Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Smart Dust? Not Quite, but We’re Getting There"

Source: STEVE LOHR, The New York Times, January 30, 2010.
"In computing, the vision always precedes the reality by a decade or more. The pattern has held true from the personal computer to the Internet, as it takes time, brainpower and investment to conquer the scientific and economic obstacles to nudging a game-changing technology toward the mainstream.

"The same pattern, according to scientists in universities and corporate laboratories, is unfolding in the field of sensor-based computing. Years ago, enthusiasts predicted the coming of “smart dust” — tiny digital sensors, strewn around the globe, gathering all sorts of information and communicating with powerful computer networks to monitor, measure and understand the physical world in new ways. But this intriguing vision seemed plucked from the realm of science fiction."
Comment: I certainly agree with the author that techies tend to assume that technology will develop more quickly and have more rapid social and economic impact than they do. I certainly did decades ago when I was one. It also seems to me that in retrospect, information and communication technological advances have had greater long term impact more rapidly than I imagined or could have imagined.

Developing low cost, maintenance free sensors should certainly make our Internet-linked computers more tuned in to the real world, and thus more helpful. I suspect that there will be a delay as institutions change to enable the potential in the new technology to be utilized. How long will it take our medical systems, for example, to take advantage of the potential to monitor health-related behavior and biomedical data on a real time basis in ambulatory patients and to utilize the technology to automatically provide feedback to encourage healthy behavior?

Congo's Forgotten War

The war unfolding in eastern Congo has claimed perhaps 30 times as many lives as the Haiti earthquake, but this crisis generates little international response.
I normally resist reporting that seeks to stimulate emotions by focusing on a single family's experience of a large scale phenomenon, but I strongly recommend that you watch this video by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. It is simply hard to understand the level of human suffering caused by this conflict that is estimated to have killed more than five million people. Seeing the interview with family members may help, and if we do begin to appreciate the horror we will surely demand more be done to stop it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Laser fusion test results raise energy hopes"

Source: Jason Palmer, BBC News, 28 January 2010.

The National Ignition Facility (Nif) was completed in 2009, and is now reporting initial results of its experiments seeking to produce nuclear fusion in a way that will potentially lead to commercial fusion reactors.
  • 192 laser beams are focused through holes in a target container called a hohlraum
  • Inside the hohlraum is a tiny pellet containing an extremely cold, solid mixture of hydrogen isotopes
  • Lasers strike the hohlraum's walls, which in turn radiate X-rays
  • X-rays strip material from the outer shell of the fuel pellet, heating it up to millions of degrees
  • If the compression of the fuel is high enough and uniform enough, nuclear fusion can result
Experimenters report that using 192 lasers the facility poured 669 kilojoules of energy into a tiny target in a little more than 10 billionths of a second. This bested previous records by a factor of 20. They also reported surprising ease in managing the plasma created by the laser blast.

Comment: As far as I can guess, nuclear fusion is necessary for the long term success of civilization. Renewable energy sources don't seem adequate to support the continued growth of the population and the increasing per capita energy use required for a technological civilization. We will eventually run out of fossil fuels, and even if we did not we would not want to do the environmental damage that fueling future civilization with fossil fuels would require. The same is true of energy from nuclear fission. Of course these sources are the short term solution to civilization's energy needs, but in a couple of hundred years we will need fusion. So this result is very good news for mankind. JAD

Choosing the Nation's Fiscal Future

The National Academies are promoting this relatively new study, for good reasons. It is good to see the bastion of natural sciences and engineering and health technologies focus on economics in this crisis. It says what should be obvious: the United States Government should either spend less or obtain more revenue. In point of fact, we will probably have to do both.

Friday, January 29, 2010

UNESCO and the Information Revolution

A television from the time of UNESCO's birth.

UNESCO began operations in 1946 and has continued it operations without cease until today. Thus it has been functioning during the entire period of the technologically based social and economic transformation that we call the Information Revolution.

UNESCO was chartered to be the lead agency in the United Nations system dealing with mass media, including radio and film. Even in its first years its leadership recognized the importance of the newly invented electronic digital computer and as computers became more and more important, UNESCO became more involved in "informatics" eventually creating an Intergovernmental Program for Informatics and taking over the functions of the the International Bureau for Informatics.

UNESCO has played a visible role in the field, notably as cosponsor of the 1978 Strategies and Policies for Informatics Conference and the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003-2005. Its website provides a portal on free and open source software, and UNESCO has as usual served as a laboratory for ideas, a clearing house of information, and a forum for discussion.

Indeed, in 1980 the discussion of the McBride Report at the UNESCO General Conference, following the earlier declaration of the United Nations on a New World Information Order was both contentious and widely publicized, and is thought to have contributed to the decision by the United States and United Kingdom to withdraw from UNESCO.

Not only was UNESCO present and visible at the beginning and throughout the Information Revolution, it experienced huge growth during its lifetime, notably expanding from 20 member nations at its founding to 193 member nations today. With the large number of new states created by decolonization joining UNESCO prior to major technological advances, the period from the 1970s to today gave UNESCO a broad constituency to discuss the issues of the digital divide.

Incidentally, as I have pointed out often in this blog, I understand the digital divide not only to include the disparity in personal connectivity (phones, mass media, personal computers, Intente connectivity) but also the vast difference in expenditures on ICT infrastructure in manufacturing, finance, and transportation between rich and poor countries.

In my seminar on UNESCO at George Washington University last night, we discussed the Communications and Information Program of UNESCO. I asked the class to consider whether UNESCO had adequately risen to the challenges and opportunities provided by the Information Revolution.

One of my students answered, correctly I think, that the question is meaningless. While one might wish that things had been different than they were, they were what they were.

Still, I wonder whether UNESCO might have done more to prepare the world for the Information Revolution and to reduce the Digital Divide if:
  • There had been a professional and managerial staff more attuned to the challenge of the Information Revolution;
  • There had be a governance structure better designed to allow detection and response to technological opportunities;
  • There had been more money to support a larger staff and program;
  • The response to the Information Revolution had not been in the hands of an organization charged also with leadership in the fields of education, science and culture, each of which was also experiencing explosive global change.
The Apple IPad: The latest in personal computer/telephone tech.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

World Bank publishes Global Economic Prospects 2010

The global economic crisis is having serious cumulative impacts on poverty, with 64 million more people expected to be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2010 than would have been the case without the crisis, according to updated analysis. The poorest countries may require an additional $35 billion to $50 billion in funding just to maintain pre-crisis programs. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows are projected to decline from recent peaks of 3.9 percent of developing country GDP in 2007 to around 2.8 to 3 percent over the medium term. This has serious implications, as FDI represents as much as 20 percent of total investment in Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America.
Global GDP, which declined by 2.2 percent in 2009, is expected to grow 2.7 percent this year and 3.2 percent in 2011 (or -1, 3.5 and 4 percent when aggregated using Purchasing Power Parity weights). Prospects for developing countries are for a relatively robust recovery, growing 5.2 percent this year and 5.8 percent in 2011—up from 1.2 percent in 2009. GDP in rich countries, which declined by 3.3 percent in 2009, is expected to increase much less quickly—by 1.8 and 2.3 percent in 2010 and 2011 World trade volumes, which fell by a staggering 14.4 percent in 2009, are projected to expand by 4.3 and 6.2 percent this year and in 2011.

