Monday, September 28, 2009

I am on vacation

and may not be posting for a couple of weeks. Expected date of return about October 12.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"UNESCO defeat will not alter Egypt's foreign ties: analysts"

According to Daily News Egypt, cooler heads will prevail and Hosny's loss will not affect Egypts foreign policy nor its relations with America.

As far as the charge that Hosny's loss could be charged in part to American opposition to Egypt, that opposition has been carefully hidden if it exists. For example, the United States has given Egypt some $60 billion dollars in foreign aid since 1979. If you figure Egypt's 80 million people are divided in 20 million families, that would amount to $3,000 per family. Of course, American families love being taxed in order to subsidize Egyptian families. And of course, all those poor misguided analysts who have seen Egypt and the United States as strong allies would have to be wrong.

As to the charges that I am anti-Egyptian, why do you suppose I led the effort to provide Egypt with a concessional loan of $140 million dollars to strengthen its science programs a couple of decades ago?

The NYT Editorial is Right On!

I quote extensively from today's editorial titled "The Right Head for UNESCO":
The race was beset by controversy and the voting went to five rounds. But Unesco made the right choice Tuesday night in selecting Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian diplomat, as its new director general. She will be the first woman and the first eastern European to head up the United Nations agency, which is meant to promote culture, architectural protection, education, press freedom and other issues around the world.......

We believe that she was the right choice. She played an active role in Bulgaria’s political transformation from Soviet satellite to European Union member. That should be a strong asset in leading an organization badly buffeted in the past by ideological storms. In her long career as a diplomat, including a brief stint as foreign minister and her current position as Bulgaria’s ambassador to France and its representative at Unesco, she has demonstrated a quiet and effective professionalism.

Unesco is one of the U.N.’s most prominent and influential agencies, yet its ideological forays and mismanagement in the 1970s and 1980s led the United States and Britain to withdraw. Both have since returned. Unesco has an important role to play. Ms. Bokova seems well qualified to lead it.

"Egyptian minister declares 'culture war' on Israel"

Source: Roee Nahmias, YNet News, 09.26.09

I quote the lead:
Farouk Hosni, who recently lost vote for UNESCO leadership, declares intention to launch 'culture war against tyranny, dwarf Israel vis-à-vis Egyptian culture'; Outraged minister blames racism, Jews for UN defeat
and, from the body of the report:
Several days after having lost the vote for UNESCO's leadership, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni declared Saturday his intention to "launch a culture war against Israel."

In an interview with Egyptian newspaper al-Masri al-Yaum, Hosni charged that he lost the UN vote because of "radicalism, racism, and the Jews," who he claied attacked him over his harsh views against cultural normalization vis-à-vis Israel.

Hosni used the interview to declare what he referred to a "culture war on tyranny," vowing to challenge Israel on all fronts, thereby dwarfing its status vis-à-vis Egypt.
And also from the text of the article:
The Egyptian minister also accused America's UNESCO representative, as well as the envoys of Eastern European states, Japan, and the Jews for undermining his candidacy.

On Friday, United Arab Emirates newspaper al-Khalig published another interview with Hosni, where he stated that he is reverting to his traditional stance against normalization with Israel. The Egyptian minister softened his rhetoric ahead of the UN vote, ostensibly in a bid to boost his chances.
Comment: No wonder that we see reports that five members of the Executive Board allowed themselves to be replaced rather than vote for him.

There has been some discussion on this blog as to the homogeneity of culture in countries that speak Arabic. Minister Hosny emphasizes Egyptian culture, not Arab culture. That makes sense to me. Egypt occupies a unique landscape which has long influenced its culture. Egypt has a continuous culture dating from Pharaonic, Greek and Roman times; that early history is different that that of the other Arab lands and must influence its culture today. Egypt had an especially rich heritage in the last millennium, where Cairo was often a center of cultural excellence in the Islamic world. Coptic and Jewish communities have existed in Egypt for thousands of years, and have contributed to its cultural richness -- as Minister Hosny has acknowledged in his efforts to assure the maintenance of their historical artifacts. Egypt has been an important intermediary in the commerce between Asia and Europe for thousands of years, and had an especially active interaction with European cultures since Napoleon invaded; no doubt that its culture has been enriched by those contacts in ways that the cultures of other Arab nations have not. Perhaps most important, in the last half century the Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak administrations have taken Egypt on a unique development path which has profoundly affected its culture. It would be a mistake to underestimate the richness and complexity of Egyptian culture by assuming that it is no different than the Arab cultures of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, as it would be to assume that the rich cultural heritage of those nations was the same as that of Egypt.

Thank you for your Attention!

About a year after I started my first blog, I started keeping track of the number of visits and page views. Similarly, a while after I started the UNESCO in the Spotlight blogs I started keeping track of their traffic. I just passed a quarter of a million visits and 350 page views to the blogs. Thank you for your attention!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rep. Ed Royce on the UNESCO DG Election

The following was posted on a Congressional blog by the Republican member of the House of Representatives from very conservative Orange County California:
Last week, I posted ("Book Burning") on the contested election to head UNESCO. The Egyptian candidate, Farouk Hosny, the initial front-runner, came under fire for having said he'd be willing to burn Israeli books. I joined the attack. The voting went five heated rounds, with representatives from Madagascar, Nigeria, Lebanon and Pakistan thought to have been replaced because they did not want to vote for Hosny. Reports surfaced that Hosny, once an Egyptian diplomat in Rome, helped to organize the 1985 escape from Italy of the Achille Lauro hijackers. In the end, Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian, came from behind to win. I'm no friend of UNESCO, but I'll celebrate her victory. The Egyptian's response? Yup, he blamed the Jews. (AP: "Egyptian minister blames Jews for UNESCO loss").
Comment: I posted a warning that election of Farouk Hosny might result in retaliation by the U.S. Congress. In part I wrote the piece to explain that, in my opinion, it would be totally appropriate for the U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO to explain the likely repercussions of the election to his colleagues in Paris. Representative Royce's posting illustrates that there was interest in the Congress in the election, that there is opposition to UNESCO in the Congress, and I think supports my guess.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do you agree with the choice of the Executive Board?

