Updates to the SRI website

Dear all:

Looking at the website's stats, it appears it's attracting readers from all over the world, particularly India.  Consequently, I've added a Translater. 

Also, many persons requested the ability to e-mail this Site's stories.  Done !

Looking forward to sharing knowledge on socially responsible investing to the four corners of the world !

Source: Flickriver.com

This is an altruistic site.  There will be no fees, or advertising.  Just good ole knowledge-sharing... Thanks to everyone for reviewing the SRI website !   Dominic

100 Books That Will Inspire Your Business To Give

Recently, OnlineClasses, an organization dedicated to providing the best online educational resources, tools,  and courses for students, sent a message directing me to their blog where they posted their list of 100 best humanitarian books. Their purpose for posting this list was to provide learning beyond the classroom through books about humanitarian issues, famous humanitarians, and social entrepreneurship.

Businesses that know that they want to contribute to local and global causes can make use of these resources too, to learn more about where they would like to direct their philanthropic efforts and how to go about doing so.

I have read some of the books on this list and have found them very inspiring. I encourage any business owner or employee  that would like to start a giving program to do some reading from this or any other list (my own list coming soon!) for inspiration and ideas.

Here are some of the topics and descriptions of the 100 books, including my specific favorites.

Fiction and Memoirs
These books provide both fictional and true-life accounts of some of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.

My favorite-
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: "Want to know why Afghanistan is the way it is today? This book blends history and politics with a moving tale about friendship."

Inspiration and Education
These books are about those involved in humanitarian projects and what more needs to be done or changed to help a greater number of people.

My favorites in this category:
 Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin:  "Read this book to learn more about a man who has constructed schools and attempted to improve access to education in the impoverished village of Korph."

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz:  "Learn what this woman is doing through social entrepreneurship and charity to help those who need it around the world. "

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson: "Greg Mortenson will inspire you in this extended account of his work to build schools and promote peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Understanding Humanitarianism
Books about humanitarian movements and the laws, politics and spin that come with them.

My favorite in this category:

 Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath: Want to make your humanitarian mission succeed? Consider reading this book about what can make it stick.

Biographies and Autobiographies More information about some of the greatest crusaders for human rights in recent history.

General Non-Fiction
a variety of humanitarian topics.

By Humanitarians
Humanitarians write their own stories about their experiences.

Social Entrepreneurship
Find out more about how businesses can change the world with their ideas in these great reads.

My favorite in this category:
Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know by David Bornstein and Susan Davis: "Find out what being a social entrepreneur is all about by reading this book."

These books will teach you more about charitable actions and how to make your philanthropy count.

A BIG favorite:
Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker by Bill Somerville: Inspiring view on how anyone can become a grant maker.

Every humanitarian cause needs a little financial help to get off of the ground, and these books can help fundraisers understand the process better.

Congratulations to Online Classes for an amazing job compiling this list and for providing such a great resource to everyone who wants to learn about philanthropy.

How much of a company's Reputation is related to its social responsibility initiatives?

Here's a new take on screening for Socially Responsible Investing.   Boston College (see our Useful Links) and Reputation Institute released a survey of the 150 largest corporations in terms of people's perceptions of them, rather than what these firms actually did to improve their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) (e.g., improving governance).  Quite an interesting take on Do what I say, not what I do.  The theory goes, when companies do good, the word eventually gets out, and reputation eventually rises.

Hence, investors could search for top rankings in Boston College's Corporate Social Responsibility Index.  Leading the list (Top 10) are:  Johnson & Johnson, Walt Disney Co., Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Hershey, and SC Johnson (maker of Windex, and biologically friendly versions thereof).  Browsing through the top 50, it appears these are indeed potential SRI candidates.  (The exception is SC Johnson, as it is private.)

Missing from the list are Monsanto, BP (British Petroleum) Wal-Mart, and other controversial firms.  To Wal-Mart's credit, the company's rapidly changing its ways for the better !   Curiously, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters made it to the list (#15) even though the company is small relative to its blue-chip peers in the survey.  Further, it is currently under an SEC investigation over its inventory accounting with a key vendor.  It'll be interesting to see how that investigation, and results thereof, affect its ranking.