Higher Education to 2030; Two Volumes from the OECD

Higher Education to 2030 (Vol. 1): Demography
Executive summary:
This volume of Higher Education to 2030 discusses trends and prospects regarding changes in the population of students, academic teaching staff and graduates in higher education in OECD countries, from both a quantitative and qualitative standpoint. It examines in particular the link between these developments, demographic changes and higher education policy. The book is thus concerned no less with trends in the size of higher education systems than with changes affecting the academic teaching profession. It also shows how changes in policies for students with disabilities might eventually transform conventional attitudes towards access to higher education. And it examines too how the growth of migration might lead to the emergence of new issues concerning inequality. Even though demographic changes raise numerous questions for higher education policy, they do not pose major new problems as is often thought. The central future issues for many countries will be of a qualitative nature, such as inequalities in access and participation, the diversity of paths, provision and institutions in higher education, the possible social marginalisation of those persons least educated, and the need to rethink the role of the academic profession.

Higher Education to 2030, Volume 2: Globalisation
Executive summary
Higher education drives and is driven by globalisation. It trains the highly skilled workers and contributes to the research base and capacity for innovation that determine competitiveness in the knowledge-based global economy. It facilitates international collaboration and cross-cultural exchange. Cross-border flows of ideas, students, faculty and financing, coupled with developments in information and communication technology, are changing the environment where higher education institutions function. Co-operation and competition are intensifying simultaneously under the growing influence of market forces and the emergence of new players. How will global higher education evolve over the next 20 years? How can governments and institutions meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities?
Higher Education to 2030: Globalisation, the second in a four-volume series, addresses these issues both from a quantitative and a qualitative standpoint. Increased global competition in higher education, simultaneous to cross-border collaboration is illustrated not only on a global scale, but also at a regional level through developments in Europe. Though the emphasis is on the OECD area, the reflections have a worldwide scope with particular emphasis on the potential of China and India. The book explores significant trends in higher education provision, financing and governance, including a specific focus on the future role of market forces, mobility, and quality assurance in higher education. The reviewed trends point towards the possible following key developments in the future.

The Economist Cites a Study by an Colleague

Source: The Economist:
Macroeconomic studies suggest that the internet and mobile phones boost growth. The effect is bigger in developing countries than developed ones, due to the paucity of existing communications infrastructure. The effect also seems to be bigger for the internet than for mobile phones. In a study published in 2009, Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang of the World Bank found that an increase of ten percentage points in mobile-phone adoption increased growth in GDP per person by 0.8 percentage points in a developing country, and by 0.6 percentage points in a developed one. For dial-up internet access, the figures were 1.1 percentage points and 0.75 percentage points respectively; for broadband internet, 1.4 percentage points and 1.2 percentage points.

Support the Research Universities Before It Is Too Late!

From an review in The Economist of The Great American University: Its Rise to Pre-eminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected by Jonathan R. Cole:
WHAT do the following have in common: the bar code, congestion charging, the cervical Pap smear and the internet? All emerged from work done at America’s pre-eminent research universities......

In the post-war era, the research universities—he reckons about 260 institutions might now claim the name, of which maybe 100 are key—became far larger and more complex. Many turned into “full service” universities, with a clutch of professional schools teaching business, medicine, law and engineering. A flood of federal and foundation funding increased the size of individual departments, bringing benefits of scale. Success bred success. In 2001, America produced a third of the world’s science and engineering articles in refereed journals, and in three of the past four years its academics received two-thirds of the Nobel prizes for science and economics. No wonder America’s great universities lure the world’s cleverest students and the finest academics, many of whom stay to enrich their new country.

Now these great factories of talent, ideas and technologies are threatened from without and within.
Taken together with the two previous postings, explain why I continue to worry about the state of American education. I was privileged to go through the University of California system when it was flush with support from the people of California, and I now understand it is in serious financial trouble. California will regret that lapse for generations. Lets hope the United States does not follow California's lead.

More on the value of improving educational outcomes

The High Cost of Low Educational Performance: The Long-Run Economic Impact of Improving PISA Outcomes, an OECD report.

The High Cost of Low Educational Performance

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Check out a great blog

The Wolves of the High Arctic blog presents research results of a multi-year project that is following a pack of wolves that is perhaps the least disturbed by human presence (read "hunting") in the world. Thank goodness for people like David Mech!

We need to restore our institutions

A useful paragraph from Steven Pearlstein:

Economists have long recognized that what distinguishes successful and wealthy countries from those that are poor and failing is not their natural endowments or even their level of human capital, but rather the quality of their institutions. By institutions, economists refer not only to governmental, business, educational and civic entities, but also the formal rules and informal protocols by which decisions are made, disputes are resolved, commerce is conducted and people interact. It was the quality of its institutions that led our country to become the richest, most powerful and most admired on the planet. Now the deterioration of those institutions threatens our standing in the world.

Hardly a day passes now that doesn't bring further evidence of this institutional deterioration.

The Congress must pass legislation bringing appropriate regulation to our financial services industries. That would be the best single step to improving financial institutions in such a was as to prevent the repeat of the boom and bust cycle.

The movie industry seems to be alive and well!

According to the Washington Post:
Twentieth Century Fox said Tuesday that the director's sci-fi spectacle, "Avatar," has passed his shipwreck saga "Titanic" to become the highest-grossing film worldwide. As of Monday, "Avatar" had brought in $1.859 billion at the box office, passing the $1.843 billion worldwide record set by 1997's "Titanic."
I suppose that ticket prices have gone up in the dozen years since Titanic was released, but on the other hand Avatar is still drawing crowds.

Avatar does seem to advance the state of the art of computer animation! Certainly it is a most enjoyable film.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Washington Post: is it on the way down?

