Thursday, March 31, 2011

What is the right precedent for U.S. Action in Libya

In considering whether the United States should supply arms to those in Libya who would overthrow the Gaddaffi government, some have suggested considering historical precedents. Let me suggest that we consider the French supply of arms to the American revolutionaries during the Revolutionary War.

Mark Gungor "The Nothing Box" (AKA. Men's vs. Women's Brains)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Did you know that....

Since the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1990, life expectancy has decreased there from 61.4 years to 52 years in 2010?

Per capita GNI has increased from $8,162 to $9,812 in the same period. That corresponds to 0.925 percent growth per year.

'Information" is more common now

My son identified this paragraph from an article in the New York Times as interesting:
The use of the word “information” itself certainly seems to have exploded since its earliest recorded appearance in 1387. (“Fyve bookes com doun from heven for informacioun of mankynde.”) As Michael Proffitt, the managing editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, notes in an essay written for the recent relaunch of the O.E.D.’s digital edition, “information” is the 486th most frequently occurring word in Project Gutenberg’s searchable corpus of mostly pre-1900 literature. A 1967 survey of contemporary American English ranked it 346th. And the rise of digital technology seems only to have speeded its ascent. One recent survey of online usage lists “information” as the 22nd most common word.
A piece by Michael Proffitt, the Managing Director of the Oxford English Dictionary, points out that the meaning of the word has changed over time, and that it appears more and more frequently paired with other words implying still different meanings.

I did a couple of graphs using Google Ngram Viewer (note the scales are different):

Monday, March 28, 2011

The causes of the Civil War

On the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I have been thinking about its causes.

It seems clear to me why the deep southern states seceded. Whites who benefited from slavery as slave holders or slave renters or who hoped some day to benefit from slavery help power and failed to recognize that slavery as they knew it was on the way our worldwide. They knew that other states had considered secession, and that nullification of federal law had not worked. And they radically underestimated the will of the northern states to preserve the union, they overestimated the military power of the Confederacy as compared to the Union, and they radically underestimated the pain that the Civil War would cause and the disruption of their lives, economies and societies that would follow its loss.

Why did the northern states go to war rather than allow the southern states to secede?

  • They too underestimated the opponents military prowess and the pain of the war. 
  • There were immediate economic interests threatened by the secession, such as tariff free access to cotton for the northern mills, loss of southern markets for northern goods and services, and loss of business for northern own shipping.
  • Some were willing to fight to abolish slavery, some simply disliked the southern leaders for their culture and behavior.
  • The northern states were economically successful and the electorate understood that they had better lives and more hope for the future than their peers in other nations; they attributed that condition importantly to their democratic republican form of government. It was unique in the world, and attempts to replicate democratic rule such as the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848 had failed. If secession succeeded and the Union failed, they feared the loss of their form of government and thus the prosperity of their future. Indeed, many had an ideological commitment to the preservation of the democratic republican form of government as "a beacon to the world".
  • The reduced Union would be vulnerable to attack by European powers, which might well combine with the Confederacy.
People on both sides saw the future prosperity of themselves and their families tied to the expansion of their "state" into the west from which the Native Americans could be eliminated as they had been in the east. They believed that the Union as constituted in the 1850s could come to dominate North America from sea to sea, from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande.

Southerners saw the expansion of slavery into the west within the Union as a dead letter with the election of Lincoln. The probably recognized that the rise of Republican power spelled the eventual emancipation of slaves and end of slavery within the Union.

Northerners could see that if the Union were weakened by the departure of the southern states then there would be a free-for-all for the west. The French took over Mexico during the Civil War and would be a competitor for empire in the West. Britain was not the ally it is today, and would be a likely competitor for the West seeking to expand the Canadian border south. Russia held Alaska (until 1867) and might seek territories in the West. And of course the Confederacy would  be an important rival itself, already including Texas. Allowing the southern states to secede might result in loss of the West and a permanent secondary status for the remainder of the Union.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Noted with alarm!

The Republican majority in the House has proposed the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 new legislation
To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas due to concerns regarding possible climate change, and for other purposes.
The bill has been reported out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It seems likely to pass the full House.

According to the New York Times:
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, attached an amendment with virtually identical language to a small-business bill now before the Senate.

Noted with alarm!