While I do think this type of list that examines CSR is interesting, as it's showing another angle to CSR, I still favor direct measures such as those tabulated by CR Magazine, or Fortune's Best Places to Work for list.  Further, I do worry whether the results of this ranking of Reputation can be manipulated via a corporation's heavy ad spending, etc.  Lastly, individual/industry rankings could be volatile depending on the ebb & flows of headline news (e.g., ah, those "evil banks").  Hint, Hint:  notice few banks have made this year's list !

Philanthropy Competitions: Get in the Game and Win Some Money for Your Charity!

Author: Jenny Henry

Philanthropy competitions seem to be a new fad that are bringing innovative ideas to light and getting people thinking about philanthropy. Recently JP Morgan Chase & Company gave away a total of $5 million to 200 charities through its Summer 2010 Chase Community Giving Campaign and American Express is in the process of deciding on five charities that they will give a total of $1 million to in their Members Project.
Unfortunately, these two campaigns are no longer accepting entries, but there are two competitions still open. We'll give you all the details, as well as some tips on applying.

Pepsi Refresh Project
This year Pepsi decided to allocate $20 million of its Super Bowl budget to launch the Pepsi Refresh Project which will dole out $1.2 million a month to innovative ideas from businesses, individuals and non-profits that will change the world. The next application round begins on October 1st. Once ideas are approved, voting will begin to determine the best ideas. Winners will receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 each.

The competition is quite intense and not all ideas are accepted by Pepsi. According to the site, projects should be "beneficial, achievable, constructive, and ‘shovel-ready' (meaning it can be finished within 12 months of funding)." If you plan on applying, be sure to read the 10 tips for applying for a better chance of having your idea accepted and be ready to submit your application at 12:00:01 p.m. EST on October 1st.

CBC Canada's Champions for Change
CBC News and Outpost Magazine have joined forces to produce a unique program celebrating volunteerism in Canada called Canada's Champions of Change. The program kicked off on Canada Day and will award two top winners $25,000 and eight finalists $10,000 for the charitable organization of their choice. To apply, all you have to do is nominate an exceptional volunteer in one of the following categories:

Education, Community & Culture - Volunteering to Foster Growth in People and Communities
Environment -?Volunteering for Mother Earth
Health & Wellness - Volunteering for Health Promotion, Disease Prevention, Personal & Communal Well-Being
Housing & Structure - Volunteering to Build and Innovate
Social Justice - Volunteering to Empower

Finalists will be determined by a panel and the winners of the top prizes will be decided by public votes. The deadline for submission is September 30, so better get applying!

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/non-profit-organizations-articles/philanthropy-competitions-get-in-the-game-and-win-some-money-for-your-charity-3521460.html

About the AuthorWritten by: Sumac Research
Sumac is the easiest, most complete and cost-effective software for managing non-profits' data. For information on Sumac or for more articles published by Sumac Research, visit Sumac

UN disaster expert: Lebanon ill prepared to face future crisis

By Simona Sikimic
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Lebanon is ill prepared in case of a long-overdue earthquake, or another large-scale disaster, a leading UN expert warned on Friday.

While the various response agencies, like the Lebanese Army, Civil Defense and Red Cross, are mostly adequate in their own right, the coordination between agencies is extremely poor and seriously inhibits Lebanon’s ability to react when disaster strikes, said disaster expert Zoubair Morched, leading the UN Development Fund’s (UNDP) regional strategy.

The High Relief Council, tasked with coordinating relief efforts, presently doesn’t function and this “missing” crucial link must be strengthened and reformed, he said.

The UNDP is currently undergoing a national risk evaluation, mapping out areas deemed the most vulnerable and deciphering how emergency services should respond in times of crisis. Conclusive findings, however, are not expected until the end of the year, with the hope that they will begin to make an administrative impact by mid 2011.

“Once we get the full plan we hope to bring it to the attentions of the premier and president and all the other political parties and get a broad agreement from them for a disaster strategy,” Morched told The Daily Star.

“The issue is political because it requires various different ministries to be strengthened, their roles expanded and for greater coordination to take place between them. This can be difficult, but it is our role to make people realize that the issue itself is not political and that disaster prevention is in everyone’s interest.”

Formulating a disaster strategy is a lengthy and complicated process which can, even in the best of cases, take decades. This, however, should not mitigate the need to implement effective plans because while disasters are often hard to avert, preparing for them can severely reduce the impact on the civilian population.

Ensuring that people can be evacuated quickly, that electricity and water supplies will continue to function, even if primary routes are destroyed or severely crippled, and that hospitals will be able to cope with a mass influx of people are all vital part of disaster response.