Gabriel Sherman has an article in The New Republic on the decline of the Washington Post. Following the discussion of the disastrous plan for paid admission to suarees providing access to WP reporters, there is the following:
But, whatever the explanation, one thing seemed undeniable: The Washington Post was a desperate paper, and, in pushing the salons, Weymouth had essentially been casting about for anything, large or small, that might help to save it. Over the past year, the Post has folded its business section into the A-section, killed its book review, revamped its Sunday magazine, and redesigned the entire paper and website, while organizationally merging the print and online editions. Hundreds of staffers have left the Post since 2003, thanks to four rounds of buyouts. In 2008, the Post began losing money; in 2009, its advertising revenue dropped by $100 million. All of this while the paper was under siege from new competitors, national and local. “The common storyline is the Post is flailing,” a senior reporter says. “To me, it’s slightly different. It’s throwing everything up there to see what sticks.” “Everybody feels like we’re lurching,” says another reporter. “A company in chaos” is how a third Post staffer describes the state of the paper.
Clearly the WP is going to have to adapt to the new Information Infrastructure or die. I would hope that it can do so in a way that leaves the major newspaper in the capital of the world's most powerful nation as one of the world's great papers, providing great national and international news coverage as well as serving local needs for the dissemination of information.

The article is correct in its assumption that it is the people involved in the WP who have to make the right decisions, and that those with more power and authority in the organization have more responsibility for making good decisions.

I wish them success in sustaining a great journalistic resource for the nation.

US Committted to Internet Freedom

"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday addressed a crowd of activists and policymakers on the lack internet freedom abroad – and its impact on U.S. policy.

“'Technology is forming a new nerve-system for our planet' Clinton said, relating stories of technology serving people world-wide: saving lives in Haiti, helping farmers in Kenya, and facilitating open dialogue around the world.

"Clinton also spoke of the Internet as the “digital commons of our time,” adding that the responsibility of every nation to maintain the integrity of the Internet as a system for facilitating commerce and the free flow of information throughout the world."
Comment: I am very glad that the Secretary of State, speaking for the U.S. Government, is standing for Internet freedom! JAD

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Investing in Girls, Investing in Development

Why, when it is so obvious that investing in girls is a great approach to lasting social and economic development, are there so many countries/society that don't invest enough in their girls?

Dan Ariely on the psychology of economic decisions

I really enjoy hearing this guy. He must be right in saying that how we spend money depends on how we obtain it. If you win $100 in a lottery you will probably spend it differently than if you get $100 as a tax rebate; if you get it in 10 monthly installments you will probably spend it in a different way than if you get it all at once. His suggestion that the government give tax rebates in the form of prepaid debit cards was very interesting. I especially like the idea that the card would be replenished periodically with small amounts, leading people to spend quickly in small amounts. Too bad it is too late to try this out.

Incidentally, the discussion of the EFA Global Monitoring Report this week spent a fair amount of time on conditional cash transfers, where poor families get transfers on the condition that they use them for schooling the kids and other social purposes. This approach seems to work in Latin American countries where they have been used.

New NAS Report: Persistent Forecasting of Disruptive Technologies

The first of two reports, this volume analyzes existing forecasting methods and processes. It then outlines the necessary characteristics of a comprehensive forecasting system that integrates data from diverse sources to identify potentially game-changing technological innovations and facilitates informed decision making by policymakers.

The committee's goal was to help the reader understand current forecasting methodologies, the nature of disruptive technologies and the characteristics of a persistent forecasting system for disruptive technology. Persistent Forecasting of Disruptive Technologies is a useful text for the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, the Intelligence community and other defense agencies across the nation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Do your part: Avoid Microsoft's Internet Explorer

Microsoft will patch a hole in its Internet Explorer browser that may have allowed Chinese hackers access to human rights activists' e-mail accounts.
BBC News
I suggest that we need to use a variety of browsers. If everyone uses the same browser then those who would prey on web users would have an easy time. If there were 50 different browsers being used, each by a small percentage of users we might have fewer problems with those who would do us ill or exploit us. I use Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and occasionally Opera, all of which I like better than Internet Explorer anyway.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What are Priorities for the State Department Dealing with UNESCO

I will have a chance to meet with the leaders of the State Department team working on UNESCO later this week. What should I suggest?

1. UNESCO's programs are important to U.S. foreign policy. Improving education worldwide will meet security, economic and humanitarian objectives. The water programs and the cultural dialog programs are also important. UNESCO is probably more important in the networks it creates than in the other functions conducted by its staff of international civil servants. The the United States should be encouraging more focus on encouraging and backstopping of these networks.

2. The U.S. educational, scientific and cultural communities should be more involved in UNESCO's work and networks if the Organization is to best serve our national interests. The National Commission is the best vehicle to increase that organization. To accomplish this function, the NatCom charter should be revised to empower the members to link civil society to UNESCO programs, the membership should be renewed and revised, and some resources made available to the NatCom.

3. It is important to increase the number of Americans in the UNESCO secretariat. I am sure that the State Department is working to find Americans to fill the top level positions that are now open, but I would suggest that the United States also participate actively in the Associate Expert program and internship programs to provide American professionals with opportunities to work for some time in UNESCO.

Thinking about ancestors

There was an archer serving with Henry V at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 named John O'Daly. Was he an ancestor of mine? Perhaps.

I suppose that there were about 20 generations between the battle and today. That means I have a potential of 2 to the 20th ancestors in 1415 -- something just over one million. Of course, the actual number of ancestors is much less as surely there were second, third, fourth up to 19th cousins marrying during that history.

Incidentally, while my father was an Irish Daly, my mother was English, and I am at least as likely to have English ancestors among the 6000 British at the battle as Agincourt as Irish, even though I have a direct namesake that I know was at the battle.

One can only guess at the number of O'Dalys in 1415. The name is supposed to date from the 13th century, so the number should be fairly small, and indeed they should all be fairly closely related. Thus it seems quite likely that I have a direct connection to someone at Agincourt through the male line.

The number of English in 1400 has been estimated as three to four million. If we assume that I had 5000 distinct male English ancestors alive in 1415, that there were 6000 English at Agincourt, and that there were 2 million male English, then the probability that I had at least one English ancestor in the battle is 0.99945 -- almost a certainty. I guess the direct Daly connection is not that impressive after all.

Anach Cuan - Annaghdown

Here is a transcript of the poem Anach Cuan by Anthony Raftery.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Freedom in Retreat

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The Economist has a review of Atul Gawadne's new book extolling the virtues of checklists.

Checklists are useful, in part because we are so apt to forget to do the obvious, and in part because we are so overconfident that we will not forget.

He apparently also points out the genius of the Federal Aviation Authority which investigates ever airliner crash, figures out why the crash occurred, and imposes new checklists and other rules when possible to eliminate such accidents in the future. That is a significant part of the reason that flying is safer than driving, even though moving at high speed in a flimsy tube in the air seems inherently more dangerous than driving.

