Zebra 3 Report by Joe Anybody
Monday, 27 August 2007
Flying Robots
Mood:  bright
Now Playing: New Technology for Environmental Use ?


(Reuters news)



A robot that can fly "like a mini-helicopter" and a second that can glide across ice will aid Chinese scientists during an Antarctic expedition slated for October, Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.

The airborne robot can fly for an hour at speeds of 50 to 100 kilometers (30 to 60 miles) an hour and will be equipped with a camera and an infrared radiometer for observing ice on the sea.

The second robot can slide across ice crevasses and snowy slopes, the report said.

"The use of robots can reduce the risks and costs in scientific research," Xinhua quoted Qin Weijia, of the Polar Research Institute of China, as saying. "No matter how bad the weather is, they can still work normally."

The 200-strong expedition team will set up seismic stations in Antarctica to measure tremors and tectonic movements on the continent, the report said.

Posted by Joe Anybody at 11:53 AM PDT
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
Leave No Marks
Mood:  irritated
Now Playing: Bush creates loopholes allowing TORTURE in the name of USA


Leave No Marks:

"Enhanced" Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality

A new report issued by Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights provides the first comprehensive look at the legality of 10 so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques in light of the medical evidence on their mental and physical impact.  Many of these techniques are widely reported to have been authorized for use by the CIA. 


On July 20, the President issued an Executive Order on the CIA interrogation program that fails to prohibit these techniques.  The report finds that each of these techniques, including mock-drowning, sexual humiliation, severe isolation and sensory bombardment are prohibited by U.S. law and could subject U.S. officials who authorize or use them to criminal prosecution.


Press Release



Executive Summary



Full report (PDF)





Posted by Joe Anybody at 5:35 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007 5:41 PM PDT
Monday, 20 August 2007
Mood:  celebratory
Now Playing: You ..... B the MEDIA
Topic: MEDIA

Free workshops



"learn media skills"


Is coming to Portland this weekend



I am participating in a Grassroots Media Camp this weekend in Portland Oregon

It will be all weekend with lots of cool “media type of stuff going on”


My workshop is going to be titled “how to upload a video to YouTube using a PC”

I have been preparing (slightly worrying, since this is a first time thing for me to do)

I do feel confidant that I can do this in a manner that will be understandable to the class, so I guess its just a little nerve racking due to the responsibility end of it all.


I have made just about 100 short video that are now on the Internet.

Most are on YouTube ….. about 25 on Google…… and then some other sites I have a few as well (My Space, Metacafe, etc)


The grassroots Media camp will be held at sites around Portland, my class is Saturday morning around 10am


The link on the Internet for the Media Workshops is here:




The phone number to register or to assist in the workshops is here:




Call now spaces are running out!


I posted a announcement on Portland Indy Media here:



But all it really shows is that I made a short YouTube video of the “Camp Flyer”


You can see that 2 min video I made right here

(of course it is on YouTube)


I have been hanging up flyers all over town, and going to meetings with the organizers.

I have a “training for facilitators” class to take tomorrow evening after work


The weekend camp/event is going to have Music on Friday night, a dinner on Sat evening, and a special movie screening on Sunday ….plus more stuff that I don’t even know about


More info is coming out every day (stay tuned - check their website)


Join with me

Join with the Media Camp


You B the Media …… come and learn some media skills or share yours with others....... "GET ACTIVE"



Posted by Joe Anybody at 1:14 PM PDT
Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007 1:16 PM PDT
Tuesday, 14 August 2007
Continental Flight 1669Y
Mood:  irritated
Now Playing: I am Outraged about this type of Treatment on Continental Airlines


August 13, 2007 8:54 AM

BALTIMORE SUN reporter Meredith Cohn says:


Continental Flight 1669Y from Venezuela to Newark. N.J. was diverted to Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall airport on JULY 29th due to stormy weather. But according to 72 of the 120 passengers aboard, the weather inside the plane which sat on the runway at BWI from 2pm until 6:30pm, was a lot less pleasant than anything outside the aircraft.

