universities website. I had not realized how much the Obama administration is trying to do in this respect.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Watch the video then read the text below

Ferdinand - 1986 Kentucky Derby

In 2003, Bloodhorse reported:
Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner who went on to capture the following year's Horse of the Year title with a dramatic victory over 1987 Derby hero Alysheba in the Breeders' Cup Classic, is dead. The Blood-Horse has learned the big chestnut son of Nijinsky II died sometime in 2002, most likely in a slaughterhouse in Japan, where his career at stud was unsuccessful.

Ferdinand won eight of 29 starts and earned $3,777,978, retiring as what was then the fifth leading money winner of all time. Today the New York Times reports:
Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, wound up slaughtered in Japan in 2002 after failing as a stallion. Even though the federal government closed the last United States slaughterhouse in 2007, horses are regularly sold at auction and trucked to slaughter in Mexico or Canada.
Comment: This is totally outrageous. Not just the slaughter of Ferdinand, but that of all the thoroughbreds that wind up abandoned, euthanized or slaughtered each year. It is probably not the worst behavior of our society; think of the millions of pet dogs and cats euthanized each year. However, the horse racing industry should not breed more horses a year than it is willing to support for a full lifetime. How expensive is it to let a horse live in a field in its old age? JAD

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Information Literacy Resources Directory

The Information Literacy Section of the International Federation of Library Association and Institutions (IFLA) has created this database to record information literacy materials from different parts of the world, on behalf of UNESCO. Librarians, educators and information professionals are invited to participate.

Can we improve American health care?

An American woman is 10 times more likely to die in childbirth than an Irish woman. The probability that a baby born in America will die before reaching the age of five is 30 percent higher than that for a baby born in Canada or the United Kingdom; 60 percent higher than for a baby born in Belgium.

Uwe Reinhardt, the great economist of the health system, wrote:
U.S. per capita health spending continued to exceed per capita health spending in the other OECD countries, by huge margins, in 2001. After expenditures are converted into purchasing-power parity international dollars (PPP$), Switzerland spent only 68 percent as much on health care per capita in 2001 as the United States.3 Neighboring Canada, with a health care delivery system and medical practice styles fairly similar to those in the United States, spent only 57 percent as much per capita as the United States. PPP-adjusted per capita spending in the median OECD country was only 44 percent of the U.S. level (PPP$2,161).
So we spend a lot more and have worse health outcomes! We should be able to do better. We can do better if we can overcome hysteria and the pressures of vested interests to get a half-way reasonable health bill through Congress.

A key element is to bring the number of uninsured Americans from 50 million to 10 million. The U.S. population is 307 million, so the number of insured Americans is about 257 million. Adding 40 million to that number is about a 16 percent increase in the number of insured.

If we increase the number of insured by 16 percent will we increase national health care expenditures by 16 percent? Well, we could actually do worse than that if we do it badly. If we throw a lot of money at the existing system all at once, it will simply increase prices, as probably happened with Medicare.

On the other hand, the uninsured are not excluded from health services now. They just get them paid for by other means. Since they go for care late, indeed they probably have higher health care costs to the nation than the comparable insured citizens.

Moreover, there are a lot of ways we can reduce health care costs, including improving the use of information technology, simplifying payment schemes, reducing the prescription of services that don;t improve health (such as unnecessary diagnostic tests), and moving toward preventive rather than curative services.

People arguing that we have the best health care in the world and should not tamper with it probably just don't understand the situation. Of course some Americans are in the happy state of world class health care offered to them without cost. Members of Congress and industrial leaders are in this happy class.

I get heavily subsidized care from a great HMO (Kaiser Permanente), so I don't expect to benefit much personally from new legislation. However, as an American I think I have a responsibility to advocate changes in the system that improve national health outcomes and save money.

Some health statistics

Source: "How American Health Care Killed My Father," David Goldhill, The Atlantic, September 2009.

Roughly 100,000 deaths occur each year in American hospitals from infections picked up in the hospital.
One hundred thousand deaths: more than double the number of people killed in car crashes, five times the number killed in homicides, 20 times the total number of our armed forces killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A lot of these infections, and consequently a lot of the deaths not to mention costs of treatment of the diseases, could be prevented by simple hygiene methods such as more frequent hand washing.
In April, a Wall Street Journal story suggested that blood clots following surgery or illness, the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in the U.S., may kill nearly 200,000 patients per year.
Since 2001, the attack on the Twin Towers, we can assume that some 900,000 Americans have died from hospital acquired infections and some 1,800,000 Americans have died from blood clots after surgery. Makes the 3000 who died in the attacks pale be comparison.

So how much difference has the Department of Homeland Security made in this mortality. How much difference in the safety of Americans would the money we have spent on the war in Iraq have made if we had spent it improving the quality of health care in America (not to mention the lives of soldiers and contractors that would not have been lost in Iraq)?

The point is, if you don't count the alternative benefits that could be achieved with government finance, you make bad decisions.

Another point is that we can save a lot of lives and money with a little expenditure on improving hospital hygiene and improving the quality of health services.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A thought about the economics of information media

Think about the set of all possible news items.

People like to obtain information as entertainment, as a pure consumer good. Conceptually, one might think that an individual would assign a value to each news item in the set mentioned above. If we consider all the people in a specific market, then, there is a distribution of total consumer value over the set of news items.

