Sunday, April 26, 2009


The explosion in popularity for Twitter has allowed everyone to stay in tune with each other through the bountiful amounts of "tweets" but it is apparently being used for another type of tracking: people's illnesses.

SickCity specializes in "realtime disease detection for your city from messages on Twitter (and soon Facebook)." The site scans for messages about being sick ranging from a simple sore throat to the worst of the flu and allows users to track by city and illness.

Webware's Josh Lowensohn reported about this and also mentioned Google's attempt at tracking the spread of the common cold. Google's tracking depends on people's searches on along with historic data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SickCity's data is provided in realtime and has the ability to drill down by city. Lowensohn commented that the combination of both Twitter's users and the results from Google could have some potential in the future.

This approach made me think of the potential it could have in tracking illnesses around the world in impoverished countries. Could international aid organizations use tools like this to collect data and track the spread of certain diseases? Granted, the technology is new and in the development stages but it may have the possibility to be utilized by the health and international aid sectors. It would have to be adapted from just people "tweeting" about a sore throat or a runny nose to a more defined system but given the flexibility and innovation of technology, it's not a far-fetched idea.

A Dire Sign of the Times...

Earlier this month, it was reported that the Boston Globe is facing the threat of being shut down unless labor unions agree to pay cuts and ending pension contributions. According to the Boston Herald, the unions have until this Friday, May 1 to agree to the concessions.

It's just another sign of the times as print journalism struggles to stay afloat. As an intern in the now defunct Living/Arts section at the Globe in 2005, I remember when the first talks of downsizing were murmured among the the reporters. It's a little sad to see that four years later, the discussion has gotten much more serious. I personally hope that it won't come down to this but I guess we'll have to wait and see

Friday, April 3, 2009

April is Genocide Prevention Month

April is a commemorative month for some of the world's greatest atrocities. Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, the Holocaust and Armenia all have anniversaries in April and the Genocide Prevention Project has taken action to spread awareness by making it Genocide Prevention Month.

Along with efforts to remember those lost in past genocides, the awareness campaign also focuses on the need for a global prevention policy especially with the current crisis in Darfur. The spotlight on Darfur is a given since the project was launched by Dream for Darfur, an organization which has raised awareness about China's influence on the genocide.

Survivors and advocates will be hosting events all around the world. To launch the month-long vigil, the film, "The Last Survivor" was debuted on March 31 at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C. The film chronicles Darfuri survivors and their dedication to anti-genocide advocacy.

Ironically, I haven't seen much coverage about it. A simple Google news search for "Genocide Prevention Month" turned up 12 search results with none from the mainstream media. It's quite disappointing. With the need for advocacy and awareness as Darfur's conflict is embarking on its sixth year, an effort such as this is a newsworthy topic.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a very long but eloquent commentary by Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and editor of Policy Review. While I dont count this as coverage of "Genocide Prevention Month" he made some powerful points:
Though genocides are not uniform in character, they are all political. Genocide constitutes the most extreme possible terms for settling differences: a stronger party's decision to annihilate or extirpate the weaker. Genocide is organized. It entails a project, which in turn requires leaders with a purpose in mind and their acquisition of the means of death, including followers to do the dirty work.

We simply do not have to put up with this. By "we," let me be clear. I do not mean "humanity," although I would welcome the collective conclusion of mankind that genocide is unacceptable. I do not mean the "international community," although a decision on the part of all national governments to refrain from engaging in mass atrocities at home or abroad would be most welcome, as would a collective intention to stop and punish leaders or would-be leaders seeking to deviate from the norm. What I really mean by "we" is "we who are strong enough to stop the murderous bastards before they can get away with it."

This "we" is an inclusive group; everyone with a will and a way is welcome. But its purpose must go far beyond declaratory well-wishing. It is not a bad thing but a grossly insufficient thing to join in choruses of "never again," the familiar refrain after something really bad has happened—say, six million dead Jews, two million dead Cambodians, or 800,000 dead Tutsis. No, we must act to stop the malefactors.

And by "we," in the last analysis, I mean the United States.


So, in recent memory, "we" have acted effectively, showing that we can, and "we" have failed to act effectively, revealing a gap between our professed moral sense and what we are prepared to do to vindicate it. The test of progress for this generation is whether we will be able to extend the principle of regard for others by acting when necessary to prevent or halt genocide.


In 1946, with the dimensions of the horror of the Holocaust still unfolding, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution declaring genocide a crime under international law. Genocide "shocks the conscience of mankind," the resolution memorably declared. This effort to "internationalize" the crime of genocide might have been the world body's finest hour. The ensuing Genocide Convention of 1948 provides for "the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide" whether "committed in time of peace or time of war" and elaborates a definition, which includes "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

The convention isn't self-executing, in that it doesn't compel its signatories to take any particular action if the terms of the treaty are violated. But it does provide an international legal and, more important, moral framework for preventive action in response to the risk of genocide.

Breakthrough though it was, one unintended consequence of the Genocide Convention has been a serious problem. The definition of genocide is good as far as it goes, and the prevention mandate seems to allow latitude for timely action against would-be perpetrators. But whether "genocide" as defined in the treaty is actually occurring or about to occur is a complicated question both epistemologically and legally. For if you act to prevent genocide and succeed, there is no genocide—and so you cannot prove you have prevented one. Moreover, those you act against can claim you have violated their sovereign rights, and the argument will carry weight.

If, on the other hand, there is a legal finding of genocide, then it is too late for prevention. All that is left is mitigation. Moreover, if "genocide" is the trigger for action, then the bar is rather high: Atrocities short of genocide may somehow end up as tolerable, or at least tolerated. In 2005, a year after Colin Powell announced the U.S. finding of a genocide in Darfur, a U.N. special inquiry issued a report saying that while criminal atrocities had taken place in Sudan for which perpetrators needed to be held accountable, it lacked the basis for a conclusion that those crimes amounted to genocide. The bloodstained rulers in Khartoum were delighted to characterize the report as a vindication.

That's only the tip of the iceberg for Lindberg's commentary but it's definitely worth reading the whole thing. I focused on those particular parts because it raises the conflicting issues when combating genocide. Morally, we agree it's an atrocity, but actively little is done. Lindberg beautifully outlined the politics behind it all and those are the loose ends that are in dire need of being tied up if any progress is to be made.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Fun Way to Fundraise

My roommate passed along a solution to a minuscule problem in my life: what to do with those broken electronics that you can't throw away in the regular trash due to toxic chemicals.

Enter, EcoPhones' Green School Fundraiser. It's basically a win-win situation for causes that need to raise money and consumers who need to get rid of their old electronics--even broken and damaged items. Which is great for me because so far I have a phone I managed to drop in a puddle six months after buying and an iPod that died in the middle of my tour through Europe (just in time for the 10-hour drive from Switzerland to Paris).

Schools, churches and organizations looking to bring in some much needed funds can simply start an EcoPhones fundraising drive in which people drop off their old and/or damaged goods which are then turned into EcoPhones for money.

According to its Web site, the Dallas company "is a leader in cellular phone, ink jet printer cartridge, laptop / notebook computer, iPod, digital camera & digital video camera recycling & fundraising."

I must say, they do provide a pretty penny for those electronics--up to $300 for a cell phone. For a full list visit here.

The other great aspect is that there is no cost for the organization. EcoPhones provides free marketing materials and free shipping and there is no cost to participate.

For donors it is a great solution because with money being tight these days, there is no need to empty your wallet to make a charitable contribution. Plus, you're cleaning out the clutter while helping the environment.