Sunday, February 27, 2011

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

I just finished reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann for the second time. A science reporter, Mann uses his skills to discuss the cultures of the Americas before Columbus made his voyage.

The major point of the book is that there were civilizations with long histories and large populations by 1491, including importantly the Inca empire in the Andes and the Aztec empire in the Mexican highland. He describes other earlier civilizations such as those of the Maya, of Cahokia and the Hopewell mound builders, and even indications from the Beni and the Amazon basin.

In a final note he describes the Iroquois nations and the liberty that they afforded their people, and the debt that modern nations owe to the example that they set which was picked up by the American revolutionaries and has swept so much of the world.

Of course large pre-Columbian populations were supported by extensive food production, often based on agriculture using crops domesticated in the Americas such as corn, beans, and potatoes as well as livestock such as guinea pigs, llamas, ducks and dogs. Before Columbus, Americans also assured that there would be many trees available to their villages and towns providing fruits and mast (nuts and acorns) as well as other useful materials. The manipulated the environment using fire and hunting out animals that they regarded as pests while working to try to assure that game was available. The even created raised beds for crops, terraced fields and irrigation systems, not to mention the floating gardens of the Aztecs and the terra preta and terra mulata created by the Amazonian peoples.

Mann points out that in the thousands of years from the time that humans first successfully occupied the Americas until 1491 they eventually profoundly modified the environment. He also points to the terrible impact of the Columbian exchange and European immigrant population which resulted in the populations of the original inhabitants being completely exterminated in some islands and reduced by 90 percent or more in the Americas as a whole. The peoples that the North American settlers and even the later Spanish immigrants saw were, according to Mann, the desperate remnants of decimated populations living in environments that were no longer sustainable by their civilizations. It is little wonder that they could be subdued in Mexico and Peru, or pushed into reservations in the west in the United States. Mann points out that the dense forests and empty lands found by the Pilgrims were the not "natural" but the result of the destruction of the earlier civilization.

My book club has chosen to read this book twice, the only time it has done so in 10 years of monthly meetings. That is because it tells a story that all Americans should know, and that we did not adequately know before reading Mann's book.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus has some problems. I think for example, that Mann may have misunderstood the relative importance of terra preta (created by kitchen middens) and terra mulata (created more extensively for cultivation). I found his use of other than the standard English names for people and tribes to be an annoying interference with my ability to remember what I had read. I also found his journalistic style of reporting on his conversations with scientists to distract from the information I was seeking from the book.

Still, this is a readable book telling a story of the past that we should all appreciate. The extermination of civilizations in the Americas following the Columbian voyages may have been largely inadvertent, but that is no excuse for failing to recognize the significance of their achievements. We should morn what has been lost to us all with their fall.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Pre Columbian Exchange

The Columbian Exchange is the exchange of plants, animals and microorganisms between the Eastern and Western hemisphere that occurred after the voyage of Columbus.

Were there previous exchanges? Did the Vikings bring diseases to the new world when they arrived? When the Eskimos and Norse met in Greenland, did they exchange diseases and bring them back to where they started. Apparently not.

However, when the first ancestors of the "Native Americans" arrived across the Bering Straits from Asia, they surely started a major transformation of the Americas. Not only did they become the most important keystone species in the Americas, the Native Americans terraformed the continents. They modified the environment using fire, supporting the growth of populations of animals that they wanted and hunting others, modifying the soils, and encouraging the growth of "useful" plants while discouraging "weedy" plants.

Chavez Awarding Gadaffi the Bolivar Medal (The Liberator)

It is pretty hard to imagine Gadaffi as the liberator of Libya given what has happened in the past couple of weeks. The close relationship between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Gadaffi says something about Chavez!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

DfID provides a nice chart illuminating monitoring and evaluation processes

Pictorial representation of trafficking estimates/guesses/fantasies

Impossible Motion • Best Illusion 2010

What are the Republicans thinking?

The main drivers of the long-term economic growth of the United States are clearly going to be technological innovation (deriving largely from the application of scientific knowledge and understanding) and a well educated work force. So the Republicans are seeking to cut government funding for research and development, and they are seeking to cut the pay of teachers in order to solve short-short term balance of payment problems. On the other hand, they went to the mat to avoid restoring tax levels for the rich to previous levels.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A thought about Arab culture

A couple of years ago I had a discussion with someone from an Arab country as to whether they were culturally similar or significantly different one from another. I held the latter position.

