Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One of the things that Romney and the Republicans don't get!

Source: "Wages aren’t stagnating, they’re plummeting" posted by Dylan Matthews on Washington Post Wonkblog

The United States remains competitive in tradable goods and services, given our high wage rates compared to developing nations, by having high worker productivity. We achieve that in turn by high levels of capital investment per worker in the production of goods and services that can be economically exported and imported. (Of course, we also remain competitive by innovation, using intellectual property protection for some products, and in high technology areas where other countries can not compete effectively.) Where once Americans with little education could earn enough in factory jobs to live a middle class life, even though we still manufacture a great deal of product, due to automation of the factories there are many fewer such factory jobs.

Thus our workforce must be prepared to work in fields like education and health care, or to work in highly technical fields in tradable goods and service production. Education is needed for those jobs.

As the graph shows, people in American who have little education face hard economic times. It is in these areas too that we have lots of illegal immigration from people who still want our lowest paying jobs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


The late 1930s saw the buildup to World War II. Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II by Stuart D. Goldman tells the story of events in the far East that influenced policy makers in several countries at the time -- events that were perhaps more important than has been widely appreciated.

Japan was embarked on an program of imperial expansion. It occupied Korea, had a client state in Manchukuo, and had embarked on a war of conquest against nationalist China. Its government was dominated by military officers.

The Soviet Union with its own imperial ambitions was threatened in the west by Germany and feared Japanese expansion in the east. Its empire extended to the Pacific, shared a border with Manchukuo, and had a client state in the People's Republic of Mongolia. The Communist government was still solidifying its control of the nation.

I would note that the client states of Japan and the USSR were very different. Manchukuo had important natural resources, and in fact was producing more steel than the home islands of Japan. Manchuria was much less developed, still dominated by nomadic herders.

Two localized military clashes over contested border areas between the USSR and Manchukuo in 1937 and 1938 were followed by a much larger clash on the Mongolia-Manchukuo border in the summer of 1939. This latter conflict was near the town of Nomonhan, and appears to have involved an area claimed by both countries of several tens of square miles, albeit an area of little strategic importance to either side.. In all three cases, the clashes were primarily between Soviet and Japanese armies. In this final clash there were something like 50,000 casualties between the two sides. The USSR and Mongolia were left in command of the disputed territory, and the Japanese army in Manchukuo was deemed to have suffered a major defeat.

The military situation was resolved ultimately by national governments on the basis of geopolitical strategies. After the USSR signed the non-aggression pact with Germany, Germany encouraged Japan to normalize relations with the USSR. A cease fire was rapidly agreed upon, and a committee set up which rapidly defined an appropriate boundary. Note that thousands of soldiers died in a battle over a disputed boundary, a boundary that ultimately was quickly negotiated when political will dictated settlement. Neither those in power in Tokyo nor those in power in Moscow seemed to have much concern for the lives of the common soldiers who fought, were wounded and died in these battles.

Goldman provides a picture of a Japanese military that was overconfident of its ability to win against all odds, that was imbued by a philosophy that gave low ranking officers in planning units great influence on strategy, and in which regional units might with impunity disregard orders from headquarters. That army had a culture that appears very alien to me because it believed in the divinity of the emperor, it imbued flags and ornaments presented to military units in the name of the emperor with religious significance, it refused to accept the possibility of defeat, and it demanded suicide of soldiers about to be captured and of officers who failed in the code of Bushido. Japanese soldiers fought to the death.

Goldman notes the Stalin purges that decimated the senior ranks of the Soviet army before the battle of Nomonhan. He also notes that the purges affected the officer corps broadly. He is perhaps less detailed in describing the rapid increase in the size of the army as the USSR was preparing for war in Europe (from which I infer probable lack of training of many soldiers). I found it hard to imagine the culture of the Soviet soldier, nor to understand their effectiveness in combat. In the final battle in August of 1939, with overwhelming advantages in artillery, armored vehicles, air support and numbers the Soviet army crushed the opposition, but suffered more casualties in the process than did the Japanese.

The book stresses the concern that Soviet leadership had that the nation might face war with Germany on its western front and simultaneously war with Japan in the east. It emphasizes the part that the border conflicts with Japanese forces had in stoking that concern;. The Communist government might well not have survived simultaneous wars with Germany and Japan. The book also stresses the diplomatic subtlety with which the Soviet government first tried to encourage war between democratic capitalism and fascist capitalism, and then conducted negotiations with Britain and France on the one hand and with Germany on the other. When the non-aggression pact was finally negotiated with Germany, that pact reduced the threat from Japan in the east as well as delaying the attack from Germany on the west, providing valuable time to strengthen the army.

The defeat at Nomonhan convinced authorities in Tokyo that the Soviet army was more formidable than had been thought. Japan entered into a non-aggression pact with Soviet Russia following the German-USSR non aggression pact. The Japan-USSR pact lasted until after the defeat of Germany (and the Soviet invasion of Manchukuo and rapid defeat of the Japanese army there must be considered to have contributed to the Japanese decision to surrender). Nomonhan also led to power shifts that in turn resulted in replacement of the "northern strategy" of imperial expansion with a "southern strategy". The Japanese continued to occupy Korea and Manchukuo, continued to fight a war with China (both the nationalist and communist forces there), and following the southern strategy invaded French Indochina, Dutch Indonesia, and the Philippines, and declared war on the United States and its European allies. History shows that this southern strategy was disastrous for the Japanese government and the Japanese people.

I really liked the book. It is very clear and succinct as might be expected from an author with decades of experience writing briefings from the Congressional Research Service for members of Congress and their staffs. It is very well researched, and very well documented.  It is effective in providing background for the events and assessment of their implications without neglecting to describe the military encounters in some detail. Not only does this book bring to public attention events that should be better appreciated as influential in the buildup to World War II, it gives one a basis to think generally about some factors of importance in Nomonhan that may also influence more generally history.

Japan was governed by the military as much as any nation in recent history. The Soviet Union was a nation with very strong control of the military by the civilian government. Goldman points out how much more effective the Soviet government was in using military power to achieve political objectives, and how prone the Japanese military government was to get into strategic problems as a result of tactical military thinking and local operations. I am reminded of Eisenhower's warning about excess influence of the military industrial complex on U.S. policy.

Goldman reminds us of the contingency of history. I was left wondering what would have happened had Germany gone to war with the USSR with Japan as an ally and the French and British empires as neutral onlookers. The world today might be very different. Yet that alternative was not so very distant a possibility in the 1930s.