A Radio Program on USAID

This is a very good streaming audio of a radio program on U.S. foreign assistance and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Comment: This radio program is pretty good at showing the problems with U.S. foreign assistance -- a complex multi-faceted mission, lack of public understanding and support, lack of Congressional support, a very small staff given the mission and budget, a process that focuses on contracts and short term contractual monitoring instead of long term development concerns, delegation of many functions to military rather than development personnel in the largest programs, and a budget that is
fragmented by earmarks as well as programmed in Washington rather than the field and small compared with both the challenges and America's economic might.

I think the program missed the fragmentation of authority among a number of agencies and importantly, the abysmal morale in the remaining staff after decades of downsizing and criticism.

The radio program of course can't really be expected to provide a good
plan for the repair of the damaged organisation and damaged foreign assistance program. The Obama administration should be working on that plan, but has been very slow in appointing senior staff for foreign aid. The staff that is in place is going to be running very hard to deal with the programmatic needs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti as well as the rest of the poor nations in the world. JAD

IGNOU world's largest university: Unesco

Source: TwoCircles.Net

The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is the world's largest, with its student base extending to three million. IGNOU includes 21 schools of study, 59 regional centers, 2,300 learner support centers and some 52 overseas centers. The university offers certificate, diploma, degree and doctoral programs, comprising around 1,500 courses.

I suppose this it the best example of the degree to which the opportunities provided by improved information and communications technology infrastructure are combined with those provided by economic growth to advance higher education opportunities for a nation and region.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

HIV Incidence and Prevelance Trends

Source: IAVI Report

According to this data, 2.7 million people were infected with HIV in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available. There were some 2 million AIDS deaths that year. The prevalence of HIV infection is therefore still increasing. As the second graph shows, it is increasing at about the rate that the population is increasing.

There still is no cure for HIV infection, just treatment to extend life and ameliorate symptoms. The fact that people with AIDS are dying at a rate which keeps the prevalence from growing as a percent of the total population is not a reason for optimism.

The success of biomedical research and the improved distribution of antiretroviral drugs has been quite impressive, but we are a long way from being out of the woods!

Why Are We So Often Passive in the Face of Need: A Thought Based on 2 Different Stories

There is an article in the Sunday Washington Post magazine by Shankar Vedantam suggesting that we can worry more about a dog left to die on a drifting ship than about mass murder in Rwanda in part because our brains are simply not evolved to comprehend disasters affecting huge numbers of people. He also summarizes an alternative explanation:
The philosopher Peter Singer once devised a dilemma that highlights a central contradiction in our moral reasoning. If you see a child drowning in a pond, and you know you can save the child without any risk to your own life -- but you would ruin a fine pair of shoes worth $200 if you jumped into the water -- would you save the child or save your shoes? Most people react incredulously to the question; obviously, a child's life is worth more than a pair of shoes.

If this is the case, Singer asked, why do large numbers of people hesitate to write a check for $200 to a reputable charity that could save the life of a child halfway around the world -- when there are millions of children who need our help? Even when people are absolutely certain their money will not be wasted and will be used to save a child's life, fewer people are willing to write the check than to leap into the pond.

Our moral responsibilities feel different in these situations; one feels immediate and visceral, the other distant and abstract. We feel personally responsible for one child, whereas the other is one of millions who need help. Our responsibility feels diffused when it comes to children in distant places -- there are many people who could write that check. But distance and diffusion of responsibility do not explain why we step forward in some cases.

The second article, by Philip Kennicott, is also in The Washington Post.
The images coming out of Haiti are more graphic than those from recent natural disasters, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's not clear if this reflects the magnitude and proximity of the disaster, or some change in the willingness of newspapers and other media to accurately present the full horror of the earthquake that devastated the desperately poor nation on Tuesday afternoon.
If the media follow conventions (of polity society) that result in our failure to fully appreciate the moral imperative to provide humanitarian aid, that alone might help to explain why we can donate to save a local cat or dog while remaining passive in the face of endemic hunger and disease in poor nations and even in the face of mass death that could be averted.

Of course, the mass media tend to broadcast stories that "interest" their audiences, and apparently their executives feel they can find more audience for the peccadillos of celebrities than for humanitarian crises abroad. Perhaps we should use the political and information tools at our disposal to encourage the media to be more responsible in broadcasting the important rather than the meretricious.

I find the response of President Obama to the crisis in Haiti to be an interesting exception. He has moved the U.S. Government response to cabinet level, rather than leaving it to the much lower level responsibility of USAID as has been done in the past, and has gone to the public to express concern, where many previous presidents have remained mute in the face of foreign disaster.

Could his exceptional behavior be the result of having seen the face of poverty as a child in Indonesia? Could it be a broadening of his definition of the social group with whom he feels solidarity, in part because he has learned to include relatives in Kenya and step-family in Indonesia as family? Could it be because, like Jimmy Carter, he comes from a nuclear family that feels and taught singular humanitarian impulses? Could it be because as a community development worker he lived with poverty and need in the United States?

The continual improvement of the global communications and transportation infrastructure means that people are no longer isolated by geographical location. The growing economic power of modern society means that we have increasing ability to help people in need wherever they are. The continually growing capacity of military technology implies increasing needs to learn to live in peace. It may be helpful to figure out why Obama empathizes with Haitians in order that we may encourage others to do so.

Friday, January 15, 2010

News about UN losses in Haiti

(The) 'UN mission in Haiti made new announcement about its losses during the earthquake. 36 UN workers were killed and 73 injured, 160 are still missing, including 8 workers of UNESCO mission in the country. 57-year old worker of the US State Department Victoria Delong was also among the quake victims in Haiti, US embassy’s three staff members became missing.'

Good for the U.S. Government -- some real help for Haitians

This is just out from CNN:
On Friday morning, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is to arrive in Haiti, carrying 19 helicopters and 30 pallets of relief goods......The carrier will help relief workers get around Haiti's ruined and debris-choked roads "to get good where they need to be," (Air Force Gen. Douglas) Fraser said.

Within four days, 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne will be in the quake zone. By next Tuesday, three more ships carrying 2,200 Marines and heavy equipment will join them. By Saturday, about 5,000 to 6,000 men and women dedicated to supporting the relief effort will be in Haiti.

And a week from Friday, the USNS Comfort -- a hospital ship staffed by a crew of 64 and 560 hospital personnel -- is to arriv

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A talk about the use of Google Mapmaker

I hope that the relief efforts in Haiti are making use of available mapping technology. I understand we had overflights providing imagery quickly after the earthquake, but it is necessary to put the information in a form relief agencies can use.

The talk goes further, however, to point out that maps can help turn land and otehr property owned by poor people into capital that they can leverage for development. Maps have a plethora of other uses, from planning public health campaigns to managing agricultural pest control, to providing better information for site location planning and urban development.