Comparison of the Final Two Candidates

For UNESCO Director General

Irina Bokova

Farouk Hosny

Experience Bringing Nations Together

As First Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affaris led in the integration of Bulgaria with the European Union

As Minister of Culture Opposed Normalization of Egyptian Cultural Relations with Israel


· Moscow State Institute of International Relations, MBA in international relation

· Jan. – Aug. 1989 USA University of Maryland, School of Public Affairs, Washington, Ford Foundation fellow, Program on the US foreign policy decision-making proces

· Sept. 1992 – Dec. 1994 NATO fellow, Program for Central and Eastern Europe on democratic institutions focusing on the national and legal mechanism for the protection of minorities

· Nov. – Dec. 1999 Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government Exec

BA; Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Alexandria, 1964

Most Senior Position in Government

Candidate for Vice President

Foreign Minister

Minister of Culture

Diplomatic Experience

Foreign Minister

Ambassador to France

Cultural Attache

Cultural Councilor

Experience with UNESCO

Permanent Representative to UNESCO

Representative to the Executive Board

Counterpart for UNESCO projects in Egypt

Civil Society Experience

Feb. 1997 – June 2005 Founder and Chairperson of the European Policy Forum


Intellectual Accomplishments

  • Member of the Working Group on Enlargement with the Robert Schuman Institute of European Studies in Florence, Italy, addressing the geo-political implications of enlargement.
  • Bulgaria and Ethnic Tensions in the Balkans, Mediterranean Quarterly, January 1991
  • Monitoring Bulgaria’s Accession to the European Union, European Policy Forum, Annual publications 1999, 2000, 2001
  • Integration of South-Eastern Europe into the European Mainstream, Journal of South East and Black Sea Studies, October 2000
  • Einbahnstrasse EU-Erweiterung, Schüren Verlag, Marburg, Germany, September 2001
  • Numerous articles on foreign policy and European integration issues.
  • Internationally know artist
  • Director, Anfoushy Cultural Palace, Alexandria (1969-1971)
  • Director of the Egyptian Cultural Centre , Paris, France (1971-1978)
  • Director, Children's Cultural Centre, Cairo (1978-1979)
  • Deputy Director, Egyptian Arts Academy, Rome (1979-1982)
  • Director, Egyptian Art, Rome (1982-1987)
  • Part-time Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Soka Gakkai, Japan
  • Part-time Professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University since 1999 till to-date


  • English – fluent
  • Russian – fluent
  • Spanish – fluent
  • French – fluent
  • Bulgarian – native
  • Arabic - very good
  • French - very good
  • Italian - very good
  • English - fair

Negative Charges

Former Communist

  • Member of non-Democratic Government
  • History of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli statements
  • Responsible for Government Ministry that Censors press, films, stage, and television
  • Egyptian cultural production has suffered during his time as Minister of culture

Personal Data

Age: 57

Civil status: Married, two children

Age: 71

Civil status: Single

Have I missed anything critical to the choice?

Interesting comment from the Turkish Press

The following is quoted from an article in the Israel Forum:
"Despite overwhelming support of the United States, the Turkish government refused to field author-singer Zülfü Livaneli for UNESCO director-general on the argument that it was the Arab world’s turn to hold the post. The refusal was interpreted as an explicit support for the Egyptian candidate, Education Minister Faruq Hosni, who drew ire for controversial remarks that he would burn any Israeli books he found in Egyptian libraries. Hosni later apologized for his statement.

The Bulgarian diplomat won the race against the Egyptian candidate by 31 to 27 votes in the final round, becoming the first Eastern European to lead UNESCO.

“There are plenty of mistakes in this case. Turkey backed a wrong candidate and that candidate failed to win,” said Batu.

In comments following the vote, Livaneli, UNESCO’s goodwill ambassador since 1996, said in a critical tone, it was the first time ever that a government opposed its own citizen’s candidacy.

“I congratulate Turkish officials for their foresight,” Livaneli said. “Mrs. Bokova must be grateful to the government of the Turkish Republic for this big accomplishment because our presidency and government refused insistent requests from Western countries and UNESCO regarding my candidacy, arguing it was the Arabs’ turn and instead supported Egyptian candidate Faruq Hosni. However, everyone knew Hosni, making such remarks about burning books if necessary, would be unable to head a culture and education agency like UNESCO.”

Some other allegations disclosed that the government refused to give a nod to Livaneli’s candidacy because of his political affiliation as former Istanbul CHP deputy. Livaneli had resigned from the party in early 2005.

“Livaneli is an invaluable intellectual. He quit the CHP but he is also against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. No matter if it is a political motive or willful negligence, Turkey has lost a significant chance to improve its image,” said Batu.
Comment: So much for the charges that the U.S. was opposed to a Muslim Director General for UNESCO! Does Turkey, with a per capita GDP count as the South? It would be at the top of the Middle Income Country classification by the World Bank.

Electing the UNESCO Director General in the Information Age

There have been comments in the Egyptian press expressing outrage at the failure of the UNESCO Executive Board to choose Farouk Hosny as the next Executive Director of the Executive Board, attributing his loss not to the comparative merits of the candidates but rather to a global conspiracy, Northern efforts to dominate the South, etc.

This selection process, as those of the past, was done be secret ballots of diplomats following extensive diplomatic contacts among member nations. There was however a significant media coverage, a number of influential editorial and op-ed pieces, and fairly extensive discussion in Cyberspace. A decade ago, the audience for a newspaper story or editorial would have been largely limited to the subscribers of the newspaper; today, with the World Wide Web on the Internet, interested individuals were following the selection news from many countries, and with online translation services in several languages. Stories and editorials went worldwide to the subset of the global population interested in UNESCO. The result was that individuals and civil society organizations had unprecedented influence on the votes of democratic countries. A number of members of the Executive Board explicitly stated that their votes on the candidates were influenced by the impact of the choice on the prestige of the organization. Democratic governments must have realized that there would be repercussions were Farouk Hosny to have been elected following the flood of comment against his candidacy.

Of course, the Information Age also makes it much easier for interested individuals to dredge up past statements by candidates wherever they may live, and to find charges against them from whatever source. A concerned NGO with staff and volunteers experienced in data mining can find a lot in a short time.

I suggest that the expectation that clearly existed in Egypt and the Arab world that Farouk Hosny would win the election was based on assumptions that the diplomatic process would work as it had in the past. The failure of the Hosny camp to understand the new dynamic in the Information Age may well have doomed the Egyptian candidacy. That failure may also underlie some of the rhetoric used by the Egyptian press in reporting the election.

The bloggers from the region, who presumably are more aware of the realities of the Information Age seem to be taking the election in quite a different way than the press.

That rhetoric results in uninformed and intemperate comments in opposition. I won't quote them either, but you might check the last paragraphs of this:

"More than half of younger online voters are turning to social media for election information. Of potential voters who are looking for election information online, 61% of 18 to 24 year olds and 55% of 25 to 34 year olds seek answers on user-driven content sites such as blogs, YouTube and Wikipedia."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now, lets look at the other side

The Los Angeles Times quotes Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, as telling Israeli radio:
"The world took a very interesting stand and in effect said that it is improper and inappropriate for a representative of a country like Egypt, a dictatorship that oppresses freedom and expression and art, to stand at the head of an organization entrusted with cultural cooperation and dedicated to promoting cultural dialogue."
How about Aung Sang Suu Kyi from Burma? Rigoberta Menchu from Guatemala? Some of my greatest heroes are those who stand up against the dictatorial and repressive tendencies of their own governments. There is no greater hero of my time than Nelson Mandela who stood up to the repression of his government.

It is no more justified for an Israeli to condemn all Egyptians because he dislikes their government than it is for an Egyptian to condemn all Israelis because he dislikes the government of Israel.

As I see it, the stand was not against someone because he was from Egypt, but against Farouk Hosny because of the things he personally had said and done. Apparently the Egyptian Foreign Minister agrees with that judgment.

Thoughts on Reading Farouk Hosny's Comments on His Return to Egypt

The Makati Local headlined its coverage of Hosny's return to Egypt after losing the election for Director General of UNESCO "Egyptian condemns Unesco vote". The article cites the BBC as its original source.

