Monday, October 31, 2011

New Results on Global Surface Temperature Averages

Source: The Economist
Berkeley Earth provides a new analysis of the average temperature on the earth, which in the graph above is shown to agree closely with those provided by two U.S. Government agencies and a British group. The Berkeley Earth scientific papers explaining their methods and results are still under peer review, but the press report suggests that the initially skeptical scientists who did the study were very careful and exhaustive in their analysis.

The four results seem to clearly indicate a long term increase in global temperature and that there has been an acceleration over the past three decades. There are of course other correlates such as the rise of ocean levels and the melting of glaciers and ice caps that add to the evidence of global warming.

Of course, global warming may have causes other than man's contributions to greenhouse gases and changes in the albido of the land's surface.

Still, the precautionary principle suggests that we should take action now to reduce anthropogenic global warming.

Africa's Economic Forecast

According to The Economist
With world economic growth of around 4%, the IMF forecasts that sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP will grow by 5.3% this year and 5.8% in 2012. But if the global recovery slows, as seems likely, South Africa and other countries that trade heavily will be affected. Indeed, output and employment in a few mostly middle-income countries, including South Africa, have yet to return to pre-crisis levels. High food and fuel prices are creating inflationary pressures, and a severe drought has displaced nearly 1m people and might cost Ethiopia and Kenya half a percentage point of GDP.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thinking about causality

A lot of research, especially evaluation research, seems to infer causality from correlation. Of course we know that there are problems intrinsic to such inferences:

  • correlation may be spurious, occurring as an accidental confluence of different variables
  • two variable may be causally related by the first causing the second, the second causing the first, or each causing the other
  • two variables may be correlated because some third variable causes both.
If one thing is seen as causing another, we may ask if it is a necessary cause, a sufficient cause, or both necessary and sufficient.

Of course, there are many other forms of causality. Think of a situation in which there are five causal factors, any three of which are sufficient but no two of which are sufficient. Or think of a large number of workers, each loading a container at his/her own rate. The container is filled when the total of all the contributions adds to the capacity of the container.

And/Or logic allows for very complicated causal structures, even when each factor is binary. An "and gate" provides a positive output if and only if all of its inputs are positive. An "or" gate provides a positive output if any of its inputs are positive. Very complicated propositions can be implemented through complex structures of such gates. Moreover, these are very restrictive kinds of binary logic concepts.

It seems to me that many evaluations assume that an observed correlation is not only demonstrative of causality, but of a specific form of causality. Let me give an  example. I recall a project in which an industrial extension program was used to improve the rate and success of industrial innovation. In one country it appeared to be very successful, with a large portion of the enterprises receiving assistance reporting success in their innovations. On the other hand, in another country the same approach to industrial extension proved very unsuccessful. It seemed that there were "hidden variables" such as the overall industrial climate. If the industrial climate was positive, an extension service would work, if not the extension program would not work.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Where will employment be created in the U.S. economy?


A lot of the Republican discussion of employment seems to be based on the idea that small businesses create a lot of jobs. The data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shown above seem to indicate that it is businesses with more than 250 employees that are employing more and more people. I don't know about you, but I think of a company with 250 employees as not being very small. The mom and pop stores and privately owned mechanics shops are a lot smaller than that.

I think it is true that a lot of jobs are created every year in small businesses, but I suspect that even more jobs are lost every year in small businesses that are going out of business or scaling back on their work forces.

Think about your neighborhood shopping center. The old stores close and the new stores open, but the number of stores stays the same. About the same number of people work in the shopping center, although over a period of decades as we use technology to become more labor efficient, there may be a small decrease in the number of workers.

Cutting taxes for the rich, with the intent of seeing them create more jobs in small businesses seems crazy. The economy is awash with cash in businesses that they are not putting to work (other than in financial markets, which is a problem in itself). If the demand were to go up, then we might see people putting more money into expanding production and creating jobs, but the way to change consumption is not to give the rich more disposable income, but rather to give lower income people more disposable income.


Friday, October 28, 2011

How the United States stacks up on R&D

Imagine a world free from famine, free from hunger

 Imagine a future free of famine. This summer, a food crisis emerged in the Horn of Africa and now threatens the lives of more than 13 million people. Although we've come a long way since the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85, it's time to make sure this doesn't happen again - anywhere. Go to for more information.

Oakland police succeed where Iraqi insurgents could not

The Oakland Police fractured the skull of a two time Iraq veteran as they tried to squash a formerly peaceful protest. This is totally unacceptable!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Cherokee Nation and Internet Technology: Saving a Culture by Revitializing its Language

Google Tech Talk (more info below) October 17, 2011 Presented by Joseph Erb, Roy Boney, Jr, Jeff Edwards. ABSTRACT ᎣᏏᏲ (hello!) Our visitors from the Cherokee Nation will be discussing how they are using technologies such as Unicode, the Internet, smart phones, laptops, pad computers, etc. as tools to save their native language and culture. Artist Ray Boney, Jr. will be one of the visitors. He has a special graphic feature describing how the Cherokee people have innovated to maintain and advance their unique civilization over the last 200 years. Speaker Info: Joseph Erb, Language Technologist, Language Technology Program at Cherokee Nation Education ServicesGroup. Joseph Erb (Cherokee) is an award winning artist, filmmaker, and digital media specialist. He received his BFA in art from Oklahoma City University. He produced a short animated film based on a traditional Cherokee story in the Cherokee language as his MFA thesis at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation there, Erb returned home to Oklahoma, where he continues to combine his interests: art, traditional storytelling, language preservation, and the teaching of children. His Muscogee Creek and Cherokee students have produced native language animations, learning both new technology and their own traditional culture. Currently, he works as an educational digital media specialist for the Language Technology Program at Cherokee Nation Education ServicesGroup in Tahlequah, OK. Roy Boney, Jr., Language Technologist, Cherokee Nation. Roy is a full blood citizen of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, OK. He is an award-winning artist, filmmaker, and digital media specialist. He holds a BFA in Graphic Design from Oklahoma State University and an MA in Studio Art from the University of Arkansas - Little Rock where he was a research fellow at the Sequoyah Research Center. He has been adjunct instructor of Multimedia Design at Northeastern State University and Cherokee language animation instructor for the American Indian Resource Center. He currently works in the Language Technology program for Cherokee Nation Education Services Group. Jeff Edwards, Language Technologist, Cherokee Nation Jeff Edwards (Cherokee) is award winning digital artist. He has worked at Cherokee Nation for 10 years in Cherokee Language and Cultural programs. He typed thousands of documents in the Cherokee language over the years. He manages computers at Cherokee Immersion School with accounts and passwords in the Cherokee language.

