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Algerian Tells of Dark Odyssey in U.S. Hands

Algerian Tells of Dark Odyssey in U.S. Hands
By CRAIG S. SMITH and SOUAD MEKHENNET

ALGIERS — Two years ago, a motley collection of prisoners spent night after night repeating their telephone numbers to one another from within the dark and dirty cells where they were being held in Afghanistan. Anyone who got out, they said they agreed, would use the numbers to contact the families of the others to let them know that they were still alive.

At least two of those men are now free and, thanks to the memorization exercise, are back in touch with each other.

The case of one of them, Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was held as part of the United States' antiterrorism rendition program, was revealed last year, and German and American officials have acknowledged that he was erroneously detained by the United States. But the tale of the other, an Algerian named Laid Saidi, has never been told before, and it carries a new set of allegations against America's secret detention program.

In May 2003, Mr. Saidi was expelled from Tanzania, where he ran a branch of Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, an international charity based in Saudi Arabia that promoted the fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Islam and has since been shut down after being accused of financing terrorist groups. Tanzanian newspapers reported on Mr. Saidi's expulsion at the time, but nothing was known about where he went.

In a recent interview, Mr. Saidi, 43, said that after he was expelled he was handed over to American agents and flown to Afghanistan, where he was held for 16 months before being delivered to Algeria and freed without ever being charged or told why he had been imprisoned. He acknowledged that he was carrying a fake passport when he was detained, but he said he had no connection to terrorism.

Wearing a white robe and a white skullcap in his lawyer's office here, he held up two white shoes he said his captors gave him before setting him free in August 2004. The only other physical evidence he offered of his imprisonment were fading scars on his wrists that he said were from having been chained to the ceiling of a cell for five days.

"Sometimes I cry and shake when I think about this," he said in his first interview about his imprisonment. "I didn't think I would see my family again."

While Mr. Saidi's allegations of torture cannot be corroborated, other elements of his story can be.

American, Tanzanian and Algerian officials have declined to comment on Mr. Saidi's allegations, but Mr. Masri said he saw Mr. Saidi in the Afghan prison where he was held. German prosecutors investigating Mr. Masri's detention now want to interview Mr. Saidi, said Martin Hofmann, a prosecutor in Munich.

In addition, a criminal investigation of the deaths in 2002 of two Afghan detainees at the American military detention center in Bagram, north of Kabul, found that prisoners were often shackled to the ceiling by their wrists for punishment, as Mr. Saidi said he had been. Military officials, though, said the practice was stopped after the deaths.

A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency declined to discuss Mr. Saidi's claims. "While the C.I.A. does not as a rule comment publicly on these kinds of allegations, the agency has said repeatedly that it does not condone torture," said the spokesman, Paul Gimigliano. He added that renditions, the process of moving captured terrorism suspects to third countries for interrogation, "are an antiterror tool that the United States has used for years in accordance with its laws and treaty obligations."

A Shadowy Program

Mr. Saidi is one of a handful of men to publicly claim they were seized in the rendition program and then mistreated or tortured, before being released without charge or explanation. Like prisoners released from the American military detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, they represent not only a mounting political problem, but a potential legal problem for the United States and its allies that have participated in the extrajudicial abductions.

International fallout from renditions continued Wednesday when prosecutors in Milan arrested two Italian intelligence officers on allegations that they aided the C.I.A. in the 2003 kidnapping of a radical Egyptian cleric in Italy. The cleric was then sent to Egypt, where he has been imprisoned.

Mr. Saidi was seized as the United States and Saudi Arabia were cracking down on Al Haramain, which the United States subsequently declared had provided "financial and other operational support" for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. But it is not known what, if any, specific suspicions the authorities had about Mr. Saidi.

A July 2004 German intelligence report on Al Haramain made note of Mr. Saidi's expulsion but said, "It is not yet clear whether there existed concrete assessments that this person had links to terrorism." It added that "the Tanzanian government justified their procedure with the not very credible argument that he had broken legal regulations for foreigners."

In addition to the German prosecutors, the Council of Europe, a multinational human rights watchdog, wants to interview Mr. Saidi as part of its investigation into whether any European countries have breached the European Convention on Human Rights by participating in renditions.