In addition to the information we like to obtain, there is the information that we ought to obtain. As citizens we might not like to read about foreign affairs and economic affairs, but with that information we are better voters, better investors, better economic actors, etc. Again, for any individual we might consider a distribution of "investment" values over the set of news items, and for the population of a media market, a distribution of total investment value.

I suspect that we overspend on information as entertainment and underspend on information as investment. Such decisions are partly the result of our monkey nature, but are also cultural. One would hope for cultural change that increases our willingness to spend on investment news and perhaps also to decrease our willingness to spend on entertainment news. Our education systems, including not only schools but all the means of lifelong learning, ought to help us to make that cultural change.

There are real costs involved in the creation of information. It is more expensive to make a news story about the war in Afghanistan than it is to make a news story about a local press conference.

There are sources willing to subsidize the distribution of information. Advertizers for example, are willing to subidize the distribution of information about their products. For any individual subsidizer, there is a distribution of willingness to pay for the set of news items. For a given market, there is a distribution of total willingness to pay.

Conceptually, then, each story in the set of stories can be characterized by a value which is the sum of the entertainment value plus the investment value plus the subsidy value minus the cost of creating the story.

A successful newspaper, magazine, television station, etc. bundles a set of items such that the total willingness to pay exceeds the total cost of production and dissemination of the news.

The Internet now changes the size of markets and the costs of dissemination of information. It also changes the bundling. We can Google a specific item and obtain it from cyberspace rather than scan the newspaper for the item or wait for it to arrive from the evening news. We get advertizements attached to our emails so the subsidies are changing.

One aspect of media regulation is to help encourage the creation and dissemination of information people need to know rather than merely information that they want to know. Similarly, an aspect of professionalism in journalism is standing up for the dissemination of information people ought to know rather than letting the medium be swamped by information people want to know.

The institutionalization of these cultural systems to assure we get the information we need and ought to know will take a while. Lets hope that that institutionalization survives and overcomes the institutionalization of systems that pander to what we want to know but don't need to know.

If one looks at the relative coverage of Michael Jackson versus the Iraq war, it is not clear that the right institutions are winnong. And Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is the most trusted news source in the United States!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Energy Planning Can Work

This graph is from a good article in Science which introduces a long section on energy technology. The graph shows (the green lines) that both California and the United States saw growth in per capita GDP, but California grew more rapidly than did the rest of the country and in recent years surpassed the rest of the nation in per capita GDP.

The graph also shows (the blue lines) that per capita electricity consumption has remained fairly constant in California while it has increased in the rest of the nation. So California has managed rapid economic growth without increasing electricity use during several decades.

Science attributes this success to smart policies in California!

Good to know!

"Homeopathy not a cure, says WHO"

Source: BBC News, 20 August 2009

People with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the World Health Organization has warned.

It was responding to calls from young researchers who fear the promotion of homeopathy in the developing world could put people's lives at risk.....

However Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, said it was right to raise concerns about promotion of homeopathy as a cure for TB, malaria or HIV and Aids.
Do you know what homeopathy is? The term, from the same root as homosexual or homogenized, comes from the idea that one treats disease "with more of the same" and is contrasted with the heteropathy which treats disease with something that opposes the cause of the disease. According to Wikipedia:
Homeopathy (also spelled Homoeopathy or Homœopathy) is a form of alternative medicine, first proposed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, that treats patients with heavily diluted preparations which are thought to cause effects similar to the symptoms presented. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking, which homeopaths term "succussion," after each dilution under the assumption that this increases the effect of the treatment. This process is referred to as "potentization". Dilution often continues until none of the original substance remains.
It sounds pretty weird to me, but so does acupuncture and I understand that there is evidence that acupuncture does work in some circumstances.

Our understanding of physiology and pathology continues to develop, and we don't always correctly understand why things work or don't work. That is why randomized case-control studies are so important. They give credible evidence that a treatment does or does not work.

I am glad that WHO is speaking out, since I am sure there is a lot of very bad health care being offered in the world, especially in poor areas with patients who don't understand medical statistics and don't have access to properly trained health professional practitioners.

Asian Water Problems

Science magazine reports new results on the ground water resources in North India:
Satellite remote sensing of a 2000-kilometer swath running from eastern Pakistan across northern India and into Bangladesh has for the first time put a solid number on how quickly the region is depleting its groundwater. The number "is big," says hydrologist James Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine—big as in 54 cubic kilometers of groundwater lost per year from the world's most intensively irrigated region hosting 600 million people. "I don't think anybody knew how quickly it was being depleted over that large an area," Famiglietti says.

Satellite-derived Climatic Moisture Index map of China. The Climatic Moisture Index equals rainfall divided by potential evapotranspiration. Desertification indices of this type can be generated using low-resolution remote sensing data in an Energy aand Water Balance Monitoring System. The example provided shows desertification indices for the whole of China: desertification is one of the subjects of the joint ESA-China Dragon Program. (Image courtesy European Space Agency) Click here for image source.
Sean Gallaghar writes recently from the Pulitzer Center:
It is estimated that 20% of China's land area, some 1.74 million square kilometers, is now classified as desert. Affecting the lives of an estimated 400 million people, it is the most important environmental issue in China today.
A decade ago, Ron Gluckman wrote:
Few people think of China as a desert nation, yet it is among the world's largest. More than 27%, or 2.5 million square kilometers, of the country comprises useless sand (just 7% of Chinese land feeds about a quarter of the world's population). A Ministry of Science and Technology task force says desertification costs China about $2-3 billion annually, while 800 km of railway and thousands of kilometers of roads are blocked by sedimentation. An estimated 110 million people suffer firsthand from the impacts of desertification and, by official reports, another 2,500 sq km turns to desert each year.
Comment: I take the differences among these scattered reports to suggest that there is a dearth of accurate scientific information. However, the information that is available indicates a huge problem, rapidly growing worse.

