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Tech Forensics in Guatemala Results in Groundbreaking Arrest for Decades-old Human Rights Crime

A Guatemalan police officer has been arrested in connection with the abduction and disappearance 25 years ago of a labor activist named Edgar Fernando García, during Guatemala's civil war -- a period in which extrajudicial executions, dissapearances, and torture by government agents were widespread. The arrest on March 5 of former police officer Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos is the result of an investigation of García's case by Guatemala's Human Rights Prosecutor, and all of this was made possible by using records recently discovered among the massive archives of the former National Police.

I reported about the tech forensics process at these archives for NPR a couple of years ago, and you can listen to that report here. We're talking about a giant, dingy, moldy, bat-infested hellhole that was once the site of a clandestine detention center and torture cells. The police dumped records here during the civil war years, and the whole mountain of rotting documents was accidentally discovered years after the war ended.

Using scanners, database systems, and teams of analysts and "digitalizadors," a large team of people working very, very hard in the years since have accomplished something incredible here. More about the recent arrest and what it means:

García was kidnapped by police agents in Guatemala City on February 18, 1984, during a wave of government repression targeting the left. He was never seen again. The policy of terror used by the Guatemalan security forces to intimidate and destroy perceived "subversives" during the country's 36-year civil conflict resulted in the disappearance of an estimated 45,000 civilians and the death of some 200,000, according to the Historical Clarification Commission in 1999.

Reports published today in Guatemala's Prensa Libre and EFE described the arrest of agent Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos, currently chief of police in Quezaltenango with 28 years of service in the former National Police and National Civil Police. Ramírez was charged with "illegal detention, kidnapping, forced disappearance, abuse of authority and failure of duty." According to Human Rights Prosecutor Sergio Morales, Ramírez was identified by human rights investigators from the recently uncovered records of the old Fourth Corps of the ex-National Police, which described how he and other agents secretly captured García and took him to an unknown location.

Kate Doyle, Director of the Archive's Guatemala Project, commented "The arrest of one of the alleged perpetrators of Fernando García's disappearance 25 years later underscores the critical importance of the archives of the Guatemalan police and military in achieving justice for the atrocities committed during the civil conflict. The government of Guatemala must do everything in its power to see that state records are made public for future human rights investigations if it truly supports accountability and justice for these crimes."

(...)Although there has been no information about his capture since he disappeared in 1984, Fernando García's name appeared in the notorious "Military Logbook," an army intelligence document listing dozens of people disappeared by security forces in the mid-1980s and released publicly by the National Security Archive in 2000. The logbook indicated that García and other young students, professors and labor leaders were the subjects of intensive police surveillance in the weeks leading up to their capture and disappearance.

Read more here at the project's website.

Photos in this post were snapshots I took at the Guatemalan police archives in 2007.

(Thank you, Jorge Villagran of PRAHPN - PDH - Guatemala, and all who suggested this).

BB Video: United Nations Drug Policy- the Skeptics Chime In

Derek Bledsoe, Boing Boing Video producer, is blogging daily Boing Boing Video episodes while Xeni's on the road in Africa.

On Wednesday, March 11, 2009 the United Nations' Commission of Narcotic Drugs held its 52nd session in Vienna, Austria, just10 years after Kofi Annan's pledge to have a "drug free world" by 2008. Representatives from around the world attended the conference voicing support and opposition to the centuries old "war on drugs."

Working with Witness and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, we cut together excerpts from "Dare to Question? Using Video to Take on UN Drug Policies" and other testimonials appealing to the United Nations to reconsider its hardline policies combating the cultivation and use of illicit drugs.

Most of the experts interviewed agree that an ideal world would be a drug-free world but perhaps we should put that on the shelf among other concepts like a world without war, disease, or Fox News.

Some interesting facts according to

75% of drug related arrests are related to marijuana 65% of drug related arrests are for simple possession of marijuana

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union also staged a press conference at the entrance of the Vienna International Center speaking from wire cages, attempting to draw attention to unjust penalties and human rights abuses of drug offenders around the world.

We'd like to especially thank the Director of the HCLU, Mr. Balázs Dénes and Istvan Gábor Takács, HCLU's Video Advocacy Guru and Peter Sárosi, DPP Director. To learn more, you can visit Dare to Act and Drug Reporter.

Flash video embed above, click "full" icon inside the player to view it large. You can download the MP4 here. Our YouTube channel is here, you can subscribe to our daily video podcast on iTunes here. Get Twitter updates every time there's a new ep by following @boingboingvideo, and here are the archives for Boing Boing Video.

(Special thanks to Boing Boing Video's hosting and publishing provider Episodic.)

Ryan Heshka's vintage SF-inspired paintings

Golen Super Drugs Lo Res(Small)
Golen The Six Lo Res Golen The Soft Lo Res
Vancouver-based painter Ryan Heshka takes inspiration from Golden Age science fiction pulp covers. He has a show opening March 14 at Miami's Harold Golen Gallery. Above is a sneak preview of startling works from the exhibition, titled "Electro-Wonders"; click the images to see them larger. Ryan Heshka (Thanks, Kirsten Anderson!)

BB Video: How you can get involved in the torture cases documented in "OUTLAWED."

WATCH: Flash video embedded above and below, click "full" icon inside the player to view it large. Our YouTube channel is here, you can subscribe to our daily video podcast on iTunes here.

Last week on Boing Boing Video, we presented two episodes which were excerpts from a documentary film called OUTLAWED, about people who have survived extraordinary rendition and torture in America's War on Terror. The film was produced by, the human rights/video organization founded by Peter Gabriel, and created in partnership with more than a dozen other human rights groups including the ACLU. In case you missed the excerpts we ran, here they are again, embedded above and below. Direct download link for part 1, Direct download link for part 2.