Thoughts about community learning centers

A Community Learning Center in Indonesia
Last night in our UNESCO seminar we got to talking about community learning centers. There are many projects and programs promoting these centers and many, many centers serving their communities.

I think of a community learning center in counter distinction to a school as responding not just to the learning needs of children but to lifelong learning demands, as providing learning opportunities in response to demands from the students rather than based on curricula from the school system, of using media to provide learning opportunities, and on a use of time different than that of school (short courses, classes at times convenient for adult students).

Apparently the community learning center movement represents a watershed change in our thinking about schooling benchmarked by publications from UNESCO: Learning to Be and Learning: The Treasure Within. By the 1970s it was already clear to some that schools were not doing the whole job. Of course, too many people in the world had too little schooling, many had forgotten much of what they had learned; perhaps more importantly, adults needed to learn new things to deal with the rapidly changing world in which they lived. Moreover, there was a recognition that while schools emphasized teaching kids things they would need to know to participate in social institutions as adults -- as a worker, a soldier, a citizen, etc. -- there was also a need to help people learn things that they wanted to learn for self actualization.

All of this is about a community learning center helping people in the community learn as individuals. There is another way, however, that we can construe "community learning". We can consider the way the community as a collective can learn.

The Delors Commission in its report, Learning: The Treasure Within, focused on four pillars:

  • learning to know
  • learning to do
  • learning to be and
  • learning to live together
Lets think about each of these in terms of the collective learning of a community.
  • If knowledge exists somewhere in a community in such a form that the community can access that knowledge when it needs or wants it, then the community can be said to know. A community may "learn" in the sense of acquiring the knowledge by any of a number of methods. It can of course designate some members to the community to learn something new, perhaps sending them to a course. It can bring someone from outside the community with that knowledge to be part of the community, as when a community brings in a new teacher. It can change the structure of community institutions so that people with the knowledge can bring it more effectively to meet the needs of the community. Indeed, it can add information to a community library so that it can be located and utilized if the community needs it. It certainly is not the normal case that everyone in a community must learn something in order that the community as a collective can be said to learn that thing.
  • In a rural community some of the most important "learning to do" involves trying to grow a new crop, to deal with a new plant pest or disease of the crops, or to otherwise to improve the productivity of its farming. Everett Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations describes how this generally occurs. An "early adapter" often surfaces from the community and tries the innovation. Of course lots of innovations turn out to be bad ideas, but some work. A few others seeing the success also adopt the innovation and so with further success it spreads. Thus the community as a whole learns which innovations work and which do not in that community's case.
  • I would suggest that one way that a community "learns to be" is by building social capital, strengthening institutions within the community, building trust among its members.
  • Of course some the point above includes community members "learning to live together" but we can extend the analogy to a community learning to live with other communities and with the larger society in which if finds itself. Again, one can view a community improving its linkages with other local communities and with the national government and other national institutions as community learning.
In all four of these respects, a community learning center can facilitate community learning. It can facilitate the transfer of knowledge into a community and help change a community so that it better uses the knowledge of its members; it can facilitate the processes by which a community tests innovations, rejecting those which don't fit and adopting those which do; it can help to organize a community serving as a focal point for community meetings and community projects; it can help to build linkages with neighboring communities and help a community both to learn about the larger society and to make its interests known to that larger society.

People in the News

Steve Jobs
We are all grieving for Steve Jobs who died way too early. Still, in a life too short by decades, he revolutionized the personal computer a couple of times, the tablet computer, the cell phone, the movie industry and the music industry while building one of the world's largest and most valuable company. He was the illegitimate son of a Syrian Muslim graduate student father and American woman graduate student.

Barack Obama is not only President, but the certain candidate for the Democratic party for a second term. He has passed legislation to stimulate the economy and prevent a new depression and to reform our governmental system of health care financing, finished the war in Iraq, oversaw efforts that have killed Bin Laden and decimated Al Qaeda, led the free world in assistance that has led to the overthrow of Gaddafi and seen democratic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt overthrow their undemocratic governments, allowed gays and lesbians serving in the military to stop lying about their identities, stimulated governmental support for science, technology, education and the infrastructure, and moved to reinforce integrity in government science. He is the son of a polygamous Kenyan Muslim graduate student father and American woman student.

Herman Cain is currently the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President. He is  a syndicated columnist, and radio host. He is the former chairman and CEO of Godfather's Pizza and a former chairman (Omaha Branch board 1989–91), deputy chairman (1992–94) and chairman (1995–96) of the board of directors of the  Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Before his business career he worked as a mathematician. He is an African-American. His mother was a cleaning woman and domestic worker, and his father worked as a barber, janitor and chauffeur.

Paul Nurse has just left his job as President of Rockefeller University to move to England to assume the job of President of the Royal Academy. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his scientific work. British, he immigrated to the United States and lived here for some seven years. He was the illegitimate son of a woman who was herself illegitimate. He was raised by his grandmother and grandfather (both also illegitimate) who pretended to be his biological parents.

