Letters to the Editor

Readers write about funding democracy in Africa, the social power of Facebook, and preserving digital photos.

US must boost democracy development aid in Africa

Regarding the Feb. 15 article, "In Africa, a different Bush image": The article accurately points out that President Bush has greatly increased United States direct foreign assistance to Africa, particularly in the areas of health and infrastructure. Unfortunately, US funding for democracy promotion is languishing badly in Africa. Developing independent electoral commissions, building civil society capacity, training judicial authorities and investigative journalists, and organizing political parties are all areas where the US has traditionally invested democracy funds.

Sadly, examples of dwindling US support for African democracy promotion are easy to come by. Giant Nigeria, a staunch ally of Washington, has seen its funding for democracy promotion from the US Agency for International Development slashed this fiscal year. In Sudan, another top priority country, no significant US funds have yet been provided to help prepare for a critical series of elections and referendums during the 2009-11 period. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which last year held widely applauded national elections, several of the most prominent US democracy organizations have been forced to cease vital activities due to funding cuts.

While one can applaud President Bush's focus on Africa, long-term developmental gains will best be built on a solid democratic foundation.

Christian Hennemeyer
Washington, D.C.

Facebook makes history in Colombia

Regarding your Feb. 15 editorial, "Face-off by Facebook": The editorial was short in showing the effects Facebook had on the massive demonstration against FARC narcoterrorists in Colombia. A most conservative estimate of 4 million people marched calmly but fervently with an almost unanimous cry: "Freedom!" – for more than 3,000 kidnapped – and "No more FARC!" Marches and manifestations were held around the globe, from New York to Russia, from Tokyo to Santiago. This may very well be the greatest, most multitudinous, and most peaceful (not one single wounded person) manifestation against any group in world history, and certainly against a guerrilla group. It may have been the greatest movement initiated by Facebook, but more important than any records, this may be judged by history as the turning point for the Colombian nation and its desperate search for peace.

Irene Gaviria
Medellín, Colombia

Editor, El Mundo

Standardize photo preservation

Regarding the Feb. 14 article, "How will the world recall its digital past?": I'm starting to recommend that people with high-speed Internet use an automated remote backup system that stores the data off-site. That way, the data is better protected from fires and other natural disasters. That, and more important, they don't have to think about it.

When it comes to passing on photos to future generations, I feel that the best way to store your photos is in a "human readable" form. No matter how much effort you put into translating your digital photos from one obsolete media to another soon-to-be-obsolete media, there is a very good chance that whoever ends up with your precious photos won't know what they are and will dump them in the trash.

I'm pushing for an easy-to-use standard where people can transfer their digital photos to companies that will write them out to high-resolution, archival 35-mm or 70-mm color film. There is a huge difference between your next of kin finding an old hard disk full of photos versus a can with a roll of images that can be opened and looked at with the naked eye. Just like backing up files or migrating files into the future, the weak link is that people simply won't care about the history in the photos until they are gone. Then it's too late.

Gary Traveis
Port Angeles, Wash.

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