Monday, December 22, 2008

A Minimalist’s Guide to Using Twitter Simply, Productively, and Funly

This morning after our hill run my sister asked me about Twitter: “What’s Twitter all about? I don’t get it?”

Neither did I at first — I resisted using Twitter for more than a year because it seemed like just another distraction, just another way to waste time and have noisy chatter going on in front of you.

But I decided to see what the fuss was all about, and did my Great Twitter Experiment. To my surprise, Twitter was actually fun, interesting, and useful — if used correctly.

I’ve also found that Twitter isn’t something you can explain, and it’s not something you can understand until you’ve used it for at least a few days. You have to use it to get it.

I think that’s because Twitter can be so many things to so many people. One person might use it as a marketing tool, another to stay in touch with friends, another to collaborate with co-workers, and still others to stay informed about their favorite bloggers, websites, the latest gossip, reading, news and more.

Today we’ll look at some different ways you can use Twitter without spending too much time doing it.

A Minimalist Approach

When I first signed up for Twitter a few months ago, I followed a bunch of people I knew and was instantly fed with a stream of new “tweets” from all the people I was following. I read through all the tweets, but the stream just kept coming.

I’d wake up in the morning and try to read through all the tweets, or at least scan them. Then I’d try to keep up periodically throughout the day. It was stressful.

Then I learned the secret of Twitter: don’t try to keep up.

Twitter is like a river … you can step into it at any point and feel the water, bathe in it, frolic if you like … and then get out. And go back in at any time, at any point. But, you don’t have to try to consume the entire river — it’s impossible and frankly a waste of time in my eyes.

So that’s how I approach Twitter these days: I’ll just jump into the stream of incoming tweets and see what people are saying. I can ignore them or follow their links or reply if I want. Then I get out of the stream. I don’t try to read everything I missed, and if I miss a lot of stuff, I’m OK with that.

I’ve actually used this approach I learned from with other things, such as email, Facebook, RSS, news and other information. I don’t have to consume it all, but I can jump into the river anytime I like and read, reply if I like, and get back out. So what if I miss a ton of blog posts, news stories, and emails? Will my life fall apart?

The answer turns out to be no.

Simple Ways to Use Twitter

If you follow this minimalist approach, you don’t have to spend a lot of time using Twitter to get a lot out of it, no matter what your goals are.

Here are some guidelines and ideas for using Twitter that I’ve found to be useful:

* Don’t follow a lot of people. Some people follow thousands of people. Their incoming stream must be incredible — I’m sure they don’t even try to keep up with everything. Others might be even more minimalist than I am: they follow a dozen people or less. But then what’s interesting about that? You’re not getting very much out of Twitter if you only follow a few people. Your needs will be different than mine, but I’ve found that following a few dozen to a hundred people is ideal if you’re trying to keep things simple but still get a lot out of Twitter. I think I’m following about 60 right now. I add people now and then but also drop others if they tweet too often and I don’t get anything out of their tweets.
* Don’t tweet too much. Some people are constantly tweeting. Personally, I don’t like to read that many every hour, so if they’re filling up my stream of incoming tweets, they’re wasting my time. I’ve found that once a day or a few times a day or even 10 times a day at the most is ideal for me — your usage will vary. But if you do it too much, you have to be using Twitter a lot, and to me that’s too much of a distraction and time drain. So I go on a few times a day (at most) and tweet only when I feel I have something interesting to say or ask.
* Don’t be on Twitter all the time. Some people have it open all the time — and that’s fine if it works for you. Personally, I’ve found that if Twitter is open (or if Twitterific, my desktop Twitter program, is open) all the time, I have a hard time focusing on other work. So like I said, I close it most of the time and open it a few times a day to see what’s going on. Mainly when I want to take a break. I only open it for a few minutes at most.
* Make announcements. I like to announce things on Twitter — it’s more effective than announcing things through email and less obtrusive than doing an entire post on my blog.
* Ask questions. Sometimes I’ll need a solution or some ideas for something, and I’ll ask the question on Twitter — and immediately get a dozen great replies. Thank you Twitterers! One time I couldn’t order a notebook (Muji Chronotebook) online so I asked if anyone lived near a Muji store, in New York for instance — and one Twitterer actually went to the store and bought it for me, and mailed it to me! Btw, I love this notebook and use it daily now. Thanks Chris!
* Take a poll. I’ve asked people how often they like to see posts on Zen Habits, things they want me to write about, whether I should do a Zen Habits post about the presidential election, and other similar poll questions, and have gotten some great feedback.
* Tell people interesting things. If you have something going on in your life that’s really interesting, by all means, share it. That’s what Twitter is about. It often gets some great conversations going. If you don’t have anything interesting to say, don’t be afraid to be silent. No one really cares if you don’t say anything, but it’s annoying to read people share things that aren’t interesting.
* Jump into conversations sometimes. I don’t think you should get involved in every conversation, but sometimes it can be fun to jump in and say your two cents. Then jump back out when you’re done.
* Find some great reading. When I feel like a distraction and want to read something useful or interesting, I’ll scan through my Twitter stream and find a few cool links to read. People share some really great stuff from the web on Twitter. However, as a warning, it can be overwhelming if you try to read everything. Again, it’s a river — go into the water when you feel like it, but get back out too — don’t try to consume the entire river.
* Learn to be concise. What I really love about Twitter is its 140 character limit for tweets. Some people cheat by doing multiple tweets about the same thing, but that defeats the purpose of the limit. Instead, learn to say just the essential in one post (or two if you really need to). It forces you to choose, to edit, to simplify. I love that. I wish email had a limit.
* Use it as a log. I forget where I read this idea, but one fitness blogger suggested using Twitter to help lose weight: post *everything* you eat on Twitter. It’s a great idea (I think it was Craig Ballantyne) because it hold you accountable, and you don’t want to post something that you shouldn’t have eaten. But Twitter could be used as a workout log, a travelogue, anything really.
* Find someone to hire. Just now I posted on Twitter to find someone to redo the software for in Drupal or Joomla. Got some great responses already! Whoever you need to find, Twitter should be able to help.
* Reduce your inboxes. If you use Twitter regularly, you can probably reduce your need for RSS (my favorite blogs are on Twitter anyways), email (you can DM people), IM, news sites, and so on. It’s nice to consolidate, as long as you use it intelligently.
* Create a Twitter personal assistant. Check out this guide for a pretty cool use of Twitter and associated services.

Just for fun: check out Twittervision 3D for an incredible global representation of tweets at they happen around the globe in real time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Standards: Slot Machines vs. Electronic Voting Machines

Is Cheney hinting that Bin Laden is about to be taken out of the freezer?

The Bush administration would "love" to capture 9/11 terror mastermind Osama bin Laden during the remaining 30 days left with it, US Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday.

"Capturing Osama bin Laden is something we clearly would love to do in the 30 days left," Cheney told Fox News in an interview.

Asked if it was a major disappointment for him not to catch bin Laden during his term, Cheney said: "Well I would prefer to have gotten Usama bin Laden the week after 9/11. So would the president."

"I think more important though is what we've been able to do generally to his organisation. Even if you were able to get Osama bin Laden, which clearly we would like to do, you've still got I've had in the past, a strong functioning organisation there," he said.

"He's been holed up in a way where he's not even been communicating and there are questions about whether or not he's even running the operation. But we have had major success against the organisation, Cheney said.

He pointed out that US forces have captured and killed a lot of Al Qaeda members since 9/11.