There was NO FOOD, NO WATER, NO TOILET PAPER, and reporter Cohn says when the passengers who had spent "12 hours on a plane for a scheduled four-hour flight began clapping in protest, A FLIGHT ATTENDANT THREATENED ARREST AND POLICE WERE CALLED ON BOARD." In a letter to CONTINENTAL, passengers wrote "IT WASN'T ENOUGH TO NOT TREAT US WITH ANY DECENCY OR RESPECT AS CUSTOMERS OR HUMAN BEINGS, WE WERE NOW BEING TREATED AS CRIMINALS." The article says once inside the terminal the passengers claim they were yelled at, told to stay close to the wall and guarded by "OVERZEALOUS OFFICERS WITH AN ATTACK DOG."

The angry passengers have become among the newest members of the COALITION FOR AIRLINE PASSENGERS' BILL OF RIGHTS, a lobbying group started by Kate Hanna, herself an angry passenger, who wants CONGRESS to among many other things force the airlines to limit the length of time their passengers can sit on a stranded plane before being taken back to the airport terminal.

Posted by Joe Anybody at 4:10 PM PDT
Tuesday, 7 August 2007
Stupid unforgivable mistakes regarding Immigration
Mood:  loud
Now Playing: Hate Laws mistake wrong man (US citizen) and he is "deport him to Mexico"

U.S. citizen wrongly deported

to Mexico three months ago

has been found


Associated Press - August 7, 2007 12:54


LOS ANGELES (AP) - The U.S. citizen illegally deported from a Los Angeles County jail nearly three months ago has been found.

Pedro Guzman is expected to be reunited with his family today.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California planned an afternoon (1 p.m.) news conference to disclose details.

Guzman was deported to Tijuana on May 11th after immigration officials and jail personnel wrongfully identified him as a Mexican citizen. Guzman was born in Los Angeles. The ACLU went to court June 11th to seek government help in his safe return.

Posted by Joe Anybody at 11:41 AM PDT
Sunday, 5 August 2007
Now when writing overseas - Big brother can read with no warrant
Mood:  mischievious
Now Playing: Whooooops! There it goes....... Hello My, Spying Government

"I'm not comfortable suspending the constitution even temporarily," said Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), a member of the House intelligence committee.

"The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security."


House Approves


Wiretap Measure

White House Bill Boosts

Warrantless Surveillance


By Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 5, 2007; A01


The Democratic-controlled House last night approved and sent to President Bush for his signature legislation written by his intelligence advisers to enhance their ability to intercept the electronic communications of foreigners without a court order.

The 227 to 183 House vote capped a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation's wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats' fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on a general congressional desire to act on the measure before an August recess.

The Senate had passed the legislation Friday night after House Democrats failed to win enough votes to pass a narrower revision of a statute known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The original statute was enacted after the revelation of CIA abuses in the 1970s, and it required judicial oversight for most federal wiretapping conducted in the United States.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates, and many Democratic lawmakers, complained that the Bush administration's revisions of the law could breach constitutional protections against government intrusion. But the administration, aided by Republican congressional leaders, suggested that a failure to approve what intelligence officials sought could expose the country to a greater risk of terrorist attacks.

Democrats facing reelection next year in conservative districts helped propel the bill to a quick approval. Adding to the pressures they felt were recent intelligence reports about threatening new al-Qaeda activity in Pakistan and the disclosure by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) of a secret court ruling earlier this year that complicated the wiretapping of purely foreign communications that happen to pass through a communications node on U.S. soil.

The bill would give the National Security Agency the right to collect such communications in the future without a warrant. But it goes further than that: It also would allow the interception and recording of electronic communications involving, at least in part, people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" without a court's order or oversight.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto emphasized that the bill is not meant to increase eavesdropping on Americans or "to affect in any way the legitimate privacy rights" of U.S. citizens. Data related to Americans in communications with foreigners who are the targets of a U.S. terrorism investigation could be monitored only if intelligence officials have a reasonable expectation of learning information relevant to that probe, a senior U.S. official said.