Hosny accuses that the vote was "politicized". That is an interesting comment from the Egyptian candidate. The Israeli government is supposed to have issued orders to its diplomats to stop opposing Hosny after Mubarak met with Netanyahu, and there has been speculation on what was offered in exchange. The Algerian candidate tried to withdraw from the race, supposedly after the President of Algeria put pressure on him to comply with the promise of support made to Mubarak. Oman withdrew its candidate, again supposedly due to negotiations with the Egyptian government. Brazil also failed to nominate two very competitive candidates, reportedly as a result of negotiations with the Government of Egypt; it has been reported since that a trade deal was signed between the two countries, that the Egyptian Foreign Minister has visited Brazil, and that President Mubarak is to visit Brazil later in the year. The Government of Egypt lobbied with the Arab League, the Islamic Conference and the African Union for support of their member states.

Of course, he is right that the election was politicized. It would have been better had there been a process that did generated more and better candidates, and that selected among them only on the basis of qualifications to lead UNESCO. However, for the Egyptian candidate to complain about the politicization of the process is for the pot to call the kettle black.

A further comment is reported:
The minister described the race as a battle between north and south.

“The north always has to control the south,” said Mr Hosny, adding that “the American ambassador did everything he could” to stop his election.
Actually, the winner was from Bulgaria, a country that only obtained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908 and from domination by the Soviet Union in 1990 and that has a per capita GDP of some $12,000. Actually, it is interesting to see an Eastern European Socialist in the position, both in terms of her ability to try to broker a dialog between Islamic and Western states, and in terms of her opportunity to try to bring Russia and the West to the table for dialog.

The Associated Press reports from Hosny's press conference:
Egypt's culture minister on Wednesday blamed a conspiracy "cooked up in New York" by the world's Jews for keeping him from becoming the next head of the U.N.'s agency for culture and education.

Farouk Hosny was defeated on Tuesday by Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova in a tight race for the position of UNESCO chair.

"It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me," Hosny told reporters at the airport upon his return from Paris.

"There are a group of the world's Jews who had a major influence in the elections who were a serious threat to Egypt taking this position," he said.
Perhaps this is a misquote, or the Arabic does not translate well. Certainly many Jews and many others were outraged by Hosny's record of obnoxious statements. They were joined by those concerned with the freedom of the press, and by many Egyptians in opposing his candidacy. However, the opposition was overt, legal, and indeed a reasonable effort to influence the process of selection of the Director General of UNESCO. I think that what really sunk the Hosny candidacy was the independent action of a number of individuals and non-governmental organizations that took advantage of the free press to share their concerns about him.

The American Ambassador, who I have never met, may well have worked hard to see the person he and the American government felt to be the better candidate win. I hope so.

The New York Times reports:
There was a muted response in Cairo, but some officials said the ballot was not aimed against Egypt.

"I do not believe that this should be read as an attitude towards Egypt. I think the question was related to the candidate," said Egypt's former foreign minister, Ahmed Maher.

"I am sure that relations between us and the countries, however they voted, will remain as they were. I don't think they will be affected by this," he told Reuters.
If Farouk Hosny really cared about UNESCO and the accomplishment of its important mission, he would have been as gracious in defeat as Irina Bokova was in winning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My coverage of the UNESCO Director General Election

As you may know, I regularly run three blogs: this personal blog titled Thoughts About K4D, and two blogs spotlighting UNESCO and American involvement in UNESCO (see links to right). The latter two are run as part of my contribution to Americans for UNESCO (a small NGO). Toward the end of the campaign I started posting my personal views on Thoughts of K4D, and since I was worried about the candidacy of Farouk Hosny, these generated outrage from people in his campaign office. I tried to be very neutral on the UNESCO in the Spotlight blogs since Americans for UNESCO had taken no position on the candidates.

As the election campaign for the new Director General of UNESCO came into its final days, I decided to create a site in which anyone interested in the election of the candidates could easily find a lot of information, organized to facilitate browsing. That resulted in Election of the UNESCO Director General. That site began simply gathering information on the process and on the candidates and organizing it into a form that seemed useful to me. Later I began providing links to articles on the election as I found them. Since a large number of the articles were either opposed to Hosny or recounting the opposition to Hosny, the weight of these bibliographic lists turned out to be strongly anti-Hosny. After the list got well past 150 entries, I marked those that I thought to be most influential. Those also tended to be anti-Hosny, but they were also very widely quoted or referred to. On the day of the last vote I posted a full entry on a serious charge against Hosny that had surfaced over the weekend, summarizing what I had been able to learn about the charge via the Internet, on the basis that it might be of crucial importance as the UNESCO Executive Board debated breaking the tie between the two final candidates before it.

All of these sites are done on a voluntary basis with no financial support.

The usage of all three normal blogs rose during the election. Last month the UNESCO Spotllight blogs were up 44% and 33% to 1900 and 1700 visits respectively. The Thoughts About K4D blog was up 55% to 5,900 visits.

Election of the UNESCO Director General had 13,304 visits over the last month, 7,182 in the last week. There were almost 27,000 page views. The website actually has several postings visible at once from the master site, so the number of posting visits may have been higher. On the average, visitors stayed just over two minutes on the site. Three quarters of the visits were classified by Google Analytics as "New Visits". There was a poll posted on the site for some time, and it has recorded some 6,600 votes.

Surprisingly, more than 6,000 visits were from Lithuania, reflecting the strong support in Cyberspace for the Lithuanian candidate. Other major sources of visits were:
France 1,897
United States 1,200
Egypt 619
Canada 236
Belgium 206
Germany 195
United Kingdom 169
Austria 158
Switzerland 135
Of course, France is the host country of UNESCO headquarters and the local of the Executive Board Meeting, perhaps explaining its high level of interest.

I have recently started using Twitter and using an AmUNESCO account I spent a lot of time retweeting things pertaining to UNESCO and the election. I have not counted the number of messages, but I would bet there were more than 100 per day on peak days. (I use a tweet aggregator to follow traffic on UNESCO, and it is very fast to retweet an item found.) There are now more that 2100 followers of AmUNESCO on Twitter. There is no way that I know of to follow the number of people reached by this information as some followers do not attend, and some who attend do not follow.

I am a manager of a social networking group on LinkedIn called UNESCO's Friends. The group has more than 600 members, including some who work for UNESCO, some diplomats, and a large number of interested citizens. I posted frequent news items that I found reading about the election, and tried to stimulate some discussions on the post of Director General and the characteristics of a good Director General. I suspect that there was a lot of title scanning for these postings, but relatively few articles were actually drawn down and very very few people participated in the discussions.

What was the impact of all this work? I can only guess. Clearly I reached thousands of people with information, perhaps many thousands, although the average amount of information provided per person was very small. I suspect a few people spent a lot of time on the Internet reviewing information in detail. I suppose there were a couple of dozen comments made on the UNESCO postings. I was receiving information from the supporters of three candidates, four or five others started to help me by sending information that they thought I should have.

I found quotes of my material on other websites and many retweets of mine. I had long interviews with two reporters, one of whom thanked me for the help he had obtained from the website. I had a long exchange of emails with another. I was quoted a couple of times, and misquoted once on CNN. The media coverage I informed may have had more educational impact than my work, giving me an indirect audience. I think I detected several other articles that had been influenced by my postings.