At the same time, he pointed out that the Bush administration has succeeded in preventing a similar attack on the US since the 9/11.

"As I said, we've prevented further attacks against the United States. But that's probably the most important objective," Cheney, who also backed the controversial policies that had helped protect the country from another terrorist strike, said.

He claimed that the Bush administration had acted appropriately in its "war on terror".

Saturday, December 06, 2008

5 Things Facebook Needs to Improve Right Now

We love Facebook, ok? It’s a wild love affair. However, just like in every relationship, frustration abounds, because many of Facebook’s features either don’t work as intended, are too slow, or simply lack the details to be truly great. Here’s our list of possible Facebook improvements that would make our hearts smile.
Facebook Chat

Ok, we talked about this a month and a half ago, and nothing has been done. Facebook Chat is a fantastic way to chat with folks with whom you might not be chatting on a regular basis - old friends from high school, business acquaintances and so forth. However, it’s plagued with problems: your chat buddies seem to keep going offline (although they’re not), messages aren’t delivered, chat is down for maintenance.

In fact, I know several users who’ve confessed that they only say hello on Facebook Chat and then move on to Google Talk because it’s so much more reliable. Furthermore, it lacks some crucial features: the chat log only goes back a short time period, and it’s impossible to access when your chat buddy is offline (very frustrating). Fix it, please.
Facebook Mail

We get it: it’s not meant to be a full featured e-mail client, it’s meant to be simple. However, some of its “feats” truly baffle us. For example, you can’t archive messages, you can only delete them. But even when you delete them, you can still view them, if someone replies to a deleted thread. It’s not a deal breaker, we’d just like to see a little consistency here.

The view, which always shows you a thumbnail next to each message, cannot be changed. When you start actually using the Mail feature, you start aching for a way to see more items on the page, and get rid of the thumbnails. Also, no drafts? Don’t know about the rest of the world, but I like to create drafts for later use. In short - and we know we might be asking for a lot here, but what the hell - we’d like it to be more like Gmail.

Facebook could be a fantastic way to find out about events. In my case, those events are mostly related to music. But I’m not using Facebook for this, I’m using Last.FM. Why, you ask? Well, because it’s vastly better. First of all, you can set an exact date to find events; you can also set it to see events in a proximity (100 miles, for example) of a certain location (I can’t seem to find the proximity feature in the new design, though. Have they removed it? If you have any clue, please let me know.). This means you can find all the concerts in the vicinity of New Jersey occurring in a three day window a month from now. Neat.

Now, let’s check the situation on Facebook. You can only browse events that’ll happen today, tomorrow, in one week, or one month. And no location. Gee, great: that makes the entire thing totally useless, because searching for movies that will happen in the next month anywhere in the world will yield thousands of results. Useless results. Add location and precise date to the mix, and the Events feature will be a zillion times better. No need to thank me, Facebook, a hefty check will do.
Live Feed

This feature was what made me start regularly using Facebook. I don’t like being given a choice of what Facebook thinks is most interesting to me, like I do in the News Feed; I like to see it all. But I can’t, because the damn thing is awfully laggy. Yes, I’m aware that syncing all that data across thousands of servers and delivering it to millions of users across the globe is tricky. That’s why you, Facebook, are smart and Microsoft gave you a lot of money. Find a way to make it work.

This is a minor point, but it’s still something that could be improved upon. You can filter out things from the News Feed - very precisely, I might add - but you can’t filter out things from the status updates, photos, or posted items list. Why? And while we’re at it, having filters in email wouldn’t exactly hurt our feelings, either.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

UK Gets Serious About Algae Biofuel

The Carbon Trust is a private company which works across a wide range of sectors to reduce carbon emissions across the UK. They conduct studies, lend money and come up with national initiatives – like the algae biofuel initiative announced yesterday. The Algae Biofuels Challenge, as they call it, is to commercialize algae biofuel by 2020 and have it provide a significant of the country’s fuel needs (70 billion liters of oil).

Algae is the favored biofuels candidate, mostly because it takes few resources to grow and does not compete for food production; a major drawback of conventional biofuels. The choice of algae is not surprising; algae biofuel startups are appearing in the US on a fairly regular basis. What makes this initiative particularly exciting is that it provides a clear cut vision of how to bring algae fuel from the lab to commercialization.

To that end, The Algae Biofuels Challenge has delineated two major goals: first figuring out which algae technology really works the best, and subsequently figuring out how to bring that technology to scale. Unlike the American market leaders such as Amyris, Petrosun and Solazyme, The Carbon Trust has not committed to anything yet – which strain of algae, how to grow it, etc. Instead, they hope to recruit some of the top algae scientists in the world to work together on the issue. They will address the second step, bringing the fuel to scale, in the same way.

The algae fuel industry is still young, and we don’t really know whether it will be a success. It is possible that an American company will come up with an idea that the Carbon Trust’s people do not think of. Still, I consider the Algae Biofuels Challenge a refreshingly different approach to the issue – rather than waiting for the Google of algae to descend from the heavens, the UK approach is to establish a center where many people work towards a common goal

UN rejects suggestions it failed in Congo conflict

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Several top U.N. officials vehemently rejected suggestions on Monday that U.N. peacekeepers have failed to protect civilians in eastern Congo, where recent fighting is causing a humanitarian catastrophe. Aid agencies say tens of thousands of civilians are roaming the countryside unprotected, in need of shelter, food, water and medical care. Some of the displaced have accused U.N. peacekeepers of failing to fulfill a mandate to protect them from violence and looting, not just by armed rebel groups but also by Congolese government forces. The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, dismissed suggestions that U.N. peacekeepers in Congo, known by their French acronym MONUC, had failed to carry out their duty. "We are doing our utmost," he told reporters in New York by video link from Congo, where he was meeting with senior officials from the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation. He said MONUC, which has some 17,000 troops across Congo, was doing everything possible to fulfill its mandate in as robust a manner as possible with limited manpower over eastern Congo, a region one and a half times the size of France. Earlier French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said MONUC needed to get tougher in protecting civilians from violence. Le Roy said he spoke with Kouchner, who said he agreed MONUC needed to be "more robust" but also needed reinforcement. Le Roy said Congolese authorities, including those in North Kivu, acknowledged that MONUC had helped prevent renegade Congolese Tutsi Gen. Laurent Nkunda's CNDP rebels from seizing more territory than they already have in eastern Congo. "The authorities on the ground recognize that without MONUC, many other areas would have been taken," he said. "The criticism (of) MONUC is in many cases I must say unfair." Nkunda's troops have been poised to take Goma, the capital of North Kivu, since last week, but have been complying with a ceasefire that both Le Roy and Alan Doss, the head of MONUC, described as fragile. NO ADDITIONAL TROOPS A January peace deal collapsed in August in Congo, where a 1998-2003 war and resulting humanitarian disaster have killed an estimated 5.4 million people, mostly through hunger and disease. With the crisis deepening, Doss asked the U.N. Security Council a month ago for additional troops and military hardware to help him deal with Nkunda's advance. But Doss' deputy, Ross Mountain, said it appeared "that we are not getting those reinforcements immediately." As a result, MONUC will have to redeploy troops protecting civilians in other parts of the country to help secure Goma. This, Mountain said, will expose those civilians to attacks by more than 20 other armed groups across the region. In the meantime, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched a diplomatic drive to help back up what he described as a U.N. "thin blue line against the chaos." Ban said Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, two leaders seen as essential to resolving the crisis, had expressed a willingness to meet him "sometime this weekend or early next week." He also announced he was nominating former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as a special envoy to seek a political settlement and was reappointing Senegalese Gen. Babacar Gaye to command MONUC forces after Spanish Lt. Gen. Vicente Diaz de Villegas lasted just seven weeks in the job.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Socialism Scare

Recently, the right wing has seized on Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) admission that he wants to "spread the wealth around" as evidence that his tax policies are somehow socialist, communist, or Marxist. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) compared Obama's policies to those of Cuba, saying, "Where I come from, where I was raised, they tried wealth redistribution. We don't need that here, that's called Socialism, Communism, not Americanism." House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said, "You want to talk about socialism. You put these people in office, it's batten down the hatches and watch out." The media have also piled on, with WFTV Orlando's Barbara West asking Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) during an interview, "How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?" Fox News' Sean Hannity said Obama has "doubled down on socialism for America," while Bill O'Reilly admitted that he "wouldn't have said the Marxism thing" but that Obama nevertheless espouses "quasi-socialism." All of these conservatives, however, are distorting the Obama plan, which simply makes the American tax system slightly more progressive -- an idea that the American public solidly supports.