A number of Boing Boing commenters asked how interested people could help or take action on the cases presented in these video episodes. Bryan Nunez from Witness says, "Here are a couple places where people can take action:, and here is Amnesty International's page related to these issues. Hope this helps."

Read the original blog posts for each of these Boing Boing Video episodes, for more background:

* Boing Boing Video: "OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 1 -- Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture.
* Boing Boing Video: "OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 2 -- Khaled El-Masri. A Skateboarding School in Afghanistan

(Image: Tyler Hicks for the New York Times.)

Photographer Glen E. Friedman, who is the subject of our Boing Boing Video episode tomorrow -- he shot some of the greatest skateboarding photos of our time -- pointed me to this interesting story in the NYT from a few days ago. Glen asks, "Isn't there someone [reading this blog post] who can figure out how to get this guy some more boards for these kids?" Snip:

Afghan youth have learned to recover almost instantly from such routine violence. One person determined to inject some normalcy into their lives is Oliver Percovich. A 34-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, he plans to open this country’s first skateboarding school, Skateistan, this spring. He sees sport as a way to woo students into after-school activities like English and computer classes, which are otherwise reserved for the elite.

“Teenagers are trying to dissociate from old mentalities, and I’m their servant,” Percovich said. “If they weren’t interested, I would’ve left a long time ago.”

Now, when he pulls his motorcycle into a residential courtyard here, a dozen youngsters pounce before it comes to a stop, yanking six chipped skateboards with fading paint off the back. The children, most participating in a sport for the first time in their war-hardened lives, do not want to waste any time. Their skateboard park is a decrepit Soviet-style concrete fountain with deep fissures. The tangle of novice skaters resembles bumper cars more than X Games.

But Percovich has raised the money needed to build an 8,600-square-foot bubble to house the nonprofit Skateistan complex, and the Kabul Parks Authority has tentatively donated land. He is still waiting for official permission to begin the project. And since a spate of kidnappings and the car bombing in late November, he has reduced his daily sessions at the fountain to once or twice a week.

Among those who look forward to his visits is Maro, an elfin 9-year-old girl who was terrified of skateboarding at first. “It gives me courage, and once I start skating, I completely forget about my fears,” she said.

Full story, pics of super cute Afghan kid skaters, and a neat video all here: Skateboarding in Afghanistan Provides a Diversion From Desolation (NYT). Here is the Skateistan website. And here's how you can help.

Boing Boing Video: Khaled El-Masri "Outlawed" interview, part two.

WATCH: Flash video embed above, click "full" icon inside the player to view it large. You can download the MP4 here. Our YouTube channel is here, you can subscribe to our daily video podcast on iTunes here.

Today's episode of Boing Boing video is the second in a series of excerpts we're featuring from OUTLAWED, a film produced by WITNESS, in partnership with more than a dozen other human rights groups around the world. Here was our previous installment.

In this episode, we meet a German citizen named Khaled El-Masri, who survived kidnapping, extraordinary rendition, and torture at the hands of the U.S. government and foreign governments acting on its behalf. His case has been the subject of New York Times editorials and involved a widely-reported lawsuit seeking justice in the US, which was thrown out and is now on appeal.

Here is a snip from his description of what happened when he was abducted and transferred to a CIA "black site" prison:

Here is my story. On December 31, 2003, I boarded a bus in Ulm, Germany for a holiday in Skopje, Macedonia. When the bus crossed the border into Macedonia, Macedonian officials confiscated my passport and detained me for several hours. Eventually, I was transferred to a hotel where I was held for 23 days. I was guarded at all times, the curtains were always drawn, I was never permitted to leave the room, I was threatened with guns, and I was not allowed to contact anyone. At the hotel, I was repeatedly questioned about my activities in Ulm, my associates, my mosque, meetings with people that had never occurred, or associations with people I had never met. I answered all of their questions truthfully, emphatically denying their accusations. After 13 days I went on a hunger strike to protest my confinement.

On January 23, 2004, seven or eight men entered the hotel room and forced me to record a video saying I had been treated well and would soon be flown back to Germany. I was handcuffed, blindfolded, and placed in a car. The car eventually stopped and I heard airplanes. I was taken from the car, and led to a building where I was severely beaten by people's fists and what felt like a thick stick. Someone sliced the clothes off my body, and when I would not remove my underwear, I was beaten again until someone forcibly removed them from me. I was thrown on the floor, my hands were pulled behind me, and someone's boot was placed on my back. Then I felt something firm being forced inside my anus.

I was dragged across the floor and my blindfold was removed. I saw seven or eight men dressed in black and wearing black ski masks. One of the men placed me in a diaper and a track suit. I was put in a belt with chains that attached to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs were placed over my ears, eye pads over my eyes, and then I was blindfolded and hooded. After being marched to a plane, I was thrown to the floor face down and my legs and arms were spread-eagled and secured to the sides of the plane. I felt two injections, and I was rendered nearly unconscious. At some point, I felt the plane land and take off again. When it landed again, I was unchained and taken off the plane. It felt very warm outside, and so I knew I had not been returned to Germany. I learned later that I was in Afghanistan.

Just this Saturday, Mr. El Masri filed a damages lawsuit against the government of Macedonia for their role in his unlawful abduction and detention five years ago.

"This lawsuit is possibly the last opportunity for Khaled El Masri to receive justice," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. "Macedonia has a chance to step up and show that it will not tolerate complicity in human rights violations by its security services."

Macedonian security forces in December 2003 seized El Masri at a border crossing with Serbia, and held him -- incommunicado -- for 23 days. El Masri was handed over to the CIA and flown to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and tortured. After several months, El Masri was finally released and dumped on a roadside in Albania. He was never charged with a crime.

OUTLAWED was produced around the time when the Council of Europe issued a report on the topic of rendition and torture involving America's "War on Terror." To document why those issues matter, WITNESS created a coalition with a number of US human rights and social justice 'project partners' such as Amnesty and the ACLU to distribute the video.

