Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘activism’

22 MARCH, 2010

World Water Day: 3 Smart Projects to Celebrate It

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What indie music and your favorite restaurant have to do with Haiti and TED.

It’s World Water Day today — though we believe every day should celebrate and honor Earth’s most precious resource. Since 1992, March 22 has been an international observance of the importance of clean water for a healthy world. Today, we spotlight three smart projects that actually do something about the cause and offer ways in which you too can help.

TAP PROJECT

Tap Project logoIn 2008, Tap Project topped our list of the year’s best ideas. We still think it’s one of the simplest, smartest efforts to both raise awareness about water sustainability and make an actual, action-based difference.

Developed in partnership with UNICEF, the project’s premise is brilliantly simple: During World Water Week March 21-27, restaurants would ask patrons to donate $1 for each glass of tap water that they normally enjoy for free. It may seem like little, but $1 actually provides clean drinking water for a child for 40 days — which means less than $10 get a child a year’s worth of water. All donations go to UNICEF’s water sanitation programs that strive to bring clean, accessible drinking water to children around the world.

The one million restaurants across the US comprise the second largest industry in the country, following government. Thousands of them are participating in the program this week — up from 300 in 2007, when the project launched. So imagine the scale of impact of these micro-contributions, a powerful long tail of goodness.

This year, Tap Project is launching Tap Project Radio — a platform for musicians, artists, directors and thought leaders to play music, raise awareness and help fight the water crisis. From performances by Kenna, They Might Be Giants and other indie favorites, to interviews of advertising legends Lee Clow and David Droga (who founded Tap Project in 2007), the lineup is an absolute treat.

You can help in one of three ways: Dine at one of the participating restaurants and buy yourself some tap water; donate directly to the project; or text Text “TAP” to UNICEF (864233) to donate $5 and give a child 200 days of clean drinking water.

Have a restaurant or know someone who does? It’s not too late to register and join the effort.

CHARITY: WATER

Also in 2008, we featured just-launched nonprofit charity: water — a fundraising effort to bring clean drinking water to people in the developing world. Since then, the project has become such a blockbuster success — from getting press in just about every major media outlet to being the beneficiary of last year’s Twestival — so we won’t elaborate on what it’s all about.

Today, charity:water is launching Unshaken — a concentrated effort to help Haiti recover by providing long-term water solutions in a country where a third of the population didn’t have access to clean drinking water even before the disaster. The plan focuses on 11 specific areas that need funding. For each of them, the charity: water team has worked hard to calculate the exact costs and collected real-life stories from the community about how that particular issue affects their daily lives.

The goal is to raise $1.3 million, helping 40,000 people in dire need. Bring them a wee closer to it by donating today.

PUR

At TED last month, we were excited to see PUR’s drive to donate 10 liters of clean drinking water for every tweet that answered the question, “If water could speak, what would it say?” and every photo answer at the TED photo booth. The program was a smash-hit, with more than 800 plastic bottles saved over the course of the four days and over 40,000 liters of water donated by PUR.

For World Water Week this week, PUR is doing another round under the Children’s Safe Drinking Water program — for each new Facebook fan, they’re donating 100 liters of clean drinking water to the areas that need it the most, up to 1 million (yes, million) liters total. So do your part and fan PUR to give a child this basic human right.

And, shhh, a little birdie told us PUR will be having a bunch of giveaways this week, so follow them on Twitter for a shot at the goodies.

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09 MARCH, 2010

Invisible Children + La Blogotheque + You

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What child soldiers in Uganda have to do with good music and your hands.

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who helped, Invisible Children met their goal and are now bringing three fantastic artists to Uganda. They’ve just revealed the third, another epic favorite of ours: Lykke Li. You can follow the project’s progress here.

It’s a special occasion when three things we love are coming together for a world-changing cause. Case in point: Invisible Children, the fantastic social and political global movement using storytelling to empower and change lives, is partnering with La Blogotheque to take The Polyphonic Spree and Yeasayer (two of our favorite bands, so that technically takes it up to five favorites) to Uganda.