REPEALING THE TOP BUSH TAX CUTS: As the New Yorker noted, "[T]he principle that Obama evinced, which most economists would regard as unexceptionable, can be traced to Adam Smith," who wrote in "The Wealth of Nations," "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion." Obama's plan is to repeal the Bush tax cuts on the top two federal income tax brackets, raising their rates to 36 percent and 39 percent and from 33 and 36 percent, respectively. This returns them to the levels that President Clinton had set. A new analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice found that only 2.5 percent of Americans would lose any of their Bush tax cuts under the Obama plan. Meanwhile, making all of Bush's cuts permanent, along with the corresponding alternative minimum tax relief, would cost $4.4 trillion by 2018. Research has shown that both private business investment and job growth were significantly stronger under Clinton's tax rates than under Bush's.

AMERICANS FAVOR PROGRESSIVE TAXATION: Ever since the federal income tax was enacted in 1913, it has been progressive; rates have increased proportionally with income. And the income tax is part of an overall tax system that is otherwise regressive. All working Americans pay the payroll tax, as well as various local and state sales and property taxes. Payroll taxes are quite regressive -- the highest earning 20 percent of Americans pay a lower average rate than the lowest earning 20 percent. Additionally, the public strongly favors the concept of progressive taxation: a Financial Times/Harris Poll found that 62 percent feel "the government should tax the wealthy more." A Pew Research Poll released last week shows that the public "agrees with progressives' stance on taxation and rejects the conservative approach." Only 25 percent agree "with the centerpiece of the conservative tax program: making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent." Meanwhile, 37 percent want to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy while keeping the rest of the cuts, and 25 percent want to repeal all of the cuts.

CONSERVATIVE REVERSE SOCIALISM: Conservative economic plans also redistribute wealth, but to the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax cuts that benefit corporations and those in the top income brackets. Yesterday, Boehner unveiled his own economic recovery plan, which is focused on tax breaks that include cutting the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and suspending the capital gains tax for two years. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) proposed a similar "six point economic plan" this month, in which he advocated completely eliminating the capital gains tax and making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent. Some of these provisions are also embraced by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and they are all propositions from which the overwhelming benefit would go to the very wealthy. As the Tax Policy Center found, 75 percent of the benefit of low taxes on capital gains and dividends "already go to those making $600,000 or more. Half goes to those making $2.8 million or more." Simply cutting the capital gains rate in half gives two-thirds of the benefit to those making $1 million or more. Meanwhile, cutting the corporate tax rate sends $175 billion to America's corporations, and these corporations would have no incentive to reinvest the extra money. As a report by the Center for American Progress found, "economic policies with tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy as their centerpiece have simply failed to produce strong economic growth by a variety of measures," including employment, investment, and wage levels.


TERRORISM -- ROBERT KAGAN DISMISSES EVIDENCE OF BUSH'S IRAQ LIES AS 'CONSPIRACY THEORIES': Leading neoconservative scholar and former Reagan administration official Robert Kagan in a recent interview with Der Spiegel dismissed concerns that the Bush administration had misled the American public in the lead-up to the Iraq war as "silly" and "absurd." The newspaper asked whether it was possible to deny "that the war was based on manipulation exaggeration and flat-out lies." Kagan replied that such an assertion was "absurd" and repeated the right-wing talking point that President Bush used the same intelligence as the Europeans. "I think it's about time we moved beyond this silly conversation and these absurd conspiracy theories," Kagan insisted. It's no longer a matter of dispute that the Bush administration manipulated, exaggerated, and lied about the true nature of the threat Saddam Hussein posed. As the Wonk Room's Matt Duss points out, it's irrelevant that other countries shared the same intelligence; the important point is that "the German government and the French government didn't spin that intelligence into a justification" for the Iraq war.

ENVIRONMENT -- HERITAGE RESPONDS TO GREEN RECOVERY PLANS WITH FEAR-MONGERING: Earlier this week, Heritage Foundation blogger Nick Loris responded to the U.N. Environmental Program's Green Economy Initiative and the Center for American Progress's Green Recovery program with historical revisionism and a fear-mongering reference to "Nazi Germany." Loris wrote that the U.N. is proposing an "environmental 'New Deal,'" akin to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which Loris claims "made things worst" after the Great Depression. In fact, economists broadly agree that stimulative government spending is necessary to prevent a further collapse of the global economic system, just as the New Deal and the deficit spending of World War II revived the health of the global economy in the last century. The U.N. Green Economic Initiative is a mainstream capitalist effort, with research overseen by Pavan Sukdhev, a top investment banker and self-described "total capitalist." CAP's Green Recovery program primarily uses tax credits and federal loans to spur private investment, as well as investment in a 21st-century public infrastructure. Despite Loris's baseless claims that "taxing and spending does not create wealth," moving to a green economy will in fact generate more jobs and greater economic growth, as California's green economy has proven.

MEDIA -- FOX NEWS'S BRIT HUME CLAIMS HE IS 'A JOURNALIST FIRST AND A CONSERVATIVE SECOND OR THIRD': Soon after the election next Tuesday, Brit Hume, the Washington D.C. managing editor for Fox News, "will step down from the anchor desk and his long-running show, Special Report." Discussing his impending departure, Hume said yesterday that one of the reasons he is retiring is because the "whole general tone of politics in this country has turned so sour and so bitter and so partisan." At the same time, Hume decried increased partisanship, he defended Fox against claims that it is biased in favor of conservatives, saying that he and his colleagues constantly think about their "own biases." "I'm a journalist first and a conservative second or third," he claimed. But not everyone believes that Hume has successfully checked his biases. "Brit Hume injected his supposedly straight newscasts with an almost pathological conservative bent," Media Matters spokesman Karl Frisch told the Politico. In the past, Hume has said that Democrats "are kind of embarrassed by patriotism" and are "invested in our losing" in Iraq. He has also repeatedly pushed factually-challenged global warming skepticism.


Politico reports: "Two days after next week's election, top conservatives will gather at the Virginia weekend home of one of the movement’s most prominent members to begin a conversation about their role in the GOP and how best to revive" the party. The meeting will include a "who's who of conservative leaders."

Recently convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) "is asking the Justice Department to investigate the conduct of federal prosecutors" who prosecuted him. Stevens's attorney has requested an investigation into "numerous, serious constitutional violations" by government prosecutors, alleging that his trial was "irretrievably tainted by the prosecution team’s zeal to convict a high-profile but innocent defendant."