Lets hope UNESCO's water program can help mobilize a global scientific community to study the problems of Asian water supply, at least to get an adequate description of the magnitude and urgency of the problems. JAD

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ugly Stat from UNESCO last March!

"This new analysis, which was prepared by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) team, was presented at the first session of the UNESCO Future Forum, devoted to the impact of the financial and economic crisis on multilateralism and UNESCO. The authors document the potential impact of the economic downturn on internationally agreed human development targets. They estimate that reduced growth in 2009 will cost the 390 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty $18bn, or $46 per person. The projected loss represents 20 per cent of the per capita income of Africa’s poor – a figure that dwarfs the losses sustained in the developed world. "

Changes in telphone connectivity

Source: The Economist

Apparently land lines are on the way out. The article points out that there is a viscous cycle. As the number of land lines goes down, the fixed cost of the system per land line goes up, and the increasing cost drives more users out of the market.

Still, three-fifths of American households have both land lines and mobile phones, and one-fifth have land line connectivity but no mobile.

China is catching up on PCs?

The Economist reports:
Sluggish demand in America and Europe has hit Lenovo hard. Its sales in those markets fell by 17% in the most recent quarter compared with the same period last year. By contrast, Lenovo powered ahead in its home market. It shipped 15% more PCs than it did a year ago in mainland China, which accounted for 48% of its sales.
Interesting! I wonder whether China's economy as a whole is recovering or whether it is especially the computer business.

Twitter Strikes at the Box Office

The Washington Post has an article today suggesting that Twitter is changing box office dynamics. In the past, apparently, a big advertizing campaign could draw people to a movie for several days before viewer opinion caught up with the hype. Now the twitter-generation tweets from the theater as they watch the film, and word of tweet spreads like wildfire. Not only do some expected successes fail, but some good but modest films may turn blockbuster.

The pace of information dissemination keeps increasing. Once it moved only at the speed of a running horse or man. At the time of the American Revolution, it would take weeks for news from the Americas to reach Europe and the reaction to make it back across the ocean in sailing ships.

I find Twitter an amazingly helpful tool in keeping track of the public impact of news releases on UNESCO, making use of TweetLater's aggregation service. I also find out things I would otherwise never discover via the UNESCO tweets!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Response to Comments by Omar Massalha

I posted "Why I Worry About Farouk Hosny as Candidate for UNESCO Director General" on August 2nd, and yesterday posted a rebuttal to that statement by Omar Massalha (at his request). Since he assured me that the rebuttal came from a committee authorized by the candidate and had been shared with the candidate, I felt it would help forward the debate about the candidates.

I have some responses to his posting:

I alone am responsible for the content and opinions on this blog. I don't have any "powerful sponsors". I am retired, and do not receive any remuneration for this blog nor for any other efforts I undertake with respect to UNESCO.

I apologize for misspellings; I am slightly dyslexic and my spell checker does not seem to be working very well. I will ask my wife to proofread the postings.

Mr. Massalha complains that I "recycled every gripe and grievance currently doing the rounds on the Internet and in the media." Others have complimented me on carefully documenting the references that caused me to question Minister Hosny's suitability to lead UNESCO.

I suggested in my original posting that I would prefer any of the four women who have been nominated for the post of Director General of UNESCO to Minister Hosny. I don't think that was because I suffer from sexism, but rather because I think each of them is better qualified as an individual than is Minister Hosny. Read their CVs on the website I have provided with information on the election. For example:
  • Benita Ferrero-Waldner is a very senior official of the European Union who has been very much involved in peace processes.
  • Ina Marčiulionytė is extremely well informed about UNESCO, and has achieved the respect of many who have observed her performance as Ambassador to that organization; she was a founding director of the Open Society Institute in her country.
  • Ivonne Baki is also an experienced diplomat who has served in important national and international roles, has been a peace activist, speaks Arabic as well as several other languages and knows both the Levant and her native Ecuador well.
  • Irina Bokova also knows UNESCO well as an Ambassador to the organization; she is a parliamentarian and a diplomat, a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and has also led a civil society organization for number of years. She has published a number of articles on foreign affairs..
Mr. Massalha says that it is about time that there was an Arab Director General of UNESCO. That could equally well be said of a Director General from one of the former Communist nations. I believe that there is merit in such a position. Among equally qualified candidates, selecting the less represented gender, nationality or ethnicity might be appropriate, but these should not be the determining factors. We want to elect the person who will best lead UNESCO in its important mission.

There are many criteria for evaluation of candidates for the position of Director General of UNESCO. No candidate scores equally highly on all and people obviously give different weight to different criteria.