Check out this nice video from TED.

A thought about slavery

Andrew Jackson, while president, in the "nullification controversy" established that states did not have the right to nullify federal laws. The Civil War established that states did not have the right to leave the union. Neither then nullification controversy nor the Civil War was explicitly about slavery, but many people feel that it was the underlying issue. I wonder.

The Atlantic slave trade had been abolished and European nations had abolished slavery within their territories. Many southern leaders recognized that slavery would not last permanently in the United States. Would they fight to maintain slavery for a limited period.

Of course, the slaves themselves were universally opposed to slavery. Moreover, many free persons in the south did not own slaves and in fact suffered economically from slavery. Political power in the South however was controlled by an aristocratic class of slaveholders, and slavery was considerably to the interests of these who profited most from slavery.

I suggest that the aristocratic power elite in the South was seeking to maintain their way of life rather than slavery per se. Note that in Europe the abolition of serfdom had occurred without the loss of political domination by the aristocracy. As long as the economy was based on extractive industries and the aristocracy owned the land and natural resources, they maintained their way of life. So too, the southern aristocracy in the United States might have retained its way of life had slavery been slowly abolished, to be replaced by a society with strong class distinctions. Indeed, I suppose that the segregation in the south that replaced slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction had something of the same effect.

In Europe it was the rise of classes that succeeded economically from commerce and manufacturing industry that eventually competed and out-competed the landed aristocracy. In the United States the northern states were building societies based on commerce and manufacturing while the south remained an agricultural economy. I suggest that the southern aristocracy in the first half of the 19th century correctly saw their way of life threatened by the growing political power of the north, which in turn was based on a different economic base than the south's extractive agricultural industry.

Increasing numbers of people in the north correctly saw slavery as an unacceptable evil, but the controversy between north and south may well have been more about the threat to the way of life of the southern aristocracy by the social changes in the north than about slavery per se.

Even today, I suggest, the split between red states (which are more rural, with economies more based on extractive industries) and blue states (which are more urban, with economies more based on manufacturing and service industries) may be based on the different ways of life and the perceived threats to a way of life if one or the other faction gains excessive control over the machinery of the federal government.

How important were slavery and the appropriation of lands from native americans to U.S. development?

Economic growth depends importantly on investment. Income is divided between consumption and saving for investment. A relatively small shift in the division of income can make a big difference in the rate of investment. Thus, a shift of five percent of income from consumption to savings might increase investment from ten percent of income to 15 percent of income. The expropriation of land and natural resources from native Americans over centuries surely increased the income of the dominant classes in colonial America and the first century of the United States. The expropriation of the fruits of the labor of slaves kept their consumption low, allowing more savings and investment. So too, the expropriation of the fruits of the labor of poor immigrants could lead to their lower consumption and more savings.

The miracle of compound growth should be taken into account. An increase in the average rate of growth of GDP from one to two percent over 200 years means that the economy grows by a factor of 52.5 rather than a factor of 7.3. My parents came to this country long after slavery and the expropriation of Indian lands had ended, but like all Americans of my generation I am the beneficiary of the evil that was done by the American forefathers.

A proposal: A Joseph Priestly Fellowship

The State Department offers Franklin Fellowships, "a unique and innovative executive development vehicle via which the government taps citizens’ knowledge and which enables approved organizations to promote public service by their professionals". Franklin of course was a polymath, whose scientific reputation made him an especially effective diplomat.

It also offers, through the offices of the National Academies, the Jefferson Science Fellowships, which provide a model for engaging the American academic scientific, technological and engineering communities in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy. Jefferson too was a polymath, effective as a diplomat, a scholar and a technological innovator.

I suggest that the State Department support a third, comparable fellowship to be named after Joseph Priestley. Priestley, a friend to both Franklin and Jefferson, was also a polymath, perhaps most famous as a scientist for his research on gases which included the discovery of Oxygen. He was also an educator, a philosopher, a religious leader and a supporter of the American Revolution in Europe. He immigrated to the United States in 1794, perhaps the first great European scientist to do so, and remained in this country until his death a decade later.

The Priestly Fellowships would be offered to citizens of other countries who would work within the U.S. foreign policy establishment on global issues of importance to the United States. Thus they might function in the science attaché of the State Department, the programs of development assistance such as those of USAID, or in the role of international health, agricultural or environmental officers.

The U.S. Government already employs foreign nationals in such roles in its missions abroad. A Priestly Fellowship program would complement these existing programs, recruiting distinguished scientists, technological innovators and engineers for limited periods, after which they would presumably return to their previous positions. The program would allow the Government to reach out to obtain services from the "best and brightest" of the global intellectual community to solve problems of global significance.

I believe that such a program, if well run, would help provide international recognition to intellectual leaders in other countries. Moreover, the scientists involved in the program would gain appreciation for the United States and make contacts with their American counterparts which they would retain on returning to their previous duties; thus a Priestley Fellowship program would be a useful element of our public diplomacy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review: American Lion: Andrew Jackson

Last night my history book club met to discuss American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. It was agreed that the book was a good read that one might recommend to others. The book is better read as a biographical sketch of Jackson during his years in the White House rather than a history of the American presidency under Jackson. Thus it focuses a great deal on his private life, and some would have rather had more focus on the policies of his presidency.
The book makes clear that Jackson was a man of great talent. Starting as a poor orphan, he accumulated a fortune, apparently in part through land dealings. Trained as a lawyer, albeit with little formal education, he became an enormously successful military leader. He appears to have led in the creation of what became the first modern political party, showing a genius for politics. He changed the nature of the presidency in important ways that influence American government to this day, showing an immense talent for governance. How many others can you think of who were so multi-talented. (OK, Franklin, Jefferson, Benjamin Thompson but early America was very lucky that way.)

Perhaps his talent was due to innovation. He seemed not to easily accept the patterns laid down by others, seeking new ways to do things at least as a general, as a politician and as a chief of government.

Jackson established for future presidents the principle that the Union was indivisible and that the federal government laws took precedence over those of the states. He established a government that was responsive to the common man rather than an aristocratic elite. These were actions that have greatly influenced the future of the United States to our own day.

He was also a slave holder and supporter of slavery. He was in favor of expulsion of native Americans from east of the Mississippi and expropriation of their lands. As vile as these policies seem now, they were widely accepted in his time. Moreover, as I just posted, they may have contributed substantially to the wealth of the modern United States. (By the way, check out this posting by Matthew Yglesias pointing out that the economic lead of the United States over most European nations dates back more than a century -- the lead that policies in the 19th century provided this country over France and Germany played a significant role in the wealth we enjoy today.)