"(T)he National Endowment for the Arts, whose budget is a paltry $161 million, finds itself once again on the Republicans’ spacious chopping block, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These potential cuts, almost microscopic in the grand scheme of the nation’s genuinely bloated budget, have far more to do with promoting a medieval philosophy than with saving money."

A thought on courteous discourse

We know that groups of people generally make better decisions than the individuals of which the groups are composed would make individually. If a group can communicate effectively, the different points of view can be brought to bear on the issue at hand

To give one example, both progressives and conservatives can contribute to good decision making. The "progressives" argue for change and innovation, and without change and innovation progress is not possible. Unfortunately not all change is progress. The "conservatives" argue for continuity and preservation, and help to prevent damaging innovations and to conserve important values.

Thomas Jefferson, when he was Vice President, wrote the rules for the Senate which have worked well for a couple of centuries to preserve courteous discourse involving both progressives and conservatives on contentious issues of the day. I suggest that we need similar rules to encourage courteous discourse on public issues in the evolving media.

Of course, it is not only the conservative-progressive split in which such discourse is needed. Think of discourse among religious groups, North and South, East and West, Capital and Labor, town and gown, urban and suburban, etc.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A thought on determinism and morality

Shaun Nichols has an article in Science magazine titled "Experimental Philosophy and the Problem of Free Will" (Science 18 March 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6023 pp. 1401-1403).
In the case of free will, research suggests that people in a diverse range of cultures reject determinism, but people give conflicting responses on whether determinism would undermine moral responsibility.
I wonder whether predictability is not a better concept than deterministic versus non-deterministic in terms of the psychology of free will. There are a lot of things that are effectively regarded as partially determined by causative factors. Thus we can predict the probabilities that different kinds of people will commit different kinds of crimes.

Does the fact that an inner city kid from a broken home with parents who have committed crimes is more likely to commit a crime than a suburban kid from a two parent home with law abiding parents suggest that the two kids don't have free will? I think it makes sense to treat both as having free will since the probabilities are not one and zero of committing crimes.

I think it is reasonable to assign more credit to the inner-city kid who leads a moral life and more blame to the kid "with all the advantages" who choses immorality.

We also consider the capacity of people to make decisions in assigning credit or blame. We don't subject children to the same criteria as adults seeing that children do not have fully formed moral judgment. So too, an insanity defense can be justified by the inability to tell right from wrong or irresistible compulsion.

I am increasingly convinced that Home sapiens having evolved as a social animal has evolved senses of how others must be treated. Lions would have quite a different sense of morality if they had a moral sense. Philosophers have to try to rationalize things that are deep in our genes and our culture. If their result doesn't make intuitive sense, what then?

O'Malley is right! Maryland should develop offshore wind energy resources

Governor O'Malley has proposed development of wind turbines offshore in Maryland. He has proposed limiting the increase in cost per month that the utilities can charge customers for the new source of energy. This is a very good idea and deserves our support!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Do informed consent procedures work?

I have been going through some health problems and have been struck by the failure of the informed consent procedures.

In one facility I received an informed consent form for an imaging procedure. It included a statement that the most common side effect of the procedure affected one out of 12 patients. In the same paragraph it stated that the total frequency of all side effects was 1.5 percent. Apparently no one else had ever commented on the discrepancy before signing the form.

In a hospital not affiliated with the first facility I was given a form to sign which said that I had reviewed another form and that I had received three brochures. I had neither seen the form nor received the brochures. When I asked for the form I was supposed to fill out and the brochures the clerk disappeared for some time and returned with the brochures and the information that there was no such form.

In the preparation room I was asked to sign another form saying among other things that I had been briefed about the side effects of the procedure I was to receive and about the anesthesia I was about to receive, Neither was true, and things came to a halt until the physician who was to perform the procedure and the anesthesiologist  came in and briefed me.

The idea of informed consent is important to me, but I wonder how often the intent of the policies is undermined by bureaucratic tokenism?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Data from a recent issue of Science magazine

Impact of Undergraduate Science Course Innovations on Learning

It is nice to see real data on the effectiveness of alternative teaching approaches. The negative values of the impact of technology combined with inquiry based learning is interesting especially since technology enhanced learing scores positively alone and in conjunction with conceptually oriented tasks.

Susan Blackmore on memes and "temes"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Why did Congress cut funds for peace in a time of war?"

