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daily link  Sunday, December 18, 2005


Gapminder: An interactive presentation for the "Human Development Report 2005" by UNDP, relating population, income and health across countries and regions over 50 years.  Much improved in recent months.  In 10 minutes, it conveys a lot about where the world is going.

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daily link  Saturday, December 17, 2005


State Department takes over Iraq reconstruction: 2.5 years late. "President George W. Bush on Wednesday announced that the State Department would lead all US post-conflict reconstruction, a move that supersedes the controversial decision to give that task to the Pentagon in Iraq following the 2003 invasion."  11:12:25 AM  permalink  

Op-Eds for Sale: "For years, rumors have swirled of an underground opinion "pay-for-play" industry in Washington in which think-tank employees and pundits trade their ability to shape public perception for cash. ..

A senior fellow at the Cato Institute resigned from the libertarian think tank on Dec. 15 after admitting that he had accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients. Doug Bandow [also] writes a syndicated column for Copley News Service .. Copley News Service announced it is suspending Bandow pending its own review. ..

Bandow isn't the only think-tanker to have received payments from Abramoff for writing articles. Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist's clients. "I do that all the time," Ferrara says. "I've done that in the past, and I'll do it in the future."

Ferrara, who has been an influential conservative voice on Social Security reform, among other issues, says he doesn't see a conflict of interest in taking undisclosed money to write op-ed pieces because his columns never violated his ideological principles.  "It's a matter of general support," Ferrara says. "These are my views, and if you want to support them, then that's good." But he adds that at some point over the years, Abramoff stopped working with him: "Jack lost interest in me and felt he had other writers who were writing in more prominent publications," Ferrara says.

Ferrara's boss has a very different take on the Abramoff op-ed writing than did his peers at Cato. "If somebody pinned me down and said, 'Do you think this is wrong or unethical?' I'd say no," says Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation. Giovanetti says critics are applying a "naive purity standard" to the op-ed business. "I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements."

Ferrara began working at the Institute for Policy Innovation after the period during which he wrote the op-ed pieces for Abramoff. Earlier, he worked at the activist anti-tax organization Americans for Tax Reform.  .. He also wrote a 1998 book called The Choctaw Revolution: Lessons for Federal Indian Policy. Ferrara says the tribe paid him directly for his work on the book, which was published by the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation"

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What the Troops Really Need: US nation-building assets are weak.  "If you think that the $500 billion military is stretched thin, take a look at the anemic, $10 billion State Department. Most military officers crying for assistance in the field do not realize how small their diplomatic sister agency is. There are more musicians playing for the military services' bands than there are Foreign Service officers at State. This severe lack of capacity leaves the military with the bulk of the building, in addition to the clearing and the holding."

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daily link  Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Software That Binds, And Converts, And Retains: In two articles, Baseline magazine profiles the use of customer relationship management (CRM) software in churches.  They track people so that visitors become members, members contribute and volunteer more, and members change churches ("churn") less -- all classic CRM.  "Eighteen months ago, [pastor] Hand implemented a new process based on software from a company called ConnectionPower to improve the church's outreach methods. ConnectionPower features modules for such things as automating the visitor follow-up process, tracking donations and revenues, and creating a Web portal for members. It's priced from $1,000 for a small church to about $20,000 for churches with 6,000 or more members. 

At [Hand's church], new visitors continue to fill out registration cards as they had in the past, with information such as family member names, ages, address [and] e-mail address. But now volunteers immediately type the information into the Windows-based ConnectionPower software. And now, each Monday morning, Hand or his assistant logs in to the system and see the names of the new visitors. .. The software then produces follow-up recommendations. For example, if a 28-year-old mother of two visits, the software prompts a volunteer of a similar age and background to make contact later in the week."

