Digital humanities

There is an Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) in the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Brett Bobley, ODH Director, this morning posted a paper, "Why the Digital Humanities?" (pdf, 3pp.), on its website. ODH was established in March 2008, its primary mission being "to help coordinate the NEH's efforts in the area of digital humanities." Bobley explains:
Let me expand on what I mean by “digital humanities.” We use “digital humanities” as an umbrella term for a number of different activities that surround technology and humanities scholarship. Under the digital humanities rubric, I would include topics like open access to materials, intellectual property rights, tool development, digital libraries, data mining, born-digital preservation, multimedia publication, visualization, GIS, digital reconstruction, study of the impact of technology on numerous fields, technology for teaching and learning, sustainability models, and many others.
Bobley also notes the massive digitization of cultural heritage materials, cyberinfrastructure (new technologies for humanities scholars), and the rise of digital humanities centers.

Labels: ,


Recent GAO reports

From the Government Accountability Office (GAO):


DEFINED BENEFIT PENSIONS: Plan Freezes Affect Millions of Participants and May Pose Retirement Income Challenges, GAO-08-817 (pdf, 62pp/1.2MB), July 21, 2008

In private defined benefit (DB) plans, freezes limit some or all future pension accruals. GAO reports on the implications of freezes for sponsors, participants, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Among its conclusions:
While plan freezes are not as irrevocable as plan terminations, they are indicative of the system’s continued erosion. Yet freezes are just one of the many developments now affecting the DB system. The broad ranging Pension Protection Act of 2006, changes in accounting rules, rising retiree health care costs and health care costs generally, a weak economy, and falling interest rates all represent challenges that DB plan sponsors may need to confront.

STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PENSION PLANS: Current Structure and Funded Status, GAO-08-983T (pdf, 28pp/492kB), July 10, 2008

GAO found, in part:
Most state and local government pension plans have enough invested resources set aside to fund the benefits they are scheduled to pay over the next several decades....pension benefits are generally not at risk in the near term because current assets and new contributions may be sufficient to pay benefits for several years. Still, many governments have often contributed less than the amount needed to improve or maintain funded ratios. Low contributions raise concerns about the future funded status.


Surface Transportation Programs: Proposals Highlight Key Issues and Challenges in Restructuring the Programs, GAO-08-843R (pdf, 28pp/944kB), July 29, 2008

To examine the needs of the surface transportation system, Congress established the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission (Policy Commission) and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission (Finance Commission). The Policy Commission issued its final report in Jan. 2008. The Financing Commission issued an interim report (pdf, 40pp/1.45MB) in Feb. 2008 and is expected to issue its final report in Nov. GAO used the Policy Commission's final report as a point of reference in this study.

GAO reviewed seven restructuring proposals from stakeholders and identified five common themes:
  • defining a federal role in freight and goods movement
  • linking transportation policy and funding to environment and energy sectors
  • promoting better management of existing assets, e.g., existing infrastructure
  • incorporating performance and accountability to ensure commensurate public benefits
  • using multiple funding sources for long-term sustainability of programs

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Improvements Are Needed to More Fully Assess Predicted Impacts of New Starts Projects, GAO-08-844 (pdf, 67pp/936kB), July 25, 2008

Through New Starts, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recommends new fixed guideway transit projects. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) requires GAO to annually review the New Starts process. Here GAO discusses (1) the extent to which justification criteria capture total project benefits, (2) FTA's challenges in improving the New Starts program, and (3) options for evaluating New Starts projects.

TRAFFIC SAFETY PROGRAMS: Progress, States' Challenges, and Issues for Reauthorization, GAO-08-990T (pdf, 35pp/444kB), July 16, 2008

SAFETEA-LU authorized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to award traffic safety grants to states and implement a high visibility enforcement (HVE) program. SAFETEA-LU expires in 2009, and this report addresses NHTSA's oversight of its programs, the programs' effectiveness, and Congress's reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU.

TRAFFIC SAFETY: NHTSA's Improved Oversight Could Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Management and Safety in Some States, GAO-08-788 (pdf, 53pp/668kB), July 14, 2008

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for overseeing state highway traffic safety programs. This study discusses NHTSA's State and Community Highway Safety Grant program (23 USC § 402, commonly referred to as the Section 402 program), which requires each state to have a highway safety program. GAO made site visits to 8 states--AZ, ID, ME, MN, NV, TX, WV, and WI--to assess NHTSA's oversight and states' use of Section 402 grants.

