Tools for a better understanding of conflicts

I’m trying my hand with some new podcasts now that I’m exercising three times a week. You can hear a lot of podcasts in 4-5 hours! One I listened to today was BBC’s technology podcast called Digital Planet. It was surprisingly good and this episode focused almost exclusively on the Gaza conflict. Some of these wonderful Open Source people have developed a debate wiki called DebateGraph, which encompasses all the stand points and all the arguments in the Gaza conflict and shows them in a graphic way. I’ve been trying to embed it here on my blog, but I just can’t get WordPress to do it. What kind of media is a wiki exactly, anyway? But click here and have a good look at it. The British newspaper The Independent has been more successful than me, it’s embedded on their website and they are presently using it to show “What Obama should do next”. Really marvellous tool!

Digital Planet also mentioned another tool called Ushahidi, originally developed for the conflict in the Democratic Replublic of Congo, which monitors all sources to find out the correct number of casualties. This one is adopted by Al-Jazeera.

A couple of other news tit-bits from around the world: Obama has, in yet another show of supreme insight in how the media works, released a letter he’s written to his two little girls here only a few days away from his inauguration. Read it in its entirety here. There’s also an interesting letter going in the other direction, namely the star of the blogosphere Arianna Huffington‘s letter titled “Moving forward doesn’t mean you can’t look back”. It’s about America not closing its eyes to the crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney administration. She quotes George W.

As for the economy, Bush insisted, “I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted growth.” Which is kind of like saying the flight of the Hindenburg was fabulous up until the landing.

Which reminded me that I still haven’t seen Bush’ farewell address. It’s a must-see, I think. With remarks like that!

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Voices of reason

There might be more than good cause for hand-wringing, exaggerations and “loud” statements over the state of things in Palestine. But I believe that the mellow and calm voice of reason is the one that will get us places. Listen to this woman, Syria’s first lady (read about her here first):

She says the most important things within the first 2-3 minutes if you’re too busy to watch the whole interview.

Ezra Klein points to another voice of reason, Anthony Cordesman. He ends the article published through Centre for Strategic and International Studies like this:

As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting in 2006. It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.

We should also listen to what intelligent people on “the other side” have to say. Here is an interview with Bernard-Henri Levy and here’s one with Israeli soldier and history scholar Michael Oren. With all respect for these two scholars, I think they both grossly underestimate how much Hamas and therefore all the militants in the Middle East gain from this and how much this will harm Israel and then the rest of us in the long run and, no less, how much harm it does to the remaining moderate Arab countries, just as Mrs. Al-Assad says in the interview at the top of this page.

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No exit strategy (why does that sound so familiar?)

The very serious and high-brow American magazine Foreign Policy has a middle-east blog. I didn’t know that, but now I do and I’ll keep an eye on it, because from what I’ve briefly read, it’s very good. And – my God – do the Americans need to see reason here!

In this post Marc Lynch has been to a round table conversation with the Israeli ambassador Sallai Meridor. Here’s the last couple of lines from the post:

In short, Meridor quite literally offered no strategy beyond hitting Gaza hard and hoping for the best. “In terms of creating damage we are certainly on the right path,” noted the Ambassador. Few would disagree with that assessment, at least. But some might hope that the bloody, battered path might actually be leading somewhere.

In the latest post, he tells about the reactions from a person called Ayman al-Zawahiri on behalf of  Al-Qaeda to the bombing of Gaza:

He sounds about as happy as I can remember hearing him of late. He probably can’t believe his luck.

That is of course not at all surprising. Why is it that apparently the American, the British, the Israeli, the <fill in the blank> government can’t see that they are playing right into the hands of this world’s religious fanatics, left, right and eh, hopefully not centre, with this so-called War on Terror?

It’s late and I’m heading for bed – just stumbled over this and had to share it with you.

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Double standards

Picture from after the attack of UN run international school in Gaza. Picture from BBC.
Picture from after the attack of UN run international school in Gaza. Picture from BBC.

The Gaza conflict makes me even more angry than so many other international conflicts. I think what makes me fume is that America supports Saudi Arabia so strongly, overtly and unconditioned – America that claims to be on a “Nation Building” & “Democracy Exporting” Crusade. Palestine is definitely more democratic than any little bit of desert in Saudi Arabia! And think of the Sauds who were allowed to leave the US during the flying ban after 9/11. And consider that there’s every proof you’d want that it’s the Saudis who finance most of the religious madmen in the Arab world and thus more or less pushed Hamas into power. Because at the same time as supporting Hamas and all the other religious nutters, they – and the US and Israel – have done everything to discredit Fatah. It simply defies belief that the whole world is standing by and idly watching this!

Today’s story about the Israeli “proof” that they only shoot at “legitimate” targets – the Youtube video with the “missiles” being loaded onto the truck – is probably only scratching the surface of the deception the Western press gladly falls for.