Wesley Kanne Clark published a good opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor on March 21, 2011. He wrote:
It was with disbelief and dismay that the military and international security community learned that the US House of Representatives voted recently to eliminate funding for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) – the government’s only institution created to focus exclusively on international peacebuilding.

Eliminating USIP funding is a jaw-dropping, backward step. Although other national security contributors can perform some of USIP’s functions, none can perform them all in unity or has such convening power. More important, none can perform them as effectively. This is why Congress created USIP in the first place and should ensure continued funding.
I want to both commend General Clark for his public statement and express my deep anger at the potential loss of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Colman McCarthy writes in the Washington Post:
At the current $43 million, it (the Institute of Peace budget) is one-hundredth of 1 percent of the Pentagon’s budget and less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the State Department’s. The current military and security budget, ever rising, is about $2.4 billion a day, a sum 10 times greater than the institute’s total budget for 27 years. In that time, the institute has yet to earn even a line in a State of the Union address.
It is time to write you Senators and demand that the Senate restore funding for the United States Institute of Peace!

Thinking about the United States and Libya

Of course I am worried about the possibilities that the U.S. attacks on Libyan targets may cause deaths and casualties, especially to civilians, and about the possibility of being dragged into a protracted conflict that we should not be dragged into and that we can not afford.

I am not an expert on military matters, but some things seem obvious to me, even though they don't seem equally obvious to politicians not the news media that give those politicians a platform.

War involves uncertainties, especially as those with whom one is fighting react to the strategies and tactics being used against them. I am sure that the coalition forces have not only made predictions of what will happen in the first days of the imposition of the no fly zone, but that they have also planned for what will be done if the first tactics don't work out as well as expected. It would be foolish for them to reveal these strategies and tactics, since the public would be demoralized by every setback and the enemy would use the information to counteract those strategies and tactics.

Barack Obama can walk and chew gum at the same time. He can work to improve relations with key Latin American states while keeping track of the military efforts in Libya (and Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other things), He can commit U.S. forces in cooperation with those of other allied nations to implement the decision of the UN Security Council and also direct the use of U.S. economic, diplomatic and information tools to increase the likelihood of Gaddafi's regime being deposed.

Hans Rosling and the magic washing machine

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hormesis and Mithridatism

Hormesis is the term for generally-favorable biological responses to low exposures to toxins and other stressors. A pollutant or toxin showing hormesis thus has the opposite effect in small doses as in large doses.
Did you know that for a while the Comanches suffered protein poisoning when they were eating almost only the meat of thin buffalo? Or that "water intoxication, also known as hyper-hydration, water poisoning, or overhydration, is a potentially fatal disturbance in brain functions that results when the normal balance of electrolytes in the body is pushed outside of safe limits by over-consumption of water." Apparently red wine in moderation can lower the rates of heart disease, while alcohol poisoning can be fatal.
who gave his name to this effect.

Mithridatism is the practice of protecting oneself against a poison by gradually self-administering non-lethal amounts. Mithridatism can be used by zoo handlers, researchers, and circus artists who deal closely with venomous animals.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A thought on the cause of war

I watched a panel discussion titled "Dividing a Nation: The Origins of the Secession Crisis and the Civil War" from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. To oversimplify, one speaker focused on the underlying economic causes of the war, one on the political processes that led to the war, and the third on the rhetoric used in the run up to the war. All three properly emphasized that the three approaches are complementary and interrelated. Speaking from the politics of the pocketbook, people come to believe what they say.

It occurred to me that a fundamental cause of the war was the inability of the political leaders of the deep South to accurately predict what they were about to experience due to their actions. Had they understood that secession and firing on Fort Sumter would lead to years of war in which so many of their citizens would be killed, to the destruction of their land by Sherman's march, to the rapid emancipation of their slaves and the consequent loss of capital, and to the permanent loss of the market for their cotton exports, and then to the reconstruction and decades of economic and political problems then I suppose they would not have acted as they did.

One of the panelists spoke to the effect that disunion had been for many decades after the revolutionary war perceived as almost surely leading to a desperate civil war as well as to dire threats from the European powers. Apparently the rhetorical leaders in South Carolina and other states of the deep South in the decade immediately before secession constructed a theory which carried the day that the Confederacy would have the military strength to stand off the North long enough that the Union would accept the secession. They were wrong!

I suppose that the leaders of the North also misperceived the horrors that the Civil War unleashed, but the cost of war is always greater for the losers.