Since I am retired, I have a lot of time available for this activity. Since I am an officer of a pro-UNESCO NGO, run pro UNESCO websites, and teach a graduate seminar on UNESCO, I know quite a bit about the organization. I undertook to open the election process to the public, and I think I succeeded to modest degree -- modest but surprising to me. I might even have had a modest effect in influencing the votes on the Executive Board.

The reason I post this is as an example of the influence that any guy can have in Cyberspace by focusing on a single issue at a propitious time. A few famous people, including a Nobel Prize winner, clearly had more influence through major pieces in influential journals, and important organizations clearly had much more influence. However, before the World Wide Web was created it would have been unthinkable for an average citizens to reach the number of people that I have reached during this campaign.

UNESCO: The Need for Due Diligence

Yesterday saw the Executive Board of UNESCO vote 31 to 27 for Irina Bokova over Farouk Hosny for the position of Director General of UNESCO. Hosny was seen as the leading candidate at the beginning of the year, but Bokova emerged from the other eight candidates during five days of voting to win the election.

Hosny's candidacy was reportedly beaten by three concerns (I had more, but they appeared not to have been shared).
  • That he held anti-Jewish or anti-Israel views,
  • That as Minister of Culture of Egypt he had significant responsibility for the censorship that occurs in that country, and
  • That he was implicated in the escape from prosecution of some terrorists responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking (an allegation that surfaced in the press only last weekend).
The first of these concerns, apparently not shared by the Government of Israel, were supported by many quotations and highlighted in widely viewed editorial pieces in influential journals. The second, made by Reporters Without Borders appeared well researched and was repeated in many influential journals. The third was made in an online Arabic newspaper that is widely viewed, but the charge was not widely republished (except on the Internet).

There were allegations, especially from the Hosny camp, that there were significant negatives in the background of the three main competitors: Irina Bokova, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Ivonne Baki. These charges surfaced quite late and were not substantiated in the media as far as I could see. (I have posted links to some 250 articles on the election, and read more.)

Farouk Hosny announced his candidacy for the post in the summer of 2007. It is reported that the government of Egypt had secured support for that candidacy from Arab and Islamic nations and from the African Union, as well as from other states such as Brazil. I very strongly suspect that the promises of support for his candidacy were made with very little investigation of his background and qualifications for the position.

During five days of voting many of the delegations appear to have changed the candidate that they supported. Hosny went from 22 votes up to 29 before receiving 27 votes on the final round. Bokova went from 8 to 31 votes.

What did the voters know about the candidates?
  • When each person was nominated, the nomination was accompanied by a statement of qualifications from the nominating government. One assumes these statements were less than frank about the negatives for the candidate, but they have not been made public.
  • Each candidate submitted a vision statement, but it is assumed that these statements were the result of joint efforts by the candidates and their advisors.
  • There was a one hour interview for each candidate, which included 20 minutes for the candidate and five questions, each by a representative of a group of member nations of the Executive Board.
  • Of course there was also information available in the form of glossy brochures created to support the candidacies, public spokespersons for the candidates, the media and the Internet.
My guess is that many of the delegates and many of their national governments knew very little about the reasons against the candidacy of any of the nominees.

I spent years selecting people for post-doctoral fellowships, probably looking at more than 1,000 applications. We always obtained confidential recommendations from people who knew the candidates well as well as curricula vitae and vision statements. So too when hiring for the Government, we always obtained and checked references.

Would it not be wise for the secretariat of the Executive Board to hire a professional executive search firm to do a background investigation of each of the nominees for future elections, and make the results available to the voting delegates?

In this election, acting as a private citizen, I created a website to make information on the election and the candidates widely available. It received some 13,000 visits during the campaign and voting. I am rather sure that an official website for the election managed for UNESCO by an independent organization (to avoid charges of favoritism) would be much more visible and much more used.

Such a website might provide reliable information on the candidates and organize access to the media coverage of the campaign. It might indeed stimulate more and better media coverage.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brazilians Looking Back in Sadness

Two Brazilians were interested in running for the position of Director General of UNESCO -- Marcio Barbosa, current Deputy Director General of UNESCO and former Director of the Brazilian Space Agency and Cristovam Buarque, member of the Brazilian Senate, ex-Minister of Education, former rector of the University of Brasilia, and former Governonr of Brasilia. There was a long period of controversy, and apparently the Brazilian Government nominated neither, making a deal with the Government of Egypt to support the Egyptian candidate, Farouk Hosny. When Hosny lost today to Bulgarian candidate Irina Bokova, some Brazilians appear to be questioning the decision made by the Government months ago. A priori it looks like either Brazilian would have been a very strong candidate, and might have brought the plum job of a UN Agency chief to the nation's portfolio.

The lesson? Perhaps countries with strong candidates should nominate them. If countries nominated very strong candidates rather than playing geopolitics, maybe the agencies could select even better leaders than they do not!

Monday, September 21, 2009

My family is unusually international

My father was born in Ireland, and lived in three countries. My mother was born in England, and lived in three countries. My son was born in Colombia and has lived in three countries. I was born in the United States and have lived in three countries, worked in more than 35 (I stopped counting) and have spent time in more than 50 countries. My parents' generation have all passed away, but my generation, including first cousins, are citizens of four countries. My cousins and I have lived in seven countries. The Internet has done wonders for our frequency of communication. I have worked for the World Health Organization and the World Bank as well as a couple of Foundations; several of my relatives from England, Ireland and Australia have also worked in international development. I think that background may give me an unusual perspective on the world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Did Farouk Hosny Report on Egyptian Student Activists in the Past?

A memorandum (in English, French and Arabic) signed by 15 Egyptian professors and journalists charges that as the Egyptian Cultural Attache in the early 1970's Farouk Hosny was involved and participate in "in repressive security practices against Egyptian students in Paris."
He had previously admitted that he exercised espionage activities against Egyptian students opposed to the former Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat, and wrote surveillance reports on their activities in favor of the Egyptian security apparatus which, in turn, exposed the students’ lives and academic career to grave threats.

Mr. Hosni has boasted and misrepresented, in public, these acts as a patriotic service; nevertheless, he admitted that only after it was revealed by Dr. Yahya el-Gamal, ex-minister, professor of International Law, and former cultural attaché in Paris, in his diaries titled “Ordinary Life Story.” It was then when Mr. Hosni went to the weekly magazine El Mosawwar , that published el-Gamal’s diaries, and admitted in a lengthy interview his spying and reporting practices.
The charge has been picked up in other sites (site one, site two)

I believe, although I can not find now find a reference, that he has again denied the charge.

Those of us who lived through the late 1960s and early 1970s can easily remember student protests. In the late 60's I was teaching in Chile, and my university there was closed for many months due to a protest. In the early 1970s I was teaching in Colombia, and not only was my university there closed for many months, but students were killed by the police on campus and thousands of students and their supporters were arrested. Between those stints, while I was a grad student at the University of California, Irvine in an extremely conservative U.S. community, there was a fire bombing that hit the building in which my department was housed.