Of course, the countries are similar in that they all share the Islamic religion and they all have had monarchies or authoritarian governments. I held that due to their differing histories, in many important ways the countries were different. And of course, the oil rich Arab countries had very different economies than those without oil.

It seems clear now as these countries go through a period of demonstrations demanding more participation in government, and governments that are more responsive to groups that feel unheard, the countries are different in very important ways.

I fear not all the demonstrations will achieve the reforms that the seek, but I suspect that the Middle East and North Africa will be very different in a generation than they were two months ago!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You think this year is cold

Support for the people of Libya

I want to express my support for the people of Libya. There is no possible excuse for the use of helicopter gun ships, heavy weapons nor foreign mercenaries to attack and kill the peaceful demonstrators. The people of Libya, like all people everywhere, have rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.

The United Nations Security Council should declare a no fly zone over Libya and the United Nations Human Right Council should immediately send a delegation to investigate human rights abuses in Libya. The delegation should be supported by United Nations troops if necessary to assure its safety and access.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More about 1491

A major theme of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann is that diseases from Eurasia and Africa decimated the native American populations after 1491. (There was also a disease component of the experience of the European involvement with west Africa. We hear about the lethality of the tropical diseases of west Africa to Europeans who sought to live there, but diseases that had not crossed the Sahara came with European ships and decimated African societies as they were being raided to kidnap people for the slave trade.)

The "native American" population in 1491 was descended from a relatively small number of people who arrived from Siberia making the journey at a time when the northern regions were much colder than they are today. They brought relatively few diseases with them. Because of the evolutionary bottleneck that the population had passed through there was relatively little genetic diversity among Native Americans -- perhaps even less among South Americans than among North Americans.

Many human diseases have been acquired from domestic animals. In Europe and Asia there was a long history of humans living with domestic animals and many diseases had been so introduced and spread. The native Americans had domesticated few animals and had picked up few diseases from them.

Among the diseases introduced to the Americas from the Eastern Hemisphere were smallpox, measles, mumps, malaria, yellow fever, influenza, whooping cough, typhus, chicken pox and the common cold. One might add to that list tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid fever, and plague. Europeans also introduced chickens, cattle, pigs and horses all of which carried diseases that could and would be shared with native Americans.

Since native Americans had not been previously exposed to these diseases, they had not developed immunity to them.

Different communicable diseases spread by different means. Diseases such as malaria and yellow fever are carried by mosquitoes. The agents of these diseases are complex, and people tend if at all to develop resistance rather than immunity to them. In the low lands of the tropics where mosquitoes can be very numerous, these diseases are a huge problem. Indeed, it was not possible to complete the Panama Canal until Yellow Fever was controlled. These diseases decimated the humid American tropics after they were introduced to this hemisphere. Other vector born diseases such as dengue fever are perhaps less lethal, but very debilitating.

Other diseases such as typhoid are water born, and their control depends on washing and the provision of clean, potable water. I suspect that many of the native American populations depended on surface waters near their villages and might well have been quite vulnerable to water born diseases.

Other diseases spread through the air. Often there is a period of days or even longer in which an infected person can transmit the disease before symptoms of the disease occur. These diseases spread more rapidly where populations are dense, as was the case in the Inca and Aztec empires. They spread more rapidly when people are in small enclosed spaces, as was probable frequently the case in the cold highlands of the Inca empire, or indeed in the houses of the colder areas of North and South America.

Think about the road system of the Incas, in which runners would carry messages by running in relays from dawn to dusk. Running at six miles an hour for 12 hours a day, a message could more 72 miles a day, 500 miles a week. So could an air born communicable disease. The runner, having completed his service or having fallen ill would of course go into a nearby village where he could share the condition with the locals.

As Mann points out, native American populations have fewer Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) than do European populations. HLAs determine the antigens that the immune system can recognize. If a disease agent gets into a person and does not present an antigen that the person's immune system can recognize, the person is likely to be infected. The population of the agent will then grow and evolve. Both population growth and evolution can progress rapidly. Clearly the disease agent population in the seriously ill patient will be composed largely of strains of the agent (virus) that the patient's immune system does not fight. When that patient coughs and sends virus to another person, if there is little HLA diversity in the population, then it is more likely that the new person will be infected and that the strain of the virus with which s/he is infected will reproduce rapidly in his/her body. Thus these epidemics may have been both more widely spread and more lethal in native American populations than in Eurasian (or African) populations.