I wonder how much talent this country wasted in the past through prejudice against foreigners, Muslims, Africans, African-Americans and the offspring of unmarried parents? I wonder how much we are wasting now by equally stupid prejudices?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Some committee reports don't just sit on the shelf

Every educational planner today owes a debt of gratitude to philosophers of education in the past.

I was thinking about the report of the Faure Commission, 'Learning to Be", from the early 1970s and the report of the Delors Commission, "Learning: The Treasure Within". How many of today's education projects depend on ideas explored by these UNESCO studies from the past? The students in the UNESCO seminar discussed these reports and their approaches tonight.

The Roots of our income inequality

The Gini Coefficient measures the degree of inequality of income in a society. The larger the coefficient, the greater the income inequality. According to Bloomberg, according to this index, income inequality has been increasing across the OECD club of developed countries for decades. Thus the Gini coefficient for the United States has increased from 0.316 in the mid 1980s to 0.381 in the mid 2000s.

The Bloomberg data indicate that only Mexico and Turkey had more inequality of income than the United States among the 24 OECD countries.

The Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Sweden, with the lowest Gini coefficients in the OECD, had coefficients of 0.232 and 0.234 respectively in the mid 2000s. Those countries had managed to keep the growth of income inequality over the two decades to manageable proportions (increasing from 0.221 and 0.198 respectively).

Source of graph

I would suggest that the graph, which shows that income inequality in the United States rose until the stock market crash and remained high until Roosevelt was elected. I suggest it came down due to the policies of the New Deal Democrats, and stayed low until the Reagan years. While the poverty of the Depression might have seen an increase in income inequality, policies designed to care for the people suffering most from the Depression reduced the Gini coefficient. It stayed low during the great economic growth after World War II.

There is a wide spread opinion in the United States that globalization, and especially the growth of imports from China and other developing nations, has been responsible for unemployment in the United States and thus the increasing disparity between the rich and the rest of us.

The reality seems to be that the United States has seen much more increase in income inequality than other developing nations. I suspect that it is not globalization that is the problem so much as the policies that have been used in the United States to deal with globalization. Other nations have done better. The American political process has favored the rich to the detriment of the rest of us.

We are now seeing an NBA lockout because the millionaire basketball players and the billionaire basketball team owners can't agree on the way to split the spoils they reap from the fans. This is perhaps prototypical of the reality that the richer that the rich get, the less they seem to care about the rest of us. Obama's proposed Buffett tax hike on millionaires would not only raise some much needed government revenue without causing any serious pain to the millionaires and billionaires, but might bring them closer to reality and to caring about the rest of us.

Why is American income inequality greater than that of any of the European countries? Clearly our country is less homogeneous than those countries in the sense that we are less concerned that everyone has a decent life, that we are more willing to tolerate poor health, poor education and other attributes of poverty in a large (and increasing) portion of our population.

I suspect that that tolerance of inequality (or indeed intolerance of cultural differences) is an artifact of our history. The United States was conceived as a country allowing slavery and it was only in my lifetime that we saw the fiction of "separate but equal" struck down in the courts. The Know Nothings militated against poor European migrants as many today militate against Hispanic migrants. Indians were enslaved until quite late in our history. Prejudice against Chinese immigrants was such that exclusion laws were passed. Not to mention the history of bias against women in the work place and voting booth. The legacy of a society that allowed some to profit greatly from the enslavement of others is a willingness of the affluent to profit while the poor suffer and the middle class declines.

Source of map
The map of income inequality indicates that the old, slave-holding south remains the area of greatest income inequality in the United States, although the Indian reservations show up in the West. History counts as culture changes only slowly without major interventions to promote change.

Perhaps the most important policies we should promote to improve our long term welfare as a people are social and cultural policies to promote more fellow feeling among our citizens and less prejudice against those who are culturally different that ourselves!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The 9/11 Commission

The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation is a very readable book. It paints a story of not very knowledgeable Commissioners supervising a staff run by a partisan executive director, operating in a highly politicized environment. While Al Qaeda terrorists are the real villains, the book paints Bush and Rice as failing to provide needed leadership and government agencies fumbling in their counter-terrorist efforts. The Bush administration and their Republican supporters in Congress appear more determined to limit damages to their 2004 campaign than interested in finding how better to protect the nation.

We are conditioned to think of the narrator of a novel as omniscient, but Philip Shenon, a reporter who covered the 9/11 Commission for the New York Times and followed up with this book based in part on extensive interviews with commissioners, staff and principles, has only his own conclusions on which to base this book; moreover, he has selected information and created an engrossing narrative intended to both inform and interest the reader. Shenon's information is largely drawn from interviews of people who often disagree among themselves and who are selective in what they told him; they too are far from omniscient. The people interviewed by the commissioners and staff of the Commission, correctly portrayed by Shenon, were depending on faulty memories, were politicized, and often provided the most self-serving narratives of what had happened. Commission staff went through reams and reams of data, with major gaps of withheld classified information and data that they failed to find, sometimes unable to take notes, trying to make sense of it all. Of course, at the moment of the 9/11 attack the victems and responders were confused and under pressure; the terrorists worked hard to keep their secrets and were never interviewed by commissioners nor staff, much less Shenon. Few books so force the reader to confront the difficulty of understanding what really happened.

The Congress chartered the Commission, giving it only a couple of years to prepare its report. Each party named five members of the Commission, with a Republican Chair and Democratic Vice Chair. The Chair and Vice Chair resigned and were replaced very early in the life of the Commission.

As the Bush White House became more and more concerned about the damage that might be done to it by the Commission report, its spokespeople and Congressional Republican leaders went to the attack, as did Officials of New York City when their interests appeared to be threatened. The organized 9/11 survivors groups lobbied fiercely, and the media (when not otherwise occupied with the invasions and wars) was covering the controversies on front pages.