Mr. Saidi said he believed that his captors were Americans because they spoke English and appeared in charge at the Afghanistan prison. He said he hoped to file a lawsuit against the government later this year. "We don't know who to sue yet," said Mostefa Bouchachi, Mr. Saidi's lawyer. "We don't know who is responsible, the C.I.A. or F.B.I."

Mr. Saidi said he left Algeria in 1991 to escape the violence then engulfing the country. He studied in Yemen before moving to Kenya and then Tanzania in early 1997. He began working for Al Haramain and became director of its branch in the costal city of Tanga, a job that gave him a public profile.

He said that during that time he was using a fraudulent Tunisian passport and living under the name Ramzi ben Mizauni ben Fraj. He said he had lost his passport and bought a fake one because he was afraid of going to the Algerian Embassy while Algeria was fighting a civil war with Islamists. He denied that he had any reason to hide his identity or that Al Haramain's activities were anything but charitable.

United States intelligence officials have long suspected that Al Haramain was involved in financing terrorism, according to the report of the 9/11 Commission. Suspicion rose after the August 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. After the Sept. 11 attacks, American and Saudi authorities alleged that some Haramain money was being diverted to terrorist groups and that the organization was infiltrated by people with links to those groups.

By 2003, several Haramain branches were shut down, and the following year the Saudi authorities dissolved the charity.

It is not clear if the crackdown on Al Haramain led to Mr. Saidi's detention, but on Saturday, May 10, 2003, Tanzanian police officers surrounded his car as he left home for work, according to Mr. Saidi, his wife and press reports at the time. That night the police drove him to Dar es Salaam and put him in jail.

"I thought I might have been arrested for holding a false passport, but I didn't tell them it was fake," he said.

Three days later, he said, he was bundled into a white Land Rover and driven to the Malawi border, where he was turned over to Malawians in plain clothes who were accompanied by two middle-aged Caucasian men wearing jeans and T-shirts. They spoke English with the Malawians, Mr. Saidi said. That is when he realized that something more ominous was going on.

A Place 'Out of the World'

Shortly after the expulsion, a lawyer representing Mr. Saidi's wife filed an affidavit in the Tanzanian court saying that immigration documents showed Mr. Saidi was deported through the border between Kasumulu, Tanzania, and Malawi.

After being held for a week in a prison in the mountains of Malawi, Mr. Saidi said, a group of people arrived in a sport utility vehicle: a gray-haired Caucasian woman and five men dressed in black wearing black masks revealing only their eyes.

The Malawians blindfolded him, and his clothes were cut away, he said. He heard someone taking photographs. Then, he said, the blindfold was removed and the agents covered his eyes with cotton and tape, inserted a plug in his anus and put a disposable diaper on him before dressing him. He said they covered his ears, shackled his hands and feet and drove him to an airplane where they put him on the floor.

"It was a long trip, from Saturday night to Sunday morning, " Mr. Saidi recalled. When the plane landed, he said, he was taken to what he described as a "dark prison" filled with deafening Western music. The lights were rarely turned on.

Men in black arrived, he said, and he remembers one shouting at him through an interpreter: "You are in a place that is out of the world. No one knows where you are, no one is going to defend you."

He was chained by one hand to the wall in a windowless cell and left with a bucket and a bottle in lieu of a latrine. He remained there for nearly a week, he said, and then was blindfolded and bound again and taken to another prison. "There, they put me in a room, suspended me by my arms and attached my feet to the floor," he recalled. "They cut off my clothes very fast and took off my blindfold." An older man, graying at the temples, entered the room with a young woman with shoulder-length blond hair, he said. They spoke English, which Mr. Saidi understands a little, and they interrogated him for two hours through a Moroccan translator. At last, he said, he thought he would learn why he was there, but the questioning only confounded him.

He said the interrogators focused on a telephone conversation they said he had had with his wife's family in Kenya about airplanes. But Mr. Saidi said he told them that he could not recall talking to anyone about planes.

He said the interrogators left him chained for five days without clothes or food. "They beat me and threw cold water on me, spat at me and sometimes gave me dirty water to drink," he said. "The American man told me I would die there."