Labels: , , ,


Project HOPE

This morning's Advertiser reports on Hawaii's Project HOPE (Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement), or HOPE Probation, administered by the Judiciary. The Advertiser's story, "HOPE gets nation's attention," refers to an article carried yesterday by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and a presentation by HOPE's founder Judge Steven Alm, and Prof. Angela Hawken, at a conference held in Washington, D.C., also yesterday, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The WSJ article, "Scared Straight...by Probation," states in part:
The key: "flash incarceration" that sends offenders to jail for short but immediate sentences for violating virtually any probation condition. Those who follow the rules are rewarded with looser supervision.
. . . . .
Flash incarceration has been used around the U.S. by specialized courts established to adjudicate drug cases, with demonstrated success. But the Hawaii program is one of the first to test the approach among a broader group of probationers. In a randomized, controlled trial of more than 500 probationers, researchers from Pepperdine University and the University of California at Los Angeles found HOPE probationers were less than half as likely as controls to miss probation-officer appointments or test dirty for drugs, even though the controls knew in advance when they would be tested and HOPE participants didn't.

Labels: ,


Fannie and Freddie costs

In the last two days the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has issued two items relating to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: a letter to the House Budget Committee from CBO Director Peter Orszag and a cost estimate of a pending bill.

Orszag's letter responded to the proposal released July 14 by the Treasury Dept., specifically Treasury's temporary authority to purchase equity in the housing finance government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan (FHL) Banks. The letter stated in part:
Taking into account the probability of various possible outcomes, CBO estimates that the expected value of the federal budgetary cost from enacting this proposal would be $25 billion over fiscal years 2009 and 2010. That estimate accounts for both the possibility that federal funds would not have to be expended under the new authority and the possibility that the government would have to use that authority to provide assistance to the GSEs.

CBO's cost estimates of H.R. 3221 (pdf, 636 pp.), the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, as amended by the Senate on July 11, 2008, span fiscal years 2008-2018. The bill includes Treasury's temporary authority to purchase equity in the GSEs. CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate that enacting this legislation would:
  • Increase direct spending by $41.7 billion over the 2008-2018 period, and
  • Increase revenues by about $16.8 billion over the 2008-2018 period.
In total, those changes would increase budget deficits (or reduce future surpluses) by about $24.9 billion over the 2008-2018 period.

CBO's Estimate of Cost of the Administration's Proposal to Authorize Federal Financial Assistance for the Government-Sponsored Enterprises for Housing (pdf, 10pp/60kB), July 22, 2008

H.R. 3221, Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (pdf, 5pp/80kB), July 23, 2008

Labels: , , ,


High achievers and NCLB

Last month the Brookings Institution published a report on high-achieving students under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Author Tom Loveless tracked trends in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.

Key findings of the report:
  • While the nation’s lowest-achieving youngsters made rapid gains from 2000 to 2007, the performance of top students was languid.
  • This pattern—big gains for low achievers and lesser ones for high achievers—is associated with the introduction of accountability systems in general, not just NCLB.
  • Teachers are much more likely to indicate that struggling students, not advanced students, are their top priority.
  • Low-achieving students receive dramatically more attention from teachers.
  • Still, teachers believe that all students deserve an equal share of attention.
  • Low-income, black, and Hispanic high achievers (on the 2005 eighth-grade math NAEP) were more likely than low achievers to be taught by experienced teachers.

High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB (pdf, 86pp/7.3MB), June 2008

Labels: ,


Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac: FAQ

"Recent turmoil in the housing and financial markets have caused concern over the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...." begins a 6-page FAQ issued yesterday by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are chartered by Congress, their "safety and soundness" regulated by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO). CRS states: OFHEO "has repeated assurances that Fannie and Freddie have adequate capital, but as highly leveraged financial intermediaries Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have limited resources against losses."

Among the FAQs:
  • Why are Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's stock prices declining so much?
  • What risks do Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac face in today's economic environment?
  • What risks do Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac create for the U.S. government?
  • What risks do Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's financial problems create for homeowners and those planning to become homeowners?
Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's Financial Problems: Frequently Asked Questions, RS22916 (pdf, 6pp/72kB), July 15, 2008, from Open CRS

See also: The Freddie and Fannie Fallout, New York Times, 7.13.08. The author writes:
By issuing debt, (Fannie and Freddie) guarantee or own more than $5 trillion in home mortgages. Got that? $5 trillion.

Because the federal government established the companies, investors view them as backed, at least implicitly, by taxpayers. And that implied guarantee is what drove Fannie and Freddie’s business models.

Labels: , , ,


Smoking news

USA Today had two stories this week on cigarettes and smoking:

On July 8 the paper reported on a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to rescind a 1966 guidance that allowed cigarette manufacturers to claim low tar and nicotine yields of cigarettes based on the Cambridge Filter Method, also referred to as "the FTC method," a machine-based test that "smoked" cigarettes. According to FTC's press release, such machine-based measurements are not accurate. "The primary reason for this is smoker compensation--that is, smokers alter their smoking behavior in order to obtain the necessary nicotine dosage."