One supposes that the native Americans also quickly adopted new species of livestock, and thus were quickly subjected to zoonotic diseases from their livestock.

All of these problems might well have been exacerbated by the lack of social mechanisms such as those which had evolved in Europe and Asia to limit the spread of communicable diseases. While Europeans had developed systems of quarantine and isolation, they probably were not part of American cultures. Surely no one at the time understood the processes of contagion or the nature of communicable diseases, and there were no effective preventive nor curative treatments.

It has been estimated that native American populations decreased by 90 or 95 percent. Of course, complex irrigation, land terracing and food distribution systems fall apart when the people who run them get sick and die. When there is less food, people become malnourished. The malnourished are more susceptible to disease. There is a very viscous cycle!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thinking about the fall of the Incas and the rise of the Spanish in the Andes

I have been reading The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie and 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. Some time ago I read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.

I got to thinking about why the Inca empire fell to the Spanish.

The Incas were a tribe estimated at 100,000 members that had attained hegemony over the many tribes, speaking many languages, in an empire that extended over thousands of miles. The empire may have included as many as ten to twenty million people, most of whom lived in the Andes.

Apparently, the Incas had achieved this empire in large part by convincing the leaders of other tribes that their lives would be better within the empire than outside of it. The empire through a mastery of technology and its administrative system provided food security for all its inhabitants and produced a surplus of luxury goods. The Incas also sought to convince other tribes that they, the Incas, were the favorites of the sun and moon gods, and that those gods were the most powerful. When force was required, the Incas could mobilize huge numbers of citizen soldiers who often simply intimidated small tribes or won battles by overwhelming numerical superiority.

The Spanish could only send very small numbers of people to the Inca empire to accomplish the conquest. Those people had the advantages of canons and guns, of steal weapons and armor, and of armored horses. They had developed very effective tactics over centuries of war with the Islamic peoples in the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. At least initially, the Incas had no effective tactics against the charge of heavy cavalry supported by canon, guns, and armored foot soldiers.

Diseases introduced to the western hemisphere from Eurasia had reached the Inca empire before the Spanish themselves arrived. Apparently a smallpox epidemic was decimating the empire when they arrived. In other epidemics that killed large portions of the populations, many social systems had failed. One wonders how the food production and distribution systems of the Inca empire survived the hard times. Perhaps not well!

Both the Inca (the head of the Inca tribe and empire, thought to be a son of the sun) had died of the disease, as had his designated heir. A devastating war of succession had followed. The victor was marching to Cuzco, the capitol, when he paused to meet with Pizarro and the first party of Spanish.

In the first meeting, held in a square enclosed with stone buildings, the Inca was accompanied by a relatively large number of officials but those officials were armed only with ceremonial weapons. The Spanish ambushed the larger number of Incas with their superior weapons and succeeded in capturing the Inca. The held him for ransom, finally killing him. They then joined with a member of the ruling Inca family, supporting him as he successfully competed with his relatives to take command of the empire.

During this time of continuing armed conflict, epidemic after epidemic decimated the peoples of the empire. It has been estimated that as many as half of the peoples of the empire had died before the conquest was completed.

I wonder whether the peoples of the empire were still convinced that the Inca hegemony would guarantee their more comfortable lives, or that the sun and moon gods of the Incas were both powerful and favored the Inca empire. Could 50,000 Incas have continued to rule an empire reduced to half its population but continuing to span thousands of miles of territory, even if the Spanish had not been there?

Certainly the Spanish enjoyed the support of many tribes and factions of the Inca tribe in their efforts at conquest. Would they have succeeded without that support? I doubt it. Would they have had that support had the Inca empire not been devastated by disease and war? I doubt it.

Thoughts on the U.S. Veto of UN resolution on Israeli settlements

According to an article in The Hill, the U.S. sought to substitute a non-binding statement denying the "legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity" in order to avoid having to veto the Paletinian Authority's measure. Apparently, when that effort failed the United States cast the veto of a widely popular resolution.

Countries are complex. The United States is a long term ally of Israel. That does not mean that the United States likes all the people of Israel or all the policies of the Israeli government.

Alliances can change. The United States came into being as a result of war against England. The British invaded the United States in the War of 1812 and very nearly came into the U.S. Civil War on the side of the Confederacy to divide the United States permanently. It was only in the 20th century that the strong alliance with the United Kingdom developed and that alliance grew stronger when the British freed colonies that it was exploiting in Africa and Asia.