He said his legs and feet became painfully swollen because he was forced to stand for so long with his wrists chained to the ceiling. After they removed him from the chains, he said, he was moved back to the "dark" prison and a doctor gave him an injection for his legs.

After one night there, he was moved to a third prison. He said the guards in this prison were Afghans, and one told him that he was outside Kabul.

There were two rows of six cells in the basement, which he described as "filthy, not even suitable for animals." Each cell had a small opening in the zinc-clad door through which the prisoners could glimpse one another as they were taken in and out of their cells. At night, they would talk.

"This is where I met Khaled el-Masri," Mr. Saidi said. A layout of the prison he sketched closely matched one drawn by Mr. Masri.

Mr. Masri had been seized in Macedonia in December 2003, and it was later revealed that he had apparently been mistaken for a terrorism suspect with a similar name. He said he was able only to glimpse Mr. Saidi a few times in Afghanistan. But he said their cells were close enough for them to talk at night.

"At the beginning of our prison time together, I was in the last cell and he was two cells away from me," Mr. Masri said by telephone from Germany. "Whenever I wanted to go to the toilet or was taken for questioning, I had to pass his door."

Mr. Masri and Mr. Saidi said they got to know other prisoners, including two Pakistani brothers from Saudi Arabia, whose phone number Mr. Masri also memorized. Using that number, The New York Times reached relatives of the brothers, Abdul al-Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, who said they had heard from the Red Cross two years ago that the brothers were being held in Afghanistan. Pentagon documents show that two men with those names are now detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

A Dire Misunderstanding

In prison, Mr. Saidi said, he was interrogated daily, sometimes twice a day, for weeks. Eventually, he said, his interrogators produced an audiotape of the conversation in which he had allegedly talked about planes.

But Mr. Saidi said he was talking about tires, not planes, that his brother-in-law planned to sell from Kenya to Tanzania. He said he was mixing English and Arabic and used the word "tirat," making "tire" plural by adding an Arabic "at" sound. Whoever was monitoring the conversation apparently understood the word as "tayarat," Arabic for planes, Mr. Saidi said.

"When I heard it, I asked the Moroccan translator if he understood what we were saying in the recording," Mr. Saidi said. After the Moroccan explained it to the interrogators, Mr. Saidi said, he was never asked about it again.

"Why did they bring me to Afghanistan to ask such questions?" he said in the interview. "Why didn't they ask me in Tanzania? Why did they have to take me away from my family? Torture me?"

Mr. Saidi said the interrogators also accused him of hiding rockets in his house and of funneling money to Al Qaeda, allegations that he strongly denies and for which he said evidence was never produced.

While he was in prison, however, the United States Treasury Department asked the United Nations to add Al Haramain's Tanzanian branch to the list of charities alleged to have financed terrorist organizations.

In its January 2004 announcement, the department said an unnamed former director of Al Haramain in Tanzania was responsible for making preparations for the advance party that planned the 1998 embassy bombings. But the department declined to identify the former director or to comment on Mr. Saidi's case.

Mr. Saidi said interrogators asked repeatedly about the Haramain director who preceded him, a Saudi named Muammar al-Turki. But he said he was no longer in touch with him.

Mr. Saidi said the interrogations eventually stopped. In the late spring or early summer of 2004, he said, he was flown to Tunisia, apparently because his captors thought he was Tunisian. But when Arabic-speaking men boarded the plane, he said he told them he was from Algeria and that his Tunisian passport was fake.

"I didn't want to get into more trouble," he explained.

He spent 75 more days in jail, he said. In late August 2004, he again prepared to travel. His captors gave him the pair of white shoes he still has. The flight took about 10 or 12 hours, and when the plane landed, he said, he was turned over to Algerian intelligence officials. They held him for a few days, then bought him some clothes, gave him a small sum of money and drove him to a bus stop in the Algiers neighborhood of Bir Khadem.

After 16 months, Mr. Saidi was free. He was reunited with his wife and children. Mr. Masri had been released a few months before. He tried to contact Mr. Saidi at the Tanzanian phone number he had memorized, but the number was disconnected. Eventually, Mr. Saidi sent him a text message with a new number in Algeria, which Mr. Masri called.

"I know him from his voice," Mr. Masri said, "and I recognized his voice from the first phone call that we had after his release."

