Friday, December 31, 2010

The Election of Rutherford B. Hayes


Tim Wu, in his book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, tells a story about the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. It seems that while he was a longshot for the Republican nomination and for the final election, he was the choice of both the owners of the New York Times and of Western Union. It seems that they worked together to assure his election.

Western Union at the time had a monopoly on use of the telegraph lines; it had obtained much of the national network built by Union soldiers during and after the Civil War. It also owned the Associated Press, which was the only news service. Only the Associated Press was allowed to send news stories over the Western Union telegraph lines.

Wu tells us that Western Union and the AP only sent stories favorable to Hayes during the campaign, refusing both stories that were unfavorable to him and stories that were favorable to his opponents. Consequently, during the campaign Hayes' popularity improved.

In November apparently the Democrat, Samuel Tilden, won the popular vote but Republican Hayes was close. Wu tells us that Western Union passed all the cable traffic among Democrats to key Republican leaders, from which they discovered that the Democrats were having difficulties in the South. Cables went out to the Republican Governors of southern states and low and behold enough votes in the electoral college were disputed to leave the selection of the new president in doubt. The impasse lasted for months until a deal was brokered. Hayes would become President but as President he would withdraw the federal troops from the former Confederate states and cease to enforce Reconstruction policies.

If you think big corporations have too much political power now and if you think elections are dirty now, apparently they were worse in 1876. On the other hand, perhaps the lesson of this story is the need for eternal vigilance. If we do not protect our democracy, they there are surely people who would love to subvert it to get their own way.

I am just starting the book, but it seems very good. Wu is the person who coined the term "net neutrality" and the book appears to be a warning that -- if history is a guide -- that the open Internet could be monopolized by big business and government and as a result our access to information forced through a bottleneck which would have bad effects.

Facts and figures about water and financing

Source: 3rd World Water Development Report "Water in a Changing World" via UNESCO Water Portal Bi-monthly Newsletter No. 243: Water and Financing
  • In the United States bringing water supply and sewerage infrastructure up to current standards will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 20 years, with hundreds of billions more required for dams, dikes and waterway maintenance.
  • The World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates that the total costs of replacing ageing water supply and sanitation infrastructure in industrial countries may be as high as $200 billion a year.
  • In most urban public water systems charges often barely cover the recurrent costs of operation and maintenance, leaving little or no funds to recover the capital costs of modernization and expansion. A survey of such systems in 132 cities in high-, middle and low-income countries found that 39% did not recover even their operation and maintenance costs (true of 100% of cities in South-East Asia and the Maghreb).
  • Moreover, water infrastructure deteriorates over time. Leakage (loss) rates of 50% are not uncommon in urban distribution systems.
  • In rural areas neglect of operation and maintenance budgets and cost recovery contribute to widespread non-functionality. A recent survey of almost 7,000 rural water schemes in Ethiopia found that 30%-40% were non-functional. A shortage of finance for wages, fuel, materials and spare parts was a common factor.
  • If estimates of current costs are correct, resources in the sanitation sector would have to be almost doubled to meet the 2015 target (although estimates of cur­rent spending probably underestimate the contributions by households to their own sanitation services).
  • The World Health Organization estimates the total annual cost of meeting the 2015 Millennium Development Goal target for sanitation at just over $9.5 billion.
  • If the full cost of tertiary wastewater treatment for waste streams in urban areas is added, the total rises to $100 billion, the current value of total annual official development assistance.

7 Billion, National Geographic Magazine

Buen Vivir for All instead of Dolce Vita for Few

This is a section title from "Thinking Ahead: Development Models and Indicators of Well-being Beyond the MDGs" by Jens Martens:
The Buen Vivir principle pursues the goal of material, social and spiritual satisfaction among all members of a society, but not at the cost of the other members and the natural resources. It thus dissociates itself from a purely materialistic Western-style concept of wealth.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

U.S. Government Funding for Research and Development

Source: Scientific American

"Federal research spending has decreased in recent years, although proportionally, money for life sciences has risen. The relative support for other disciplines has stayed roughly the same. Some members of the new Congress have already vowed to cut all non-military research.'


There was a significant component of funding for science and technology in the 2009 stimulus package, but there will be a major problem in maintaining funding for research and development in the future as the legislative and executive branches of government struggle to reduce deficits and reduce the national debt as a percentage of GDP. 


Think about the budget process. The U.S. Government fiscal year starts in September, with the budget submitted to the Congress by the White House in January. (The 2012 budget is in the final stages of drafting by the administration now.) Thus the Bush administration that took office in 2001, could only marginally affect the budget for 2002, and 2003 was the first year that the Bush administration was able to fully put a budget in place; similarly, 2011 will be the the first year that the Obama administration will have fully planned a proposed budget, but that budget is still limping along on continuing resolutions.


Essentially the Bush administration not only did not increase R&D spending, but left it slightly lower than it found it. The Obama administration has indicated strong support for science and technology, but will be facing a Republican House of Representatives in 2011-12. It the Bush administration history is any guide, Obama will have a tough job supporting research and development funding increases.


That is too bad as there seems to be broad agreement among economists and the S&T community that increases in government funding of R&D are vital not only in areas such as energy technologies, disease prevention and cure, and global warming, but also for the continued competitiveness of the American economy.

Thinking about our ancestry

I heard Henry Lewis Gates on television last night in an interview in which he expressed his long term interest in know from what tribe he was descended. It would seem that he is descended from the Milesians by patrilineal descent. After all his y chromosome shows he is descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages by route of an Irish immigrant ancestor named Gates who was in a common law relationship with a slave girl.

Gates efforts to trace his ancestry and those of some famous people has been fun, and has served a useful purpose of showing how complicated our family trees have been in America in the last few hundred years, and how little historical accuracy the labels we have used have really had.

However, I got to thinking of how much more interesting the migration of our ancestors really was. Homo sapiens as a species apparently arose in East Africa and during the Late Pleistocene Epoch was reduced to only a few thousand members, apparently still in Africa. Some of Gates recent ancestors lived in West Africa, and there must have been a complex process by which members of our species reached West Africa and populated the various tribes and states of that region, eventually arriving at the populations that were ravaged by disease, wars and the slave trade brought by Europeans. (Did you know that not only were an estimated 13 million West Africans killed or taken in the slave trade, but many epidemics of diseases new to the region brought be European sailors and traders? The Sahara had effectively shielded West Africa from the diseases endemic to Europe and Asia until Europeans started sailing down the west coast of Africa, but once there they triggered epidemic after epidemic.)