I can easily believe that there were Egyptian students in Paris and that they were involved in protests when Hosny was cultural attache there. Would the cultural attache have been expected to report back to Cairo on Egyptian student demonstrations? I can not imagine he would not have been? If Farouk Hosny, a man who later rose to a very high position in the Egyptian government, had provided those reports would he have provided well written, informative reports? Of course they would have met the demands of his Government.

What would the Egyptian Government done with those reports? Remember that Anwar Sadat took office in 1970, to be assassinated in 1981. Egypt went to war with Israel in 1973, and Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978. It was a scary time in Egypt. Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak have assured the stability of Egypt for decades in part by acting forcefully against those who would oppose their regimes. So, I suppose that one might assume that the Egyptian Government would act against students that it felt might cause instability.

Is the charge by these Egyptians credible? Does it matter in terms of his candidacy for the position of Director General of UNESCO? Consider that UNESCO promotes freedom of expression and is especially concerned with the welfare of students who are studying in countries other than their own.

You decide!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A beautiful theory killed by an inconvenient fact!

There was a good article titled "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong" by Paul Krugman, the economist, in last week's New York Times Magazine. It focuses on the crisis in academic economics created by the inconvenient fact of the economic crisis that began last year. The article holds that economists mistook the beauty of their quantitative models supported by statistical data for truth. The article begins:
It’s hard to believe now, but not long ago economists were congratulating themselves over the success of their field. Those successes — or so they believed — were both theoretical and practical, leading to a golden era for the profession. On the theoretical side, they thought that they had resolved their internal disputes. Thus, in a 2008 paper titled “The State of Macro” (that is, macroeconomics, the study of big-picture issues like recessions), Olivier Blanchard of M.I.T., now the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, declared that “the state of macro is good.” The battles of yesteryear, he said, were over, and there had been a “broad convergence of vision.” And in the real world, economists believed they had things under control: the “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved,” declared Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago in his 2003 presidential address to the American Economic Association. In 2004, Ben Bernanke, a former Princeton professor who is now the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, celebrated the Great Moderation in economic performance over the previous two decades, which he attributed in part to improved economic policy making.
Thomas Kuhn described a paradigm shift as that which occurs when the scientists in a specific field find enough discrepencies have built up between what their theory says should happen, and what is measured as actually happening. It sounds like the economists have been forced into a paradigm shift by a single, very large fact -- the economic crisis which they had not predicted which wiped out $13 trillion in American wealth and is driving unemployment up to ten percent of the U.S. workforce. A veritable 800 pound gorilla of an inconvenient fact.

There is a place for beautiful models in theory building. They can illuminate relationships in ways that are clearer than in the confusion of booming buzzing reality. The danger of course is confusing a model that is great for didactic and exploratory purposes with that booming buzzing reality.

A beautiful horse race model

I have thought in the past that it would be interesting to take betting on a simple horse race as a model - a handful of horses with a single winner. Betting on a horse race has the interesting element that betting takes place over a limited period of time, ending when the horses leave the starting gate.

I think it is reasonable to assume that there is a "real" set of probabilities describing the probability that each horse would win the race. There are clearly unpredictable elements in any horse race, but equally clearly, all things being equal, some horses run faster than others.

Betters however don't know the "true probabilities" but can estimate them. Thus a specific better can be regarded as adding or subtracting an increment from the probability that each horse will win. Assuming that the betters are rational, the sum of the increments will be zero. It seems obvious that some betters are better than others at estimating the odds. The worse oddsmen would have larger increments to the real odds than the better ones.

People go to horse races to have fun, and the fun is worth something. Some people enjoy seeing a longshot on which they have bet come in first, and are willing to pay some of the expected value of their bet to get the occassional fun of the winning longshot. One might suggest that some people enjoy winning often, and are willing to pay some of the expected value of their winnings by betting on favorites to see more winners.

One can assume two forms of betting. The pari mutual race track betting where odds are estimated during the betting period, but the bets are paid off according to the final distribution of bets. The bookie, on the other hand, takes a bet at set odds, and those odds change as the time of the race approaches.

This is a really messy problem for analytic models, but would seem quite reasonable for simulation models. I think it would be interesting to see for example how closely the odds achieved in such a system modeled the "true odds" that were assumed. There are known divergences in real horse race betting; would they appear in the models?

I think models like this could help us to understand real financial decisions. They have long been possible with the advent of computers, and it would be relatively easy to simulate several thousand betters for hundreds of repetitions of a given race.

Friday, September 18, 2009

About U.S. Financing for UNESCO

The United States, as the country with the greatest GDP in the world, has the highest assessed payments for UNESCO. The rate is set for the United Nations as a whole, and currently is 22 percent of the regular budget of the organization. That is more than $60 million per year.

The Obama administration proposes the appropriations but under the American Constitution, the budget power lies in the Congress. Thus the annual appropriation for UNESCO depends on an agreement between the Senate and the House of Representatives. The State Department can argue for a budget figure, but can not decide for the Government.

There are factions in the United States who are strongly opposed to UNESCO. They include some who are afraid of international influence on our locally controlled school boards, some who are afraid of international influence on our national parks and bioreserves, and some who just don't like international organizations of any kind. In the administration of Ronald Reagan these factions combined and were reinforced by others concerned with the administration of UNESCO by Amadou M'Bow, and still others who were concerned by the debate over the "New World Information Order" taking place in UNESCO. Together their influence was sufficient to cause the United States to withdraw from UNESCO.

One candidate for the post of Director General of UNESCO worries me because his election might catalyze the creation of a similar coalition in the next few years. Farouk Hosny's record as Minister of Culture of Egypt has caused a number of organizations defending freedom of the press, notable Reporters Without Borders, to oppose his candidacy. Those groups have considerable support and influence within the United States.

He also has a history of making apparently anit-Israeli and anti-Jewish statements, and his candidacy has been met with fierce opposition on that basis, lead by organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League. These groups also have considerable influence in Congress.

What if these and other groups opposing Hosny combine to lobby Congress to starve UNESCO's finances until he leaves?

The problem is compounded by the fact that the constituencies in the United States that support UNESCO are much less organized than those mentioned above, and not very effective in influencing legislation.

Congress need not refuse to fund UNESCO to have an impact. The United States Congress frequently allows arrears to build up in its contributions to United Nations organizations, and apparently sometimes uses that as a tactic to force changes that it desires. The last time I looked, the U.S. arrears to UNESCO were in excess of $90 million. For an organization with a regular budget of some $300 million per year, that deficit causes grave management problems.

This situation is quite difficult for U.S. diplomats to explain without appearing to be making threats. However, the statement
If UNESCO's governance elects Farouk Hosny to head the organization the U.S. Congress may impose financial sanctions
is no more a threat than to say
If you fail to get a flu shot you may catch the flu
Both are simply realistic predictions

The reality, as I see it, is that U.S. diplomats have a responsibility to inform their diplomatic colleagues from other delegations how the Congress may respond to their actions. In fact, I think the Obama administration is far more open to majority decisions by the member states of international organizations than are the Congressional budget processes. Those Congressional processes are subject to influence by organized lobbying groups; coalition of relatively small groups not only may impose their strongly felt positions on the unorganized majority, but often do.