And they’re using the brilliant Kickstarter platform to crowdsource funds for it.

The project will only be funded if it raises $20,000 by 11:59PM EST on March 11. Right now, it’s at a little over halfway. Please — and we say this with our biggest, most hopeful optimism — help this absolutely life-changing cause by pledging a donation. Even if it’s as little as $10.

You know what they say, many hands make light work. And it’s a heavy burden Invisible Children is fighting. Lend a hand today.

via BOOOOOOOM

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26 FEBRUARY, 2010

Animation Spotlight: I AM

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Deconstructing bears, or what mechanization has to do with access to language.

Today’s short-and-sweet is an abstract, poetic reflection on the dissolution of our relationship with nature amidst the man-made landscape of our urban space, courtesy of animation studio Tronic.

We find the robotic, monotonous voiceover to be a fitting vehicle for conveying the detached mechanization that has gradually replaced the organic cadence of the natural environment.

The title comes from the animals’ declaration of who they are. Each animal says, “I AM the elephant” and “I AM the horse” and it’s through language that they are reinforcing their physicality and their place in the world. And the irony, of course, is that animals don’t have access to our language, they have their own languages, but we privilege ours. And so with this piece, the idea was that by giving them access to language, it was giving them agency, giving them power, giving them the ability to be heard. ~ Vivian Rosenthal, Tronic

Read the full interview with Rosenthal on Vimeo for further insight into some of the thinking behind this beautifully executed statement piece.

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12 FEBRUARY, 2010

Highlights from TED 2010: Day Two

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Suspended animation, augmented reality, and what sheep’s knuckles have to do with the future of cultural problem-solving.

We’ve been busy live-tweeting from TED 2010, so yesterday’s highlights come mostly in photos and quotes — see Twitter for play-by-play updates.

SESSION 1: REASON

Be skeptical. Ask questions. Get proof. Don’t take anything for granted. But when you get proof, accept it. We have a hard time doing that. ~ Michael Specter

Science tells us what we can value, but it never tells us what we ought to value. ~ Sam Harris

AIDS researcher Elizabeth Pisani shows the remarkable and life-saving effects of HIV treatment, but says that, contrary to popular belief, treatment is not all the prevention we need. In fact, it leads the infected to take their guards down, so they become less careful, which can be dangerous.

Pisani’s book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, sounds fascinating and eye-opening.

Pisani shows some counterintuitive HIV stats

Nicholas Christakis, whose social contagion studies we tweeted some time ago, talked about

Christakis’ book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, is a sociology and digital anthropology must-read.

Christakis calls obesity a 'multicentric epidemic,' reduced not to the behavior of individuals but to that of the 'human superorganism.'

SESSION 5: PROVOCATION

Ex-CIA covert operations officer Valerie Plame Wilson shares Global Zero, her advocacy for eliminating nuclear weapons.

One thing our country needs is better political debates. We need to rediscover the lost art of political argument. ~ Michael Sandel

If we weren't afraid our servers might go down tomorrow, we'd dare say 4chan founder Christopher 'moot' Poole was endearing, but left us underwhelmed and missing a connect-the-dots idea. Hypothetically speaking.

Kevin Bales reveals some shocking facts about modern-day slavery: Today, there are 27,000 people in real, physical slavery. He points to four main causes: Overpopulation, extreme poverty, vulnerability of disadvantaged groups, and corruption.

'What enables slavery is the absence of the rule of law. It lets people use violence with impunity.' ~ Kevin Bales

Kevin advocates “freedom dividend” — letting people out of slavery and letting them work for themselves, which causes local communities to flourish. He says the total cost of enduring freedom for those 27,000 contemporary slaves is $10.8 billion, which is how much the US spent shopping this past holiday season.

We stand wholeheartedly behind Chris Anderson’s recommendation for Bales’ chilling and fascinating book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.

A TED first: Mark Jacobson and Stewart Brand (whose compelling new book, Whole Earth Discipline, we reviewed recently) entered a good old fashioned debate on the merits of nuclear power.