A Washington Post story from right after the Hamas take-over.

Here’s evidence of Saudi Arabia financing terrorism, which was delivered to the American senate in 2003.

Here’s some back ground information about Saudi Arabia, Wahabism and terror financing from the Independent.

Wikipedia’s article about Wahabism (state religion in Saudi Arabia). And here about the House of Saud, who rule Saudi Arabia.

A bone chilling story from Vanity Fair about the US deepening the crisis in Gaza.

I could go on, but I won’t.

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Waiting in trepidation

Ive even got the tea cosy out...
I've even got the tea cosy out...

I’ve settled down now in my sofa with everything within reach and BBC News on the telly. My computer is at hand and so is my Iphone. Luckily most of the key states are on the East coast, which means the results will be in around 1 am. Should one or some of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio go to Obama, then I will almost certainly go to bed, assured that America will have a president who will unite rather than divide come January. That’s what he’s been promising all along and I choose to believe that he will do his best to deliver that. I remember reading an analysis of his political statements in The Atlantic back in December last year, thinking that this man could recover USA’s standing in the rest of the world and make an end to the aggressive foreign policy we’ve witnessed for so many years now. And won’t that be something! I really and truly love America – it’s such a fantastic country. It would be so nice to also harbour some respect for the man in the White House.

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A president's legacy

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Pullitzer-prize winner Steve Coll has an extremely insightful article about what defines a great president. Particularly after the fact. Oh yes, the ability to keep your cool in a squeeze is important, but long-lasting reforms are what really make a president’s legacy great.

On this important day, why don’t you read this article while waiting for the results to tick in tonight?

Here’s an appetiser:

The accumulating failures in the country’s health-care system are a cause of profound weakness in the American economy; unaddressed, this weakness will exacerbate the coming recession and crimp its aftermath. A large number of the country’s housing foreclosures in recent years appear to be related to medical problems and health-care expenses. American businesses often can’t afford to hire as many employees as they would like because of rising health-insurance costs; employees often can’t afford to quit to chase their better-mousetrap dreams because they can’t risk going without coverage. Add to this the system’s moral failings: about twenty-two thousand people die in this country annually because they lack health insurance. That is more than the number of Americans who are murdered in a year.

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Here's another couple of reasons why you should vote for Mr. Obama if you're an American

Christopher Hitchens with whom I agree on very little, but who’s intelligence I most certainly admire, has this column on Slate. The below quote is his finishing lines. Before that he argues very convincingly – read it yourself!

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

I received a message on Facebook from my old friend Lone Skovgaard about the power of being FOR something rather than being AGAINST something else. It is a very relevant point. So let it be noted that I’m

  • FOR a raised standing for America in the world √
  • FOR less aggressive meddling in other countries’ affairs √
  • FOR every American’s right to basic medical treatment √
  • FOR a tightened access to weapons in the US √
  • FOR intelligence and compassion in the White House √
  • etc…
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Copyright and airport security

What do they have in common? On the surface of it, nothing. But I see two things. One – they’re both sign o’ the times. Two – they appear on my blog in the same post…

I found a link to this film on Boing Boing. It’s Girl Talk, Lawrence Lessig, Gilberto Gil and Cory Doctorow in a film about the end of (some) copyright. Good! This article, also from Boing Boing is also about copyright. Are we allowed to sell our old CDs?

It was also Boing Boing that pointed me to an Atlantic article that I hadn’t read yet, although I’ve just downloaded the most awesome application to my Iphone, which – among a zillion other things – allows me to read the Atlantic on my phone. Wow!!!! The article is written by a journalist who – at the risk of getting arrested and prosecuted – shows how airport security is much more show than it’s actual security. Really very scary! One of many holes he uncovers, so to speak, is this:

To slip through the only check against the no-fly list, the terrorist uses a stolen credit card to buy a ticket under a fake name. “Then you print a fake boarding pass with your real name on it and go to the airport. You give your real ID, and the fake boarding pass with your real name on it, to security. They’re checking the documents against each other. They’re not checking your name against the no-fly list—that was done on the airline’s computers. Once you’re through security, you rip up the fake boarding pass, and use the real boarding pass that has the name from the stolen credit card. Then you board the plane, because they’re not checking your name against your ID at boarding.”

And now for something entirely different. On The Long Now Blog I found a link to something new. Crowd powered translation. Whenever you have five minutes, you can go there and help out. You can choose something to translate that’s important to you and then just do as much as you can that day. I just tried it and translated a bit of a discussion between Will Wright and Brian Eno into Danish. Click here and see my just translated text as subtitles to this video (only the first two minutes – must do more soon). It’s a cool tool. Imagine an organisation with an important video they want to get out to as many as possible, quickly. They send link – e.g. through Facebook – to the video’s transscript on this site and members from all over the globe can translate it quickly. You can then load the video onto Youtube and from there redirect people, who don’t understand the original language. Cool tool!