Thoughts occasioned by an article in Al-Ahram Weekly

There is an article in the Al-Ahram Weekly, apparently written just prior to the first round of voting for the new Director General of UNESCO. Al-Ahram Weekly is described as a "Government affiliated leading Egyptian newspaper." Not surprisingly, the article focuses on Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian candidate for UNESCO Chief, and is very positive as to his chances. It states:
Observers expect that Hosny will gain a majority of votes during the first round of voting for the UNESCO post, pointing in particular to his record as an artist and as Egypt's minister of culture for the past 22 years.
Candidate Hosny received 22 votes on the first round and 23 on the second round of voting, strong showing but short of the 30 votes needed for election.

As one would expect of a man who has served as Minister of Culture for 22 years in a large country blessed with a plethora of World Heritage sites and a rich cultural heritage, there are many positive aspects of Hosny's candidacy. The article also notes that "a veritable Pharaohs' Curse has hit Hosni's campaign, with controversy surrounding his candidacy." The charges of anti-Israeli bias and censorship have been thoroughly discussed in many locations, and I will not again address them here.

The article sites a number of portions of the candidate's vision statement for the future of UNESCO. The statement was required of all candidates and the interview of the UNESCO Executive Board with each candidate began with a statement of the candidates vision for the organization. I would bet the bankroll that Minister Hosny was smart enough to draw upon the advice of a number of people, including experts on UNESCO, in the drafting of the statement. It certainly has many positive aspects. Note, UNESCO has so complex a set of responsibilities that no one can master all of its intricacies, and the ability to draw on expert advice is an important qualification for the post of Director General; most of the candidate vision statements show signs of collaborative authorship.

There were a few statements in the report that I do want to address:
"Education is one of UNESCO's core concerns," Hosni told the Weekly recently, and it is important to educate children ethically, as well as provide them with a quality basic education.

"Children should be taught the value of life and faith, as well as ways in which they can discover their own skills. Solutions must be found to improve the lives of street children throughout the world, who should be provided with a proper standard of living," he said.
The call for education to include ethics is quite consistent with UNESCO's history and charter. The call for children to be taught the "value of faith" on the other hand I find problematic. As for most Americans, I think the choice of faith should stay with the family. Families may choose to send their children to schools that include religious instruction, but they may choose not to. I find the idea of children from religious minorities being subjected to religious instruction in public school to be objectionable, as that would be too likely to be of a form unacceptable to their families. The idea that UNESCO should encourage countries to promote religious education in their public schools seems to me simply ludicrous.
UNESCO's world heritage programme, which aims to protect the world's built heritage, should also be extended to increase the number of sites on the current list, as well as their geographical distribution. Awareness should be raised of the importance of heritage for all nations, Hosni said, since this could reinforce international peace and understanding.
There are currently 890 sites listed by UNESCO's World Heritage Center, and a major expansion of that list seems inadvisable to me. If everything is a world heritage site, then the designation means nothing. Even now, many world heritage sites are not properly protected and maintained. It would be better for UNESCO's World Heritage Center to husband its resources and influence to assure the protection of the most transcendental sites rather than accede to the requests of all petitioners to designate sites.
"We will also give special priority to decentralisation in the framework of the Priority Africa programme, in order to improve the quality of the work that is carried out," Hosni said.
While it is an easy promise to get people out of Paris and into the field, in practice that is more difficult and problematic than one may think. UNESCO is not primarily a development assistance agency, but rather a forum for discussion, a laboratory for ideas and a catalyst for networking -- all functions that benefit from centralization and the availability of central support staff to assist the program technical leaders.
After more than 20 years as Egypt's minister of culture, how will you use your experience to find new sources of finance for UNESCO, particularly within the context of the current financial crisis, Hosni was asked. How will you guarantee the free and independent exchange of ideas in achieving your goal of the reconciliation of civilisations? How will you embrace exchange between the different continents?

In reply, Hosny said that a special development fund might be set up to raise additional finance for the organisation, along the lines of the cultural development fund set up by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

"As far as freedom of thought and expression is concerned, my record as Egyptian minister of culture should demonstrate my commitment," Hosny said.
Two-thirds of UNESCO's regular budget comes from six governments and if, as seems possible, these governments are opposed to Hosny UNESCO will continue to face significant financial problems. A special development fund is unlikely to be very useful in that event.

Perhaps the most serious challenge to Farouk Hosny's candidacy was presented in the report by Reporters Without Borders titled "Egyptian censorship advocate is candidate to be UNESCO director general."

O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.
Robert Burns, Poem "To a Louse"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On the election of the new UNESCO Director General

The 58 members of the Executive Board are to choose a new Director General for UNESCO tomorrow. I want to take the occasion to think about the election.

The State Department of the United States, like the foreign ministries of the other member nations of the Executive Board, faces a complex set of issues which I as an outsider can not hope to understand. It is involved in complex negotiations on a huge variety of issues, and must balance its preference for the leader of UNESCO with the possibility of trading its vote for support of another nation on another, possibly more important issue. It would seem from that which I have read, that the Russian candidate may be at a disadvantage due to issues of global politics, and that the Egyptian candidate may have an advantage and to a lesser degree the candidates from Lithuania and Bulgaria.

I can only provide an opinion on UNESCO. I think UNESCO is an important international organization. I think that its founders were correct in that intellectual exchanges and intellectual development are critical for the long term building of the defenses of peace, as well as for the social and economic development of the less developed nations. While the impact of UNESCO's efforts may be long term, I think they are exceptionally important. Consequently, I think it quite important that the Executive Board choose the best Director General that it available among its candidates.

It seems obvious that an international organization with a half-billion dollar annual budget requires strong administrator at its help, capable of assuring an efficient and transparent operation. I would suggest however that UNESCO is most influential through its outreach through National Commissions, partners, UNESCO clubs, associated schools, UNESCO chairs, World Heritage sites, bioreserves, geoparks, scientific networks, etc. Moreover, the Director General should speak for human rights to freedom of expression, to education, to knowledge, and to culture, and his/her direct speech to the public is frequently the visible face of UNESCO. The Director General should be especially important as a leader and spokesperson, energizing and motivating people supporting UNESCO's objectives through these means. The ability to lead by charisma, example, logic and rhetoric may be even more important than that to administer the formal UNESCO organization; properly understood, the two abilities are complementary and synergistic. These abilities are best judged by those who have direct contact with the candidates. However, I find the opposition expressed by Reporters Without Borders to the candidacy of Farouk Hosny as quite troubling in terms of his likely defense of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The ability of the new Director General to attract resources for UNESCO, or at least not to endanger resource flows should not be ignored. UNESCO's budget is pitifully small when compared with the challenges if faces or the good it could do. Two thirds of the regular budget of the organization comes from six countries. If these countries militate against UNESCO's budgets, or if as is the case with the United States they allow their arrears to accumulate, they can cause grave problems for UNESCO. In the United States, where contributions to UNESCO are proposed by the Executive Branch of government, the decisions come from the Legislative Branch. It may be that Benita Ferrero-Waldner would have more positive influence with funding agencies than other candidates; Farouk Hosny, having the opposition of Reporters Without Borders, the Anti-Defamation League and others might have difficulties with funding that other candidates would not face.