As demonstrated by the 2006 summer war with Israel, international response teams can be highly effective but they cannot compensate for the local first-line response. The first 24 hours in a rescue operation are often crucial and after two or three days after a disaster the chances of finding people still alive is significantly reduced, Morched said.

Although it is near impossible to predict when an earthquake will strike and what intensity it may be, Lebanon, and much of the region, rests at the crossroads of several tectonic plates, and despite being relatively seismically stable of late, historic trends indicate that large-scale tremors happen every 200 years or so.

Should one strike, the effects could be dire. The mass of the population is located in coastal areas, deemed to be most at risk, and the regular and open flouting of building regulation, as well as the preference for glass and other fragile materials mean many buildings may not be able to cope, explained Morched.

Most larger and public buildings are supposed to withstand quakes of magnitude 6 on the Richter Scale, but many hotels are not thought to be sturdy enough and it is not known what would happen if a larger quake struck the country.

Aside from quakes, Lebanon is also prone to, but unprepared for, flooding, tsunamis and wars. But unlike its neighbors, Lebanon is lucky in that it does not have to grapple with drought and its higher level of precipitation and forest cover, mean that this is not expected to become a major concern for at least the next decade, Morched said.

Nyanza garbage site to shut down within 3yrs

By Nasra Bishumba
New Timesimage

TO BE PHASED OUT; Children going through the garbage heap at Nyanza Landfill (File photo)

KIGALI - After almost two decades, the Nyanza landfill, Kigali’s sole garbage dumping site, will shut down within the next three years. According to Toshi Mito, the coordinator of the project that is working on the phase-out of the site, plans to set up a new landfill are in high gear.

The new site, assessed and approved by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) will be located about 2 km from the brick factory near Nyabarongo River, about 10 km west from Kigali city, Mito said.

According to Mito, the consulting firm that will design the new landfill will be selected at the end of this month, and a contract will be signed “hopefully this year”.

Plans to shift the landfill received a boost with the arrival of a German-based company, WAT, which showed interest in extracting methane gas from the site.

WAT is already doing business in Rwanda having put up solar panels that serve the electricity grid.

Experts from the University of Fukuoka Japan and those from Maine Germany (WAT) indicate that the Nyanza landfill can be renovated and the garbage reduced by covering it with soil to avoid the fires that rage from underneath.
The new site will cost US$3m, US$2.5m which will be footed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and another $ 500,000 By ‘the One Fund’.

The Minister for Lands and Environment early this year told members of the Lower Chamber of Parliament that the biggest challenge with phasing out of the Nyanza site was the fact that it receives indiscriminate waste, ranging from medical to solid and liquid waste.

The site receives at least 400 tonnes of waste everyday and estimates indicate that this could increase threefold in five years.

The project is being executed by Kigali City Council (KCC) and the Ministry of Infrastructure.


UNDP pilot project to identify flood risks, mitigating measures


The Daily Herald

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten infrastructure and Public Works officials will be beneficiaries of a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) pilot project that will identify flood risks and eventually facilitate the development of early warning systems for residents.

The St. Maarten Fire and Disaster Management Departments concluded a three-day workshop on Wednesday in which Alexander Vacher of the UNDP played a vital role in outlining the aspects of the five-million-euro project that is slated to be carried out in 11 Caribbean nations. The workshops were opened by Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams.

Also included in the workshops were management and personnel of the Ministry of VROMI. The flood risk study and its recommendations and scenarios will be carried out by Professor Zoran Voginic of the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.

Head of the Department of New Works and Projects Kurt Ruan took the visiting team on site inspections of flood-prone areas, the Great Bay water outlet, pump stations and the floodgate structure.

Vacher explained that the risk information in the report would help Public Works officials in their decision-making process as it pertained to actions before a possible flooding scenario. The report will outline a number of scenarios or a library of models that can be pre-run and will indicate appropriate measures that should be taken in case of flooding. It is based on the premise that certain things can be forecast to enhance safety for residents.

Also included will be flood hazard maps, a tsunami/storm surge model, barometric data and analysis to assist with coping with sea surge. The recent flooding St. Maarten experienced has been attributed to the heavy sea surge that was generated by Tropical Storm Otto. As quickly as the pumps were pumping water out, the sea surge was pushing water inland, which contributed to the flooding situation.

