Archive for May, 2008

Stanford Prof B.J. Fogg Promotes Peace through Social Media

May 22, 2008

Graphic from an April 5 blog entry at Pebbles from Paradise, English author, photorapher and family therapis Stephen Bray (profile), now living in Turkey.


Experimental Psychologist B. J. Fogg’s (email), blog) Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford studies computing product design “to change what people believe and what they do.” In 2008 he wrote a scholarly paper indentifying what he called “mass interpersonal persuasion” which includes

persuasive experience, automated structure, social distribution, rapid cycle, huge social graph, and measured impact.

Usually Fogg looks at mobile phones or the psychology of companies such as Facebook (interview, review on NewsTrust, call for articles), so I was was intrigued to read about his Peace Innovation Project to help folks “use technology to invent peace.”

I’ll be getting in touch with Dr. Fogg to see if I can provide readers with more information, but he admits that he’s swamped and doesn’t always answer his email. So until then, I wanted to point you to the webpage for the Project which asks,

For example, can you imagine a new way to use Google Maps to promote greater harmony? How about Flickr? or Twitter? or perhaps a combination of these?

It wants to bring the Silicon Valley process of innovation to the undefined task of “global harmony.”

Many people test lots of ideas. The insights are shared. And then more trials begin….We believe that a good innovation process will make world peace possible in 30 years. But we also believe that today no one person has the answer. And no single solution will change the world. We must work together to test and create many solutions.

So, if you are a teacher or part of an organization who wants to join the quest, write Dr. Fogg. He’s currently running a new course at Stanford and you can keep up on what’s happening through joining his Facebook group. (natch)

Interestingly, while the Facebook class had a series of sponsors including Amazon and Social, there are none listed as of today for the Peace Innovation Project. Also interesting, is how Fogg himself uses Facebook in addition to making his classes accessible. He writes,

Friending me on Facebook isn’t really so helpful. I “friend” people I know in real life but not strangers. Yeah, I know that’s not how many do Facebook, but that’s my mode right now.

Yeah, my mode, too.


Prison Project Teaches Introspection and Mindfulness

May 21, 2008

The Seattle Post Intelligencer had an intersting story today, referred to NewsTrust by Bruce Brown,Zen toolbox offers path to peace for prisoners .”

Robert Jamieson, Jr., reports that Dow Gordon has received the “Volunteer of the Year award for his work at Monroe Correctional Complex.” Convicted for drugs, he spent time inside and came to appreciate the value of meditation and other techniques in curbing his anger and growing in self awareness. Now he works for the Freedom Project in Seattle and volunteers additional hours.

I worked in corrections and I’m glad to hear the story of someone who turned his life around and works to help others do likewise. I would have liked some information on the costs of incarceration, the recidivism rate for folks who participate in this project v.s. others and a link for the project. The information at the site is anecdotal. The reporter could have provided his readers with more facts, or barring that explained why those facts are unavailable. There was also no input from the other side of the argument, except in the comment section. If the reporter had raised these questions in his column he coudl have also provided Gordon, his organization and the prison an opportunity to address them.

Clinton takes KY

May 20, 2008

Seepreliminary announcement from the State poster here.

Housing Deal Struck in Senate

May 19, 2008

Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m. in Room538 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building,
the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will consider the “The Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act of 2008.”

Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) issued a joint news release about their ageement to create a multi-billion dollar mortgage rescue fund with losses to be paid by the two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE’s) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bill also establishes a new regulator for the GSE’s.

Reuters didn’t even a have the name of the bill and referred to a CNBC story which should have been attributed to Politico’s Crypt, which provided the wording of the news releasewithout a link. At first I couldn’t find a copy of the release, looking on the sites maintained by Dodd and Shelby. It turned out to be posted on the Committee’s site, along with a copy of the bill and the manager’s amendment. This is basically the Senate version of Barney Frank’s Federal Housing Finance Reform Act of 2007, H.R. 1427, (report, bill summary) which passed the House on May 22, 2007 by a vote of 313-104, but is the rewrite of the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act (H.R. 3221), Passed May 8.

Meanwhile the news sources were saying that the details were fuzzy. Go figure. I continually find it sad that as a blogger with an hour or so to write an entry after putting in a full day at work, I can scoop paid journalists who seem to be hiding public information from citizens, rather than providing it.