North Korea Rejects Protests on Missile Firings

North Korea Rejects Protests on Missile Firings
By NORIMITSU ONISHI

SEOUL, South Korea, July 6 — North Korea declared Thursday that it would continue to test-fire missiles and vowed to use force if other nations tried to stop it, even as it acknowledged for the first time that it had launched seven missiles the day before.

Responding to international condemnation with characteristic defiance and vagueness, North Korea said the launchings of the seven missiles, including one long-range Taepodong 2, had been "routine military exercises" intended to raise the nation's "capacity for self-defense."

In a statement attributed to its Foreign Ministry and released by its official press agency, the North stated that it would continue with its missile launchings and that it "will have no option but to take stronger physical actions of other forms, should any other country dare take issue with the exercises and put pressure upon it."

The warning was issued as the United States and countries in this region remained divided over a Japanese-backed proposal for a United Nations Security Council resolution threatening sanctions if the North did not dismantle its nuclear program.

President Bush called the leaders of China and Russia on Thursday seeking a unified response against the test firings. But the two countries, both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, said they opposed punitive sanctions.

"We think the Security Council should make a necessary response, but the response should be helpful to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and should help diplomatic efforts," Jiang Yu, the spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference in Beijing.

When asked whether China, North Korea's biggest trading partner and aid donor, was considering cutting aid as a result of the tests, Ms. Jiang said, "At present we are not taking this aspect into consideration."

In Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin said he was disappointed by the test firings but added that the North Koreans were right in their assertion that they had the legal right to perform such tests.

North Korea said that the launchings were the country's "exercise of its legitimate right as a sovereign state" and that it was no longer bound by past moratoriums on missile tests because the United States and Japan had broken previous agreements.

In its statement, the North described Wednesday's missile launchings as successful, an assertion disputed by experts who tracked the Taepodong 2.

North Korea's continued defiance appeared to be intended to press the United States into direct talks, analysts and politicians said. For months it has been demanding that the United States lift a crackdown on North Korean businesses and banks that do business with the country.

It has also pushed for bilateral talks, twice inviting Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the main American negotiator with North Korea, to Pyongyang, its capital.

Washington has refused, saying only that it will participate in the now stalled six-nation talks over the nuclear program. The six nations are the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

"These actions by North Korea are an act of defiance meant to remind the U.S. that to ignore it comes at a price," said Peter Beck, the Northeast Asia project director at the International Crisis Group in Seoul.

"The tests may also have been intended to rally the North Korean people, to justify the hardships that they are undergoing," Mr. Beck said, adding that one of the biggest anti-American rallies in years was held in Pyongyang last week.

At a parliamentary hearing here, South Korea's defense minister, Yoon Kwang Ung, predicted that North Korea might fire additional missiles. He said he was basing his assessment on "the traffic of equipment and personnel in and out of launch sites." Military talks between the Koreas are scheduled for later this month.

South Korean news organizations reported Wednesday that North Korea had three or four more mediumrange missiles sitting on launching pads. North Korea is believed to have about 200 medium-range and 600 short-range missiles.

The missile launchings have drawn contrasting responses from South Korea and Japan, America's two allies in the region.

Caught between its alliance with the United States and its policy of engaging the North, South Korea condemned the tests but is unlikely to impose more than a few limited penalties, experts here said.

In the long term, few expect South Korea, which is the North's second-largest trading partner and aid donor, after China, to significantly alter its policy of engagement. What China and South Korea fear almost as much as military confrontation, experts say, is the sudden collapse of the North Korean government and a subsequent flood of millions of refugees.

At a parliamentary hearing, Lee Jong Seok, the South's minister of unification, said that cabinet-level meetings between the North and South would go ahead as scheduled next week and that Seoul would proceed with economic joint ventures with North Korea.

By contrast, Japan has taken its toughest stance yet against North Korea. Fukushiro Nukaga, the head of Japan's Defense Agency, told a parliamentary committee in Tokyo on Thursday that Japan would step up efforts to establish a missile defense shield with the United States.

"We would like to cooperate with the United States and put our joint missile interception into shape as quickly as possible," he said.

In Washington on Thursday, American military officials disclosed more details about the flight of the Taepodong 2, saying it was longer than the 42 seconds initially reported.

Counting the rocket's boost phase and a period during which the missile was tumbling out of control into the Sea of Japan, the missile was in the air for closer to two minutes, they said. The period during which the missile was stable as it flew was 42 seconds, the officials said.

All of the military officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified information.

"If the missile had kept going, it would have had to go over Japan," said one military official, who said he had seen projections of the trajectory that showed it headed over central or northern Japan.

"The missile was headed east," the other official said, adding that tracking the missile's possible trajectory was especially difficult in this case because the flight was relatively short.

The officials said they did not know whether the North had planned for the missile, which is believed to have a range of 3,500 miles or more, to fly into Japanese airspace. It may not have been loaded with enough fuel to go that far, or North Korea may have intended to abort the flight, but the missile fell into the sea before its first stage burned out.

The officials said it did not appear that the missile was being launched into space, which would have taken it on a more vertical trajectory.

One official confirmed that the missile had been tracked by Aegis sensors on Navy ships patrolling the Sea of Japan, the first time that a foreign ballistic missile had been tracked by the sensors.

Within seconds of the detection of the launching, as well as those of the shorter-range rockets, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior officials were informed, using a special communication procedure called a missile alert conference, another senior Pentagon official said.

Avian Flu Tends to Kill Youths as in 1918 Wave, Study Finds

Avian Flu Tends to Kill Youths as in 1918 Wave, Study Finds
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

Avian flu tends to kill younger people, much as the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic did, the World Health Organization said Friday as it released an analysis of more than 200 cases.

Deaths from the disease surged in the winter for the last three years, the report said, so a rise in fatal cases can be expected late this year even if the virus does not mutate into a form more easily transmitted.

Moreover, the report warned, the risk of the virus becoming more transmissible remains high "because of the widespread distribution of the H5N1 virus in poultry and the continued exposure of humans."

The median age of victims with confirmed cases was 20 years, the report said. The highest death rate — 73 percent — was among patients ages 10 to 19, while the overall fatality rate was 56 percent. This pattern has been noted before, but the new analysis takes in more cases; the typical age is drifting downward.

A high death rate among young adults echoes the pattern found in the 1918-1919 epidemic, said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Scientists contend that year's H1N1 virus was also an avian flu that mutated until it spread easily among humans; although it was fatal to only about 2 percent of those who caught it, that was enough to kill between 40 million and 100 million people worldwide.

When the second wave of the Spanish flu struck Boston in the fall of 1918, Dr. Osterholm said, the flu death rate among people ages 18 to 30, which had been about 30 per 100,000 people in previous years, soared to 5,700 per 100,000. (The figure was for civilians in Boston, he said, so it was not confounded by the high numbers of deaths in troop ships or trenches in Europe.)

The annual flu, by contrast, tends to kill the very young and the very old, often from secondary bacterial pneumonia.

In the Asian and Middle Eastern countries where the disease is most pervasive, people of all ages are exposed to chickens, but 90 percent of the cases have been in people under 40, so something in young adults must make them more susceptible.

Unpublished W.H.O. data from blood sampling around recent outbreaks, Dr. Osterholm noted, shows that few people carry antibodies to the virus, so there is not a huge pool of survivors of mild avian flu.

Evidence suggests that many young people in 1918 and quite a few in this outbreak are killed by a "cytokine storm" — the body's own immune reaction, which floods the lungs with fluid. Young adults generally have strong immune systems.

The W.H.O. is tracking changes in the virus, trying to predict if it will mutate into a more infectious form and hoping to build vaccines against it in time to head off a pandemic.

Fatalities from the virus have almost tripled this year compared with last year. Indonesia, with 39 deaths, is close to surpassing Vietnam as the hardest-hit country with 42. Vietnam has not had a human death or poultry outbreak this year.

The typical avian flu victim is sick enough to be hospitalized four days after falling ill, and dies five days later, the report said. People over 50 have the lowest death rate, but it is still 18 percent, which is a huge impact compared with seasonal flu.

"The more we see what H5N1 is doing, the less we know about what's really happening with it," Dr. Osterholm said.

The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier

The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier
By HENRY FOUNTAIN

FOR as long as humans have gathered in groups, it seems, some people have been left on the outside looking in. In postwar America in particular, the idea that loneliness pervades a portion of society has been a near-constant. Only the descriptions have changed: the "lonely crowd" alienation of the 1950's; the grim career-driven angst of the 70's and 80's; the "Bowling Alone" collapse of social connections of the 90's.

There is a new installment in the annals of loneliness. Americans are not only lacking in bowling partners, now they're lacking in people to tell their deepest, darkest secrets. They've hunkered down even more, their inner circle often contracting until it includes only family, only a spouse or, at worst, no one.

And that is something the Internet may help ease, but is unlikely to cure.

A recent study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona found that, on average, most adults only have two people they can talk to about the most important subjects in their lives — serious health problems, for example, or issues like who will care for their children should they die. And about one-quarter have no close confidants at all.

"The kinds of connections we studied are the kinds of people you call on for social support, for real concrete help when you need it," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociologist at Duke and an author of the study, which analyzed responses in interviews that mirrored a survey from 1985. "These are the tightest inner circle."

The study "should provide a wake-up call to our society," said Bill Maier, a vice president and psychologist in residence with Focus on the Family, the evangelical Christian group. "We're missing out on deep, meaningful interpersonal relationships."

Yet within the analysis there was at least a suggestion of hope.

"The one type of relationship that actually went up was talking over personally important things with your spouse," Dr. Smith-Lovin said.

Like "Bowling Alone," the essay and, later, book by Robert D. Putnam, a public policy professor a Harvard, the Duke study suggested that a weakening of community connections is in part responsible for increasing social isolation. More people are working and commuting longer hours and have little time for the kinds of external social activities that could lead to deeper relationships.

So the closest ties increasingly are limited to family members, in particular to spouses.

"That's probably a result of the fact that men's and women's lives are more structurally similar now than in 1985," Dr. Smith-Lovin said. It's more likely that both spouses are working at jobs that are important to them, and men are more involved around the house. "Spouses literally have more to talk about," she said.

Dr. Maier, for one, sees that as cause for at least some optimism in a society whose fast pace generally bodes badly for family life. "To hear that people are investing more in their nuclear family is a positive thing," he said.

The Internet is also cause for some optimism, because it has made it easier to maintain ties among family members who have become scattered. Those ties inevitably developed over long-term, face-to-face contact, but e-mail can help keep them strong.

"E-mail really does help maintain your social networks," said John Horrigan, associate director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Recent Pew surveys, he said, found that "when you contact family by e-mail, you share important and serious things."

Still, Dr. Smith-Lovin said, any optimism must be tempered. For one thing, having only one confidant, even if that confidant is a spouse, leaves a person extremely vulnerable if the spouse dies or the marriage disintegrates.

And in the end, she and others pointed out, e-mail or instant messaging is no substitute for face-to-face contact. "E-mailing somebody far way is not the same as them going to pick up your child at daycare or bringing you chicken soup," she said.

Dr. Putnam said the new study reinforced much of what he had reported in "Bowling Alone," which had been criticized by some academics as a faulty analysis that ignored other social and economic trends. And even if the new study points to a rise in spouses as confidants, that is not especially cause to rejoice, he said. "It's like with global warming, if we learn that temperatures are going to rise slightly less than we thought," he said. "It's still a problem."

"Sure, you might say, we've still got our wives or husbands or mothers," he said. "That's true. But gosh, the number of friends you have is a strong predictor of how long you live."

The impact goes beyond the individual, as well. "There are effects on my neighbors of my not knowing them," he said. For one thing, "If I don't know them well and they don't know me, that has a demonstrable effect on the crime rate."

Dr. Horrigan said there was anecdotal evidence that some members of a community use e-mail and the Internet "to keep up with people very close by." The Internet can help expand social networks, although the ties it creates are not as strong as those the Duke researchers are concerned with. Yet they can be useful.

His group's research has shown that the Internet is increasingly being used during life's "major moments" — to gather information or advice when making a big financial investment, deciding where to live, or choosing a college for a child. The research has shown that "people were more likely to get help through their social network" for those kinds of decisions.

Still, Dr. Putnam said, "The real interesting future is how can we use the Net to strengthen and deepen relationships that we have offline."

Cheery stuff, eh?

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