Gates' Irish ancestors spoke an Indo-European language, suggesting that a torturous path had been traced from Africa, through the Middle East to Central Asia and then west to Europe and finally to the island of Ireland. He had other European ancestors, and they also were the results of ancestral chains that roamed from Africa through parts of Asia and Europe before finally jumping the Atlantic to the Americas.

The Africans taken into slavery suffered greatly; death rates were very high in the slave ships and in the plantations in which so many worked. Our European ancestors survived the plague (which killed one-third of the population of Europe) as well as many other epidemic and endemic diseases, at least long enough to leave their progeny. Going further back, the tribal groups that eventually populated West Africa, Ireland and Europe must have had very hard lives and very short life expectancy. When the population of Homo sapiens went through its bottleneck and got down to a few thousand people, life must have been really tough.

The adventures of our ancestors must have been really something, perhaps worse than we can possibly imagine.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This video done a decade and a half ago on the Marshall Plan

Asia's Looming Social Challenge: Coping With the Elder Boom

Clearly these Asian societies are going to have real trouble supporting large populations with relatively few workers. One wonders how the political systems will respond to the challenge of the needed transition in the productive and economic institutions.

It seems likely to me that these societies will have to become far more integrated into the global economy if they are to adapt well. While some of the workers will be in non-tradable productive areas, such as government, health and educational services, many will have to be concentrated in those areas in which their nations have the greatest comparative advantages, trading for the goods which they produce relatively less efficiently. All that would need to be done in about one generation!

Thinking about the strategic objectives of the sides in the Civil War

As we move into the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I have been wondering what the strategy was for each side during the war. The Union side moved from objectives of preserving the union, to objectives of defeating the south and emancipating the slaves. Clearly there was an objective to prevent European nations from joining in the war to support independence of the South. The generals leading the North in the early part of the war seemed concerned with protecting Washington. Lincoln seems to have seen a policy of blockading the South be sea and attacking it over land from all points in which it came in contact with the North. At the end of the war, Grant was fighting a war of attrition recognizing that the Union could out gun and out man the Confederacy, while the Emancipation Proclamation was undermining the economy of the South, and Sherman and others were destroying the communications and industrial base of the South. Republicans, most notably Lincoln, were seeking to maintain power and win the election of 1864, in part to assure the continued persecution of the war. To some degree the evolution of strategy reflected an evolutionary increase in the military capacity of the North, and to some extent the reduction in the threat from the British, but it also must have reflected a better appreciation of what would be required to win the war.

It seems likely to me that the South must have defined its objectives not in terms of defeating the North, but rather in achieving an armistice that left the southern states independent. I assume that there was a strategy to seek support from Britain, which southerners saw initially as dependent on the South's cotton exports. When the blockage kept southern cotton out of Britain, the British responded not be breaking the blockade but rather developing other sources of raw cotton from Egypt, Brazil and India (thereby contributing to the economic problems of the South during Reconstruction since it was never again able to monopolize the British market for cotton). While Southern forces began the war by seizing forts in the South and attacking those which did not surrender peacefully, most Southern military action was on what was seen by the leaders of the Confederacy as Confederate soil, with the exceptions of Antietam and Gettysburg. Those of course were huge exceptions, intended by Lee's forces to both punish the North and force a switch from offensive to defensive mode by some Union forces, reducing pressures on the Southern forces. One assumes that there was a policy of prolonging the war until pro-peace factions in the North took sufficient political power to demand an armistice, and to inflict pain on the North to encourage the peace movement there. Clearly, there was an evolution in Confederate strategy as well, to meet the failing relative military capacity of Southern forces and the changes in expectations as to the behavior of the North and the extinction of hopes for foreign allies. Surely more and more people in the South must have realized how desperate the situation was becoming for the Confederacy.

Perhaps some of the military leaders recognized how great an undertaking the conflict would be but surely most people did not. It seems likely that on each side many factions disagreed as to what the strategy of the war should be. Indeed, there were different opinions within the cabinets of the two presidents. What seems clear is that neither side initially understood the other well enough to fully grasp what would be needed to obtain their objectives in the war. I wonder if either side understood its own society well enough to fully predict the changes that would be required in the prosecution of the war.

Is there a lesson? Perhaps it is that even in the Civil War in which the two sides knew each other as well as opposing parties in a war ever can, the leaders of the North and of the South did not understand their opponents or themselves well enough to create a coherent strategy at the beginning of the war that would carry them through its four terrible years. Indeed, one wonders if the leaders of the two sides had understood what they were starting, could they not have found a better solution than war.

Race in the frequency of use of words in our literature


I used Google Ngram Viewer to trace the frequency of use of the terms "Negro", "African American" and "Black" in its huge collection of books. You can see the results above. The term "African American" has been growing in use since 1980, but is still not frequently seen in books. The term "Black" has risen greatly in frequency, replacing "Negro" since 1960. I was concerned by the confusion of the word "Black" referring to an African American and the word "black" referring to the color per se. I therefore ran a search on various color words, as shown below.


The word's "black" and "red" have very similar frequencies until the 1960's when the word "black" takes off. I suppose the interpretation is that "black" referred to the color before the 1960's, and then came into use additionally to refer to "black people". Note that the word "white" is used more frequently than the words "blue", "red", "green" or "yellow", and shows changes in frequency after 1960 that are like those of the word "black". It is kind of interesting that there seems to have been an increasing discussion of colors in the literature from 1840 to 1900, a plateau from1900 to the end of World War II, and then a decrease in more recent times. Why???

I did a third plot on the words "slave" and "segregation". The Civil War shows up as a peak in the use of the word "slave", and "segregation" rises in frequency from 1900 to 1960, from which time it remains relatively constant. Actually, there seems to have been (as might be expected) an increase in discussion of slavery and segregation in the 1960s and a decrease in the "me" 80s.