You can watch the film in entirety at links provided here, or purchase the documentary on DVD.

(Special appreciation to Boing Boing Video producer Derek Bledsoe. Sincere thanks to Bryan Nunez, Grace Lile, and Yvette J. Alberdingk Thijm from WITNESS. Music in this episode graciously provided by Amon Tobin / Cinematic Orchestra. Inset photo: AP)

Previously on Boing Boing Video:
"OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 1 -- Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture.

Link to Boing Boing Video Archives.

Boing Boing Video: "OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 1 -- Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture.

WATCH: Flash video embed above, click "full" icon inside the player to view it large. You can download the MP4 here. Our YouTube channel is here, you can subscribe to our daily video podcast on iTunes here.

VIEWER WARNING: This episodes contains verbal descriptions of graphic violence. Discretion advised.

Today's episode of Boing Boing video is an excerpt from OUTLAWED, a film produced by WITNESS, in partnership with more than a dozen other human rights groups around the world.

The future of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and of the men held there, has been at the top of the news this week -- President Obama has ordered the facility closed, one released detainee has now become the head of Al Qaeda in Yemen, and some around the world are calling for war crimes tribunals to be held over the torture some prisoners survived during rendition.

In this Boing Boing video episode, we are introduced to Binyam Ahmed Mohamed, an Ethiopian man in his thirties (ACLU bio and a detailed report about his case here). Mr. Mohamed survived extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and torture by the U.S. government working with various other governments worldwide.

The story of what he endured, which included horrific sexual violence during interrogation, was painful for us to watch in the studio, when we were editing this preview piece. But all of us on the BB Video team felt like this was an incredibly important story for the world to hear, and we were grateful for the ability to draw greater attention to the story at this time.

Speaking on my own behalf here: What happens with Guantánamo and the legal process surrounding the men still held there should matter to each person who reads this blog post. The safety of our nation does not require us to abandon universally-recognized principles of human rights. Torture and disappearances do not make America more secure.

Paraphrasing what one person from WITNESS told us in email -- if more Americans realized they live in a nation where, on a street corner in the town where you live, any one of us could be picked up, pushed into an unmarked van, then moved around detention centers all over the world, tortured, without a charge or a word to your family, surely there would be more outcry.

OUTLAWED was produced around the time when the Council of Europe issued a report on the topic of extraordinary rendition and torture involving America's "War on Terror." To document why those issues matter, WITNESS created a coalition with a number of US human rights and social justice 'project partners' such as Amnesty and the ACLU to distribute the video.

Mr. Mohamed is still being held at Guantánamo Bay.

After the jump, a note with which we updated this BB video episode. You can watch the film in entirety at links provided here, or purchase the documentary on DVD.

(Special appreciation to Boing Boing Video producer Derek Bledsoe. Sincere thanks to Bryan Nunez, Grace Lile, and Yvette J. Alberdingk Thijm from WITNESS. Music in this episode graciously provided by Amon Tobin / Cinematic Orchestra.)

Boing Boing Video archives.

Read the rest

Group moves homeless people into foreclosed homes

Following up on our post yesterday about skaters transforming swimming pools at foreclosed homes into impromptu skate bowls, Boing Boing reader Dan Rosen points us to a related story. The short version: "underground housing activists" in one neighborhood are moving homeless folks into the homes of folks who've lost their homes. Man, that's complicated and sad all around. Snip:
“We're matching homeless people with peopleless homes,” he said with a grin. [Max] Rameau and a group of like-minded advocates formed Take Back the Land, which also helps the new “tenants” with secondhand furniture, cleaning supplies and yard upkeep. So far, he has moved six families into foreclosed homes and has nine on a waiting list.

“I think everyone deserves a home,” said Rameau, who said he takes no money from his work with the homeless. “Homeless people across the country are squatting in empty homes. The question is: Is this going to be done out of desperation or with direction?”

Rameau, who makes his living as a computer consultant, said he is doing the owners a favor, saving the properties from drug dealers, vandals and thieves. He said he is not scared of getting arrested.

“There's a real need here, and there's a disconnect between the need and the law,” he said. “Being arrested is just one of the potential factors in doing this.”

Group moves people into foreclosed houses (Charlotte Observer). Image: AP. "Marie Nadine Pierre holds her baby, Nennon, and looks out the window of the 'peopleless' house where she lives in Miami." J PAT CARTER.

Honoring Our Elders: Snapshots from Christmas in Sololá, Guatemala.

Yesterday, I shared some scanned hand-drawn Christmas cards from children (and their parents) in a K'iche' Maya village in Guatemala -- people who participate in the work of an international nonprofit I volunteer with there, along with family and friends.

This year, we included two additional elders in the foundation's Christmas festivities in the Guatemalan highlands, which brings the total number of participating elders in our Ancianos de Honor program to 22. Two of the most recently honored ancianos are blind. You can see them in the photograph below. They both completed their hundredth birthdays this month. They were brought to our foundation's center by some very caring young people.

Above, the elders receive their gifts from our local director in Sololá, Don Victoriano. It's the first time in the lives of these two new elders that they have received a gift or been honored in this way.

Upon receiving his gift, centenarian Don Juan expressed thanks to Ajaw (the Mayan creator god) and to the givers of the gift who had "the good conscience to remember the forgotten elders."

The Christmas gift baskets they are receiving typically include bread, dried pasta and rice, chocolate and candies, corn flour for making tortillas or tamales, dried beans, fruit, and household necessities. The local project directors, who are from the community themselves, make those arrangements and include things that are customary, and part of the local diet.

These elders are among the most at-risk and neglected members of the community, and often suffer malnutrition and health problems related to a lack of food, water, and protection from the elements. They live literally on the fringes of the village, and fall through the cracks -- they become invisible.
Our foundation works to reach out to them, document their existence and their needs, and provide basic support, bringing them back into the center of the community where they belong, with honor and respect.