And the churches embrace podcasting and other media.  "69%of evangelicals use the Internet to send, receive and forward spiritual e-mail and electronic greeting cards and request prayers online, according to a Pew Internet survey last year. That's compared with 51% of Catholics and 54% of Jews, the Pew Internet study said. .. Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, an evangelical church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with 18,000 members, lets Apple iPod users download and take along a daily message from pastor Bob Coy, as part of what the church calls its Active Word Ministry. .. "If you don't have a parking lot, you can't get the people in the church to hear the message and ultimately lead them to the Lord. A Web site is as important as a parking lot to a church." "

  10:12:28 AM  permalink  

Brain imaging detects lies:  "Brain-imaging techniques that reveal when a person is lying are now reliable enough to identify criminals, claim researchers. .. neuroscientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia have now told Nature that they believe their test is ready for real-life scenarios. Daniel Langleben and his colleagues use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track people's brains when they lie and tell the truth. By analysing brain activity during both scenarios, they have developed an algorithm that can detect lies from truth with 99% accuracy.

Team member Ruben Gur points out that, unlike the polygraph, fMRI does not rely on controllable symptoms such as sweating or a fast heartbeat. Instead it monitors the central nervous system. When someone lies, their brain inhibits them from telling the truth, and this makes the frontal lobes more active. "A lie is always more complicated than the truth," says Gur. "You think a bit more and fMRI picks that up." ..

Langleben has previously warned that fMRI is a research tool, not a way to spot liars. But the latest research has changed his tune. "We can't say whether this person will one day use a bomb," he says. "But we can use fMRI to find concealed information. We can ask: is X involved in terrorist organization Y?" .. Critics argue that lab experiments do not equate to real-life situations. .. Critics and researchers agree that more funding is needed to standardize the method and iron out ethical concerns before the approach is used routinely. The team's next step is to expand its studies to include women, people of different cultures, and psychopaths."  9:13:17 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, December 11, 2005


Opinion Leaders Turn Cautious, Public Looks Homeward: Pew poll reveals long term trends. Most striking:  " Fully 42% of Americans say the United States should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." This is on par with the percentage expressing that view during the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War, and in the 1990s after the Cold War ended. "  Note the least isolation occured after the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and 9/11.  Many other interesting findings, e.g.  "Pluralities in every group of influentials – as well as the public – attribute the fact that there has not been a terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11 to luck. Just a third of the public – and no more than a third in any elite group – says it is because the government has done a good job in protecting the country."  5:00:15 PM  permalink  

Shattering Iraq:  Review of civil war histories related to Iraq.  "By just about every meaningful standard that can be applied -- the reference points of history, the research criteria of political science, the contemporaneous reporting of on-the-ground observers, the grim roll of civilian and combatant casualties -- Iraq is now well into the bloody sequence of civil war. Dispense with the tentative locution "on the verge of." An active, if not full-boil, civil war is already a reality." 

A Council on Foreign Relations report adds evidence that the Iraqi national army is not really national:  "There is a growing chorus of complaints from Sunni Arab leaders that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) has been infiltrated by Shiite militias that engage in torture, kidnappings, and, in some cases, deaths squads against Sunnis. ..  “The ISF is not a true national force but rather a carved-up conglomeration of militias,” says Kenneth Katzman, senior Middle East analyst with the Congressional Research Service."

Also from Peter Galbraith, who welcomes the consitution's minimal central state in What Are We Holding Together?: "There is no reason to mourn the passing of the unified Iraqi state. For Iraq's 80-year history, Sunni Arab dictators held the country together -- and kept themselves in power -- with brutal force that culminated in Hussein's genocide against the Kurds and mass killings of Shiites. As a moral matter, Iraq's Kurds are no less entitled to independence than are Lithuanians, Croatians or Palestinians. And if Iraq's Shiites want to run their own affairs, or even have their own state, on what democratic principle should they be denied? If the price of a unified Iraq is another dictatorship, it is too high a price to pay."

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daily link  Friday, December 09, 2005


Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion: "The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials. The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.  The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members ..

The fact that Mr. Libi recanted after the American invasion of Iraq and that intelligence based on his remarks was withdrawn by the C.I.A. in March 2004 has been public for more than a year. But American officials had not previously acknowledged either that Mr. Libi made the false statements in foreign custody or that Mr. Libi contended that his statements had been coerced. ..

Mr. Libi was among a group of what American officials have described as about 150 prisoners sent by the United States from one foreign country to another since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks for the purposes of interrogation"

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The Hubris of the Humanities: "Increasingly, we face public policy issues - avian flu, stem cells - that require some knowledge of scientific methods, yet the present Congress contains 218 lawyers, and just 12 doctors and 3 biologists.