With his limited education, I wondered whether Jackson could accurately predict the long term effects of his policies. It seems unlikely, although as my fellow club members pointed out, some of our founding fathers seem to have done so.

It seems clear that the ideas and attitudes of the people around us deeply shape what we believe and do. (Check out Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler). The attitudes of the majority of people of his time and place seem very likely to have formed Jackson's attitudes towards slavery and native Americans. In that sense we may see negative aspects of his ideas and values as excusable in a man of his time. Should we also see the positive aspects of his ideas and values as the result of the "common sense" of his time and place?

A lot of the book was devoted to the battle that broke out among the wives of Jackson's cabinet members (including his own first lady, a younger relative) which seems to have resulted in the dissolution of his cabinet. The controversy was over the suspected immorality of the wife of one cabinet member, and the women in our group seemed doubtful that such a petty issue could have such grave repercussions, or that such a dispute could have occupied as much of the president's time as Meacham suggests. I am not so sure. In that time, when women's authority outside the home was so limited, they may have been very jealous indeed of their authority within the home.

It is really hard to understand what "makes sense" in a different culture. Most of us recognize that it is really hard for Americans to fully understand the way people in the Islamic nations think. I would point out that the American culture of Jackson's time is quite different than ours, perhaps more different that that of other cultures of our own time. It is very dangerous to assume that historical figures share our opinions and values.

It was interesting last night to see people reaching for parallels in our culture to what happened in Jackson's time, seeking to impute the motives of current actions to those of similar actions of people 180 years ago. Actually, it seemed a pretty good approach. Would Jackson have had more success in controlling the actions of his White House hostess than did John Mitchell in controlling the actions of his wife Martha during the Watergate investigation? How about the response of the political elite to infidelity of current politicians?

In summary, Jackson was a fascinating man, and the book was a good read. It was useful to be reminded that even in 1830 the United States was a fragile invention, threatened by the great powers of Europe and even by Mexico. Had things gone differently then, the history of the 20th century might be very different indeed!

Innovation for Economic Development

Calestous Juma has asked me to spread the word that Harvard is offering a one week course on Innovation for Economic Development.


Click here to read a recent article by Innovation for Economic Development faculty chair Calestous Juma, entitled We Must Redesign Our Economies for Take-Off.

Technological innovation is essential for fostering economic growth, enhancing global competitiveness, and protecting the environment. The Innovation for Economic Development program at Harvard Kennedy School provides high-level leaders from government, academia, industry, and civil society with a unique opportunity to learn how to harness the power of emerging technologies to promote prosperity. The program outlines strategies and measures needed to align technological trends with development policy objectives, focusing on how to design and implement innovation policies for economic development.

Swine flu update

According to SciDev.Net:
The WHO director-general, Margaret Chan, has said that the swine flu — influenza A(H1N1) — pandemic may not be conquered until 2011.

She said it was "prudent and appropriate" to monitor the evolution of the virus for the next 12 months, Reuters reported last week (29 December).

Cases have peaked in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, she said, but are still increasing in countries such as Egypt and India.

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's special advisor on swine flu, said last month (19 December) that logistical and regulatory issues caused delays in distributing A(H1N1) vaccines to the developing world.
Comment: We missed the bullet this year! However, there is always a chance for an antigenic shift and there remains a large portion of the global population which has not been exposed to the swine flu and might both be able to spread the disease in the future and be quite sick if infected. JAD

A New Report from the National Academies: "Choosing the Nation's Fiscal Future"

A mismatch between the federal government's revenues and spending, now and in the foreseeable future, requires heavy borrowing, leading to a large and increasing federal debt. That increasing debt raises a serious challenge to all of the goals that various people expect their government to pursue. It also raises questions about the nation's future wealth and whether too much debt could lead to higher interest rates and even to loss of confidence in the nation's long-term ability and commitment to honor its obligations. Many analysts have concluded that the trajectory of the federal budget set by current policies cannot be sustained.

In light of these projections, Choosing the Nation's Fiscal Future assesses the options and possibilities for a sustainable federal budget. This comprehensive book considers a range of policy changes that could help put the budget on a sustainable path: reforms to reduce the rate of growth in spending for Medicare and Medicaid; options to reduce the growth rate of Social Security benefits or raise payroll taxes; and changes in many other government spending programs and tax policies. The book also examines how the federal budget process could be revised to be more far sighted and to hold leaders accountable for responsible stewardship of the nation's fiscal future.

Choosing the Nation's Fiscal Future will provide readers with a practical framework to assess budget proposals for their consistency with long-term fiscal stability. It will help them assess what policy changes they want, consistent with their own values and their views of the proper role of the government and within the constraints of a responsible national budget. It will show how the perhaps difficult but possible policy changes could be combined to produce a wide range of budget scenarios to bring revenues and spending into alignment for the long term. This book will be uniquely valuable to everyone concerned about the current and projected fiscal health of the nation.

"Cut This Story"

Michael Kinsley has this article in the current edition of The Atlantic. He makes the key point in the opening paragraph (as a good journalist should):
ONE REASON SEEKERS of news are abandoning print newspapers for the Internet has nothing directly to do with technology. It’s that newspaper articles are too long. On the Internet, news articles get to the point. Newspaper writing, by contrast, is encrusted with conventions that don’t add to your understanding of the news. Newspaper writers are not to blame. These conventions are traditional, even mandatory.
His primary gripe seems to be described here:
Once upon a time, this unnecessary stuff was considered an advance over dry news reporting: don’t just tell the story; tell the reader what it means. But providing “context,” as it was known, has become an invitation to hype. In this case, it’s the lowest form of hype—it’s horse-race hype—which actually diminishes a story rather than enhancing it. Surely if this event is such a big, big deal—“sweeping” and “defining” its way into our awareness—then its effect on the next election is one of the less important things about it.
He also complains about just plane bad writing, and about flowery additions that provide no information to the reader. In all of this he is of course correct.

I have another gripe. Let me illustrate with paragraphs three, four and five of the lead story from today's Washington Post, on the earthquake in Haiti. I choose this because it is the lead story from a nationally important paper which also happens to be my local paper. William Branigin and Michael D. Shear write:
"People are out in the streets, crying, screaming, shouting," said Karel Zelenka, director of the Catholic Relief Services office in Haiti. "They see the extent of the damage," he said, but could do little to rescue people trapped under rubble because night had fallen.

"There are a lot of collapsed buildings," Zelenka said in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince. "This will be a major, major disaster."