I recommend this book strongly!

Friday, July 27, 2012

A thought about the psychology of moral reasoning.

There is a simple story that is used by psychologists to study moral reasoning:

Two women go on a tour of a chemical factory. During a break, one of them - Ann - says to the other that she is going to get a cup of coffee to carry with her. The other - Betty - asks the first to also get her a cup with sugar but no cream.

  • Version 1: Ann fills the cup and sees a bottle next to the coffee machine marked "poison" full of white powder. She adds some to the coffee in Betty's cup. Betty drinks the coffee, the white powder turns out to be sugar, and Betty is fine.
  • Version 2: Ann fills the cup and sees a bottle next to the coffee machine marked "sugar" full of white powder. She adds some to the coffee in Betty's cup. Betty drinks the coffee, the white powder turns out to be poison, and Betty dies.
Most people when asked, find Ann is morally at fault in version 1 but not in version 2.

In Version 1, I believe that Ann would not be charged with a crime. No damage to Betty, no crime. On the other hand, in Version 2 there would be a crime, but presumably Ann would not be charged. Rather, the person who filled a jar marked "sugar" with poison and put it next to a coffee machine would presumably be guilty of homicidal negligence.

I suggest that you not participate in lab experiments of psychologists, or if you insist on doing so, you not limit yourself to the way that they frame problems for your analysis. Think for yourself.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How much credit do business owners deserve for the success of their businesses?

I have come to the conclusion after four or five decades in international development that the most important basis for development is a good set of institutions -- rule of law, fair markets, government that makes policies for the good of the people rather than the good of the power elite, etc. Businessmen I have known support these institutions. They know that their business won't survive without a well educated and healthy workforce.

 I also know that it takes more than one generation to build the complete set of these institutions, what President Obama called in his talk, the American system that is responsible for the success of our businesses.

He of course also mentioned infrastructure. It is really hard to build a successful business these days if you can't rely on the electric power getting to your place of business. It is also very nice to have piped water and sewerage. If the runoff from rainfall isn't drained away and floods your offices and factory, production goes down. How do you plan to sell products if the roads, railroads, airports and ports are in bad shape and transportation costs increase the prices of your products. Indeed, how does an Indian entrepreneur sell Internet mediated services abroad without electricity, telecommunications and Internet providers.

I suspect that most successful businessmen had mothers and fathers that saw that they got a great start in life --- this is doubly true now that there is very little chance in the United States of someone from poor and uneducated parents rising to the class of successful businessmen. As President Obama said, most successful businessmen had good educations, paid for by others and provided by hard working teachers.

It takes money to start a business. Where did the successful entrepreneur get the funds needed. He may have inherited wealth, which implies help from family. He may have inherited family connections as some prominent politicians have done, and gotten financial help from those connections. He may have married money, getting financing from wife and/or her family. He may have tapped angel capital, investment capital, banks or eventually the stock market and bond market; in all cases, someone helped.

In my classes in business school I learned that while once managers treated employees as interchangeable parts, increasingly good management involves encouraging employees to contribute to the success of their companies and recognizing their contributions. I would not invest in a company in which the CEO or major stockholders did not recognize how much the success of the business was due to its staff, and indeed to consultants, suppliers and others who contribute to the bottom line.

Businesses are based on technology. Technology by its very nature is cumulative. Think about firms like Amazon and EBay, and the degree to which they depend on the Internet, computers, software, microelectronics, etc. All of those technologies were created by others and were available for those enterprises. (Incidentally, the key contributors to these technologies -- people who won Nobel Prizes and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation -- were successful by almost everyone's criteria, except that they seldom got rich. Money is not the only indicator of success, even in business.) Even more generally, we can trace the Internet back to discoveries of the nature of electro-magnetism, to the invention of the telephone, to the invention of the technology for electrical power generation and distribution, to the invention of electronic devices, etc. The modern businessman draws on centuries of technological invention and improvement, without which he would be as successful as a prehistoric member of a hunter-gatherer society.

It has been suggested that the payment due to all this help is the payment of one's fair share of taxes. I would maintain that that is certainly true. Perhaps the debt is also some humility, and some fellow feeling for the descendants of all those who have gone before, creating the conditions that allow us to succeed.


Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I recall Bob Textor, an anthropologist, used to caution that we are tempocentric. That is, we have the values of our time, but the values of people in the future will be different from ours, as ours are different than those of our ancestors. The economic and technological changes occurring now will drive and be driven by changes in values.

Views from the International Space Station at Night

This great video was produced by Knate Myers. Enjoy!

"Every frame in this video is a photograph taken from the International Space Station. All credit goes to the crews on board the ISS.

"Music by John Murphy - Sunshine (Adagio In D Minor) http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sunshine-music-from-motion/id297702863

"Image Courtesy of the Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why an emotionless person makes you uneasy!

An article in The Economist points out that people experience discomfort when confronted either by a machine that seems to have emotions and feelings or by a person who does not. Our brains are built to mirror the emotions of others, but only others that we feel should have emotions. If we feel that an entity should have emotions and they do not show them, we feel uncomfortable. If we feel that an entity should not have emotions and emotions are expressed, we feel uncomfortable.  We think with our brains, including our emotions, not with our "rational" minds.

Just because a law is constitutional doesn't mean it is good!

A federal appeals court upheld a South Dakota law on Tuesday that requires doctors to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure causes an increased risk of suicide...........A 2008 Johns Hopkins review of various studies on the link between abortion and suicide concluded that the highest quality studies showed few, if any, differences between the mental health of women who'd had abortions and women who hadn't. Laura Bassett, The Huffington Post 
The Supreme Court decides if a law is unconstitutional. I accede to the legal knowledge of the justices -- the Constitution apparently does not prohibit a state government from ordering its doctors to lie to their patients. On the other hand, even if constitutional, the law is a bad one, and should be repealed.

I recall that South Dakota was admitted to statehood in 1890 under the Benjamin Harrison administration although it had a tiny population. Apparently the Republicans wanted two more safely Republican senators in the Senate, one more safely Republican representative in the House, and three more safely Republican electoral votes in presidential elections. We live with the result.

Re. The World AIDS Conference, 2012

Frequency of Google Searches and References to HIV & AIDS

Blue refers to AIDS
Red refers to HIV

Note that people get much more interested in HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day. The frequency of references to both HIV and AIDS seems to have increased over the years.

