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Tonight I finished watching the documentary Reporter (2009).  From it's web site:

REPORTER is a feature documentary about Nicholas Kristof, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, who almost single-handedly put the crisis in Darfur on the world map. The film puts the viewer in Kristof’s pocket, revealing the man and his methods, and just how and why real reporting is vital to our democracy, our world-awareness, and our capacity to be a force for good. But REPORTER has a second agenda. By tracking a newsman, we track his news.

I give it 4 out of 5.

The Agenda: The Terrorist Next Door

I just found out that Lisa's first cousin Jonathan Birdwell was recently on Canadian TV on a panel discussing: can you grow up in middle class Canada, and yet become so radicalized that you to turn to terrorism?

The discussion was prompted by the recent arrests of three men in Canada who were charged with conspiracy to facilitate a terrorist activity (link):

Three Ontario men accused of taking part in a domestic terrorist plot and possessing plans and materials to create makeshift bombs had allegedly selected specific targets in Canada, sources told CBC News.

The suspects are alleged to have discussed attacks on specific government buildings and city public transit systems, security sources told CBC News.

But none of the targets was in the United States, sources said.

Misbahuddin Ahmed, 26, and Hiva Alizadeh, 30, both of Ottawa, and 28-year-old Khurram Sher, of London, Ont., have all been charged with conspiracy to knowingly facilitate a terrorist activity.

Here is the video of the discussion:

Cheers for Kiki

A friend at work showed me this video of this 7-year-old boy Kiki who was rescued after 7 and half days in the rubble from the earthquake in Haiti.  His smile and the cheers of the rescue workers as Kiki emerges from the rubble are wonderful.  It reminds me of another round of applause that I witnessed in person about 3 years ago (link).

The Emoticon Was a Nice Touch

From The Week:

Happy new year—not: A top Iranian soccer official has resigned in disgrace after accidentally sending a New Year’s greeting to Israel’s soccer federation. Mohammad Mansour Azimzadeh Ardebili, head of foreign relations for the Iranian Football Federation, sent the e-mail through FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. It was meant to go to every FIFA member except Israel, but was evidently forwarded to Israel. Iran does not acknowledge the sovereignty of Israel, which it calls the “Zionist entity,” and Iranian athletes refuse to compete against Israelis—even at the Olympics. Israeli soccer officials sent a reply wishing a “happy new year to all the good people of Iran”—and added the emoticon for a wink.

What did you call me?

From The Week:

France may soon make it a crime for couples to insult each other. Prime Minister François Fillon said this week that his government was drafting a law banning “psychological violence” between married or cohabiting couples. “The creation of this offense will allow us to deal with the most insidious situations—situations that leave no visible scars but which leave victims torn up inside,” Fillon said. French officials said verbal abuse often leads to physical abuse. They hope the new policy, which could go into effect within six months, will prevent domestic violence by catching potential abusers before they move from words to fists. Critics called the measure—which could result in jail time, fines, or electronic monitoring—a “gimmick” that would be impossible to enforce.


200px-HumanFactorInvictus Last night I went with friends from work to see Invictus (PG-13,2009).  From ScreenIt!:

The newly elected President of South Africa hopes to begin reconciliation among his black and white constituents by urging them to unite behind the nation's rugby team in the World Cup.

Over coffee afterwards, one of my friends talked about what it was like experiencing these events first-hand as an Afrikaner in South Africa.  She said the film brought back so many memories.  First of all, she was impressed with Freeman’s and Damon’s accents…saying they were spot-on.  Also, she indicated that the filmmakers did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of what the South Africans felt and experienced during that time.  Her family had gathered to celebrate her 21st birthday and watched the match together on a big screen.  Although they didn’t realize it at the time, she said that when Mandela walked onto the field wearing the #6 jersey of the Springboks (South African national rugby team, a deep-rooted symbol of Apartheid) it was a major turning point for their country and its racial reconciliation.  The celebrations in the streets afterwards were the first time they had done so without fear of violence and riots.  She said her parents have made big changes in their outlook since then.  On the other hand, her brother has not (still doesn’t want to use the same facilities as blacks, send his kids to school with blacks, etc.).  She said that the black middle class is growing and that it’s not unusual to see blacks buying homes in previously-white-only neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, the shanty towns are still prevalent.  Despite the fact that the country’s old flag (another symbol of Apartheid) was not banned, you never see it flown at sporting events any more.  She said the rugby was very realistic too, and she wanted to jump up and cheer during the film.  She wondered if the rest of us (who didn’t share that same personal connection with the story) would find it boring.  We didn’t.

I’m a sucker for sports movies and a sucker for movies about racial reconciliation, so I didn’t stand a chance.

I give it 5 out of 5.

The Pope, AIDS, and Condoms

From The Wall Street Journal:

Pope Benedict XVI said on his way to Africa Tuesday that condoms weren't the answer in the continent's fight against HIV, his first explicit statement on an issue that has divided even clergy working with AIDS patients.

Pope Benedict had never directly addressed condom use. He has said that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against AIDS. The Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease.

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, where he will begin a seven-day pilgrimage on the continent. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."

Not surprisingly, Benedict's statements elicited much criticism.  It was easy to imagine that the Catholic church's teachings about contraception were dictating his viewpoint rather than a rational assessment of the situation on the ground.  Criticism of his statements acknowledged that condoms aren't foolproof and sometimes fail either due to operator error or loss of integrity (link).

Then the official transcript tweaked his words to make it a little less extreme, indicating that condoms risked increasing the problem (link).

Then Edward Green came to the pope's defense.  I assume Green's views on this subject are controversial, but he does have some credibility (link):

Edward C. Green is one of the world's leading field researchers on the spread of HIV and public health interventions. He's the director of the Harvard AIDS Prevention Research Project, and is a leading advocate for evidence-based interventions.

I understand Green's point, and I think it's a good one.  If condoms are the answer for AIDS in Africa, we should be able to see it in the data.  As he said (link):

We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.

How could condoms contribute to the problem?

...the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’”

“There is,” Green adds, “a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”

In an interview with Christianity Today (link), Green commented further on what he thinks is and isn't working:

We are seeing HIV decline in eight or nine African countries. In every case, there's been a decrease in the proportion of men and women reporting multiple sexual partners. Ironically, in the first country where we saw this, Uganda, HIV prevalence decline stopped in about 2004, and infection rates appear to be rising again. This appears to be in part because emphasis on interventions that promote monogamy and fidelity has weakened significantly, and earlier behavior changes have eroded. There has been a steady increase in the very behavior that once accounted for rates declining — namely, having multiple and concurrent sex partners. There is a widespread belief that somehow Uganda had fewer condoms. In fact, foreign donors have persuaded Uganda to put even more emphasis on condoms.

I can buy that it's possible that on the level of populations the focus on condom distribution might counter-intuitively fail to reduce the prevalence of AIDS and that this complexity may be underappreciated.  Complicated issues are often over-simplified into inaccurate or incomplete sound bites. 

On the other hand, I think that the pope's and Green's comments are also an over-simplification because they seem not to acknowledge this fact (as others have pointed out): an African woman for whom monogamous sex with an uninfected spouse is not an option is much safer if her spouse uses a condom.  That's the difference between considering the efficacy of condom availability on the individual versus population level.  We should be concerned about both.

Part of the issue is also probably that passing out condoms makes someone some cash and is much easier than the hard work of significantly changing a culture's views regarding sexual fidelity.  It probably makes sense to start with the easier job...but not just stop there either.

More Good News...from Iraq

From The Week (link):

Since the liberal media long ago lost interest in Iraq, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, we didn’t hear much about the “near miracle” of the country’s provincial elections earlier this month. So allow me to recap: There was virtually no violence, and 14,400 candidates from 400 parties competed. Parties defined by religious sectarianism were the big losers, including a pro-Iranian party that was “devastated” at the polls by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s more secular State of Law Party. The big winners? Iraqis, who, despite the “condescension” of those who thought democracy a “fool’s errand” in the Middle East, proved they’re on the way to functioning, largely secular self-government. The other winner, of course, was the U.S., which now has a nascent democratic ally in the Arab world.

but Thomas Ricks is not as optimistic:

Having spent a lot of time in Iraq recently researching a book, it’s my sad duty to report that nearly every American military leader there is very pessimistic about the country’s future. Deep sectarian rifts remain in Iraqi society, they say, and only the presence of armed troops has prevented the eruption of violent conflict. Shiite radicals such as Muqtada al-Sadr and Sunni extremists haven’t given up; they’re just biding their time until the Americans leave. The Iraqi military, meanwhile, remains a “deeply flawed” institution, with no qualms about killing Iraqis, and U.S. officials privately are warning that power-hungry generals very well might mount a takeover attempt if the U.S. does, in fact, go home. So let’s not get overly excited about a round of regional elections. “I don’t think the Iraq war is over, and I worry that there is more to come than any of us suspect.”

Some good news...from Saudi Arabia

Via The Week (link):

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
First woman minister: In a rare breakthrough for women’s rights, Saudi Arabia appointed its first female Cabinet minister this week. Noura bint Abdullah al-Fayez became deputy education minister in charge of a new department of girls’ education. “This is an honor not only for me but for all Saudi women,” she told the Riyadh Arab News. “I’ll be able to face challenges and create positive change.” In his first Cabinet reshuffle since assuming the throne in 2005, King Abdullah also replaced the chief of the religious police and the country’s top judge—two men who were known as enemies of women’s rights. The judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, ruled last year that TV station owners that broadcast “immoral” programs showing unveiled women could be killed. “This is the true start of the promises of reform,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent pro-reform newspaper editor.

The Dry Wit of Roger McShane

Slate's Today's Papers column from today contains several classics:

All of the papers allow the politicians to dominate the debate over the stimulus, with the NYT and WP (which is not a fan of the package) featuring House Minority Leader John Boehner's predictable criticism. "We cannot borrow and spend our way back to prosperity," he said (for the first time in eight years).


The WP reports that al-Qaida is peeved at Barack Obama. With polls showing the new president popular in the Muslim world, the terrorist group has resorted to hurling insults at him, even when they make no sense. The Post notes, "He was even blamed for the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which began and ended before he took office."


The NYT fronts a profile of Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff who, officials say, has calmed considerably. Ray Lahood, the new transportation secretary, says Emanuel has increasingly taken on the demeanor of his boss, whom he still when he told one congressman that he was too busy to talk and handed his phone to Obama.

and finally

The NYT Magazine's cover story tackles the age-old question: "What do women want?" But after 7,372 words and numerous clinical references to genital arousal, the answer is still frustratingly unclear. TP imagines that a similar article on what men want would be significantly shorter.

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