A few of the stories I’ve been meaning to blog but just haven’t found the energy for:

  • First, a Retraction: My post yesterday should have referred to the Dog Run, not the Dog Pound. I don’t know what I was thinking–I was looking straight at the site when I was writing the post…
  • Looted Art News: Some of the looted pieces from Iraq are already turning up in the US. The FBI has already started receiving tips from customs agents, collectors, and auction-house agents about suspicious pieces. Unfortunately, there is as of yet no comprehensive source for identifying these artworks.
  • A Barn-Raising for Civilization:: Doc Searls’ suggestions might go some ways towards remedying the difficulties in identifying and recovering looted artworks. Among other things (such as creating an all-looted-artwork, all-the-time Iraqi network to inform Iraqis and encourage looters, at least looters of conscience, to return stolen works) Searls recommends

    Create an .iq Web site devoted entirely to aggregating and displaying photographs of Baghdad museum properties, and of lost or damaged Iraqi antiquities. Perhaps the British Museum (which has already pledged help) or British Petroleum (its Web site sponsor) could run this thing–or fund somebody else willing to run the thing.

    This is a great idea, and might I suggest, especially given the number of folks surfing the blogosphere that are involved in high-tech industries, that they initiate efforts in their companies to donate equipment, expertise, and funding to such a project? I know that Intel is especially eager to invest in cultural uses of the Internet, and is a frequent sponsor of museum exhibitions and programs, and I assume other companies might be similarly inclined. That’s great PR, too–what company doesn’t want to save civilization? This isn’t something that the Garner team is going to push for on their own, but if a team of techs with a truckload of servers, scanners and digital cameras, and free software were to be put into their laps…

  • Economies of Now: Jason Kottke has a short post describing a study on NYC MetroCard usage. MetroCards, for non-New Yorkers, fully replaced tokens for subway and bus travel a couple of years ago, and are available (as of last June, anyway) in one-day unlimited ($4), one-week unlimited ($17), or one-month unlimited ($63) varieties, or you can fill them with any number of individual fares for $1.50 per ride ($1.35 for everything you buy over $15.00). If you use the subway system or busses regularly (back and forth to work, plus a few more rides a week) the $63 monthly card is the best value, but the weekly cards are much more popular. I myself never bought a monthly card, despite being a regular subeway and bus user for several years since they were introduced. According to the study, one of the reasons people don’t buy monthly cards is that, though in the long run it saves them money, in the short run, they can’t afford it. Many people–especially in expensive NYC–live paycheck to paycheck, and $63 is a big chunk to take out of the budget all at once. The study’s author suggests setting up a “MetroCard fund”, where commuters can pay a couple of dollars in a day towards their next monthly card–the thing is, NYC already has a fund like that, called “MetroCheck”. Employees can use MetroCheck not only to have a portion of their paycheck applied towards their MetroCard, but to have it come out of their pre-tax income, meaning that they save even more (if only a few dollars a month). The problem is that employers either don’t understand the program or are not willing to implement it, or they don’t explain it well when they do implement it. It’s like direct deposit was a few years ago–in theory, all you had to do was ask, but in practice, it was too much bother for employers. Today, most employers prefer to pay via direct deposit, and I imagine that as empoyers “get it” in NYC, they will realize how far their involvement in their employees commuting life can go for them. At the minimum, assuring that every employee has a valid MetroCard at any given time means that late employees will not be able to say “Sorry I’m late–my MetroCard expired and I didn’t have enough money on me to buy a new one.”
  • Sugar’s good for you. Really!: The World Health Organization (WHO) is compiling a report on healthy diets, with a set of recommendations similar to the American “food pyramid”, only based on reality instead of industry PR. Or is it? Not if the sugar industry has it’s way, apparently. Seems that the Sugar Association, a coalition of sugar companies and growers “committed to integrity and sound scientific principles” (code for “deceptive research and industry PR”; see Trust Us We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future for a key to sound-science advocacy/PR shilling) is very upset by the WHO’s suggestion that sugar should be consumed in moderation, composing at most 10% of your daily caloric intake, complaining that “We remain adamant that any scientific report that affects world health policies and global implementation strategies must be based on the preponderance of scientific evidence.” The Who report is, admittedly, based on the recommendations of 30 independant experts, who arrived at the 10% figure by as the average recommendation of 23 separate national studies of sugar intake–but none of those studies was sponsored by the sugar industry, and none of the experts are on Big Sugar’s payroll, and so their results are clearly “unscientific”.

    Now, here’s where it gets ugly: to prevent the release of this report, the sugar industry, backed by big sugar-peddlers like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, is threatening to demand that Congress withdraw American funding of the WHO unless the recommendation in the report is raised to 25% (what’s worse is that the recommendation is, as far as I can make out, for added sugar–that is, soda pop, candy, and the sugar you sprinkle on your morning cereal, and doesn’t include naturally-occuring sugars already in many foods). This is no idle threat–the food lobby is the most powerful and influential lobby on the United States, outweighing–in terms of financial resources and personnel–both the oil lobby and the tobacco lobby. And, as the world’s largest economy, the US contributes the largest part of the financial support to international organizations: $406 million in the WHO’s case. Lest it be forgotten, as fallible as the WHO can be sometimes, it is the only world-wide organization capable of even beginning to deal with and somewhat controlling tuberculosis, AIDS, SARS, malaria, and any number of other dangerous and virulent diseases, in addition to providing basic medical care to millions around the world. The fact that they are willing to hold the world’s health hostage to insure their market share is not only sad, it’s a travesty. Alas, given the high ethical standards of our Congresspersons, Big Sugar will probably prevail, one way or another.

  • Sorry, that’s secret: The Pentagon has forwarded a list of regular reports to Congress that they feel are unnecessary. While reducing paperwork is good for both government efficiency and for the environment, I suspect different motives behind some ofthese requests. Many of the reports do seem superfluous, but Daniel Cornwall, Librarian, has compiled a list of 35 reports of “Special Concern”, including reports on the cost of maintaining overseas military stations, the protection of nuclear material, special operations forces training with foreign military forces, humanitarian assistance, military housing, and various reports on expenditures and commercial activities. Now, leaving aside that I don’t trust the Pentagon any further than I could throw it (if I could get close enough), most of these reports seem like the kind of thing we’d want our lawmakers to know about. The Pentagon cites either national security concerns or internal oversight as their reason for wanting to get rid of most of the reports, but a) I think–I hope!–that our elected leaders can be trusted not to release sensitive information to the public, and 2) “internal oversight” means “if we do something you wouldn’t approve of, we’ll tell you. Trust us.” We have checks and balances for a reason, and if Congress is to be an effective check against administrative power, this information is crucial.

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