Subtitles and transcripts of podcasts

Subtitles and transcripts are available for some podcasts linked to this blog, for example for all videos on ted.com. Under the video, select Subtitles available in, and to the right of the video, select Open interactive transcript.
For Russian readers / Для русскоязычных читателей: Для некоторых подкастов, описанных в блоге, например, для подкастов на сайте ted.com, есть субтитры и записи текстов. Под видео выберите Subtitles available in Russian, а справа от видео выберите Open interactive transcript.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ken Silverstein: Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship

HARPER's magazine's Ken Silverstein on foreign lobbying - Bill Moyers Journal, PBS: video, audio or transcript (video is optional, audio or transcript have most of the info).
This amazing podcast tells the story about two American lobbying firms competing to clean up the public image of a ruthless dictatorship. I found only the first interview (the first 26 min of the entire podcast) interesting.
Ken Silverstein is an investigative journalist and the author of the book Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship. Silverstein posed as a representative of a fictitious business group working for the country of Turkmenistan, and got two top Washington lobbying firms (APCO, and Cassidy and Associates - both well established companies) to propose a campaign to clean up Turkmenistan's image. Until one year prior to the publication of the story (Their men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.'s lobbyists for hire), the country was ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, a notorious dictator. The self-declared “Turkmenbashi,” or “Leader of all Ethnic Turkmens,” Niyazov built monuments to himself (pictured on the right). Niyazov renamed the month of January after himself. Another month was named for his mother. Vodka and salt were named after the Turkmenbashi. Any opposition to the government was considered treason in Turkmenistan.
Amazingly, APCO said to Silverstein that, among other things, they would seek to arrange events highlighting Turkmenistan with leading U.S. think tanks, and recruit op-eds from academics. APCO would target organizations such as Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment. Did this make you wonder how many of these events and op-eds are spontaneous vs. paid for?
The readiness of the lobbying firms to clean up  Turkmenistan's image is not too surprising after one learns that one of the clients of Cassidy and Associates is Equatorial Guinea, which pays the lobbyists $2.4 million a year. Its President Obiang has been in power since he executed his uncle. For years Equatorial Guinea had been on PARADE Magazine's list of the 10 worst dictators. Some of the successes Cassidy and Associates boasted about were that Cassidy got them off the top 10 list (they became number 11 at some point). Cassidy also were able to arrange a meeting between President Obiang and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. APCO in the 1990s worked for the Sani Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria. This was at that time one of the world's worst regimes. APCO was working for them as they were preparing the execution of the nine pro-democracy activists that were hung in 1995.
The price tag for cleaning up the image of Turkmenistan? $600,000 to $1.5 million per year, depending on the lobbying firm you choose.
This is all pretty surreal, and does sound a bit like "Borat" - but it is true...
So what is the solution? According to Silverstein, I'm not accusing them of breaking the law. But they certainly break the spirit of the law. They talked to me repeatedly about how the disclosure requirements are so weak that you don't have to worry about any undue publicity. ... So that's the point. Tighten the law.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Julian Treasure: The 4 ways sound affects us

Julian Treasure: The 4 ways sound affects us | Video on TED.com (video, 6 min)
Julian Treasure offers a mindful view at the different sounds that surround us. Among the highlights:
People's productivity in noisy, open plan offices is 3-fold lower than in quiet rooms. 
You can counteract this by wearing headphones with a soothing sound.
Some sounds such as bird song or surf are almost universally relaxing or reassuring.
I tried this, and agree entirely. I also suggest the sounds of a stream, a river or rain. Try these alone or in combination with bird song. Non-invasive nature sounds usually work better then any music for counteracting the effects of noise. This is because even the most neutral music carries an emotional charge, which can be distracting. You can find such nature sounds on many albums, for example:
Echoes of Nature: Morning Songbirds
Echoes of Nature: The Natural Sounds Of The Wilderness (disk 4 of 5)
I also found that good noise canceling headphones are quite helpful. I tried different brands, and found that the only ones that really work in noisy offices are expensive over-the-ear models. I like Bose QC-2, but other high-end headphones will probably work too. I used them for years until they finally have worn out (literally). Bose now makes QC-15, which I have not tried yet. A good pair of headphones plus the right sound together can nicely suppress distracting office noises, and allow you to work with relaxed concentration.