The development of an early warning system was also high on the agenda for discussion. It was suggested that St. Maarten replicate a system Anguilla uses based on common alerting protocols and utilising existing facilities such as the early warning sirens.

A new, fully computerised system would automatically trigger Internet pop-ups, radio interruptions, SMS messages, etc., to warn the population of impending danger of flooding.

In terms of what he saw during his on-site inspections, Vacher said it was obvious that further development must be controlled and certain development projects were badly located, prompting the need for mitigating measures. He also noted that the capacity of the pumping station should be doubled. "It is never too late to force better infrastructure work. Risk can always increase," he said.

The compiling of the report will now be coordinated with officials of the Fire and Disaster Management Departments, who in turn will coordinate with other stakeholders.

Another 124 sickened after eating breakfast

click here to view this on diariolibre
With the intoxication yesterday of 124 students in the city of Azua after they ate their school breakfast, the doubt increases regarding the quality of the foods that are served in the snacks and regarding the alleged sabotage against the program that the authorities have referred to.

With the students of the Profesor Angel Rivera School, of the La Bombita section of Azua, the total has climbed to over 200 cases of students affected so far this month.

The students were taken urgently to the Taiwan public hospital with stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea, symptoms that began to occur after drinking the breakfast milk that is distributed by Isura, in Azua, and is handled by the Cattlemen's Cooperative of the Southern Region.

The director of the hospital, Rafael Herasme Matos, said via telephone that the children are out of danger, and that they are waiting for the results of the clinical analysis that was carried out by the Department of Forensic Pathology to establish the real cause of the events.

Upon hearing of the new cases, the Minister of Education, Melanio {aredes, said that they will convene a meeting of the media directors in order to inform them regarding the strategy that he is going to follow in order to stop the situation.

For his part, the Vice-Minister of Education, Adalberto Martinez said that the first reports referred to 30 cases.

The numbers went up as the minutes passed, as well as the hysteria and worry of the parents and professors that, to hear tell of it from the director of the school, went to the hospital, to find out if any of the affected students was a son or a daughter, and others went to learn about the condition of their relatives.

Due to previous intoxications, before the start of the new school year, the Minister of Education requested the intervention of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Food Program, and the Pan American Health Organization to watch over the nutrition levels of the foods that are served in the school breakfast in order to guarantee that they have the adequate nutrition levels.

Commission travels to Azua

Under instruction of the Attorney General of the Republic Radhames Jimenez Peña, the commission that is investigating the cases of intoxications related to the school breakfast program went to Azua yesterday to find out about a case of intoxication that affected nearly 70 children. The commission is made up of assistant Attorneys General Frank Soto and Bolivar Sanchez as well as the prosecutors of the judicial districts of Santiago and Cotui, Yeni Berenice Reynoso and Garina Almonte.

The Attorney General appointed the prosecutor for Azua, Rafael Peña Brito to the commission.

Development On Decline For Struggling Countries

The Huffington Post

click here to view this on huffington-post

At last month's U.N. summit, international leaders gathered to discuss the progress ofMillennium Development Goals. Many of the initiative's aims have been slowed by the global recession.

In an interview with NPR, Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), proposes that the recession has negatively impacted developing countries in two ways:

"One, the donor countries clearly are not as well-heeled as they were...Secondly, the recession had an impact on poor countries...which had a big reliance on remittances from workers in North America or in Europe...it's been tough-tough on families, tough on communities."

Listen to the report at NPR.org.

IGNOU to set up Local Governance centre

New Delhi, Oct 23 : Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) will be setting up the National ODL Centre for Local Governance for conducting research on problems and issues of local self-government institutions and design and develop appropriate multi-mode educational and training courses for members of the local self help bodies.

It is also expected that the multi-media package for elected members of Panchayats prepared under UNDP sponsored projects could be transferred to the above National Centre for offering a non-credit certificate programme to the Sarpanchs of Panchayats, initially in English and Hindi and subsequently in other languages.

Similarly other programmes including Diploma in Panchayat Level Development and Administration and Masters DegreeProgramme could also be expected to be developed under the Centre, said officials.

The task of education and capacity building for an equitable and just social and economic development is huge. It involves the involvement of grass roots level institutions in the development processes of the country.

The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments not only sought to correct this imbalance but also to endow these institutions with the strength and prestige associated with self-governance structures sanctified by the constitution itself.