Said Dodd in the release,

This legislation is good news for both the markets and homeowners. The bill addresses the root of our current economic problems – the foreclosure crisis – by creating a voluntary initiative at no estimated cost to taxpayers which will help Americans keep their homes. The bill also establishes a new fund that will help create more affordable housing for millions for Americans. Finally, this legislation takes a balanced approach toward reforming the GSEs, creating a world class regulator with enough authority to help these vital institutions operate in a safe and sound manner, while better fulfilling their important mission of providing affordable housing for Americans. Americans are looking for leadership and solutions – I am hopeful that the Banking Committee will deliver both by passing this legislation tomorrow. I appreciate the constructive participation of Senator Shelby in the development of this legislation, as well as the bipartisan efforts of our fellow Committee members, Majority Leader Reid, and Republican Leader McConnell.

Shelby added,

I’m proud to join Chairman Dodd in announcing this agreement. My primary consideration during negotiations on this package has been to protect the American taxpayer, and I believe we’ve made significant progress toward that goal on each component.

In my judgment, the new GSE regulator created under this legislation would be granted much needed authority and flexibility to regulate the GSEs appropriately. Ultimately, a strong regulator will better serve the interests of homeowners and taxpayers for years to come. I’m also pleased that the Hope for Homeowners proposal is paid for. I’ve long said that we should do what we can to help struggling homeowners, short of asking the taxpayer to foot the bill.

I appreciate the Chairman working with me during this process, and I look forward to helping him move this legislation forward.

Dodd had written an op-ed which the Connecticut Post published Saturday.

Loudon Wainwright III at Lyric in Blacksburg Last Night

May 18, 2008

5/17 the master singer/songwriter (bio) was in great voice and spirits and after dishing out the popcorn, I actually was assigned to sit at the stage’s edge as a “bouncer.” I’m happy to report that no one seemed interested in rushing the stage : )

Nuala O’ Faolain

May 17, 2008

Photo from Vancouver International Writers and REaders Festival, where O’Faolain read in 2007.

I heard a rebroadcast of a Fresh Air interview with the late Irish writer Nuala O’ Faolain on May 12, the day of her funeral. She had died of metastatic lung cancer three days earlier. Today, I was thinking of her again as I came across a searing interview soon after she had been diagnosed February 9. Interesting to me, then is this other piece I found today from March 10, taking on David Trimble for his criticism of Hillary Clinton as “silly” for her claim of taking part in the Irish peace process. While Clinton’s claims may be more hyperbole, a la the Bosnia sniper fire incident, this appreciation is still a moving one.

It may sound small to people now that what she came for was a woman’s conference on one occasion and a lecture on another, that she knew people’s names and histories and took note of them—and was no doubt sometimes lied to and misled and laughed at by women as well as men (outsiders often strike skeptical locals as simpleminded).

But she kept turning up anyway.

It was not small what she did.

Not small at all.

When the old guys obediently trot out their criticisms of what she did in Belfast, ask yourself: Who else did what she did? Who else gave what she did? Who else gave at all?

Even today, when it is all over, I don’t know whether even Hillary Rodham Clinton knows how much someone like me thanks her—how aware I still am of what her bright, friendly, caring presence meant, when despair was very near.

May 16, 2008

Last night, the Senate voted to reject the FCC decision to let the largest media companies add to their share of the market through increased cross-ownership. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives. President Bush has promised to veto this bill. See Ars Technica’s account.

Josh Silver, Executive Director of the Action Fund says,

Corporate news today — with its propaganda pundits, horse-race election coverage, and celebrity gossip — undermines our democracy. We must continue to speak out and demand that the public airwaves be used to actually serve the public.

Yom Ha’atzma’ut and Yom Al-Nakba

May 15, 2008

Graphic by Aish Al Torah, a non-profit Jewish educational center with branches throughout the world.

The 1947 UN Partition Plan was rejected by the Arabs, but Israel declared its independence on the evening of May 14, 1948. Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq–five of the seven countries of the Arab League–invaded, starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Israel defeated them and captured just over fifty per cent of the territory allocated by the UN as an Arab state. The remaining land was annexed by Transjordan or controlled by Egypt.

Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Independence Day for Israel, is celebrated on the 5th of Iyyar, and the government of Israel impemented a program of benefits this year urging citizens living abroad to repratriate on the 50th anniversary.

Nakba Day (Arabic: يوم النكبة meaning “day of the catastrophe” is an annual day of commemoration for the Palestinian people of the anniversary of the creation of Israel, inaugurated in 1998 by Yasser Arafat to draw attemtion to their displacement at the end of the 1948 war when the vast majority of Palestinian Arab refugees outside the 1949 armistice lines were barred from returning to their homes, many of which had been destroyed, or from reclaiming their property.

George Bush gave a speech today at the Knesset in celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut, which failed to mention the peace process and suggested Democrats favored “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders appeased Hitler in the run-up to World War II. In doing so, he mightily ticked off Larisa Alexandrovna, Managing Editor for investigative news at Raw Story.

Mr. Bush, the only thing this…lacked was a mirror and some historical facts. You want to discuss the crimes of Nazis against my family and millions of other families in Europe during World War II? Let me revive a favorite phrase of yours: Bring. It. On!

It’s an interesting read.

Bush Adminstration Acknowledgs Polar Bears Threatened

May 14, 2008

January 8, I posted, Is the Bush Administration Stalling on the Polar Bear Question? May 14, one day before a court-ordered deadline in the case brought by environmentalists, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced the government was granting threatened status under the Endangered Species Act, He showed the above slide on the 2007 extent and age of arctic ice based on satellite photos and research of Dr. Ignatius Rigor (website) of Washington University’s Polar Science Center. The white designates multi-year ice –five years and older, which provides many critical habitat functions. The light blue includes seasonal ice that can form and melt in one year, and is used for hunting. The dark blue represents open water.

Compare this with 10 years earlier:
Kempthorne said,

Today’s decision is based on three findings. First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival. Second, the polar bear’s sea ice habitat has dramatically melted in recent decades. Third, computer models suggest sea ice is likely to further recede in the future. Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future—in this case, forty-five years.

This is the first time the Endangered Species Act has been invoked to protect an animal mainly threatened by global warming, but Kempthorne stressed the move will not open the door to policy changes on reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. It will only translate to bans on hunting.

Greenpeace climate expert Kert Davies criticized:

They basically took the teeth out of the law….the notion that there is no way that the government—that US actions on global warming can affect the Arctic is also ridiculous, because the US’s 25 percent of global emissions and the thought that nothing we can do in this country will positively affect the polar bear is outrageous.

Since the ruling makes no provision for habitat protection, only hunting, I’d have to agree that this is a pretty hollow victory. It’s kind of like saying that you can’t shoot the bears, but it’s okay for them to drown or starve. I’d like to know the extent of hunting that was taking place, anyway.

DOD meeting recruiting goals, but

May 13, 2008

May 12, the Department of Defense announced that “all services met or exceeded recruiting goals for the month of April and have surpassed goals for fiscal year 2008 to date.”

I’ve got to wonder if they are acheiving these goals at the price of a decline in quality. For instance, 13 percent of the Army’s new recruits (or more than 10,000) received so-called “moral waivers” in 2008, according to the US.A Today. This was up from the previous years stats as reported in July 2007 by the Boston Globe and marks a rate double of that in 2004. In another trend, the percentage of high school graduates among Army recruits was 79% last year, compared with 91% in 2001. And even that number is posibly distorted, if the Army is using the Two Tier Attrition Screen (TTAS) reported in “Army Signs More Dropouts” by Tom Philpott on November 22, 2006 at

the Army announced last month that 81 percent of its non-prior service recruits for 2006 were high school graduates. That was disturbingly below the 90 percent Department of Defense standard for every service. But the proportion of high school graduates would have been reported as 74.3 percent if the Army had to count the 5900 TTAS enlistees high school dropouts. The number instead is ignored.

Philpott added that preliminary findings presented in report for the Army Research Institute by researchers Mark C. Young and Leonard A. White show that:

Non-high school graduates… are “relatively inexpensive to recruit and some…do make very good soldiers.” They project that TTAS could save the Army $100 million a year by lowering recruiting costs an average of $10,000 per recruit for up to 10,000 recruits a year.

For more critique of military statistics, see the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information.