The words we write do seem to reflect the key trends in history!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Child Mortality is still too high


"Child mortality has declined in every region since 1960, when 1 in 5 children died before the age of 5. By 1990, this rate had fallen to 1 in 10 children. Since then, progress has slowed, and a few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa actually experienced increases in child mortality. In 2008, 33 countries had under-five mortality rates greater than 100 per 1,000. Thirteen countries --€“ all of them in Sub-Saharan Africa --€“ had under-five mortality rates greater than 160 per 1,000. In developing countries today, 1 in 14 children die before their fifth birthday, compared with 1 in 147 in high-income countries. While the gap between goal and reality is greatest in Sub-Saharan Africa, millions of children are also at risk in populous South Asia. The regional average in Latin America and the Caribbean disguises wide variations. In Europe and Central Asia questions remain about the quality and comparability of data over time. More than half the countries in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia are on track to reach the target, although the regional averages fall short."

I rather like Lincoln's version of American Exceptionalism

Lincoln surely understood that slavery was morally wrong and that it stained the creation of the United States in the Revolution and in the Constitution. As I understand it, he also felt that the system of governance created by the founding fathers was such that the nation could evolve toward a still more perfect union than that established in 1789. Were the United States not to survive the Civil War, broken apart into slave and free states, the hope provided by the evolutionary improvement of the United States would have been denied to the world.

The question is whether 150 years after the Civil War the United States still is perfectible, and as such can continue to serve as an example for other nations.

Defeat for Census Reform

According to the New York Times:
With an assist from the Obama team, House Republicans and a handful of Democrats have defeated a sound bipartisan measure to reform the Census Bureau.....

The bill’s supporters included seven former bureau directors from both parties and hundreds of statistical, professional, public policy and civil rights organizations. They understood that the bill would have encouraged consistent, professional management of the bureau — crucial to the scientific integrity of census data and to the quality of the decisions and policies based on the data. The administration and a minority in the House did the cause of good government a disservice.
So we continue to be stuck with census results that undercount the poor, migrants, and the homeless. As a result, we redistrict our electoral districts to disenfranchise them, which leads to state legislatures that also disenfranchise the poor and marginal peoples of our country.

I would not be so annoyed except that this is willful political action to force inaccurate information into the public domain. Arghhh!

A Technological Solution to Prevent Texting While Driving

Texting while driving is increasing and causing an increasing number of road accidents. Indeed, simply talking on a cell phone adds to the hazards of driving. Cell phone use by passengers in a car also distract the driver.

It seems to me that there would be a simple technological solutions to such problems.

  • How about a simple announcement as a car is started to turn off all cell phones.
  • Cell phones could be equipped with something like a RFID chip which would be read by the auto, and the auto could then broadcast on a special band that a cell phone was on in the car. That signal might be read by police vehicles, or better yet by click and ticket devices that would issue a ticket to the owner of a vehicle that was in motion with an operating cell phone on inside it.
  • Cell phones could be equipped to transmit a special, low power signal when in use for texting or voice. The signal would be picked up by sensors in cars, and the car could announce that the cell phone should not be used, give a signal that a cell phone was in use (say by flashing lights or broadcasting a special radio signal), and there could be click and ticket laws imposing fines on vehicle owners.
  • People convicted of using a cell phone in a car might be required to have sensors in their cars that would not allow the car to be operated with a cell phone on or in use.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Comment on "The Man Who Invented the Computer"

I am listening to Jane Smiley, one of my favorite authors, talking about her new book, The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer. The book seems interesting, but the title seems misleading.

The modern computer combines many different inventions. If there had not been punched card machines, vacuum tubes, what would have been invented, when? Did Babbage who created the Difference Engine invent the computer? Did Blaise Pascal who invented the first digital calculator make the key invention, or John von Neumann who is seen as inventing the idea of a computer that could modify its own program deserve the credit. Note too that Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (the daughter of Lord Byron) is credited with having published the first algorithm, and without algorithms computers would not be worth having.

I think the patent office does it right by giving patents on adjudicated claims for specific innovations included in a device which has been reduced to practice. Atanasoff seems to have moved from a special purpose analogue computer to a binary machine using vacuum tubes to carry out arithmetic operations, which was surely an important step. However, his machine did not have a "central processing unit". John Mauchly knew about Atanasoff's machine and may have been influenced by it in the creation of the ENIAC computer.

Wikipedia also credits Atanasoff with inventing the regenerative capacitor memory, a phenomenon which is used today in DRAM memory units. However, there have been many versions of the technology for relatively high speed random access memories, and Wikipedia cites Robert Dennard as holding the key DRAM patent.

Is music a good metaphor for technology?

In this Christmas season the airwaves are full of "Christmas music". This is music that has strong religious roots, with lots of it having been composed decades or even centuries ago. It is quite different that that which one would find in the various music awards ceremonies each year. Of course, there is also a genre of children's Christmas music, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, that gets played not only in media specific to children.

In general, the market for music is very segmented. Not only do different cultures call for different kinds of music, but so do different occasions and different age groups. A symphony orchestra plays a different kind of music than does an opera, a Broadway musical, a rock band, or a country band.

Music is available from medieval liturgical composers, from classical composers of many centuries, from folk traditions (implying long dead original composers, adapted by others over the years), as well as from people writing today.

Similarly, there are many technologies, each designed for a different purpose. The most appropriate technology may often depend on the culture of its users or beneficiaries.

Think of classical music, which may have been composed centuries ago, played on instruments of a kind that the composer would not have known, which were actually built decades in the past, performed by people a few years ago, and played now on CD or broadcast. It combines inputs from many times and places as it is used today.

So too may a modern technology combine inventions from many historical times into a single modern design. Thus a modern automobile includes inventions such as the wheel, the internal combustion engine, refined metals, plastics, and electronic control invented at different times in different places but combined into a single modern system.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

What makes a work of art great: thinking about criteria


There is a very nice appreciation of Velazquez painting 'Las Meninas' in today's Washington Post by Blake Gopnik. He calls the painting "the greatest work of art in the Western tradition. Gopnik accompanies the article with another on Velazquez and with photos of works of art that Gopnik considers "runners up" to the Velazquez.  The paper even provides a streaming audio linked to the painting. The Internet version is in fact better than the newspaper version because the online illustrations are in color and one can see them better.