The most important qualification in my opinion is support for UNESCO's central mission -- promoting the defenses of peace in the minds of men. UNESCO promotes peace among nations by promoting intellectual and cultural exchanges among their peoples. Minister Hosny seems to believe peace beteen Israel and Palestine must preceed exchanges. For example, note this statement from an interview some years ago:
"I don't hate Israel and under no circumstances am I an anti-Semite. But cultural normalization? Not now."
Q: Why not?
"We have political ties and economic cooperation. In my view, cultural ties are our weapon to pressure Israel into doing more on the Palestinian issue."
Or this:
"My attitude towards normalization is known and so is my ministry's attitude: we oppose all kinds of normalization… The Ministry of Culture is practically the only official body that has a declared attitude against normalization…"
I worked for years with a Middle East Cooperation Program and met many Egyptians who, in contrast to Minister Hosny, took the risk of cooperation with Israelis in the belief that mutual understanding would be a step toward Arab-Israeli peace.

An important qualification for the Director General of UNESCO is his/her support for the rights of all ethnic groups, and especially ethnic minorities. I am concerned with the pattern that emerges from the opposition to Hosny by Egyptian intellectuals, conservative Egyptian Muslims, Egyptian Jews, and Egyptian Copts, as well as secular Egyptians. Would a fierce defender of minority cultures be opposed by so many of minorities from his own country? I do not regard the opposition of those minority groups, categorized by Mr. Massalha as "religious extremists," as a "badge of honor." (He apparently includes a Nobel Peace Prize winner in that category.)

UNESCO's programs in education, science, culture and communications and information should respond to exceptional challenges and opportunities in the next eight years. The world would be well served if a Director General is elected who fully appreciates all of those fields and who can provide leadership to each of those programs. The Executive Board also would be well advised to seek a candidate who could be expected to serve for two terms as Director General in order to have time to institutionalize the needed initiatives.

I would indeed like to see "a quadridisciplinary polymath" in the position. Among the 6.8 billion people on earth there are such people. I am looking back to Archibald MacLeish (who refused the job) or Directors General Julian Huxley, Luther Evans and Rene Maheu. Consider former Director General Federico Mayor who has been a scientist, professor, administrator, government minister and politician. He is a published poet and essayist, and also created the Foundation for the Culture of Peace -- a true polymath.

In citing charges of inefficiency and corruption in the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, I had thought to question whether a Minister who has led that Ministry for 22 years would be a good choice to assure the efficiency and transparency of UNESCO's administration.

On a final point, I quote from a Boston Globe review of two museum shows: "Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and "Pharaohs of the Sun" at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:
There has been a lot of talk recently about exhibition ethics in museums. In conjunction with "Pharaohs," the Met is staging a contemporary Egyptian show: Son of Brancusi sculpture by Adam Henein and derivative, decorative abstract paintings by Farouk Hosny. Met-worthy? No way. But then, Hosny is Egypt's minister of culture.
Decide for yourself what that comment implies about artist-Minister Hosny.

Minister Farouk Hosny has served his country and his government for decades as Minister of Culture. He is supported by several governments for the important post of Director General of UNESCO. Of course he is worthy of respect; his candidacy demands our serious consideration. All the active nominees are worthy of respect and consideration.

Which of the eight is best qualified?


Mr. Massalha questioned my qualifications to comment on UNESCO. I have been interested in UNESCO for many years. I read the information that is available to the public and I get some added information from friends and contacts. I have volunteered as Webmaster for Americans for UNESCO for five years; as Webmaster I have posted a couple of thousand items about UNESCO. I have taught a graduate seminar on UNESCO for three semesters, and manage the group "UNESCO's Friends" on LinkedIn. I was elected Vice President of Americans for UNESCO. (My personal blog does not necessarily represent the opinions of that organization.) I bring to the study of UNESCO more than 40 years experience in international development. Incidentally, I am older than Minister Hosny, and doubt the charge of ageism.

"Enough is Enough: A Rebuttal"

Omar MASSALHA, Coordinator of the International Committee of Support for the Candidature of Farouk Hosny to the Office of UNESCO Director-General, requested that I publish the following response to my posting "Why I Worry About Farouk Hosny as Candidate for UNESCO Director General".

Mr. Massalha informs me that The International Committee of Support for the Candidature of Farouk Hosny, is an ad hoc committee composed of volunteers from civil society that does not have a website, but that does have the support of Mr Farouk Hosny. The committee informed Farouk Hosny in advance that it would be reacting to my posting and that he received a copy of that response.

Here is the material he has asked me to post. I have tried to maintain the orthography of the original as much as possible:

A Rebuttal


The Coordinator of the International Committee of Support for the Candidature of Farouk Hosny

In reporting on the election campaign for the post of UNESCO Director-General, John Daly makes the long-anticipated leap from ostensible objectivity to a pointedly ad hominem assault on one candidate to the exclusion of all others. John has been a self-appointed "expert" observer of UNESCO affairs, holding forth from his distant Maryland redoubt, for some years now and his interest has generally been well-meant and reasonably well-informed. What then has happened in the last few months for him to be transmogrified into the unabashed purveyor of a polemical and poorly-sourced diatribe directed against Farouk Hosny's candidacy, with arguments that are as erratic and flawed as his spelling? John says he is "worried" about Farouk Hosny's candidacy; he should perhaps worry a little more about some of the company he keeps. For he has breathlessly recycled every gripe and grievance currently doing the rounds on the Internet and in the media, reaching down to the very bottom of the barrel to scrape up material penned by such exemplars of tolerance and religious coexistence as Egypt's Muslim fundamentalists and their US-based Christian zealot counterparts in the Free Copts movement, in order to present Farouk Hosny as an ageing and corrupt anti-Semite and diplomatic tyro, poised to lead UNESCO to damnation through his malevolent designs for compulsory religious education, his penchant for book-burning and much else besides. The result is a ludicrous caricature, which more readily discredits the cartoonist than the subject of his lampoon.