Did Hitler perceive that he would end up a suicide in a bunker in the ruins of Berlin or Mussolini perceive he would be executed by a firing squad and his body desecrated? I don't think so. So how do we get people who might start losing wars to recognize what they are letting themselves and their countries in for?

Indeed, one wonders whether those on the "winning" sides of war would not have worked harder to find a negotiated compromise had they fully understood the consequences of war.

Knowledge of the likely and possible consequences of war may be the best defense of peace. How can we better promote the dissemination of such knowledge.

I suspect that the social construction of a theory is a better model for what happened in the lead up to the Civil War and to other wars, combined with the recognition that the war decision is always political involving the interplay between different power groups with their own socially constructed intellectual positions, rather than a model of a single decision maker doing rational decision making. Again, the question is how the appropriate knowledge can be spread to the appropriate people and how the mechanisms of social construction and political negotiation can be modified to promote peace.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A 12 year old spoke at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 1992

An Integrated Early Childhood Development Centers program in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina provided the overlay in Bosnian.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Last night my book club met to discuss 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. The prevailing impression is that there is a continent of history that lasted thousands of years until and after 1492 that we simply don't have.

People arrived in the Americas many thousand years ago. no one knows exactly when but more than 10,000 years ago. They modified the world they found to make it more livable for man. They found plants that they could use for agriculture and in places such as Central America and the west coast of South America and the Andes they developed high production farming systems, including massive terracing and irrigation systems. In these places, dense populations developed and evolved complex civilizations, Some of these farming systems were in places such as the Amazon jungle where we still don't fully understand how to farm well.

The Incas in 1491 were a tribe of something like 100,000 people who had a very elaborate agricultural technology including livestock. They had an extended empire over more than 100 other tribes. Adding a new tribe to the fold, they offered the choice -- security within the Inca fold and wealth for tribal leaders or war against the empire's military which could field 100,000 or more soldiers. They could impress other tribes with their public display of wealth, and claimed that their leader, the Inca, was a representative on earth of the Sun God, The empire's road systems extended from the south of Colombia to central Chile. There are not only archaeological records of their cities but also written recodes from the 16th century. Apparently there was a group of wise men among the Incas whose main function was to recall history using quipus which were destroyed by the Spanish.

The Aztecs were another tribe with a sophisticated food production system which had come to dominate many other tribes in the central Mexican highlands. They were apparently more warlike than the Inca, with a religion that included human sacrifice, Their capital, which is now the core of Mexico City, was one of the largest cities in the world in 1491 with a great many monumental buildings. Man writes of a debate between Spanish and Aztec theologians to illustrate the level of formal learning within the Aztec culture,

In other places, peoples developed systems to promote undomesticated food sources that they could harvest easily and to encourage game animals to stay and populate places where they could be hunted. In both cases, fish and other aquatic resources were exploited sustainably. These people to developed civilizations that must have been interesting,

When the Europeans came to the Americas, they brought diseases to which the native Americans had no defenses as well as rats and mice, weeds and domestic animals such as cattle and pigs that changed the ecology in which they lived. The native Americans died in droves, and the generations of settles found only the remnant populations trying to survive in the ruins of their former civilizations. The Europeans often thought that they had God-given rights to subject the native Americans, to drive them off the land, and to replace them with other European and European American settles.

While few of the native American cultures had developed writing, much of what was written by those that did write was destroyed, The key point of the book is I think, that generation after generation of European Americans thought that the lands that they found were as they always were, and that the remnants of the civilizations that they observed represented the high point of their development and glory, Only now with a variety of new scientific tools and new ways of looking at the world are we beginning to realize how wrong they were.

Perhaps another lesson of the book is that the Iroquois in the Great Lakes region of North America,  the Inca, and the Aztecs were very different people with their own languages, their own way of living in the world, their own religions. You would only understand others of these peoples by studying one as you might understand the Italians and the Russians by studying the English. There were of course many hundreds of other distinct tribal peoples in the Americas in 1491. We probably could have learned a lot from them!

Thoughts occasioned by the hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee

The House Committee, chaired by Peter King, is holding a hearing today on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response”. The worldwide Muslim community is currently going through violent turmoil as events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Oman and Pakistan have shown. These countries had authoritarian governments, and huge numbers of young Muslims -- tired of poverty, poor economic growth and corruption  -- have moved forcefully to throw out the bums at the top. I sympathize with their aspirations, but wonder whether it will be possible to do so, if is the reformers are successful in changing governments whether those governments will be much better than those they replace. Even good government may not quickly solve the problems of poverty, lack of jobs, etc.