"There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something," said one angry Democratic lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of caucus discussions. "It was tantamount to being railroaded."

In a sole substantial concession to Democrats, the administration agreed to a provision allowing the legislation to be reconsidered in six months.

Some House Democrats were still upset by what they saw as a deliberate scuttling by the White House of negotiations on a compromise bill. On Thursday, Democratic leaders reached what they believed was a deal with the government's chief intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, only to be presented with a new list of conditions at the last minute. The White House and McConnell have denied that a deal had been reached.

"I think the White House didn't want to take 'yes' for an answer from the Democrats," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), an intelligence committee member.

The administration said that its bill is aimed at bringing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 into step with advances in technology, primarily by restoring the government's power to gather without a warrant foreign intelligence on targets located overseas.

Because the law has not kept up with advances in telecommunications, McConnell said in congressional testimony, the government "is significantly burdened in capturing overseas communications of foreign terrorists planning to conduct attacks inside the United States."

Civil liberties and privacy advocates and a majority of Democrats said the bill could allow the monitoring of virtually any calls, e-mails or other communications going overseas that originate in the United States, without a court order, if the government deems the recipient to be the target of a U.S. probe.

Last night, several Democrats said the bill would undermine the Fourth Amendment. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said lawmakers were being "stampeded by fearmongering and deception" into voting for the bill. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) warned that the bill would lead to "potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans' privacy."

Republicans and administration officials argued to the contrary that the distinctions in the present law -- between calls inside and outside the country -- are outmoded in an age of cellphones that work on multiple continents. What intelligence officials seek, a White House official said in an interview yesterday, is the ability to "surveil a target wherever the call [or other communication involving that target] comes from," and that the new legislation would provide that.

In place of a court's approval -- which intelligence officials worried might come too slowly -- the NSA would institute a system of internal bureaucratic controls.

A senior intelligence official said that in cases in which an overseas target is communicating with people in the United States not relevant to an investigation, their names are "minimized," or stripped from the transcript, before it is disseminated. "You won't see data mining in there," the official said. "You won't see vast drift net surveillance of Americans. . . . What we do not do is target people in the United States without a warrant."

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that the Democrats would introduce legislation on surveillance in the fall and would conduct oversight of the administration's surveillance program.

A narrower Democratic alternative, which Democrats said they crafted partly in response to McConnell's concerns, won majority support but nonetheless failed because it did not collect the necessary two-thirds vote Friday night in the House. It failed after an emotional debate in which Republicans charged Democrats with being soft on terrorism and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of not caring "about the truth."

Under the administration's version of the bill, the director of national intelligence and the attorney general can authorize the surveillance of all communications involving foreign targets. Oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, composed of federal judges whose deliberations are secret, would be limited to examining whether the government's guidelines for targeting overseas suspects are appropriate. The court would not authorize the surveillance.

The bill's six-month sunset clause did not assuage some critics.

"I'm not comfortable suspending the constitution even temporarily," said Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), a member of the House intelligence committee. "The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security."

Posted by Joe Anybody at 2:01 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 5 August 2007 2:08 PM PDT
Saturday, 4 August 2007
Pakistan warns US of Asia arms race
Mood:  incredulous
Now Playing: Its Not Getting Better - it is getting worse!

Pakistan warns US of Asia arms race

By Jo Johnson in New Delhi and Edward Luce in Washington

Pakistan on Thursday night warned that the groundbreaking civil nuclear co-operation agreement between the US and India risked triggering an arms race in south Asia, in a statement likely to inflame already tense relations with Washington. The country’s National Command Authority – a committee of top generals, government officials and nuclear scientists chaired by President Pervez Musharraf – warned that the deal would upset the strategic balance in the region.