He reported that poorly constructed shantytowns and other buildings had crumbled in huge clouds of dust. Near the CRS headquarters, a supermarket was "completely razed," he said, and a gasoline station and a church were reduced to rubble. Among the worst-hit areas was the impoverished Carrefour section of Port-au-Prince near the sea.
The writers apparently seek a "pleasing verisimilitude" by quoting a person who is on the scene. Unfortunately, with the electricity off and radios and televisions not working, the person on the scene has very little important information for the Washington or the American reader. In this case, the interviewee was not only a victim of the quake himself but also an official of an agency that would be expected to provide relief services to other victims, and later might be able to provide real information. (The TV coverage, with a huge amount of time to fill, interviewed people who had recently returned from Haiti and people with family members in Haiti -- people who had even less real information to share with the audience.)

Of course when a magnitude 7 earthquake occurs at a shallow depth within a few miles of city center of a city with two and a half million desperately poor people there will be a lot of deaths, a lot of people panicking, and a lot of property damage. Quantitative data would be informative, but of course quantitative information was not available when the edition went to press.

On the Internet, one could read that the quake had happened. One could check on a photo gallery to see for oneself some examples of the damage that had been done. Indeed, one could check Google Videos for film coverage of the earthquake.

So people are reading the newspapers less and using the Internet more! When the American revolution took place two centuries ago, communications were poor and newspapers often published news that was weeks old but which had just arrived locally. News magazines took over the job of publishing news that was days old, but to compete with newspapers had to take a different, more analytic slant. Now, I suggest, newspapers should do the same thing, recognizing that the Internet and broadcast media to provide minute by minute information, and finding a niche in which the newspaper provides more thoughtful and analytical information as to what the news "means". Maybe newspapers should be smaller, not with less news, but with news stories better written, shorter, and focused on what the factual information in the story means.

Knowledge is not only internalized data and information, but understanding. We need to know what the facts and images mean. Information systems need to adapt to changing technology. The newspaper has to adapt not only to the better means that its reporters use to get information and the better technology to disseminate that information, but to the changing competition from other media as they also adopt improved technology.

Knowledge systems go beyond information systems as they focus not only on the communication of information, but on helping users to create knowledge. Knowledge systems too change with the technology, and the role of the newspaper in 21st century knowledge systems will surely be different than it was in 20th century knowledge systems. Lets hope it is better in the sense of helping to impart useful knowledge efficiently, and not simply in the sense of making money for the owners of the media.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Funny Talk With a Bite For Those of Us Who Work in Schools

Thoughts About Foreign Aid

My friend Julianne pointed out an article in Foreign Affairs magazine by Jagdish Bhagwati. It is a review of a new book by an African born economist, Dambisa Moyo, and Bhagwati makes the useful point that we need to hear more from knowledgeable Africans about development policy.

Bhagwati writes:
Foreign aid rests on two principles: that it should be given as a moral duty and that it should yield beneficial results.

Comment: I doubt that anyone feels that aid should be given as a moral duty if the aid doesn't actually help people "in need". If there is a moral duty it is to help people, or at least to make a serious effort to do so.

On the other hand, U.S. foreign aid is often given to achieve objectives such as enhancing U.S. national security or developing foreign markets for American products. Again, it would be foolish to give money for such purposes if you knew in advance that the means would not lead to the desired ends.

Development is extremely complex, and my reading is that economic models that try to develop predictive approaches to foreign aid allocation or justification tend to be too simple to be trusted. (A project economic analysis I worked on won a prize by pointing out that if the project only succeeded in wiping out the bureaucratic impediments to efficient operations introduced by the previous project, it would have economic returns that justified its costs.)

One of the key findings after years of analysis is that financial indicators don't tell the whole story of the impact of foreign aid. The elimination of smallpox and the effect of the green revolution in avoiding famine in Asia can't be properly measured on financial terms. We might be able to measure how much it has cost to explosively expand educational opportunities in developing nations, but how do you put a dollar value on the benefits people have felt from the education they received, benefits that include not only increased lifetime earnings but also the consumer benefits of better understanding their world and being better able to manage the non-economic aspects of their lives.

A problem that I perceive often is that time frames in which results are measured are far too short. Politicians, who will run for election every 2, 4 or 6 years, tend to think in time frames bounded by elections. The development of the United States might best be measured in terms of centuries, and is still continuing. So too, the development of Asia and Africa is going to take a long time. Indeed, many of the important investments may not have evident returns in a few years, but may pay off in a few decades. (Think about the benefits from electification which took 4 decades to begin to pay off, or those from computerization which came after a similar delay.)

I liked Bhagwati's comment that there is a moral hazard in development aid, in that rewards to the practitioners of aid are often based on programming and spending money, and not on the much more difficult to measure effects likely to flow from that money.

It may be important to recognize our limited rationality. It is certainly important to recognize the multiple objectives of foreign aid. Indeed, the objectives of donors may differ one from another, as the objectives of donors and intermediaries often differ one from another. Thats life! But the number of people living in abject poverty is less now than it might have been, and some of the worst aspects of such poverty have been ameliorated.

Sports Illustrated Editor Demo of the Power of the Tablet Computer

My friend Julianne pointed out this YouTube video on the coming power of online magazines provided by new tablet technology.

Four from the past

I was surprised to find links on the Internet to four reports that I helped write in the early 1970s when I worked with the Office of International Health.
The latter two of these are available in full from USAID's Development Information Clearinghouse.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Thought About Book Culture in the Former Ottoman Empire

Books and printed matter in Turkish and Arabic were unknown before the end of the 18th century, and even then they were of limited impact because of widespread illiteracy. Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition established a Hebrew printing press about 1494. Armenians had a press in 1567, and Greeks had press in 1627. These presses were no allowed to print in Turkish or in Arabic characters, owing to objections of the religious authorities. One result of this delay was to give Greeks, Armenians and Jews an advantage in literacy, and therefore an advantage in commerce, and in having a means to preserve and propagate their culture, that was denied to Turks and Arabs. The major result was to retard the development of modern literate society, commerce and industry. The first Turkish printing press in the Ottoman Empire was not established until 1729. It was closed in 1742 and reopened in 1784. The press operated under heavy censorship throughout most of the Ottoman era.
It seems to me that the Ottoman Empire that included most of North Africa, the Middle East and some of South Eastern Europe doomed itself to an intellectual gap with the West just as the West was taking off intellectually by this policy of the Ottoman Empire.

I wonder how long it takes to build a literate culture with strong use of written communication and strong use of books in education and professional training. Clearly it requires generations simply to build the human and institutional resources. I suspect that the cultural change may take longer still.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Thought on Judicial Knowledge Systems

The Washington Post today has an article that deals with an impact of the Information Revolution on U.S. courts. It provides an
example of how modern technology and an information-saturated culture are testing centuries-old notions of how juries and judges mete out justice. The issue garnered national attention recently in Baltimore, where five jurors were accused of using a social-networking site to inappropriately discuss the ongoing trial of the city's mayor.