The 2012 drought will dent farm profits and push up food prices

Source: The Economist
"(A)new report from the National Climatic Data Centre finds that 55% of the continental United States was in moderate to extreme drought and a third in severe to extreme drought as of July 10th."

Bad news for the U.S. economy, bad news for urban poor all over the world. One summer does not measure climate change, but it is hard to avoid thinking that this is not related to global warming.

Another sign of global warming

I quote from a story on ABC News about the Greenland ice sheet:
According to satellite data, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface thawed at some point in mid-July.
We reported last month on the “Unprecedented May Heat In Greenland,” where the temperature hit 76.6°F. So it would seem that unprecedented heat leads to unprecedented melting.
The melting of ice sheets means at the least that the environment in Greenland is changing and  sea levels are likely to rise. The massive flow of fresh water into the North Atlantic may have results that we can not predict.

Thanks to Irish cousins Karen and Laura for pointing me to this

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why I am a progressive

I have been thinking about the progress made in the last couple of hundred years, especially for the United States of America. Obviously, a couple of hundred years ago the USA was a small weak country occupying a narrow strip in the middle part of the east coast of North America. The growth of the country is obvious.

The economic growth of the nation is equally obvious. Almost everyone in the United States would be thought of as very poor by today's standards. No one in the days of the U.S. founding fathers dreamed of wealth like that of Bill Gates. Indeed, even the poor today are in far less peril of hunger and destitution than the average person a couple of centuries ago. Our accumulation of capital has allowed us to produce much, much more per capita.

The technological development is also obvious. Think only of: planes, trains and automobiles; radio, television and the Internet; internal combustion engines and electric motors; telephones and computers; microwave ovens, refrigerators and electric light. A couple of centuries ago average people could afford few clothes, and had limited diets but improved manufacturing and distribution technology have made ua all more affluent and comfortable than our ancestors.

In terms of the theme of this blog -- knowledge -- a couple of hundred years ago people understood that the world was round and that it revolved around the sun. They understood that the stars were a long way away, but did not understand the nature of the galaxy, and had not a clue that the universe included galaxies by the billions. They had no understanding of deep space nor deep time. Today we begin to understand that most matter is "dark", different in nature than the matter we see and feel; most energy is dark, different in nature than the energy we understand.

We have learned that the surface of the earth changes over the eons, as mountains grow and weather away. We have learned that species come and disappear, and come to understand the nature of evolution.

While people a couple of hundred years ago knew something about electricity and magnetism, they had no conception that they were related, much less an understanding of electromagnetic fields adequate to develop technology. They did not understand that matter and energy were different aspects of the same stuff, nor did they have an understanding of atomic physics. The theory of relativity didn't come along until a century ago.


When the United States was founded, all the states had legal slavery and slaves in residence. It is a century and a half since we outlawed slavery, and we have gone through the Jim Crow period passing Civil Rights legislation a half century ago. Our policies towards Indians have become much more humane. Generations of immigrants -- Germans, Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, Asian and Hispanic -- have been successfully integrated into the nation. Religious tolerance has progressed to the point that we have had a Catholic president and vice president, and have a Mormon presidential candidate.

Conservatives emphasize keeping that which we have achieved. Progressives emphasize achieving still more. I hope we will continue to learn,  continue to advance our technology, and continue to enjoy more benefits from out institutions, our wealth and our knowledge. I am a progressive.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Both Romney and Obama May Be Spinning Economic Policy

Ezra Klein's Wonkblog has an interesting posting relating to the debates going on in this election season.
Mitt Romney’s claim, broken down to its core components, is that the path to broadly shared economic growth is to reduce public investment in order to further cut tax rates, and so his policy proposal is to slash public investment and cut taxes. Obama’s claim is just the opposite: He thinks we have too little public investment in order to assure broadly shared economic growth, and so he would raise taxes on high-income Americans to protect public investments.
Note that when you phrase the question more calmly, we’re talking about a difference of degrees. Romney knows that entrepreneurs depend on the quality of infrastructure. Obama knows that there will be no new business formation if business owners aren’t rewarded for their success. Romney is not proposing to zero out public spending. Obama is not proposing to raise marginal tax rates to 100 percent. Rather, if you look at the proposed revenue levels in the Ryan and Obama budgets, the difference in revenues is about three-quarters of a percentage point of GDP.
A recent paper by the Kauffman Foundation — a nonprofit devoted entirely to encouraging entrepreneurship — looked at some of these issues, and they began with a fact that should force both sides to moderate their rhetoric: We don’t really know what leads to more firm creation. In fact, firm creation is something of a mystery, as it’s been eerily stable over the past 50 years, despite the radically different policy and economic environments we’ve had over that time. Here’s the graph:

Of course, politicians don't win votes by admitting that their policies are pretty much the same as those of their opponent, not that the knowledge base on which those policies are based are pretty slim. The guy who gets elected will find that he can't really implement the policies that he thinks he wants as a candidate.

I think the basic issue is whether the government should seek to increase the income inequality within our nation or to decrease it. If it continues to increase, I fear our democracy is in trouble. Consequently, I prefer modest increases in taxes on the rich.

It is going to get a lot hotter!

My cousin Carol alerted me to "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" by BILL MCKIBBEN in Rolling Stone magazine.

June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average.
Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the "largest temperature departure from average of any season on record." The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet's history.
 Here are some numbers from the article:
  • Scientists agree that the rise in average global temperature should not exceed 2 degrees C.
  • The increase to date has been 0.8 degrees; if we were to stop emissions of greenhouse gas now, a further rise of 0.8 degrees would probably follow as the impact of what is already there goes through the system (meaning that we only have 0.4 degrees slack in the system)
  • Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below the two degrees.
  • Carbon emissions continue to increase (with a brief drop in 2009 related to the Great Recession) -- the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.
  • CO2 emissions last year rose to 31.6 gigatons -- at that rate, we'll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years
  • Proven coal and oil and gas reserves correspond to 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide.
Of course, companies extracting oil, coal and gas are making money doing so and have a lot of political power. Exporting countries want to continue profiting from their reserves. The United States and other countries with domestic reserves are working to exploit those reserves for domestic use.