The statement said that the US-India deal would have “implications on strategic stability” because it would “enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons from unsafeguarded nuclear reactors”. “Strategic stability in south Asia and the global non-proliferation regime would have been better served if the US had considered a package approach for Pakistan and India . . . with a view to preventing a nuclear arms race in the region,” it added.US officials say Islamabad’s objections are based on a fundamental misreading of last week’s deal, which places India’s nuclear reprocessing facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

US officials are also careful to distinguish between the nuclear non-proliferation record of India, which they consider to be good, and Pakistan, which is seen as one of the worst proliferators.“We are not anticipating in any way, shape or form a similar deal for any other country,” Nick Burns, the US undersecretary of state, who led the US negotiations with India, said after the deal was announced last Friday. “Obviously Pakistan has a past in terms of nuclear proliferation which, with the AQ Khan network, was very troubling. India has a very different past.”The US remains concerned over the extent of the operation overseen by Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan’s one-time chief nuclear scientist, who in 2004 publicly admitted that he had traded nuclear technology with Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Pakistan has consistently objected to being excluded from the special deal that Washington is offering India, but never warned so starkly of a renewed arms race between the two nuclear powers, who have fought three wars since 1947.

The deal promises to end more than three decades of isolation for the Indian nuclear programme, notwithstanding New Delhi’s longstanding refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

The US has refused to extend the same nuclear co-operation to Pakistan. US President George W. Bush said during his visit to south Asia in March 2006 that the two countries had “different needs and different histories”.Both India and Pakistan developed their nuclear weapons as non-signatories to the NPT, which recognised as nuclear weapons states only the five countries that had detonated devices before 1967.

Washington is seeking to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the 44-country body that regulates trade in nuclear commerce, to make an exception to the NPT by allowing the sale of fissile fuel and technology to India under IAEA safeguards.

Pakistan argues that India will be free to allocate more of its scarce indigenous fissile fuel to its strategic weapons programme once the majority of its civilian or electricity-producing nuclear reactors are able to import uranium from overseas.

Analysts expect the burgeoning Indo-US relationship to push Pakistan into seeking even closer ties with China. Khurshid Kasuri, foreign minister, told the FT following Mr Bush’s visit that Pakistanis regarded China as a more reliable ally than the US.Experts believe Pakistan will seek assistance from China, which has already helped with the development of the nuclear facility at Chashma in the Pakistani province of Punjab.



Posted by Joe Anybody at 12:54 AM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 4 August 2007 12:59 AM PDT
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
Cheveron made so much money ITS LIKE THEY PRINT IT
Mood:  loud
Now Playing: Profits that will send "you" to the cleaners


Cheveron Record Profits


Chevron's record profit's amazingly couldn’t satisfy Wall Street’s expectation’s as their just reported $4.35 billion second quarter earnings sent shares tumbling. I suppose profits 18% higher than last quarter which capped off the most profitable three-month period in Chevron’s 127 year history just doesn’t cut it in this hyper-active greed cycle energy investors are in. Revenues for this period were $53.5 billion.

"It was still like they were printing money. They just weren’t printing as much as everybody thought,” said industry analyst Fadel Gheit of Oppenheimer and Company".

I doubt Chevron CEO David J. O'Reilly care’s very much about the temporary drop in Chevron’s shares, since he made $8.8 million last year bringing his six-year compensation total to $37.39. I’m sure he thinks the future is bright indeed as he oversees Chevron’s insatiable thirst for massive amounts of profits no matter what the cost, including their involvement in the exploitation of oil in Iraq.


"Chevron and the other major oil companies profited greatly from failure. Long outages at refineries, aging equipment and lack of new capacity," said Judy Dugan, research director of OilWatchdog.org and FTCR".

"Chevron's refinery production in the first six months of this year was at the lowest level since Hurricane Katrina, yet it boosted profit to a new record as consumers paid outrageous prices at the pump."

Also, in March of 2007, the Iraqi parliament prodded by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, passed a law that privatized Iraq’s oil. Chevron stands to make huge profits from this law. Before the war, U.S. oil companies were excluded from profiting from Iraqi oil. With the passage of this new law and after the war, they will be in charge of it.

Posted by Joe Anybody at 12:55 AM PDT
Tuesday, 31 July 2007
WAR sucks ...now little kids get mistreated and are more at risk
Mood:  irritated
Now Playing: Disgusting War Side Affects

Kids often mistreated when parents sent to war

Updated Tue. Jul. 31 2007 5:04 PM ET

CTV.ca News Staff


Kids are at greater risk of being abused or neglected when one of their parents is an enlisted soldier who has been sent into combat, finds a new study in the: Journal of the American Medical Association.