If the United States finds democratic powers in Islamic countries more important to our global interests and if the United States finds Israel dominated by parties indifferent to the suffering of Palestinians and unwilling to compromise on a two state solution, then.........

Thoughts about the Congressional budget crisis

Nearly five month into this fiscal year, the Congress still has not passed a budget for the year. It is thought likely that the government will shut down in two weeks as the continuing resolutions are allowed to expire with no appropriations. There is even a thought that government employees who do not work due to the shut down will not be paid.

Shutting down the government is not a good idea for a country in recession. It will not help solve the unemployment problem.

The first job of the Congress is to determine how much the government is to spend and what it is to spend it on. Both Democratic and Republican members should be held responsible if they can not reach a compromise!

Voters should make their own judgments as to which party is more responsible for a failure to compromise. You should vote against all members of that party since the vote will be on party lines.

When you think about not paying government employees, think what they do for us. They are fighting our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, running the veterans hospitals and veterans services for those who have suffered from fighting these and earlier wars, protecting our borders from illegal immigrants, running the jails housing federal criminals, controlling air traffic to keep us safe, investigating disease outbreaks, and doing a thousand other things we have hired them to do. If the work of the National Institutes of Health is put back by a month, how many people will suffer or die for the month that the cures that they are working on will be delayed?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Value of Life and the Cost of a Death

The New York Times notes the rising estimates of the government on the economic value of human life:
The Environmental Protection Agency set the value of a life at $9.1 million last year in proposing tighter restrictions on air pollution. The agency used numbers as low as $6.8 million during the George W. Bush administration.

The Food and Drug Administration declared that life was worth $7.9 million last year, up from $5 million in 2008, in proposing warning labels on cigarette packages featuring images of cancer victims.

The Transportation Department has used values of around $6 million to justify recent decisions to impose regulations that the Bush administration had rejected as too expensive, like requiring stronger roofs on cars.

And the numbers may keep climbing. In December, the E.P.A. said it might set the value of preventing cancer deaths 50 percent higher than other deaths, because cancer kills slowly. A report last year financed by the Department of Homeland Security suggested that the value of preventing deaths from terrorism might be 100 percent higher than other deaths.
I don't understand why there is not an agreed upon value for a human life across government agencies. Of course, it makes perfect sense to add to the value of a human life other costs such as medical care prior to death and an attributed value for suffering.

It does seem clear that the public is willing to pay more to prevent a death from terrorism than to prevent a death from natural causes. Should that be taken into account? If so, government agencies will be pleading for bigger appropriations because they deal with threats that concern the public more, rather than threats that are more serious.

Incidentally, DALYs -- Disability Adjusted Life Years -- my namesake indicator, is a very good indicator for planning purposes, simple and powerful!

Monty Python - Four Yorkshiremen (with Rowan Atkinson)

Musing about walking and chewing gum at the same time

Frontline ran a program titled "Digital_Nation" which included a section on the impact of multitasking on kids, especially university students.  The section included the idea that kids no longer have the deep, lengthly concentration to do well on difficult mental tasks. (Remember we used to talk about people too dumb to walk and chew gum at the same time? Multitasking is nothing new. My father used to tell about his mother trying to get breakfast on the table and 12 kids and a husband ready to leave for school and work every morning -- talk about multitasking!)

I wonder whether the studies included kids who are deeply involved in strategy games, especially those kids involved in strategy games that involve economic challenges such as building construction, population maintenance, and resource management. It seems to me that kids involved in such games are likely to develop the skills for deep concentration for hours at a time. Indeed, I would hope that there would be games that would require the mastery of in depth background information for the player to reach the highest level of proficiency. (I have used simulations in the classroom as a teaching tool, and they seem to work very well.)

Of course, not everyone needs or wants to have the same skills. I suspect that a lot of today's kids will do very well with their multitasking skills in tomorrows world which will throw huge amounts of information their way and demand lots of fast (if not perfect) responses. We will certainly need some deep thinkers as well, and maybe they will emerge from strategy game players (as some did from the chess playing community in the past) or from some other set of experiences.