If you think of the spectrum of Muslim activity we have seen this year, the terrorist bombing seems to be very much a fringe activity of a very large demand for democratic reform, empowerment, and human rights.

I am old enough to remember the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator McCarthy and the red scare of the 1950s. I had to sign loyalty oaths to get and keep my job as a teaching assistant, working in undergraduate engineering labs. The boarding house where I took may meals for a year as a grad student was on the California :Attorney General's list of possible subversive organizations.

The United States has a long and dismal history of religious prejudice against native American religions, Jews, Catholics and Mormons to name a few cases. Churches were burned in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. Let us not reenact the ugly past!

I would be more sanguine if the hearings were not the doing of Peter King. According to Wikipedia, he is thinking of running for office in the 2012 election. He was apparently a long term supporter of the IRA and had close ties to its terrorist fringe, (Apparently radicalism in the Irish Catholic community in Ireland was OK in the 80's?)
In 2000, he called then-presidential candidate George W. Bush a tool of "anti-Catholic bigoted forces," after Bush visited Bob Jones University in South Carolina, "an institution that is notorious in Ireland for awarding an honorary doctorate to Northern Ireland's tempestuous Protestant leader, Ian Paisley."
Quoted from the Wikipedia article
He got some publicity for comments about Michael Jackson after Jackson's death. He now seems to be going after the American Muslim community.
In 2004, King claimed in an interview with conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity that "no American Muslim leaders are cooperating in the war on terror," and that "80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists. . . . I'll stand by that number of 85 percent. This is an enemy living amongst us."
Quoted in Wikipedia

Friday, March 04, 2011

Daily Show: Diane Ravitch

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Diane Ravitch
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

As so often seems to be the case, The Daily Show's comedy makes more sense than the strait news shows "factual coverage".

Ravitch is on to something blaming poor relative performance of so many American schools on the poverty of their students rather than on their teachers. I fear that there is still a deeper cause. The kids are poor because they come from a subculture "of poverty".

I live in a suburb of Washington DC. In the District of Columbia, ten percent of the residents have served prison sentences. An unusually large portion of mothers are unmarried. There is an exceptionally high level of HIV infection as compared with other parts of the United States. Drug use is high. And of course, a large portion of the kids going to DC schools live in economic poverty. Given their home lives, no wonder a lot of them don't see the benefits of schooling and don't do well in school.

Kids also do poorly on test scores in schools in Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico -- states with significant problems of racial discrimination.

It is very hard to raise incomes of a large population. It is also hard to change culture in a large population, and it is the culture of the whole of the society that probably has to be changed to really solve the problems of schools. The countries that do well on international tests are often those with homogeneous populations and strong cultural commitment to education.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Angry

This is wonderful -- a talking head who states frankly that he doesn't know. He also tries to explain to reporters that no one knows, and that there are not two sides to the debate that make sense.
There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments,they ae never the same.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Taleb, in his book The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms, makes the point as I understand it that we live in a world of which we are largely ignorant and thus we should devise strategies to protect us from the unexpected.

Risk management is usually based on models in which the alternatives are not only understood, but their probability is assumed to be known. Some experts go the next step and assume that they can not accurately define the probabilities. As I get Taleb, he is concerned with situations in which we don't even know what all the alternatives are. He suggests that a lot of important decisions are of this class. Taleb clearly knows a lot about formal models of decision making (especially in the field of investments), and I assume he finds them to be intellectually stimulating. He simply believes that they should not be taken to be factually accurate guides to action in most important circumstances, and that their misuse led us into the financial crisis we are now living.

I note that{

  • The new information and communications technology is making things work faster than ever before, and we depend on computer analysis even though we can not fully understand the programs which the computers are following.
  • Smart people are working to design new financial instruments all the time and many (most?) of the people using those instruments don't understand them well.
  • The rest of us have our wealth and our incomes affected by these people using financial instruments we are barely if at all aware of.
  • Firms hire public relations people to put their practices in the best possible light for the rest of us.
  • People in firms tend to hide their mistakes even if they recognize them, and hide their ignorance.
Ignorance multiplies and we reach the unknowable. And the Republicans think that we should not regulate markets and that the public servants who try to do so are overpaid and provided with too many benefits!