While the study looked only at American soldiers, the study likely has implications for the families of Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan or in other areas of conflict.

The researchers found that the rate of child maltreatment during times when one of the parents was deployed was 42 per cent higher than the rate of maltreatment during times when the soldiers were at home.

As well, the rates of children being neglected was almost twice as high when soldiers were sent into combat compared to when the soldiers were at home.

Parental stress is believed to be mostly to blame, since combat-related deployments have been associated with increased stress among the parents left at home.

A team led by Deborah A. Gibbs, a health and social policy analyst at RTI International, looked at 1,771 families of enlisted U.S. Army soldiers who had at least one report of child maltreatment reported to the Army Family Advocacy Program. They compared rates of child mistreatment while the soldiers were at home compared to while they were sent into combat, between September 2001 and December 2004.

They found that the occurrence of moderate or severe maltreatment of children was about 60 per cent higher during deployment vs. non-deployment.

The rate of child neglect was almost twice as high when soldiers were sent into combat compared to when the soldiers were at home. In contrast, the rates of physical and emotional abuse were lower during deployment than during non-deployment.

"Although many military families manage to cope with the stress created by combat deployments, in other families this stress significantly impairs the parents' ability to care for their children appropriately," said study co-author Sandra Martin, professor in the Department of Child and Maternal Health at the University of North Carolina.

The study found that it was generally the mothers left at home who were more likely to commit the mistreatment. The rate of child maltreatment by civilian mothers was more than three times greater during times of deployment. And the rate of child neglect by female spouses was almost four times higher.

The occurrence of maltreatment during deployment was also elevated among fathers left at home but not significantly so.

The researchers note that the U.S. Army does offer a number of services to families to address the stress that deployment has on family members left at home, including child care and support groups for spouses of deployed soldiers.

"Nevertheless, the greater rate of child maltreatment associated with deployments suggests the need for enhanced support for civilian parents in terms of additional resources, more effective services, development of services that those parents at greatest risk will be likely to seek out and accept, and greater outreach to connect parents to services," the authors write.


Posted by Joe Anybody at 2:50 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2007 2:51 PM PDT
Monday, 30 July 2007
Technology helps with poverty cry for help
Now Playing: People in poverty are crossing the technology divide


 Flood, famine and mobile phones



Jul 26th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Technology is transforming humanitarian relief—and shifting the balance of power between donors and recipients

“MY NAME is Mohammed Sokor, writing to you from Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab. Dear Sir, there is an alarming issue here. People are given too few kilograms of food. You must help.”

A crumpled note, delivered to a passing rock star-turned-philanthropist? No, Mr Sokor is a much sharper communicator than that. He texted this appeal from his own mobile phone to the mobiles of two United Nations officials, in London and Nairobi. He got the numbers by surfing at an internet café at the north Kenyan camp.

As Mr Sokor's bemused London recipient points out, two worlds were colliding. The age-old scourge of famine in the Horn of Africa had found a 21st-century response; and a familiar flow of authority, from rich donor to grateful recipient, had been reversed. It was also a sign that technology need not create a “digital divide”: it can work wonders in some of the world's remotest, most wretched places.

“Technology completely alters the way humanitarian work is done,” says Caroline Hurford of the World Food Programme (WFP), a United Nations body that is the single largest distributor of food aid. Once upon a time, when disaster struck, big agencies would roll up with grain, blankets and medicine and start handing them out. Victims would struggle to the relief camps, if they could. For aid workers (let alone recipients) there was no easy way to talk to head office.

Now, when an emergency occurs, the first people on the ground are often computer geeks, setting up telephone networks so other aid agencies can do their stuff. Donors keep track of supplies on spreadsheets and send each other SMS messages: this road has been attacked by bandits, that village cut off by floods. Transport agencies announce helicopter flights by e-mail. Aid providers can find out where exactly on an incoming ship their medical supplies are, saving hours hanging round the docks. Aid donors find it easier to locate the victims of disaster; and victims queue as eagerly for mobile-phone access as they do for food.