I was troubled by the assumption by some of the talking heads that long books were the best way to convey information. A lot of what I read annoys me by failing to distinguish between that which is important and that which is not, between that which one will remember versus that which one will remember to look up versus that which one will surely forget. Perhaps this is because I am an impatient old guy, or because I have some expertise (so I already know some things and look for things to add to my knowledge structures), or because I have been converted to multitasking, but maybe it is because far too many authors pad their writing or feel that they need to write down everything they know rather than do the hard work of distilling that of their knowledge which is really important.

And what does the success of Watson in whipping Jeopardy's two greatest champions ever mean in terms of what our kids will be asked to do in the future?

From the World Bank World Food Watch

Global food prices continue to rise. The World Bank’s food price index increased by 15% between October 2010 and January 2011 and is only 3% below its 2008 peak. The last six months have seen sharp increases in the global prices of wheat, maize, sugar and edible oils, with a relatively smaller increase in rice prices. "Higher global wheat prices have fed into significant increases in local wheat prices in many countries. Higher maize, sugar, and oil prices have contributed to increase the costs of various types of food, though local maize prices have largely been stable in Sub- Saharan Africa. Local rice prices have increased in line with global prices in some large rice-consuming Asian countries. These food price rises create macro vulnerabilities, particularly for countries with a high share of food imports and limited fiscal space, as well as increases in poverty. Estimates of those who fall into, and move out of, poverty as a result of price rises since June 2010 show there is a net increase in extreme poverty of about 44 million people in low- and middle-income countries. In the immediate term, it is important to ensure that further increases in poverty are curtailed by taking measures that calm jittery markets and by scaling up safety net and nutritional programs. Investments in raising environmentally sustainable agricultural productivity, better risk-management tools, less food intensive biofuel technologies, and climate change adaptation measures are all necessary over the medium term to mitigate the impact of expected food price volatility on the most vulnerable."

How is this going to work out for the poor? 

  • In China and India, economic growth continues high and the economies were not too badly hit by the global crisis of the last couple of years. Their people might do pretty well, especially since China has not been a big food importer. Of course this year's weather could make a difference.
  • The major donor nations are dealing with continuing recession and the need to deal with budget deficits created by economic stimulus packages as well as by reductions in tax revenues. I don't expect them to meet pledges for donor assistance.
  • Africa has a number of countries that have been doing well economically, and these too may be able to provide relative protection for their poor people.
  • Of course in the United States and Europe people will change their food purchasing behavior, but we are wealthy enough that no one should go hungry if we pursue the right policies. Of course, we in the United States do let people go hungry here, so I should not be too optimistic that we will do better for the next couple of years/
  • Egypt, where 85 percent of the population has been getting very highly subsidized wheat bread, where the economy may continue to suffer from the economic dislocations of the political troubles, and where a caretaker government will be faced with a lot of problems, the increase in grain prices may be a real problem.
  • In a lot of countries with troubled economies and dependency on imported food, there may be real hunger stalking the streets.
There was a very good discussion of the food price problem on the Diane Rehm show yesterday.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Global imbalances

The graph indicates that the U.S. balance of payments deficit went down as a result of the recession, but my be increasing again. Part is of course due to oil imports and part is due to other forms of consumption especially from Germany, Japan and Asia.

The Demographic Divide

Carl Haub from the U.S.-based Population Reference Bureau talks about different demographic trends in Europe, the United States, and the developing world. For more information, visit

From "The Story of Stuff" series: The Story of Electronics

Annie Leonard narrates from the Story of Stuff.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How do we get out of the trade deficit morass?

The United States needs to cut its balance of payments deficit. Clearly we need to stop providing tax incentives to borrow money for consumption; people have been increasing their mortgages (getting tax breaks on the interest) to buy consumer goods that they don't really need often imported. It would seem that for a while we should also use taxes on consumer goods to cut imports, especially increased gas taxes.

In the long run, Obama is right that we need a well and highly educated population, a world class infrastructure and pro-innovation public policies if we are to compete effectively in a global economy -- none of which have we adequately developed.

Generally, the higher the productivity of the economy, the better we will live. I believe we also need policies to protect the most vulnerable and to assure that those who work hard live reasonably well. Still, increasing total factor productivity -- productivity of labor and of capital -- is key to economic success. That of course means not only producing lots of goods and services but also producing high quality products.

It seems clear to me that having an undereducated, criminalized, often drug-using underclass with poor work habits and little chance of contributing much to the economy is a huge drag on the economy, including on our international competitiveness.

We can distinguish between tradable and non-tradable products of our economy. You are not going to China to buy a big mac or get your hair cut -- these are non-tradable.