I have taught a graduate seminar now for three semesters on UNESCO, and my students agree that it is a very complicated organization with a very complex program. The UNESCO governance structure is also extremely complex and cumbersome. Candidates who already understand the organization well have a significant advantage assuming its direction in a timely fashion. Candidates who already have the respect of the members of the governing bodies also have a significant advantage. It appears that the best qualified in this respect may be Ina Marciulionyte and, perhaps slightly less so, Irina Bokova and Noureini Tidjani-Sepros.

The Director General of UNESCO is a peer of the leaders of other international organizations, and meets with chiefs of state and chiefs of government as well as government ministers and leaders of the global intellectual community. UNESCO's Chief must have the personal gravitas to meet as an equal with these persons, and indeed should ideally have had high level positions prior to assuming the direction of UNESCO. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, as a European Commissioner appears to be well qualified in this respect. I would suggest that Alexander Yakovenko, the Vice Minister of Foreign Relations of Russia might be regarded as better known internationally than a full government minister of a smaller, less influential country.

As Director General Matsuura has demonstrated, the job of the Director General is very demanding. The travel schedule must be extensive. The Director General is the key interface between Executive Board and General Conference and the staff and programs of UNESCO, and as such must participate in long and exhausting meetings several times a year. The simple responsibility of keeping up on the many complex programs and activities of the organization is demanding. The new Director General must be up to the tasks, and must be completely dedicated to the task of leading UNESCO.

In my view, the most important function of UNESCO is promoting intellectual exchanges that lead to better understanding among peoples and thus to a relaxation of conflict. In the current election, two candidates - Ivonne Baki and Benita Ferrero-Waldner - seem especially well qualified to lead in this function. Farouk Hosny has maintained for decades in his role of Minister of Culture of Egypt that the conflict between Israel and Palestine must be resolved before he would support intellectual exchanges between Egypt and Israel. That position mirrors that of the larger intellectual community of Egypt, and Hosny has stated that he would have quite a different position as leader of UNESCO, but the history counts against him.

Over its history, UNESCO has gone from a cultural focus on the sharing of the very best products of cultures, adding an emphasis on dialog among culture, protection of cultural diversity, and recognition culture as determining the objectives of development as well as the means to achieve those objectives. Farouk Hosny, long term Minister of Culture of Egypt is by far the most qualified of the candidates to lead in the original concept of protection and sharing tangible aspects of cultural heritage. On the other hand, many Egyptian minorities protest against his record in supporting their rights to express their own cultural values, leading me to question his commitment to dialog among cultures and cultural diversity. Ivonne Baki, also an artist, may well have more intuitive understanding of cultural diversity than other candidates. Marciulionyte and Bokova have had the experience of radical cultural change as their countries emerged from Communism.

UNESCO is a global organization. While its governing bodies have given priority to Africa, it can not neglect any people. Its 193 member states represent the vast majority of the world's population. It seems to me that three candidates -- Ferrero-Waldner, Baki and Yakovenko -- have the experience that would suggest the broadest understanding of global issues.

I would have liked to see a distinguished scientist-educator with administrative experience in the post. Only Sospeter Muhongo among the candidates has strong scientific credentials among the candidates, and he too would appear to have the best educational qualifications.

The World Summit on the Information Society was an important United Nations event recognizing the emergence of new social and economic reality as a result of the Information Revolution. UNESCO played an important role in emphasizing that we seek not just a society in which their is more information availability, but one in which there is more knowledge and that knowledge is effectively utilized to promote human welfare. I would have liked to see an intellectual leader who could stress the importance of education, science, culture and communications in moving toward knowledge societies. None of the candidates seems to have shown international leadership in this area in the past, but perhaps those interviewing them may have formed opinions on the breadth of their intellectual ability to provide that leadership.

Considering all of these factors, I think that the leading candidates for the post should be Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Ivonne Baki, while Ina Marciulionyte and Irina Bokova may also be good candidates. On the other hand, I think Farouk Hosny is a relatively weak candidate. The overall decision will dependon the impact that the candidates have on the electors in person and on the support that the candidates receive from their governments.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Transactional Insitutions

Markets are institutions organized around economic and financial transactions. This is true for the markets like the Bolivian vegetable market shown above and stock markets, but also for labor markets, financial markets, and markets within a specific industry in intermediate goods and services.

It occurs to me that there are other institutions organized around other kinds of transactions. Let me give an example.

Some years ago I was consulting in Mexico where the World Bank was financing the creation of a number of firms that would help improve the interface between government financed technological centers and the industrial firms that might utilize their technologies and technological services. I suggest that the small consulting industry could be regarded as a mechanism to improve information for the institution connecting the sources and users of the technology. If the firms paid for the technology, that institution could have been regarded as a market, but it would be no less an institution organized around transactions were it to be tax-financed provision of public goods to industry.

I suggest that there might be a lot of institutions organized around transactions that have similarities to markets, but are not traditional markets. For example, think of the World Wide Web as an institution that allows transfer of information from those with the knowledge to those seeking that knowledge, and Google and Wikipedia as means to improve the functioning of the World Wide Web by helping seekers to find the information that they desire, all without money changing hands nor an explicit return from the consumer of the information to its source. Another example might be the institutions that help non-profit organizations and volunteers find each other.

Lets go further, and consider mariage, and the way in which partners find each other to marry. In some cultures there remain marriage brokers. In Ireland. each year in Lisdoonvarna there is a Matchmaking Festival in which aspiring grooms and brides go to find partners. In India, people have been surprised by the rapid evolution of community Internet centers as nodes in regional networks for matchmaking. I would suggest that contracting marriage is a transaction and that the evolving institutions allowing prospective brides and grooms to find each other are "transactional institutions."

The extension of economics to improve the understanding of non-market transactional institutions might be very helpful to development planners. Indeed, simply recognizing that institutionalizing new sets of relationships for non-market transactions is the creation of new "transactional institutions" might be helpful in many development contexts.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing

Source: "Ghostwriting: The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing That Just Got Bigger," The PLoS Medicine Editors (2009)

My friend Julianne identified this article for me.
If you are an editor, author, reviewer, or reader of medical journals, or if you depend on your doctor or health care provider getting unbiased information from medical journals, then the 1,500 documents now hosted on the PLoS Medicine Web site should make you very concerned and angry. Because, quite simply, the story told in these documents amounts to one of the most compelling expositions ever seen of the systematic manipulation and abuse of scholarly publishing by the pharmaceutical industry and its commercial partners in their attempt to influence the health care decisions of physicians and the general public.
It appears that the editors have evidence that articles in their journal were ghostwritten by corporations specializing in medical writing, paid for by pharmaceutical companies that specified the nature of the report, and then published under the name of scientists uninvolved in the research.

Clearly the scientific peer review system is not designed to deal with this kind of problem. It undermines the credibility of information in the scientific literature.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hidden Uninsured: How Many Think They Have Health Insurance But Don't?

The public discussion of the Health Insurance legislation has been based on a figure of 47 million people without health insurance. I bet there are a lot of people who think they have health insurance, but will be caught without it:
  • People whose insurance does not cover the services they need or will soon need;
  • People whose claims for reimbursement of health service costs will be disallowed for causes such as "pre-existing conditions"';
  • People who will change jobs, losing their employer plans and find themselves unable to get new insurance due to "pre-existing conditions".
It would be hard to estimate this hidden uninsured population, and harder still to convince its members that they are at risk, but were that possible there would be a major increase in support for the legislation.