As a result, the organisation of aid is changing. On the ground, all big relief operations have communications centres where aid workers go to send e-mails, read the latest security updates and study satellite maps of the affected area. The UN's humanitarian-affairs office runs a portal called ReliefWeb, containing every map and document that might help aid donors; it got 3m hits a day after the Asian tsunami.

And aid agencies are reorganising themselves around the technology. Two UN agencies are in charge of ensuring communications work in disaster zones: UNICEF (the children's fund) does basic data transmission; the WFP does communications in insecure areas. Télécoms sans Frontières (TSF), a French voluntary agency (total staff: a dozen), goes in with the UN team that does the first needs-assessment in the hours after disaster strikes.

Even in the short life of TSF (which grew out of the Kosovo conflict in 1999) the technological landscape has been transformed. Satellite phones—often the only ones working right after a disaster—used to be clunky contraptions that could only transmit speech. In the past five years, transmission speeds have more than doubled, so that electronic data can flow easily. The traffic grows heavier all the time, in part because the ultimate backers of the aid agencies—be they governments or individuals—want efficiency and accountability, and think they can get both.

Disaster relief is basically a giant logistical operation. Today's emergency responders can no more dispense with mobile phones or electronically transmitted spreadsheets than a global courier company can. But unlike most couriers, aid donors operate amid chaos, with rapidly changing constraints (surges of people, outbreaks of disease, attacks by warlords). Mobile phones increase the flow of information, and the speed at which it can be processed, in a world where information used to be confused or absent. The chaos remains, but coping with it gets easier.

Better communications also favour information-sharing and co-ordination between agencies. In recent years, the problems of co-ordination have grown with the size and complexity of operations. The Asian tsunami hit 14 countries in Asia and Africa. At one point, 400 organisations were working in Aceh alone—“possibly 200 too many”, remarked Jan Egeland, then the UN's emergency-relief co-ordinator. Things like e-mail service and satellite links help to herd the cats. Donors drop into telecoms centres to send e-mails, but also to swap stories and gossip. This creates a new version of the office water-cooler. Toby Porter, emergencies director of Save the Children, adds that mobile phones can facilitate relations between aid agencies and local governments; this, in turn, makes it easier for charities to gain access to remote war zones.

The benefits of technology are not quite a one-way street. Equipment is expensive. It creates co-ordination problems of its own (because of different technical standards); to address them, a score of big NGOs set up a consortium called NetHope, which spreads the cost of satellite communications and internet links. And as Hugo Slim of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue points out, technology increases the flow of information not just to workers in the field, but to offices in New York or London; this may tempt bosses to micro-manage from afar—which can be disastrous.

Oisin Walton of Télécoms sans Frontières has a different worry: e-mail may supplant aid workers' conflict-avoidance skills; they may come to rely too much on e-mailed security warnings, and not enough on their instincts. And the Red Cross's Florian Westphal fears satellite or mobile phones will make warlords even more suspicious of aid workers; it is now harder to eavesdrop than it was when aid workers used open radio frequencies.

On balance, of course, technology is more of a boon than a problem, though the gains are uneven. Small NGOs will benefit most, since big NGOs and UN bodies already have decent information systems. Some sorts of technology have developed more than others: one big growth area is surveillance, broadly defined to include software that tracks supplies.

The benefits of easier surveillance are manifold. Take two cases: since the tsunami, Sri Lanka's largest telephone company has started an early-warning system which would send SMS messages to every mobile phone in an area at risk of flooding. And Amnesty International, the human-rights agency, is paying satellite-imaging firms to take aerial shots of Darfur and of parts of Zimbabwe. Amnesty used pictures of burned villages in the Sudanese region to prove that massacres had occurred, despite government denials. Images of Zimbabwe provided evidence for a lawsuit against President Robert Mugabe.

