Joho the Blog » 2004 » December

December 31, 2004

Hands, not just wallets

A number of commenters are looking for ways they can lend a helping hand beyond opening their wallets. Some are willing to travel to the affected areas, live in tents, and pitch in. Does anyone know of any groups willing to take them up on their offer?


Here’s Peter Kaminski on that very question. And a tsunami aid blog. (Thanks for the links go to Staci Kramer, who has more on donation sites.)

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Blogging the climate

RealClimate.org defines its purpose this way:

RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.

Inevitably, because this is a blog with a voice and a point of view, the discussion is far from dry, with entries such as these:

George Will-misled and misleading
How do we know that recent CO2 increases are due to human activities?
Fox News gets it wrong

This is engaged, passionate science. Cool. [Thanks to Hanan Cohen for the link.]

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The US’s shameful response

…both on a per capita basis and as a percentage of the nation’s wealth, America’s emergency relief in Asia and development aid to poor countries actually ranks at the bottom of the list of developed nations…

…As of yesterday, the amount the United States has pledged is eclipsed by the $96 million promised by Britain, a country with one-fifth the population, and by the $75 million vowed by Sweden, which amounts to $8.40 for each of its 9 million people. Denmark’s pledge of $15.6 million amounts to roughly $2.90 per capita.

The US donation is 12 cents per capita.

So says an article in the Boston Globe. We have donated what we spend in five hours in Iraq.

Let’s call our representatives (Congress, Senate) and to see if we can aim high and beat Sweden by pledging $3 billion. And here’s a tip: If your Congressperson or Senator is a Republican, tell him/her that donating lots of money is a crucial tactic in the war against terror. It’s no joke.

[Congressional offices seem to be closed today. Sigh.]

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December 30, 2004

Biggest Cognitive-Emotional Distance Award

And the winner is: The Boston Globe for today headlining the plight of tsunami victims and, three inches away, running this teaser at the top of the page:

Delete with care

For cellphone users, decision is agonizing

The article, on the front page of Living/Arts, relates the heart-breaking story of Blake Conney who drunk-dialed her old boyfriend and gave him a chicken recipe. Should she have deleted his name from her cellphone? The decision is, as the teaser promises, agonizing.

[Thanks to our daughter Leah for pointing this out.]

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Trusted merchants

I got an email from a stranger asking where he should donate money for tsunami victims. I sent him the urls to the donation pages up at Amazon and Google. I didn’t send him to Wikipedia. Apparently, for this type of information I trust a top-down source more than a bottom-up one.

Wikipedia does its best to discourage trust on this topic, and appropriately so:

Due to its open and collaborative nature, Wikipedia cannot guarantee the veracity of outside links or the absence of possible scams involving charities, thus the potential danger of fraud exists. In particular, please beware of organizations that have names similar to those of well-known aid agencies.

In a situation like this – especially since I’m responding to a stranger – I want a source whose intentions I trust 100% and whose research I can trust to be responsible. I trust Amazon because I trust Jeff Bezos. I trust Google because overall they’ve shown themselves to be interested in making the world a better place. (We can argue about the exceptions later.)

I find institutions to be much more trustworthy than individuals in this regard. If a friend told me I ought to contribute to Bob’s Missionary because they’re do such great tsunami relief work, the tie between my friend and Bob would have to be tight – almost first-hand – before I’d donate.

Reliance on branded authorities leads to more money going to the Big Brand philanthropies at the expense of smaller, more local efforts that may be more efficient and effective. But in a big world that has tricksters and con artists, trusted institutions can be a necessary intermediary.


FWIW, we gave to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent; I didn’t do “due diligence.” We routinely give to Oxfam, but I didn’t know how well set up they were for dealing with this particular disaster. We like Oxfam because of its programs for long-term, sustainable development of local resources – water projects, etc.


As Frank Paynter points out in a comment, CharityWatch provides info about charities.


I also trust MoveOn.org in this type of situation, and they’ve just sent an email suggesting that we give to Oxfam, which is already one of my very favorite organizations:

Our friends at Oxfam are already scrambling on the front lines to fight off starvation and disease — and beginning to rebuild. Because Oxfam has worked for years with grassroots groups in the hardest hit areas, they were able to mobilize local leadership to help survivors immediately after the tsunami hit. And Oxfam will be there for the long-term, helping communities recover and regain their ability to meet basic needs. Oxfam needs to raise $5 million immediately to provide safe water, sanitation, food, shelter, and clothing to 36,000 families in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India. Your contribution can make this possible.