Clearly, the time has come for this sorry litany of lies and slander to be addressed head-on since it is but the latest manifestation of what is patently a carefully-orchestrated campaign to impugn the reputation and destroy the credibility of one candidate in order to advance the cause of others.

Yet scarcely can so sweeping a dismissal of a candidate's claim to office ever have been assembled on so tenuous a base, replete with sourcing of the notoriously unreliable "it is charged that", "I have read that", "there are reports that", "it has been implied that" variety. It is just as well John has his own self-anointed soapbox in the blogosphere, for no self-respecting newspaper editor would feature an article so heavily dependent on flimsily-expressed arguments and tendentious reports. And one can swiftly dispel any lingering doubts on this latter score by dutifully clicking on his hyperlinks - only to find oneself on the home pages of such famously objective lobbyists as the Anti-Defamation League or the Muslim Brothers at IkhwanWeb - not to mention Bernard-Henri Lévy and his allies, whose laudable bandwagons in defence of human rights and the persecuted have always mysteriously come to a screeching halt at the border checkpoints dotting the West Bank and Gaza and who have never had an unkind word to say about even the most grievous violations perpetrated beyond them by Israel's governments and soldiery.

First up, John spins the overtly sexist argument that no one should vote for Hosny because it is time for a woman - any woman, apparently, among the four - as long as it's not testosterone-fuelled Farouk. One might ask how the good citizens - men and women alike - of the home countries of the other male candidates (Russia, Tanzania and Benin) feel about an argument that seems to suggest that their candidates be debarred because they had the misfortune to be born with a Y chromosome. But if the aim is to appeal to the more feministically-inclined voters, then let it be said that there has been no stauncher champion of women's rights in increasingly conservative Egyptian society than Farouk Hosny, often at the cost of threats to his life and crude attempts to entrap and unseat him (witness the infamous and egregiously misrepresented "book-burning" exchange with one of them) by his vehemently anti-peace, Islamist detractors in the Muslim Brotherhood - whom John bizarrely conscripts into his cohort of anti-Hosny warriors. (Can there have ever been stranger bedfellows than Elie Wiesel and the Muslim Brothers? Clearly, my enemy's enemy is indeed my friend.) And while it is certainly true that it is time there were more women at the head of the UN System, it can be argued even more forcefully that it is high time indeed - some 64 years after the Organisation's founding - for the post of UNESCO Director-General at last to be entrusted to a candidate from an Arab country, especially at a time in history when the need to bridge the yawning divide that separates much of the Muslim world from the West is paramount. President Barack Obama "gets it"; one can only hope that the Member States of UNESCO will be equally as conscious of the urgency of forestalling the much-vaunted and doom-laden prophesy of a clash of civilisations.

Yet, not content with unsophisticated sexism, John later lurches to equally unsubtle ageism, dismissing Hosny as a suitable candidate on the grounds that by the end of a putative second term of office (John could never be accused of short-termism!), he would have reached the ripe old age of ...79. Are we to infer from this that any prospective executive head in the UN System should be elected, as of the very first ballot, on the premise that he or she is expected, indeed duty bound, to be prepared to serve for two full terms? And age is a dubious premise indeed upon which to mount an objection - unless John has insights into the onset of senility that younger fellows are denied. Farouk Hosny is in rude health - a man whose energy and drive belie his years - and good health alone should be the yardstick by which one should gauge his physical fitness to lead. But these are but the pettiest of the premises, redolent of the worst kinds of tokenism (dare I say, discriminatory prejudice), upon which Farouk Hosny's candidacy is being repudiated. So let us now turn to the more substantive arguments that John Daly has deployed...

Farouk Hosny "is too controversial":
Given that most of the actual controversy surrounding this candidacy has not been created by Hosny himself but rather whipped up artificially by vested interests - and their media allies - opposed to his candidacy, it should suffice to say that, by virtue of his artistic mind and his gift for imaginative innovation, Farouk Hosny's creativity and vibrant discourse are exactly what UNESCO needs at a time when it is called upon to react promptly and far-sightedly to the challenges of the 21st century in its various fields of competence, especially after the last ten years of colourless and uninspiring leadership at the head of the Organisation.

"Commitment to peace" - the suggestion that Farouk Hosny is an isolated extremist dogmatically opposed to normalisation of relations with Israel:
It has been the official policy of every Egyptian government since Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel that while this first-ever peace treaty between an Arab State and Israel would foreclose any renewal of military conflict between them and provide for mutual recognition and an exchange of ambassadors, Egypt would only undertake a full normalisation of relations including the cultural sphere once a comprehensive regional peace settlement had been reached that recognised and enshrined the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to exercise national self-determination and ended the Israeli occupation of all Arab territories. Farouk Hosny has for 20 years been a loyal minister in a government which, throughout that time, has scrupulously observed the terms of the Camp David Accords and consistently been Israel's prime interlocutor in the Arab world. Moreover, in his UNESCO election manifesto, he proposes, upon his appointment, to spearhead a specific project to promote a culture of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours in order to facilitate the latest international drive for a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement. It might also be added that, were he and his government to have taken some of the initiatives demanded of him by his more vociferous critics, he would almost certainly have precipitated a popular rebellion, the downfall of his government and probably signed his own death warrant at the hands of a population appalled by bold cultural overtures to an Israeli government that was still occupying, killing and violating the fundamental rights of their Palestinian brethren.