Philip Zelikow, the Executive Director of the Commission staff, while a brilliant, highly qualified expert on the U.S. government and foreign and security policy, also had apparent conflicts of interest. He was close to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a member of the Bush administration transition team, and the author of a key policy paper used by the Bush administration in justifying the invasion of Iraq. Shenon describes Zelikow's phone conversations with Bush political adviser Carl Rove and Zelikow's efforts to hide them; Zelikow is portrayed as very controversial, believed by many of the staff as seeking to defend the Bush administration.

The Commission staff was recruited to include young PhD historians, people with long experience in government and intelligence services, and notably for a government report, people who write well. They clearly worked very hard, against tight time limits. Their interactions with each other are portrayed as complex, sometimes adversarial, especially with Zilikow.

The Commission and its staff had great difficulties getting information. They had subpeona powers, but chose not to use them until late in their work and in only very specific cases. Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Adviser seems to have stolen secret documents from government archives in an effort to keep them out of the Commissions vision. The Bush administration invoked executive privilege to withhold information from the Commission, and the staff failed to fully investigate the files of the National Security Agency. The book portrays some agencies as withholding information, and describes Commission staff as wanting to bring up some government witnesses on charges of perjury.

The book makes the case that, in spite of the claims of the Bush administration, there was no involvement of the Iraqi government in support of Al Qaeda's attack on the United States. Rather, the book traces links to Saudis and Iranians, although the case was not fully investigated nor so strong as to be pushed in the Commission report.

New York City had an emergency command center that could not be used during 9/11 because it was located near the Twin Towers and not in a hardened facility; the emergency fuel supply of the center apparently caused a fire that destroyed the building in which the center was located. Radios did not work and their was a lack of clarity in command structure; Shenon suggests that first responders died as a result of such failings.

The federal government is portrayed as responding badly. The intelligence services may well have had enough information to prevent the attacks, but failed to pull that information together in such a way that it could be acted on. Shenon attaches considerable blame to Condoleezza Rice and George Bush, writing that they focused on problems from the Cold War, did not organize the NSC staff in such a way as to bring terrorism the attention it merited, and failed to take action when warned of the pending attack.

Shenon seems to believe that the FBI should have been the subject of major reform, perhaps separating the responsibility of domestic intelligence and counter terrorism from that of fighting organized crime and law enforcement. The Commission believed that the FBI reforms would be made by the current director, and gave greater priority to upgrading the overall direction of intelligence from the CIA to the post of Director of Central Intelligence. This together with the combining of various agencies into the Department of Homeland Security were perhaps the major reforms in response to 9/11.

The Commission chose not to point to people who failed the public trust, and now a decade after 9/11 any such people are no doubt out of office. Perhaps the election of 2004 would have been different if the Commission had targeted specific people as culpable for the failures of government. More to the point, making people more accountable for failures might have had a salutary effect on future officials. On the other hand, the Bush White House was pleased with the report.

Dana Priest in her new book, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, makes the case that we now have 1,200 top secret facilities, 2000 contractors with top secret projects, and a million people with top secret clearances. The huge size of the post 9/11 bureaucracy, built largely after the 9/11 Commission finished its work, makes it more difficult to bring together enough of the meaningful bits of intelligence to understand threats and make appropriate plans to thwart them. I would also guess that it is extremely unlikely that a million people can keep top secrets secret. Moreover, the cost of this structure seems too high for the protection it provides.

Shenon's book seems more negative about the leadership of Bush, Cheney and Rice, about the behavior toward the Commission of John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and the New York police and fire department officials who testified before the Commission, and the roles of CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller than does the report of the Commission.

After the reelection of George Bush he nominated Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State and shortly after she took that office she reestablished the long vacant position of State Department counselor and appointed Philip Zelikow to the job.

I worked in the White House on a couple of studies in 1977, and in government agencies for many years on other studies. My experience suggests that the studies done at the agency levels were much less political. The studies in the White House, while they had much less visibility than that of the 9/11 Commission, were influenced by political considerations. We worked hard on the agency studies and put in even longer hours on the White House ones. While some personalities in the agency work could be prickly, I think people who showed up in the White House were sometimes more personally ambitious and perhaps more prickly. Thus I found the book to have a feeling of verisimilitude with my own experience.

I found this book with its many short chapters very readable. In some ways I think it might be put on your shelf next to The Good Soldier and The Alexandria Quartet, exposing the multifaceted views of reality that can exist complementing and conflicting with each other in the same volume. I wished that the story it told was more reassuring, but in spite of that I recommend it highly.

Monday, October 24, 2011

American culture is a melange of many distinct subcultures

I have been reading American Slavery: 1619-1877 by Peter Kolchin. The book traces the evolution of American slavery from a time when both African born slaves and European born slave holders were trying to figure out how to live with each other until after the Civil War, the emancipation proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. He is very good at distinguishing the evolution in the southern states with large plantation agriculture for export with large slave holdings, versus that in the mid Atlantic colonies which tended to have smaller plantations and fewer slaves per plantation, versus that of the north in which relatively few white families owned slaves and those held relatively few.

I have only read a bit of the book, but I was struck by Kolchin's view that slaves and slave owners had different cultures. It seems to me that they had different sub-cultures, but that neither subculture can be understood without reference to the other. Of course, each subculture picked up memes from the other and from the origin old world cultures from which the slaves and slave owners had descended, but more important, the two sub-cultures might better be understood as co-evolving, each due to the pressures of the other as well as to the natural evolution of creole cultures.

Indeed, both European-American and African-American subcultures were also co-evolving with the native American cultures with which they were in contact. Moreover, there were different subcultures among the African immigrants, the European immigrants and the Indian tribes. Rather than a melting pot, we had a complex co-evolution of many subcultures which combined and evolved to make modern American culture in all its complexity.