The task involves coordinated approach for massive awareness generation, orientation and skill development of over 34 lakh elected representatives and about 20 lakh development functionaries.

Added to this is the vast number of elected and nominated members of the urban local bodies. Distance educationprovides an appropriate and cost-effective means to empower local communities.

The creation of the National ODL Centre for Local Governance will help in empowering millions of elected members of Panchayats, local bodies and other development functionaries in the country through appropriate educational and training programmes.

The Centre is also expected to facilitate sustenance of various activities which get generated from such projects such as Panchayati Raj Projects and capacity building of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PSIs) through multi-mode training interventions.

The Centre will also establish similar institutions in the country and internationally and serve as clearing house for information sharing.

It is expected that the proposed centre will facilate developing a clear vision and strategy to plan and provide for an appropriate educational and training intervention to meet the challenge of facilitating and expending the silent revolution expected to be brought about by the 73rd and 74th amendments of the constitution.

Lake Residents Seek Audience With Ban Ki-moon


More than 100 residents from Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak lake area gathered in front of the UNDP offices on Monday to request a meeting with the UN secretary-general on his upcoming visit.

Ban Ki-moon is expected to arrive Wednesday for two days of official talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen and others, and lake residents said Monday they hoped he could help resolve an ongoing dispute with development company Shukaku.

Residents said in a letter they wanted “to stop the forced eviction from their homes and lands.” UNDP officials accepted the request and said they would forward it to Ban's office.

“We want to meet Ban Ki-moon to help us be free of forced eviction,” lake resident Sam Vanna said Monday. “We need government development projects for a modern city, but we want to live in the Boeung Kak area.”

On his visit, Ban is expected to address ongoing issues with the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, and he is scheduled to visit the Tuol Sleng genocide Museum.

When is the opportune time to make Socially Responsible Investments?

This is a question I get often.  As a long-term investor, I believe the time for Socially Responsible Investing is now…right NOW.  Long-term investors are not concerned over the current level of the stock market and whether the Market’s going to rise or fall the next day.

I propose investors be “fully invested” in equities most of the time.  Being “fully-invested” is different for different people depending on age, risk tolerance, etc.  As a Heuristic, I suggest being 75% long equities as a “base-case” level.  The remainder would be invested in bonds, real-estate, hard assets, and alternative/exotic investments (e.g., natural gas, platinum, rare-earth anyone?).

With that being said, there are certain times that are better to invest in the market.  Rather than choosing tops and bottoms based on certain fundamental criteria (e.g. price to earnings ratio), I have developed two Market Timing Indicators.  These indicators help me maintain objectivity with regards to my investment positions, as I have no influence on them.  They were designed during late 1992 and have been updated weekly since.

The two major indicators are:

1.    Sentiment:  based on human behavior, and supported by theories backed by Behavioral Finance. 

2.    Technical:  which measures market breadth, or underlying strength in the broad market.

These indicators are used to obtain my Portfolio's Investment Position.  Note, they do not know, or represent market levels.  They are measures of perceived risk, especially the Sentiment Indicators.  I have often taken mental notes of how everyone seems to clamor to buy things when their expected rate of returns are minimal compared to their inherent risks.  Would you like a current day example?  Just take a look at the bubbling Corporate Bond market.  Companies like IBM, and Microsoft are borrowing at historically low rates, which are just a tad above Treasury rates.

This website will include three simple colored (traffic) signals.  Green for “Buy” (i.e, low-risk levels) which means allocate your portfolio to a fully-invested equity position.  For me, that’s about 75-80% invested, but it could be lower for a more-risk adverse, or retired individual.  Yellow, means caution, risk levels rising.  Red means “High-Risk”; investors should reduce their investment positions to conservative levels perhaps 30-40% equity.  The remainder could be in treasuries, gold, high-grade corporate bonds, etc.

What are the Indicators saying now?  My Indicators are now flashing “Yellow” making a case for rising risks.  The market could continue climbing under the “Yellow” signal; however, it's more susceptible to sudden downward moves.

Feel free to contact me for additional clarity or to answer other questions.

Is Your Employee Volunteer Program Ready For the Next Disaster?