We are going to see small island nations simply disappear. We are going to see coastal zones flooded and uninhabitable. We are going to see lots of crop failures like the one we are suffering in the United States this year. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More on How We Actually Think

I quote from an article in The Economist:

CLEARLY, a person’s decisions are determined by circumstances. Just how closely they are determined, however, has only recently become apparent. Experiments conducted over the past few years have revealed that giving someone an icy drink at a party leads him to believe he is getting the cold shoulder from fellow guests, that handing over a warm drink gives people a sense of warmth from others, and—most astonishingly—that putting potential voters in chairs which lean slightly to the left causes them to become more agreeable towards policies associated with the left of the political spectrum. 
The latest of these studies also looks at the effect of furniture. It suggests that something as trivial as the stability of chairs and tables has an effect on perceptions and desires.
As I have posted many times in the past, we think with our brains, not just our rational minds. We are not conscious of all the processing going on in the brain, and indeed only the results of some of that processing reach the level of the conscious mind. Indeed, some of the processing is done at the chemical level as our conclusions are influenced by hormones and other physiological conditions.

I don't have any real insight into how to control for this aspect of thinking. I suppose that a group analysis of a situation and group decision making give some kind of average condition and may be less sensitive to idiosyncratic influences. It may also be important to make important decisions when one is not distracted, and to reexamine them later in different conditions before taking action.

Bad News on American Food Production this year.

Source: The Economist
I quote the explanation of these trends:
Barely a month ago American farmers were expecting bumper harvests and the prices of grains and oilseeds were falling. Since then a severe heatwave has hit the Midwest, wilting crops and sending prices soaring. Soyabeans have hit a record of over $16 a bushel. World stocks of the oilseed, which is crushed for animal feed, are already low following a drought in South America. Forecasts of end-season stocks in America, the biggest producer, have been cut by 7% in a month. The forecast for maize stocks has also been reduced since June, by 37%, and yields will be the lowest since 2003. Higher feed prices will depress American meat and poultry production, and are likely to affect other food prices as well.
This is not good news for the U.S. economy, which has enough problems already. It is unlikely to be a major problem at the American supermarkets since so much of the price of food here is packaging and distribution. Agricultural exports are also important in our balance of payments, and that also is a big problem.

The impact on poor people in poor countries will be hunger. Those folk spend a large part of their incomes on food, and the food they are able to buy is mostly composed of grains and legumes. The failure of the U.S. harvest will drive up prices for wheat and corn, but there is a substitution effect so the demand for other grains will also go up. The poor will take the blow in their wallets and in their stomachs.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Akua Tuta - Kashtin

My son pointed me to this video which I liked both for the Indian music and the background. I share it with readers of this blog.

Still More On Engineering Diplomacy

There is a report titled "Science, Technology, and American Diplomacy: Background and Issues for Congress" by Deborah D. Stine. The report of the Congressional Research Service, published in June 2009, provides a useful overview of the role of science, technology and engineering in U.S. foreign policy as seen from the Congress. The date of publication suggests that the document was intended as a review of policy for those assuming office in 2009, and thus could not fully represent the policies of the Obama administration.

Of course, the Congress has an important role in setting policy for engineering diplomacy and in appropriating funds to implement that policy. Of course, members of Congress are politicians and few have engineering skills or background. Engineers do serve on Congressional staffs, and importantly there are fellowships available to allow engineers to serve for a year or two on such a staff. Perhaps more important, engineers can provide advice to Congress through scheduled hearings. Even more important, engineers acting either in their private capacity or as representatives of the organizations in which they work can take the initiative to recommend foreign policy positions to their Representatives and Senators.

Stine's report is also useful pointing out that there are many agencies of the executive branch involved in engineering diplomacy. While I tend to focus on the State Department and USAID, I recall an important role for the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House. It is also the case that virtually all of the "domestic" agencies have international interests. This is certainly true of the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce and even Interior. In an increasingly globalized world, diplomatic approaches can be used to advance the mission of virtually every part of government. I would note especially that the mission agencies of the U.S. government are often best able to deal with the specialized agencies of the United Nations system (e.g. Department of Energy with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Department of Health and Human Services with the World Health Organization) and with the related departments of the International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank.

One might even mention that the judiciary branch of government may have a role in engineering diplomacy. Cases may be brought to federal courts with strong technical components, indeed with a mixture of economic and technical concerns for which engineers have special competence. There are mechanisms by which the courts can call upon the engineering profession for technical advice on the issues involved in such cases.

We think of foreign policy as a concern of the federal government, but state and even local governments organize international travel seeking to promote foreign investment in their territories or foreign sales of their industries. Here too, engineers can play an important diplomatic role as members of delegations and advising on priorities for international activities. Indeed, they can help finance these efforts.

Note too that engineers engage in international professional work both as agents of the organizations that employ them and as volunteers. I would suggest that it is useful for them to be conscious that in these roles they are also citizen diplomats. Their behavior reflects not only on the profession but on the nation.
A fundamental question is why the United States should invest in international S&T diplomacy instead of domestic research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (STEM) activities, which are facing budget constraints. Deborah Stine
 At the end of World War II, the United States GDP was about half of the world GDP. The United States had a historic role in engineering innovation (think of Edison and Ford, or even earlier, the American system of manufacturing). During the war, America had pioneered in big technology development efforts (radar, atomic bombs, etc.). Moreover, the United States obtained very important engineering and technological capabilities from Europe before, during and after the war. This was a very anomalous situation. One can not expect a country with five percent of the world's population to produce half or more of the world's inventions and technological innovations permanently.

Today Europe has comparable engineering and technological capacity with the United States and Asian nations are fast advancing to comparable strength. As a result, it is important that we actively scan the world for inventions and innovations that would strengthen American engineering and take appropriate steps to transfer technology from abroad to the United States. This function is more important than is generally recognized, and it is likely to become still more important in the future. It should be seen as an important and increasing function of STEM diplomacy, one in which engineers must play a key role.

Here are two recent posts on engineering diplomacy:

Friday, July 13, 2012

I wonder how Congress ranks compared to Hitler?

More on Engineering Diplomacy

Good public policy needs engineers to be good public policy makers. There isn’t much new or better that happens in the world today that isn’t made possible by some innovation in engineering. But all the changes that make life better also make life a bit more complicated. To deal with these complications, we develop public policies, laws, and regulations to provide the framework for the operation of an orderly beneficial society.
John Sununu
This post complements a recent one that has been surprisingly popular.