"After years of flooding Americans with credit card offers and sky-high credit lines, lenders are sharply curtailing both, just as an eroding economy squeezes consumers." The move "threatens an already beleaguered banking industry with another wave of heavy losses after an era in which it reaped near record gains from the business of easy credit that it helped create."

President Bush has transformed America's federal appeals courts, "advancing a conservative legal revolution that began nearly three decades ago under President Ronald Reagan." By Inauguration day, "Republican-appointed judges, most of them conservatives, are projected to make up about 62 percent of the bench" while controlling 10 of the 13 circuit courts. More »

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) returned to his Washington residence yesterday, after spending the last six months at his home on Cape Cod battling brain cancer. Kennedy's spokesperson "declined to speculate on when Kennedy might return to his full duties in the Senate," but his return is "a sign that his treatments have been progressing well."

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan now believe they need about 20,000 more troops to battle a growing Taliban insurgency, the Washington Post reports today. The recent troop requests reflect the struggles that the military is facing in the country, where overall attacks "are up about 25 percent from January to October this year, compared with the same period last year."

Afghans are increasingly pessimistic about their country, according to a new Asia Foundation poll. Only 36 percent believe they are "more prosperous today than under the 1996-2001 Taliban government," down from 54 percent in 2006.

"In a study conducted in Florida, researchers found that drugstores in the poorest areas charge more, on average, for four widely used prescription medications than do pharmacies in wealthier neighborhoods."

And finally: Happy Halloween from the White House, with special greetings from Barney, Miss Beazley, and Willie the cat.

CGI and its Impact on 160 Million Lives

Dear Hernan,

This year's Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a project of the Clinton Foundation, was our most successful to date. One thing was clear to all who attended: our work together has never been more important.

With mounting economic troubles exacerbating poverty levels around the world, health pandemics cutting lives short, education slipping out of reach for millions of children, and increasing temperatures threatening the future of our planet, action is needed more than ever. As President Clinton summarized, "We cannot afford to walk away from this work."

Members at CGI heeded this call, making more than 200 commitments this year alone, which will impact more than 160 million lives. The potential results of some of these commitments include:

* More than $400 million will be raised for investment and credit for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.
* $375 million will be raised to develop new vaccines and conduct medical research.
* 50 million people will have access to mobile financial services.
* 75 million people will have first-time access to health care or access to improved health care.
* 25 million children will have access to new or improved school feeding programs.
* 16 million children will participate in de-worming programs.
* The emission of 44 million metric tons of CO2 will be avoided.
* Enough clean energy will be created to power the equivalent of 7 million homes in the United States.
* Over 1 billion liters of safe drinking water will be distributed.

In the months to come, CGI will expand to new places and reach new people. On December 2nd and 3rd, the first in a series of CGI meetings outside of the United States will be held in Hong Kong. To learn more about CGI's meeting in Hong Kong, click here.

As always, you can join us by making your own commitment at We each have the power to transform words into action, and a responsibility to help make a positive change today.

Thank you,

Bruce R. Lindsey
Chief Executive Officer
William J. Clinton Foundation

Thursday, September 18, 2008

BOOKS-IRAQ: "We Blew Her to Pieces"

MARFA, Texas, Sep 16 (IPS) - Aside from the Iraqi people, nobody knows what the U.S. military is doing in Iraq better than the soldiers themselves. A new book gives readers vivid and detailed accounts of the devastation the U.S. occupation has brought to Iraq, in the soldiers' own words.

"Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupation," published by Haymarket Books Tuesday, is a gut-wrenching, historic chronicle of what the U.S. military has done to Iraq, as well as its own soldiers.

Authored by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and journalist Aaron Glantz, the book is a reader for hearings that took place in Silver Spring, Maryland between Mar. 13-16, 2008 at the National Labour College.

"I remember one woman walking by," said Jason Washburn, a corporal in the U.S. Marines who served three tours in Iraq. "She was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading toward us, so we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher, and when the dust settled, we realised that the bag was full of groceries. She had been trying to bring us food and we blew her to pieces."

Washburn testified on a panel that discussed the rules of engagement in Iraq, and how lax they were, even to the point of being virtually non-existent.

"During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot," Washburn's testimony continues. "The higher the threat the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond."

His emotionally charged testimony, like all of those in the book that covered panels addressing dehumanisation, civilian testimony, sexism in the military, veterans' health care, and the breakdown of the military, raised issues that were repeated again and again by other veterans.

"Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and nudge, was to carry 'drop weapons', or by my third tour, 'drop shovels'. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent," Washburn said.

Four days of searing testimony, witnessed by this writer, is consolidated into the book, which makes for a difficult read. One page after another is filled with devastating stories from the soldiers about what is being done in Iraq.

Everything from the taking of "trophy" photos of the dead, to torture and slaughtering of civilians is included.

"We're trying to build a historical record of what continues to happen in this war and what the war is really about," Glantz told IPS.

Hart Viges, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army who served one year in Iraq, tells of taking orders over the radio.

"One time they said to fire on all taxicabs because the enemy was using them for transportation...One of the snipers replied back, 'Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?' The lieutenant colonel responded, 'You heard me, trooper, fire on all taxicabs.' After that, the town lit up, with all the units firing on cars. This was my first experience with war, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the deployment."

Vincent Emanuele, a Marine rifleman who spent a year in the al-Qaim area of Iraq near the Syrian border, told of emptying magazines of bullets into the city without identifying targets, running over corpses with Humvees and stopping to take "trophy" photos of bodies. "An act that took place quite often in Iraq was taking pot shots at cars that drove by," he said. "This was not an isolated incident, and it took place for most of our eight-month deployment."

Kelly Dougherty, the executive director of IVAW, blames the behaviour of soldiers in Iraq on the policies of the U.S. government. "The abuses committed in the occupations, far from being the result of a 'few bad apples' misbehaving, are the result of our government's Middle East policy, which is crafted in the highest spheres of U.S. power," she said.

Knowing this, however, does little to soften the emotional and moral devastation of the accounts.

"You see an individual with a white flag and he does anything but approach you slowly and obey commands, assume it's a trick and kill him," Michael Leduc, a corporal in the Marines who was part of the U.S. attack of Fallujah in November 2004, said were the orders from his battalion JAG officer he received before entering the city.

This is an important book for the public of the United States, in particular, because the Winter Soldier testimonies were not covered by any of the larger media outlets, aside from the Washington Post, which ran a single piece on the event that was buried in the Metro section.

The New York Times, CNN, and network news channels ABC, NBC and CBS ignored it completely.

This is particularly important in light of the fact that, as former Marine Jon Turner stated, "Anytime we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions changed drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the book."

"To me it's about giving a picture of what war is like," Glantz added, "Because here in the U.S. we have this very sanitised version of what war is. But war is when we have a large group of armed people killing large numbers of other people. And that is the picture that people will get from reading veterans testimony...the true face of war."

Dehumanisation of the soldiers themselves is covered in the book, as it includes testimony of sexism, racism, and the plight of veterans upon their return home as they struggle to obtain care from the Veterans Administration.

There is much testimony on the dehumanisation of the Iraqi people as well. Brian Casler, a corporal in the Marines, spoke to some of this that he witnessed during the invasion of Iraq.

"But on these convoys, I saw marines defecate into MRE bags or urinate in bottles and throw them at children on the side of the road," he stated.

Numerous accounts from soldiers include the prevalence of degrading terms for Iraqis, such as "hajis," "towel-heads" and "sand-niggers".

