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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 drugstatistics.com:

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.)

BB Video: "Christmas in Darfur" -- Not "Yet Another" Darfur Documentary


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


For all the charity and humanitarian aid that's been poured into the Darfur region, and all of the celebrities pleading for change -- it seems nothing has changed. People are still dying, atrocities continue, and the war worsens. This sense of futility is what makes the project we're sharing with you today so interesting.

The ultra-low-budget documentary "Christmas in Darfur?" follows the challenges two amateur filmmakers (and their limited crew) face as they attempt to make a film about what it was like for aid workers to spend their holiday season in this war-torn African desert. Boing Boing Video guest correspondent Sean Bonner interviewed the film's director Jason Mojica about that experience, and we bring you that conversation today, along with clips from the finished film.

Driven by the desire to understand the gap between all the global attention to Darfur and the worsening conditions there -- and with no experience in filmmaking, or any connections in Africa -- the filmmakers' guileless approach takes them deep into the refugee camps of Chad and Sudan.

"Christmas in Darfur?" is about an hour long and available online for anyone to freely view, embed, or dowload. You can watch the full film online at christmasindarfur.org. And you can make a donation to the filmmakers, if you are so moved -- they're still trying to recoup the costs of making the film. Look for the PayPal link on the left side of this page.

UPDATE: According the the AP two British aid agencies working in Sudan, Oxfam GB and Save the Children UK, have had their licenses revoked and have been asked to suspend operations only hours after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.


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.)

BB Video: Return of Superbarrio ("La Vuelta de Superbarrio"), an animated short by Bob Jaroc and Andy Ward


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.


Boing Boing Video presents an animated short by Bob Jaroc and Andy Ward "The Return of Superbarrio" (La Vuelta de Superbarrio), in Spanish with English subtitles.

Superbarrio Gómez is a "living superhero" in Mexico who seeks to fight injustice and corruption on both sides of the US/Mexico border through protests, civil disobedience, and political action. We're told that a man named Marco Rascón Córdova developed the character and organized the events at which he became famous throughout Mexico, but that the actual guy in the Superbarrio suit is someone else -- someone whose name is kept a closely guarded secret.

Here's something that makes this animated short particularly special, and an odd kind of documentary/fantasy: Jaroc says the characters are voiced by Marco Rascón Córdova and the anonymous guy who plays the role of Superbarrio in real life. So, we're hearing the voices of Superbarrio's creator, and Superbarrio himself.

This animated short was produced by Plaid and Bob Jaroc as part of the audiovisual, mixed media album Greedy Baby.

Given the string of really bad news out of Mexico this week, it seems the nation could use more of the likes of this guy right about now.

Below: images of the lucha-masked crusader courtesy Bob Jaroc. More in this Flickr set.

Superbarrio portrait (courtesy Bob Jaroc)

Superbarrio portrait (courtesy Bob Jaroc)

Update: A number of Boing Boing reader/viewers who speak Spanish have tweeted or written in very politely to point out that "La Vuelta de Super Barrio" may not be the best translation -- "El Regreso de Super Barrio" would probably be more correct. I'll leave that choice to the director, though, and Spanish is not my native language. Also, BB community member Vladimir Bazan Estrada says,

Thanks for running this animation today, it makes me feel that there's still hope and proud of my heritage. Now, time to write to the creator of the animation so i could thank him/her. If you wonder why i dont have that much hope, this animation shows the general mood of the city. Good animation... just a non happy ending. Also, i dont know if you know the comic called "El Santos VS la Tetona Mendoza", (The santos vs Big tits mendoza), that's one of the best examples of underground comic in mexico, the strip was published for the last 8 years in one of the most radical newspapers in Mexico, La Jornada.

David Pogue's TED2009 roundup

New York Times columnist David Pogue has a nice roundup of some of the talks from TED2009, which was held in Long Beach, Calif. last week.
Kamal Meattle reported the results of his efforts to fill an office building with plants, in an effort to reduce headache, asthma, and other productivity-sapping aliments in thickly polluted India. After researching NASA documents, he concluded that a set of three particular common, waist-high houseplants—areca palm, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, and Money Plant—could be combined to scrub the air of carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and other pollutants.