Gopnik got me to thinking about the criteria one would use to measure greatness in a work of (visual) art. It goes without saying that craft competence would be a basic requirement; the artist must accomplish well what he/she set out to do. Gopnik, in discarding works such as the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's David requires that the work not be so iconic that we can no longer really see it. That is an interesting criterion, in that it is based on our perception rather than something that is intrinsic in the work itself. But I suppose greatness is indeed a measure of our response to the work.

Gopnik seems to measure greatness in terms of the intellectual power of the work -- how strongly does it challenge and reward the viewers efforts to interpret and understand the work. Gopnik spent a week in front of Las Meninas in the Prado recently, and there are few works that would so reward so long and thoughtful an analysis. As readers of this blog might recognize, I rather like intellectual power as a criterion for measuring the greatness of a piece of art.

Art dealers probably would measure greatness in terms of what a work would bring at auction. That seems meretricious to me, especially since I am skeptical about the artistic judgment of the deep pockets that pay millions for a work. Then too, the sales prices of works of art soar or dive according to economic conditions, trends and fads and thus can not be accurate measures of greatness.

Museums, I think, tend to judge greatness of a work of art in terms of its impact on later artists and their art. I like this criterion too, in that it is based on the judgement of other artists who are likely to observe and consider a work deeply. However, it is also a criterion that extends from the pure visual impact of the work to its historical importance. The work of Giotto, for example, does not for me have the same aesthetic value as that of artists of the high renaissance, but it surely has enormous importance in the history of art. Still, I think that there are great works that did not change the history of art, as some artists simply do their own thing. Indeed, I can imagine a work so great that other artists feel it completes a school of art and go on to seek alternative expressions of genius.

This posting was occasioned by my recognition that Gopnik did not emphasize either the emotional impact of a work of art or the pure beauty. Think of the Boating Party by Renoir, a painting so beautiful that one can simple bask in its grace. It is also a painting that leaves one feeling happy, enjoying by reflection the emotional and physical warmth of a day in the country with one's friends.


Alternatively, think of the success of a work of art in conveying a message. After all, works chartered by the church sought not only to link by reference to a theme important to the religion but also to instill in the viewer a sense of awe or devotion. I usually find politically inspired art not to be great, but if one goes back to the renaissance some works intended to reinforce the political status of the patron seem to overcome that liability. Think of Picasso's Guernica, a work of great power that expresses outrage at an atrocity, a work of a major artist at the peak of his career which combines intellectual power with emotional  power and political impact.

If one allows that there are many criteria of greatness of a work of art, then I would suggest that no single work will top the scale in each dimension. Perhaps we are fortunate to have many works of art, each the greatest in its own way.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Thought on the rate of depreciation of knowledge.

Posted in Growth, Innovation by Mike Mandel on December 13, 2010:
U.S. prosperity has always depended far more on our accumulated store of knowledge capital than on our physical investments. Knowledge capital includes accumulated education, research and development, and business-knowhow–all the intangibles that underly a modern economy.

The value of knowledge capital depends, in part, on how rare it is. The more companies or countries that possess the same knowledge (say, about how to make a commercial airliner), the less valuable that knowledge is. This is just Economics 101, applied to intangibles.

Over the past 10-15 years, the strengthening of information flows into developing countries meant that knowledge capital was being distributed much more quickly around the world. As a result, the normal process of knowledge capital depreciation greatly accelerated in the U.S. and Europe–beneath the radar screen, because no statistical agency constructs a set of knowledge capital accounts.

What we should have been doing is boosting our investment in knowledge capital creation–education, R&D, business innovation. Instead, we borrowed to support consumption.
In commenting on Mandel's post, Marginal Revolution raises the issue of the kind of economy countries possess, suggesting that some economies turn over their knowledge more rapidly than others. This is clearly true. "Traditional economies" are given that title because their rates of technological and institutional changes are relatively slow. The emerging "knowledge economy" will be one of rapid innovation and thus rapid depreciation of technology and knowledge. Development by its very nature depreciates the existing knowledge stock of the developing nation. Since so much of development involves the transfer of knowledge and technology from developed to developing nations, it thereby changes comparative advantage, contributing to the depreciation of the knowledge of the developed nation that has been transferred. On the other hand, the continuing and more rapid technological and institutional changes in the developed nations themselves also contributes to the depreciation of their knowledge bases.

It would be a great shame if our conservatives failed to promote innovation in the United States, preferring instead to interrupt technology and knowledge transfers to developing nations. For one thing, given the desperate poverty of poor people in developing nations, interfering with the development of their nations would be profoundly immoral. Moreover, while it might be possible to slow down the transfer of knowledge, it would not suffice to protect U.S. competitiveness, and failure to promote domestic innovation would surely undermine that competitiveness.

The Next Grand Challenge

Costs of each of the two sides of the common property/private property coin

My friend Juliane alerted me to this article, It suggests that the "tragedy of the commons" is one side of a coin with two sides. As is well known, holding a resource as common property may lead to its over exploitation and destruction, as in the case of commonly held forests in which everyone cuts wood and no one replants or conserves the trees. The other side of the coin, according to the authors, citing Preston McAfee and Alan Miller, is that private ownership can lead to underutilization of the resource.
First, if a good become unavailable, there is a waste of resource trying to find other ways to consume. Second, there could be underutilization if social benefit differs from the private benefits of the owner. The problem is not trivial, for example think about the attribution of radio, phone or wifi frequencies that lead to significant underuse of some frequencies others would love to use.
Of course, in many situations people holding property in common institutionalize means to effectively maintain and sustainably utilize the property. Think of the terraced rice fields in Bali that have been sustainably utilized for centuries following rules institutionalized in the local religious and farming practice.

Congratulations to the Congress and the White House

The New York Times reports:
The 111th Congress ended as it began two years ago, with a burst of legislative productivity, as Democrats forced through a historic social change by lifting the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military and a major foreign policy achievement in approving the New Start arms control treaty with Russia.

Along the way, they enacted a landmark health care law and a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street rules, bookended by a $787 billion economic stimulus package at the start of 2009 and an $858 billion tax-cut package at the end of 2010......