Today at 10:21 A.M., businesses, schools, and households will experience a simulated earthquake drill, the Great California Shakeout. The goal of this statewide event is to  increase awareness and preparedness for the next real big quake in California. While this drill is meant to be a wake up call to the realities of where we are living, it can also be a reminder that a disaster like this in places that are impoverished will require immediate humanitarian relief  as well as long term help in rebuilding.

Last January, VolunterMatch, a great organization that helps businesses and non-profits develop their volunteer programs, forwarded their Jan.newsletter, with their featured article: "After Haiti What Your Company Can Do" . This article had specific tips and suggestions aimed at helping victims of the Haiti disaster through  their employee volunteer programs, which can be used as a template for any future disasters where a company's philanthropy program would like to help.

Their recommendations include ideas for how to raise funds, how to determine the best agencies to donate to, and how to use the many VoluteerMatch tools such as their Emergency Preparedness Map, their special Event Manager Program  for organizing company volunteers for food and clothing drives, and their Disaster Messaging Tool.

While your company is thinking of building a toolkit for local emergencies preparedness, why not think about the need to be prepared to help others less fortunate when disaster hits them?

Upcoming Program: Public Interest Fellowship Application Tips

Join past Skadden Fellow, Professor Monica Teixeira de Sousa, and current Equal Justice Works Fellow, Zoe Paolantonio, to learn the ins and outs of putting together a successful post-graduate fellowship application. Anyone interested in pursuing a career in public interest - especially second year day and third year evening students - should plan on attending this valuable program.

Wednesday, October 27
5:00pm - 6:00pm

Cherry Room
* Refreshments will be served *

Please RSVP with the CSO

Ad Melkert survives Iraqi roadside bomb


A convoy carrying the UN's top envoy to Iraq has been hit by a roadside bomb, officials say.

Ad Melkert was unhurt, the UN said, but unconfirmed reports said a policeman died and three others were injured.

Iraqi police said the bomb hit the second-to-last vehicle in the convoy as it left the Shia holy city of Najaf, 160km (100 miles) south of Baghdad.

Mr Melkert had been in Najaf to meet Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, the UN said.

Mr Melkert, a Dutch politician, was appointed special representative for Iraq by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2009.

"The special representative was in the convoy. He is unhurt. He is fine," a UN spokeswoman said.

"We cannot speculate on what was the motive."

The convoy, made up of UN and police vehicles, had been on his way to the airport. The UN said Mr Melkert later returned safely to Baghdad.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says it is not clear if the attack targeted Mr Melkert or a police chief who was also in the convoy.

The attack comes as some Iraqis are looking to the UN to play a stronger role in breaking political deadlock in the country seven months after indecisive elections, our correspondent adds.

The UN scaled down its presence in Iraq following the bombing of its Baghdad headquarters in 2003.

The attack killed then-UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 staff members.

A Sweet Victory for the Sweets Truck

Here's a great example of one business' efforts garnering a sweet reward. You might remember back in April when I profiled The Sweets Truck, one of LA's hot new food trucks, this one a "mobile cafe and bakeshop," featuring delectable cookies, cakes, brownies and espresso drinks, and benefiting LA's Schools on Wheels, as well as a host of other philanthropic groups. Well, now the Sweets Truck has been nominated in the Los Angeles division of the CLASSY Awards, and they need a little help from their friends and fans.

The CLASSY Awards, in just its second year, is an awards competition started by the San Diego-based business Stay Classy, which specializes in web-based platforms for non-profits to coordinate fundraising efforts and market themselves across the web. The competition - branches of which include San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago and others - honors the top philanthropic achievements in their respective cities.

And now LA's own Sweets Truck is up for Top Small Philanthropic Business of the Year. Jump right over here to cast your vote for The Sweets Truck, and learn about some other really cool philanthropic groups all around the country.

A potted account of the research on DNA at King's College London

In this post, there will be a brief overview of the research carried out here at King's on the structure of DNA. This of course is not a definitive history of the events and interactions which led to the discovery of a double helix. For a more comprehensive scientific history of DNA, I would recommend Robert Olby's book "The Path to the Double Helix: The Discovery of DNA" (1974). My purpose is to introduce some of the techniques and findings that occurred here at King's and relate it to the overall contribution to identifying the structure of DNA.

DNA enters the 'Circus'

The new Biophysics Laboratory created by J T Randall at King's College London was a lively and unconventional institution. Randall's ambition to create a laboratory where physicists could work on biological problems and vice versa were being realised at King's and an assortment of young research workers from diverse scientific backgrounds found their feet in these new disciplines. Maurice Wilkins was one of these workers. His first years at King's had proved fruitless in the field of ultrasonics causing mutations in fruit flies and he swiftly moved on to construct, with his colleagues Bill Seeds and K P Norris reflecting achromatic microscopes which he began to use on ultraviolet and dichroism studies on the Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV), nucleic acids and nucleoproteins. During these initial experiments with DNA Wilkins found a significant finding he wrote in 1962:

"While examining oriented films of DNA prepared for ultraviolet dichroism studies, I saw in the polarizing microscope extremely uniform fibres getting clear extinction between crossed nicols...each time that I touched the gel with a glass rod and removed the rod, a thin and almost invisible fibre of DNA was drawn out like a filament of spider's web. The perfection and uniformity of the fibres suggested that the molecules in them were regularly arranged"

Polarising microscope view of DNA fibre stretched at room humidity

The excellent quality of this extracted DNA was not through chance. The sample was supplied by Rudolph Signer, a Swiss biochemist who had been since the 1930s endeavouring to produce high quality extracted DNA. The sample made in 1949 with his student H Schwander made that grade. On the 12 May 1950, Signer was invited to the Faraday Society in Cambridge to discuss his work on preparing DNA samples. At the end of the talk he distributed bottles of his best DNA and Maurice Wilkins was one of the lucky recipients. Wilkins later reflected that this was "a generous act in the best tradition of science!".

Having witnessed the remarkable uniformity of the fibres, Wilkins took the DNA fibres to Raymond Gosling for X-ray diffraction. Gosling was the only person using X-ray diffraction techniques at the time to complement Randall's interest in the X-ray study of ram's sperm heads. Initially the two were unsuccessful  the specimen to the film distance too large and the X-ray tube too weak to yield a pattern but they improvised as Raymond Gosling explains:

"I wound these fibres around a wire frame, forming a dense bundle which on the conventional Raymax tube produced a diffraction pattern recordable in a few hours. If that sounds rather scientific, I must tell you that the 'wire frame' was simply a bent paper clip and the 'dense bundle' was formed by applying Lepages quick setting cement, purchased from Woolworth's in the Strand!"

First multifibre specimen taken on the Raymax tube Unicam Camera, filled with hydrogen (1950)

The above photograph is the one that Maurice Wilkins showed at the Naples conference that so captivated Jim Watson. This was obtained thanks to a suggestion by Randall , by passing hydrogen thought the camera and sealing it where possible to prevent air scattering, which caused a fog on the film. From these images it was possible to demonstrate that the molecule was packed together like cylinders 2.0 nm in diameter and  that the structure was very crystalline. The final study in this initial period was experimenting with the water content of the molecule. By drying and heating the specimen they obtained an amorphous scatter pattern .This contrasted when they repeated the process but wetted the hydrogen at 90% humidity for 12 hours prior to exposure and obtained a crystalline pattern similar tp the example above. This demonstrated that water played a vital role in maintaining an ordered crystalline structure.

X-ray Diffraction Years

In June 1950, the old wartime Siemens X-ray tube broke down leaving the department without a working X-ray diffraction camera. They soon obtained designs for new fine-focus X-ray equipment produced by Ehrenberg and Spear at Birkbeck College. Whilst the camera was being constructed Randall came to the decision that they needed a professional crystallographer to keep the work progressing. Rosalind Franklin was already on her way to the department as a research fellow to work on proteins but Randall expressed in a letter the change in orientation. The letter stated that "as far as the experimental X-ray effort is concerned there will be at the moment only yourself and Gosling..." and  gave no indication of Wilkins' continued involvement on the project. This may account for the grievance that Franklin held from what she viewed as Wilkins interpreting her problem but this issue is in no way definitive and has been heatedly debated along with the wider recognition of Franklin's role ever since. Yet, it is best to leave the issue of Franklin and Wilkins relationship to one side for a moment and recount for what was actually achieved when she joined the department.

One of the first achievements of this collaborations was a vital one in solving the structure of DNA. Franklin brought her expertise to the job by fixing the humidity and the water content of the exposures by passing the hydrogen through saturated aqueous solutions of appropriate compounds through which the hydrogen could bubble into the camera at any given temperature. They soon found that the sodium salt of DNA supplied by Signer could transform into two forms, Structure A and Structure B.