At about four plants per occupant (1200 plants in all), the building’s air freshened considerably, and the health and productivity results were staggering. Eye irritation dropped by 52 percent, lower respiratory symptoms by 34 percent, headaches by 24 percent and asthma by 9 percent. There were fewer sick days, employee productivity increased, and energy costs dropped by 15 percent.

Next stop: a larger-scale experiment in a 1.75-million-square-foot office tower, featuring over 60,000 plants.

TED’s Greatest Hits

TED2009: Roboticist Catherine Mohr

Catherine-Mohr

Roboticist Catherine Mohr is on stage at TED2009.

She "works on surgical robots and robotic surgical procedures, using robots to make surgery safer -- and to go places where human wrists and eyes simply can't."

She's talking about surgical robots and surgical vision technology. Surgeons are tailors, plumbers, butchers of medical industry.

History of surgery. How did we even come to believe that surgery -- cutting and reforming -- was OK? Shows picture of ancient trepanated (hole drilled in) skull. Goes back 5k to 10k years. This is the dawn of interventional surgery. How much was intended to be religious or therapeutic? we know that these patients lived for many years after being trepanned.

The itinerant barber surgeon - before age of anesthesia. Patient in pain was a public spectacle. Barber surgeon was almost a form of entertainment. Surgery was done on public in front of big crowd.

1847 -- anesthesia. It gave surgeons freedom to operate, to delve deeper into body. A revolution in surgery. But problem: after surgery, the patients died, of massive infection. Surgery didn't hurt but it killed you.

Aseptic technique. Joseph Lister was thought to be a fool for believing that it was as important for surgeons to wash hands before surgery as after. After a while, the medical community warmed to the idea.

Healthy people don't need surgery, unhealthy people need surgery, but since they are unhealthy, it's harder for them to recover.

Laparoscopy -- small incisions. A lot easier on the body. Much easier to heal. But laparoscopy is hard to learn. Surgeons had to give up 3D vision, wrists, etc. External ergonomics are terrible. Instruments are working backwards. You need to take capability of your hand and put it at the business end of instrument.

Robotic surgery tool -- the DaVinci -- has "wrists" and 3D vision that greatly improve dexterity. She's showing amazing videos of heart and prostrate surgery. Tiny pincers at work.

Limitations -- if you need to reach more places that just one, you need to move robot and open new holes in patient. Becomes time-consuming. To solve this we need to bring camera and instruments through one small tube. She's showing a new surgery tool -- it looks like an HR Giger tentacle with mini tentacles that blossom open from the main trunk. Can inject dyes into cells and the light can make cancerous cells visible.

TED2009: Jake Eberts

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Film producer Jake Eberts is on stage at TED2009.

He was involved in producing Chariots of Fire, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Driving Miss Daisy, and more.

He's working on a film about the ocean. Wants to create an emotional connection to the issue of damage to ocean. He started as chemical engineer in 1962 - a sewage analyst in Stockholm, became a producer in the 70s (said "some would say that's not a huge leap from a sewage analyst").

He met actor, producer, and director Jaques Perrin, who is also a well known speaker (in French only, he doesn't speak English). Perrin's latest film is called Oceans. Perrin devoted his last 8 years to it. Took four years of shooting. Crews works all over the world. One guy spent 23 days in water trying to get shot of whale. Had to invent special cameras to film dolphins swimming at 20km an hour. Shot over 140 species, cost $170 million. 300 hours, will cut to a two-hour feature.

We have time time save the oceans and the dignity of the animals in the ocean.

Disney will release it in the US on April 22, 2010.

Now he's showing a nine-minute clip of the movie. Beautiful shots of ocean waves, whales jumping. Gorgeous jellyfish forest. Best underwater cinematography I've ever seen. Can't wait for it to come out.

The new TED Fellows program

Photo 1 Photo 2

(Left: Juliana Rotich and Erik Hersman working on Ushahidi.com, a free and opensource engine that makes it easier to crowdsource crisis information and visualize data. Right: Ornithologist Ana Gabala lives and works in the state of Hawaii as the Avian Disease and Surveillance Coordinator. Click for big)

Tom Rielly of TED Conferences says,

We've just announced a new international fellowship program called TED Fellows. The program brings 50 trailblazing individuals from around the world into the TED community each year. We have two goals:

- To bring the energy and creativity of an eclectic group of talented individuals into the conversations at TED -- hopefully kick-starting some fresh initiatives along the way

- To pair these individuals with ingenious idea-spreaders, from whom they'll get training and mentoring

We're focusing on attracting applicants who live or work in five places: the Asia/Pacific region, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America or the Middle East. (But applicants may originate anywhere.) Our target age range is 21-40, though anyone age 18 and over may apply.