A July 10 article cited a recent study on secondhand smoke from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There has been a dramatic decline since the early 1990s, mainly because of increased bans on smoking in the workplace and public places and fewer adult smokers, but the article quoted one of the study's authors stating, "It's still high. There is no safe level of exposure." The study was reported in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

On a related note, in Hawaii, the Tobacco Enforcement Unit of the Department of the Attorney General (AG) is charged with enforcing the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement and the state cigarette taxation law. The Unit publishes a Directory (pdf, 73pp/524kB) of tobacco brands and manufacturers permitted to sell cigarettes in Hawaii.

Labels: , ,


Wind power

Although wind power now provides only about 1% of the electricity generated in the U.S., it is our fastest growing energy source, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Internationally, only Germany exceeds the wind power capacity of the U.S. While covering the broader technology, economic and policy issues of U.S. wind power, the report also cites its specific pros and cons, among them:

  • Operations do not produce CO2 or other air pollutants
  • Reduces power market exposure to volatile fuel prices
  • Assists rural development by giving landowners income from land leases
  • May provide more "green jobs" than other power generation options
  • Offers shorter construction lead time than some other options
  • Power output depends on when the wind blows, not when users need electricity
  • New transmission infrastructure is often required
  • Depends on inconsistent federal incentives
  • Causes bird and bat deaths

Wind Power in the United States: Technology, Economic, and Policy Issues, RL34546 (pdf, 53pp/664kB), June 20, 2008, from Open CRS

Labels: , ,


You're on YouTube

Note should be taken of a recent federal court for the Southern District of New York ruling (pdf) in the Viacom v. Google litigation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation blogs the story in a July 2 post by EFF staffer, Kurt Opsahl.
Google [is ordered] to produce to Viacom (over Google's objections): all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website.

The Logging database contains: for each instance a video is watched, the unique “login ID” of the user who watched it, the time when the user started to watch the video, the internet protocol address other devices connected to the internet use to identify the user’s computer (“IP address”), and the identifier for the video.
The Net media, Good Morning Silicon Valley, reports that Google's argument (which cited the VPPA, 18 U.S.C. § 2710) "that such a release would represent a massive violation of user privacy was waved away by the judge."

EFF's Opsahl writes:
The Court's erroneous ruling is a set-back to privacy rights, and will allow Viacom to see what you are watching on YouTube. We urge Viacom to back off this overbroad request and Google to take all steps necessary to challenge this order and protect the rights of its users.
related links:

The New York Times initial story, March 14, 2007

Wired blog post, July 2, 2008

TechCrunch blog post, July 3, 2008

L.A. Times Technology blog post, July 3, 2008

Labels: , ,


Recent GAO reports

From the Government Accountability Office (GAO):

FEDERAL OVERSIGHT OF FOOD SAFETY: FDA Has Provided Few Details on the Resources and Strategies Needed to Implement its Food Protection Plan, GAO-08-909T (pdf, 18pp/384kB), June 12, 2008

In Nov. 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its Food Protection Plan, a framework for improving food safety. FDA is responsible for about 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, both domestic and imported. This GAO testimony is critical of FDA's lack of specificity on the resources and strategies required to implement the plan but supports its focus on evaluating and prioritizing risks of certain food and animal feeds as an effective way to target scarce resources.

YOUNG ADULTS WITH SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS: Some States and Federal Agencies Are Taking Steps to Address Their Transition Challenges, GAO-08-678 (pdf, 88pp/1.27MB), June 23, 2008

GAO estimates there are at least 2.4 million young adults--ages 18-26, and excluding the homeless, institutionalized, and incarcerated--with a serious mental illness that can affect their education and employment. GAO did this study for information on their number and demographics, the challenges they face, how certain states provide assistance, and how the federal government supports state programs. GAO visited four states--Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Mississippi--that have programs specifically to assist these youths.

National Response Framework: FEMA Needs Policies and Procedures to Better Integrate Non-Federal Stakeholders in the Revision Process, GAO-08-768 (pdf, 42pp/380kB), June 11, 2008

In Jan. 2008, the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) published the National Response Framework (NRF), a guide for federal, state, local, and tribal governments, and NGOs and private entities to respond to all disasters. Through its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), DHS is responsible for heading the joint effort between federal, state, and local governments to catastrophe response. GAO found that DHS did not collaborate with non-federal stakeholders as fully as required by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, Title VI of P.L. 109-295 (pdf, 109pp.), at 120 Stat. 1394, and recommends that FEMA develop policies and procedures to do so for future NRF revisions.

HOMELAND SECURITY: First Responders' Ability to Detect and Model Hazardous Releases in Urban Areas Is Significantly Limited, GAO-08-180 (pdf, 79pp/1.29 MB), June 27, 2008

GAO found that local first responders lack the tools to identify and track the dispersion of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials released in urban areas either accidentally or by terrorists. GAO made its findings after evaluating, among other assessments, Top Officials (TOPOFF), terrorism preparedness exercises conducted from 2000 to 2007. In 2004 DHS established the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center (IMAAC) to coordinate dispersion modeling and hazard prediction products during CBRN incidents, but problems with conflicting information remain.

Labels: , , , , ,