I was just reading an article from several years ago by Norm Neureiter who had been the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. He pointed out that he had always assumed that engineering was subsumed under "science and technology" until challenged by engineers at a meeting of professional engineers. I too have long assumed that it you are talking about technology of course you are talking in part about engineering (and in fact there is engineering science as well). But I too have come to feel that it is better to use the term "science, technology and engineering".

I suppose the flagship role of engineers is to make things that work well and efficiently. Where it is easy to do so, we don't need professionals. Where the technology involved gets complicated or difficult to understand, the professionals come to the fore. So engineers are often working with cutting edge techniques and reducing them to practice. But engineers are almost always worrying about costs and sustainability. They want to build things that not only work, but are profitable to operate and that will last.

I started my career as an engineer and after a few years working as a senior research engineer and teaching, I joined the Peace Corps in the 1960s. As a volunteer. I spent a couple of years in an engineering school in Chile. There I taught some but mostly worked in the computer center. I had the opportunity to develop computer programs that helped

  • evaluate whether the utility company in Chile should invest in a dual purpose sea water desalinization and electric power generation plant for the northern desert,  
  • automate the location of towers for high tension wires, and
  • a company decide to expand its production line and increase local employment.
I also turned over software to Santiago (that worked) to synchronize traffic lights, but that software was never again used. The experiences at a PCV were life changing, and eventually I went to work full time in international development. The Peace Corps is an opportunity for engineers to serve as "citizen diplomats", and important if poorly understood role.

Later in my career I was involved in the funding of grants for scientific research as part of our foreign aid program. Admittedly, the research was justified by its potential for eventual application, but it was scientists who were doing the research. I came to realize that their attitudes were different than those I had internalized as an engineer. For that reason, diplomacy needs engineering sensibility as well as that of scientists, even scientists explicitly working towards developing technologies.

One of the issues that Neureiter raises is why engineers might join the government when that calls for them to stop doing the kind of engineering for which they trained and indeed work that they like, even when such a decision needs to be explained to their engineer friends. That decision has its benefits. For example, I convinced my colleagues in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that we should be investing in information and communications technology and notably in the early 1990s that we should do something to promote the transfer of Internet technology to developing nations. As a result, we made a small grant to a university in Costa Rica to build an academic backbone for the Internet in that country; NASA came through with bandwidth on their satellite channel to the United States. The diplomatic impact was great -- the Vice President of Costa Rica came to Washington to sign the grant. More important to my mind, the Costa Rica backbone rapidly grew into a backbone for Central America. I had the pleasure of believing that due to our effort, a whole region got online months or even years faster than they otherwise would have.

I have had the opportunity to help develop projects for USAID and the World Bank that were intended to stimulate science, technology and engineering in developing countries. For example, I worked on part of a loan program in Brazil that was planned to provide $1.2 billion in loan funding for the sector. The government in borrowing that amount was pledging not only to promote the development of scientific, technological and engineering capacity in the country for more than a decade, but also to complement the borrowed funds with additional funding from its federal budget. How many engineers get the satisfaction of helping to move a whole country so much in so useful a direction? Incidentally, working in multinational organizations raises issues of the role of the citizen in multilateral diplomacy.

Of course, engineers often leave day to day engineering to do something else. Many good managers benefit from training and experience as engineers. John Sununu, whose quotation begins this post, left engineering to lead a university, to become a governor of his state, and to become the White House chief of staff. So too, some engineers opt for a career as diplomats, even choosing to work in the economic, political, or management services of the State Department.

Neuriteiter was instrumental in greatly expanding the role of STE fellows in the State Department. I helped to expand the role of STE fellows in USAID. About a third of the fellows stayed in government, many of those who came to USAID stayed in government. For them the fellowship was a good way to find a new direction for their careers. On the other hand, I think that those who returned to academia or the private sector after a year or two in USAID also benefited from their experience, bringing new knowledge and understanding to the rest of their career. Certainly their service in USAID benefited the U.S. foreign aid program, and decades after we initiated the fellowship programs in USAID they continue.

I would point out that a young engineer who becomes a career diplomat will not fully develop his professional toolkit as an engineer, and in fact will find his engineering skills becoming rusty and outdated while serving his country abroad (and while developing other skills and abilities as a diplomat). Young people serving fellowships in government also do so before they have fully developed the full range of abilities of senior engineers and engineering managers. Senior fellowships are a very useful complement to the participation of more junior fellows and engineers in career service. Still, there is a very important role for senior engineers in providing advice to the government through advisory committees and the like

Neureiter refers to the National Academy of Engineering listing of the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. I note that many of these achievements were realized in the United States and western Europe, but have not yet reached much of Africa and Asia, nor indeed parts of the Americas. There remain huge challenges of developing the infrastructures in these regions. There are real challenges and opportunities for American engineers in completing the penetration of these achievements globally. Indeed, it seems likely that opportunities for engineers in this area will only be available if other engineers work as diplomats or provide engineering advice to their governments.

What happened to the Lakota?

My history book club met Wednesday to discuss Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre by Heather Cox Richardson. I posted on the book a couple of weeks ago.

One of our members pointed out that Wounded Knee in 1890 effectively marked the end of the Indian Wars in the western United States. We had previously read The Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen, and the Comanche too lost their empire in the second half of the 19th century (see post).

During the 18th and 19th centuries the Lakota had made huge cultural adjustments in the face of problems with diseases brought to the continent by European immigrants. Originally the tribe was located at the headwaters of the Mississippi, but moved west in part due to pressures from other tribes to their east.

They adopted a horse culture when horses became available, entered into trade relationships with Whites, adopted firearms and iron tools that they obtained through that trade, eventually developing fierce skills at hunting the American bison. They also developed a effective cavalry and controlled a considerable empire including significant portions of what are now five states. In the process they apparently managed to save their language and much of the tradition of their culture.

After 1890, however, the Lakota appeared to be much less successful as they sought to maintain those aspects of their culture that they most valued while adapting to their new circumstances and adopting technologies and institutions that would allow them to survive and prosper as individuals, families and as a people. Today the Lakota are among the poorest of Americans, suffering from very ill health.

The question is therefore, what happened to the Lakota? Why had a people who for centuries had successfully adapted to changing circumstances failed to do so in more recent decades? Basically, the dominant society of the United States wanted Lakota lands and took them, leaving the Lakota without the resources to progress. Essentially a people dependent on hunting and gathering ran into a modern industrial society and lost.

The Union and the Confederacy put some three million men in the field during the Civil War. The Union radically expanded the role of government, and new ways were found to finance that vast expansion. Following the war the United States experienced a vast industrial expansion. Railroads and telegraph networks expanded rapidly, tying the nation together. The financial system serving the private sector became much stronger.