We're seeking people who show real potential to increase positive change in their field, whether it's technology, entertainment, design, science, film, art, music, entrepreneurship, NGOs ...

Fellows participate in the full suite of TED community offerings, including one conference. Twenty of them will join an extended, three-year TED Senior Fellows program. Fellows will also have the potential to give a TEDTalk and see it posted online to our audience of millions. Complete program details at www.ted.com/fellows. If you would like to recommend a great potential candidate, email fellows@ted.com.

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 Witness.org, 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: closegitmo.com, 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.

Skateistan.org: 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.


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 + WITNESS.org: 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 hub.witness.org, 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.)

Fünde Razor for Child's Play in NYC, Denver, and SF tonight!

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Hey, folks. I'm getting ready to head into Manhattan to get ready for Fünde Razor, our yearly fund raising event for the Child's Play Charity. If you like to drink beer, play Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and win prizes to raise money to keep kids entertained when they're at hospital, please stop on by. Unless you hate children/to rock. And it's not just New York: there are sister events happening in Denver and San Francisco. But if you can make it to the New York event (now in our fourth year!) please come say and tell me hello! And as always, if you can't make it, you should toss a few bucks in the box for the kids. Times, locations, information, and more (not that much more, really) [FundeRazor.com]

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."


Fünde Razor: Charity night for Child's Play in NYC, Denver, and SF

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A few years ago I held an event each year to raise money for the Child's Play Charity that puts videogames into the hands of kids staying at children's hospitals. We called it, in proper rock style, Fünde Razor. We're now in our fourth year, and thanks to help from friends in the industry — Kotaku, Game|Life, Rock Gamer, Gizmodo, not to mention tons of game and gadget manufacturers — we've raised thousands of dollars that we give over in its entirety to Child's Play. We've even moved beyond our original New York event to add a Denver and San Francisco event, all next Wednesday evening. (Location and times over on FundeRazor.com. [There's a similar event on Tuesday in Chicago.]) Prizes will vary a little bit from event to event (a lot of what we bring in are review items and such that all we bloggers have in our closets) but here's a partial list of what you can expect to win in the raffle or as door prizes at all three cities' events. It really is a blast. If you make it to the NYC event, come tell me hi! And if you can't make it out to any of the nights (or even if you can), please consider donating to Child's Play anyway. They're amazing. All the prizes that you could maybe possible win but if not you can still drink beer and play Rock Band [Offworld!]

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 eecue@eecue.com.

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.

Glass molecule reproductions from Erowid.org

glass_molecule_lsd_lg.jpg
Above is a picture of the hand-blown recreation of the LSD molecule that I received for making a donation to the Erowid Center, the non-profit 501(c)(3) organization behind Erowid.org. Erowid has been a measured, sane repository for chemical and counterculture information online for twelve years and relies on donations to continue its operation. Nearly anyone who has looked up drug and entheogenic plant information online has stumbled across — and subsequently been edified by — Erowid. For a subject as politically and personally charged as ingesting chemicals, Erowid remains one of the few rational sources of real-world experience reports, safety warnings, and advocacy of safe but individually accountable drug use available online or elsewhere. If you're like me, your recreational and experimental drug use has tailed off over the years, but even so, I still use the site as a reference and source of entertainment. (I probably shouldn't laugh, but some of the negative experience reports can be hilarious. Hang on, lil' cowboy!) Moreover, "check out Erowid" is the first advice I offer to a young head. Kids are going to experiment — better they get unbiased information about the risks and rewards of their drug use than rely exclusively on well-meaning but often ignorant peers. I am proud to give Erowid my money. Throw 'em a buck! Art Glass Molecules incentives [Erowid.org]

Imprisoned China blogger, human rights activist Hu Jia receives Sakharov Prize


The imprisoned Chinese blogger and human rights activist Hu Jia today received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Europe’s most prestigious human rights prize. Snip from NYT article:

The award was a pointed rebuke of China’s ruling Communist Party that came as European leaders were arriving in Beijing for a weekend summit meeting. Mr. Hu, 35, was given the prize by the European Parliament despite warnings from Beijing that his selection would harm relations with the European Union.