USAID's Science, Technology, and Innovation Event at UNGA USaidVideo 75 videos Subscri

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

You Ain't Seen Nothin Yet!

The New York Times today has an article titled "Remapping Computer Circuitry to Avert Impending Bottlenecks" by JOHN MARKOFF. I quote:
(Parthasarathy Ranganathan, a Hewlett-Packard electrical engineer, says) systems will be based on memory chips he calls “nanostores” as distinct from today’s microprocessors. They will be hybrids, three-dimensional systems in which lower-level circuits will be based on a nanoelectronic technology called the memristor, which Hewlett-Packard is developing to store data. The nanostore chips will have a multistory design, and computing circuits made with conventional silicon will sit directly on top of the memory to process the data, with minimal energy costs.

Within seven years or so, experts estimate that one such chip might store a trillion bytes of memory (about 220 high-definition digital movies) in addition to containing 128 processors, Dr. Ranganathan wrote. If these devices become ubiquitous, it would radically reduce the amount of information that would need to be shuttled back and forth in future data processing schemes.
(DARPA recently) to think about ways in which it might be possible to reach an exascale computer — a supercomputer capable of executing one quintillion mathematical calculations in a second, about 1,000 times faster than today’s fastest systems.....

A 10-petaflop supercomputer — scheduled to be built by I.B.M. next year — will consume 15 megawatts of power, roughly the electricity consumed by a city of 15,000 homes. An exascale computer, built with today’s microprocessors, would require 1.6 gigawatts. That would be roughly one and half times the amount of electricity produced by a nuclear power plant.

The panel did, however, support Dr. Ranganathan’s memory-centric approach.

Thinking about e-democracy

Alfred Chandler in his book The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business suggested that the corporation had become a major institutional form because it successfully handled information of a commercial sort better than did markets. More recently we have discovered that the Internet reduces market transaction costs and delays, and that corporations are increasingly concentrating of core competencies and outsourcing other functions via Internet mediated markets. Essentially, market institutions have regained the lead in dealing with some kinds of information that was through most of the 20th century better handled by corporation institutions.

Thus new communications and information technology has led to a change in the institutions in the business sector. It seems likely that ICT changes have also led to changes in government and civil society institutions.

In their classical book Risk and Culture, Douglas and Wildavsky attributed the growth in power of civil society organizations such as the Sierra Club to their increasing ability to distribute information and solicit donations at low cost; people could feel that they were helping to prevent pollution of the environment with a simple donation of a small amount of money. Surely the Internet has made the process simpler and faster than Douglas and Wildavsky would have imagined when their book was published in 1983. Surely with The Social Network up for an Academy Award for the best picture and the pervasiveness of Facebook and Twitter, it should be clear that ICT is having a major impact on the institutions of civil society.
"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787
I suspect that democracy was in part an institutional response to a more educated public demanding a role in government, rejecting the idea that monarchs were divinely chosen and rejecting that force makes right. Representative government as it developed in the 19th and 20th century was in part made possible by improved media and transportation. It became possible for the public to learn quickly what government was doing regionally and nationally through mass media communication, but representatives would be responsible for bringing their constituencies views to the bureaucracy.

The role of social networks (Facebook, Twitter) in the political earthquake in North Africa has been widely reported and commented upon. Social networks have clearly played a role in person-to-person communication involved in organizing public demonstrations. Al Jazeera and Al Aribiya brought visual coverage to the world, drawing upon blogs, photos and videos from mobile phones, tweets and Facebook postings. In a less traumatic but still amazing development, in 2009 the effective use of the Internet helped an African American (with what most Americans thought to be a funny name) to be elected president of the United States.

I suspect that the new information and communication technology will lead to even more profound changes in the ways political institutions work. Communication will increasingly be from the people to their elected representatives, and among the people themselves. The may show up in large numbers, as is happening now in Wisconsin, organized by social networking and drawing on the media to gain public support. Transactions  between the governed and the government will be increasingly mediated by the Internet and take place on e-government sites. Political parties will continue to reengineer their processes using the technology. Indeed, the public will be able to deal more online with the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy too will use the Internet more to outsource functions, focusing more on its core responsibilities.