The slogan "free labor, free land, free men" symbolized the desire of people to homestead and settle western lands. Railroads wanted rights of way, markets in the west for eastern goods that they could transport, and goods from the west that they could transport to satisfy eastern demands. Eastern lenders wanted profitable markets for their loans in the west. Miners wanted access to the newly discovered gold and silver deposits in the west. If the Lakota stood in the way of this avarice then they would have to assimilate, give way, or be pushed aside. 

Politicians saw government action in the west as opportunity. Turning territories into states would allow them to obtain more votes in the electoral college and in the Congress in support of their party candidates and programs. Party leaders could make patronage appointments in the west, building support for the party. Office seekers could obtain salaries and -- too often -- opportunities for graft. Good government in the modern sense appears seldom to have been a major political objective.

The army had been greatly reduced in size after the Civil War but remained much stronger than any force that could be fielded by any Indian tribe. Its senior officers were Civil War survivors. It was comparatively well armed. Politicians saw deployment in the western Indian wars as good politics, not only because voters in the west appreciated the protection, but also because the military purchases created much appreciated markets for the goods and services of local residents. The army effectively used scouts from other tribes during the Indian campaigns, and often other tribes would join the army against tribes such as the Lakota who had been their enemies in inter-Indian battles.

The ecology of the plains changed. The buffalo were hunted out, and the plains were fenced and cattle ranching introduced. Recall that these were dry plains unsuitable for farming without irrigation, and the Lakota had no resources to develop irrigation infrastructure.

Native born whites who dominated the economy and politics of the United States had many prejudices. Jim Crow policies had triumphed in the south. There was antipathy towards the poor immigrants, notably the Catholic immigrants. Indians came very low on the hierarchy of ethnic groups, and they did not vote not did they buy much. The Yellow Press of the day did not help the Indian reputation with the white population.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -- would you want to try to make a living here?
The Lakota were a special case. The Santee War of 1862 saw many settlers killed and 400 Lakota sentenced to death in its aftermath, 38 of whom were actually hanged in the largest mass execution in American history. In 1863, a reward of $500 was given to the man that killed Little Crow, the leader of the Lakota in the war.  In 1866 Lakota warriors killed 80 soldiers in what was called the Fetterman Massacre. The second Sioux War in the 1870s led to the massacre of Custer's troops. The Wounded Knee massacre in 1890 was for years portrayed in the press and by the government as a success for the army against a Lakota uprising. The Lakota were seen as enemies and villains. 

The Lakota were in disarray themselves in 1890. Some sought assimilation as the only way that offered hope of survival. Others has sought refuge in Canada to find that they preferred a return to the reservation. Others still hoped to resist the government and its army. Still others sought hope in the ghost dance movement. I suppose that it makes some cultural sense to simultaneously explore various alternatives when the strategy of the past seems to be proving disastrous. One supposes that they eventually chose the least objectionable in alternative.

Essentially, 1890 marked the end of resistance of the Lakota people against the policies imposed by the federal government and the military. The steamroller of "manifest destiny" had ended Lakota domination of what had been their territory, installing instead domination by white society and the distant government in Washington.

Thus for generations after Wounded Knee the Lakota were confined to reservations on the dry plains. They were dependent on often corrupt Indian Affairs agents for subsidies which proved inadequate. There was no industry in the region. When they proved successful at ranching, limits were placed on the number of cattle that they could own. There children were removed to schools (including the Carlisle Indian school in Pennsylvania) which were intended to "civilize" them, undermining their Lakota cultural identity. They were the subject of prejudice by their white neighbors and at best ignored by the government in Washington. Not surprisingly they were not able to find ways to thrive economically nor culturally in those circumstances.

Diane Sawyer on the Pine Ridge Reservation (check out the album of images)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A thought about global warming

No one year's events, much less a single event such as the direcho of described in the video can be clearly related to global warming. However, there is clearly an increase in the average global temperature:

Source: SEED
It is also the case that average temperatures have changed naturally over geological time:

Source: SEED
It is well known that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to warming of the earth's surface. In fact without those gasses that have been emitted naturally, the world would be hardly livable. We know that in addition to carbon dioxide there are other greenhouse gases, and we know that due to human activity there are lots of greenhouse gases being emitted and that the concentration of greenhouse gasses is increasing in the atmosphere.

Source: SĂ©mhur via Wikipedia
There remain some uncertainties. Models of climate change differ in their predictions. Natural climate change and climate change due to the actions of man by be confounded. Still, there is very widespread agreement among experts that:
  • humans are contributing substantially to global warming;
  • that there will be a significant increase in average global temperatures over at least the rest of the century;
  • that the increases will not be uniform over the globe, but that some areas will be more affected than others;
  • that there will be more and more severe adverse weather events as a result of global warming;
  • that there will be other effects such as sea level rises, changes in climate zones, and changes in ecology.
The oil company executive in the video is correct that people are going to have to adapt to changes. It is too late already to reverse changes that are in progress.

Many, including me, agree to a precautionary principle -- that we should do what we can to reduce the rate mankind is spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so as not to do more damage than is necessary. It is also agreed that we should prepare to deal with adverse events and trends resulting from global warming. 

Many of us believe that poor people in poor countries are likely to suffer most from the effects of global warming, and that it is rich people in rich countries that are responsible for a very disproportionate level of greenhouse gas emissions. It would seem that those who contribute more to the problem should help those who suffer most from the problem.

Here is a prize for engineering

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a new global engineering prize that will reward and celebrate an individual (or up to three individuals) responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has been of global benefit to humanity.

The first winner of the £1million prize will be selected by a distinguished and eminent panel of judges from across the world. The prize will be presented by Her Majesty, the Queen in the spring of 2013.

During the search for a winner, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering will discover and celebrate stories of engineering success, raise the international public profile of engineering and inspire new generations of engineers to take up the challenges of the future.

The Water Cycle

Hunger in the Sahel

Source: The Economist
I quote from an article in The Economist:

NEARLY 19m people are short of food in the Sahel, the vast stretch of dry land on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert. According to the UN, more than 1m children under the age of five are at risk of dying; another 3m, it says, are “acutely malnourished”. On June 19th it asked the world’s richer countries to find $1.6 billion to help keep starvation at bay. 
This is the third big food crisis to hit the region in seven years. This one has been triggered by drought, a poor harvest last year, high food prices, and insecurity in Mali, one of half a dozen Sahelian countries (see article). The reasons were much the same in 2005 and 2010. Even in non-crisis years, Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, says it deals with 870,000 cases of extreme malnutrition in the region.