The notorious "book-burning" row and the preposterous claim that Farouk Hosny is an anti-Semitic bigot:
A comprehensive explanation of the entire context of this incident is long overdue. Farouk Hosny had been cornered by one of his most implacable political foes, an Islamist MP, in the corridors of the Egyptian parliament and confronted with allegations that the Alexandria Library contained Israeli works that openly insulted and denigrated Islam. Knowing this to be patently untrue, the minister emphatically denied the existence of such openly defamatory books but, unbowed, his pursuer pressed his claim. Infuriated and exasperated by this latest in a host of similar provocations and harassments, Hosny exclaimed, with an idiomatic Arabic expression frequently used for effect but which is never construed literally, that if his adversary were so sure of his facts, he should fetch the apocryphal tomes and he would "burn them myself". Of course, his Islamist opponent eagerly reported the comment; more curiously, some of the most fervent international critics of the Muslim Brothers just as eagerly seized on the quotation and have been broadcasting it urbi et orbi ever since. Has such an off-the-record outburst of hyperbole ever been so zealously misrepresented and misreported, regurgitated ad nauseum and so disreputably exploited?

Of course, given the acutely painful connotations for Jews in Israel and in the wider world of any mention of the "burning of books", especially in the context of books supposedly written in Hebrew, Farouk Hosny's throwaway expletive was deeply insensitive and, rightly, he publicly apologised for uttering it, on the pages of Le Monde in response to a vitriolic and no less intemperate article authored by three of his most prominent and impassioned detractors. But let it not be forgotten that the actual burning of Jewish books as well as the whole atrocious slaughter of the Holocaust took place in the heart of Europe, and these word associations and connotations are not uppermost in the minds of two Egyptian politicians acrimoniously trading ill-tempered jibes in an obscure corridor of a domestic parliament. One would certainly not normally expect a single remark made in such a context to be given such a distorted spin and such exaggerated prominence across the pages of the world's leading newspapers. Moreover, it was manifestly made off the record, was unattributable and could easily have been denied or claimed to be a misquotation. But Farouk Hosny is an honest man and, when asked, he confirmed that he had indeed made it. Nonetheless, we are talking about what was merely the regrettable juxtaposition of a popular Arabic colloquialism with a heated debate about Islamophobia in books that did not even exist; it is most certainly not a symptom of anti-Semitism or intolerance of Hebrew literature (indeed, as long ago as 2000, Farouk Hosny launched a programme to translate, from Hebrew into Arabic, the works of a number of Israel's best writers, Amos Oz foremost amongst them, in support of comparative literature studies and greater mutual understanding). If Prime Minister Netanyahu can understand this, it is difficult to understand why others still persist in refusing to do likewise. And anyone wishing to learn about Farouk Hosny's true feelings about the Shoah and Jewish suffering during Nazi rule would be better advised to read his speech at the UNESCO conference to launch the Aladdin Project against Holocaust denial in March of this year, for which he earned plaudits from Israeli and foreign listeners alike.

This campaign is all the more despicable for the fact that it is being waged against a man who has placed his political and personal life on the line by his pioneering actions in restoring Egypt's synagogues, in proposing that the least-frequented of them be used to house a museum of the history of Judaism in Egypt (in response to a request made in 2008 by a delegation of American Jewry), and in extending a ground-breaking invitation - notwithstanding the absence of formal cultural ties with Israel and in the teeth of ferocious domestic opposition - to Daniel Barenboim to perform with his mixed Israeli and Arab orchestra in Cairo. And all the while, John Daly (and others far more prominent) turn a blind eye to the fact that another leading contender for the post of Director-General represented the international face of a government, in the land of Hitler's birthplace, that in the earlier half of this decade embraced the anti-Semitic far-right in a ruling coalition for the first time in post-war history and gave it half of the cabinet portfolios in the process - a woman who not only shared the same cabinet table with them for four years but also publicly belittled the significance of that party's enduring nostalgia for the Third Reich and who was instrumental in bringing the workings of the European Union to a standstill in retaliation for the political sanctions Brussels had imposed upon her government for bringing shame upon her country and the union to which it belonged.

As for the legions of opponents ("the opposition of so many groups") queuing up on John Daly's blog to denounce Farouk Hosny, most respectable politicians would probably view that opposition, by religious extremists of every stripe, as a badge of honour. It is somewhat ironic that Hosny is criticised by the Muslim Brothers in Egypt for being "pro-Copt" (he has consistently defended the Coptic minority, with the same ardour he has brought to the upholding of women's rights - so much so that there is a popular misconception in Egypt that he is himself a Copt) while he is criticised by the more extreme fringe of the Coptic diaspora for being in league with fundamentalist Islam. So one can reasonably surmise that he is probably striking the right balance! He will not be swayed by his detractors in the Muslim Brotherhood, the irredentists in the Free Copts movement with their dreams of a pure Coptic state spanning the whole of modern-day Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea or the vehemently anti-Palestinian militants of that curious misnomer, the "Anti-Defamation League", so keen to denounce anti-Semitism and yet so culpably silent whenever the innocent civilian victims of violence and war are Arab or Muslim. He will steadfastly pursue his programme for the promotion of tolerance and dialogue among religions across the globe. One of the key planks in this endeavour will be a UNESCO project to promote the teaching of comparative religion in schools in order to foster greater mutual understanding and to eradicate the myths that all too often pervade the thinking of one religious community about another - a far cry from the extraordinary way in which John Daly has misrepresented his plans for the education sector.