For tradable products, ideally one looks at cost ratios to determine comparative advantage. If China can produce a million bicycles for the cost of producing one jet airliner and if the United States can produce one jet airliner for the cost of producing 100,000 bicycles, then it makes sense for the China to import planes and export bicycles and for the United States to import bicycles and export planes.

Of course, the United States remains a global manufacturing powerhouse in part due to its export of high-tech manufactures but also due to the large internal market for products manufactured at home, from gasoline to corn flakes and french fries, to boats and trailers.

Of course, transaction costs of international commerce influence tradability. The Internet has not only made a lot of services that once were non-tradable tradable, but it has reduced transaction costs for lots of international transactions.

Globalization also means rapid changes in comparative advantage. In the long run we know that we will have to change the balance of products in our export and our import baskets. Were do we go to develop new comparative advantages?

Some will come from our natural resources, such as new agricultural exports and new mineral exports. We should seek ways to add more value domestically to these new exports. Some will come from high tech products developed by our educated workforce in our internationally competitive high-tech industries. Support for basic research is important to keep knowledge flowing into high tech industries, and thus we need to keep up government and industry support for R&D.

It seems clear to me that we should emphasize more the development of engineers and software developers and less the development of lawyers, politicians and public relations professionals.

Historically, a lot of American innovation came from people like Ford, Edison and the Wright brothers -- people with craft skills and entrepreneurial skills who developed and aggressively marketed new goods. It came from the American system of manufacturing which pioneered rapid production of high quality manufactured goods.

I wonder if we might learn from the Germans who do very well in the global economy while emphasizing the training of people in crafts as well as educating the engineers to develop new products and managers to run their industries. Do we need more people who actually make things well and efficiently -- I suppose so!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Economist: A Map, A Graph And A Book Review on Islamic Countries

"The crescent and the company: A scholar asks some profound questions about why the Middle East fell behind the West"
IN 2002 a group of Arab scholars produced a brave report, under the auspices of the United Nations, on the Arab world’s twin deficits, in freedom and knowledge. A salutary debate ensued. Now Timur Kuran, a Turkish-American economist based at Duke University, has written an equally brave book on “how Islamic law held back the Middle East”. One can only hope that the result will be an equally salutary debate......

Angus Maddison has calculated that in the year 1000 the Middle East’s share of the world’s gross domestic product was larger than Europe’s—10% compared with 9%. By 1700 the Middle East’s share had fallen to just 2% and Europe’s had risen to 22%.......

In “The Long Divergence” Mr Kuran advances a more plausible reason. The Middle East fell behind the West because it failed to produce commercial institutions—most notably joint-stock companies—that were capable of mobilising large quantities of productive resources and enduring over time.
Comment: The events over the past month in Tunisia and Egypt, and the support for those events in other Arab nations give hope that cultural change, including changes in political and economic institutions, will lead to better lives for the Arab peoples! Clearly there is great room for improvement in their lives.

Egypt's Mubarak resigns as leader -

Egypt's Mubarak resigns as leader -

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Thought About ROTC

I heard an interesting discussion of Reserve Officer Training Programs on the radio yesterday.

The panelists seemed to forget that schools and universities are there first and foremost to teach kids things they need to know or that we want them to know.

I graduated from high school in 1955 after three years of ROTC. ROTC was an alternative to physical education, and one from which I learned a lot. Indeed, many of my best memories from high school related to ROTC. The radio program did not address what is now called jROTC. We have a volunteer army, and for millions of high schools students jROTC is a great way to learn things to help make a better decision on enlisting, and to get a head start if they do in fact enlist. I did not do military service, yet I have always valued the things I learned in high school ROTC and feel it was a better preparation for my life than would have been three years of PE. I especially value the contact ROTC provided me with men who had served their country well in combat, an experience that helped me respect those fighting our wars even when I disagreed with those wars and when many others failed to show that respect.

I also had a year of (required) ROTC in college, which I did in a land-grant university. I think it is important that we have a military reserve, staffed by college graduate officers. I think it even more important that college graduates in this country have at least a passing familiarity with the military, how it works, and our military history. Having all the men and women who are fortunate enough to attend land-grant colleges and universities take a year of two of mandatory ROTC might just be a good idea for the country.

Why should the military spend its resources to teach our kids even if they will not join up. Because they take orders from the President and follow policies defined by Congress, and they will do what they are asked if our leaders feel it is for the nation's good.