One wonders whether this is a result of global warming. Certainly the average global temperature has been going up for decades and many of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.

One also wonders whether the environmental disaster going on in the Sahel is leading to more migration in search of survival, and whether that movement is leading to increased conflict. Check out this posting from last month.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Trends in Regional Portions of Global GDP

I quote from the source article in The Atlantic:
(O)ne way to read the graph, very broadly speaking, is that everything to the left of 1800 is an approximation of population distribution around the world.
After 1800 the Industrial Revolution took off in Europe and the United States. The United States and Russia also extended western control over respectively to the west and east. The great depression shows up as a slowing in the divergence between West and East, and the rapid recovery of the West after World War II is represented by an increasing slope on the graph.

The rapid rise of GDP in China and earlier in Japan, combined with the India's more modest growth in recent decades is reflected in the larger share of GDP in the East and the corresponding lower share of GDP in the West.

The graph shows that changes in the relative rate of growth of GDP do occur from time to time, and it is possible that the rapid progress in the East may slow or be shared among other countries, or that the relative decline in the rate of growth in the United States might be reversed.

Thanks to Julianne for pointing this out.

Thinking about Euro Zone

The Euro Zone

We read of the European financial negotiations as if they were between the chiefs of government of Germany and Greece (or whatever country is financially wounded at the moment). While that image is a convenient vehicle for television news it seems misleading.

As I see the situation, the Euro was created as a common currency for 17 European Union members, but no system was created to assure common fiscal policies among those countries, nor common regulatory standards for the national banking systems. As a result, some countries have gone into debt or allowed their banks to fail, putting pressure on other countries to bail them out. Indeed, there is even the possibility that the "bad behavior" of some governments may draw the entire Euro region into financial crisis and recession.

The issue seems often to be presented as whether Germany should negotiate with Greece a set of financial reforms that is less draconian than those which were negotiated last time and thus more acceptable to the Greek people, or whether it should hold firm as would be more acceptable to the German people. A recent article in The New Yorker describes the possible negotiation in terms of the concepts of fairness as seen from Germany and from Greece. The article uses as an example, the experiment in which a sum of money is offered to two subjects; the first decides how the sum would be divided between the two, the second decides whether to accept or not. It has been found that if the division is seen to be unfair by the second subject, he/she will reject it sacrificing the money himself/herself in order to deny it to the first subject as a penalty for acting unfairly.

I would point out that the best strategy for each subject will depend on whether the decision is a unique simple experience or one of a series of similar decisions. It may make financial sense to discipline unfair divisions early in a chain of decisions if that encourages more fair allocations later in the series. Thus Germans might rationally choose not to renegotiate if it perceives the current crisis as caused by unfair behavior of Greece and as potentially the first in a long series of decisions in which Greek governments may chose to act fairly or unfairly with their German (European) bankers.

Moreover, we hear not only of Greece, but of similar problems in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Thus Germany, which has pursued strict fiscal responsibility since the reunification of East and West Germany (with considerable sacrifice of the German citizens), faces not only negotiations with one other nation, but the perception that how it acts with respect to Greece will influence expectations of the other 15 Euro zone nations.

I would expect the chiefs of government of the European Union to take the long term view and consider the overall complexity of the European Union. Indeed, a head of government will have a Minister of Finance reporting to him and a committee of economic advisers whose job will be to bring to his/her attention just such a comprehensive view of the economic and financial decisions. Still, people are people and will think with their brains and emotions as well as their "rational minds".

Moreover, in the European democracies, the party politics of the legislative branches have great impact on the national economic and financial policies, as do the perceptions and voting of the citizens. Thus a chief of government while establishing a negotiating posture is doing so in terms of what he/she thinks is feasible in terms of legislation and acceptable to the public. The leader is sometimes wrong, finding that the negotiated terms finally achieved are repudiated by the nation he/she has led. Even if a politician does not feel that his/her defeat in the next election is the worst catastrophe that could occur, it is rational to negotiate toward solutions that will not be rejected by their own nation.

And of course, the decision making is done under conditions of ignorance and uncertainty. As has become obvious, no one knows in detail all of the risks involved in the current situation. Even when bankers or politicians are not deliberately obfuscating the current dangers, the information systems are not adequate to make them known. Moreover, economists differ as to the right solutions. In the modern global system, even the Euro zone is so influenced by policies and events in other regions that it is not "master of its own destiny". The crash of the U.S. housing market and its implications for the global market in mortgage derivatives has had great impact in Europe, as Euro zone problems may have impacts in North American and Asia.

It would seem that the European Union should move toward a more complete federal union, with a common fiscal policy and common strong banking regulation. I think about how difficult it has been for that to happen in the United States. It was not until the demands were felt by the Union political leaders for financing the Civil War (in the absence of the southern leaders from Congress) that this country began to withdraw from the states the power to authorize state banks to issue currencies and created a national bank. Even today, we find the individual states cutting budgets while the federal government is following Keynesian policies to stimulate the economy. It will be hard to get European politicians to give up power to the federal government, and harder still for the citizens of those countries to support their politicians in doing so.

Not surprisingly, television talking heads don't make sense of this complexity in the minute sound bites devoted to Euro zone economics on the evening news.

Thoughts on Busch's first book

I just read Dust to Dust: A Memoir by Benjamin Busch. You can Busch discuss the book in this YouTube video. The book consists of a number of chapters with titles like "Wood", "Water" and "Stone". Each chapter consists of a number of vignettes, each a memory drawn from some part of the author's past.

The intent of the book is literary, and the author takes some care in trying convey sensory aspects of those memories in prose. This is not a formal biography. While Busch served a couple of tours in Iraq as a Marine officer, the book is far from a journalistic account of that war experience; in fact, the book deals much more with childhood than with war.

Busch describes the book as being about memory and the way we remember -- a thought triggering a memory which links to another and so on. I accept that, and in fact I often found that his vignettes triggered memories in my of my own childhood.

Incidentally, Busch grew up the son of a well known writer and a librarian. He and his parents lived in rural upstate New York with a couple of stints in England. I gathered that much of his time as a boy was spent in fields and woods; he played in streams and built forts. He studied art at Vassar, had a show business career, exhibited his photographs, and done construction work. Not a common background. That he and I had common experiences as boys I suppose says something about boyhood.