Coming to the most outlandish allegation of all, that which purports that Farouk Hosny spied on his student compatriots when he was cultural attaché in Paris, suffice to say that such claims emanate from one specific source: Kamal Habib and his academic colleagues allied to the outlawed Takfir wal Hijra group. Habib is one of the most extreme Islamists in Egypt, a man convicted of involvement in the assassination of Anwar Sadat and whose political inspiration is drawn from Ayman Al Zawahiri and the Egyptian wing of Al Qaida. When John Daly and his powerful sponsors call up Al Zawahari and his acolytes in support and when the likes of Bernard-Henri Lévy and Claude Lanzmann are prepared to find common cause with them, one can safely conclude that there is no ethical standard they are not prepared to forfeit in pursuit of their misguided campaign.

Yet, Farouk Hosny's many years of service at the Egyptian Embassy in Paris and, later, Rome and his twenty-two years as a senior cabinet minister in what is probably the most diplomatically sensitive region in the world, having negotiated innumerable cultural agreements allowing for the exhibition abroad of one of the richest, most ancient and most sought-after troves in human history, all apparently count for nought when John Daly comes to assess his alleged dearth of diplomatic acumen. In John's estimation, a single diplomatic posting - on the UNESCO Executive Board or at an embassy in Washington - is apparently a far weightier qualification for the job of Director-General.

And not content with peremptorily belittling Hosny's 40-year-long career in cultural diplomacy, Daly then makes the outrageous claim that he exploited it to display his own works of abstract modern art alongside exhibits of Pharaonic artifacts - a feat of mixing artistic chalk and cheese that beggars the imagination and which, were it to be even remotely true, would cast doubt on the sanity of any museum curator worthy of the name!

We come to the invariably useful canard of "corruption" and "inefficiency". Once again, John calls in aid his new friends in the Muslim Brotherhood. For it is they who sought to exploit proven embezzlement by a senior official in Egypt's culture ministry in order to try and bring down the minister himself. The culprit was found guilty and sentenced to three years in jail; the same judges found Farouk Hosny to be completely innocent, and his reputation emerged enhanced in the eyes of all but those who had so keenly and dishonestly sought his downfall. More seriously, John Daly conflates in the same paragraph a completely separate incident when Hosny tendered his resignation in the wake of the high death toll caused by a fire in a public theatre. He was reinstated, in response to popular demand, on the grounds that he should not be held personally responsible for the failings of much lower-ranking officials.

To the charge that Farouk Hosny has only one string to his bow - culture - and that his knowledge of science, education and communication are virtually non-existent, perhaps John Daly could cite any recent precedent of a quadridisciplinary polymath heading the Organisation's secretariat. He might also reflect on the fact that, for the last ten years, UNESCO has been managed by a career diplomat with no prior specialist knowledge of any of the Organisations's sectors - without this eliciting any suggestion that he was consequently unfit for the job. The UNESCO Director-General is supposed to be a competent and effective manager, not a superman combining the artistic insights of a Picasso, the scientific prowess of an Einstein and the didactic powers of a Montessori. And, having headed a government ministry of 90,000 officials and staff for the last two decades, Farouk Hosny has managerial experience aplenty. Moreover, just as President Obama has sought to make of his administration a cabinet of all the talents, it is Hosny's stated intention to bring to UNESCO the world's best minds in all of the Organisation's fields of competence rather than try to be a counter-productively centripetal "one-man show".

And, finally, the knowledge society and Hosny's purported ignorance:
In his proposed programme, Farouk Hosny is placing heavy emphasis on technological innovation and the need for UNESCO to catch up after so many years of sloth in this field. More significantly still, he largely ascribes this lag to the fact that, for far too long, the Member States have recommended political appointees for senior posts in the secretariat as opposed to proven technocrats, and he has pledged to pressure them to reverse this trend precisely so that the Organisation can better keep pace with the challenges posed and opportunities afforded by new information and communication technologies and, thus, more expeditiously achieve a true knowledge society.

John Daly helpfully closes his thirteen "deadly sins" with an extraordinary disclaimer regarding his own sources (quote: "of course some of those may be inaccurate or untrue") - but then he appears to have become a fully paid-up member of the Throw-Enough-Mud-And-Some-Of-It-Will-Stick school of polemics. He then follows this up with a no less startling admission that he has never even met Farouk Hosny and has no personal insight whatsoever into his character. Perhaps John should take the trouble to meet the target of his wrath at least once during his forays across the Atlantic from the green fields of Maryland and actually read the man's proposals for UNESCO's programmes: it might just furnish him with a more complete and convincing appraisal of Mr Hosny's true worth as a candidate for high office than any number of tendentious assessments, produced in furtherance of a not especially well-concealed hidden agenda, by so motley an assortment of vested interests.