Scott Ewing, who served in Iraq from 2005-2006, admitted on one panel that units intentionally gave candy to Iraqi children for reasons other than "winning hearts and minds".

"There was also another motive," Ewing said, "If the kids were around our vehicles, the bad guys wouldn't attack. We used the kids as human shields."

Glantz admits that it would be difficult for the average U.S. citizen to read the book, and believes it is important to keep in mind while doing so what it took for the veterans to give this historic testimony.

"They could have been heroes, but what they are doing here is even more heroic -- which is telling the truth," Glantz told IPS. "They didn't have to come forward. They chose to come forward."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ocean Finance launches dedicated TV channel

LONDON - Ocean Finance has launched a digital satellite channel on Sky that is dedicated to promoting its financial services, such as loans and mortgages.

The self-titled Ocean Finance channel, which began broadcasting today on Sky channel 888, has been placed in the specialist category, beside Psychic TV, the Pub Channel and Audi Channel.

Today's programmes include 'Ocean Effect', which features real Ocean Finance customers sharing their experiences, and 'Ocean's Mortgages Revealed', which explains every step of the mortgage process and provides the re-mortgaging options available through Ocean.

Viewers are able to press the "red button" on the remote control to access further information about Ocean's products.

Ocean Finance is owned by US insurance giant AIG, which is the shirt sponsor of premiership football club Manchester United.

Benecol appoints agency for CRM

LONDON - Benecol has hired Chemistry to handle its customer relationship marketing programme.

The agency was hired following a four-way pitch against undisclosed rivals. Benecol has tasked Chemistry with the development of a programme intended to inspire existing consumers of the brand's products to use them more regularly to help lower their cholesterol levels.

The programme, which will comprise both online and offline work, will include healthy-heart recipes and information on healthy living. Communications will also include anecdotes from the brand's country of origin, Finland.

Earlier this year, Benecol, whose range includes drinks, spreads, cream cheese, yoghurts and yoghurt drinks, agreed a one-year deal to sponsor Classic FM's weekday Requests programme. The show also airs on Saturdays for two hours.

In addition to on-air marketing, which adopts the strapline 'Take control of your cholesterol with Benecol', the functional-foods brand has leveraged its association through online activity.

The deal followed Benecol's first foray into TV sponsorship, in which the brand sponsored The Alan Titchmarsh Show on ITV in a six-figure deal that included online and mobile sponsorship rights.

Benecol also runs a 'Women against cholesterol' programme, which aims to educate women on maintaining a healthy heart through reducing their cholesterol. As part of the scheme, Benecol provided free cholesterol testing across four cities in June.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mobile Beat — a DJ industry-related magazine—has been compiling surveys since 1992 on the most popular songs that people dance to at special events (i

Mobile Beat a DJ industry-related magazine—has been compiling surveys since 1992 on the most popular songs that people dance to at special events (i.e.: wedding receptions, corporate functions, etc.) by asking mobile DJs nationwide to submit the top 25 songs for which they get requests. The result was The Top 200 Most Requested Songs of All-time, published in 1992.

The following is the most recent Top 200 — released in 2006.

All of the music we play is "Radio Edited". Although some of the songs may be listed in the Top 200, we reserve the privilege of not playing certain music due to the content.

Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Electric Boogie - Marcia Griffiths
Brick House - Commodores
Y.M.C.A. - Village People
Love Shack - B-52's
We Are Family - Sister Sledge
Build Me Up Buttercup - Foundations
Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry
Dancing Queen - ABBA
What A Wonderful - World Louis Armstrong
Celebration - Kool & The Gang
Old Time Rock & Roll - Bob Seger
Shout - Otis Day
Mustang Sally - Wilson Pickett
Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
You Shook Me All Night - AC/DC
I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor
C'mon 'N' Ride It (The Train) - Quad City DJs
Staying Alive - Bee Gees
Gettin' Jiggy Wit It - Will Smith
Twist - Chubby Checker
Respect - Aretha Franklin
Cha Cha Slide - Mr. C - Casper
Yeah! - Usher
Get The Party Started - Pink
Kiss - Prince
Twist And Shout - Beatles
My Girl - Temptations
Funky Cold Medina - Tone Loc
Unforgettable - Natalie/Nat King Cole
Come On Eileen - Dexy's Midnight Runners
Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton
Bust A Move - Young MC
Footloose - Kenny Loggins
Oh Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison
Can't Help Falling In Love - Elvis Presley
Come Away With Me - Norah Jones
Mony Mony - Billy Idol
December '63 (Oh What A Night) - Four Seasons
Amazed - Lonestar
Friends In Low Places - Garth Brooks
The Way You Look Tonight - Frank Sinatra
At Last - Etta James
Let's Twist Again - Chubby Checker
Macarena - Los Del Rio
Super Freak - Rick James
Get Down Tonight - KC & The Sunshine Band
Grease Megamix - O. Newton-John/ J. Travolta
Have I Told You Lately - Van Morrison
Hey Ya! - Outkast
I Got You (I Feel Good) - James Brown
Crazy - Patsy Cline
Ice Ice Baby - Vanilla Ice
Wild Thing - Tone Loc
Baby Got Back - Sir Mix-A-Lot
Dropped A Bomb On Me - Gap Band
That's The Way I Like It - KC & The Sunshine Band
It Takes Two - Rob Base
Margaritaville - Jimmy Buffett
Push It - Salt-N-Pepa
Unchained Melody - Righteous Brothers
When A Man Loves A Woman - Percy Sledge
How Sweet It Is - James Taylor
You Sexy Thing - Hot Chocolate
Boot Scootin' Boogie - Brooks & Dunn
Cotton Eye Joe - Rednex
Gonna Make You Sweat - C+C Music Factory
Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye
Everything I Do - Bryan Adams
Hot In Herre - Nelly
Soul Man - Sam & Dave
Bootylicious - Destiny's Child
Don't Know Why - Norah Jones
Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
When You Say Nothin' At All - Alison Krauss
Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley
Chicken Dance - Emeralds
From This Moment On - Shania Twain/Bryan White
It's Your Love - Tim McGraw/Faith Hill
1999 - Prince
Conga - Gloria Estefan
Whatta Man - Salt-N-Pepa
Crash Into Me - Dave Matthews Band
Don't Stop Till You Get Enough - Michael Jackson
Girls Just Want To Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
Sitting On The Dock Of Bay - Otis Redding
Hokey Pokey - Ray Anthony
Holiday - Madonna
New York, New York - Frank Sinatra
Pour Some Sugar On Me - Def Leppard
Brass Monkey - Beastie Boys
Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
Who Let The Dogs Out - Baha Men
Can't Get Enough Of Your Love - Barry White
Copacabana - Barry Manilow
Swing The Mood - Jive Bunny
Do You Love Me - Contours
Funkytown - Lipps Inc.
I Love Rock And Roll - Joan Jett
In The Mood - Glenn Miller
Boogie Shoes - KC & The Sunshine Band
I Saw Her Standing There - Beatles
I Swear - John Montgomery
In Da Club - 50 Cent
The Wanderer - Dion
Mickey - Toni Basil
California Love - 2Pac
This Is How We Do It - Montell Jordan
Time Of My Life - Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes
Walk Like An Egyptian - Bangles
Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler
Fly Me To The Moon - Frank Sinatra
I Hope You Dance - Lee Ann Womack
You'Ve Lost That Lovin' Feeling - Righteous Brothers
Addicted To Love - Robert Palmer
Beat It - Michael Jackson
Because You Loved Me - Celine Dion
Blister In The Sun - Violent Femmes
Great Balls Of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis
Fight For Your Right To - Party
I Cross My Heart - George Strait
Jump Jive An' Wail - Brian Setzer
Lady Marmalade - Christina Aguilera
Livin' La Vida Loca - Ricky Martin
Under The Boardwalk - Drifters
Miami - Will Smith
Get Down On It - Kool & The Gang
Moondance - Van Morrison
Proud Mary - Ike & Tina Turner
Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy) - Big And Rich
Tootsee Roll - 69 Boyz
Georgia On My Mind - Ray Charles
Let Me Clear My Throat - DJ Kool
Lets Get It Started - Black Eyed Peas
Man! I Feel Like A Woman - Shania Twain
Walk This Way - Aerosmith
Shake Your Booty - KC & The Sunshine Band
I Could Not Ask For More - Edwin McCain
Let's Stay Together - Al Green
You'Re The Inspiration - Chicago
Material Girl - Madonna
All I Wanna Do - Sheryl Crow
Caribbean Queen - Billy Ocean
Hollaback Girl - Gwen Stefani
I Don't Want To Miss A Thing - Aerosmith
Mambo No. 5 - Lou Bega
Joy And Pain - Rob Base
Lady In Red - Chris Deburgh
Last Dance - Donna Summer
Runaround Sue - Dion
Could I Have This Dance - Anne Murray
I Only Have Eyes For You - Flamingos
Tainted Love - Soft Cell
Got To Be Real - Cheryl Lynn
ABC - Jackson 5
It's Five O'Clock Somewhere - Alan Jackson/Jimmy Buffett
La Bamba - Los Lobos
Loco-Motion - Little Eva
Night Fever - Bee Gees
Satisfaction (I Can't Get No) - Rolling Stones
Takin' Care Of Business - BTO
Bad Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce
Best Of My Love - Emotions
Born To Be Wild - Steppenwolf
Just The Way You Are - Billy Joel
Rock Around The Clock - Bill Haley
Shoop - Salt-N-Pepa
What I Like About You - Romantics
Can't Take My Eyes Off You - Frankie Valli
Dancin' Shaggin' On The Boulevard - Alabama
I Wanna Dance With Somebody - Whitney Houston
Into The Mystic - Van Morrison
Keep Your Hands To Yourself - Georgia Satellites
Pump Up The Jam - Technotronic
I'm A Believer - Monkees
Take My Breath Away - Berlin
Always On My Mind - Willie Nelson
Devil With A Blue Dress On - Mitch Ryder
Here And Now - Luther Vandross
No Woman No Cry - Bob Marley
In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel
Jungle Boogie - Kool & The Gang
Simply Irresistable - Robert Palmer
Through The Years - Kenny Rogers
U Can't Touch This - MC Hammer
Wanna Be Starting Something - Michael Jackson
I Feel For You - Chaka Khan
Way You Move - Outkast
You Are So Beautiful - Joe Cocker
It's The End Of The World - REM
Endless Love - Diana Ross/Lionel Richie
Faithfully - Journey
Just My Imagination - Temptations
Pink Cadillac - Natalie Cole
Rock Your Body - Justin Timberlake
Up Where We Belong - Joe Cocker
Rocky Top - Osborne Brothers
Start Me Up - Rolling Stones
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes - Platters
Beer For My Horses - Toby Keith/Willie Nelson