Measures that have almost become afterthoughts — pay equity for women and the new power of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, for instance — could have been signature achievements in other Congresses. And the Senate confirmed two of Mr. Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court — both women, one Hispanic.
The Congress also passed legislation to provide health benefits for first responders!

Now lets see if the new Congress can pass an acceptable budget bill for the rest of the fiscal year!

Happy Holidays!

Thoughts on reading The Great Escape

I have been reading The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World by Kati Marton.

One of the people profiled in the book is Leo Szilard, the physicist who first conceived of the idea of a nuclear chain reaction, who worked with Enrico Fermi to design and create the first nuclear reactor, and who played perhaps the key role in persuading the U.S. government to build the first atom bombs. Marton notes the early influence that the books of H.G. Wells had on his thinking, especially the concept of a new world order in which a scientifically trained, intellectual elite would lead policy. I recall that Oliver Wendell Holmes thought that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a second class intellect but a first class temperament. FDR was a very good president, who led the United States and the world out of a very dark period. While it would be great to have more smart and educated people, perhaps we need to develop more people with first class temperments?

Marton focuses on three scientists, a mathematician, two movie makers, two photographers and a writer, all of them Jews born in Hungary and educated there in the brief period of history in which Jews there were allowed equality of opportunity. All of them left Hungary in the decades between World Wars I and II, and all contributed significantly to world culture. The obvious lessons of the book include the counter-productivity of antisemitism and the fact that a well prepared good mind is the best insurance against hard times. Marton, the daughter of Hungarian refugees herself, shows great sensitivity in depicting the lives of people forced to leave their homes and move from country to country seeking a safe haven. Even these extraordinarily successful people faced great difficulties as they moved from culture to culture.

The unwritten background of the holocaust in which millions of other Jews died horribly makes the story of these few who succeeded even more striking. One wonders what the world has lost by denying so many people educational and career opportunities, not to mention happy and productive lives. It is not only antisemitic Europe that has denied people by the hundreds of millions their fair chances for productive lives,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Network and Information Technology R&D is a priority

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has just issued a report with recommendations for federal funding of research and development on networking and information technology.
Recent technological and societal trends place the further advancement and application of NIT squarely at the center of our Nation’s ability to achieve essentially all of our priorities and to address essentially all of our challenges:
Advances in NIT are a key driver of economic competitiveness. They create new markets and increase productivity. For example, an investment in the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library Initiative in the 1990’s led to Google, a company with a market capitalization of nearly $200 billion that has transformed how we access information.
Advances in NIT are crucial to achieving our major national and global priorities in
energy and transportation, education and life-long learning, healthcare, and national
and homeland security. NIT will be an indispensable element in buildings that manage their own energy usage; attention-gripping, personalized methods that reinforce classroom lessons;
continuous unobtrusive assistance for people with physical and mental disabilities; and strong
resilience to cyber warfare.
Advances in NIT accelerate the pace of discovery in nearly all other fields. The latest NIT tools are helping scientists and engineers to illuminate the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, elucidate the nature of combustion, and predict the size of the ozone hole, to cite just a few examples.
Advances in NIT are essential to achieving the goals of open government. Those advances will allow better access to government records, better and more accessible government services, and the ability both to learn from and communicate with the American public more effectively.......

the transformative NIT research that fuels innovation and achievement and strengthens our Nation needs to come from Government investment, yet it is currently difficult to ascertain the magnitude of that investment. Furthermore, going forward, the participating agencies in the NITRD Program must more aggressively embrace the expanding role that advances in NIT play in America’s future. A broad spectrum of Federal agencies – those currently participating in NITRD and some which are not yet doing so – must recognize that their abilities to accomplish their missions are inextricably linked to advances in NIT, and must invest in NIT R&D to catalyze the advances that are critical to their missions. Strategic leadership must come from the top – from those within the Federal Government with the authority to implement new strategies.

A thought about thinking

One perceives that one thinks rationally with one's mind. Scientists are clarifying that one's genes and hormones and the content of one's blood influence the decisions made by the complex systems of one's brain and the actions mediated by one's nervous system, decisions and actions which can be rationalized by one's conscious thought.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Economist Quarterly Technology Review

Last week The Economist published the latest of its great Quarterly Technology Reviews. These articles seemed especially relevant to this blog:

I want to comment specifically on Vertical Farming: Does it really stack up? The article describes efforts to build multi-story glass houses that produce crops hydroponically all year round and that can be located in cities where those crops would be consumed. It suggests that the energy costs of artificial lighting and other functions for skyscrapers that would be required to produce large amounts of food would be so great as to surpass the transportation costs of bringing food from outside the city.


The article points out that hydroponic farming in one-story glass houses can produce 20 times as much food per acre as traditional farming on the land. I conclude that there is a real opportunity for:

  • rooftop, sheltered, hydroponic gardening in urban areas, 
  • for school greenhouses, and even 
  • for urban hydroponic greenhouses that would serve as parks. 
There is also room for increases in peri-urban greenhouses that would have high levels of production and low transportation costs. This would be especially true if they could be located in areas in which transportation services used for people or other goods could be used without further energy input to carry produce to market.

Esther Duflo: Social experiments to fight poverty

Shanghai Students Lead Global Results on PISA


The United States shows up 73 points below first rank in science and 113 points lower in mathematics. This is in my mind more serious than the lag in college graduation rates, which of course is itself very serious.

The poor performance in secondary school implies that American workers will understand less of the physical world in which they work, less of electricity and mechanics, and be less capable in mathematics than their competitors in many other countries. That is bad news for our businesses in the future, and for the standard of living of these children and their children.

The Congress should stay in session until it passes the bill providing health benefits to 9/11 first responders!

Watch Carolyn Maloney, a sponsor of the bill, on the Charlie Rose show yesterday.

The United States would be shamed if it is not passed this week! We owe the domestic first responders as much support as we owe the troops who have put their bodies and their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan in our service. Lets come back next year to be sure that we have the policies in place to deal with the mental and physical problems that those troops are suffering as a result of that service.