Brand for, Jacobson against

If all of the electricity in your lifetime came from nuclear, waste would fit in a Coke can. ~ Stewart Brand

Each got 6 minutes to defend his stance, followed by an audience grill and refuting arguments.

To power the entire world with wind you will need only about 1% of US land area. ~ Mark Jacobson

Despite his charisma, Brand 'lost' in the end -- the audience skew moved from 75/25 in favor of nukes in the beginning of the debate to 65/35 by the end.

SESSION 6: INVENTION

The Extraordinary Legion of Dancers, LXD, were extraordinary indeed.

LXD received the most enthusiastic standing ovation at TED 2010 yet.

Though without the impact of a live performance, you can see for yourself:

When I dance, I want people to question the reality of what they’re seeing. ~ Madd Chadd

Game designer Jane McGonigal delivered some staggering statistics on gaming: Since World of Warcraft launched, we’ve spent 5.33 million years solving it; to put this in time perspective, 5.33 million years ago, the first humans stood up.

In the game world, we become the best version of ourselves. ~Jane McGonigal

Today’s kids, McGonigal pointed out, spend some 10,000 hours gaming by the time they turn 21. At the same time, the average child with perfect attendance spends 10,800 hours in school by graduation — so there’s a parallel “education” going on. She advocates for using social games as something bigger than escapism from reality — a cultural advancement tool putting gamers’ problem-solving talents to work. She demoes World Without Oil, a collaborative social game made in 2007.

Ancient dice made out of sheep's knuckles, invented in Libya, are world's first recorded gaming device.

McGonigal premieres Urgent Evoke, a game developed in partnership with the World Bank. If you complete it, you get certified by the World Bank as “social innovator”.

Music icon David Byrne, a cultural hero of ours.

Byrne says people in 19th-century opera houses used to yell at each other just like they did at CBGB's in the 70's.

Photosynth mastermind Blaise Aguera y Arcas demoes some remarkable Augmented Reality technologies using Microsoft's Bing

Inventor Gary Lauder says energy efficiency is about more than just vehicles: It's also about the road. He points out that converting a traffic light into a roundabout -- something well-adopted in Europe, but tragically scarce here in the US -- reduces accidents by 40%. He proposes a new hybrid sign that blends a Stop sign and a Yield one.

In the developing world, 10-50% of vaccines spoil before delivery. Kids die. ~Nathan Myhrvold

Polymath Nathan Myhrvold delivers some known but still chilling statistics about malaria — it sickens 250 million people a year; every 43 seconds a child in Africa dies — and demonstrates a radical new way of fighting the disease: By laser-blasting infected mosquitoes.

Myhrvold orchestrates an incredible on-stage demonstration, wherein a mosquito is shot by a laser beam in a glass tank.

We've stitched together the slow-motion sequence of the mosquito blast. Click the image to look closer.

SESSION 7: BREAKTHROUGH

Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird, amazing as usual.

Stephen Wolfram, creator of revolutionary semantic search engine Wolfram|Alpha, argues raw computation combined with built-in knowledge changes the economics of the web and democratizes programming. He talks about the principle of computational equivalence — the idea that even incredibly simple systems can do complex computation.

Wolfram says you don't have to go very far in the computational universe to start finding candidate universes for our own.

For the first time, Microsoft Labs’ revolutionary Pivot software is availble for the world to tinker with.

MacArthur genius fellow Mark Roth admits he didn’t know what TED was until Chris invited him to talk, but we quickly forgive him after hearing his incredible — literally — and surprisingly grounded sci-fiish work in “suspended animation,” a slowing life process and makes a living being appear dead without harming, then reanimates it. In layman’s terms, resurrection.

The amazing TED Fellows are a mind-blowingly multi-talented group, working in anything from crowdsourced citizen journalism to e-waste management to humanitarian documentary film-making.

For live coverage of today’s and and tomorrow’s TED talks, follow us on Twitter. And keep an eye on the TED website as the first of this year’s talks begin being uploaded.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.