As the title, Dust to Dust, suggests, a theme that flows through the book is the impermanence of what is. Everything is composed of repurposed material which is eventually given up to be again reused in another context. This is true of each of us of course, but it is also true of trees, of the waters in our streams and rivers, and even of the rocks in the landscape.  Busch seems to have internalized this lesson, while it has not diminished his grief at the deaths of his parents nor his concern for the soldiers wounded while under his command.

A good book, worthy of your attention!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Engineering Diplomacy

Najmedin Meshkati has an article titled "Engineering Diplomacy: An Underutilized Tool in Foreign Policy" in the current issue of the new AAAS online journal, Science & Diplomacy. As a former engineer who worked a long time in foreign assistance, let me share some thoughts on the topic.

Diplomacy is based on power, and engineering is in my opinion one of the bases for U.S. power:
  • Military power: U.S. military power is based on technology more than manpower. Think of the role of aerospace engineers and electronics engineers in providing that technology.
  • Economic power: Engineers play key roles in designing, building and maintaining the infrastructure and industrial plant on which American economic power is based.
  • Soft power: Think of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who received his PhD in engineering from USC and taught engineering at a California state college. Assuming that his experience was positive in those universities, think of the good will the United States banked for the future. Indeed, American engineering education and engineering services are widely admired and provide a basis for soft power.
I would also suggest that engineering can play an important role in achieving key foreign policy goals of the United States.
  • Security: I have already mentioned the role of engineering in assuring the technological leadership that ensures the military power so important to our diplomacy. I suspect that most of our military attaches are products of the military academies, and those academies turn out a lot of officers trained in fields of engineering. Think too of President Reagan's much loved phrase, "trust but verify". Much of our capacity to verify the control of security threats is based on engineering technologies.
  • Economics: A key function for diplomats is helping to assure the competitiveness of American firms in international markets. Of course the "engineering firms" that work in infrastructure projects are much involved in international business. Perhaps more important are the many high technology firms providing U.S. exports, many of which are dependent on engineering technology. Think for example of the role of chemical engineers in the manufacture of ethical pharmaceuticals.
  • Global systems problems: Increasingly U.S. foreign policy has to be concerned with global systems problems such as global warming, sea level rise, and desertification. Engineering plays a key role in the energy sector and thus in the control of greenhouse gas emissions. It is critical to efforts to assure the people have access to potable water and that farmers have access to water for their crops. Engineering has a critical technological role in assuring that development is sustainable. Indeed, engineers have critical roles in the production and distribution of information and pharmaceuticals needed to meet the challenges of global threats to health.
  • Humanitarian assistance and the reduction of poverty: Since the Marshall Plan, a major aspect of U.S. foreign policy has been foreign aid and in the larger sense, foreign aid workers are part of our diplomatic corps. Engineers are perhaps more important in reducing risks to man from natural disasters, but they play an important role in disaster relief. They also play a key role in infrastructure development which is basic to poverty alleviation in poor countries.
While we tend to think of diplomacy in terms of diplomats from our own country meeting with diplomats from another country to which they are assigned, diplomats also meet frequently with government officials and citizens of the countries to which they are assigned. While few countries assign diplomatic duties to professional engineers, many contacts are made with engineers. For example, many governmental leaders in China were trained as engineers, and many industrial leaders in all countries have engineering training.

There is also an important and continuing role for multilateral diplomacy. Think about the role of engineers in UNESCO, of agricultural engineers in the FAO, of biomedical engineers in WHO, of communications engineers in the ITU, and of industrial engineers in UNIDO. Often delegations to meetings of these and other international organizations will include engineers from the private sector or domestic government agencies combining multilateral diplomatic functions with their engineering professional duties. As an example, think of the roles that petroleum and mining engineers must have played in the negotiations of the Law of the Seas Treaty, or of the roles of nuclear engineers in dealing with questions of nuclear safety and non-proliferation,

We can consider several forms in which engineers contribute to diplomacy:

  • Engineering diplomatic infrastructure: Diplomats depend on an infrastructure which assures not only communication with the home country and access to information relevant to their duties, but also the security of their persons and their premises. Note, however, that with the elaboration of the global information infrastructure it is increasingly possible to conduct diplomacy via that infrastructure. More people abroad can access the websites of the U.S. government than could ever meet with an American diplomat. Obviously engineers must be considered in the development and maintenance of this infrastructure.
  • Engineering advice to diplomats: The diplomatic corps has tracks for consolar officers, economic officers, management officers, political officers, and public diplomacy officers (this last group work often in cultural fields). While the U.S. State Department does recruit people with engineering background, few of their officers in these roles have full qualifications as professional engineers. In consequence, it is often important that diplomats have access to professional engineers to obtain specific detailed advice needed for to fully understand and achieve their diplomatic objectives.
  • Engineering as part of the content of diplomacy: I can easily see situations in which professional engineers can themselves play a role in diplomacy. Think of Engineers Without Borders. Indeed, consider the long borders of the United States with Mexico and Canada; how many disputes along these borders can be and have been avoided by cross-border engineering collaboration to engineer appropriate infrastructure solutions, and in how many other borders can engineers catalyze similar solutions. 
  • Diplomacy for engineering. While much of the discussion above has focused on how engineers can help diplomats or take part in diplomacy, it is also the case that diplomacy has a role to play in helping engineers do their work. For example, think of diplomats working to assure that the civil engineering firms in their own country have equitable access to engineering contracts in other countries. Think of the role of diplomats in smoothing the path for engineers involved in cross national projects such as cross national road systems (e.g. the Pan American Highway system), air traffic control systems, and waterways (e.g. the St. Lawrence Seaway).
I would suggest that few people in the general population, and indeed not all diplomats recognize the wide range of situations in which engineers can be and should be involved in diplomacy.

How important is knowledge to American democracy?

Capitol Hill Picture

The main building of the Library of Congress, the world's largest library, faces the Capitol and is adjacent to the Supreme Court building. One one side of the Library are the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn office buildings occupied by the members of the House of Representatives and their staffs; on the other side are the Russell, Dirkson and Hart office buildings occupied by the members of the Senate and their staffs. The Congress actual meets in the Capitol building and it is there that the electoral votes are counted, formalizing the election of the president and vice president. The location of the Library is not coincidental.