This disregard for science already hurts us. The U.S. has bungled research on stem cells, perhaps partly because Mr. Bush didn't realize how restrictive his curb on research funds would be. And we're risking our planet's future because our leaders are frozen in the headlights of climate change.  In this century, one of the most complex choices we will make will be what tinkering to allow with human genes, to "improve" the human species. How can our leaders decide that issue if they barely know what DNA is?

Intellectuals have focused on the challenge from the right, which has led to a drop in the public acceptance of evolution in the U.S. over the last 20 years, to 40 percent from 45 percent. Jon Miller, a professor at the Northwestern University medical school who has tracked attitudes toward evolution in 34 countries, says Turkey is the only one with less support for evolution than the U.S"

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daily link  Wednesday, December 07, 2005


It's Not Whether You 'Win' or 'Lose': "[Is] all of this vocabulary -- winning, losing, victory, defeat -- is simply misplaced? There are, after all, wars that are not actually won or lost... There are wars that end ambivalently -- wars, for example, such as the one we fought in Korea...

Iraq is not Korea, of course, and the Middle East is not Asia. But it is perfectly possible that the two conflicts might eventually resemble one another in the ambivalence of their conclusions. Although both the administration and its antiwar opponents speak as if there must be an either/or solution for Iraq -- either democracy or Islamic fascism -- it is perfectly possible that we end up with both. We may indeed create the first truly democratic Arab regime, with independent media, real elections and a relatively liberal political culture. But we may also, simultaneously, strengthen al Qaeda and its radical Islamic allies, in Iraq and the entire region. We may create a more entrepreneurial, globally integrated Iraq that can inspire economic reform throughout the Middle East. We may also create a deep well of international anti-American resentment that hampers our ability to conduct everything from trade negotiations to counterintelligence for decades to come.

It is even possible, in the end, that we really will help bring into existence a new generation of democratic Arab reformers across the Middle East -- and that we will need to keep troops in the region for five decades to defend them. Would such an outcome mean the war was a "defeat"? Not necessarily. Would it mean the war was a "victory"? Not exactly. Can we, the nation that invented the Hollywood happy ending, live with such a conclusion? Hard to imagine, but we might not have a choice. "

  9:24:50 AM  permalink  

Al-Qaida Deputy Urges Oil-Plant Attacks: "Al-Qaida's deputy leader called for attacks against Gulf oil facilities and urged insurgent groups in Iraq to unite to drive out American forces.. The posting was a full version of a video by al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri that was issued on Sept. 19, excerpts of which were broadcast by the Arab television network Al-Jazeera at the time. .. "I call on the holy warriors to concentrate their campaigns on the stolen oil of the Muslims, most of the revenues of which go to the enemies of Islam," al-Zawahri, the Egyptian deputy of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, said in a portion of the tape not previously broadcast."  9:18:35 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, December 01, 2005


How wikis are evolving: Several recent examples of how large numbers of collaborators can contribute and distribute information rapidly:

  • Wikinews collected stories from "citizen journalists" during Katrinareporting, linking and photographing from Louisiana and around the world.  Among professional journaists, the Online Journalism Review also assembled a wiki to aggregate crucial information after Katrina struck.
  • The Katrina Information Map, a public resource for tracking or reporting flood damage.  "most people are using the service to inquire about loved ones or report flooding on various streets."
  • London bombings information was tracked in real time.  Among other things, you can view every revision as it was posted to see how the information was released.
  • The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2003 looking for evidence of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  It put the 4000 pages of documents on the a Detention Practices Project wiki and asked readers of the community blog Daily Kos to rapidly read and review them.
  • Authors Cory Doctorow and Larry Lessig post their latest books online and invite readers to note errata or updates for the next edition.  "Assembling pages of errata for my editor was a pain in the ass and very hard to use comprehensibly, especially when I got thoughts from readers in no particular order," Doctorow said. "Wikis let my readers self-organize it."
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Copyright 2006 © Ken Novak.
Last update: 5/16/2006; 3:41:14 PM.
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