Last year, Mr. Hu testified via video link before a hearing of the European Parliament about China’s human rights situation. Weeks later, he was jailed and later sentenced to three and a half years in prison for subversion based on his writings criticizing Communist Party rule.

Mr. Hu has been one of China’s leading figures on a range of human rights issues, while also speaking out on behalf of AIDS patients and for environmental protection. He had been considered a front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize, but lost to the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari. “Hu Jia is one of the real defenders of human rights in the People’s Republic of China,” said the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering. “The European Parliament is sending out a signal of clear support to all those who support human rights in China.

Chinese Activist Wins Rights Prize (NYT). Embedded video above: Prisoners in Freedom City, an autobiographical internet video documentary about his case, available in multiple parts on YouTube (links to single-file editions there). Hu Jia's case is documented and updated regularly on Twitter. His wife and supporters are very concerned about his health in prison; he has symptoms of liver disease, and information about his whereabouts, condition, and treatment in prison is unavailable. See also this related Los Angeles Times editorial: China should free dissident Hu Jia. Here is Amnesty International's statement.

Why I love Wilco, part umptybillion


Fleet Foxes and Wilco covered Bob Dylan's "I Shall be Released" at a recent live show, and they're giving it away online if you promise to vote. Wilcoworld (via James Home on Twitter; photo of guitar rack on-stage at Wilco's set during Outside Lands via Crowdfire; image by John Battelle).

Campaign to grow vegetable garden on White House lawn


Several past U.S. presidents had vegetable gardens on the White House lawn. Eleanor Roosevelt started a victory garden on the White House lawn in 1943, which encouraged millions to do the same in their own front yards. When WWII ended, home gardeners were producing 40 percent of the United States' produce.

Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardens International (an organization that promotes kitchen gardening and home-cooking) hopes to convince the next US president to make a small vegetable garden on the 19 acres of grass surrounding the White House. His video about making a garden in the front yard of his own "white house" is entertaining and inspiring. This Lawn is Your Lawn

BBtv WORLD: Through the eyes of the pueblo. (Guatemala)


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

BBtv WORLD is our recently-launched series on Boing Boing tv featuring first-person views of life around the globe. This third episode in our series is the last of a three-part report I filed from a K'iche Maya community in Guatemala.

Few foreigners come to this village at 10,000 feet in the highlands. Most glimpses we have of remote indigenous communities like this are through the lenses of outsiders -- like myself. But how better to see their story than through the eyes of the people themselves?

Before I left the US for this pueblo a few weeks ago, we asked two companies that produce small, inexpensive, USB camcorders -- Pure Digital (makers of the Flip) and RCA (makers of the Small Wonder) -- to donate a few devices. I brought them to the village, so that some of the adults and young people here could explore what is possible with the tools of video storytelling in their own hands.

Today's BBtv WORLD is the result: stories shot by the K'iche people in this village. The world they see around them, through their own eyes and in their own language.

Some of what the children shot really surprised me. They caught on right away, faster even than the adults, and quickly taught each other how to record and play back video. Some of them seemed to transform into instant YouTube stars -- new alter-egos showed up out of nowhere. One boy we'd come to know as quiet and well-mannered over the course of many previous visits here shot himself throwing gang signs against the sunlight, like shadow puppets, while he walked a path that leads to a Mayan altar. Another girl who was very shy with us in person recorded video of herself making outrageous silly faces, and speaking in a boisterous, confident voice to her new handheld lens.

When I downloaded the footage from their devices, I felt as if I were seeing this place, and these people, for the first time.


Previous BBtv WORLD episodes:


Sponsorship note: 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 imtalkathon.com or im.live.com.



BBtv WORLD: Migration, and a Mayan Sweat Bath. (Guatemala)


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

In episode 2 of our new BBtv WORLD series, Xeni reports in from a K'iche Maya village in the Guatemalan highlands, and we step inside a traditional Mayan steam bath, or "tuj."