Judges and legal experts are particularly concerned about how technology and culture are affecting jurors and a defendant's right to a fair trial. The Internet has provided easy and instant access to newspaper archives, criminal records, detailed maps, legal opinions and social-networking sites, such as Facebook, all at the anonymous click of a mouse in jurors' homes or on the tiny keyboards of their cellular phones.
Trial by jury in a criminal matter is intended to reach the best possible decision as to the guilt of the defendant(s). It seems to me that the courts should utilize information and communications technology as effectively as possible to inform the jurors and to help them analyze the evidence.

The adversarial process of course encourages the prosecuting and defense lawyers to present their evidence using the best available technology. I suspect, however, that they may have a bias toward convincing jurors of the quality of their theses rather than maximizing the information available.

The court would seem to have little incentive to utilize information and communications technology to improve communication with the jurors. Nor do I see courts having any incentive to utilize technology to improve the process of jury deliberation.

It would seem useful for legislative bodies to consider whether the courts are being overly traditional in their failure to use information and communications technology and to consider whether changes in the law would encourage technological improvements to enhance the quality of jury decisions.

An example of the power of social networking

Source: "Breast cancer awareness goes viral on Facebook . . . with bra color updates," Brigid Schulte, The Washington Post, January 9, 2010.
(T)he people at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, who were stunned to find themselves the beneficiaries of a Web phenomenon they didn't begin to understand. At the start of Friday, they had exactly 135 fans on their Facebook page. By 5:30 in the evening, they had 135,000.
Somebody, somewhere -- no one knows who or where -- got the bright idea of getting women to reveal the colors of their bras on social networking sites. The fad boomed, was linked to support for the fight against breast cancer, and as a result there was a huge boost in fandom for breast cancer websites and a modest increase in donations for breast cancer research.

Ask Marilyn Wrong?

In today's Parade magazine's problem column, Ask Marilyn, she gives the mini problem of drawing two cards from four, two of which are aces and two of which are deuces. She suggests that the probability of drawing a pair of aces is one quarter, that the probability of drawing a pair of deuces is one quarter, and that the probability of drawing an ace and a deuce is one half. I get those probabilities as being one sixth, one sixth and two thirds.

I really begin to doubt her accuracy on questions of probability.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Sustaining Global Surveillance and Response to Emerging Zoonotic Diseases

The OECD STI Report 2009

Source: OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2009

The data in this report is generally from 2007, but there is a lot on the effect of the global economic crisis. Here are some paragraphs from the Highlights report:
Research and development (R&D) expenditures are among the first to be cut during recessions. Preliminary data suggest that companies have reduced their R&D investment in the aftermath of the crisis. Companies quoted on the New York Stock Exchange report a reduction of about 7% in their R&D expenditures in the first quarter of 2009, with a slight increase in the subsequent quarter. The semiconductor industry, which is at the core of the information and communication technology (ICT) industries, appears particularly affected by the recession, with a drop in R&D over the first semester of 2009 exceeding 13%.....

Innovation will be also negatively affected by the drop in foreign direct investment (FDI) due to the crisis. FDI inflows to G7 countries dropped by 25% in 2008. In the first quarter of 2009 the decrease accelerated in Canada (–97%), Germany (–67%), Italy (–41%), Japan (–59%) and the United States (–63%). On the contrary, FDI inflows to the United Kingdom more than doubled in the first quarter of 2009, back to the same level as the previous year.....

In 2004-06, the United States confirmed its world leadership in medical technologies,
accounting for almost half of patented inventions worldwide, twice as many as the European Union. Israel accounted for 2.7%, twice its share in total patents (1.3%). Additionally, the United States had more than 42% of pharmaceutical patents in the mid-2000s. China and India together accounted for nearly 5% of patents in pharmaceuticals over the period.

Share Prices Recover

From The Economist, without comment!

A thought on translation

Eric Baković posted "Translate at your own risk" on the Language Log yesterday. The posting is worth reading, especially for those who need to trust Google translate, which is indeed a great resource. In the post, he quotes a comment on another posting:
However, there exists an important activity which clearly shows that even though the ways languages grasp the world may vary widely from one language to another, they all build, in fact, the same contents, and equivalent conceptions of the world. This activity is translation. Any text in any language can be translated into a text in another language. These two texts express the same meaning. We can therefore conclude that despite the differences between the ways languages grasp the world, all languages are easily convertible into one another, because humans interpret the world along the same, or comparable, semantic lines.
It occurs to me that in any communication there may well be a difference between what the sender understands the communication to mean and what the recipient understands it to mean. If the sender and recipient come from different cultures, as is most likely when translation is necessary, the difference in perception of meaning between sender and recipient is bound to be influenced by their cultural differences.

Think of the use of the word "crusade" as used by a Christian and heard by a Muslim!

If one is talking about a mathematical proof, perhaps the gap is not too large betwen what is meant and what is understood. If one it talking about emotions, the gap may be large indeed.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why Do Egyptian Women Wear the Hijab?

Image source: The Hijab Blog

I am watching a television news program asking this question. In part the answer is in the negative -- the Koran does not require women to wear that garment and a few years ago very few "modern" women in Egypt did so. I myself noted how great the difference had been in the numbers of women wearing the hijab between the 1980s and the decade of the "oughts".

I also noticed that the hijabs tended to be carefully color coordinated with dresses and that to the uninformed they looked more like a fashion statement than like a religious statement.

I recall in my youth "the new look" replaced short skirts with much longer skirts in America. It would have been laughable to describe that as an increase in modesty with religious roots.

Maybe the better answer as to why Egyptian women wear the hijab is that it is the fashion to do so!

More on the Decline of the Washington Post

Amanda Silverman has an article in The New Republic describing how a new partnership between the WP and The Financial Times, an organization financed by Pete Peterson's Foundation, led to the publication of a Financial Times article quoting officials of other organizations funded by Pete Peterson's Foundation, which supported policies long advocated by Pete Peterson. One problem with the article apparently was that it did not acknowledge the financing from Peterson's surrogates.

Silverman writes:
In TFT’s defense, Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told the Times that the Post editors were the ones to “conceive” the story and then commissioned TFT to write it.
Comment: I don't think that a partnership with another organization relieves WP editors from the responsibility of acknowledging interests, especially financial interests, behind the articles it publishes, especially if they are published as news.

Silverman suggests that others feel even more strongly:
Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, argued that in publishing the piece The Washington Post had ceased to exist as “a serious newspaper,” and subsequently over a dozen wonks and academics called for the Post to end its partnership with the “propaganda arm for ideologues.”