While I am at it, I am annoyed by the opposition to a modest public plan being included in the legislation. Many of us trust the government to protect us from military aggresion, from terrorists, and from dangerous products. We trust the government to build our roads, our water supplies and sewerage, and to regulate commerce. We trust the government to protect public health from communicable disease. We trust the government to educate our children. Why should we not be allowed to choose a public plan for health insurance? Are the oponents afraid the public alternative would be more attractive than their prized private insurers?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Framing of the Selection of the New UNESCO Chief

Two years ago, the selection of the new Director General of UNESCO appears to have been framed in international geopolitical terms. The developing countries had the majority of votes in UNESCO's Executive Board, and if the major associations of developing countries would unify behind one candidate, that candidate would be elected. For some reason it was assumed that it was the turn of an Arab to lead UNESCO, and the Egyptian Government chose its Minister of Culture as its candidate and went out to assure that no other Arab state submitted a nomination. It then set out to gain the support of the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the African Union, and the Non-Aligned States.

When Bernard-Henri Lévy, Claude Lanzmann, Elie Wiesel published "Unesco : la honte d’un naufrage annoncé" in Le Monde, it re-framed the choice. Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian candidate was portrayed as an anti-Semite. Apparently at the instigation of the French government, Hosny wrote that he was not an anti-Semite.

Some of Hosny's supporters sought to again re-frame the debate, portraying his critics as Zionists and member or dupes of a global Jewish conspiracy against the Egyptian. In turn there have been efforts to combat the conspiracy theory such as clarifying that the new U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO (seen to be opposed to Hosny) is not Jewish as had been charged, as well as a public statement by a prominent European Jew and an op-ed piece in the New York Times by a Jewish comentator that Hosny was acceptable to them.

With Raymond Stock's publication, "Very, Very Lost in Translation" in Foreign Policy, that framing was broadened to focus on the anti-Semitism in Egyptian culture.

I tried without much success to bring the focus back on Hosny and the question of whether he exhibited ethnic prejudice, and whether his personal beliefs were such that he could effectively lead UNESCO as it sought to promote intercultural dialog to promote peace and as it sought to promote protection of cutural diversity.

Reporters Without Border again re-framed the debate with the publication of "Egyptian censorship advocate is candidate to be UNESCO director general." Their article described the censorship by the Egyptian Government and attributed some of that to Hosny's leadership, questioning whether a background of censorship disqualified him to lead UNESCO.

When I set up the website Election of the UNESCO Director General, I tried to return to the nominal framing done by UNESCO's Secretariat and Executive Board -- what are the qualities that would make for the best leader in terms of UNESCO's mission, and which of the candidates best exemplifies those qualities.

I have been following the discussion of the election in the media, and thus far I have not seen any comparison of the candidates against a broad set of criteria for leadership of UNESCO. Indeed, most of the public discussion considers whether a single factor will or will not disqualify Farouk Hosny for the office. One hopes that the delegates to the Executive Board are carrying out a comprehensive and informed comparison of the candidates as they prepare to vote next week, albeit in secrecy.

Thoughts on "Indian Summer"

My history book club met last night to discuss Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex Von Tunzelmann. It is the story of the partition of India in 1947. Everyone agreed it was a good book, well written, reading like a novel, telling us the story of events we ought to remember but too often don't, and doing so through the lives of five principals: Ghandhi, Nehru, Jenna and Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten.

The book left me with a great deal of confusion about Gandhi. It seems that his unswerving committment to doing right as he saw it enabled him to build a national consensus among a diverse collection of peoples but prevented him from developing the compromises that would be necessary to create a viable state in 1947. It seems likely that one can not understand Gandha without understanding the Hindu religion well, and I clearly don't.

How did the people of the subcontinent come to frame the issue of independence in terms of religion, and thus divide India and Pakistan? Why were they willing to partition the Punjab and Bengal, areas with great cultures and common languages? Would it not have been more natural to have divided India into a number of culturally defined states, for example? Of course, there was a history of Muslim conquest and rule prior to the English, and of course the Muslim League focused on the religious issue. It was suggested that the English may have helped promote the religious framing during their rule and during the process of relinquishing that rule. One of the members of the group suggested, and I found it a likely suggestion, that once a community begins to frame divisions, that process becomes self-reinforcing, else how would one explain the riots between the "blues" and the "greens" in Byzantium, or between the Blancos and the Colorados in Colombia.

The normal way to think of what happened in 1947 is that British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, which later was partitioned into Pakistan and Bangladesh. It might have been seen as rather a consolidation. After all there were more than 500 principalities before the departure of the British, and they were folded into the larger nations, their Rajas deprived of their power, their armies disbanded, and large economic units created.

The potential for ethnic cleansing was radically under estimated, the new states were radically underprepared for what happened, and as a result there was unimaginable suffering and maybe a million deaths. It occurs to me that this was especially strange since the key decision makers had immediate experience of World War II and the ethnic cleansing that had come with the changes in power during and after the war.

Which brings me to Iraq, and the possible lesson of the Indian Summer. The Coalition forces are withdrawing soon, and they better be prepared for the possibilty of a return to ethnic cleasing, tribal warfare and the rest. It should be possible to prevent the worst abuses and to help the people affected, but only through preparation for the worst.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Climate Change is Already Decimating our Forests

According to the American Museum of Natural History:
In many places, spring comes earlier and fall comes later, meaning fire season is longer. Annual variation in the number of fires is linked to spring and summer temperatures. In the American West, spring and summer temperatures averaged 0.87°C (1.6°F) higher between 1987 and 2003 than in the previous 15 years. That same span saw four times as many wildfires—many at higher elevations.
The wild fires are also getting bigger.

The warming of the climate is melting the mountain snow packs earlier. It is drying the underbrush more directly, and the lack of mountain run offs adds to the problem. The longer fire season is complicated by dryer underbrush during much of that season. Those problems are compounded by a century of misguided fire control policy which allowed deadwood to accumulate in our forests.

Not only do we have more and larger fires, they often burn hotter. Trees that evolved to weather the low intensity fires of the past are being killed by the climate-warming induced, high-intensity fires. Even the soils are being sterilized and depleted. As a result, many of the forests will not return for centuries or ever.

And of course the Carbon sequestered in these forests is being released in the atmosphere, contributing further to global warming.

It has been estimated that half of the forests in the American West may be lost in the next century!

I can not refrain from mentioning that we lost a decade in confronting the problem because the Bush administration denied the scientific evidence that it existed!

According to the BBC:
'Ugandan soldiers have taken their fight against the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) into the Central African Republic (CAR).....Although Ugandan troops have previously fought rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is thought to be the first time Kampala has confirmed its soldiers are in the" CAR.
The LRA seems to be prototypical of the evil superstitious unprincipled people can do. I can understand why the Ugandan's are going after the remainders of their forces. But look at the map! The war is going half a continent away from its origins. It is now closer to Darfur than to Uganda, having crossed the killing grounds of the CAR. This may be the place in the world most in need of the services of UNESCO, to use education science and culture to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men!