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Tuesday Map: Mapping poverty with Google Earth

Google Earth is a cool tool that's fun to play around with. Now you can also use it for something more serious—monitoring countries' progress toward achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, eight objectives to be reached by 2015 that form the blueprint of a mighty effort to make poverty history.

Launch Google Earth (download it first if you don't already have it) from the MDG Monitor Web site and you'll be able to click on capital cities all around the world to monitor their corresponding countries' progress toward achieving the MDGs. For example, you can learn that due to improvements in health and education, Madagascar brought its poverty rate down from 85.1 percent in 2003 to 67.5 percent in 2006. (The goal is to reduce the percentage of Madagascarians living on less than $2 a day to 50 percent by 2012.) There are also links to complete country profiles, such as this one for Madagascar.

Not to be outdone, the World Bank has put a bunch of its own data and links to its projects around the world into a Google Maps mashup. It's not quite as flashy, but you don't need to download any special software to view it. Is this the beginning of a map war between the World Bank and the U.N.?

(Hat tip: Mark Leon Goldberg)

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FBI agents tried to trace terrorists using falafel

Jeff Stein reports for CQ:

Like Hansel and Gretel hoping to follow their bread crumbs out of the forest, the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists.

The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area.

The brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism officials Phil Mudd and Willie T. Hulon, according to well-informed sources, the project didn't last long. It was torpedoed by the head of the FBI's criminal investigations division, Michael A. Mason, who argued that putting somebody on a terrorist list for what they ate was ridiculous — and possibly illegal.

A check of federal court records in California did not reveal any prosecutions developed from falafel trails.

Posted without comment. Because really, what more is there to say?

UPDATE: Cyrus Farivar chimes in:

I'm not even close to having the skillz of an FBI agent, but I can tell you three reasons why this plan was doomed from the beginning — beyond than the fact that it’s totally illegal.

1) Falafel isn't a Persian food at all. When was the last time you saw an Iranian eating falafel? (And the one time I went with Boyk to Sunshine Café in Berkeley two weeks ago doesn't count.)

2) Iranian terrorist? Seriously? Think about that for a second. Name one Iranian terrorist. Go ahead, I dare you.

3) While the Bay Area may have some Iranians, we're dwarfed by the number that are in LA and Orange counties. Plus, everyone knows that real Iranians ("terrorists" or otherwise) hit up Mashti Malone's for totally sweet bastani.

Just a note, looking again at Stein's story above. He doesn't actually say that the FBI was specifically looking for purchases of falafel. It appears to be a poetic flourish by the reporter:

The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area.

Of course, it's not as if it would be any more legitimate to look into purchases of joojeh sandwiches. Because if that were the case, half the working-day population of Dupont Circle and Georgetown would be in big trouble for going to Moby Dick's House of Kabob.

UPDATE2: Ryan Singel of Wired dubs this effort the "Total Falafel Awareness program".