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. Culture-shaping elite go to TED for mind-bending inspiration

by Staff Writers
Monterey, California (AFP) March 2, 2008
Comedian Robin Williams scrutinizes grim images of abuses perpetuated by US soldier guards at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Actress Cameron Diaz twirls a lock of her blond hair with a finger as she leans back in a bean bag chair and listens to a vaunted paleontologist speak of an inevitable end to humanity's golden age in the cosmos.

Queen Noor of Jordan debates with Google co-founder Serge Brin and legendary Watergate scandal reporter Carl Bernstein whether the Internet is changing news coverage for the better or worse.

Acclaimed actor Forest Whitaker exchanges views with a Ugandan journalist after hearing a renowned geneticist tell of engineering a new life form that will feed on climate-ruining carbon dioxide.

The powerful, famous, influential and brilliant mingle casually, finding inspiration, hope and challenge in mind-bending themes at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in California.

"Ted is wonderful," Diaz said as the four-day gathering ended over the weekend. "It changed my life."

Veteran attendees describe the gathering as a friendly retreat where visionaries, geniuses and achievers put aside life's daily distractions to collaborate on tackling the world's woes.

Former US vice president Al Gore, Microsoft founder Steve Wozniak, singer Paul Simon, and actress Goldie Hawn are among the TED "citizens."

TED speakers each get 18 minutes each to address "big questions" that this year included "Will evil prevail?" and "How can we change the world?"

"I compare TED to a healthy young brain building new connections and reaching out for new information," said neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor.

The "TED community" is perpetually tapped to fulfill visions such as ending poverty, nurturing the environment, and fostering planetary harmony.

"Between poverty and global warming we have our marching orders for a while," Google co-founder Larry Page told AFP on the conference's final day.

Even live music and performance art woven into the event are perspective shifting.

One performer's instruments included a marble and a bowl. A Zydeco version of a Led Zeppelin hit was in the repertoire of a "house band" led by Thomas Dolby.

"TED is about patterns in the clouds," an attendee observed privately. "It is about seeing things people have seen before but thinking about them in ways nobody has before."

A free Google Cafe supplied an endless flow of espresso drinks, anti-oxidant juices and organic snacks. Page and Brin are longtime TED citizens.

A TED Lab featured innovations from Microsoft, Nokia, Autodesk, and 23andMe, a "personal genome service" co-founded by Brin's wife, Anne Wojcicki.

Talks given in the conference center's cozy main hall were broadcast live to spacious nearby rooms screened into homey pods with couches, arm chairs, bean bag chairs, coffee tables and beds.

Massage therapists kneaded backs, necks and shoulders of interested passersby.

"We all need a violence-free, stress-free world," Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said while sharing yogic breathing techniques he teaches at his ashram in Bangalore, India. "We have to see ourselves from the context of the universe."

Three people were given TED Prizes consisting of 100,000 dollars and "a wish" to change the world for the better.

Cosmologist Neil Turok wishes for help cultivating scientific talent in Africa to uncover an "African Einstein."

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong wishes for a charter of compassion, justice and respect crafted by leaders of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Author Dave Eggers wishes for TEDsters to improve education at their local schools.

"The TED Prize was created to catalyze the TED community, their talents, and mindshare," said prize director Amy Novogratz.

Nearly 15 million people have viewed conference talks at the TED.com website since it launched in April of 2007.

The gathering opened with a rendition of the famed Hamlet soliloquy penned by William Shakespeare and ended with thoughts from Irish rocker turned activist Bob Geldof.

"I've been on a zillion stages and I just don't know how to follow four days of brilliance," Geldof said. "If the impulse of one human to help another isn't important what is?"

Geldof told of a dream to create a "dictionary of man" that logs every aspect of the world's languages and cultures.

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What Caused Westward Expansion In The United States
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Feb 29, 2008
Western Expansion during the nineteenth century was an important determinant of geographic distribution and economic activity in the United States today. However, while explanations abound for why the migration occurred- from the low price of land to a pioneering spirit - little empirical work has been done to determine which specific market forces were the most important drivers.

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