You can give through MoveOn or directly through Oxfam.

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Blumenthal’s insider baseball: It’s all neocons, all the time

Sidney Blumenthal in Salon marshalls the recent hirings and firings as evidence that Bush is thoroughly purging the administration of those who counseled caution in Iraq. Here are the opening lines:

The transition to President Bush’s second term, filled with backstage betrayals, plots and pathologies, would make for an excellent chapter of “I, Claudius.” To begin with, I have learned from numerous sources, including several people close to Brent Scowcroft, that Bush has unceremoniously and without public acknowledgment dumped Scowcroft, his father’s closest associate and friend, as chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The elder Bush’s national security advisor was the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration…

We are witnessing the construction of the protypical echo chamber. Too bad the fate of the earth is in its hands.

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Help with an article on the fate of trees…

I have agreed to write the February issue of Esther Dyson‘s Release 1.0, and I sure could use your help.

The topic is something like: What’s up with taxonomic trees? We used to think that they represented the actual shape of knowledge. Now we generally recognize that they’re “just” tools. So, how are they doing as tools? Are they as important as ever? What new ways are they being used? What’s being used in their place? How are they being modified to make them more useful? Is it true that they’re being used less frequently for browsing? Are ontologies subsuming/replacing them? Etc.

I’m particularly interested in vendors who build trees for customers (software and services), vendors with new approaches, and businesses that have either recently created a large taxonomic tree or who have recently decided to go in another direction.

If you can help, please either post in the comments or send an email to me (self@evident.com) with “trees” in the subject line.

Thanks!

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December 29, 2004

The Red and Blue Book narratives

As Rayne points out in comments to my blog post on the administration’s support of torture, to many Americans the events look very different. America harbors duelling narratives.

The Blue Book’s narrative is a story of creeping fascism in which the torturing of captives and suspects is just Chapter One. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are Kristallnacht and the invasion of Iraq is the invasion of the Rhineland — not in their moral equivalences, which are impossible to calibrate perfectly, but as harbingers: We should be awoken by them as the Germans were not.

The Red Book’s narrative looks at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as signs of the seriousness of the threat facing us, and as indications that we are at last taking up the task of leadership we’ve avoided for too long. Our foes treat people far worse than we do, and to stop them we have to shed the crippling moral relativism that has been 20th Century liberalism’s legacy.

The Blue Book sees recent events as steps towards a totalitarian state in which all rights are sacrificed in the name of homeland security. The Red Book sees a world of bright new democracies that drastically narrow the terrorists’ freedom to operate.

The Blue Book fears a policy of appeasement being applied internally, so it wants to draw an early line. (“First they came for the Jews and I said nothing…”) The Red Book thinks we are now emerging from an international policy of appeasement, so it’s happy to see the old lines erased.

The Blue Book worries about America becoming Germany. The Red Book worries about America becoming France.

I am, of course, over-simplifying. But narratives are more stubborn than facts because narratives give facts their relevancy and meaning. I wonder if there is a narrative we can agree on that will get us past our differences.

I am not hopeful. But if a politician were to write such a narrative, I’d vote for her…

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Santa Clara Democratic blog – Life in the party!

Apparently no one told the Santa Clara Democratic Party that it’s supposed to lick Bush’s ankles and roll over to have its belly scratched. The blog is feisty the way an opposition party should be. Elisa Camahort, who writes it, is keeping a day-by-day count-up of Bush’s outrages. Good, partisan stuff – livelier and more frequent than the DNC’s Kicking Ass blog.

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December 28, 2004

Donate the inaugural money

JHopper writes in the comments to a post about where to donate:

We would like to suggest that the people of the United States innundate the White House, Republican Party, etc. to demand that they donate the $40 million they are planning to spend on the Bush 2nd term inaugural. It is only RIGHT the our rich nation and the rich contributors do this.

What a powerful symbol that would be. The original $15M we pledged was shamefully low, even when we thought “only” 25,000 people had died. Now apparently we have added another $20M. I want my government to do more.(And, yes, I have made a donation to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

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