Surveillance technology also blurs the distinction between emergency and routine operations. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation draws vast detailed maps showing who is vulnerable to food shortages (“poverty mapping”). This same information can be used to map the areas affected in a more acute way by drought or famine. Similarly, the software that aid agencies use to track emergency medical supplies can help public-health officials gather routine information.

Télécoms sans Frontières took the data transmitter and laptops it had used to track food aid during a famine in Niger in 2005 and adapted them to store facts about disease prevalence afterwards. Vodafone (a telecoms firm) and the UN Foundation (an American charity) run programmes in Kenya and Zambia that put information about disease and medicine on data banks for use by health ministries. In short, public-health information improves disaster response, and disaster response boosts public health. Surveillance technology is especially useful for spotting early-warning signals (by tracking the paths of locusts or hurricanes); so it helps more with “predictable” disasters than it does in cases (like earthquakes or tsunamis) where warning times are brief or non-existent.

Those ingenious victims

While the joys of gadgetry may seem obvious to aid workers, how much has it really done to help victims? The full answer to that question has yet to emerge, and it is aid recipients who will give it. The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, a group of agencies bent on learning from past mistakes, notes that “local people themselves provided almost all immediate life-saving action and the early-emergency support, as is commonly the case in disasters.”

As the example of Mr Sokor shows, people affected by catastrophe are not necessarily helpless or hapless. Their ingenuity is likely to change disaster response by rich-world donors in unexpected ways.

Already, mobile telephony is transforming the landscape. The World Bank says the number of mobile-phone subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa increased sevenfold between 2000 and 2006. India nearly doubled its mobile-phone subscriptions last year to 150m and the government expects 500m (mobile and land lines) by 2010. Natural and man-made disasters do not only strike rural areas; nearly a billion city dwellers (who use mobiles more) are vulnerable to disaster.

In several recent disaster zones, victims surprised their benefactors by asking not for food or medicine but money. Save the Children, at least, has responded: it has been handing out cash in addition to food in the Horn of Africa and South Asia, and it says UN agencies should do the same.

Aid agencies are also using technology to meet the victims' other key demand: contact with relatives. People in safe places who are worried about missing cousins, and victims who are in desperate need of support from the extended family, can make use of websites whose purpose is to reunite friends and relatives. A Red Cross website (familylinks.icrc.org) has details of 125,000 families.

More broadly, technology increases the role of extended families, migrants and diasporas in dealing with disaster. To take a small example, members of Zimbabwe's diaspora living in Britain can go to a website called mukuru.com, order and pay for goods such as petrol online—and have them delivered to family members back home. The operation depends not only on the internet but also on mobile phones, because when an order is made the recipient gets a code texted to his mobile, which he must show to the petrol station when he collects the goods. Other websites enable members of the diaspora to provide loved ones with a range of goods and services from food to mobile-phone credits.

As yet, such operations have made only a small dent in Zimbabwe's unfolding crisis. Mukuru, run from a flat in Clapham in south London, has about 10,000 clients. A drop in the ocean: the WFP reckons it will have to feed as many as 4m Zimbabweans by next April.

But the websites are expanding fast; mukuru plans to open in half a dozen African countries this year. And the possibilities for using mobile telecoms to help relatives are enormous. Family remittances are already a bigger source of transfers to poor countries than government aid. Mobile telephony and mobile-phone banking are spreading. As these trends converge, diasporas will move even closer to centre stage in the delivery of succour to the needy.

In any case, technology's effect on humanitarian relief is only starting to be felt. “In the humanitarian operation of the future,” says Save the Children's Mr Porter, “beneficiaries of emergency aid will use technology to tell us what they need—cash, food, or education—find out from us what to expect, and track its arrival, just as we can track an order from Amazon.com now.”

And it may all happen sooner than aid agencies expect. As Mr Sokor's case shows, victims' thinking often moves faster than their benefactors' does. Following his appeal, the WFP did boost rations in the Dagahaley refugee camp, albeit citing other reasons. That blunt text message may be a harbinger of things to come.

Posted by Joe Anybody at 1:17 PM PDT

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