In recent previous postings I have been noting how much income inequality there is in the United States, but the lack of homogeneity of the American population has deep historical roots; we are more one people than we were in the past, but have a long way to go before we reach the homogeneity typical of the European nations of the 19th century. Similarly, there is not much mobility in America today, at least as compared with Denmark, but there was even less upward mobility for a slave or an Indian in the 19th century.

So much of history was written as if the entire population of the United States was composed of white men, indeed white men of English or German ancestry. When you think of the Indians, the African immigrants, the Asian immigrants, the immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Central and Eastern Europe, not to mention women, the history is quite different.

Caring for Children is the Best Investment

 In the last decade compelling evidence has emerged on the importance and impact of a child's early years on his or her entire future. What a child experiences in the first five years essentially shapes his entire childhhod, youth and adult life. Here's a brief preview into some of the hard facts around why we must act now to safeguard the future of children.

"If Americans want to live the American dream they should move to Denmark!"

Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies

Richard WilkinsonIn "The Spirit Level," Richard Wilkinson charts data that proves societies that are more equal are healthier, happier societies. Full bio and more links 
"We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust."

This is clearly something worthy of thinking about, especially given the huge inequality of incomes in the United States which is growing rather than shrinking.

On the other hand, Wilkinson's talk depends on correlations and there are some things one should always look for in conclusions based on correlations, such as is there a hidden underlying variable that influences both of the correlated variables.

One notes that many of the societies that have both more equal distributions of income and many good outcomes on measures of societal success are in smaller countries, with highly educated people which have more homogeneous populations (or which have more successfully integrated immigrants into their societies). Could it be that smarter societies that see all their members as part of the same "tribe" may find better ways to reduce income inequalities and better ways to allocate social services including health services?

Congratulations to the All Blacks!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How is life? | OECD Factblog

How is life? | OECD Factblog

Our fellow Americans seem to be pretty happy, at least as compared with the rest of the nations in this sample. On the other hand, the Scandinavian nations, Canada, Ireland and Israel all rank higher than the United States. They also seem to be more egalitarian, if in some cases less affluent that we are.

Contributions to Zunia

I have been contributing to the resource base on the Zunia development portal for about a decade. Some time ago I found I had contributed more than 20,000 posts to that data base. The team managing the site deletes old news and outdated posts occasionally, so now my Zunia profile indicates I have just over 8,500 live posts.

Zunia includes "groups", facets of the portal in which members can collaborate within one specific field of development information. I am a volunteer editor of the Monitoring and Evaluation Group. We can share resources between the main resource base and groups, and among groups without sharing with the main resource base. I find I have just shared my 1,000th resource.

I hope that the materials will be useful to others.


This 5 min video described the eRwanda project, and its accomplishments from 2006 until 2010. eRwanda was funded by the World Bank in support of the national information communication infrastructure strategy (NICI). eRwanda aims to improve access to information and services to Rwandans. It financed infrastructure and services, as well as connectivity to the district offices, in support of government decentralization. eRwanda contributed to private sector development, skills development and the creation of an innovation culture key to the success of Rwanda's vision 2020. Some of the innovations it financed were Telemedecine, Government information portals, ICT buses, eSoko mobile based agriculture market place which won a UNECA award for excellent in public service delivery.

For more information on the World Bank's work in Rwanda, please visit

I was working as a consultant with the World Bank when colleagues worked with Rwandans to create the project described in this video. It is at the least interesting, and perhaps a start of something really big. The eDevelopment experiments of the World Bank in Sri Lanka should also be of interest if this interests you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Check out how much and how long man has affected the land

"Income inequality and happiness."

My friend Julianne pointed me to this article:

Oishi S, Kesebir S, Diener E.
Psychol Sci. 2011 Sep 1;22(9):1095-100. Epub 2011 Aug 12.

Abstract: Using General Social Survey data from 1972 to 2008, we found that Americans were on average happier in the years with less national income inequality than in the years with more national income inequality. We further demonstrated that this inverse relation between income inequality and happiness was explained by perceived fairness and general trust. That is, Americans trusted other people less and perceived other people to be less fair in the years with more national income inequality than in the years with less national income inequality. The negative association between income inequality and happiness held for lower-income respondents, but not for higher-income respondents. Most important, we found that the negative link between income inequality and the happiness of lower-income respondents was explained not by lower household income, but by perceived unfairness and lack of trust.
I recently posted data on the evolution of income inequality in the United States. Here is more on the evolution of our economy:

Source: Business Insider
Source: Business Insider
Trust is the basic element of social capital, and we are eating our social capital! I think both the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement perceive unfairness in our society, and worse that our society is becoming more rather than less unfair.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

First and Second Ladies make UNESCO policy?

Someone pointed out that the U.S. delegation to UNESCO tries to keep quiet about most of the issues brought up in UNESCO's governing bodies. That makes sense to me. If 193 delegations all felt free to comment on every item, and on the comments of every other delegation on every item, and .....

On the other hand, I recall that Laura Bush made literacy one of her "things" as first lady, the United States pushed for a literacy initiative by UNESCO, there were major literacy events in the United States involving UNESCO, and Mrs. Bush became a UNESCO  goodwill ambassador.  I also recall that Jill Biden, a community college teacher, was called upon to attend a UNESCO conference on higher education shortly after her husband, Joe Biden, took office as Vice President. I understand that the United States delegation to UNESCO is now encouraging UNESCO to look carefully at two year institutions of higher education.

Now I think literacy is a good thing for UNESCO to encourage and I think that there is a lot to be said for two year colleges, but should U.S. policy towards UNESCO depend on the interests of the wives of the president and vice president, or should there be a more formal consultation, say with the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.

I can understand why UNESCO secretariat officials bow to the wishes of the White House in such matters, given that the United States was so long out of UNESCO and that the United States contributes 22 percent of its regular budget, some $70 million per year. But one would hope that the governing bodies of UNESCO would be more capable of creating Organization wide priorities and imposing them on the Organization's secretariat.

