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Good Reads: A Calvin and Hobbes take on Egypt

Here is a survey of insightful articles on what's next for Egypt, the cost of America's obsession with security post 9/11, and how cellphones can help with disaster management.

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Some of these suspects, such as University of South Florida’s Sami al-Arian, remain either in jail or under threat of prosecution, merely for expressing what Mr. Arian’s daughter Laila calls his constitutional right of self-expression as an American of Palestinian descent. Read Laila al-Arian’s story in this week’s The Nation for a warning of how a hyped-up legal system can go horribly wrong.

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Canada’s polite spying

Most Western countries ramped up security after the 9/11 attacks, but each in its own way. Canada, ever the counterpoint to its rough-and-tumble southern neighbor, informs citizens in advance that it is listening in on their conversations in public places, and does so politely, as Megan Garber reports in The Atlantic magazine.

“At Ottawa's airport, the Ottawa Citizen reports, signs will be posted referring passersby to a ‘privacy notice’ – which will, in turn, be available on the CBSA website. You can load up the site and learn exactly how – and why – the government is watching you. The CBSA will also provide a help line ‘explaining how the recordings will be used, stored, disclosed, and retained.’”

Quake behavior

If you have started to look at your cellphone as some kind of spy – tracking your movements, archiving your every purchase, and passing that information along to governments, or worse, advertisers – here’s something that might repair the relationship a little.

Cellphones might save lives during natural disasters. In a study published in this week’s edition of “Science” magazine, Nicholas St. Fleur writes that epidemiologists Linus Bengtsson and Xin Lu from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden tracked the movements and call patterns of 2 million anonymous cellphone users in Haiti, both before and after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. What they discovered was that they could predict where people would go in an emergency, based on where they traveled for holidays.

The team found that after the earthquake, "people seemed to have traveled to where they had their significant social bonds and support," says Bengtsson. Specifically, Haitians went to the same locations where they had spent Christmas and New Year's. For example, departments (Haiti's major administrative divisions) Sud and Ouest received the highest influx of people. By understanding where people go during their holidays, the researchers say that they can accurately guess where people will go during times of disaster.”

And that is good news for emergency aid groups. 


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