Environmental groups denounce EU Parliament attempt to boycott climate targets

Brussels, Belgium – The European Parliament’s industry committee is trying to ditch the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and to boycott 2020 climate targets, environmental groups said following today’s vote on how the carbon market should operate after 2012.

The committee voted to delay or even prevent the planned shift from a 20 to a 30% emission reduction target, on condition that an international climate deal is reached next year.

“Today’s decision backtracks on the commitments made by the EU last year. The industry committee have clearly put short-term economic interests before innovation and technology development that would lead to longer term benefits, such as new jobs and a more secure energy system in Europe,” said Sanjeev Kumar, ETS expert at WWF’s European Policy Office.

Environmental NGOs denounce the committee’s attempt to allow certain carbon-intensive industries to continue polluting largely for free, by reducing the amount of allowances they will be obliged to purchase. This decision has not been backed up by evidence proving that they would suffer undue economic disadvantage compared to similar companies outside the EU.

In addition, the vote would allow companies to have access to even more emission reduction credits from projects in developing countries, further reducing the effort required by companies to reduce emissions within the EU.

This vote allows an even higher access to external credits than the Commission proposed, which means that the cuts required domestically inside the EU amount to only around 15%. The rest of the emissions reduction effort can be undertaken through dubious projects outside of the EU. No legally binding, strong quality criteria have been imposed on external credits.

“This vote weakens the domestic emission reduction efforts required by Europe. If other developed countries followed the EU’s lead, the world would be on course for at least a 3.6°C increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels,” said Tomas Wyns, CAN Europe ETS expert.

The industry committee has in effect discounted Europe’s responsibility to fight dangerous climate change. This is not only completely irresponsible but also the results of this vote will endanger the EU’s credibility at the international climate negotiations.

Environmental groups argue that it is crucial that the environment committee ignores today's disappointing outcome in the industry committee. Environmental groups call on the environment committee – which will vote in early October – to vote to improve the environmental effectiveness of the emissions trading scheme.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

New Orleans Empties as Gustav Closes In

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 30 -- Mayor C. Ray Nagin on Saturday night ordered a mandatory evacuation of this city ahead of Hurricane Gustav, which swelled from an already deadly tropical storm into a monster depression with winds of more than 150 mph.

"This is the real deal, not a test," Nagin said as he issued the order, effective 9 a.m. Eastern time Sunday for low-lying areas and 1 p.m. citywide. He warned residents that staying would be "one of the biggest mistakes of your life."

Forecasters warned that it was still too soon to say whether New Orleans would take a direct hit from Gustav late Monday, but the storm's threat, coming three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated a broad swath of the Gulf Coast, drew a hefty amount of wary respect from city, state and federal officials.

Gustav has already killed more than 80 people in the Caribbean. On Saturday, it slammed into western Cuba, knocking out power in Havana. The Cuban government said that it had moved at least 300,000 people.

In New Orleans, local officials said they would turn all lanes of traffic on major highways into one-way routes headed away from the city, starting early Sunday morning.

But many residents were not waiting to leave. At a news conference at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time Saturday, Nagin said 50 percent of the city had already evacuated.

By dinnertime, St. Charles Avenue, the main drag through the residential Garden District, was all but deserted. National Guard troops patrolled the street, walking by a few celebrants of Southern Decadence, an annual Labor Day weekend event that draws thousands of gays and lesbians.

Jackson Square, a part of the French Quarter that is regularly lined with horse-drawn carriages and street artists, was abandoned as well, save for a few palm readers and homeless people. Private security guards wearing bulletproof vests and carrying semiautomatic weapons were out in force in front of the InterContinental Hotel, which was preparing to evacuate all guests and close its doors Sunday morning.

Under a worst-case scenario, Gustav could "put the whole city under" water, Nagin said, even areas that have never flooded before. "This is the mother of all storms," he said.

The hurricane also threatened to disrupt oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, energy analysts warned, and companies with offshore rigs in the gulf said they had significantly cut their production. Oil refiners also reduced their operations.

After clearing the Cayman Islands, Gustav gained strength Saturday and became a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Forecasters are predicting that the storm will reach Category 5 -- the strongest level -- with winds higher than 155 mph before hitting the Gulf Coast. The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas's eastern coast.

At Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans, the city's Amtrak station and one of 17 evacuation centers, residents said they were wiser about the danger of Gustav after going through the ravages of Katrina.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin Comparison

All the papers lead with John McCain's surprise selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his running mate. He shocked election-watchers and scrambled the presidential race with a "Hail Mary pass"—eschewing more conventional choices for the inexperienced, socially conservative, corruption-fighting "hockey mom." Appearing together in Ohio, McCain lauded her reform credentials while Palin framed her candidacy as an extension of Hillary Clinton's quest to "shatter [the] glass ceiling."

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal call it a risky play to revitalize John McCain's "maverick" image. Choosing Palin undercuts the argument that Barack Obama is too inexperienced, raising questions about John McCain's age and judgment. But it could pay off: Palin—an NRA member and staunch pro-lifer—is energizing evangelicals and tempting Hillary Clinton voters to defect. An LAT analysis piece worries it's a sign that McCain relies on shortsighted "gut-checks," while an early version of the WSJ lead called it a "calculated bet." It's likely a bit of both—McCain's a high-stakes gambler who knows the odds.

The papers all have the same details about McCain's selection process: He spoke to Palin three times—once at the National Governors Association meeting in February, once on the phone last Sunday, and Thursday morning, when he offered her the job. (On Wednesday, she met with McCain's advisers at the home of the Hensley family's foot-soldier, Bob "Call Delgado" Delgado.) The LAT and WSJ raise questions about whether Palin was properly vetted.

The WP, LAT, and NYT also front biographies of Palin. The WP and LAT play up her compelling life story and her reputation for reform—formerly mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 7,000, she made her name by initiating an ethics investigation of Republican king-maker Randy Ruedrich—but the NYT is far more critical of her record. A separate NYT piece looks at an ongoing ethics investigation of Palin, involving pressure to fire her brother-in-law, a state trooper.

The WP off-leads, and the NYT stuffs, New Orleans' preparations for Hurricane Gustav, which will touch down on Tuesday morning. Massive new floodgates should protect much of the city, but improvements haven't been made in vulnerable areas like the Ninth Ward. A mandatory evacuation order may come on Sunday.

The NYT off-leads with a natural gas-powered vehicle boom in Utah. A combination of price controls and infrastructure improvements have set off a frenzy to buy specialized Hondas and illegally modify cars, as Utahans take advantage of fuel that costs the equivalent of 87 cents a gallon.

The WP fronts a growing battle over Jewishness in Israel. Zionists have been trying to swell Israel's Jewish population by wooing new converts, but the ultra-Orthodox courts are concerned about watering down Judaism. They've been fighting back, imposing increasingly strict criteria that have invalidated conversions and marriages.

A WP front profiles the first-ever American confab of the Slow Food Movement—which combines concern over food production processes with gourmet tastes. The San Francisco convention comes just as many of the movement's ideas are becoming mainstream.

The NYT fronts a look at India's newest ex-Maoist public intellectual: Chadra Bhan Prasad has made a name for himself by arguing that capitalism is the antidote to caste discrimination.

The LAT fronts the discovery of 12 beheaded bodies in Mexico, a result of the escalating war for control of the country's new drug routes.

And the NYT reefers a new Bush administration attempt to reaffirm that we are legally "at war" against al-Qaida. The language, included in a proposal to hear legal appeals for Gitmo detainees, is an attempt to institutionalize tools President Bush has used in the "long war"—including interrogation, surveillance, and detention of suspected terrorists as "enemy combatants."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

U.N. troops offer lessons in peace in Lebanon

EBEL AL SAQI, LEBANON -- The yoga instructor chuckles, and the three dozen or so women follow along, giggling nervously before bursting through some invisible layer of restraint or sorrow and laughing with abandon. Grins widen into smiles, tentative squeals bloom into full-bore howls.

The yoga instructor is teaching inner peace, but he's also trying to keep the peace: He's Warrant Officer Mal Singh of the Indian army, part of a 30-year-old United Nations force stationed in southern Lebanon.

The laughs peter out, some of the women wiping tears from their eyes as they gather up their handbags and head home.

"If we feel peace inside ourselves, maybe we will have peace," says Hoda Munzer, a 35-year-old owner of a nearby clothing shop, who has taken a break from work to attend the class with her 9-year-old daughter, Sueen, in this hilltop community near the Israeli border.

For decades, southern Lebanon has been shaken by war, most recently in 2006, when fighting between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah displaced a million people and wrecked dozens of towns and villages. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, is perhaps not aptly named: It has been here since March 23, 1978, its numbers bolstered to about 13,000 after the 2006 conflict.

While serving here, the blue-bereted troops also try to heal the psychic wounds of traumatized residents, serving as cultural ambassadors of sorts. In addition to the Indian troops' yoga instruction, French troops have taught the many Francophone residents courses in poetry. Chinese troops demonstrate tai chi and the South Koreans, tae kwon do. The Spaniards teach español, now trendy in Lebanon. Italians have shown off their pizza-making skills.

And what about the German troops? Well, no one expects Germans to offer cooking classes. The hundreds-strong German contingent makes up the bulk of the mission's maritime forces, out at sea patrolling for arms smugglers.

The U.N. peacekeepers also offer medical and dental clinics and computer classes, and they have plans to supply more artificial limbs for the people wounded by old land mines and ordnance.

The efforts are all meant to endear the troops to a local population that has violently resisted incursions by Israeli, French, American and Syrian forces over the decades.

"When we do such things, it brings us closer to the people," said Maj. Rishi Raj Singh of the 800-plus Indian contingent. "The return is immeasurable. We don't spend a lot of money, and it's immensely popular."

It's part of the changing nature of U.N. peacekeeping operations since they began 60 years ago, on May 29, 1948, when the fledgling world body dispatched its first batch of blue-helmeted international troops, with the goal of maintaining a truce between newly founded Israel and its Arab neighbors.

"The warfare environment is much more complex than before," says Maj. Chang Sec-jeun of the South Korean force based near the mostly Shiite Muslim town of Burj Rahhal. "You have to consider not just military dimensions, but nonprofit organizations, economics and civilian life. We keep the peace with the local population. We keep the peace together."

The South Koreans teach tae kwon do in workshops that attract up to 50 young students, many of them on edge over Lebanon's simmering conflicts.

"The tae kwon do helps release their frustration and stress and give them . . . what do you call it? Catharsis?" Chang said.

The troops have set up makeshift tae kwon do studios in three southern Lebanese towns. They hope to have two more by the end of summer, eventually offering 10 classes a week for up to 500 people. The students in one class, ages 11 to 13, line up in formation as the lesson begins.

"Anyon Hasaeyo?" -- how are you doing today? -- the instructor, Lt. Jang Yoo-sung, asks in Korean.

"Hamdullah!" Well, thank God, they respond in Arabic.

The boys and girls stretch their arms into the air, all wearing gleaming white martial arts uniforms and yellow belts handed out free. They bark out numbers in Korean as they kick and punch into the air. "Hana! Dul! Set! Net! Dasote!" they exclaim -- one, two, three, four, five.

"We learn to concentrate and control ourselves," says Abbas Hammoud, a 13-year-old who, like many children, suffered nightmares after the 2006 war. "And to defend ourselves."