John Searle and the Chinese Room

This is a short video from brain pickings. Here is a more informative statement of the point that Searle made from YouTube. (Searle was a friend of friends when I was in graduate school at Berkeley in the distant past.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perhaps we need to amend the Constitution

Perhaps the demonstrations by Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movements will lead to amendments to the Constitution. A couple that might be considered:

  • Organizations are not people and thus organizations don't have human rights. Members of organizations must enjoy freedom of speech, but organizations don't speak and so don't enjoy freedom of speech. Members of organizations vote, but organizations don't vote and so don't enjoy rights to participate in the political process.
  • Money is not speech. The very rich and the rich organizations don't have human rights to spend unlimited amounts of cash to influence public opinion and voter behavior.
  • One person, one vote calls for the United States to undo the Constitutional provisions introduced to protect slavery and to induce small colonies to join the United States. Those reforming the Constitution might consider giving the federal government the control of elections rather than the states, introducing means to prevent  gerrymandering, and even making electoral districts for senators based on numbers of people rather than state boundaries.
On the other hand, one-person one-vote might not be the end-all be-all. Maybe wiser, more informed and smarter people should have more weight in voting that more foolish, more ignorant and less intelligent people. We actually have the testing capability now to test for these attributes of voters. Of course, in the past voter tests were very badly misused and politicians are probably no better now than the racists who used voter tests in the past to disenfranchise blacks.

UN urges accelerated efforts in the global fight to eradicate poverty

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned yesterday that progress so far in the fight against poverty risked being reversed by a failure to put people at the centre of development policies and strategies aimed at economic recovery following the global financial crisis.

"In the name of fiscal austerity, we cannot cut back on common-sense investments in people," Mr. Ban said in a message to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, noting that too many people have been seized by the fear of losing their jobs, their ability to feed their families and access to health care.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A New Phase to the Information Revolution

Source: The Economist
The Economist reports:

For around 30 years PCs in various forms have been people’s main computing devices. Indeed, they were the first machines truly to democratise computing power, boosting personal productivity and giving people access, via the internet, to a host of services from their homes and offices. Now the rise of smartphones and tablet computers threatens to erode the PC’s dominance, prompting talk that a “post-PC” era is finally dawning. 
PCs are not about to disappear. Forecasters expect 350m-360m of them to be sold this year and the market is likely to keep growing, if slowly. With their keyboards, big screens and connectivity to the web, PCs are still ideal for many tasks, including the writing of this article. And they continue to evolve, cheap, light “ultrabooks” being the latest in a long line of innovations. Even so, the Wintel era—dominated by PCs using Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Intel’s microchips—is drawing to a close. The recent news that HP, the world’s largest computer-maker, is thinking of spinning off its PC business to focus on 
A new tech landscape is taking shape that offers consumers access to computing almost anywhere and on many different kinds of device. Smartphones are at the forefront of this change. The Yankee Group, a research firm, thinks that sales of these phones will overtake those of ordinary “feature” phones in many more countries in the next few years. But other kinds of machine, from Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console, which allows gamers to contact friends while they play, to web-enabled television sets, are also helping people stay connected.
For a couple of generations we have been seeing the evolution of a technological system. It is of course based on semiconductor electronics, fiber optics, batteries and power supplies, satellite communications, telecommunications technology, computer technology, and a plethora of killer apps and new and modified institutions. I see the development of these new, small devices with big computing and communicating power as still one more step in that evolution,

The ICT technological system that will exist in  2100 will be all but unimaginable to my generation, and the people using it will be so different from us that they will have trouble imaging what it was like in our dark age.

Lets hope that the technological promise will in fact be realized in a more peaceful world, one that has resolved the problems of want, and that combines rationality with wisdom.

A poison pill that is going to hurt U.S. foreign policy

I quote extensively from an article in UN Dispatch by Mark Leon Goldberg:

UNESCO member states are poised to admit Palestine as the newest member of the UN body. This is an achievement for the Palestinian leadership, which is seeking admission to various UN agencies, but potentially catastrophic news for UNESCO and American leadership at the UN. And through no fault of her own, even Beyonce may suffer. 
At issue here are two strict laws passed by the United States congress in 1994 which stipulate that “the United States shall not make any voluntary or assessed contribution to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.”  And if that were not clear enough, a second clause clearly states that the United States may not “provide funds [to] the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”  The law authorizes no “waiver authority” by the executive branch, meaning that there is no way for President Obama to end run around this prohibition. 
In other words, if UNESCO admits Palestine as a member, the United States will be forced to effectively withdraw from the organization. That would be a huge financial blow to UNESCO, which receives 22% of its budget ($80 million) in dues payments from the United States. With that money, UNESCO promotes world press freedom, is the lead UN agency for the implementation of  the Millennium Development Goal number 2 (universal primary eduction) and administers the World Heritage site program, among other things. 
But the effect would be felt far beyond UNESCO. Several smaller UN agencies — including World Intellectual Property Organization, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the UN Conference on Trade and Development — tie their own membership to other UN agencies. This means that when one UN agency accepts a new member, these three UN agencies automatically accept the new member as well. Once UNESCO admits Palestine, these other UN agencies will automatically admit Palestine as well…and the United States will be forced to automatically pull out.
In a recent posting on another blog I described in more detail the situation with regard to U.S. funding of UNESCO.

I presume that the 1994 law cited above was passed as a result of lobbying by the Israeli lobby to serve as a "poison pill" that would make it far more difficult for any UN agency to admit Palestine to membership. I also assume that very few Americans were aware of the law at the time, and far fewer nearly two decades after it was passed.

If the United States withholds funding from UNESCO, WIPO, UNIDO and UNCTAD the entire global diplomatic community will be angered. Basically the Congress is saying that if we don't get our way over the expressed preferences of most of the other nations in the world, we will take our money and go it alone.