How do we get Republicans to do the right thing on New Start

Every living former Secretary of State has called for the Senate to ratify the New Start Treaty. It restores the power to verify Russian arms limitations, a power that will otherwise expire. It is an important element in the effort to build confidence in peaceful relations with the Russian Federation, relations which are contributing both to our war effort in Afghanistan and to missile defense for Europe.

The Treaty was signed on April 8. 2010, after the announcement by Obama and Medvedev on March 26, that it had been agreed. It was submitted to the Senate for ratification on May 13, and recommended for ratification by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14 to 4 on September 16. The Treaty itself is 17 pages long. The protocol is longer, but can still be read in an hour.

The treaty calls for modest reductions in the power of the United States to use weapons of mass destruction on other nations. The Obama administration has provided guarantees to the Senate that it would strongly fund missile defense systems.

Clearly any Senator who is interested in the Treaty has had the time to study it and to obtain staff inputs on its acceptability. I can only assume that any Senator that votes to postpone the vote on the Treaty is less interested in the security of the United States than in getting political points. I for one will remember a negative vote and oppose reelection of the Senator casting that vote.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Informed consent in international research: the rationale for different approaches

Krogstad DJ, Diop S, Diallo A, Mzayek F, Keating J, Koita OA, TourĂ© YT.
Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2010 Oct;83(4):743-7.


Abstract: "In developed countries, informed consent is based on the autonomy of the individual, a written description of the studies proposed, and previous experience of the participant with Western medicine. Consent is documented by the signature of the participant and supervised by institutional review boards (IRBs), which have conflicts of interest because they are also responsible for limiting institutional liability. In developing countries, the initial decision-making for informed consent is typically vested in the community rather than the individual, and illiteracy is common-limiting the value of written documents and signatures. The challenges in developing countries are exacerbated by the fact that persons at greatest risk of disease are often illiterate, have limited experience with Western medicine, and have limited understanding of the scientific rationale for the studies proposed. Given these differences, it is unrealistic to expect that consent strategies used in developed countries would be effective in such diverse settings."

Comment: In our concern for human rights we insist that people have the right to decide if they wish to participate in a research project. Indeed, we insist that people have the right to decide which if any treatment they should receive as patients of a medical practitioner. That position is based on the assumption that if provided with information on the risks and potential benefits of each alternative they will make reasonable decisions. For children and others thought by their condition to be unable to understand and decide rationally, we delegate the decision making to others who presumably have the welfare of the subject or patient at heart.

In some cases, of course, we weigh the welfare of the community more than the rights of the individual. We require immunizations against some communicable diseases for children entering school rather than allowing individual decisions by their parents as to whether the child will be immunized. We isolate patients with communicable diseases, refuse permission to market drugs deemed by the government to be dangerous or ineffective, force withdrawal of foods implicated in disease outbreaks, require milk to be pasteurized, and even impose quarantines on occasion.

I think the authors of the paper are helpful in suggesting a careful consideration of the basis of requirements of informed consent in international research. There are differences in cultural concepts of human rights. More important, our assumptions as to the ability of patients and subjects to make informed consent are unlikely to hold in many other societies. I suppose it could be argued that given enough time and effort, a patient or subject could be brought to fully understand the alternatives, but that seems unlikely in any practical system.

When I was involved in the management of international research projects I tended to punt, simply requiring that the project fulfill the informed consent requirements of all the nations involved. Thus an American university working with partners in a foreign nation would be required to meet the more restrictive requirements of both nations. It should be noted that the American policies are not always the most stringent.

Note too that informed consent has different meanings for subjects of biomedical research, for social research, and for economic research.

All in all, this is a very difficult area worthy of serious discussion and debate.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A 4th priority for IO

Esther Brimmer, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), organized her talk at the UN Foundation on Friday around three priorities of IO: Peace and Security, Development and Human Rights. She did not mention Economics, although security and economics are normally the major priorities of the State Department worldwide.

At the meeting a booklet published by the Foundation's Better World Campaign was distributed. The booklet, titled "The United Nations: Benefiting the U.S. Economy" describes the money that U.N. organizations and their employees spend in the United States, such as that for operation of the U.N. headquarters in New York, or the for the purchase of computers, routers and software from companies headquartered in the United States. Indeed, the U.N. agencies do spend a lot in the United States, and as a result the real marginal cost to the United States of our participation in the organizations is minimal.

The booklet does mention U.N. agencies such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the International Civil Aviation Union, the International Maritime Union and the United Nations Universal Postal Union which influence international travel and communications. These organizations and their standards making have economic importance to the United States. The spectrum allocation of the ITU alone influences billions of dollars for the U.S. in terms of its impact on the markets for U.S. telecom products and services.

There are things that one ought to understand about Dr. Brimmer's omission of Economics. While IO is focused on U.S. participation in multinational organizations, it does not take the lead role with all of them. The Department of the Treasury has traditionally led U.S. relations with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative takes the lead with organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Thus the responsibility of IO does not extend to lead functions for these agencies which have obvious economic importance for the United States.


I would hope that IO officials understand that the development agenda of the United Nations has great economic importance for the United States. We learned from the Marshall Plan that helping poor countries improve their economies helps the U.S. economy. It was estimated that the growth of exports to European countries recovering from World War II added several percent per year to U.S. economic growth in the post-war years. So too can the growth of economies in Africa and Asia increase U.S. trade, both providing jobs and profits through increased exports and consumer benefits through low cost imports. It is the system of comparative advantages that allows international trade to benefit countries both from their exports and their imports.

So too, of course, does peace and security benefit the United States economy. Think of the peace dividend that boosted the economy when the Cold War ended, and think of how much better our economy would be if we had not been involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past nine years.

There are important economic benefits that come from other functions of the United Nations system. Consider the World Health Organization. Its earliest component, the Inter American Sanitary Bureau was created more than a century ago with the purpose of reducing the health barriers to trade in the Americas. Perhaps more obvious is that the United States saves tens of millions of dollars a year since it no longer needs to deal with Smallpox since the WHO campaign eradicated the disease worldwide. If, as is expected in the next few years, the WHO campaign succeeds in eradicating polio worldwide, the United States will save tens of millions of dollars more per year on that disease. So too, the efforts of WHO to detect other communicable diseases early and to limit their transmission has economic as well as health benefits for the United States.