It was quite a nice day today and we took it veeery easy. Read the Sunday Times for a couple of hours and then went to Wisley, as we quite often do. It’s nearby and we’re members. They had a farmers’ market and pumpkin carving for children. So Dane carved a small pumpkin, which is now guarding our front door. And David bought dinner, a freshly made game pie. Uhm, it was nice. Dane found some bread in the restaurant and we went to feed the ducks. But it turned out to be more fun to feed the fish! The top picture is made entirely of Wisley’s own apples by Wisley employees. Apple Owl. Looks good, tastes good and even sounds good!

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Blog rounds

Before I start my round I want to complain! About you! I can see from my statistics that I have a steadily (okay, ever so slowly) growing group of readers. But so few of you ever bother to comment on my posts? Now, this last post about the Nobel Laureates. Honestly, a good chunk of you must be avid readers like me. So you must also have an opinion of one or more of the last 48 years of Nobel prize winners?

Anyway, that was that out of the way. Marginal Revolution points to an article in a magazine for people with excess money to spend – these guys and gals are very sorry for themselves presently, because they’ve lost money. Some of them big money. The magazine is called Portfolio and the writer Felix Salmon. There’s a great quote:

If you’re running an insolvent bank, and you get a slug of equity from Treasury, your shareholders will thank you if you use that equity to take some very large risks. If they pay off and you make lots of money, then their shares are really worth something; if they fail and you lose even more money, well, there was never really any money for them to begin with anyway.

The Chief Happiness Officer points to this job advert. One of the best I’ve ever seen!

Creative Commons photo found on Flickr.

On Squattercity we can read that the authorities’ reluctance to legalise squat dwellings can lead to uncontrollable fires, death and homelessness. When a fire starts and there are no fire hydrants, there’s not much to be done! The article is about a fire in a squatter city outside Durban, SA. 2000 people were made homeless.

Kevin Kelly, the Internet guru, writes a post that instantly got my attention. He calls it The Expansion of Ignorance. Good title, eh? It’s about how the amount of information, patents and knowledge is growing ever more rapidly. But what’s growing more than the answers is the questions! Which of course leads to his conclusion:

we have not yet reached our maximum ignorance.

And here’s something else to raise your eyebrows: Ezra Klein points to this editorial in the Los Angeles Times (a newspaper, btw, named as “liberal” by some of my Texan family). The editorial advocates a no to a proposal for a new law in the state of California, which will

“…require that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.”

The editorial recommends a NO. Because otherwise the state will loose its egg business…

It’s late and I’m tired, having just read a long but very rewarding article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s been a while since I read anything new by him, but rumour has it that he has a new book out this autumn. The article is about prodigies vs. late bloomers. He focuses on late bloomers and explains the misconceptions we have about their lives and talent. His protagonist is the writer (who I’m afraid I’d never heard of, but who must now go on my Amazon wishlist) Ben Fountain. Gladwell writes fabulously – that alone should make you read the article. But if you’re also interested in what makes an artist an artist and why some geniuses might never bloom, you really MUST read it!

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It would be funny, if…

The Times yesterday (paper, not online) had a run-down of some of the Sarah Palin videos on the web. There’s the Saturday Night Live version of the VP debate. The “maverick-ing” is to die for.

Then there’s a “trailer” for the film “Don’t cry for me Alaska”. Actually, I don’t find it that funny, but judge for yourself. I think this one about John McCain’s age is better.

On Huffington Post (a liberal online news site) there’s a clip from a talkshow with Alec Baldwin. I really don’t like Alec Baldwin as an actor – I think he seriously lacks talent. But as an impersonator he does pretty well. See him wink and charm as Sarah Palin here. And if you didn’t see the debate and have doubts whether she’d really do that, look here. I saw the debate myself – she really did wink more than once. And for good measure you also get one of her many mavericks here.

Ever wonder about what a Maverick really is? Here’s the answer from m-w.com:

Samuel A. Maverick † 1870 American pioneer who did not brand his calves

1. an unbranded range animal ; especially : a motherless calf

2. an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party

Several of these links are called something with tinyurl.com. Ever wondered what that is? Well, it’s a kind of shortcut you can use, when you want to direct people to a website with a very long URL. Anybody can use it. See Wikipedia’s explanation here.

Here’s Obama’s latest TV ads. And here’s McCain’s. If you watch the “Dangerous” ad on McCain’s site, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the quote is somewhat out of context. Here’s from Huffington Post:

The issue stems from a remark the Illinois Democrat made in August 2007, in Nashua, New Hampshire. Speaking to supporters, the Senator called for an increase of U.S. troops in that war zone because, without the influx, operations were being limited to air raids that resulted in many preventable civilian deaths.

“Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban,” Obama said, “so we’ve got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages, and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.”

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Millions of dead fish

When we were on our tour of the US last year, one of our favourite states was Louisiana. We found the swamps beautiful and enchanting beyond belief and adored New Orleans (oh, the grilled oysters…). We wanted to take a tour of the swamps and decided that we didn’t want one of the “see an alligator, take a picture, go home”-tours, so we splashed out on a private tour with the Atchafalayan Basinkeeper himself. It was an unforgettable experience – and we didn’t even see an alligator. We saw lots of other things and Dean, the basinkeeper, knew every animal, bird, fish and insect in the basin. Knowing that this fantastic place will disappear within a very short time frame if something is not done, we joined the organisation, that supports the basin. Which of course means we get a newsletter now and then. Not often – since Dean is busy doing things, not just writing about them. Hm. In the latest newsletter he wrote this:

Hurricane Gustav hit the Atchafalaya Basin very hard. Cypress forests are hurricane resistant and hurricanes are actually good for the health of cypress swamps because high winds knocks down “trash trees.” The Atchafalaya’s fish and hardwood forests are not as lucky. Millions of fish died after the hurricane and it will take years for the Atchafalaya Basin’s fish populations to recover.

We bought and read this book about the swamps, what they mean to the eco-system of North- and South America, who lives there and why they are disappearing. It is very well written and researched and I warmly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in environmental issues. Here’s a quote from the book, where the author is talking to a Cajun shrimper (Tidwell, the author, knew nothing about environmental issues when he was first sent to the bayous by Washington Post to write a piece about the dying Cajun culture):

“All dis land around us, as far as you can see, is droppin’ straight down into de water, turnin’ to ocean. Someday, Baton Rouge, one hundred miles nort’ of here, is gonna be beachfront property.”

Oh, and speaking of books. James Lee Burke‘s detective Robicheaux  operates in Louisiana. This one takes place in the aftermath of Katrina. Both the description of the devastation after the hurricane and the plot are fantastic.

I was actually so fascinated by the swamps that I’m still thinking about retiring in a house on stilts, surviving on a diet of cajun-style cooked shrimp, jambalaya and oysters. As long as there’s Internet…

Egrets, ibises, wood storks, great blue herons, little blue herons, spoonbills and anhingas are feasting on the fish, which have sought refuge here. Photo by basinkeeper Dean Wilson. Above photo also by Dean.

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Are we saved by the bell?

Oh my, a lot of water under the bridge since my last post. It’s certainly a fast-moving world we live in! Reading it now I can see that my previous post could sound like I am like those “staunch Republicans” who weren’t in favour of any intervention at all. But I am, just didn’t like Paulson’s original plan. I still don’t love the plan, but then, who does? There  was a great quote in the New York Times the other day from a Texan Republican. He said that voting for the plan would be voting yes to “the slippery slope to socialism”. HA! That’s so funny!

Here’s the article and here’s the full quote:

Early in the House debate, Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, said he intended to vote against the package, which he said would put the nation on “the slippery slope to socialism.” He said that he was afraid that it ultimately would not work, leaving the taxpayers responsible for “the mother of all debt.”

Today the Congress has luckily come to their senses and they’ve voted yes. So maybe all the Wall Street hysterics can calm down a little and realise that our society can’t really function if we can’t borrow money from each other. I thought those guys coveted Capitalism! But it’s probably only when the money flows into their pockets. Isn’t it funny how the state is always supposed to bail out banks in trouble? Who’s ever heard of banks easing the terms or lowering the rent a little to help out the state in a pinch?

On a related subject a friend posted a great video on Facebook the other day – it’s Sarah Palin explaining the bailout plan. It’s hilariously funny. If you can decipher what she’s actually saying (or what she means for that matter), please post it in a comment. On Supreme Court decisions, here’s her first answer. And here’s her answer after a couple of days of intense rehearsals. Impressive. But is it coherent?

A kind person has made a 10 minute version of last night’s vice-presidential debate with extra emphasis on all the gaffes. See it here. We’ve recorded the whole thing and when I’ve finished this post, I’ll go watch it with my husband. Better than any movie! But – before we get carried away I’ve found a very useful site. About.com has apparently taken over Urban Legends. That doesn’t make the site any less great. I WARMLY recommend it whenever you hear something or read something that has a bit of a false ring to it – or if it’s just too good to be true. Anyway, they’ve collected all the stories floating around the web about Sarah Palin and tells us which ones are true and which ones aren’t.

And now I need to go sit in the sofa. I’m so full! Made pizza tonight and ate too much. Also made a nice carrot cake. Will I find room for it?

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