The United States needs the help of other nations now in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are involved with other nations in trying to avert a global economic crisis of huge proportions. We are working with other nations to see the results of Arab Spring are as favorable to democracy as possible, and thus to the interests of the United States and Europe. We need the support of other nations even in seeking a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict -- the two state solution to the long state of war and occupation. And these are only a few of the areas in which we seek and need the good will of other nations, in which our diplomats seeks the support of the diplomats of our allies and at least the acquiescence of diplomats of unallied nations.

Indeed, this situation is almost certainly going to create dangers for Israel as the diplomatic effectiveness of its major ally is going to suffer and as the few UN venues in which it had gotten a relatively fair hearing will become more polarized against it.

This is bad news for the United States!

Is the U.S. position logical?

The Inter Press Service is reporting that the UNESCO General Conference is likely to admit Palestine as a member state of the Organization in the last week of October over the objections of the United States delegation, and that the United States is likely to withhold its contributions to UNESCO in retaliation.

IPS has also reported this statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
"Unfortunately, there are those who, in their enthusiasm to recognise the aspirations of the Palestinian people, are skipping over the most important step, which is determining what the (Palestinian) state will look like, what its borders are, how it will deal with the myriad issues that States must address."
The determination of the borders of the Palestinian state is of course also the determination of the borders of the state of Israel; the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel are to determine the borders between the two states, presumably be swaps of territories on both sides of the boundary specified by the United Nations.

Are we to assume that Secretary Clinton will now demand that the United Nations and its specialized agencies withdraw membership from all states with disputed boundaries?

I recall that during the early years of the United States our borders were also in dispute, but fortunately France recognized the United States as a nation and provided help in the Revolutionary War. It was not until 1871 that the border dispute between the British Empire and the United States over the Oregon border was finally settled.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Domestic and Foreign Policy Don't Come Together Until the President

I have been reading The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation by Philip Shenon and posted on it initially and with a follow up.

I was reminded reading the book that the U.S. government has a fundamental divide between domestic and foreign affairs. In the case of the 9/11 intelligence the divide between the FBI's domestic charter and the CIA's foreign charter meant that information that might have been used to prevent the attack was never shared. Indeed, it appears that the National Security Council (the foreign policy advisory unit to the President) under President Bush didn't see that it had a charter that called for it to deal with foreign based terrorist attacks on the United States even after the terrorists arrived in the United States.

Even stranger, Shenon suggests that the Vice President, in the absence of the President, did not have the legitimate authority under the Constitution to order a plane attacking the White House (where he was at the time) to be shot down.

The separation of domestic and foreign policy might have made sense in 1789, but in our small world undergoing globalization seems to make little sense today. We need government in which all our agencies see both domestic and international aspects of their programs. Health, education, energy, intelligence and law enforcement all have both domestic and international aspects.

Gallup Poll -- Basic Access Index

According to Gallup:
Americans' access to healthcare, food, and shelter worsened the most in September compared with when the Basic Access Index was at its high point in September 2008. Fewer Americans now have a personal doctor and health insurance. And more Americans are having trouble paying for food and shelter.
This index is based on reported perceptions and I suspect are not comparable from one society to another. Thus in poor countries the view of the money needed to get an adequate diet may be different than that in the United States. So too, I would not compare the values on the index in the distant past with those today, except as an index of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the current situation.

The results today with those of a few years ago are more credible, and they may go a long way to explaining why Americans are so angry at a government and big business that don't seem to be helping much.

China and the United States -- The need for joint reform programs

There was a good discussion on trade imbalance between China and the United States, hosted by Betty Liu of Bloomberg Television, with comments by Nouriel Roubini of New York University and Richard McGregor of the Financial Times. It starts with excerpts from a recent debate of Republican candidates. I found Jon Huntsman's position to be better than that of Mitt Romney, not surprising that the former Ambassador to China understands the problem better than the former governor of Massachusetts. It is perhaps surprising to see Huntsman provide a nuanced view when faced by the view articulated by Romney which would appear more likely to draw Republican core votes.

Roubini provides a very clear and articulate statement of the problems, recognizing that there will be a long process needed to create the structural reforms in both countries needed to redress the trade imbalance.

Catholic Church support for Palestinian initiative?

Church of the Nativity, Bethleham

UNESCO is seeing a serious attempt of the Palestinian Authority and its supporters to have Palestine accepted as a UNESCO member state. Since only member states can propose sites for inclusion on the World Heritage list, membership would enable the Palestinian Authority to propose sites in Gaza and the West Bank for World Heritage designation.

I note the following from one of those pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian articles the pop up occasionally with respect to sites in the region that are holy to Jews, Catholics and Muslims:
The PA will seek World Heritage status for the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, once the UN’s cultural agency (UNESCO) admits them as a full member. Hamdan Taha, the Palestinian Authority minister who deals with antiquities and culture, also listed Nablus and Hebron among 20 cultural heritage sites which he said could be nominated as World Heritage Sites...... 
The former Vatican’s archbishop in Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who just promoted an appeal to the UE and US to “stop the Hebraization of Jerusalem,” and the current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, who is denouncing the “Judaization of the city,” are just two major Christian figures who embraced Taha’s rhetoric.
I had not heard that officials of the Roman Catholic Church were concerned with the treatment its most holy site by Israel, much less that the Church officials would seem to prefer Palestinian Authority control of the sites.

Some very bad news for America

My Austrian cousin Carol pointed out this great article explaining the the causes of the malaise which underlies the action of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I am pulling out just a couple of the useful graphs and tables it provides:

The United States ranked 93rd in this U.S. data on income equality, under Egypt, India, China and Russia as well as far behind the northern European countries. When the small upper class is to economically distant from the rest of the nation they are unlikely to care enough about those who do the work, who fight the wars, and who have as little effective political power as economic power.