No one claims that tae kwon do classes will prevent young men here from joining sectarian militias. But the middle and high school boys taking the classes are in the same demographic group as those now scuttling around on motorbikes in Beirut, northern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, the so-called shebab, or young dudes, aimless teens firing off rounds at rival gangs and starting skirmishes with sectarian overtones. Dozens have died in such violence over the last year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Today, we struck a blow against propaganda, and for transparency and accountability.

In early 2002, the Pentagon began cultivating retired military officers who frequently serve as media commentators to help make the case for invading Iraq. The pundit program continued -- promoting the Bush administration's stance on the Guantanamo Bay detention center, warrantless wiretapping and other controversial issues -- until New York Times reporter David Barstow exposed its existence in April 2008.

Thanks to Blake Hall of our IT staff and senior researcher Diane Farsetta, now you and anyone with web access can search the massive cache of military documents detailing the Pentagon's illegal attempts to shape U.S. public opinion. The New York Times first obtained the documents. After the Times reported on the covert pundit program, the Pentagon posted the documents online in a desperate attempt at damage control. But the documents weren't text searchable, making systematic analysis of this important information nearly impossible.

But we've now cracked the Pentagon's code and made the 8,000 pages of Pentagon documents fully text searchable, posting them all on our SourceWatch website, for journalists, researchers and concerned citizens.

Please help us continue this important work. Make a tax-deductible donation to CMD today by going to

The Pentagon documents reveal the worst of the U.S. military-industrial-media complex. As pundits, the retired military officers were paid to give supposedly independent analyses of military and security issues to news audiences. The emails, briefing notes and other internal correspondence revealed in the Pentagon documents make clear how Defense Department officials viewed the pundits - as "surrogates" and "message force multipliers."

Where is the outrage over this massive propaganda campaign? U.S. mainstream media - the same outlets that paid, and sometimes still feature, the Pentagon's pundits - have failed to report on this issue. One of very few national television shows to report on the Pentagon pundit program was PBS's "NewsHour," which featured a debate between CMD executive director John Stauber and Robert Zelnick, a former ABC Pentagon correspondent who defended the propaganda program and criticized the New York Times!

Governments should obey the law. The news media should expose, not partner with, illegal government propaganda campaigns. When both fail, it's left to watchdogs like we here at CMD to sound the alarm and fight for all of our rights to clean government and accurate, factual journalism.

If you appreciate CMDs work in widening and informing public debates, please make a generous contribution today by going to or by sending a check to the address below.

We're proud of this important work, and happy to help elevate the scrutiny, criticism and condemnation that this illegal propaganda campaign has received. Thanks to your support we've made the Pentagon more transparent to citizens like you.


The staff of the Center for Media and Democracy

P.S. Dig into the documents yourself! They are at

Monday, August 04, 2008

Brain signal decoder

Interfacing with the brain to control devices such as wheelchairs, robots and prosthetic devices has great potential. Monkeys have shown impressive ability to control robot limbs using brain implants, but must "rewire" their brains through training to do it.

It would make things easier to use the signals naturally used for hand-eye coordination. But nobody has been able to figure out how the part of the brain responsible for hand-eye coordination, the primary motor cortex, does its job. Even recording the activity of this brain region has proved difficult.

Now, John Donoghue and colleagues at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, have designed a new implant to make the task easier. They have also created software that turns these brain signals into code that controls an external device.

The team tested the device on the brains of monkeys as they watched objects move in front of them. In this way, the researchers built up a database of signals that could be used to work out a decoding strategy.

The result is a brain implant that can translate the hand trajectory signals produced by the brain and use them to control an external device.

Read the full brain signal decoder patent application

iPhone 2.0.1 Update Now Available (Also Available For iPod Touch)

Read in Gizmodo:

A reader just tipped us off to the iPhone 2.0.1 update being out RIGHT NOW. Just fire up your iTunes and click the old update button and you'll be able to grab it. We're updating now and will let you know what's different. Right now all we see is "Bug Fixes" listed under the changelog, but there's a security update info link in the update screen as well, so it might be that. [Thanks tipster!]

Update: It's an E. Honda-like 249MB, so this will take a few minutes to download.

Update 2: iPod Touch users can also update.

Update 3: The didn't wipe out our media (pics, vids, tunes) on the iPhone 3G. Awesome.

Update 4: Is it me, or does flipping pages on the home screen seem faster and smoother?

Update 5: Marcelo says iTunes sync and backup is faster. Anyone else agree?

Update 6: Confirmed that it doesn't work with Pwnage tool just yet.

The Political Hurdles

Perhaps no other Olympics has been so intensely anticipated" as the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China, observed Jere Longman in Sunday's New York Times. The upcoming Olympics will be a test of the "inherent power of the games," Longman wrote. China is a rising economic and cultural force in the world, but the regime's behavior, both domestically and internationally, continues to be problematic. Will focusing the world's attention on China serve to positively change the behavior of an oppressive regime, as some claim was an effect of the 1988 summer games in Seoul, South Korea? Or will the 2008 Summer Olympics serve only to further empower, entrench, and legitimize that regime, as many believe happened with the 1936 "Nazi" Olympics in Berlin?

HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHINA: Even though there has been progress in economic rights in China, "rights to free speech and assembly remain sharply restricted, ethnic minorities are repressed, [and] the Communist Party dominates," Longman noted. In a report released in late July, Amnesty International said progress on human rights in China had been limited. Foreign journalists covering the Olympics are also confronting many restrictions. Chinese authorities "had told the International Olympic Committee that reporters would be allowed to cover the Games as they would any other Olympics," but media advocates say that has not been the case. "Chinese censors use increasingly sophisticated filtering software to block access to Web sites and conduct surveillance of online bulletin boards and chat rooms." Television crews from South America and Germany "have complained publicly about being harassed and followed by plainclothes police or about public security police who have cut off live shots even though the reporters had permission to film." Fearful of being spied on, White House staffers who are traveling to Beijing have been told to leave their Blackberries at home.

INTERNATIONAL ISSUES: The Beijing Olympics suffered a public relations hit in February when director Steven Spielberg withdrew from his role as artistic adviser to the games in protest of China's backing for Sudan's policy in Darfur. China has been severely criticized for blocking tougher sanctions against the Sudanese government, as well as for its support for Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. In March, there was an international outcry over China's violent crackdown on Tibetan demonstrators, in which 140 people were killed, according to the Tibetan government-in-exile. China has criticized the use of sanctions against Iran to bring Iran into compliance with nuclear inspections, though it is currently a party to the incentives package being offered to Tehran. There are also serious concerns with China's environmental policies. China's fast-growing economy "requires energy, and coal provides more than three-quarters of China's needs." According to the World Bank, 20 of the globe's 30 most polluted cities are in China. In preparation for the Olympics, "China has taken drastic anti-pollution steps, such as closing factories surrounding Beijing and ordering half of 3.3 million cars in Beijing off the roads." China has also pledged to keep many of its anti-pollution measures in force after the Olympics.

CAN OLYMPICS CHANGE ANY OF THIS?: Some observers insist that the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul played an important part in moving that country's government toward internal democratic reform. Expressing this view, François Carrard, the International Olympic Committee's then-director general, said in 2001: "We are totally aware there is one issue on the table, and that is human rights. Either you say because of some serious human rights issues, we close the door, deliver a vote that is regarded as a sanction and hope things evolve better. The other way is to bet on openness. We are taking the bet that we will see many changes" as a result of holding the games in China. There are other issues on the table, such as China's support for authoritarian regimes and its growing environmental footprint. It remains to be seen whether the Olympics will help make China a more productive international partner for the United States in dealing with these important issues.