Automated Translation Online

In keeping track of news relating to UNESCO I find a lot written in a language other than English. While Engllish is my native language, I can easily read Spanish and French, Portuguese and Catalan with a little more difficulty, and I can usually get the gist of an Italian article. There is a lot written in German and Russian with respect to the election of the new Director General, especially since there is an Austrian candidate and a Russian candidate, and I can't deal with those languages.

I have been using Babel Fish and Google Translate. Both give rough but intelligible translations. I was even able to get a translation from an article in Bulgarian via Google Translate. The Google translated search is really helpful as I try to look for materials in the Cyrilic alphabet.

What a great pair of resources for bringing peoples and nations together!

My favorite World Heritage Sites outside the United States

Cathedral and tombs at Petra

I have been fortunate enough to visit a lot of World Heritage sites abroad. Here are my favorites of those I have visited (in alphabetical order of country):

  1. Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture Bolivia
  2. Historic Town of Ouro Preto Brazil
  3. Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks
  4. Port, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena Colombia
  5. City of Quito Ecuador
  6. Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis Egypt
  7. Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur Egypt
  8. Paris, Banks of the Seine France
  9. Acropolis, Athens Greece
  10. Taj Mahal India
  11. Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne Ireland
  12. Masada Israel
  13. Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura Italy
  14. Historic Centre of Florence Italy
  15. Venice and its Lagoon Italy
  16. Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls
  17. Petra Jordan
  18. Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco Mexico
  19. Historic Centre of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán Mexico
  20. Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan Mexico
  21. Historic Centre of Morelia Mexico
  22. Taxila Pakistan
  23. Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore Pakistan
  24. City of Cuzco Peru
  25. Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu Peru
  26. Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada Spain
  27. Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville Spain
  28. Historic City of Toledo Spain
  29. Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe Spain
  30. Sacred City of Kandy Sri Lanka
  31. Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites United Kingdom
  32. Blenheim Palace United Kingdom
  33. City of Bath United Kingdom

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Modeling. Munging and Story Telling

A nice post on the Dataspora blog takes off from a comment by Hal Varian to explain why the uber geek skills of people who understand how to use data well are becoming more valuable in our society. These are people who can figure out what is significant and what not in a conceptual area, who can clean up real life data streams and put them in a form that quantitative analysis can be brought to bear, and who can figure ways to communicate the knowledge that they have derived from analysis of the data to others. The author focuses on the term "visualization" but he is perhaps a visually oriented person. I am not, an and I greatly value story telling in words (which the author of the Dataspora post does quite well.) I suspect that in the not too distant future, we will use other modalities for communication A video is visual, but how about if we add useful sound to the visual data, including perhaps rhythm and pitch. How about presenting data to other senses -- touch, propriceptive, taste?

Note however, how much he can do with images and color:

Disruption of the Scientific Publishing (and other) Industry

My friend Julianne pointed me to this interesting article:
Next Generation Scientific Articles: Reflections on a changing landscape
That in turn pointed me to this article:
Is Scientific Publishing About to be Disrupted
Both are worthy of your attention.

Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century

The National Academy of Engineering has a nice website with the results of a voting process on the greatest engineering accomplishments. The 20 items selected are all important, and the site provides a great deal of modern technological history in a very accessible format.

I would note that the way in which the candidate achievements were defined helped to determine the results. For example, the list includes radio and television, computers, telephone, and the Internet. If one instead defined the global information infrastruture, combining all four of those categories, the magnitude of the engineering accomplishment might be even more impressive. Today well have many billions of devices connected in a globe-spanning network that could not have been imagined at the start of the century.

Similarly, the global multimodal transportational system is a transcendental engineering achievement of the 20th century, as is the global energy infrastucture which combines electrification and petroleum systems and their components such as hydro-electric dams, nuclear power instalations, oil pipelines, supertankers, and docking facilities, deep ocean drilling rigs, and a global automated control system.

In the same can be said of the global urban infrastructure. At the end of the 20th century most people in the world lived in cities, a situation that probably could not have been imagined at the beginning of the century. Cities such as New York, Tokyo and Mexico had not only built buildings to house millions of people, but had also developed hugely complex infrastructures to bring people, energy, information, food, water and supplies into the cities and to remove the wastes. Not only were a few cities built, but thousands organized into a global complex network of urban centers of graduated sizes.

I find that as impressive as are the individual engineering technologies, the huge engineered networks are even more impressive aspects of the accomplishments of engineers in the last century.

Reiterating Support for American Health Care Reform

The objectives are clear:
  • Improve national health outcomes
  • Reduce national health care expenditures as a portion of GDP
  • Greatly reduce the number of Americans without health insurance
  • Pay for the innovations as we go, rather than increasing government deficits
I support a reform that would include a government health insurance option. If a government option is OK for the military, the Congress and the President, we should be willing to give it a try for willing citizens. If it turns out to be a better option than the HMOs, and I doubt that, then let it grow.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blogs: Happiness Barometers?

"Peter Dodds and Christopher Danforth, applied mathematicians at the University of Vermont, Burlington, automatically searched 2.4 million blogs, via the Web site, for phrases containing the words "I feel." Their computers then scanned those phrases for 1034 emotionally charged words that a 1999 psychology study had ranked on a happiness scale from 1 (miserable) to 9 (ecstatic). From the words' frequency and scores, an algorithm calculated a net feel-good factor for each day and month."

Comment: The trends are interesting, although perhaps difficult to interpret. Note that the election of Barack Obama was associated with more happiness than Christmas! JAD