The United States used to be the land of opportunity. Since World War II, the lower and middle classes have less and less likelihood of moving upward. So too, the upper classes have less and less likelihood of losing status. Class has become more hereditary and less a matter of ones efforts and intelligence. Not good for the country as a whole.

We are reasoning better how to avoid violence according to Steven Pinker.

In his review of The Better Angels of Our Nature  (book's author Steven Pinker) in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Peter Singer considers the claim that reason is an important factor in the trends towards less violence described in the book
relies in part on the “Flynn effect” — the remarkable finding by the philosopher James Flynn that ever since I.Q. tests were first administered, the scores achieved by those taking the test have been rising. The average I.Q. is, by definition, 100; but to achieve that result, raw test scores have to be standardized. If the average teenager today could go back in time and take an I.Q. test from 1910, he or she would have an I.Q. of 130, which would be better than 98 percent of those taking the test then. Nor is it easy to attribute this rise to improved education, because the aspects of the tests on which scores have risen most do not require a good vocabulary or even mathematical ability, but instead test powers of abstract reasoning. One theory is that we have gotten better at I.Q. tests because we live in a more symbol-rich environment. Flynn himself thinks that the spread of the scientific mode of reasoning has played a role. 
Pinker argues that enhanced powers of reasoning give us the ability to detach ourselves from our immediate experience and from our personal or parochial perspective, and frame our ideas in more abstract, universal terms. This in turn leads to better moral commitments, including avoiding violence. It is just this kind of reasoning ability that has improved during the 20th century. He therefore suggests that the 20th century has seen a “moral Flynn effect, in which an accelerating escalator of reason carried us away from impulses that lead to violence” and that this lies behind the long peace, the new peace, and the rights revolution. Among the wide range of evidence he produces in support of that argument is the tidbit that since 1946, there has been a negative correlation between an American president’s I.Q. and the number of battle deaths in wars involving the United States.......
That morality can be grounded in some commitment to treating others as we would like them to treat us is an ancient idea, expressed in the golden rule and in similar thoughts in the moral traditions of many other civilizations, but Pinker is surely right to say that the escalator of reason leads us to it. It is this kind of moral thinking, Pinker points out, that helps us escape traps like the Cuban missile crisis, which, if the fate of the world had been in the hands of leaders under the sway of a different kind of morality — one dominated by ideas of honor and the importance of not backing down — might have been the end of the human story. Fortunately Kennedy and Khrushchev understood the trap they were in and did what was necessary to avoid disaster.
The insight, perhaps a guess, that "it is in the minds of men that we must build the defenses of peace" is central to the Constitution of UNESCO and to the subject of this blog. I would hope that Singer is wrong, and that education both contributes to the powers of abstract reasoning and to the knowledge of history and human nature. Reasoning must work on information and if leaders and societies are to reason their ways to peace, so then those leaders and societies should have the information that allows them to conclude that violence is too often futile and the information that allows them to reason their way to peace.

Which is not to quarrel with the importance of the Golden Rule. As Karen Armstrong argues in her book The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, the great religions have the Golden Rule as their base, both as a formula for human relations. She suggests that the great intellects of ancient times saw far too much violence in their times and sought in religious institutions a means to get people to behave humanely towards each other .

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thinking about the U.S. role in UNESCO in the future.

The current crisis in which Congress is threatening to withhold funds from UNESCO may presage a future in which U.S. diplomacy must change to retain influence in the Organization.

It has been suggested that the United States may withhold funding from UNESCO if in the next few weeks UNESCO admits Palestine as a member state. It has also been suggested that Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations might step in and provide a replacement for the lost U.S. funds (presumably to support the Palestinian application for membership).

When UNESCO was created in the aftermath of World War II, the number of members was relatively small, based on the countries of the economic North, Latin America and a few African and Asian countries. The United States, which came out of the war with its economy repaired from the problems of the depression and producing about half of the world's goods and services and with great prestige for its role on the victorious side of the war, was able to exert great influence on UNESCO.

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the break up of the empires that had been established by European powers and the emergence of large numbers of new states, especially in Africa. In the one-country, one-vote governing bodies of UNESCO, the poorer nations with their increasing numbers of UNESCO member states greatly increased their voting power and influence in governance.

On the other hand, the funding formula used by all the agencies in the United Nations system including UNESCO calls for the assessed contributions to UN bodies of each country to be related both to the portion of the country's GDP in the world GDP and to the per capita income in the country. Thus the  United States and the high-income European nations continued to pay the lion's share of the regular budget of UNESCO.

This situation was the antithesis of "he who pays the piper calls the tune". A small minority of rich countries were paying for UNESCO to carry out the program which was defined by the large majority of poor countries. The U.S. Congress and State Department officials aware of the situation tended not to be pleased.

Three decades ago, the U.S. Congress put a "poison pill" into U.S. legislation that would withhold U.S. funding from any UN family organization, including UNESCO, were it to admit Palestine to full membership before it was recognized as a nation state by the international community, that is before it had come to a peace treaty with Israel which established agreed borders and a recognized governing body for Palestine. This, in my opinion, was meant to pressure the governing bodies of the United Nations and its specialized agencies not to offer Palestine member status.

If now the Gulf states use their oil wealth to counterbalance this U.S. threat, supporting Palestine and opposing the Israeli position, we may be seeing a further diminution of U.S. influence in UNESCO. The soft power of the United States in UNESCO as elsewhere suffered under the Bush administration and has not been fully repaired by the Obama administration.

As globalization continues, and especially as newly emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, etc.) come to represent a larger portion of the global economy, the economic influence of the United States in UNESCO and other intergovernmental organizations is likely to be balanced by more assertive delegations from the emerging economies and the European Union.

It seems to me that we will need to change our foreign policy approaches if we are to be effective in the future. The best foreign policy is a strong argument based on facts and reason. There may also have to be more give and take, being willing to accommodate the initiatives of others in order to gain support for ours.