UNESCO, an organization that I study seriously, brings tourists to the United States by publicizing our World Heritage sites. By encouraging education in developing nations it stimulates demand of students from these nations for higher education in the United States, and the more than 600,000 foreign students in this country "help keep our universities green". The graduates in science and technology who stay here have contributed greatly to our economy. UNESCO's science programs contribute to our knowledge of the oceans, geology, and biodiversity -- in each case bringing economic benefits to the United States.

I could go on, to discuss economic benefits to the United States from the work of the Food and Agricultural Organization, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the International Labor Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Food Program, etc. but you get the idea.

I certainly hope that the Foreign Service Officers in IO manage our affairs with multilateral organizations to benefit our economic interests as well as other interests, and that they understand these interests in the United Nations family of organizations well enough to explain them to the Congress and the American public.

Remittances


"The World Bank estimates that migrants from developing countries sent home remittances totalling $316 billion in 2009."

It seems that large as this amount is, foreign direct investment is perhaps four times larger. Of course, a large portion of FDI is made in developed rather than developing nations.

According to the OECD, the remittances are some three times larger than Official Development Assistance to developing nations.

Note that all these transfers are not allocated in order to maximize the reduction of poverty, but rather for other purposes. Thus remittances are sent to the countries that sent their citizens to work abroad, not necessarily to the poorest people in the poorest nations. FDI is allocated to those sites which investors feel will provide the best returns consistent with acceptable risks. Foreign aid is provided for political reasons; Iraq is currently receiving a large portion while the poorest people in the poorest nations are often left out.

Public Health genomics

I just read about a machine that is to cost $50,000 which using a disposable $250 chip will be able to sequence 10 to 20 million base pairs of the human genome in a few hours. According to Technology Review, the cost of the disposable chip can be expected to come down relatively quickly.

We read about personalized medicine in which genomic and other information can be used to select treatment protocols specific to the patient, including to the specific genetic aspects of the person's disease and the person's immune system. I have also read that one of the reasons that European diseases introduced to the Americas proved so disastrous was that the Native American populations were relatively genetically homogeneous, with the total population of the continents descended from relatively small immigrant populations relatively recently introduced from Asia. The theory is that the infectious agent population that evolved in an infected person would be especially virulent in the next infected person because of the average similarity in the immune systems of randomly selected people from the Native American population.

I wonder if there might be an intermediate stage from our current average medicine and personalized medicine to "community medicine" in which public health officials would sequence key portions of the genomes of a sample of people in a community to tailor health services to the average immunological characteristics of the community and the average risk of genetically based diseases.

Wondering About Life Expectancy Impact of European Involvement in West Africa

There is considerable interest in the Atlantic slave trade. Europeans traded guns and ammunition as well as other goods there for slaves over a period of three and a half centuries. Not only were millions of people taken from the region, the slave traders (often using imported weapons) conducted war and slave raids for those centuries. I have read about the disruption that the weapons trade with Native Americans had in early North American colonial history, as coastal tribes used guns and ammunition acquired from the colonists to displace tribes further west. One can assume that the slave trade and weapons trade had similar and worse impact on the peoples of West Africa.


I have read about the high death rates of Europeans trying to live in West Africa, especially due to their vulnerability to malaria. I have similarly read of the high death rates of former slaves repatriated to Sierra Leone and Liberia. But I was wondering about the introduction of European diseases into West Africa. The Sahara would have provided a barrier to overland transmission of bacterial and viral diseases before the Europeans developed the sailing technology to explore the coast of West Africa.

A history of Sub-Saharan Africa By Robert O. Collins and James McDonald Burns states that Smallpox was introduced to West Africa by European explorers as early as the 16th century, that typhus, tuberculosis and the plague were introduced in the 17th century, and the sexually transmitted syphilis was introduced there from the western hemisphere via Europe in the 16th century.

The impact of new diseases, depopulation due to the extraction of slaves, and of conflict made more deadly by new weapons, added to the preexisting threats of malaria, yellow fever and other tropical diseases, may well have triggered the destruction of agricultural and trade patterns. The Columbian exchange proved disastrous for the Native American populations, but it occurs to me that the European-West African exchange may have been similarly disastrous for West African peoples.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More from Google Ngram Viewer


Science, Technology and Innovation


Yesterday I posted a graph of the relative frequencies of the words "science" and "technology" in the Google Books corpus of more than five million books. The graph above adds the term "innovation" to the graph, limiting it to the second half of the 20th century.

During World War II, with the military importance of radar and the atomic bomb, people noticed that science could yield things of practical value. Recall that in older European culture, there was a profound difference between "gentlemen" who did not work with their hands, and working men who did. In England, that distinction hangs over in the distinction between physicians and surgeons. In the past, physicians were trained in universities and limited their medical interventions to diagnosis and prescription; today in England they still are called doctor. In the distant past, surgeons learned surgery by work by apprenticeship to working surgeons and not only performed surgery with their hands but got bloody in the process; today in England they still proudly are referred to as Mister.

The introduction of the term "high technology" seems to correlate with the increase in the frequency of the word "technology" in the literature. Computers, software, microelectronics, space technology, lasers and fiber optics, and later biotechnology became economically important. It became clear that there were new jobs for people with new technical skills. The United Nations even held world meetings on "science and technology".

It is now becoming more evident that the practical importance of science and technology results not from discovery but from application of knowledge. It is not simply invention of something that counts but its practical application. "Innovation" is coming to be distinguished from "invention" to reflect the introduction of an invention into commercial application. I expect to see the term further increase in frequency of use.

Words count, since so often we think in words and we communicate complex concepts through words. The Ngram Viewer traces how ofter a concept conveyed by a word appears in the literature, and thus is an indication of the degree to which people are trying to convey information related to that concept. As people write more about technology and innovation, so too we may expect that people will think about the organized body of knowledge about practical arts and crafts and how it may be applied to improve our lives.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A thought about the State Department priorities

You can give priority to the urgent or you can give priority to the important. Members of the House of Representatives, facing election every other year, don't seem to understand that they can give priority to anything but the urgent. A President spends his first year in office implementing a program planned by his predecessor, and faces an election in his fourth year; he too has a pretty short time horizon. Diplomats get ahead by serving their appointed political leaders, and if those politicians reward solution of urgent problems rather than work on important problems, it is no wonder that diplomats also give priority to the urgent.