We are working toward establishing the same ongoing support system within the community for these elders that we are providing for the children of the village.

- Happy holidays to all of you from the people in our communities in Guatemala and Nima Mam Ajq'ij, Dr. M. X. Quetzalkanbalam, international executive director, and our international staff of directors: Anamaria de To and David To Quiñones, Guatemala; Jolon Bankey, Costa Rica; and Xeni Jardin, Mike Outmesguine, and Mar Doré, USA.

(Photos: Top and bottom, courtesy Don Victoriano; center thumbnails, Xeni Jardin).

(BBtv + Witness) A Massacre Remembered in Guatemala.

(Flash video embedded above, MP4 Link here.)

Today is the final installment of Boing Boing tv's three-day special series in partnership with the video network WITNESS commemorating the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

In this episode: the story of Jesus Tecu Osorio, a Maya Achí man who witnessed one of the most horrific massacres of Guatemala's 36-year internal conflict, when he was a child -- and what he is doing to preserve the memory of victims, and the rights of survivors.

Here is a snip from the Wikipedia article about that massacre:

In 1978, in the face of civil war, the Guatemalan government proceeded with its economic development program, including the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. Financed in large part by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, the Chixoy Dam was built in Rabinal, a region of the department of Baja Verapaz historically populated by the Maya Achi. To complete construction, the government completed voluntary and forcible relocations of dam-affected communities from the fertile agricultural valleys to the much harsher surrounding highlands. When hundreds of residents refused to relocate, or returned after finding the conditions of resettlement villages were not what the government had promised, these men, women, and children were kidnapped, raped, and massacred by military officials. More than 440 Maya Achi were killed in the village of Río Negro alone, and the string of extra-judicial killings that claimed up to 5,000 lives between 1980 and 1982 became known as the Río Negro Massacres. The government officially declared the acts to be counterinsurgency activities.

This video is narrated by REM frontman Michael Stipe, and is presented with the music of composer Philip Glass. For more on WITNESS, and how they are using video to draw world attention to human rights abuses throughout the globe, visit the recently launched Witness HUB website.

Related: earlier here on Boing Boing, I shared a report I filed for National Public Radio about the group that conducted the exhumations mentioned in this WITNESS video. The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) are technologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists who unearth these mass graves. They work to identify the dead and return the remains to their families for dignified reburial. The process begins with the hard work of the exhumation itself, but they also use DNA forensics and software they develop themselves, so they can identify a greater portion of the remains, and preserve evidence that could be used in criminal trials. FAFG staff routinely deal with death threats from those who do not support their work. Listen to "Group Works to Identify Remains in Guatemala ," and here is the entire NPR special series, "Guatemala: Unearthing the Future." (Image below: Xeni Jardin)

(BBtv + WITNESS) A Duty to Protect: Child Soldiers in the Congo

(Flash video embedded above, downloadable MP4 Here.)

More than 20,000 children have been abducted and forced into armed service by warring factions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1996. Many of these children are sexually exploited; many are forced to participate in or witness atrocities, as a way of life.

In day two of Boing Boing tv's three-day special series in partnership with the video network WITNESS commemorating the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, we present this special feature on the lives of the child soldiers in DRC.

In this episode, we'll hear from Bukeni Waruzi of the Child Soldier Project (AJEDI-Ka/PES), who are working to demobilize the boys and girls and provide them with protection, rehabilitation, and psychological care.

If you'd like to support the work of the Child Soldier Project, here's more info on how to assist (they are accepting donations, but there are other ways to help, too).

For more on WITNESS, and how they are using video to draw world attention to human rights abuses throughout the globe, visit the recently launched Witness HUB website.

BBtv WORLD + 60 Years of Declaration of Human Rights, and Rights of The Mentally Disabled

(Warning: the video embedded in this post contains graphic content that viewers may find disturbing.)

Boing Boing tv commemorates the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week in partnership with WITNESS. Have you read the declaration lately? You can do so here. It is as timely and essential to our world today as it was on December 10, 1948, just after the end of World War II.

WITNESS was founded by musician and activist Peter Gabriel with other human rights groups in 1992. They use video and online media to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. We'll be airing reports from the WITNESS archives this week, and tomorrow Boing Boing tv will present an interview with the organization's digital archivist, Grace Lile. She spoke with us about how WITNESS gathers videos like the one I'm embedding here, and why collecting and sharing this footage matters. She also tells us about the recently-launched, which is a sort of gathering place for people who want to get involved.

Today, as a special edition of BBTV WORLD, we present a video from WITNESS that was produced by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). With this video, they sought to "prevent continued unlawful acts that threaten the rights to life, liberty and personal security of two boys, Jorge, age 18, and Julio, age 17, and 458 others detained in the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital of Paraguay." The two boys were detained in approximately six-by-six feet isolation cells, naked, and without access to bathrooms. Hospital staff said the boys have been detained in these conditions for the past four years.

The video is deeply disturbing. I found it very painful to watch. But the producers, and the people behind WITNESS, hope that by documenting these abuses and making the documentation available to the world in this explicit form, we will be inspired to stop the abuse -- in this case, and in others around the world.

Here is a direct MP4 link, if you prefer to download. Below, a video from WITNESS commemorating the Declaration of Human Rights, and what it means to us today.

(Special thanks to Yvette Alberdingkthijm, Sameer Padania, Martin Tzanev, Matisse Bustos Hawkes, and Bryan Nuñez of Witness, and BB Patron Saint Joi Ito.)

John Lennon Died 28 Years Ago Today; a Word to Boing Boing from Yoko.

Yoko Ono has kindly emailed Boing Boing this beautiful photograph of her husband, former Beatle John Lennon, who was murdered on this day in 1980. Photographer Allan Tannenbaum took the image on November 26, 1980, just a couple of weeks before Lennon passed away.

"Please share your memories of John here at this website," Ms. Ono says to Boing Boing readers, and, "WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT. You can download the poster here. Print it out, and display it in your window, school, workplace, car & elsewhere over the holiday season."

Donate Your Used Digital Camera to LA's Skid Row Photo Club

Los Angeles-based photographer and blogger Dave Bullock says:

The Skid Row Photography Club's first show, The Beauty of the Street, premiered last Thursday during the Downtown Art Walk. The participants were ecstatic to see their beautiful work on the walls and the hundreds of people who came into the gallery loved what they saw.

The SPRC started as an idea I "borrowed" from the movie Born Into Brothels . I wrote a proposal to the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council to buy digital cameras which we then gave to people living in Skid Row. I gave the participants brief lessons in composition and turned them loose. For the last six months we've met every Tuesday at UCEPP in Skid Row.

During that time they shot over 20,000 photos between them. An amazing body of work ranging from flowers to architecture to a man defecating in the middle of the street.

Dave asks if any Boing Boing readers might want to donate digital cameras to folks living in Skid Row, so they might extend the project. "The cameras we've been using are about $200 each," he explains. "We're just a club, not a non-profit as of yet."

More info here on how you can participate. The short version: if you would like to donate digital cameras please email Dave directly at

Skid Row, in case you don't know, is a massive, permanent homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles -- the largest such community in the United States. About 8-9,000 homeless people live there. This "heat map animation" provides a compelling visualization of the site, though data hasn't been updated in a while.

Call to makers: woman wants webcam to replace lost eye


Kevin Kelly writes:

This is Tanya Vlach's new eyeball. She lost her real one in a car accident a few years ago. I met Tanya at a film festival recently. During our conversation she said she was looking for help in turning her artificial eye into a eye-cam. You know, a mini web cam inside an eyeball. It would capture live video and stream it to a memory somewhere and also perhaps eventually assist her own vision in real time. She confessed that she was not technologically adept enough to hack it on her own.
Eye-Cam Wanted

Sarah Palin: spammer and digital secrecy scofflaw.

Above, snapshot of a rally organized by "Alaska Women Against Palin" this weekend. Some 1500 people are said to have participated, making it possibly the largest single political protest in the state's history (here's video).

Buried on page 4 of a 5-page New York Times article on Sarah Palin's political history in Alaska:

[L]awmakers in April accused her of improperly culling thousands of e-mail addresses from a state database for a mass mailing to rally support for a policy initiative.

While Ms. Palin took office promising a more open government, her administration has battled to keep information secret. Her inner circle discussed the benefit of using private e-mail addresses. An assistant told her it appeared that such e-mail messages sent to a private address on a "personal device" like a BlackBerry "would be confidential and not subject to subpoena."

Ms. Palin and aides use their private e-mail addresses for state business. A campaign spokesman said the governor copied e-mail messages to her state account "when there was significant state business."

On Feb. 7, Frank Bailey, a high-level aide, wrote to Ms. Palin's state e-mail address to discuss appointments. Another aide fired back: "Frank, this is not the governor's personal account." Mr. Bailey responded: "Whoops~!"

Mr. Bailey, a former midlevel manager at Alaska Airlines who worked on Ms. Palin's campaign, has been placed on paid leave; he has emerged as a central figure in the trooper investigation.

Another confidante of Ms. Palin's is Ms. Frye, 27. She worked as a receptionist for State Senator Lyda Green before she joined Ms. Palin's campaign for governor. Now Ms. Frye earns $68,664 as a special assistant to the governor. Her frequent interactions with Ms. Palin's children have prompted some lawmakers to refer to her as "the babysitter," a title that Ms. Frye disavows. Like Mr. Bailey, she is an effusive cheerleader for her boss.

"YOU ARE SO AWESOME!" Ms. Frye typed in an e-mail message to Ms. Palin in March.

Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes (NYT)

Image courtesy Mudflats blog.

BBtv (Beijing): interview with pro-Tibet videobloggers in hiding.

Last week, eight American citizens were detained in Beijing for participating in pro-Tibetan sovereignty protests near the site of the 2008 Olympics, with Students for a Free Tibet. Two videobloggers who documented those protest and guerrilla art installations evaded detention, and spoke to Boing Boing TV on Friday Beijing time about why they were there, what they witnessed, and why it mattered.

Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson of spoke to us over Skype from a hostel in Beijing. One of the actions they documented in photo and video was the hanging of an "LED throwies" light banner, shown below, which read "FREE TIBET." We agreed to hold this Boing Boing tv episode until after we received word that they'd safely left the country. They have returned home, so I am posting the piece today.

Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with discussion and downloadable video, and instructions on how to subscribe to the Boing Boing tv video podcast.

Correction: Yesterday, we posted news that 6 Americans who'd been detained were now released and on their way to Los Angeles. Turns out that in fact, a total of 8 were detained -- the last two, from a later protest, a photograph of which is posted below (Thanks, NF and Students for a Free Tibet).

Previously on Boing Boing blog:
* UPDATE: US citizens detained in Beijing over Tibet protests are released, returning home.
* Beijing and Tibet: GRL's James Powderly, Brian of "Alive in Baghdad, 4 other US citizens receive 10-day jail sentence
* Beijing update: New detentions, 6 US protesters missing, Tibetan protesters in Tibet reportedly shot dead.
* Beijing: "Alive in Baghdad" videoblogger among US citizens detained in pro-Tibet protests
* Beijing: Five US activists detained after lighting up "Free Tibet" LED Throwies banner near Olympics site
* GRL's James Powderly detained in Beijing for planning pro-Tibet "L.A.S.E.R. Stencil" art protest

Related episodes of Boing Boing tv:
* BBtv WORLD (Tibet): Inside Lhasa
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet report - monks forced to participate in staged videos.
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet's uprising and the internet

BBtv WORLD (Tibet): Inside Lhasa

Today's episode of Boing Boing tv is a new installment of our "BBtv World" series, in which we bring you first-person accounts of life around the world. In this episode, I travel to Lhasa during an annual Tibetan Buddhist festival.

Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with discussion, downloadable video, and podcast subscription instructions.

The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Lhasa is just how close to the heavens you are. Literally. The average elevation in Tibet is 16,000 feet. The fact that this place is known as the “Roof of the World" makes sense as your newcomer lungs and blood struggle to adjust to the altitude.

Beijing says Tibet is historically part of China, not a sovereign nation. China’s army invaded Tibet in 1950. Years of bloody conflict followed. In 1959, Tibet’s traditional spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India. China has governed over Tibet since then.

During the fourth lunar month in the Tibetan calendar, ethnic Tibetans celebrate the annual festival of Saga Dawa. Tibetan Buddhists believe that on the full moon in this month, in various years of his life, the Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment, and died.

A large armed police presence surrounded the festival during the year I shot the footage you'll see in this episode. When we asked one pilgrim why, she said “Because when too many Tibetans gather in one place, they are afraid we’ll rise up.”

In 2008, Saga Dawa fell on the heels of a violent government crackdown on pro-independence protesters throughout Tibet, during the run-up to the Olympics. Thousands of armed troops filled Lhasa and outlying towns, and large numbers of "suspects" were rounded up and jailed. Widespread reports of human rights abuses filtered out, despite a virtual communications blackout. This year’s Saga Dawa festival also fell near the anniversary of the Tiananmen democracy protests, and authorities cited fears that this would inspire more protest in Tibet.

While first-person accounts were hard to come by, there were many reports of ethnic Tibetans being blocked from the traditional pilgimage route around Lhasa in the name of state security.

Previously on Boing Boing tv:

* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet report - monks forced to participate in staged videos.
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet's uprising and the internet

Previously on Boing Boing blog:

* Hacking the Himalayas (Xeni Tech / NPR)
* Tradition vs. Change in 'Lhasa Vegas'

BBtv debuts "BBtv World" series. Episode 1: El Molinero (Guatemala)

Watch this episode in Flash above, or download here: MP4 download link

On behalf of all my Boing Boing and Boing Boing tv colleagues, I'm excited and proud to announce the debut of a new series within our daily video program: BBtv World. This ongoing series will feature first-person glimpses of life around the world, told through the lenses and voices of Boing Boing editors, guest collaborators -- and through the people in these places, their own stories, their own way. When we can, we want to place the camera directly in the hands -- literally -- of the people whose lives, cultures, and lands we're visiting.

We're kicking this off with an episode I shot during a recent visit in a K'iche Maya village in the highlands of Guatemala. I go there a few times a year to work on sustainable development projects with an international nonprofit managed with local indigenous leaders.

"El Molinero," the title of this debut piece, refers to the corn mill where young girls go every day to grind soaked, hulled corn ("nixtamal") into soft dough for tortillas or tamales (in K'iche, the dough is "k'osh").

The old machine -- hacked together by local craftsman from various components -- is extremely loud, spews smelly fuel exhaust, and like many aspects of daily life and work here, is not neccesarily safe.

The K'iche girls you see in this episode helped me shoot some of what you see. In future episodes, they'll tell their stories themselves, and we'll visit other places -- Tibet, Africa, Mexico, China, India, and Japan, to name a few of the destinations planned.

Tech note: some of the footage used in this episode was shot on micro-mini digital camcorders donated for review purposes by Pure Digital Inc. (the Flip camcorder) and RCA (RCA Small Wonder). I'll post more about the tests on those devices, and how the people here are using each of them in experimental "distributed documentary" projects.

SPONSOR SHOUT-OUT: The BBtv crew wishes to thank Microsoft for underwriting this episode, and generously supporting the launch of the "BBtv World" series. In this ongoing video series, we will be looking at the intersection of social causes & technology around the world from a number of perspectives. Through their new "i’m Initiative," Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world’s most important social causes when users email or IM with tools such as Windows Live™ Messenger and Windows Live Hotmail®. For more information, visit or

Related posts from the Boing Boing archives:

More conversations with GM's fuel cell technology director, Chris Borroni-Bird


Chris Borroni-Bird is the director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts at GM. He's leading the effort at GM to make fuel cell vehicles, based on a "skateboard" style chassis called AUTOnomy that incorporates the fuel cell, motors and electronics control.

GMnext kindly invited me to visit with Dr. Borroni-Bird and have a discussion with him about "innovation, technology, energy, the environment, and their impact on the future of the automobile." He's a fascinating innovator with ideas that could change transportation around the world. I hope he succeeds.

Here are more videos from our conversation. (Note: GMnext compensated me for my video appearance.) Link Chris Borroni-Bird and Mark Frauenfelder in conversation (GM Next)

Top 10 TED Talks

Here are the top 10 most-viewed TED Talk videos from June 2006 to May 2008)

Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight

Jeff Han's touchscreen foreshadows the iPhone and more

David Gallo shows underwater astonishments

Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos Photosynth

Arthur Benjamin does "mathemagic"

Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Hans Rosling shows the best stats you've ever seen

Tony Robbins asks why we do what we do

Al Gore on averting a climate crisis

Johnny Lee demos Wii Remote hacks

You can also watch the Top 10 TED talks highlights video.

Heavy Load: UK punk band with learning-disabled members.

Today on Boing Boing tv -- a sneak preview of Heavy Load: A Film About Happiness, a new documentary about a UK punk band whose members include people who have developmental disabilities.

'70s punk star Wreckless Eric describes them as "a triumph of dysfunctionalness," and even Kylie Minogue (they've covered a hit song of hers) has become a fan.

The band says their mission is... demonstrate that disability rocks. There are few genres left in music that have yet to be defined. Heavy Load have unwittingly created a brand new one.
The band is also behind a campaign called "Stay Up Late" which advocates for the right of cognitively disabled people to be allowed to go out, supervised, to live music shows and -- well, stay out late enough to actually see and hear the show. Again, from the band:
We play gigs all over the country and we have noticed that something strange happens at 9.00pm – people start to go home. Heavy Load are fed up with people with learning disabilities leaving club nights and gigs early because their staff finish their shifts at 10pm. This means they are missing out.

If this happens to you: You need to talk about this with your friends, support workers, family and advocates. Our ‘Stay Up Late’ campaign is to make managers and staff know that we want them to plan ahead and talk to us about what we want to do...

Link to Boing Boing tv post with discussion, downloadable video, and BBtv podcast subscription info.

The full-length documentary premieres on the US cable network IFC on June 23rd, 9PM ET/10PM PT, and again on 24th June. (Special thanks to BB's Mark Frauenfelder, and to the film's director, Jerry Rothwell)

Death and Taxes, and a Boing Boing story

Jess Bachman creates very large posters that graphically display exactly where American tax dollars go. When you're dealing with sets of information this massive and abstract, presenting that data in a way someone can make their way through without feeling overwhelmed is a big design challenge, and Jess nailed it.

I first blogged these posters in 2006, and he recently wrote in to let us know there's a new 2009 edition out. If you'd like to order a poster, Jess kindly offers a buy-one-get-one-free special for BB readers: "enter BOING when you have two posters in the cart and it takes the price of one off."

I'd say "whee, great!," but then I got all sad looking at where that 33ish% of my income goes -- a lot of war our kids can't eat, for starters. Then, I read the rest of Jess' email. I'm reprinting it here with permission. We don't receive stories like this every day here at Boing Boing, and when we do, they're very meaningful to us. Thank you, Jess.


Many moons ago, actually 795 moons ago, you blogged about a poster called Death and Taxes which visualized the federal budget. Your post is here. I never thanked you for that, which is shameful, considering how much you have changed my life.

You see I created that poster in 2004 on a lark, never intending publicity or financial gain. You picked up on it two years later and the people loved it. I sold a bunch of prints and realized how important this information is, and how uninformed we are as citizens about our taxes. The boingboing post prompted me to create another poster for the year 2007.

That was such a big hit that I was able to quit my job working as an industrial sewing machine operator. As a full time (well, almost full time) budget poster maker, I was able to develop the 2008 version of the poster along with the website which has had over 1/2 million visits. Sales from the poster now support me and my family, and I have sold thousands of posters to schools and concerned citizens, even 40 members of congress. I have been in magazines, art galleries, and national television. Last month I was on the Martha Stewart Show to talk about the poster and taxes, it was surreal.

So really, Xeni, it thanks to you, that I've taken this venture as far as I have.

The 2009 version is worlds apart from the 2006 version which may still linger in your neurons. There is so much more in the six square feet of paper this time. Over 500 line items of federal budget awesomeness. Increased accuracy and aesthetics as well. I am really trying to educate the populace on their investment in the government. Especially since the actual numbers differ so much from the rhetoric. Renewable energy spending cut 27% next year! This is important information, and responsible citizens need to know it. It's my experiment in DIY government over-site.

I hope you like the new version. Cheers and many a thank you,


BBtv - Google's "Great Firewall of China": Fun with the Billboard Liberation Front and monochrom

The San Francisco-based Billboard Liberation Front has been transforming the world of advertising since 1977. When Austrian art-pranksters and regular BBtv guests monochrom recently visited the United States to spread their Sculpture Mob dogma, a historic meeting with the elusive BLF took place. BBtv's hidden cameras captured everything.

And in part two of today's BBtv episode, Xeni travels with the BLF and monochrom to document their first-ever joint exploit to build "The Great Firewall of China" around one of the Google signs on the internet giant's Mountain View campus. Hijinks ensued; dogs, cops, and GOOG security guards pursued; TV news crews newsed.

The goal of their "unpaid advertising services"? To draw attention to Google's role in online censorship within China. As it happened, this particular day was the same day of a Google shareholder meeting, during which related proposals came up for vote.

Link to Billboard Liberation Front press release, and here's monochrom's side of the story, there are photos also. Here are previous BBtv episodes with monochrom.

Link to Boing Boing tv episode with discussion and downloadable video.

Good comments: Adam Rice and Phillip Lamb, on their technical problems

Adam Rice and Phillip Lamb were both unable to comment, so they sent me letters.


I hope you're the right person to contact; if not, my apologies.
We need a better way for readers to tell us about technical problems. One of our suggested mechanisms is to have a front-page link to a form for reporting glitches, much like the link for submitting suggestions for stories. Until then, we'll all keep improvising.
The last couple of times I've tried to leave a comment on Boingboing, I've gotten the following error:

Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:
Text entered was wrong. Try again.

I admit this may be true in an epistemological sense, but in a formal sense, the text I entered was entirely innocuous.

Would you believe I've occasionally been getting that one too? I don't know why that error message turns up. I wish it weren't even in the system. It keeps giving readers the idea that we use automated content-based message filtering, and that something they've written has infracted the filters' rules.

Not so. The only content-based filters on Boing Boing are the people who edit it. If you get an error message saying "Text entered was wrong," it's the error message that's in error.

Back to Adam Rice:

The other interesting thing is that the page where this appears shows me as logged out, although I am logged in from the main boingboing page, or gadgets.
I feel your pain. I had the same problem for a couple of days this week. David Harmon's reported it too.
My comments were not such pearls that the Internet cannot function without their presence, but I thought I'd bring it to your attention.
Well said, and thank you for bringing those problems to our attention.

Onward to:


Hi there - not sure if you're the right person to send this to, but I can't seem to find a tech email on BoingBoing's site. ... Hope I'm not inconveniencing you!
Not at all. We really do want to hear about technical problems.
I and other people have had trouble submitting comments lately, getting a "Text entered was wrong. Try again" error message.

It seems like the following is happening:

1. User logs in

2. User does logged-in user stuff, including commenting.

3. User goes to sleep, or hibernates, or eats a Polish Sausage or whatever.

4. User comes back to BoingBoing, bleary-eyed because it's 3am and when you gotta get your fix you gotta get your fix.

5. User's session has timed out (rut roh!) but due to either a caching bug or perhaps a session timeout bug, the comment form still shows up.

6. User submits a comment, but sadly it doesn't go through, and they see, "Text entered was wrong. Try again."

7. User wrecks their apartment with a frying pan.

8. User eventually logs back in and is able to comment normally.

We're sorry about your apartment--and, presumably, your frying pan.
This is my hypothesis, and I've tested it (somewhat) and it seems valid. Just letting ya know. I'll email this to whatever email address I can find for your admin, assuming I can find one.
Thanks! I'm pretty sure the Polish sausage is a local artifact. The rest, we'll have to have a look at.

What hardware and browser were you using? (Adam, same question.)


UPDATE: Semiotix comments:

I'm very disappointed to hear that the "Text entered was wrong" message is simply an indication of some sort of login error.

I've gotten the message several times, and, assuming that it was autogenerated in response to wrong ideas, have modified my beliefs (and comments) accordingly until I reached--so I thought--right text, and therefore right thinking.

Now you tell me that I haven't been engaged in a Socratic struggle for truth all this past week? That I changed my beliefs for no reason?! Well, thanks for nothing.

Creative Labs licensing ass-hattery

Kim Pallister says Brad Fortner, Ryerson University's technology director, has a couple excellent blog posts about a recent debacle in which Creative Labs has issued a cease-and-desist to a 'Daniel_K', an enthusiastic customer who has written and released drivers for Creative Labs, fixing features that were broken in their own drivers, and also supporting operating systems they didn't have drivers for. Clearly, improving Creative Labs products is something best left NOT DONE.

The blogosphere has responded to Creative's VP of Communications by 'crowdripping' him a new one! Post 1 | Post 2

Draft Larry Lessig for Congress!

Fred writes:
The movement to draft Lawrence Lessig has now picked up considerable steam and a blog has been launched to keep track. After the death of representative Lantos Lessig's district has an open seat in Congress and a special election will be held in early April.

Lessig is rumored to be considering the position and has registered the domain California's 12th Congressional district is quite possibly the best place for the cyber-intellectual to run for office as it is the epicenter of US tech world and his views on technology, copyright, and corruption are likely to resonate with constituents.

But Lessig needs to know there will be members of his community that will support him if he decides to run, so now is the time to donate (funds will go to CC if Lessig doesn't end up running), buy some t-shirts and watch the videos. We're looking to get 1,000 people committed to volunteer or donate through ActBlue by the end of the week, so please sign up if you're interested in helping out.

David Byrne: I was BoingBoing-blocked at Denver airport.

All of us here at Boing Boing idolize David Byrne -- so reading this post today on his blog is, for us, like a rainbow unicorn delivering a giant vanilla cupcake with a million sprinkles of awesome on top.

Mr. Byrne wrote:

There’s free Wi-Fi at the Denver airport, which is a nice, sensible touch. But to my surprise, one of my habitual surfing sites has been blocked. I’m not totally shocked that alleged nudity might be blocked (if there is nudity on the Boing Boing site it’s pretty rare and likely to be arty or ironic), but I’m perplexed by the implication that all blogs and wiki sites are suspect!


Back in NYC however, Danielle explains that not all blogs and wikis are blocked, just those filtered by Secure Computing’s web censorware product called SmartFilter. According to Boing Boing co-editor Xeni Jardin,

“[…]SmartFilter isn't very smart. Secure Computing classifies any site with any nudity – even Michaelangelo's David appearing on a single page out of thousands – as a ‘nudity’ site, which means that customers who block ‘nudity’ can't get through." (see blog post here)

Turns out, Secure Computing and other similar companies have sold their products to government-controlled monopoly Internet providers in places like Kuwait, Oman, and Sudan to name a few, effectively blocking access to filtered sites – like Boing Boing – for entire countries. Xeni wrote an op-ed in the NY Times on the issue, which you can find here.

Link. (thanks, Danielle Spencer)

Redesign the U.S. White House

A newly launched project called White House Redux invites you to design a new home for the U.S. Presidency:

What if the White House, the ultimate architectural symbol of political power, were to be designed today? On occasion of the election of the 44th President of the United States of America, Storefront for Art and Architecture, in association with Control Group, challenge you to design a new residence for the world's most powerful individual. The best ideas, designs, descriptions, images, and videos will be selected by some of the world's most distinguished designers and critics and featured in a month-long exhibition at Storefront for Art and Architecture in July 2008 and published in Surface magazine. All three winners will be flown to New York to collect their prizes at the opening party.
Link. (Thanks, Susannah Breslin!)

Homemade Obama "hope beacon" with LED light thingies

Dan Ancona says,

A few preliminary pictures of an Obama rallying sign created by artist, designer and maker James Home, based on the image created by Shepard Fairey. Amazing BlinkM lighting technology courtesy of Mike Kuniavsky and ThingM Global Marketing.

This thing looks completely amazing in action. It basically works like a political tractor beam, pulling in the formerly hopeless, cynical and apathetic and parking them in the warm shuttle bay of hope and action. Something like that.

Here's a pic of it doing its thing.

Link. (thanks, WdGIII!)

Previously on BB: Shepard Fairey's Obama Poster.