This pueblo began as a settlement camp for"environmental refugees" -- people who became displaced after mudslides and floods caused by Hurricane Mitch made their ancestral village unsafe. Survivors packed what belongings they could on their backs and walked miles to a bare patch of cold, windy mountaintop nicknamed "Alaska" for its extreme microclimate.

Nearly ten years after the disaster and the subsequent loss of their homes, these people are still struggling for survival. Their traditions are a source of strength, and today we experience one of them -- a small brick hut filled with hot volcanic rocks, steam, and herb branches gathered from nearby mountains.

Related BBtv WORLD episodes:

(image: Xeni Jardin)



Sponsorship note: 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 imtalkathon.com or im.live.com.



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 imtalkathon.com or im.live.com.


Related posts from the Boing Boing archives:

Give low-income city kids a chance to experience rural reality.

Our John Brownlee, over at Boing Boing Gadgets, tells the mothership about a project close to his heart:
There's an organization called the Fresh Air Fund, which has been around since 1877.

Their charter is basically to arrange to send low-income New York City kids out of the city for the summer to get a breath of fresh air and experience the country: free summer vacations for kids who might never have left the city in their lives.

They need to place 200 kids with host families by the end of July or these kids can't have summer vacations.

There's a website detailing their organization and what they need from host families here: freshair.smnr.us.

Image: "Fresh Air campers visit the model farm, one of the highlights of Sharpe Reservation in Fishkill, NY where The Fresh Air Fund has five camps."

Survival Research Laboratories benefit for Todd Blair on July 20


Amy Critchett and the Survival Research Laboratories crew (a legendary group of machine artists) tell Boing Boing:

SRL crew member Todd Blair [above, in earlier times] suffered a severe brain injury while striking the set of a Survival Research Laboratories show last September in Amsterdam. While liability insurance is being disputed we are doing all we can can to support Todd and his wife through his recovery.

WHAT: 25 gears, each sponsored by an artist or an organization, each made into its own unique piece of art, will be assembled to create a kinetic sculpture at The Wall: Unveiled

Gear Makers include: Mark Pauline/SRL, Kal Spelletich, The Flaming Lotus Girls, Laurel True/True Mosiacs, The Shipyard, ZeroOne Festival, Jon Sarriguarte/Form and Reform, RE:Search Publications, Fringe Exhibitions and more

The Wall: Unveiled will include art, performance, food, family crafts and fun. $5 to $500 minimum donation at the door. All donations are tax deductable. All ages welcome.

The Wall: Unveiled, Sunday, July 20, 2008, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Ave Alameda, CA 94501.

Details at www.toddnow.org.

Image above, Todd at the SRL Robodock show in Amsterdam, before the accident. Below, the gear created by artist Jon Sarriugarte for the Todd Blair benefit Gear Wall. Images via SRL and Mr. Blair's support website. Previously on Boing Boing:

  • SRL crew member injured in post-show accident
  • SRL: update on injured crew member
  • San Francisco: benefit for SRL's Todd Blair on Saturday
  • Wednesday: Dorkbot-San Francisco Todd Blair benefit
  • Tibet and human rights: New Amnesty ads (update: HOAX)


    ( Update: Amnesty International's home page now includes a disclaimer regarding these images:

    Amnesty International would like to make clear that it was not involved in the dissemination of a series of images that have been circulating on the web in relation to the Beijing Olympics. Amnesty International's global website address is www.amnesty.org
    We were told by a frequent sharer-of-tips that these ads came from Amnesty International, but BB readers point out that the ads lists the URL "amnesty.com," while the advocacy group's domain is in fact .org. BB commenter ulor points us to this url, with other ads from the campaign, credited to TBWA, Paris; BB commenter Leslie points us to others here, attributed to same. Perhaps they were concept pieces not approved by the client for publication, I'm not sure yet. I've asked AI to confirm or deny, I'll update the post when I receive a reply. --XJ )

    Above, one of a number of elements in a new campaign said to be from Amnesty International to draw awareness to human rights abuses in China and Tibet. Each one is designed around the theme of a specific Olympic competition category. Above, swimming. In the lower right, the ad reads, "After the Olympic Games, The Fight Must Go On." Cropped image above, Click for complete image, larger size.
    [ thanks Oxblood Ruffin ]

    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.