Soon after this discovery, the division between the DNA workers at King's was cemented with Franklin and Gosling continuing to work with the fine focus X-ray tube using Signer DNA to outline the Structure A pattern of DNA whilst Wilkins and Alex Stokes used the old Raymax camera and work on the Structure B pattern using Erwin Chargaff's DNA samples. This situation did not change until Franklin left King's College London in February 1953 with virtually no communication between the two groups.

In October 1951 Wilkins, who had been reading Linus Pauling's famous paper on the protein alpha-helix , wondered why Pauling had not calculated the X-ray diffraction of the structure. After discussing the matter with Stokes he came back the next day with a Bessel function calculation of diffraction of a helix. The remarkable aspect of the 'Waves at Bessel on Sea' diagram was how much it corresponded to the new B diffraction patterns that Franklin was achieving. Franklin reacted furiously to her results being interpreted and the matter was set aside.

The following month November 1951, saw the unveiling of two DNA models: one by Bruce Fraser at King's and the other by Jim Watson and Francis Crick in Cambridge. Both these models were three chained helixes and lacked the key base-pair element. Fraser's model (as described in a previous post) was a closer approximation of the correct version as a fundamental flaw in the first Cambridge model was that the helix was inside out with the bases on the outside due to Watson misjudging the water content. The failure of the Cambridge model put a temporary injunction on the pairs DNA interest, whilst model building was not pursued at King's College London after Fraser left the department shortly after this. 

At the start of 1952, Franklin, taking the advice of a Paris mentor, Vittorio Luzzati , decided to elucidate the structure of the A pattern using the crystallographic method of cylindrical Patterson function. This laborious method was a way of calculating the Fourier transform of the intensities of the spots on the X-ray films ,and involved measuring different reflexions of the specimen which required a new tilting microcamera to be designed for this process. In order to calculate the Fourier transform, Franklin and Gosling had to consult Beavers and Lipson strips (pictured below). Ray Gosling recalled that:

"These assembled the values of the periodic functions all set out at appropriate intervals and arranged sequentially in a handsomely polished mahogany box. I used to have nightmares...that I had dropped a box of 'strips' on the floor and had to sort them all out in the correct order!"

By the end of 1952, Franklin and Gosling had the preliminary results back for the cylindrical Patterson function of Structure A. Although in hindsight the data from the cylindrical Patterson and then the 3-dimensional Patterson analysis supported a double helix in the A form such a conclusion was not reached by Franklin who before leaving for Birkbeck College had begun to investigate the B form of DNA (with which, as shown in her notebooks, she would come close to solving the structure with). 

The solution to the structure:

On the 7th March 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick finished the model of the double helix. The Cambridge pair started model building again after Watson was inspired on account of being shown 'Photo 51' by Wilkins when he visited King's on the 30th January. Watson deduced that a double helix rather than a triple helix fitted with genetic transference and was supported by the biochemical work of Erwin Chargaff who had discovered that the quantities of the base pairs were equal. On the 12th March 1953 the King's team were invited up to view the model. Wilkins wrote of seeing the model: 

"...a feeling came through to me that the model, though only bits of wire on a lab bench, had a special life of its own. It seemed like an incredible new-born baby that spoke for itself, saying 'I don't care what you think - I know I am right' "


 The diagram above on the left hand side shows some of the essential features of the double helix from the original paper by Watson and Crick such as the two sugar-phosphate chains running in opposite directions linked together by hydrogen bonded base-pairs stacked on top of each other. The diagram on the right shows a wire-model of the double helix used by Watson and Crick in their representation of the original double helical model of DNA.                     


The contribution of the the Biophysics department at King's to the discovery of the structure of DNA was vital. The x-ray diffraction studies and other experimental methods provided the essential properties for Watson and Crick to elucidate the structure.Yet these achievements were not in isolation and needed to be combined with the knowledge acquired from Pauling and Chargaff along with many others to lead to the structure of DNA. The cracking of the structure should not be seen in terms of a race but the culmination of advances in chemistry, biology and physics spanning back to the nineteenth century when Fritz Miescher extracted DNA for the first time. 

Fortieth Anniversary of the Discovery of the structure of DNA. Pictured from left to right are four of the five named workers featured on the commemorative plaque (exception being Rosalind Franklin) they are: Ray Gosling, Herbert Wilson, Maurice Wilkins and Alec Stokes.