I attended a talk by Esther Brimmer, the head of the State Department's Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Listening to her, it occurred to me that many of the problems faced by the UN Security Council are urgent. So too are problems faced by decentralized UN agencies; thus FAO reacts to the urgency of famines, WHO to the urgency of epidemics.

On the other hand, FAO does not build agricultural capacity quickly in member nations, nor does WHO build public health capacity quickly, nor does UNESCO build educational capacity quickly. However, these UN agencies in their long term efforts are helping to build societies that will be peaceful neighbors enhancing our security, good customers enhancing our economy, and neighbors who do not export their problems to our shores. What they are doing in the long term is extremely important to the long term health of our nation.

I wondered how Dr. Brimmer balances the priority that must be given to urgent problems of foreign policy versus the priority that should be given to the less urgent programs of international organizations which may be even more important to the long term health of the nation. I fear that the culture of the State Department may lead her to repeat the errors of her predecessors by giving too much weight to the urgent and not enough weight to the important.

The rise of "technology"


The Google Books Ngram Viewer, launched online December 16, allows web users to query their respective areas of interest based on n-grams. (Read more about Ngram Viewer in the Scientific American report.)

The graph above resulted from a test with the words "science" and "technology". It shows that the word "science" increased slightly in relative frequency in the 5.2 million book collection of digital Google books over the last century. The word "technology" was scarcely present before 1960, but then increased rapidly in relative frequency reaching near parity with "science" by 1990.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "technology" first appeared in 1859, "high technology" in 1964, and the shortened form "high tech" in 1972. Of course there has long been an organized body of knowledge about crafts and industries, about how to do and make useful things. Apparently the use of a comprehensive term to indicate the collection of such knowledge is relatively new. The word "science", relating to the body of knowledge organized by scientists about the world, is much older.

Jon Stewart Does Public Service Outing Shame of Republican Senators

The Republicans are too anxious to take a vacation to pass legislation to help the first responders to the 9/11 victims with the medical bills that they now face from the health problems caused by the exposures the suffered during their response.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
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Senate Failure to Support First Responders is Shameful!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

1848:Year of Revolution

1848: Year of Revolution


Mike Rapport's book tells the story of revolutionary change that broke out is France and the Habsburg Empire (Austria and Hungary) as well as the various states in what are now Germany and Italy. On the other hand, the contagion did not spread to the Iberian peninsula, Scandinavia, England, Russia or the Ottoman Empire (which still extended into Europe). Recall that at the time the Habsburg Empire still ruled Venice and Lombardy, and the Italian peninsula still was divided among states (the Two Sicilies, Papal Rome, Tuscany, the Piedmont). Germany was not unified under Prussia until later in the century.

1848 was a bad year for most Europeans. Bad weather led to bad crop yields, hunger, and economic crisis. The Industrial Revolution was threatening the jobs and livelihoods of craftsmen. The idea that government had a role in ameliorating the suffering of the poor, termed "socialism" at the time, gained traction at this time and in these circumstances. One can also appreciate how Marx could perceive at this time that political and economic institutions would change as the technological basis of society and its productive and distributive systems changed.

European political opinion was divided among conservatives (often monarchists), liberals (favoring constitutional government that protected civil liberties) and radicals (seeking more fundamental change including universal suffrage). It was a time of nationalism, with ethnic minorities in then existing states (the Polish, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Hungarians) seeking independent nation states, while speakers of German and the speakers of Italian, each spread among several states, were seeking unification into their nation states. Thus nationalism had both a centripetal and centrifugal aspect, tending to coalesce German and Italian states while breaking up the Habsburg empire.

It seems to me that there was a remarkable degree of shared information on political theory among European peoples; ideas of personal liberty, constitutional limitation of executive authority, and broad suffrage were widely understood. I found the geographic mobility of key players at the time to be surprising. People were exiled. Garibaldi, who had been fighting in Argentina returned to Europe to participate in revolutionary movements there, and continued to mover from region to region during 1848-49. Networks of political clubs existed in various countries.

When revolution sparked in Milan (against the Austrian rulers) word spread quickly to other cities in Europe. I suppose that railroads, steamships and the newly invented telegraph. Helped spread the word quickly. Of course, there was an emergent middle class, educated, which created a market for newspapers which were printed with emergent printing technology and distributed through improved distribution networks.

People took to the streets, indeed ripping up the streets to make barricades. Regular troops and militias were called out, sometimes taking the sides of the protesters. In the early part of the movements, liberals joined with radicals to promote revolution as students and the working class fought in the urban streets. The more conservative peasantry often sided with those defending the existing authoritarian order, especially as the Habsburg emperor abolished serfdom where it still existed in his lands.

The memories of the Napoleonic wars were still fresh and all the major powers were determined not to let conflict escalate to a Europe-wide war. On the other hand, Russia invaded Hungary to support the Habsburg monarchy domination of that people, and France sent troops to Rome to support the Pope's government.

1848 saw initial revolutionary success, but 1849 saw the counter-revolutionary monarchies emerge triumphant. Napoleon III emerged in France as the French Republic fell. Franz Joseph saw the Habsburg empire continue to hold Hungary, Lombardy and Venice. Frederick William IV, the king of Prussia, saw the plans for a democratic German union fail, setting the stage for later military unification of Germany under Prussian rule. The Pope was restored to rule in Rome. King Ferdinand II restored the monarch to full power in Naples and put down the separatist revolution in Sicily. Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia emerged as the strongest monarch in the region, setting the stage for his successor to rule a unified Italian monarchy. Yet major changes were instituted. Constitutional government would be hard to suppress. Aristocratic classes saw their local authority reduced as serfdom was abolished.

I found 1848: Year of Revolution to be hard to read and hard to remember. There were too many players, and since I was unfamiliar with their names and their roles in history I found it hard to recall who was doing what. Keeping track of what was happening in a number of different regions during a number of different periods was very difficult for me. Still, I can see the importance of an analysis showing the contagion of the revolutionary ideas and counter revolutionary restoration over this large core region of Europe.

I posted a few times in the past on this book: