Berkman Alumni, Friends, and Spinoffs

Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

November 24, 2014

Doc Searls
The Most Spectacular Place You’ll Never See

Unless you look out the window.

When I did that on 4 November 2007, halfway between London and Denver, I saw this:

baffin

Best I could tell at the time, this was Greenland. That’s how I labeled it in this album on Flickr. For years after that, I kept looking at Greenland maps, trying to find where, exactly …

baffin1

all these mountains and glaciers were.

Then, two days ago, I found out. They were just north of the Arctic Circle on the Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, an Arctic landform almost twice the size of New Zealand. I had just finished photographing everything I could of Greenland, en route from London to Los Angeles in a United 777, looking back out my dirty and frosty window near the trailing edge of the wing. After we finished crossing Davis Strait, and started seeing the islands on the Baffin Island coast, I realized that the scene was familiar. My GPS and the plane’s own map filled in the gap I’d been mulling for most of a decade.

Cutting through the center of the peninsula was a 75-mile long Yosemite-grade valley called Akshayuk Pass, connecting the North and South Pangnirtung Fjords. Feeding into the valley were glaciers slowly sliding off ice caps. On the west side of the pass was the Penny Ice Cap, a mini-Greenland icing a spectacular cake called Auyuittuq National Park, almost all north of the Arctic Circle, meaning that it will be in darkness around the clock a month from now, when the Winter Solstice comes.

Wikipedia: “In Inuktitut (the language of Nunavut‘s aboriginal people, the Inuit), Auyuittuq (current spelling: ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ aujuittuq) means ‘the land that never melts.’” Nobody lives there.

On the first trip I was fascinated by a mountain that looked like an old tooth with fillings that had fallen out. It’s in the lower left side of this shot here:

asgard

So I recognized it instantly when I saw it again. Here’s the same scene after seven years:

agard2

The mountain is Asgard, and named after the realm of Norse gods. From below it looks the part. (That link is to some amazing photos, taken from Turner Glacier, above Asgard in the shot above. One of the great James Bond ski chase stunts in history was also shot here. See this video explaining it. Start at about 1:33.)

A bit before I started shooting these scenes, a flight attendant asked me to shut my window, so others on the plane could sleep or watch their movies. Note that this was in the middle of a daytime flight, not a red-eye. When I told her I booked a window seat to look and shoot out the window, she was surprised but supportive. “That is pretty out there,” she said.

Later, when we were over Hudson Bay and the view was all clouds, I got up to visit the loo and count how many other windows had shades raised. There were eight, out of dozens in the long Economy cabin.

No wonder one cynical term used by airline people to label passengers is “walking freight.” The romance and thrill of flying has given way to rolling passengers on and off, and filling them with bad food and “content” from entertainment systems.

But there’s more than meets the shade. Much more, if you bother to look.

by Doc Searls at November 24, 2014 01:21 AM

November 22, 2014

Doc Searls
On “native” advertising

gaudifaceIn an email today I was asked by a PR person if I wanted to talk with somebody at a major newspaper about its foray into “native” advertising — a euphemism for ads made to look like editorial matter. Among other things they asked if native advertising would “signify the death of credible journalism.” Here was my response:

I think tricking up advertising to look like journalism crosses a line I wish (name of paper) would keep up as a thick wall.

In publishing, editorial is church and advertising is state. The difference should be clear, and the latter should not be confused with the former. For nearly all its history, this was the case with (name of paper), and all serious publications.

While native ads don’t signify the death of credible journalism, they do signify a sell-out by publishers using them.

If (person at the paper) wants to try convincing me otherwise, I’m game. But be warned that the likelihood that I’ll give native ads a positive spin — for any pub — is close to nil.

Bonus link — Andrew Sullivan on Native Ads: Journalism has surrendered. Great interview.

by Doc Searls at November 22, 2014 11:57 PM

Global Voices
Opposition Representatives Propose “Freedom from Fear” Law in Serbia

Nineteen representatives of the Serbian National Assembly filed a proposal for a new law that would guarantee Serbian citizens freedom from fear. While freedom from fear is allegedly a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, some ruling politicians in Serbia have brought it into question in recent months through apparent abuse of power.

Screenshot of a page of the official proposal of the Law on Freedom from Fear, as posted by Deputy Speaker of the Serbian National Assembly Gordana Čomić on Slideshare, used with permission.

Screenshot of a page of the official proposal of the Law on Freedom from Fear, as posted by Deputy Speaker of the Serbian National Assembly Gordana Čomić on Slideshare, used with permission.

The proposal comes from opposition assembly representatives who are members of the Democratic Party (Demokratska stranka – DS) and the New Party (Nova stranka – NS). Of the 250 representatives in the Serbian Assembly, elected in an early parliamentary election in March 2014, 158 are members of the Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska napredna stranka – SNS), led by current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. Prime Minister Vučić and his collaborators have often been in the news throughout 2014 for pressuring media and individuals. Vučić has denied these claims, but some of his cabinet's practices are becoming apparent.

Journalist Milena Knezevic wrote for Index on Censorship earlier in 2014:

Index has tracked the media freedom situation in Serbia since the early days of the current government. There have been reports of a journalist being interrogated by police for sharing a Facebook post, as well as physical and verbal attacks — often with impunity. But indirect control of media, smear campaigns and other methods of covert “soft censorship” also pose a serious challenge to Serbian press freedom. “Milošević never muzzled the media this perfidiously. His methods were far less sophisticated and everything was out in the open,” said Beckovic [a prominent journalist]. And it seems her colleagues agree that censorship is prevalent. Ninety per cent of journalists responding to a recent survey said censorship and self-censorship does exist in Serbian media, while 73% and 95%, respectively, said the media does not report objectively and critically.

The full proposal for the Law on Freedom from Fear, filed on November 20, 2014, was posted by Democratic Party member and Deputy Speaker of the Serbian National Assembly Gordana Čomić on her personal Slideshare account. Part of the submitted document explains the reasons for bringing forth the proposal:

II Razlozi za donošenje zakona

Razlozi za donošenje ovog zakona sadržani su, pre svega, u potrebi da se zaštite Ustavom zajemčeni slobode građana u slučajevima kada su te slobode ugrožene od strane organa javne vlasti[...] Smatramo da niko, a naročito organi javne vlasti, ne smeju da zloupotrebom ovlašćenja prilikom obavljanja poslova iz svoje nadležnosti zastrašuju građane Republike Srbije, i stvaraju stanje straha i neizvesnosti, pri čemu se građani prisiljavaju protiv svoje volje da nešto čine ili ne čine.

II Reasons for passing the law

The reasons for passing this law consist of, above all, the necessity to protect civic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution in cases when those freedoms are violated by governments authorities[...] We deem that no one, especially government authorities, is allowed to incite fear in citizens of the Republic of Serbia through abusing authority while conducting duties within their jurisdiction, or create a state of fear and incertitude, forcing citizens to, against their will, do or not do something.

In a short conversation with Global Voices on November 22, 2014, Deputy Speaker Gordana Čomić said that she hoped all National Assembly representatives would understand not only the importance of passing this law, but the importance of bringing it forth before the Assembly for discussion at the soonest possible date. In accordance with Assembly procedures, the soonest possible date for the proposed law to reach the floor of the National Assembly is 15 days from the date of filing, while Ms. Čomić expects the date for discussing the proposed law in the Assembly will be on December 10, 2014.

by Danica Radisic at November 22, 2014 06:53 PM

How the Tunisian Electoral Authority Robbed Me of the Right to Vote
 Tunis, Tunisia. 26th October 2014 -- A female voter casts her ballot at a polling station in Tunis during the Tunisian Parliamentary election. -- Polling stations closed at 6.00pm after voters turned out to cast their ballots in Tunisia's parliamentary elections to elect 217 members of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People. Photograph by Chedly Ben Ibrahim. Copyright: Demotix


Tunis, Tunisia. 26th October 2014 — A female voter casts her ballot at a polling station in Tunis during the Tunisian Parliamentary election. — Polling stations closed at 6.00pm after voters turned out to cast their ballots in Tunisia's parliamentary elections to elect 217 members of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People.
Photograph by Chedly Ben Ibrahim. Copyright: Demotix

It all started when I registered to cast my absentee vote in Tunisia’s 2014 legislative elections in New York City. I live in Denver, so I figured it was the best place to vote, as I can usually find pretty cheap air tickets to the Big Apple. Usually, but not always: sadly, I never managed to make it to New York in October to cast my vote. The presidential elections in November, however, would find me in The Hague, and as Tunisia’s Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE) offered all Tunisian citizens living abroad the option to change their voting location, I decided to change my location to there. 

The process was simple enough: send in a copy of your passport, proof of your original registration, and fill out a form. Send the documents to your regional representatives, and they'd send them back to Tunisia for the ISIE to review. I submitted my documentation to the regional office, and they responded courteously confirming that I had submitted all the required paperwork and my file was complete. They would send it to the main authority in Tunis, and wait to hear back.

Maybe you're wondering how I could choose so casually to switch my voting location from a city in one country to a city way over on another continent. Under ISIE rules New York and The Hague part of the same electoral district. Districts for Tunisians living abroad are as follows: France 1; France 2; Germany; Italy; Arab world countries; Americas and rest of Europe. And in theory, you should be able to vote at any voting location within the same district, correct?

Not according to the ISIE. For the 2014 legislative elections, the ISIE changed the rules and made everyone re-register in order to vote; and if you re-registered to vote in New York (or Houston, or Vienna, or any other city), you better believe that that exact city is where you would be going to vote.

On November 13, the ISIE released the names of those “selected” to vote. My name was not on the list—and neither were the names of many, many others in my district who had requested a change. In the Montreal office, only three people were accommodated. Three. And we were not given any reason or justification as to why our names weren't there.

To say I feel furious is an understatement. I am a full Tunisian citizen who has yet to vote even once, because of the incompetence of the Tunisian electoral authority. I was so excited to finally be voting for the first time, to be exercising the most fundamental of my rights. But the ISIE decided that it could arbitrarily choose who could vote and who could not. It decided that it has the power to rob citizens of their rights.

The regional representatives did not have much to say but remind those rejected that it is “up to the ISIE” to decide whose request could be accommodated. A message posted on their Facebook page reads: “The fact that your file is complete does not guarantee acceptance by ISIE. Almost every day we have published on our page that only ISIE has the power to authorize the change. We understand your frustration, but we unfortunately have no more answers than you do.”

i also have to wonder whether this has anything to do with politics. Though I can't know for certain whether my application was rejected as a result of my political views, I do know this: the ISIE has made it very difficult for Tunisians abroad to exercise their right to vote, and several instances were reported during October's legislative elections where certain individuals were unable to locate their names at the offices where they were registered and were therefore rendered unable to vote. There were also reports of bureau members convincing friends (usually sharing the same political convictions) to go to vote and fill up the voting booths.

So given how bad the legislative elections were—extreme disorganization reigned supreme in the offices abroad, I anticipate that tomorrow's presidential elections will be even worse. The saddest part is that I have not felt this angry at my country since the time of Ben Ali. Back then I felt Tunisian was constantly rejecting me, making me feel like a second-class citizen every time I tried to open my mouth about this or that, or to exercise very basic rights and duties.

Today, I feel the very same way. I feel I have been treated unjustly, I feel robbed, and I call on the judicial authorities in Tunisia to initiate an investigation and find answers to the following question: why were the location change requests denied? On what basis were Tunisian citizens forfeited their right to vote?

Wafa Ben Hassine is a Tunisian-American law student specializing in International Law and Internet Law. She is an advocate for global human rights with a special focus on the Arab world.  

by Wafa Ben Hassine at November 22, 2014 05:49 PM

Over 2000 Macedonian Students Celebrated International Student Day in Protest

Over two thousand students took to the streets of the Macedonian capital Skopje on November 17, 2014 to march against the decision of the government to impose external testing in the country's universities. The protest march began in front of the St. Cyril and Methodius university main building. Students then proceeded to block streets around the University and marched towards the Ministry of Education and Science, with occasional stops in front of the Government building and the Student Parliament.

Student march in Skopje, Macedonia. Photo by Marjan Zabrcanec, used with permission.

Student march in Skopje, Macedonia. Photo by Marjan Zabrcanec, used with permission.

In a speech before the march, members of a student movement called Student Plenum expressed the students’ collective outrage at what many have called the destruction of higher education in the country. The students activists called for other students to “wake up” and asked attendees not to succumb to provocations from the ruling party and others.

Student Parliament is an NGO which nominally serves as an official representative of the student body and is favored by the government as such. The university students become its members by default. The students symbolically “buried” the Student Parliament during the protest because of its failure to take responsibility and a position on the matter, as the legitimate representative of the student body. They laid wreaths at the doors of the Student Parliament headquarters and called on members of the Parliament to come out, but found only locked doors.

The last destination of the march was the Ministry of Education and Science, where the students then asked Minister Abdilaqim Ademi to come out and face them. Since there was no response, and some the participants shouted demands for his resignation. The Student Plenum later left a letter addressed to the Minister with their official demands. In the letter, the students once again expressed the arguments considering the external testing which according to them is contrary to the right for education and the autonomy of the educational institutions. They believe that such a move is unnecessary.

The protest was peaceful, with no incidents and with strong police protection. The massive student march in Skopje was also officially the students’ celebration of November 17, commonly marked as International Day of Students in Macedonia and other countries.

Previously, Student Plenum organized four meetings during which students discussed this government decision and other university-related matters. The meetings were held in different departments of the University in question and the number of participants increased at every new meeting. Their Facebook page gathered over five thousand supporters in just one month and serves as a place where they will announce future meetings and activities.

In addition, the movement's panel organized two, as they called them, “guerrilla actions” where they set banners with messages from the students in public view. One such action addressed the participants of traditional student hike on nearby Vodno mountain, asking them “Good morning students, are you awake?”

The vast majority of the Macedonian online community applauded the march, and expressed outrage against the muted coverage of the event in the country's media. Using the hashtag #СтудентскиМарш (#StudentMarch), Twitter and Facebook users attempted to add to its public visibility on social networks. Many local activists stated that the youth brought hope of breaking the overwhelming apathy grappling Macedonia, which has been ranked on of Europe's poorest countries in recent years.

The protest seems to have had tangible results, although the Minister of Education attempted to publicly label the protesters as “controlled by the opposition”, stating that “only political parties are allowed to demand resignations from ministers”. Student Plenum denied these allegations. Several days after the protest, high government representatives started giving conciliatory statements about the protest, attempting to pacify the protesters by announcing a “softer” version of external testing, which would be implemented as of 2017. Student Plenum responded that they do will not accept any such “amnesty” because their goal is to save future generations external testing, which they deem as unjust.

by Emilija Petreska at November 22, 2014 03:53 PM

November 21, 2014

Global Voices
Bahrain Will Stamp Out Popular Protests, but Not Support for ISIS
A protester in Bahrain holds a sign that reads:

A protester in Bahrain holds a sign that reads: “No to the state-sponsored terrorism, Bahrain is a gulf state that is witnessing the third year of an uprising led by the majority Shia population. Photograph by Hussain Altareef. Copyright: Demotix

Bahrain is officially a part of a regional military coalition fighting the brutal, oppressive offshoot of Al Qaeda known as ISIS that has violently taken over large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. But the monarchy-backed government still seems to be turning a blind eye towards ISIS sympathizers, financiers and sectarian preachers within the country. Government critics say this move helps them create sectarian tension, which is used to silence pro-democracy activists in Bahrain, who have been leading a movement for reform since 2011.

A recent social media campaign presents a clear example of the growing support for ISIS in the tiny island kingdom. In one YouTube video, four Bahraini ISIS members call on other Bahrainis to take up arms and join the fight against their ruling “tyrants”, the Sunni Al Khalifa royal family, and the country's majority Shia population. Despite this, there has been no public investigation of the video.

ISIS propaganda flourishes in Bahrain under government watch

Other videos have called for support for ISIS and incited sectarian violence:

youtube-is

The poster of the videos, AbuAldergham, as he calls himself, has challenged the authorities by publishing his real name, phone number, and personal history online:

dhergham

I am Abu Dergham Al Hijri.
My real name is Mohammed Al Mahmood
I graduated from the Religious Institute
This is my phone number 33784938

The country's cyber-crime unit, which routinely targets bloggers and human rights activists with detention and imprisonment, has not arrested the creators of these videos.

To give another example, Abdulla Mubarak Albinali, brother of Turki Albinali, the mufti or person in charge of interpreting Islamic law for ISIS, has been publishing pro-ISIS content online for some time. He was briefly questioned by Bahraini authorities, but has not been arrested. His other brother, Mohammed Mubarak Albinali, is the ISIS fighter “Abu Alfida Alsalami” from the YouTube call for arms referenced above. Both brothers received praise from their father Mubarak Abdulla Albinali, who many claim is a lieutenant colonel.

ISIS helps frame a sectarian narrative

Do these people believe they will not face repercussions for their actions? Bahraini human rights defenders observing the situation have raised this very question. Many believe the regime wants to encourage a sectarian narrative to crush the independent movement for greater human rights protections in Bahrain.

It could prove difficult for Bahraini authorities to counter the threat of extremist groups — after all, they have worked with them actively in the past. Extremist groups were summoned as a part of the crackdown on the 2011 uprising, which saw thousands upon thousands take to the streets to demand several different reforms and freedoms from the government.

The crackdown encouraged sectarianism, a witch hunt of “traitors,” the demolition of Shia mosques and bigotry and insults from police forces. It required entities who would support the rhetoric of a sectarian divide, and for that extremely sectarian groups were needed.

In fact, Turki Albinali, the mufti for ISIS mentioned above, rose to prominence as a member of counter-revolutionary forces that were used to resist those who were seeking change in Bahrain. In the video below from 2011, he makes a speech to a group in Busaiteen calling on them to “defend” their nation against the “traitors” — a reference to the pro-democracy demonstrators in Bahrain. Among those in the audience are people carrying axes, sticks and swords. Albinali even received the blessing of some high-level officials who visited the gathering in Busaiteen. Yet they experienced no repercussions from authorities because they were in line with the sectarian narrative that was being employed. 

Turki Albinali exploited the platform provided to extremists. He gave Friday sermons, inciting hatred against the protesters. He also held protests in front of the United States Embassy in Bahrain, waving ISIS flags.

This rise of sectarianism was no surprise — it rapidly became an unspoken state-sponsored policy. As New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof put it:

My New York Times colleague Michael Slackman was caught by Bahrain security forces a few weeks ago. He said that they pointed shotguns at him and that he was afraid they were about to shoot when he pulled out his passport and shouted that he was an American journalist. Then, he says, the mood changed abruptly and the leader of the group came over and took Mr. Slackman’s hand, saying warmly: “Don’t worry! We love Americans!”

“We’re not after you. We’re after Shia,” the policeman added. Mr. Slackman recalls: “It sounded like they were hunting rats.”

The government of Bahrain did not intervene to stop the rise of the likes of Turki Albinali for the same reason it did not join the Gulf-wide crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. They are valuable allies who endorse the sectarian narrative of the regime against social uprising. These groups may be the regime's last ally inside Bahrain.

Bahrain's powerful ISIS Sympathizers

This will not be the first time Bahrain has contributed to the growth and empowerment of militant groups. In his book “The Professionals – Politic and Crime – International Moneylaundering,” Heinz Duthel writes:

After September 11, 2001, money laundering become a major concern of the US Bush administration's war on terror, although critics argue that it has become less and less an important matter for the White House. Based in Luxembourg, Clearstream, “a bank of banks” which practice “financial clearing”, centralizing debit and credit operations for hundreds of banks, has been accused of being a major operator of the underground economy via a system of un-published accounts; Bahrain International Bank, owned by Osama bin Laden, would have profited from these transfer facilities.

The use of Bahrain as a financial haven for militant groups isn't new, but what's alarming is their ability to grow recently, to the extent where a member of Bahrain's royal family was tweeting in support of ISIS from his Twitter account featuring a backdrop photo of the group's flag (his account is currently suspended).

“ISIS soldiers take control of the villages of the northern Reef (countryside) after killing scores of members of Sahawat (awakening).” The account of a Bahraini member of the royal family who showed support to ISIS, currently suspended.

Another member of the royal family promoted Jabhat Al Nusra (a branch of Al Qaeda) “stocks:” 

Supporting Al Nusra men with weapons

[The image reads:] Campaign for equipment.
Alansar share: 10,000 Riyal
Golden share: 5,000 Riyal
Silver share: 1,000 Riyal
Bronze Share: 500 Riyal
Normal Share: 200 Riyal
To make a contribution of support, please contact one of the accounts below. It's safe and easy

The issue could soon become a concern for Saudi Arabia, which is battling Al Qaeda within its kingdom. Bahrain sits just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, separated by a narrow stretch of water only a few dozen kilometers wide. The two neighboring kingdoms share chummy relations — Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain in 2011 to help suppress a popular uprising there. 

In the recent Dalwa massacre in Al Ahsa in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, three men who fought in Syria for Al Qaeda allegedly opened fire on a group of Shia Muslims, killing five. This attack could easily have been planned in Bahrain. Not long after the violence, Al Qaeda decided to once again join arms with ISIS, and many times before Bahrainis were arrested in Saudi for attempting attacks related to Al Qaeda.

Something similar could even happen in Bahrain. In fact, Bahrain's Foreign Affairs Minister Khalid Al Khalifa tweeted in response to the killing:

Had it not been for the care of Allah and the alertness of the security apparatus, we wouldn't have been surprised if a crime such as the one in Al Ahsa occurred in Bahrain. Thank you Interior Ministry

by Noor Mattar at November 21, 2014 11:39 PM

Info/Law
The Antidote for “Anecdata”: A Little Science Can Separate Data Privacy Facts from Folklore

Guest post by Daniel Barth-Jones

For anyone who follows the increasingly critical topic of data privacy closely, it would have been impossible to miss the remarkable chain reaction that followed the New York TLC’s (Taxi and Limousine Commission) recent release of data on more than 173 million taxi rides in response to a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request by Urbanist and self-described “Data Junkie” Chris Whong.  It wasn’t long at all after the data went public that the sharp eyes and keen wit of software engineer Vijay Pandurangan detected that taxi drivers’ license numbers and taxi plate (or medallion) numbers hadn’t been anonymized properly and could be decoded due to the failed encryption process.

Soon after Pandurangan’s revelation of the botched unsalted MD5 cryptographic hash in the TLC data, Anthony Tockar, working on a summer Data Science internship with Neustar,  posted his blog “Riding with the Stars: Passenger Privacy in the NYC Taxicab Dataset” with the aim of introducing the concept of “differential privacy” and announcing Neustar’s expertise in this area. Armed with some celebrity paparazzi photos as a starting point, Tockar’s blog post, replete with attention grabbing tales of miserly celebrities who stiffed drivers on their tips and cyber-stalking strip club patrons, quickly went viral. Tockar further gravely warned us all in his post that “Equipped with this [TLC Taxi] dataset, and just a little auxiliary information about you, it would be quite trivial for someone to follow your movements, collecting data on your whereabouts and habits, while you remain blissfully unaware. A stalker could find out where you live and work. Your partner may spy on you. A thief could work out when you’re away from home, based on your habits.

As I’ll explain in more detail, sorting out these quite concerning claims in a rational fashion which will enable us to consider complex decisions about the possible trade-offs between Freedom of Information principles and data privacy concerns requires that we move beyond mere citation of anecdotes (or worse, collections of anecdotes which have carefully targeted especially vulnerable, non-representative cases and been repackaged as “anecdata”) to base our risk assessment in a systematic investigation appropriately founded in the principles of scientific study design and statistically representative samples. Regrettably though, this wasn’t the case here and has quite often not been the case for many headline snatching re-identification attacks that have recently made the news in recent years.

So, the ensuing TLC Taxi headlines in follow-up press for Tockar’s blog (“If you think you’ve anonymized a data set, you’re probably wrong or “How Big Brother watches you with metadata) and accompanying twitter buzz (ranging from “yet another amazing piece on finding out detailed picture of people’s lives from anonymized data” to “It’s virtually impossible to anonymize large data sets”) conveyed that the verdict was in on this latest data attack, and we should all (to paraphrase the hype) “be afraid, be very afraid”.

When Does 99.9999936 % Equal Zero Percent?

Somehow in the mind’s eye of many readers, even though Tockar’s taxi ride re-identifications were selectively focused only an almost unimaginably small proportion of the 173 million rides, Tockar’s blog was seen as yet another demonstration that “anonymized data really isn’t”. However, it would hopefully be clear that examining a miniscule proportion of cases from a population of 173 million rides couldn’t possibly form any meaningful basis of evidence for broad assertions about the risks that that taxi-riders might face from such a data release (at least with the taxi medallion/license data removed as will now be the practice for FOIL request data). Even though no evidence had presented for at least 99.9999…% of the rides, wisdom of the crowd as conveyed by twitter buzz had somehow reached the conclusion that “It’s virtually impossible to anonymize large data sets”.

With close examination it appears that these supposed re-identifications from the taxi data may be constructed more with smoke and mirrors than they are actually exposing unavoidable privacy threats posed by the released taxi data; or at least this would have been the case if the TLC data had been properly anonymized using rigorous de-identification standards (such as are routinely imposed on de-identified data under the HIPAA Privacy regulations for health data).

Tockar was apparently able to re-identify his two celebrity targets (Bradley Cooper and Jessica Alba) by using the cab’s medallion or license plate data which was left exposed by the failed cryptographic hash in the TLC data. Using the failed hash and additional clues on time and location of the pick-ups or drop-offs obtained from celebrity blogs posting photos taken by paparazzi who were tailing the celebs, Tockar was able to fairly easily look up their rides. By exploiting this clear anonymization failure, he showed that he could re-identify two out of 173+ million taxi rides. Not long after this, J.K. Trotter from Gawker then took this a step further and added another nine re-identifications to the celebrity ride re-identification tally.

So amazingly, by re-identifying a mere 11 celebrity rides out of 173 million rides (using data which hadn’t been properly de-identified), the perception of readers had been swayed to conclude that the taxi data represented some innate inability to reliably anonymize data rather than being properly perceived as resulting from both a failure to implement appropriate anonymization methods and a as being reminder of a simple fact: If you have packs of paparazzi trailing you and photographing your every move, you just won’t have much privacy. For example, in the Alba case, it seems pretty clear from the photos that she was being photographed both at the pick-up and drop-off for her ride. So her scandalous “privacy loss” attributable to the TLC data boils down to just a questionable insinuation that she failed to tip, considering that cash tips aren’t captured by the TLC data.

The 11 in 173 million odds for this celebrity ride re-identification (or 1 in 15,743,614) are truly infinitesimal.  To put this in perspective, this risk is over 1,000 times smaller than one’s lifetime risk of being hit by lighting. With the cryptographic hash problem fixed in any future data releases, this spooky specter of celebrity cyber-stalking using TLC taxi data is likely to vanish as soon as one turns one the lights.

The situation is likewise with the purported (but in my opinion after detailed examination, highly dubious) re-identification of Hustler Club patron rides. For this next cyber-stalking attack, Tockar mapped out all rides starting near the Hustler Club between 12 to 6 am. His next step was then to promptly discard over 80 percent of the rides because they were less than 5 miles in length and he recognized that Manhattan was generally too densely populated to isolate individuals. He then proceeded to map the remaining rides and search for clusters of drop-off locations. Through this process he identified 23 drop-off clusters (including a huge “mega-cluster” surrounding Wall Street) which he attributed only to individuals who frequented the Hustler Club. What wasn’t mentioned in his blog was the 3,000 seat concert venue and two nightclubs nearby, or the NYC Taxi Cab stand located at the corner in front of the strip club.

hustler

NYC Taxi Stand in front of the Hustler Club

I’ve examined the U.S. Census Block data (the smallest geographic unit used by the Census) for census blocks surrounding each of these clusters in some detail. Most of the Census block areas surrounding the clusters show populations of well more than 1,000 persons and all but two of these 23 clusters are likely to have populations of at least a few dozen persons within an easy one-to-two minute walk from the cluster. (Certainly, under the assumption that Tockar could be right about these rides belonging to a strip club patron coming home in the middle of the night, it seems wise to suppose that they could be likely to have the cab stop short of their residence.)

Having studied Tockar’s allegations in some detail, I personally don’t believe them to be any more than conjecture. But to avoid further promoting any possible privacy intrusions resulting from Tockar’s publicizing this attack, (a journalistic and research ethics issue which I’ve written about elsewhere), let’s just go with the assertion that he re-identified someone who was at the Hustler Club.

Still, it’s safe to say that, if Tockar did actually re-identify anyone using this approach, the re-identification risk associated with this demonstration is very small and could only be plausibly achieved by “cherry-picking” and limiting the search strategy to include only areas where the population density was very low. And, of course, if such an attack will only be feasible by selectively focusing on areas with very low population densities, then the proportion of individuals within New York who could possibly be impacted by such attacks would also have to be very small indeed, simply because New York’s population densities in most areas are very high and thus would protect the very vast majority of people from any possibility of such an attack.[1]

It’s worth pointing out that, with such miniscule re-identification risks, Tockar’s fear-inducing admonitions that TLC Taxi data would be used by your suspicious partner, a thief, or some other malicious actor who is out to bring you harm, just rings hollow. Because the chance of success is so very remote, it takes some real mental gymnastics to suppose that someone who means you harm will bother to file a FOIL data request with the TLC in order to achieve their end. If you have someone who is out to get you, your problem isn’t the extremely unlikely event that they’d go through all the effort to use TLC data to do so in spite of their having virtually no chance of success. Your problem is that there is someone who is out to get you.

The TLC data attacks (like so many data re-identification demonstrations) are able to invoke fear because they succeed with a logical diversion in this probabilistic equivalent of a game of Three Card Monte. You start off contemplating the probability that an individual (i.e., you) might be targeted in such a data attack; but what you are actually shown is the probability (although still remote) that somebody (i.e., anyone and everyone who could be targeted in the attack) could be attacked. And, even though the revealed risk is exceedingly remote, this risk unfortunately isn’t processed by our brains rationally, because we have an empirically demonstrated reduced capacity to rationally assess probabilities and respond rationally to risks when fear has been invoked. Having now witnessed evidence of a successful attack, our assessments of the probability of it actually being implemented in the real world may subconsciously become 100 percent–which is highly distortive of the true risk calculation that we face.

So, how can we avoid undue influence from such targeted, non-representative data re-identification demonstration attacks? One of the first steps would be to pay highest credence only to re-identification studies which have used scientifically valid research designs and which have used statistical random sampling methods to assure that their results are representative of the true re-identification risks posed by the data. Had a statistically valid random sample been used instead of only selectively targeting especially vulnerable opportunities in the data, it’s very unlikely that any re-identifications would have been demonstrated from the TLC data given the very high population and taxi densities in most of New York. This isn’t to say that Tockar’s quite clever insights into how the data might be attacked had no value. His focused attacks do provide some valuable insight into some potential (but very rare) vulnerabilities, which point us to some fairly straightforward de-identification steps that might be useful for future data releases. But I would contend that, in order to rightly claim the title of “data science” or “re-identification science”, the methods used need to also provide us with some systematic and generalizable means of properly assessing the data re-identification probabilities for the entire population at risk.  By doing this, the discipline of consistently using statistical and scientific methods to examine data privacy risks can help us separate data privacy facts from folklore.  Clearly, the antidote that will get us past using anecdote (and it’s much more deceptive sibling “Anecdata”) is a solid foundation in the roots of scientific study design and statistics. Fortunately, by doing this, we can get past simplistic and flawed reasoning about the complex questions that are involved in balancing the public good stemming from Freedom of Information laws and open data initiatives with the equally important issue of substantively protecting against possible data privacy risks and harms.

Daniel Barth-Jones, M.P.H., Ph.D., is a HIV/Infectious Disease Epidemiologist on the faculty at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. His work in the area of statistical disclosure control and data privacy under the HIPAA Privacy Rule provisions for de-identification is focused on the importance of properly balancing competing goals of protecting patient privacy and preserving the accuracy of scientific research and statistical analyses conducted with de-identified data.

[1]   This suggests what is likely to be a data utility-preserving solution for protecting against such remote risks. A fairly simple redaction of taxi rides picking up  or dropping off in areas with low population densities but also retaining certain high taxi density areas (such as occurs on the adjoining streets at the Times Square pedestrian plaza or Central Park) would leave the vast majority of the taxi data intact. This approach might also be combined with some further well-designed time and location noise injection perturbations accounting for the correlations for pick-up/drop-off times, locations and trip distances, fares, etc. in order to further protect against re-identification while producing little important reduction in the data utility.

 

by jyakowitz at November 21, 2014 09:03 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
University Teacher Unpopular with Islamist Hardliners is Killed in Bangladesh
Picture of Rajshahi University Campus in a misty winter morning. Image from Flickr by  Kamrul Hasan. December 16, 2013 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Picture of Rajshahi University Campus in a misty winter morning. Image from Flickr by Kamrul Hasan. December 16, 2013 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Professor Shafiul Islam, a professor of sociology in Rajshahi University was attacked with a machete by unknown assailants outside his home in Rajshahi city on November 15. He died from his injuries in a nearby hospital some hours later. According to news reports, the professor led a push to ban students wearing full-face veils at his university in 2012, stoking the wrath of Islamist hardliners. The professor argued that full-face veils made it difficult to identify individual students and that they could even be used to cheat on university examinations. 

Rajshahi is a major urban and industrial centre of North Bengal and is located on the river Padma near Bangladesh-India border. Rajshahi University is a stronghold of the religious political party Jamaat and its student wing Islami Chatra Shibir. Pro-Jamaat newspapers in 2010 reported that Shafiul Islam had banned the burqa as the then-chair of the university’s sociology department, a policy that offended religious sentiments among many in the majority-Muslim country. At that time, Shafiul had sent rejoinders to some of those newspapers claiming that he had only expelled one female student from his class because she was cheating using her burqa.

A previously unknown Islamist group claimed responsibility for Shafiul's killing, after opening a Facebook page late on Saturday:

Screenshot of the Facebook page

Screenshot of the Facebook page

Their status reads:

Our Mujahideens have killed an ‘atheist’ of Rajshahi University who had banned wearing burqa in his department.

Threat

Threat

Public outrage over the assassination has since become palpable both online and off:

According to reports, the Facebook page generated more than 2,000 likes from people who appeared to support the killing. In a long status update on November 17, posts on the page hinted at who might be the next targets of the group. One status update gave an exhaustive list of potential targets including university and secondary school faculty, public representatives and local opinion leaders, heads of organisations, judges, lawyers, doctors, intellectuals, journalists, and even actors.

After the Facebook page link was published by various media outlets, netizens flagged the page using Facebook's abuse reporting system, arguing that it violates the platform's Community Standards. The first section of Facebook’s Community Standards reads:

Safety is Facebook's top priority. We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence.

The Community Standards also address harassment:

Facebook does not tolerate bullying or harassment. We allow users to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but take action on all reports of abusive behavior directed at private individuals. Repeatedly targeting other users with unwanted friend requests or messages is a form of harassment.

Nevertheless, in the days following the page's publication, Facebook responded to abuse reports with generic messages such as these:

Screenshot of Facebook's reply

Screenshot of Facebook's reply

Screenshot of Facebook's reply.

Screenshot of Facebook's reply.

Netizens persisted in reporting the page as an abuse of Facebook's Community Standards. On Nov. 18, 2014 Facebook removed the page.

Screenshot of Facebook reply

Screenshot of Facebook reply.

Police say that they believe the killing may have been perpetrated by militants backed by the conservative religious Jamaat-e-Islami group.

Rajshahi University has seen killings of its teachers Professor Mohammad Yunus in 2004 and Professor Taher Ahmed in 2006. Pranab Kumar Panday writes in an op-ed in the Daily Star:

It is really unfortunate to see that public university teachers are being harassed and killed very often. [..] These incidents are creating a sense of insecurity among the teachers of public universities. They are also indicative of the deterioration of law and order in the country.

Meanwhile, the threats continue. The Facebook page that claimed responsibility for killing Shafiul Islam recently announced their next target. The post reads:

Next Target . . . teacher of Bogra Govt. Women`s College. Offense: Banning burka. Offense date: September 2014. Punishment: Death. Chance: Yes. All atheists who oppose Islam be careful.

by Rezwan at November 21, 2014 06:54 PM

Global Voices
University Teacher Unpopular with Islamist Hardliners is Killed in Bangladesh
Picture of Rajshahi University Campus in a misty winter morning. Image from Flickr by  Kamrul Hasan. December 16, 2013 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Picture of Rajshahi University Campus in a misty winter morning. Image from Flickr by Kamrul Hasan. December 16, 2013 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Professor Shafiul Islam, a professor of sociology in Rajshahi University was attacked with a machete by unknown assailants outside his home in Rajshahi city on November 15. He died from his injuries in a nearby hospital some hours later. According to news reports, the professor led a push to ban students wearing full-face veils at his university in 2012, stoking the wrath of Islamist hardliners. The professor argued that full-face veils made it difficult to identify individual students and that they could even be used to cheat on university examinations. 

Rajshahi is a major urban and industrial centre of North Bengal and is located on the river Padma near Bangladesh-India border. Rajshahi University is a stronghold of the religious political party Jamaat and its student wing Islami Chatra Shibir. Pro-Jamaat newspapers in 2010 reported that Shafiul Islam had banned the burqa as the then-chair of the university’s sociology department, a policy that offended religious sentiments among many in the majority-Muslim country. At that time, Shafiul had sent rejoinders to some of those newspapers claiming that he had only expelled one female student from his class because she was cheating using her burqa.

A previously unknown Islamist group claimed responsibility for Shafiul's killing, after opening a Facebook page late on Saturday:

Screenshot of the Facebook page

Screenshot of the Facebook page

Their status reads:

Our Mujahideens have killed an ‘atheist’ of Rajshahi University who had banned wearing burqa in his department.

Threat

Threat

Public outrage over the assassination has since become palpable both online and off:

According to reports, the Facebook page generated more than 2,000 likes from people who appeared to support the killing. In a long status update on November 17, posts on the page hinted at who might be the next targets of the group. One status update gave an exhaustive list of potential targets including university and secondary school faculty, public representatives and local opinion leaders, heads of organisations, judges, lawyers, doctors, intellectuals, journalists, and even actors.

After the Facebook page link was published by various media outlets, netizens flagged the page using Facebook's abuse reporting system, arguing that it violates the platform's Community Standards. The first section of Facebook’s Community Standards reads:

Safety is Facebook's top priority. We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence.

The Community Standards also address harassment:

Facebook does not tolerate bullying or harassment. We allow users to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but take action on all reports of abusive behavior directed at private individuals. Repeatedly targeting other users with unwanted friend requests or messages is a form of harassment.

Nevertheless, in the days following the page's publication, Facebook responded to abuse reports with generic messages such as these:

Screenshot of Facebook's reply

Screenshot of Facebook's reply

Screenshot of Facebook's reply.

Screenshot of Facebook's reply.

Netizens persisted in reporting the page as an abuse of Facebook's Community Standards. On Nov. 18, 2014 Facebook removed the page.

Screenshot of Facebook reply

Screenshot of Facebook reply.

Police say that they believe the killing may have been perpetrated by militants backed by the conservative religious Jamaat-e-Islami group.

Rajshahi University has seen killings of its teachers Professor Mohammad Yunus in 2004 and Professor Taher Ahmed in 2006. Pranab Kumar Panday writes in an op-ed in the Daily Star:

It is really unfortunate to see that public university teachers are being harassed and killed very often. [..] These incidents are creating a sense of insecurity among the teachers of public universities. They are also indicative of the deterioration of law and order in the country.

Meanwhile, the threats continue. The Facebook page that claimed responsibility for killing Shafiul Islam recently announced their next target. The post reads:

Next Target . . . teacher of Bogra Govt. Women`s College. Offense: Banning burka. Offense date: September 2014. Punishment: Death. Chance: Yes. All atheists who oppose Islam be careful.

by Rezwan at November 21, 2014 06:42 PM

Creative Commons
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to require CC BY for all grant-funded research

Philanthropic foundations fund the creation of scholarly research, education and training materials, and rich data with the public good in mind. Creative Commons has long advocated for foundations to add open license requirements to their grants. Releasing grant-funded content under permissive open licenses means that materials may be more easily shared and re-used by the public, and combined with other resources that are also published under open licenses.

Yesterday the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it is adopting an open access policy for grant-funded research. The policy “enables the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded, in whole or in part, by the foundation, including any underlying data sets.” Grant funded research and data must be published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (CC BY). The policy applies to all foundation program areas and takes effect January 1, 2015.

Here are more details from the Foundation’s Open Access Policy:

  1. Publications Are Discoverable and Accessible Online. Publications will be deposited in a specified repository(s) with proper tagging of metadata.
  2. Publication Will Be On “Open Access” Terms. All publications shall be published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License (CC BY 4.0) or an equivalent license. This will permit all users of the publication to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and transform and build upon the material, including for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.
  3. Foundation Will Pay Necessary Fees. The foundation would pay reasonable fees required by a publisher to effect publication on these terms.
  4. Publications Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. All publications shall be available immediately upon their publication, without any embargo period. An embargo period is the period during which the publisher will require a subscription or the payment of a fee to gain access to the publication. We are, however, providing a transition period of up to two years from the effective date of the policy (or until January 1, 2017). During the transition period, the foundation will allow publications in journals that provide up to a 12-month embargo period.
  5. Data Underlying Published Research Results Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. The foundation will require that data underlying the published research results be immediately accessible and open. This too is subject to the transition period and a 12-month embargo may be applied.

Trevor Mundel, President of Global Health at the foundation, said that Gates “put[s] a high priority not only on the research necessary to deliver the next important drug or vaccine, but also on the collection and sharing of data so other scientists and health experts can benefit from this knowledge.”

Congratulations to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on adopting a default open licensing policy for its grant-funded research. This terrific announcement follows a similar move by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who recently extended their CC BY licensing policy from the Open Educational Resources grants to now apply foundation-wide for all project-based grant funds.

Regarding deposit and sharing of data, the Gates Foundation might consider permitting grantees to utilize the CC0 Public Domain Dedication, which allows authors to dedicate data to the public domain by waiving all rights to the data worldwide under copyright law. CC0 is widely used to provide barrier-free re-use to data.

We’ve updated the information we’ve been tracking on foundation intellectual property policies to reflect the new agreement from Gates, and continue to urge other philanthropic foundations to adopt open policies for grant-funded research and projects.

by Timothy Vollmer at November 21, 2014 05:15 PM

Global Voices
Burkina Faso Is Taking Steps Toward Democracy (and Africans Are Taking Note)
Acting president of Burkina Faso CC-BY 20

Acting President of Burkina Faso, Michel Kafando. CC-BY 20

Former diplomat Michel Kafando has been appointed to fill the leadership void left behind by deposed Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré until the next elections, further heartening others throughout Africa that a popular uprising might just work in their country too.

Compaoré, 63, who gained power through a military coup 27 years ago, was forced to abdicate his post and hastily flee his country on October 31 due to civil unrest in the streets of Burkina Faso. Thousands of Burkinabés took to the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital of this West African country, as well as other cities in the interior, to denounce him and his supporting oligarchy's campaign to revise the constitution. 

The following video in French describes the events that led to President Comparoé's downfall:  

 

Following Compaoré's departure, the position of head of state was temporarily filled by Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, as a means of securing the continuity of power. Still, the public at large maintained its stance that a civilian should take up leadership during the transitional period until the next elections. In a very powerful speech, Lieutenant Colonel Zida announced the charter for the transition and the imminent arrival of a civilian transitional leader

Depuis le 30 octobre 2014, le peuple burkinabè s’est réconcilié avec lui-même et avec son histoire. [..] En ce jour, je voudrais à l’occasion de cette cérémonie consacrant la signature de la Charte de la transition, pour rendre un vibrant hommage à notre peuple, dont la grandeur s’est illustrée à bien d’égards, forçant respect et admiration de tous les peuples épris de démocratie, de liberté et de progrès.Ainsi, concitoyennes et concitoyens comme vous l’avez voulu, le processus pré-transitionnel engagé depuis le 31 octobre 2014 est conduit par les Forces armées nationales qui se sont engagées à remettre le pouvoir aux civils.

Since 30 October 2014, Burkinabes have come to terms with their history. [...] Today, as we sign this Charter of Transition, I would like to pay my most profound respects to our people, who have embodied greatness in so many ways, and in so doing, have earned the respect and admiration of those who are committed to democracy, freedom, and progress the world over. And so, my citizens, as you have wished, the pre-transition process that had begun since 31 October 2014 is being led by the National Armed Forces, which have undertaken the task of returning power to the people. 

Kafando was subsequently appointed to steward the transitional period until the next elections. 

Lieutenant Colonel Zida - domaine public

Lieutenant Colonel Zida – public domain

Still, the fight for democracy was a difficult one. In fact, Compaoré had in fact managed to carve out a path that would allow for his re-election. He intended to bring forward a reform to article 37 of the constitution, which had been ratified in June of 1991, and which stipulates that the President of Burkina Faso cannot be re-elected more than once. Mr. Blaise Compaoré who had already been re-elected wished to change this position by putting the question to vote in the National Assembly, which was controlled by his party and his allies.

Alain Doh Bi explains how events unfolded in a bulletin published on his blog:

L’ex-Président Blaise Compaoré s’est entêté à vouloir modifier l’article 37 de la Constitution du Burkina Faso en vue de briguer un nouveau mandat, après 27 années de règne sans partage. Le peuple Burkinabé s’est levé comme un seul homme, depuis le 28 octobre 2014. Après 48 heures de manifestations populaires, Blaise Compaoré, Assassin de Thomas Sankara, est tombé [...]

Des hauts gradés de la Gendarmerie et de l’Armée Burkinabé ont décidé de se rallier au peuple. Une concertation spontanée entre les leaders de la manifestation et les hauts gradés de l’armée a permis de convenir d’une transition militaro-civile. 

Former President Blaise Compaoré insisted on wanting to modify Article 37 of the Constitution of Burkina Faso with the intention of bringing a new mandate after 27 years of undisputed power. The people of Burkina Faso have united in protest since 28 October 2014. After 48 hours of protests, Blaise Compaoré, murderer of Thomas Sankara,(ed. note: Sankara, was the president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987)   was ousted [...]

Some high-ranking officials of the Burkinabe police force and army decided to align themselves with the cause of the people. An improvised dialogue between protest leaders and said army officials made way for a transition from military to civilian power. 

Young people mobilized throughout the country to demand officials to vote against the constitutional changes; they also turned to social media. 

One such group, Le Balai citoyen (the Citizen Broom), opened a Facebook page that garnered more than 20,000 followers and was very active in organizing protests. The group positions itself as follows: 

A propos du symbole: … « On a modestement appelé ça le balai citoyen, et c’est tout un symbole. Le Burkina Faso a besoin d’un sacré nettoyage. Depuis presque trente ans on subit, on subit et on réagit pas. Il y a une part infime de la population qui a commencé à s’enrichir impunément pendant que le reste dégraisse. Je crois qu’il grand temps de foutre un bon coup de balai à tout ça pour crier notre ras-le-bol. » …

Voila ce qu'est ce mouvement ‘le balai citoyen” pour les initiateurs.

A word on our symbol: … “we humbly called ourselves ‘le Balai citoyen', and it is quite the symbol. Burkina Faso needs a profound cleansing. For almost 30 years we have suffered; we suffer and we do not fight back. There is a tiny segment of the population that began to get richer by skimming the fat off of the rest of us without impunity. I think that it is high time to clean out all of that in with one fell swoop and say enough is enough”

This is what the “le Balai citoyen” movement represents for its founders.

Across social networks and online media, dictators in other African countries have come under heavy scrutiny and been warned. 

“Citizen Broom Movement – The struggle lives on” A poster created by the Citizen Groom Movement via their Facebook Page (with their permission)

Bruno E. LOMA recalls the circumstances that led up to the social crisis in a post entitled “In Africa Toying with the Constitution Is the Price We Pay” that was published on maliactu.net on 4 November 2014:

Tous les moyens sont bons pour modifier la Constitution du pays pour se maintenir au pouvoir. Ils s’y accrochent pour tenter de prolonger leur mandat au-delà des délais légaux. La recette est toute trouvée, réviser la constitution par un vote des élus à l’Assemblée. Ce qui n’est pas toujours acquis car certains élus, même de la majorité présidentielle, par patriotisme ou par respect pour ceux qui ont voté pour eux, s’y opposent. Par peur de ne pas avoir le maximum d’élus en leur faveur, nos chers présidents trouvent d’autres parades comme l’imposition par voie référendaire de cette révision de la constitution.

When it comes to modifying the country's constitution in order to remain in power, anything goes. They cling to it in an attempt to extend their mandate well beyond the legal limits. They have discovered the formula: revise the constitution by putting it to vote with the elected officials of the Assembly. It doesn't necessarily work because some representatives are against this — even when they support the presidential majority. This is out of a sense of patriotism or respect for those who put them in power. For fear of not having the majority in their corner our dear presidents find other means of curtailing resistance, such as calling a referendum for constitutional reform.

In a series of columns on afrikaexpress.inf, Régis Marzin paints a complete portrait of the elections scheduled to take place in several African countries during the 2015-2016 electoral cycle. He analyzes the issues and potential obstacles to maintaining social order:

Au début des années 90, les revendications ont abouti à des conférences nationales et à des révisions des constitutions pour encadrer les mandats présidentiels, et une limitation du nombre de mandats à 2 a été ajoutée partout, sur le modèle américain … 

Pour les 8 dictatures stables du système néocolonial français, dans 6 pays, au Tchad, au Cameroun, à Djibouti, au Togo et au Gabon, les limitations à 2 mandats ont été supprimées– elle a été aussi supprimée en Algérie -, alors qu’elles sont toujours là dans 3 pays en Mauritanie, au Congo Brazzaville et au Burkina Faso. Au Burkina Faso, la limitation a été enlevée en 1997 puis remise sous la pression des revendications de la rue en 2000. La stratégie des opposants s’y refocalise maintenant d’autant plus sur ce point.

… En Guinée Equatoriale et en Angola, où il n’y a aucune limitation dans les constitutions, Téodoro Obiang et José Eduardo Dos Santos sont au pouvoir depuis 1979, depuis 35 ans. Téodoro Obiang était déjà proche de la tête; du régime avant. Réélu en 2009 pour 7 ans il aura 74 ans en 2016, alors que la constitution lui interdit de se représenter après ses 75 ans. Il rejoint dans les records Paul Biya, 81 ans, dont 32 ans au pouvoir, qui aura 85 ans à la fin de son mandat en 2018, alors qu’aucune transition démocratique n’est amorcée. Au Tchad, le 5emandat d’Idriss Déby prévisible en 2016 sera contesté en fonction de la répression et de la mobilisation dans le reste de l’Afrique.

Outcry in the early 90s led to national conferences and constitutional revisions to rein in presidential mandates, and a limit of two terms, based on the American model, was applied across the board. [...]

Of the eight stable dictatorships within the French neo-colonial system, six [sic] countriesChad, Cameroon, Djibouti, Togo, and Gabon [and Algeria] have removed these two-term limits. Term limits have also been removed in Algeria, however, they still remain in three countries: Mauritania, Congo Brazzaville and Burkina Faso. In Burkina Faso, the two-term limit was removed in 1997 but then reinstated in 2000 under the pressure of street protests. Opponents are refocusing their efforts in this regard.

[...] In Equatorial Guinea and Angola, where there are no limits written into the constitution, Téodoro Obiang and José Eduardo Dos Santos have been in power since 1979 — some 35 years. Téodoro Obiang also previously held a position of high office. Re-elected in 2009 for seven years, he will be 74 in 2016; however, the constitution prohibits him from holding office after he turns 75. His tenure is almost matched by Paul Biya, 81, who has held office for 32 years and who will be 85 at the end of his term in 2018. In spite of this, no transition to democracy has been initiated. In Chad, Idriss Déby's fifth term, which he is facing in 2016, will be contested as a result of the protests taking place in the rest of Africa.

Members of the opposition in Gabon, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, and the Central African Republic met in Paris on 14 November 2014 to adopt a common declaration demanding that constitutions be respected, and insisting that:

L’expérience burkinabé constitue désormais un exemple pour l’Afrique entière.

Henceforth, the experience of Burkina Faso should be held up as an example for all of Africa.

Though few African countries will achieve more than one of the Millennium Development Objectives many are led by dictators who have held power for decades. They have built up oligarchies around them that exploit their country's wealth; enjoying a level of luxury on par with that of Hollywood celebrities while their people are entrenched in the darkest poverty. They consider themselves to be above the law, and they have superimposed their will on that of the people.

On Facebook and Twitter, there are many messages supporting the change:

Hadja Madina Kouyate Barry: Si j'ai un conseil à donner aux africains, c'est de chasser tous les dictateurs changeurs de constitutions. Surtout pas de déchirement entre nous après leur départ car la France est toujours prête à aider les dictateurs à s'enfuir. 

Quand j'ai vu sur France 24 une déclaration de Hollande sur l'évacuation de Blaise Compaoré franchement j'étais malade. Pourquoi les occidentaux ne sont jamais du côté du peuple ?

Hadja Madina Kouyate Barry: If I have any advice for Africans it is to get rid of all dictators who meddle with the constitutions. Most importantly, let us not tear each other apart when they are gone, because France is always ready to help those dictators flee.

Frankly, when I saw on [news organization] France 24 that there was an announcement from [French President] Hollande on Blaise Compaoré evacuation, I felt sick to my stomach. Why do these westerners never side with the people?

Alli Konseiga: rappelez vous que l'Afrique entière a les yeux sur nous Cibals. D'autres jeunes dans des pays où les dirigeants sont comme notre ex presidents voudront s'inspirer de vous. Si notre travail est fini, on s'en va. Rappelons nous, assainir sans se salir. Merci Cibals

Alli Konseiga: remember that all of Africa is watching our Cibals [the name given to supporters of le Balai citoyen]. Young people in countries with leaders who act like our former presidents will be inspired by us. If our work is done, we will go. Remember: we must not get our hands dirty as we clean up. Thank you Cibals.

Fatou Baldé Yansane: … Je crois que les populations africaines sont en train de gagner du terrain. Les fantaisies de changements de constitutions et les élections tripatouillées seront difficiles à consommer dans les prochaines années.
La nouvelle génération doit se positionner à défendre ces valeurs pour éviter d'être engloutie dans le ravin des présidents suicidaires.

Fatou Baldé Yansane: … I believe that African people are gaining ground. Changing the constitution on a whim and tampering elections will become difficult in the next few years.
The new generation must position itself to defend its values in order to avoid being swallowed up by the abyss of disastrous presidents.

Africa: After the uprisings in #Burkina, #Gabon & #Chad. That is what's in store for Djibouti's regime in [the absence of democracy]

by Danielle Martineau at November 21, 2014 04:29 PM

Lawrence Lessig
On the Center for Competitive Politics Complaint

The Center for Competitive Politics has filed a complaint against the Mayday PAC, charging that we…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at November 21, 2014 03:19 PM

Global Voices
All Set for Global Voices Meetup in Beirut, Lebanon, on November 26

gv-meetup-logo-gvmeetup-400We are pleased to announce the next in series Global Voices Meetup, that will take place in Beirut, Lebanon, on November 26th at the March Lebanon Offices from 5:30pm to 8pm. (Check the map here.)

Other similar meetups were held in Cairo, Tunis, Lagos, Skopje, and other cities around the world. This meetup will include Global Voices Online community members from Tunisia, Egypt, France, the US, Bahrain, as well as from the local Lebanese community. These community members are involved in a wide range of citizen media, technology, and journalistic projects and activities, and may serve as a valuable resource for others interested in becoming more active in this field. The meetup is part of global activities organised to celebrate Global Voices 10th anniversary.

The official invitation to the meetup in Beirut

The official invitation to the meetup in Beirut

Global Voices’ partner in this event, MARCH Lebanon, is a local civil society NGO that focuses on freedom of expression, women's rights, and intersectarian dialogue. MARCH is at the forefront of many of Lebanon's censorship battles and is proud to share its experiences with you during this event.

The meetup will bring together many of these community members to share their experiences and help facilitate connections between others that share similar interests or missions. Hosted by Thalia Rahme (@thalloula), as well as other GV volunteers, the gathering will focus on:

  • Censorship
  • Fact Checking
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Mainstream and Citizen Journalism

The event is open to all, but participants must RSVP on Facebook. Official hashtags for the event are #GVMeetup and #GVis10

For more information, please contact Thalia Rahme or Maya Gebeily:

trahme [at] gmail.com

or info [at] marchlebanon.org

by Thalia Rahme at November 21, 2014 02:05 PM

Murder of Beauty Queen and Her Sister Reminds Honduras of the Horror of Machismo Violence
Imagen ampliamente difundida en Twitter.

Image widely shared on Twitter.

On the same day that María José Alvarado Muñoz was due to depart for London to represent Honduras in the Miss World 2014 pageant, her and her sister Sofía Trinidad's bodies were found in Cablotales close to Aguagua River in the country's north. Both women had been shot to death. 

The sisters were reported missing six days earlier on Thursday, November 13, after they attended a birthday celebration for Sofía Trinidad's boyfriend, Plutarco Antonio Ruíz, who is accused of the murders. 

“We can indeed confirm that these are the two young sisters who were buried in the area of Cablotales town in Santa Bárbara,” Criminal Investigation Director Leandro Osorio told Tegucigalpa-based Radio América. The bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, after being buried for several days, he added.

Besides Ruíz, police also have a man named Aris Valentín Maldonado Mejía in custody. Authorities believe, however, that more individuals might be involved. Local media have reported that an argument between Ruíz and Sofía Trinidad may have led to the violence.

Osorio said that Ruíz led police to the place where the bodies were found. He also said that the alleged murder weapon was confiscated and that the vehicle presumably used to transport the bodies has been impounded.

The Miss World organization issued a statement from their chairwoman, Julia Morley, in reaction to the news:

To everyone around the world who has been touched by the awful news from Honduras this morning.
We are devastated by this terrible loss of two young women, who were so full of life. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of María José Alvarado & Sofía Trinidad at this time of grief.
We are receiving messages of condolences and support from our Miss World family across the world, who all share our sadness at such a tragedy.

We will be holding a special service with all of the Miss World contestants on Sunday, where we will be honoring the lives of María José Alvarado and Sofía Trinidad, and say prayers for them and their family.

- With Love Julia Morley, Chairman Miss World Organisation.

Merly Eguigure, the coordinator for human rights organization Movimiento de Paz Visitación Padilla, remarked that many times men feel overshadowed when women stand out more than them and claimed that 98 percent of murders of women in Honduras go unpunished.

On Twitter, users have expressed their grief over the crime and posted images and information:

María José Alvarado (1995-2014)
Today, Honduras misses your eyes.

Rest in peace, María José Alvarado, Miss Honduras World 2014. God, protect Honduras and deliver us from all evil!

The tragedy of María José and Sofía Alvarado must make us react. No more silence in the face of violence. YES TO PEACE.

One user tweeted about ending every beauty pageant:

HONDURAS IS MOURNING for the irreparable loss of Miss Honduras World.
Now that we are on the topic, may beauty pageants be suspended for good. That is a worldwide shame.

According to data from the National Autonomous University of Honduras’ Observatory of Violence, 14.6 women were murdered in 2013 for every 100,000 residents. Honduras has the highest rate of violent female deaths in the world. 

by Gabriela García Calderón at November 21, 2014 12:04 PM

Lawrence Lessig
Year two of the NHRebellion walks happens this January. This…

Year two of the NHRebellion walks happens this January. This year, there are four routes, all converging on Concord on January 21, the 5th anniversary of Citizens United.

The first begins again in Dixville Notch, on the anniversary of Aaronsw‘s death, January 11. The second begins in Keene, on January 17. The third and fourth begin in Nashua and Portsmouth on January 18. 

It is an amazing team pulling all this together. The project now lives within OpenDemocray, an organization founded by Granny D. I am eager to walk, and meet old and new friends across New Hampshire again. 

Come if you can, for a day or as long as you can. And if you can host walkers along the way, or help drive or give support, please sign up here. 

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at November 21, 2014 10:44 AM

Year two of the NHRebellion walks happens this January. This…

Year two of the NHRebellion walks happens this January. This year, there are four routes, all converging on Concord on January 21, the 5th anniversary of Citizens United.

The first begins again in Dixville Notch, on the anniversary of Aaronsw‘s death, January 11. The second begins in Keene, on January 17. The third and fourth begin in Nashua and Portsmouth on January 18. 

It is an amazing team pulling all this together. The project now lives within OpenDemocray, an organization founded by Granny D. I am eager to walk, and meet old and new friends across New Hampshire again. 

Come if you can, for a day or as long as you can. And if you can host walkers along the way, or help drive or give support, please sign up here. 

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at November 21, 2014 10:44 AM

Year two of the NHRebellion walks happens this January. This…

Year two of the NHRebellion walks happens this January. This year, there are four routes, all converging on Concord on January 21, the 5th anniversary of Citizens United.

The first begins again in Dixville Notch, on the anniversary of Aaronsw‘s death, January 11. The second begins in Keene, on January 17. The third and fourth begin in Nashua and Portsmouth on January 18. 

It is an amazing team pulling all this together. The project now lives within OpenDemocray, an organization founded by Granny D. I am eager to walk, and meet old and new friends across New Hampshire again. 

Come if you can, for a day or as long as you can. And if you can host walkers along the way, or help drive or give support, please sign up here. 

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at November 21, 2014 10:44 AM

Lokman Tsui
what i have been up to the past three months

since i joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong, i’ve been busy preparing for two new classes, dealing with the Hong Kong protests and getting used to new colleagues and work environment.

i’m also happy to say that i’ve been busy writing. i wrote a piece in the guardian explaining why the hong kong students know that the time to act is now. [local backup].

my friend jason and i decided to take “explaining the students’ perspective” one step further. we took a letter that a student wrote to her parents, and translated it into a comic. this comic went viral on facebook. [english version]

i’ve also given a couple of interviews in Chinese. here’s an article about me in the school magazine, what i research, why i joined the school and also some of my views on the students and the hong kong protests. [local backup].

i also appeared on “money cafe” a casual talk show on business, where i discussed what’s at stake when internet companies want to enter the China market. the best part might not be the actual content, the best part might be hearing me discuss internet surveillance, free expression and the business of this all in my crappy cantonese. [part 1] [part 2]

my latest op-ed is in the south china morning post, on the importance of “one country, two internets” for hong kong. [local backup]

by Lokman Tsui at November 21, 2014 08:43 AM

‘One country, two internets’, and why we need to protect it

Late on Tuesday, a small group of people charged the Legislative Council building and broke a glass panel. Reports indicate they did so because they feared the passing of “Internet Article 23”. The original Article 23 is of course the controversial national security bill that provoked half a million Hong Kong people to protest in the streets in 2003. So what exactly is “Internet Article 23”, and should we be concerned?

“Internet Article 23” is actually more than one bill. Lawmakers and advocacy groups use it to refer to at least two different regulations, both with the potential to seriously undermine the free and open internet we enjoy in Hong Kong.

One is the Copyright Amendment bill, a much needed update to the otherwise outdated copyright bill. But many fear that it will punish citizens for remixing original content with social or political commentary as parody or satire. To understand why people are concerned, you only need to take one quick lookonline or walk by the Occupy areas: among the many art pieces, one of the most popular is a life-size cutout of president Xi Jinping holding a yellow umbrella that many people take selfies with.

The other regulation in question is the Computer Crimes Ordinance. Originally intended to battle computer fraud and hacking, it has been drafted in such a way that it has serious potential for abuse. The most recent case involves the arrest of a citizen for “inciting” others to commit an offence. His crime? Posting a message on an online forum asking others to join him in the pro-democracy protests; the original post has been removed and the police have so far declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Let’s not forget what is at stake. We only need to look across the border to see a tightly monitored, closely controlled internet where citizens have to watch what they say to each other, even on seemingly private messenger apps such as WeChat. Then they might find themselves at a dead end if they try to find out what is going on; Sina Weibo and Baidu have been filtering search results for “Hong Kong students”, “Hong Kong tear gas” and “true universal suffrage”. And because people started sharing yellow umbrella pictures, Instagram is now the latest member to the club of global internet platforms that are blocked in China, joining Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, amongst others.

In contrast, we have a free and open internet in Hong Kong. Anyone can share their story and decide for themselves what is meaningful or not; no longer does a small and powerful elite determine this for the rest of society. Let’s be clear: a free and open internet doesn’t mean that people can say whatever they want without any consequences; all countries regulate speech to some extent. But it does mean that the conversation is open and inclusive: whether you are a yellow, blue or red ribbon supporter, you don’t have to ask anyone for permission to speak.

Whether you agree with the protesters or not, it is undeniable that they have breathed new life into a conversation that most people had given up on, a conversation about the future of Hong Kong and the status of “one country, two systems”. Sometimes we disagree or even yell at each other, but that’s what it means to have a honest, frank and real conversation, warts and all.

To my knowledge, the Hong Kong government hasn’t censored anything related to the protests. This is surely a good thing. But if the last few weeks have taught us anything, it is that our “one country, two systems” setup isn’t sacrosanct or set in stone. That is why I am asking all of us to keep a close eye on “one country, two internets” and to make sure we preserve and protect the free and open internet in Hong Kong.

The author is an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 

by Lokman Tsui at November 21, 2014 08:36 AM

新媒體中的言論自由 徐洛文教授專訪

特約記者:徐梓傑 (本科四年級生)

震撼全球的佔領運動,新傳上下各人也緊貼着運動的進展。這時要跟老師進行訪問,話題也離不開這場運動。

眼前香港的局勢,相信你我也意想不到。他,新傳學院助理教授徐洛文也如是說。

今年八月,他重返校園,加入中大新傳學院,就遇上罷課和佔領運動,這名回流香港的助理教授以「Surprise」形容。「香港社會累積了好多年不滿,好似好易就『撻着火』,但在很多人已經放棄的時刻,見到學生一直『頂』住」。他這年執教本科一年級生的Development of Mass Communication課,九月下旬,學生罷課,他才剛剛開課三星期,還未趕得及認識學生。但看見學生們對佔領運動的熱情,已令他留下深刻印象。「下一代這麼有心,學生很有理想,我很榮幸當上他們的老師。」

他從大學校園跳到Google,遊走亞洲各國,現在又到了本院執教鞭。三年前,他離開香港城市大學的教席,轉往Google公司,從事公共政策及政府關係的工作,主要與言論自由有關。負責與亞太區各國政府協商,例如某國關於言論自由的政策出台,他與工作團隊便會提交文件,游說政府改善政策,又或者政府看見上載至Youtube的片段出問題,他便代表Google跟對方斡旋。

他憶述最深刻的一次,要處理「Innocence of Muslims」影片惹起回教人不滿的投訴。影片反伊斯蘭教的主題激發不少回教徒於各國示威,最嚴重的包括利比亞及埃及。面對亞洲大部分伊斯蘭教國家的投訴,他的工作是要應對當地政府。當時,巴基斯坦政府要求影片下架,是否下架他需要考慮兩個主要問題:一、法律問題;二、影片是否違反Google內部的政策(例如不容許有三級片)。就着這段影片,因為其內容並無違反Google政策,因此,公司決定這段影片不用下架,而巴基斯坦政府結果封鎖了Youtube。

他形容,大學教學研究與擔任Google公司的前線工作,猶如「識食」同「識煮」的關係。不論在大學任教,還是較早時在美國修讀博士課程期間,他主要研究互聯網、新媒體的全球化政策,當時的論文大多從批判角度入手,是「評價菜式」。但加入Google工作,他便要「親自下廚」,通過游說工作,改變一國政策。因為政府有關資訊傳播的政策如何推行,皆直接影響Google 公司的工作。離開Google,他放棄了高薪厚職、公司股份,還有每年豐厚的聖誕禮物(通常是智能手機)。為的是甚麼?

徐洛文直言有感於自己在Google的工作發展去到瓶頸:「始終我不是一個政治家」,他在Google的工作,可以影響公司,甚至政府政策,但工作成果相對抽象,滿足感不大。他想多寫評論文章,但又受制於Google員工的身分。只有離開工作崗位,重投校園他才享有自由,延續學術研究;重拾教鞭也因為他希望接觸年輕人,看著學生成長,他說這樣「更有滿足感」。

遊走各國,他還是落腳香港,是因為對香港有感情。他父母為香港人,早年舉家移民至荷蘭阿姆斯特丹。他在荷蘭出生、長大,但一直有跟在港的表姐聯繫,那時還是寫信的年代。他跟表姐閒話家常,也會談到香港文化。小時,他跟香港學生一樣,愛看香港卡通、電視電影:「還是那個熟悉的原因──因為睇無綫劇集大。」回想中學年代,親友更會從香港寄一些劇集光碟給他。

慢慢地,互聯網普及,他跟表姐也改以電郵聯繫,上網也能收看港台節目,不用再等幾星期從香港寄來的影碟。他感受到互聯網的力量,相信互聯網能打開他的世界,能改變世界。他着迷於互聯網和新媒體的發展,後來考上荷蘭的萊頓大學 (Leiden University),雖然本科和碩士並非修讀傳播學相關學科,但他的碩士論文題目是Internet in China。輾轉他往美國賓夕凡尼亞大學修讀媒體傳播相關的博士學位,2010年學成回流香港,展開其教學及工作生涯。

四年過去,他漸漸習慣香港的生活模式,但同時也感受到社會上,新一代與上一輩的矛盾加劇。這次佔領運動,更讓他印證社交媒體的重要角色。「WhatsApp,Facebook等新媒體是新一代的溝通平台,他們透過社交媒體,把自己親身經歷抒發出來,這些內容與主流媒體的故事很不一樣。」。他認為,正因為新一代的溝通方式,催化了這次佔領運動遍地開花。新媒體能夠讓新一代找到身分認同,互相組織起來就成為運動的群眾力量。他又相信,在主流媒體一片「懷疑論」、「河蟹論」的報道下,新媒體的言論空間更見重要。

面對新世代的學生,他謙稱學生們教識他「謙虛」、「勇氣」和「爭氣」。他看見學生面對將來,有勇氣積極爭取更好未來,但又不像上一輩般,否定未來的可能性。在強權之下,他寄語學生要對將來有信心,人權和民主要自己爭取。

為了一盡己責,9‧28催淚彈事件後,他在《衛報》投稿,希望世界更了解香港發生的事,他說,不只年輕人有責任,老師也有。

徐洛文教授小檔案

by Lokman Tsui at November 21, 2014 07:56 AM

Hong Kong’s activists know they must act now if democracy is ever to happen

The Hong Kong people are considered the world’s most polite protesters. We queue, recycle and clean up after ourselves. Our protests have always gone without a hitch. Not any more. A lot of people I’ve spoken to this week are in disbelief.

On Friday night the police arrested and attacked many of the students present with pepper spray after a few tried to climb a fence to reclaim what many consider a public space in front of government headquarters. Then, on Sunday, when adults joined the students in their protest, not only did the pepper spray return but the police unleashed canister after canister of teargas into the densely packed crowd. It was at this point that I noticed many Hong Kong people saying: “This isn’t supposed to happen here. This isn’t the Hong Kong I know.”

Yet other people I have talked to, many from an older generation, don’t have much sympathy for the protesters. They feel it is not possible to win against the government, especially when it is backed by Beijing, and argue that the protests are not worth the trouble, that there could be repercussions. Tiananmen Square comes to mind, naturally. But Tiananmen is not the only historical context for understanding what is happening Hong Kong, let alone the best one.

The current protests are as much about democracy as they are about growing social inequality. Students see their options shrinking in front of them. An apartment has always been expensive in Hong Kong, but it has become almost impossible for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder. According to a recent survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a family of four must pay 13 times their annual income to purchase a tiny 37 sq metres (400 sq ft) flat. To top it off, Hong Kong took top honours in the recent Economist crony-capitalism index, beating Russia to first place.

Unsurprisingly, trust in the government is at an all time low. This distrust has been building up for over a decade. In 2003, the public came out in massive numbers to protest against Article 23, a national security law that the government was trying to push through, and would have impinged on our freedoms. The protests were peaceful but persistent. To the surprise of many, the protesters pressured the government to shelve the plan indefinitely.

More recently, in 2012, the public protested against the national education plan that the government was trying to push through. This scheme would be mandatory to all students, and many citizens called it brainwashing propaganda because it included textbooks that dismissed the multiparty systems and glossed over Tiananmen and the Cultural Revolution. Yet again, to the surprise of many, the protests pressured the government to overturn its decision to make the plan mandatory.

The latest proposal the government is trying to push through is the election framework for 2017. The Hong Kong Basic Law, ratified by China and the UK in 1984, stipulates that “the election of the fifth chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2017 may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage”. Yet, after years of delays and broken promises, the current proposed framework mandatesthat any candidate running for chief executive has to be vetted by a small committee stacked with pro-Beijing supporters. Simply put, they want to control who can run. For many, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Let’s be realistic. None of the students I have spoken to expect “democracy” to magically solve all their problems. They also understand that many are sceptical about their chances to change the government’s mind. But history has taught them not only that change is possible but that if they don’t do it, no one else will. Armed with little more than clingfilm on their faces, face masks, safety goggles, and umbrellas as protection against pepper spray and teargas, they fight for their dream of a better future. A little hope can go a long way.

by Lokman Tsui at November 21, 2014 07:52 AM

Doc Searls
Some thoughts on App Based Car Services (ABCS)

I started using Uber in April. According to my Uber page on the Web, I’ve had fifteen rides so far. But, given all the bad news that’s going down, my patronage of the company is at least suspended. As an overdue hedge, I just signed up with Lyft. I’m also looking at BlaBlaCar here in the U.K. (where I am at the moment), plus other alternatives, including plain old taxis and car services again.

But here are a few learnings I’ve gained in the meantime.

First Uber isn’t about “ride sharing.” That’s just marketing gloss at this point. Instead Uber is what’s coming to be called an “app-based car service.” Let’s call it ABCS. I mean hey, if that’s what the New York Attorney General calls it, that’s what it is. At least for now.

ABCS is a new category, growing within and alongside two existing categories: taxis and livery. These are both old, established and highly regulated (in New York City for example, by the Taxi and Livery Commission).

My first few Uber drivers were dudes picking up some extra bucks, or so it seemed. The rest, including all the recent ones, have been livery drivers taking advantage of one more way to get a fare. Some had as many as three dedicated cell phones on their front seat: one for Uber, one for Lyft, and one for whatever car (livery) service they otherwise work for. Here are their names, in reverse chronological order: Jeffrey (whose real name was Afghanistani), Heriberto, Malik, Abdisalam, Fernando, Jourabek, Maleche, Namgyal, Mohammad, Rafael, Maged, Shahin, Imtiaz, Shaafi and Conrad. That last one was my first, in Santa Barbara.

Rather than being a new way to “share rides,” ABCS is a great hack on dispatch — a function of taxis and car services that has long been stuck in the walkie-talkie age — and payment ease.

But ABCS also hacks the whole car category as well. Why spend $300/month on a lease, or $30k for a car, plus the cost of gas, tolls, insurance and upkeep, when you’ll spend less just calling up rides from an app — and when every ride is friction-free and fully accountable? (Even to the extent that every charge is easy to post in an expense account.)

Cars are already becoming generic. (If you rent cars often, you know what I mean. A Toyota is a Nissan is a Chevy is a Hyundai.) And now we have a generation coming up that gives a much smaller damn about driving than did previous ones — at least in the U.S. All that aspirational stuff about independence and style doesn’t matter as much as it used to. How long before GM, Ford and Toyota start making special models just for Uber and Lyft drivers? (In a way Ford did that for livery with Lincoln Town Cars. Not coincidentally, several of my Uber drivers in New York and New Jersey have been in black Town Cars. Another fave: Toyota Avalons.

Anyway, I think we are amidst of many disruptions that caused by app-based ways to shrink the distance between supply and demand. Changes within ABCS are happening rapidly and in real time. Example: SheRides. Here’s one story about it.

Whatever else ABCS does, driving still won’t be a way to get rich. At best it will be a stepping stone to jobs that pay better and involve more marketable skills. So to me one question is, What are the next stones? And, Does the emergence of ABCS give workers on the supply side — other than those running the companies — a lift?

by Doc Searls at November 21, 2014 12:18 AM

November 20, 2014

MIT Center for Civic Media
Media Lab Conversations Series: Challenges in the Fight Against Ebola

Liveblog by Alexis, Jude, Ed, Lilia, Alexis, Yu, & Heather

Event description: “Partners in Health and its collaborators on the ground in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea have been playing a critical role in the fight against Ebola. To date, Ebola has killed more than 5,000 people, and continues to wreak havoc in the region. What are the facts from the ground? What technological tools are lacking that could be used to limit the current outbreak?

 

Ophelia Dahl of Partners in Health (PIH) will discuss the current state of events on the ground in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and PIH's response, as well as her recent trip to West Africa. In addition, PIH's director of research, Dr. Megan Murray, will discuss the Ebola research agenda.”

Joi: The first half of the session will introduce PIH and their work on the ground in Africa, and the rest of the conversation will be figuring out if and how the Media Lab community can do something to help. If we do, it must be impactful and actually helpful.

 

 

Ophelia: She began this work 32 years ago in Haiti, where she met Paul Farmer and began the work of Partners in Health. It was a small group there and she were executive director of Global Health. It was not easy to jump in the scene. It took far too long to build up the number of partners needed to do this work. She explains that Partners in Health is not a disaster relief organization. They do address the everyday disaster of poverty which affects the health of people.They work in Haiti as well as other countries around the world.

 

When the earthquake hit Haiti, PIH was the organization that had the platform to address the problem. They had doctors and surgeons in place as well as an existing supply chain to get resources. Now they are a large group with a home team in Boston and 11 other countries around the world. They collaborate with academics and believe it is important to generate new knowledge, and train and teach people.

 

In West Africa, the Ebola virus is named for a river in Zaire. One of the first outbreaks in 1976 killed around 300 people. Since then, there have been a few outbreaks, but none have had as many deaths or transmissions as the current virus, which began in Guinea and spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. This infection was spread from the patients to the caregivers, and the patients sought care in other cities so the disease continued to spread.

 

When we think about Ebola, we think about it as a death sentence because of the high percentage of fatalities. The reasons for these fatalities is underlying weak health systems, as well as our collective failure to treat patients. Those who have gotten the disease here have mostly all survived — those who have not were either diagnosed late or improperly. The proper treatment is not complicated. It’s managing electrolytes, keeping patients hydrated — what we would call really good nursing care.

 

Ophelia recently came back from Sierra Leone where she talked with survivors and listened to their stories. Most of the survivors were young people who survived because they were in fairly good health. They spent time in holding centers and there were many barriers to their care; these people stayed alive because of a bit of luck and because they were young.

 

When she talked to all of them, there were no mysterious cases. They all talked in detail about loved ones they had taken care of. This is a disease that is contracted because you are taking care of people (a “caregivers disease”) which is a terrible thing because you don’t want to stigmatize taking care of people.

 

One way to make help available is to hire these survivors. We have found in Haiti a lot of the time with HIV patients that what they need is a job. We hire them as community health workers (CHWs) and they become great coaches and educators.

 

The system that was weak and has now collapsed — more people are dying from Ebola rather than of Ebola. Maternal mortality has skyrocketed. There is not a single place that is open for women to give birth to their children. In order to address this you need to have staff, systems, space, and stuff in place. That is what constitutes a robust and redundant healthcare system. She provides the example of the Boston Marathon bombing, where there were many systems in place — in some cases redundant — which helped things go smoothly.

 

She highlighted two photographs in Liberia, contrasting an old treatment center and a newly built teaching hospital. The teaching center is running smoothly.

 

The barriers to supportive care are because it’s very difficult to give care in the gear that doctors and nurses must wear. It is hot, cumbersome, difficult to see through, and hard to feel anything with three layers of material. This is one problem that needs to be solved because it prevents them from taking care of people.

 

Megan: She’s the Research Director at PIH. When developing a research agenda for Ebola, they struggled to know where to begin. Most of PIH’s research focuses on improving care. She discusses PIH’s usual delivery model. PIH intervenes at three levels. ETUs (Ebola Treatment Units) are temporary units. They accommodate people who are sick and need intensive care. PIH provides clinical staff, laboratories, and equipment. At the second level are CCCs (Community Care Centers). When people in the peripheries are suspected of having Ebola, there’s no way to test it. They’ll have to have their blood drawn and sent to a city for testing. There are only a handful of testing sites. So the CCCs are a holding center, where some people have Ebola and other people have other illnesses (e.g. Malaria). PIH’s goal is to have the staff there using the same procedures as they would at the ETUs to prevent the spread of disease.

 

The very bottom level is to recruit and train people, mainly survivors, to provide hospital level care. Not only primary care but also screen and contact tracing.

 

Challenges and possible technical solutions

They are trying to improve case fatality rates in ECUs and CCCs by delivering high-quality care while maintaining personal protection.

 

Ebola has a much higher fatality rate than other illnesses (e.g. H5N1), so they’re trying to deliver quality care while maintaining personal protection. Many people are not getting IVs, and in some cases oral rehydration is replacing IVs, but oral rehydration is not sufficient. In the U.S. care is much stronger; people have IV lines, hookups on the wall providing oxygen, continuous monitoring, etc.

 

We can’t provide an ICU like that in West Africa right now, but we can think about building other supportive technologies to help.

 

For example, the Transdermal microneedle sensor was originally developed and used by the military. It is an electrolyte sensor that determines hydration level. PIH has started to look for funding to try to get this to a product stage for use in the field. This is an example of an existing technology that could work for Ebola care if we use them in a creative and innovative way. But, there are likely many other tools out there that could help that we don’t yet know about.

 

We need to ensure patient dignity and comfort by allowing access to relatives. There are so many terrible stories of parents losing contact with their children because they can’t go into the ICUs, they have to hand off their child to someone in a spacesuit. As a result, people don’t go to ETU’s. Most children under 12 have died of Ebola. How can we arrange for parents and their children to connect? Perhaps there are some electronic models that already exist for this.

 

Another area of focus is testing and rolling out new drugs. Funding from this has come from funding to prepare for possible instances of bioterrorism. One of the trails in Liberia is to test drugs for other uses such as flu. Most of the more effective drugs are further back in the pipeline and haven’t been tested for efficacy and tolerability.

 

We need to ensure rapid learning by optimizing data collection and management tools. There are many barriers to data collection either on paper or with computers. Imagine trying to type with 3 layers of latex gloves without being able to speak. People are working on better tools (e.g. paper that can be made wet).

 

Providing accurate and early diagnosis could enable early detection and allow clinicians to isolate and treat them at a stage where they are likelier to have good outcomes. We want to move from high tech lab to drop-of-blood test such as pregnancy test. Some issues with current tests are that they require labs facilities, take 2 - 6 hours, don’t detect early infection, and require more than a fingerstick of blood sample.

 

One of the labs that is being used in the field is built in a shipping container. However, it’s difficult to get these units to peripheral sites and out of cities because roads are bad.

 

Vaccines are also being developed, and there are 3 candidates. How should we trial vaccines? How do we deliver them? Aerosol delivery, as opposed to needle based delivery where blood oozes and brings about more risk, is still a long way away and we’re not there yet.

 

Our plan is to integrate research and knowledge generation into all our clinical activities and develop relationships with industry partners.

 

Joi: Before we jump into conversation: you mentioned two issues. The U.S. media response to illness here drumming up fear, and the difficulty of getting volunteers approved by their employers to go to West Africa.

 

Ophelia: We are leading in the wrong direction. As more people survive the disease here, the fear seems to lessen. At PIH we’ve had an outpouring of support in terms of recruits. Over a 1,000 people have volunteered to go. The key to this is training and capacity building within the country itself, but the other key to this is making sure that it’s easier for people to volunteer. We need to make sure that people are paid and compensated because it’s costly to have people away from work for a long time. Unlike in Haiti, where people can come down for a few days and help and then go back, this requires much more training. Most of the people we are working with and training now however are in-country in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

 

David: Thanks for the insights on research. I’m interested in two things: the technologies we currently have that are being used and deployed, and improving education. There are incomplete data sets that may be inaccurate, and there’s no real space and oversight for the dissemination of resources to manage the outbreak. How can we understand how the resources are actually helping? We can’t map to the health outcomes. People are doing work in their own silos, I don’t think there’s a coordinated effort. For example, when the government ordered the lockdown, there were many NGOs saying it was a bad idea. There didn’t seem to be much coordination. The education system and infrastructure is also broken. We need to provide quality education for people today to help build up other kinds of infrastructure. David plays a clip of a math lesson from Sierra Leone on the radio. “I think you see the point, it’s painful to listen to.” We need to think of technologies that would make it easy for school going children to learn from home. This is the first chance we have make use of new technologies that could have an impact on education.

 

Joi: It’s hard to imagine this happening in the U.S. because the care is so good and the infrastructure is in place. We need to start thinking about how to reach the places that are hard to get to, where the infrastructure is not that good because that is where people are really being affected.

 

Ophelia: The key thing is that building systems takes a long time. The advantage of working in one place for a very long time is that you can see the gains. Not losing heart and not being distracted is key. Things that took PIH 20 years to build, they’d be able to build much more quickly with their current infrastructure and team.

 

Megan: PIH has realized they can’t address emergencies or medical care without addressing broader social issues. So David’s point about education is well taken. One of our approaches is to provide jobs to people who have been sick, as well as education. We do a lot of education at a higher level than at high school. Our approach to research is that it must be connected to capacity building. We must use it as an opportunity to train local researchers. We can't bring those systems about without making the investment.

 

Joi: As we think about what we might do about Ebola at the Media Lab, should we focus on emergency help or capacity building? Is it one or the other?

 

Megan: We can’t just focus on capacity building. If we have a choice between two facilities, either a tent hospital or a more enduring facility, it’s important to think about what will have a more lasting impact. If it’s going to have the same impact, we want to keep in mind what’s going to be the longer-term approach.

 

David: As we see hackathons in Boston and NYC — ignore what the word means — we need to see them in Sierra Leone. Where you’re given the space and the opportunity to problem-solve. Where the people involved are learning not just how to use potential solutions, but how to hack it and make it themselves.

 

Ophelia: It’s a little bit like the argument around treatment and prevention of HIV. It’s a little bit of a temptation to say “Let’s do one or the other.” But you have to do both.

 

Joi: Sometimes we use the word “co-design” to describe our approach; when we design research, we send students and faculty and we try to work with processes and materials that are there. It helps you get better designs, and people are more likely to adopt the designs if they feel that they are part of the solutions. I wonder if this methodology would work. A lot of times we sit here in Cambridge and design something but it doesn’t work, because the parts aren’t available elsewhere for example. Is there an opportunity to do something like this.

 

Megan: Absolutely. A lot of physicians have died. The people to be asking “What do you actually need?” are the people in those places today.

 

 

Ophelia: The piece not to forget is that there needs to be delivery in this. Through any kind of discovery and development, however great a new vaccine is, making sure it can get to a hundred percent of the population is a key piece of this. Here, the delivery systems are so good, but elsewhere we’d need to able to use community health workers to help disseminate a vaccine for example. We need to make sure that we do work together because PPE devices are available to be fully used and there are great need for better tools.

 

Joi: David, you’ve been working with a lot of young people in Sierra Leone. Do you think there’s a way to involve those folks in designing things so that we’re not just sitting here guessing?

 

David: If you design in situ, thinking about distribution is very different. With Global Minimum, we work with young people to engage in creative thinking processes. We’re doing a project called Hack at Home, for students who are staying home. We’re thinking about the way that the media portrays Sierra Leone and Ebola. In our first challenge to the kids, we asked them to create content to represent a message they wanted to send about Ebola.

 

[David shows a video created by his students about the stigmatization of Ebola survivors]

 

This boy survived Ebola and is going for a stroll in his community. Other kids are avoiding him because he is stigmatized for having Ebola. This video shows how survivors are not coming to welcoming homes. Another kid explains to them that this kid is a survivor and should be accepted and welcomed. I wanted to show this video because the kid made it in his local language with his mentor.

 

Joi: In terms of technology, are you engaged with them in the process?

 

David: It’s interesting because kids use social media such as Whatsapp. It’s about meeting them where they are. It is possible to use tech with them in that way. Megan, have you thought about what the most effective way for people with prototypes at the Media Lab, what is the best way to go from the prototype to engaging with you to bring them out in the field?

 

Megan: What would be ideal would be not only to engage with us but also with clinicians and providers, community health workers in the field. We have networks of all of these people. Most of them are not on Facebook, especially in rural areas, but these people are a tremendous resource to figure out what is actually needed and iterate on design. It should be feasible, but this kind of design work is not what we usually do. There is a lot to think about.

 

Joi opens up to questions in the audience.

 

Audience: My parents are from Nigeria, and I know that Nigeria’s doing pretty well with Ebola. So what can Sierra Leone learn from Nigeria? Is there really that much of a difference between the health infrastructure in Nigeria and Sierra Leone?

 

Megan: There’s a massive difference between these countries’ health infrastructure. If you look at maternal mortality, for example, Nigeria is doing well compared with Sierra Leone and Nigeria. In Nigeria, 18,000 homes were visited and screened to detect Ebola which had a great impact.

 

David: In Sierra Leone we had months of not knowing, of denial, of looking at ourselves and saying “it’s under control.”

 

Ethan: First of all, thank you. This was incredibly helpful in terms of understanding what Partners in Health is dealing with on the ground.

 

For groups like the ML that are always trying to figure out how to solve problems, problem selection is one of the hardest things that we do. When Joi’s talking about community-based problem-solving methods and co-design, that’s about figuring out what’s the right problem to solve. You’ve given us a phenomenal list of problems that even those of us who have been paying attention to this don’t know about.  For example, the problem you highlighted of people not being able to communicate with their families — of parents not being about to communicate with their kids while in isolation. I suspect many people in the building could help address that. To the extent that you can, help us understand what the unsolved problems are — on the clinical level, on the community level, on the community information level. I’m working with a group called PenPlusBytes on the media side in Ghana. Finally, because you guys are working with people who go into the field, is there a way that some of those people could be part of a team here or elsewhere to bring those insights to us?

 

Megan: That’s something I was thinking about. Couldn’t we bring community health workers into the equation?  What do we need? We need incinerators. We need something that cools down PPE so that people can wear it at a hundred degrees. We save so much effort when we go directly to the source. Pulling those people in to the discussion will be a critical part of this. But the greater challenge is to pull people across cultural and technological barriers.

 

Ophelia: Some of the people who have come back, like nurses, might be good bridges between clinicians and community health workers. Maybe in the recruitment process for finding volunteers, we can identify some people who could come back to help design new technologies. And if you could give us even three or four things to tell them to be thinking about, that would be helpful.

 

Joi: One thing that might work, if you were going to send a team over we could have a briefing session here to teach how to think about design and manufacturing to prepare them for how to think about these issues once they’re there, and then when they come back we can have a debrief to figure out what they’ve learned and point to potential insights for design. We could use the people going and coming back as our eyes and ears.

 

Megan: When people ask “what do you need?” It’s hard — I know what the problems are but not the solutions.

 

Ophelia: The fogging on the masks is a real problem. And the double fogging, if you wear glasses. When we asked people what they did, they said they would go in and do everything that requires any sort of subtlety and nuance in the first 20 minutes. People can only spend an hour in the ETU with PPE on because it’s just too hot.

 

Joi: There are a whole bunch of companies just focus on fog-proof technologies.

 

Amy: A lot of the conversation has been about improving the systems for improving care, but I’m wondering about how much effort is spent in the field on education and equipping people with knowledge to stop the spread of this disease.

 

Ophelia: We think about generating knowledge both at a high-level and at a community level. Rapid employment and deployment of survivors is one way to spread this information. Making use of community health workers is a key way to educate.

 

Matt Carroll: This may just be from watching too much news coverage, but it seems like the response from Western countries and organizations has been kind of chaotic over there. Is that the case from your impressions?

 

Ophelia: I think that we at Partners in Health are used to, and somewhat spoiled by, being able to get things done quite quickly, with some nimbleness, because of the relationships we’ve formed over time. And it’s hard to see so many groups, all well meaning, in a jumble.

It’s difficult to have a tangle of groups and get things done quickly. Some of the groups that have been able to get things done have been organizations like MSF, which works independently. It’s harder if you want to integrate with existing systems. There’s chaos borne of infrastructure and in-country challenges, as well as bureaucracy that occurs during emergencies which can be frustrating.

 

Audience: There are two open innovation challenges related to Ebola, one with USAID, so people are trying to solve these problems in creative ways.

 

Ophelia: The results of these challenges are interesting. Chlorine is used to disinfect parts of the protective gear and equipment. There was the suggestion of making it colored, so that you could see areas that hadn’t been doused with chlorine. There’s a difference between imagining it and developing it and then getting it through customs and then getting it out of the capital city to the places where it needs to be. This shouldn’t be so hard — it should be doable. Part of that is developing it in the countries themselves.

 

David: There are two kind of technologies that should be developed, whether it is from challenges or those from the ground. There are those we have to build from there, while there are those we can not build from there. For instance, PPT’s would be ideally built from there. It would be much different if done from Sierra Leone, if some of these technologies, and what problem sets we want to attack and look separating the problem sets based on this. People here could focus on those things that require iteration over a long time.

 

Audience: Does anyone have a sense of the supply chain of getting people and information between here and there? Whether it’s getting through customs, getting permits, etc.

 

Ophelia: It’s a great question. I’d love you to help us think through some of that. We’re trying to build networks of people embedded in the countries we work in so that things can go smoothly. For instance, we have people working in customs in Haiti. We don’t yet have that in Sierra Leone.

 

Audience: I appreciate all the attention Ebola is getting, and I think education in West Africa is important, but I think we also need to work on education here. For example, some of my friends here don’t realize that Ebola is only in three countries in Africa.

 

Megan: Somehow that message isn’t getting out there to people. We’re actually overwhelmed with all of the coverage — we hire people to read the newspapers and sift through the information. There’s just so much information. Why do you think people aren’t getting the message?

 

Audience: I think a lot of people still don’t understand that Africa isn’t just one big country.

 

Ophelia: We need to start early then! You’re right — the idea that this can be brought from anywhere in Africa is really a terrible thing. If you’ve got any ideas about how to do that, working on a tool to address that specific issue would be really important.

 

Joi: This is a perfect setup to promote Ethan’s book, Rewire. What we hoped for the Internet is that it would make it easier for people to care about people who live in other places. But we’re seeing that maybe this isn’t happening, and we need to build tools to make this more likely. That’s a lot of what Ethan is doing at the Center for Civic Media.

 

David: I was stopped on my way back from Mexico. They asked, “Do you know why you’re here?” “Because I have a Sierra Leone passport? Which I’m very proud to carry, by the way!” So we need to change perceptions here.

 

As we create solutions we need to think about ways that they help young people in Sierra Leone to learn how to make and build their own solutions. But we also can’t wait any longer to act.

 

 

by alexishope at November 20, 2014 08:42 PM

Creative Commons
State of the Commons

Today, we’re releasing a new report that we think you will want to see. State of the Commons covers the impact and success of free and open content worldwide, and it contains the most revealing account we’ve ever published, including new data on what’s shared with a CC license.

We found nearly 900 million Creative Commons-licensed works, dramatically up from our last report of 400 million in 2010. Creators are now choosing less restrictive CC licenses more than ever before — over half allow both commercial use and adaptations.

We’re also celebrating the success of open policy worldwide. Fourteen countries have now adopted national open education policies, and open textbooks have saved students more than 100 million dollars. These are big moves making big impacts.

Please help us spread the word about this groundbreaking report.

If Creative Commons plays a role in how you use the internet or share your work, please consider making a gift to support the organization. Creative Commons licenses will always be free, but they would not exist without your generous support.

Support Creative Commons

by Ryan Merkley at November 20, 2014 07:55 PM

Andrew McAfee
Enterprise 2.0, Finally?

Facebook’s recent announcement that it’s readying a version of its social software for workplaces got me thinking about Enterprise 2.0, a topic I used to think a great deal about. Five years ago I published a book with that title, arguing that enterprise social software platforms would be valuable tools for businesses.

The news from Facebook, along with rapid takeup of new tools like Slack, the continued success and growth of Salesforce’s Chatter and Yammer (now part of Microsoft), and evidence of a comeback at Jive, indicates that the business world might finally be coming around to Web-style communication and collaboration tools.

Why did it take so long? I can think of a few reasons. It’s hard to get the tools right — useful and simple software is viciously hard to make. Old habits die hard, and old managers die (or at least leave the workforce) slowly. The influx of ever-more Millennials has almost certainly helped, since they consider email antediluvian and traditional collaboration software a bad joke.

Whatever the causes, I’m happy to see evidence that appropriate digital technologies are finally appearing to help with the less structured, less formal work of the enterprise. It’s about time.

What do you think? Is Enterprise 2.0 finally here? If so, why now? Leave a comment, please, and let us know.

by Andrew McAfee at November 20, 2014 07:28 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Digital Security Guide for African Environmental Rights Defenders

A new digital security guide seeks to help environmental rights defenders in Sub-Saharan Africa protect themselves and their communities. Developed by Tactical Technology Collective, a Berlin-based info-activism organization, the guide was developed through a collaborative process with groups working in this field across the region.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 1.09.57 PMThe fight to save the environment and natural resources that impoverished communities depend on is intensifying as oil and gas are discovered in more and more places throughout Africa. The loss of land to agricultural multinationals and the building of mega-dams is increasing. Extraction of myriad other resources and poaching are all at an all-time high. In the middle of all this, environmental rights defenders (ERDs) are struggling to make corporations and governments accountable to the people and to defend the integrity of ecosystems.

Reports released by such organizations as Global Witness, particularly the “Dangerous Environment“ report, show a sharp increase in known killings of environmental and land defenders by their adversaries worldwide. The report shows that three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years before.

With the growth of technology and increasing use of digital advocacy and communication tools to do their work, ERDs in Africa are increasingly becoming vulnerable to cyber-attacks and harassment. Governments and corporations are targeting ERDs through loopholes left in their digital life.

In response to these trends, Tactical Technology Collective launched a digital security guide targeted specifically for environmental rights defenders.

Since 2012, Tactical Tech has been working with ERDs in Africa to help them tighten security around their digital resources. To develop the “Digital security tools and tactics for Environmental Rights Defenders in Sub-Saharan Africa” guide, Tactical Tech worked with a Kenyan environmental communications and digital security consultant. Collaborators then used a survey to assess digital threats, risks, vulnerabilities and capacities of their target constituencies in Nigeria, Liberia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the DRC and other African countries where defenders face a constant struggle to protect the environment from the might of extractive industries.

The guide is an offshoot of Tactical Tech’s Security-in-a-Box tool that has served human rights defenders for many years. It is designed to walk defenders through a process of securing their digital resources and information exchange systems so that they can close the loopholes that their adversaries – governments and corporations – could use to either disrupt their work or harm them physically.

The guide covers topics including:

  • How to assess your digital security risks
  • How to secure your online collaborations
  • How to use your smartphone more securely
  • How to make a distress call in emergencies
  • How to protect your evidence

This guide is designed for use even by defenders with basic computer knowledge and provides links to many useful applications and tools that one can install in their computer to secure their digital life.

Read the guide online: https://securityinabox.org/communities/04

Download the guide in PDF form: https://securityinabox.org/sbox/pdfs/enviro-africa.pdf

A limited number of handy print copies is also available for those who like reading on dead trees. 

UPDATE: The guide is also available in French at https://securityinabox.org/fr/communities/04

If you know individuals or networks who may find this guide useful, please share this with them. If you have any questions or wish to learn more about the guide, please email lisa[at]tacticaltech[dot]org or maina[at]kijanimedia[dot]com.

by Samuel Maina at November 20, 2014 06:19 PM

DML Central
IndieCade, Part 3: Learning from Virtual Reality
IndieCade, Part 3: Learning from Virtual Reality Blog Image

Oculus Rift made headlines this year with a development kit for its affordable virtual reality head-mounted display, which comes equipped with sophisticated software that prevents the “simulator sickness” that was so common on earlier models. The Oculus technology was considered valuable enough to merit a $2 billion acquisition by Facebook, and it soon became the talk of many game festivals, including the independent games festival IndieCade, where it was featured in the ticking clock bomb defusion game “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.”

But, the big winner for VR technologies at IndieCade this year was Nonny de la Peña, who received the Impact Award for her vivid simulation of police brutality in “Use of Force,” which recreates the 2010 death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who was beaten to death by border patrol agents near San Diego. De la Peña used computer-generated 3D animation derived from video shot by witnesses to the beating on mobile devices to create an immersive experience. In the simulation, users also wield a cell phone that allows them to capture footage of what they see in the virtual world.    

De la Peña agreed to an interview with DML Central to discuss the possibilities and challenges of working with VR platforms in her work to educate the public as a journalist. She explained that she was particularly excited to be honored by IndieCade, which she described as one of her “favorite festivals,” because it was “always trying to break new ground” by “exploring the medium” and “unique experiences.” 

The award filled her with “encouragement” and “astonishment.” She explained that she chose the subject matter of the Rojas case because of its “relevance to Los Angeles,” her hometown, where “the immigrant population is so big.” 

Because there has been so much talk over including appropriate disclaimers about personal connections in game journalism, it is probably worthwhile to note that I met de la Peña in college, although we were only acquaintances. I did not get to know her more recent work until our paths crossed at a games conference decades later. She was showing “Gone Gitmo,” a recreation in the virtual world platform Second Life of the Guantánamo Bay Prison facility for suspected terrorists, which she developed with new media artist and interaction designer Peggy Weil

De la Peña and Weil wanted to create a version that was “accessible, even though it was virtual.”  She described undertaking “the same kind of research that I did as a film journalist, using technology on top of my traditional work, my 2003 documentary film.” (The trailer for the film, “Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties,” can be viewed online.)  

De la Peña explained that virtual worlds could serve as a “medium for telling all kinds of stories,” although “the language” of expression “is still up for grabs.” Her grounding as a filmmaker, working in fiction and nonfiction, also gave her perspective on the fact that “many of the things we take for granted” in traditional media practices, such as the cinematic conventions of how to use the close-up or the jump-cut, might seem “pretty well established” after decades of audience experiences, although they were once “new territory” for experimenters.  

In considering how virtual reality could provide viable learning environments with strong emotional engagement, she took advantage of existing initiatives to train soldiers or medical personnel using high-tech immersion techniques that were sponsored by the Institute for Creative Technologies. According to de la Peña, repurposing existing technologies often makes sense, given prohibitively high development costs, and many ICT practitioners wanted to see more “good come out of their work” in the area of human rights.

I’ve walked around in the head mounted display of “Use of Force” and re-experienced the scenario later by reviewing the cell phone footage my avatar shot. I have also had a private showing of de la Peña’s earlier work “Hunger in Los Angeles,” which used real audio captured from a diabetic emergency suffered by an impoverished client waiting in line at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank and the subsequent scuffle of others who rushed ahead to grab groceries while workers and paramedics provided first aid. She told how this kind of “technological landscape” makes “visible groups of people who might not otherwise get represented” and shows their “different languages” and the “intensity of needs.” As she asked, “What does this community sound like and look like? What are they experiencing?”

In installations like “Use of Force” or “Hunger in Los Angeles,” she would like us to consider “duality of presence” or “what does it mean to be present in other places” or have the “feeling of being in two places at once” so that those unfamiliar with a topic can “build the knowledge through body.” 

For de la Peña, if the virtual world is “well-constructed,” it “offers legitimacy” with a compelling “digital reconstruction” that points to its “potential to contribute to diversity  of contexts,” including “communities that might not be using traditional forms of media” for which it contains a “really interesting logical potential.”

De la Peña wants to avoid cheap identity tourism or digital voyeurism in favor of a model of situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation. When one of her installations went on tour in the UK, she returned with “54 pages in the guest book” of visitor reactions, some of whom “didn’t realize what was going on” as they navigated “what might be a bad call to action” and “what might be a good call to action.” In creating such vivid audiovisual experiences, she hopes to do justice to her own “responsibility to offer them some opportunity to act” after their time in a virtual reality episode that explores an issue in contemporary human rights and then offers “pathways” that include “a decompression action,” such as writing notes or contributing to a memorial. “When we talk about democracy, we are talking about a new form of civic insight,” which might be “really useful to inform people about what’s going on” and provides a “new platform” now that “newspapers, films, radio, and TV” have been “disrupted.”

Her work also explores participation and “what is the effect of helpfulness” in new ways. In “Use of Force,” “we tried something different” by “giving people virtual cameras,” although this could be tricky, since large files quickly cause projects to “run out of memory,” although letting “people shoot their own experience” allows them to “carry out to the world video from their own experiences.”

By creating potentially spreadable media, there could also be additional network effects beyond the initial personal location-based experience.  “It’s a way to make the story spread,” much as a feature-length video “needs a trailer.” (In fact, one viewer at IndieCade posted his video on Youtube and it has had more than 60,000 views. It means, many more learned about the events of the evening who hadn’t experienced the installation.)

This work is now moving further, because “Oculus really changed the landscape,” now that goggles are “not $50,000 a pop, but $350.” For her own projects, she is “still building high-end goggles with high-end components,” but she thinks that “mobile viewers” should “offer a lot of ways” for this narrative form to go. In her new project, she is working with video from witness journalism in Syria, just before and just after a deadly blast that killed civilians capturing a moment with a child singing.

De la Peña has been ahead of the curve, I would argue, by exploring the right kinds of stories that work with VR. Because the technology imposes many constraints on interaction in a given digital environment, it is stories about the bystander, the observer, the captive, or the wrong man that can be most compelling, stories in which the user can explore choices — and questions of power — by experiencing a lack of choice first-hand.

Banner image and videos courtesy Nonny de la Peña

by mcruz at November 20, 2014 04:00 PM

Jessica Valenti
"I know a woman in her 30s: she’s married, she has a toddler, and she desperately wants a second..."
“I know a woman in her 30s: she’s married, she has a toddler, and she desperately wants a...

November 20, 2014 03:20 PM

Global Voices
Kurds Blame Arab Refugees for Deadly Suicide Bombing in Capital Erbil

“#BREAKING — Suicide car-bomb explodes outside of the governor's office in #Erbil — Tahir Abdullah, official confirms,” tweets @RudawEnglish

At least five people were killed and 29 injured in a suicide car-bomb attack on Wednesday in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of South Kurdistan in northern Iraq, the Ministry of Health confirmed in a press conference. The attack took place outside of the Governorate building, where vehicles are searched prior to entry.

South Kurdistan is relatively calm, particularly when compared to neighbouring Baghdad, a city subject to daily suicide bombings, mostly in Shiite-dominated areas. The attack generated heated online conversations among Kurdish social media users about the influx of refugees into the region.

It is estimated that 1.4 million refugees and internally displaced people currently reside in the Kurdistan region. The region has been forthcoming in accepting refugees and providing religious minorities such as Arab Christians with a safe haven.

Despite Kurdistan’s hospitable attitude towards refugees in the region, many people have questioned the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) policy towards refugees. Local Kurds have called for tighter security to control the flow of refugees into the region, arguing that militants belonging to the recently declared ISIS — a notoriously brutal Al Qaeda offshoot responsible for mass killing of Iraqi soldiers, Syrian soldiers, aid workers, journalists and the kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of women — could pose as refugees.

Following the bombing, Kurdish politicians, leaders and activists were keen to shift focus from refugees and internally displaced people to the threat of ISIS regionally and the sacrifices of Kurdish security forces.

The President of Kurdistan’s recently established Middle East Research Institute Dlawer Ala'Aldeen joined the ongoing online discussion about the necessity of Kurdish leadership alongside Arab leadership to take responsibility for the country’s ongoing failure to tighten its security and curb the spread of ISIS militants.

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s High Representative to the UK, Bayam Sami Rahman, whose father was killed in a suicide bomb attack in 2004, reacted to the Erbil bomb blast by highlighting the region’s growing hospitality and multi-faith community.

Commenting on the leading local news agency's coverage of the aftermath of the attack, many called for the deportation of Arabs in the region, while others responded to these ultra-nationalist voices with criticism, accusing them of bigotry, racism and discrimination.

Niroj Dosky commented on Rudaw News Agency's Facebook saying, “No Arabs in Kurdistan.” “This is what happens when you let Arabs in to our country,” wrote Kaso Shottas.

The most fair-minded response came from Wazi Aziz, who said, “Ignorance is never the answer. I am Kurdish, and like thousands of others I too had to flee my home because of Saddam regime, but the one thing I learnt […] never judge a person based on what colour or country they come from […] For people to say kick all the Arabs out, do you not realise that by saying that we are just as bad as them?”

The problem with the reactionary response to the suicide-bomb attack puts foreigners, internally displaced people and refugees at the centre of attention. This is particularly the case with anti-Arab sentiment in the region, who are perceived to be idle alongside their leaders in the face of ISIS militants.

On the other hand, ISIS poses a genuine threat to the Kurdistan region, and must be dealt with through appropriate measures. Nothing justifies racism and closing borders for refugees, but putting in place a mechanism to ensure ISIS militants don’t enter the region by posing as refugees is important.

Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Council of Ministers has issued a statement urging the people to remain “steadfast in their high level of shared vigilance and responsibility for security”.

by Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar at November 20, 2014 11:27 AM

How Many Animals Will Die in This Year’s Gadhimai Festival in Nepal?
Butchers ready to sacrifice water buffaloes at the Gadhimai festival in Nepal (C) Diwakar Bhandari

Butchers ready to sacrifice water buffaloes at the Gadhimai festival in Nepal (C) Diwakar Bhandari, used with permission.

Nepal is set to host one of the world's largest religious slaughter of animals after the Eid-ul-Azha festival for the Muslims. Gadhimai festival, celebrated once every five years, will welcome hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to the Bara district. The festival, which commenced this week, is observed for a month. The animal sacrifices are scheduled for next week, on November 28 and November 29.

Despite a rising chorus of voices against the festival's treatment of animals, the organising committee has decided to go ahead as planned.

At the festival, participates sacrifice nearly 500,000 animals over the course of two days. With approximately 70 percent of the animals coming from India, India’s Supreme Court has issued a notice to stop the illegal transport of animals into Nepal.

Animal rights activists of Animal Equality protested at Brandenburg Gate against the world's biggest animal sacrifice in Gadhimai in Nepal, with blood on the hands and signs with sacrificed animals. Image by Florian Boillot . Copyright Demotix (28/10/2014)

Animal rights activists of Animal Equality protested at Brandenburg Gate against the world's biggest animal sacrifice in Gadhimai in Nepal, with blood on the hands and signs with sacrificed animals. Image by Florian Boillot. Copyright Demotix (28/10/2014)

Joanna Lumley, who advocates for Gurkhas‘ civil rights, urged officials to ban the animal sacrifices at the Gadhimai festival. Lumley is the ambassador of the British organisation Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), which promotes animal welfare. Animal Welfare Network Nepal, another similar organisation, and CIWF are currently sponsoring a joint online petition against the festival.

Other online petitions have also emerged in opposition to the treatment of animals at the Gadhimai festival. Many campaigning to stop the sacrifices at the event have been active on social media, pressuring the authorities to crack down on the violence against animals. 

Activists against the festival's animal practices aren't the only voices online, however. Supporters point to how the festival brings families together, often reuniting relatives who live on opposite sides of Nepal's borders. The celebrations, these people argue, help strengthen the country's communal bonds. The priest of the Gadhimai temple, for instance, is a Tharu, whereas most devotees from the bottom of Nepal's hierarchical caste-segregated Madhesi society.

Mass slaughter of animals dedicating the Hindu goddess of power, Gadhimai. Image by Koji. Copyright Demotix (23/11/2009)

Mass slaughter of animals dedicating the Hindu goddess of power. Gadhimai, Nepal. Image by Koji. November 23, 2009. Copyright Demotix.

Others point out that the festival's slaughter of animals pales in comparison to the cattle industry in a country like the United States, where 9.1 billion animals were killed for food last year, averaging almost 25 million animals every day.

With people still divided about the festival, activists and participants alike can only hope to raise awareness, recruiting more people to their causes.

Rather than seek international pressure, some of the festival's opponents believe local awareness could be a more reliable means of curbing the animal abuses at Gadhimai.

For instance, S.S. Pokharel, a medical student, writes:

Gadhimai temple in Nepal. Image by  Diwakar Bhandari, used with permission.

Gadhimai temple in Nepal. Image by Diwakar Bhandari, used with permission.

by Sanjib Chaudhary at November 20, 2014 07:01 AM

November 19, 2014

Global Voices
Western Media Is Obsessed With Kurdish Female Fighters Battling ISIS
Two armed female members of the YPJ, a group affiliated with the People's Protection Units (YPG), walks around the base near Ras al-Ayn, a Kurdish town located in northern Syria. 11 October 2013. Photo by Younes Mohammad. Copyright Demotix

Two armed female members of the YPJ, a group affiliated with the People's Protection Units (YPG), walks around the base near Ras al-Ayn, a Kurdish town located in northern Syria. 11 October 2013. Photo by Younes Mohammad. Copyright Demotix

Women fighting in the ranks of the armed Kurdish forces have come into the spotlight as ISIS has made large territorial gains in Mosul, one of the largest cities in Iraq, and battled to take control of the autonomous Kurdish canton of Kobane on the border of Turkey.

International media agencies and activists alike have pushed images of female Peshmerga in their coverage and on social networking sites. The idea of women in uniform, heavily armed, fearless and fighting alongside men seems to be enticing, perhaps even captivating because it is perceived to be one of the strongest messages of defiance in the face of ISIS — a notoriously brutal Al Qaeda offshoot responsible for mass killing of Iraqi soldiers, Syrian soldiers, aid workers, journalists and the kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of women. In the group's Mosul manifesto, ISIS requires the confinement of women to their homes, unless absolutely necessary.

It seems not a day passes without these images of female fighters being shared. The truth is, contrary to the sudden surge of attention, Kurdish women are not new to the battlefield. Arguably all the battles Kurds have fought historically have been either side by side with women, and/or with the complicity of women as caretakers at home, raising a new generation, taking care of domestic affairs, earning a livelihood and so on.

The obsession with female fighters against ISIS seems to be premised on the idea of defiance. The Peshmerga women have battled with ISIS fighters, and standing on an equal footing with men in their ranks is evidently perceived to be an alien concept in the Middle East.

387px-Maggi_George-2

Margaret George Shello. Public domain.

However, there are dozens of examples which illustrate that women fighters are not new, but have existed within Kurdish communities historically. Take the following picture of Margaret George Shello for instance, who was among one of the first photographed women to go to the mountains with the Peshmerga and became a symbol of women’s participation in the Kurdish struggle.

The Kurdish people's struggle in Turkey, which led to the emergence of armed groups such as the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in the 1970s, consists of both men and women to the highest chain of command. In other words, female fighters in Kurdistan is not new, but mainstream media outlets have been very gender-selective in portraying the Kurdish struggle for autonomy (and independence).

by Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar at November 19, 2014 09:35 PM

The New York Times Joins Clamor to Change US Policy Toward Cuba
Concierto Paz sin Fronteras, celebrado en La Habana en 2009

“Peace Without Borders” concert, held in Havana in 2009. Photo by Juventud Rebelde, used with permission. 

The New York Times has intensified its criticism against U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba with a series of editorials published since October 11. 

The powerful newspaper has described the state of relations between the United States and Cuba as “dismal,” and called on President Barack Obama to “take a hard look at Cuba, where a major policy shift could yield a significant foreign policy success” for his administration.

The editorial entitled “A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S.”, for example, harshly criticizes the double standards of the United States, which on the one hand praises the Caribbean country for sending Cuban doctors to treat Ebola patients in West Africa, but on the other has a public policy that “easily [enables] medical personnel posted abroad to defect.”

More than 1,278 Cuban health professionals who work on official overseas assignments obtained authorization to immigrate to the United States in 2014 as part of this program, which provides “an opportunity to strike at the core of the island’s primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime,” according to The New York Times. 

Editorial in The New York Times.

According to the newspaper:

For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo. 

A survey of 2,000 U.S. citizens published in February 2014 by the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank, indicates that a majority of Americans are ready for a change of policy on Cuba, including those residing in the state of Florida, which is located about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the island country and home to the largest population of Cubans outside of Cuba. “This is a key change from the past,” the report said. “Cuba used to be intractable because Florida was intractable. This poll argues that is no longer true.” 

Fifty-six percent of Americans and more than 60 percent of Floridians favor a change in policy toward Cuba, according to the survey. While support for a policy shift is more common among Democrats and Independents, the majority of Republicans also advocate the normalization of relations. 

Given public opinion, The New York Times suggests that “the Obama administration should remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations.” The inclusion of Cuba on this list dates back to 1982, due to the country's support for rebel movements in Latin America, a tie that no longer exists. “American officials recognize that Havana is playing a constructive role in the conflict in Colombia by hosting peace talks between the government and guerrilla leaders,” says the newspaper. 

Additionally, the newspaper calls for: ending the embargo, resuming diplomatic relations, supporting U.S. companies interested in the telecommunications sector in Cuba, trading U.S. contractor Alan Gross for three Cuban spies that have been imprisoned in the United States for over 16 years, the end of undercover projects financed by USAID to overthrow the government, and searching for “ways to empower ordinary Cubans by expanding study-abroad programs, professional exchanges and investment in the new small businesses cropping up around the island.” 

One possible approach could occur during the seventh Summit of the Americas, a high-level meeting of leaders across North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. After being expelled in 1962, Cuba has been invited to participate in this meeting, scheduled for April 2015 in Panama, a move that Panamanian Vice President and Chancellor Isabel de Saint Malo considers consistent with “Panama's position that its foreign policy promote dialogue and consensus.”

“The Obama administration is leery of Cuba’s presence at the meeting and Mr. Obama has not committed to attending,” The New York Times wrote. “He must — and he should see it as an opportunity to make history.”

by Marianna Breytman at November 19, 2014 08:38 PM

Western Commentators Still Getting Turkey's Gezi Park Protests Wrong
Fez

‘FEZ: Diorama of a Turkish Street Protest’ shared by @slinkachu.

The Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair, which took place November 13-16, is among the most popular art events hosted in Turkey. One of the pieces that attracted significant attention this year was titled ‘FEZ: Diorama of a Turkish Street Protest’ by the English artist Slinkachu. The work, portraying the Gezi protests of 2013, features miniature riot police assaulting protestors carrying Turkish flags with a whisp of white cotton posing as a cloud of tear gas. The torrid scene is staged on top of a fez, a felt hat widely worn during Turkey's Ottoman past.

Thankfully there was an explanatory panel adjacent to the piece to reassure the observer that the choice of stage is not pandering to a fanciful Orientalist aesthetic that connects any mention of Istanbul with camels, flying carpets, belly dancers, and of course, the fez. Instead, the panel informs, the fez exists as a “reminder of the past, not of the future.” Following a brief description of the ‘hat law’ – one of the more absurd episodes in modern Turkish history —  the blurb suggests that the presence of the fez in the work serves to “highlight the schools of thought of both ‘sides’”.

The contrast between flag-waving protestors representing the forces of progress and the villainous reactionaries interested in reinstating the fez and political Islam is problematic for a variety of reasons, however. Firstly, the banning of the fez in 1925 was a whimsical authoritarian move enacted by the single party regime of the period, whose ‘modernity’ the piece implicitly celebrates. Its use in this context brushes over the same regime’s more serious crimes, including the systematic use of violence against ethnic and religious minorities under its protection.

That prefaces the piece's use of the Turkish flag to symbolise a force for good in a dumbed down Rebel Alliance vs Empire narrative. Ultra-nationalist discourses in Turkey have long had the habit of sweeping discontent and diversity under a rug by claiming all ethnic and religious groups in Turkey are ‘united under the same flag.’ The issue with this statement is that great atrocities like the forced 'repatriation’ of Greeks, the confiscation of Armenian families’ properties and the suppression of Dersim’s Kurdish Alawite uprising by aerial bombardment and invasion have all been committed under that flag, too.

Slinkachu obviously is not the only commentator to place the 2013 protests in these binary terms. The construction of the secular vs Islamic dichotomy as an epic struggle between good and evil is an old cliché and one that was rolled out repeatedly in ‘explainers’ of the events during their peak. Luke Harding's article for the Guardian, for instance, was billed on social media as a ‘must read’ piece for the political background to Gezi:

 

But the suggestion that Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the single party state responsible for banning the fez, was the ‘symbol’ of the protests creates the same false impression as the claim that the protestors were ‘united under the same flag’. In reality different people from different factions, including ethnic minority political parties very distant from the jingoism associated with Atatürk, participated in Gezi. As one Istanbul-based Twitter user implored Harding: “Please see the diversity.”

Also that summer, in a twist almost as perverse as a nationwide ban on a certain type of headwear, the name of the founder of the Turkish republic crossed the lips of English comedian Russell Brand in a TV interview for CNN. Having previously come out on Twitter to support the protests, Brand clarified his reason for doing so during the interview: “a powerful symbol of the Turkish people — Atatürk — has, in their minds, to a certain degree, been desecrated.”

Again and again, when it comes to discussions of Gezi and Turkish politics, we see ill-informed foreign commentators falling back on the cut and paste of a dialectical confrontation between an authoritarian, secular, single party state from history and the current, elected, authoritarian government which plays to a religious base.

What is worst about this dichotomy is that it reveals a troubling lack of faith in the idea that Turkey specifically and the Middle East in general can develop a viable alternative to either secular or religious authoritarianism. As a number of participants will testify, this is a great shame, since the Gezi protests were the first time anything close to a genuine popular dialogue about such an alternative was discussed across the country.

For many of these participants, awakened to the injustices hidden under chauvinistic slogans for the first time, the spirit of solidarity and unity came not from the national flag, shared opposition to a hat, or the need to support a bygone autocrat against a modern one, but from a desire to explore a third alternative and launch an experiment in direct democracy.

by Efe Levent at November 19, 2014 06:35 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: UK Companies Vow to Censor ‘Terrorist’ Websites

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in the UK, where leading Internet service providers including BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, and Sky have agreed to begin blocking “terrorist” and “extremist” websites on their networks. Providers will install a button that will allow any user to report material they feel is terrorist or extremist in nature.

United States Work Projects Administration Poster Collection (Library of Congress). Image released to public domain.

United States Work Projects Administration Poster Collection (Library of Congress). Image released to public domain.

It is unclear what criteria will be used to determine whether or not websites should be blocked. Reports will be assessed by the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, a special division of the London Metropolitan Police that historically has concentrated on tracking and removing online images of child pornography and abuse. Several critics have noted that filtering “terrorist” content is an entirely different beast that will require deep contextual knowledge and linguistic precision that may fall well beyond the means of the unit.

In a press statement, London-based Open Rights Group director Jim Killock underlined the need for transparency and accountability in the proposed system: 

“We need transparency whenever political content is blocked, even when we are talking about websites that espouse extremist views. The government must be clear about what sites they think should be blocked, why they are blocking them and whether there will be redress for site owners who believe that their website has been blocked incorrectly.”

Across the English Channel, French parliamentarians took similar steps to combat the proliferation of terrorist messages online by adopting a law that allows the government to block websites that “condone terrorism.” The law explicitly criminalizes the transmission of messages inciting terrorism that are “susceptible [to] being seen or received by a minor.” 

It gets worse? Russian LGBT online outreach group prosecuted for “gay propaganda”
Russian communications agency Roskomnadzor ruled Children-404, an online effort to support LGBT youth in Russia, violates the government’s ban on “gay propaganda”. Children-404 spreads messages on social networking sites to support youths who feel lost and outcast, much like the U.S.-based “It Gets Better” campaign. Children-404 founder Lena Klimova says she plans to challenge the ruling in court.

Gambian blogger detained, then freed
Gambian blogger and women’s rights activist Sait Matty Jaw was detained on Nov. 5 and held without charge until his release on Nov. 13, in the face of online protests calling for his release. Under Gambian law it is illegal to detain anyone for more than 72 hours without charge.

India steps up porn blocking tactics
The Indian government announced plans to create a blacklist of pornography websites that Indian ISPs will be required to block. The blacklist would have hefty technological costs – according to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team there are over 40 million porn websites around the world, most of which operate legally outside of India. In order to counteract the risk that large-scale filtering would slow down the Internet, ISPs will also be required to upgrade their infrastructure. Hosting and transmitting porn is illegal in India, though it is legal to view it in private. 

The U.S.-EU data privacy war is on
A number of large technology companies, including Apple, Microsoft and HP, called on the European Commission to speak out against U.S. law enforcement agencies’ seizure of customer data from European servers. A U.S. court ordered Microsoft to hand over the e-mails of a user accused of drug trafficking, which were stored on servers in Ireland. An appeals judge ruled that it didn’t matter where the data was physically located since the U.S.-based company had “control” over it.

Meanwhile in the U.S., Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond called for the government to extend protections under the U.S. Privacy Act to European citizens, which would allow them to challenge the misuse of their data by the U.S. government in U.S. courts. His call comes amid debate over an agreement to protect personal data transferred between the two governments for the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases. 

Court ruling protects country code domains for Syria, Iran, North Korea
A U.S. court ruled that country code top-level domains of Syria (.sy), Iran (.ir), and North Korea (.kp) could not be seized in a lawsuit against those governments. The plaintiffs in the case sought to seize the domains in order to enforce financial judgments against Iran that were unenforceable because the country did not have other seizable assets in the United States. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the assignment of country code domain names, argued they could not be seized because they are not property. While the judge did not opine on the issue of domain names as property, the ruling cuts against U.S.-based efforts to control key elements of Internet infrastructure.

IAB and WhatsApp get real about encryption
The uber-popular messaging tool WhatsApp has launched end-to-end encryption service for all users. A frequent vehicle for mobile phone surveillance and malware attacks, WhatsApp has integrated its systems with Textsecure, a secure open source messaging service developed by leading developer and crypto expert Moxie Marlinspike. Now that’s what’s app.

The Internet Architecture Board, a key standards-setting body for Internet protocols and architecture, called upon protocol designers to make “encryption the norm for Internet traffic”—by default and throughout the protocol stack.

Netizen Activism: Let’s play surveillance!
A group of security researchers launched the NSA Playset, a project that seeks to reverse engineer and release tools developed by the NSA for surveillance purposes. Using the NSA ANT catalog, which highlights the technologies available on order from the agency’s Advanced Network Technology division, the group seeks to engineer the tools using open-source hardware and software to make them easily accessible for the public.

New Research

 

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by Netizen Report Team at November 19, 2014 05:04 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
Global Voices
Recycling Workers Are Leading the Zero Waste Charge in Brazil
Recycling bins

Recycling bins. Photo by Flickr user Márcio Cabral de Moura. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article by Antonia Bruno was produced by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Other Worlds and posted by 350.organ organization building a global climate movement. It is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The streets of Belo Horizonte were filled with singing, dancing, chanting, and marching. It was not for a holiday, an election day or a soccer game. The chant was: “We don’t want incineration! Recycle! Recycle!” 

It was September 19, 2014, the day of the launch of a national Zero Waste Alliance, Brazil style. Exuberant, celebratory and led by recycling workers.

The recycling workers of Brazil have long been a powerful force in protecting their communities and the climate. Now, they are on the forefront of a nationwide movement for zero waste.

Zero Waste: A Just Alternative to Pollution        

To those hearing about it for the first time, “zero waste” may sound unrealistic. But in fact, zero waste alliances are forming all over the world and making great strides toward building a new kind of economy that is good for people and the planet. Zero waste encompasses the full life cycle of our stuff, starting with reduced extraction and responsible product design, and ending with all materials being reused, recycled or composted.  

The current practice of burning or dumping waste is a major contributor to climate change. Pound for pound, burning waste is even worse for the climate than the dirty practice of burning coal. It also releases cancer-causing toxins and other air pollutants. The potential benefits of zero waste for the climate and clean air are enormous.  

But at its best, zero waste is about much more than reducing pollution and greenhouse gases.

Whereas incineration and waste dumping frequently violate the principles of environmental justice, zero waste has great potential to improve the lives of people that feel the greatest impacts of our “dig, burn, dump” economy.

This is particularly true when zero waste systems are designed with worker rights at the center, as in the case of Brazil, where recycling workers are at the forefront of the zero waste alliance. And in Brazil, where the workers collaborate closely with local non-governmental organizations like Instituto Polis, the labor-environmentalist alliance is fundamental.

So how did the workers of Brazil get involved in a zero waste alliance? They started by getting organized.  

A National Movement of Recycling Workers

Recyclers do the work of collecting and separating out recyclable materials from the waste stream. It’s often a dangerous and low-paying job. But in Brazil—and other Latin American countries, including Chile and Colombia—recycling workers have made great strides toward good pay and safe working conditions.

Since its formation in 1999, the Brazil-based National Movement of Recycling Workers (MNCR) has achieved major victories for the sector. Earlier this year, one of the leading members of the MNCR, Maria Monica da Silva, was honored by the Women's International Center with a Living Legacy award for her work “creating significant improvements in the situation and recognition” of São Paulo's recyclers. “The vast majority of these recyclers are women, and together they make an enormous environmental contribution, but the value of their work is too often unrecognized,” according to the center.

What’s particularly inspiring about the recycling workers’ union in Brazil is that their ambitions for justice go far beyond their own working conditions. The recyclers understand their work as being on forefront of solving the climate, waste and air pollution crises that impact their families, communities and the entire world. The first line of the mission statement of the MNCR is to “contribute to building just and sustainable societies through the social and productive organization of recycling workers and their families.” Their mission also includes “improving the quality of life of all people and future generations.”

MNCR started building its power in the way that so many other groups have done: by stopping incineration.

‘A Force to Be Reckoned With’  

When the incineration company Usina Verde rolled into Sao Paolo in 2002, it was widely expected that their incinerator proposal would move forward quickly and easily. Instead, the company was pushed out by a coalition of recycling workers, NGOs, activists and community members.

Magdalena Donoso, Latin America Coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), explained, “The recycling workers of Brazil are a force to be reckoned with. Anytime there is a vote, public hearing, meeting, etc., the recycling workers turn up more people than the incinerator company.”

But as with anti-incinerator movements all over the world, the question was always asked in Brazil: If not incinerators, then what? For the recycling workers of that nation, the answer was built into their job description.

The transition from fighting incinerators to working toward zero waste in Brazil came naturally. Beth Grimberg from Instituto Pólis explained, “Zero waste alliances were being formed all over the world. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to work on this. We had strong international solidarity and decades of organizing experience. On September 19, with hundreds of people participating in person or online, we launched the Brazil Zero Waste Alliance.”

Alex Cardoso, a third generation recycler and member of the MNCR, said, “It is important that recycling workers are the primary organizers for zero waste in Brazil. We are the ones on the streets every day making it happen. Our knowledge is critical. We are the principal agents in these conversations and the defenders of the earth.”

There you have it: zero waste is clean air, good jobs and justice. No wonder the brass band was playing and the crowd was singing in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

by 350.org at November 19, 2014 04:07 PM

Why an Open Letter Attacking China's Professors for ‘Blackening the Motherland’ Is So Worrisome
University teachers are asked to speak positive about the motherland. Photo from Flickr user Neal Lantela CC: BY-SA-NC.

University teachers are asked to speak positive about the motherland. Photo from Flickr user Neal Lantela CC: BY-SA-NC.

China's authorities have waged an aggressive ideological battle against mainstream and new media over the past two years, upping the pressure on them to fall in line with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or face the consequences. Now, some fear that officials are setting their sights on academia as the next front in the war on free thinking. 

Provincial Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the Liaoning Daily published an unusual open letter to university professors on November 13, blasting them for reportedly speaking ill about China in front of their students.

The China Media Project of Hong Kong University has translated the letter, titled “Teacher, Please Don’t Talk Like That About China: An Open Letter to Teachers of Philosophy and Social Science.” The paper claimed its opinion was based on 300 anecdotes collected from university students, an online survey and investigative reports collected from more than 20 schools in five cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Shenyang.

The paper said 80 percent of university students had encountered professors who were “fond of airing complaints,” and this “blackening” of the motherland left them upset. It summed up the problem in three points: a lack of theoretical recognition, a lack of political recognition and a lack of identification on an emotional level (of the party's history and ideology).

For local party propaganda authorities, it's a strange move to publicly criticize tertiary education teachers who are under the jurisdiction of the state education institution. Normally, directives like this would come from China's education ministry. Last year, it instructed university professors not to teach seven subjects, including freedom of the press, past mistakes of the Communist Party, and citizens’ rights. 

Some commenters see the letter not only as further encroaching on academic freedoms, already under serious threat in China, but also possibly setting the stage for a future purge of professors who challenge the party's line.

Liaoning Daily said the prescription for such “negativity” is “positive energy”, a term which gained prominent after Chinese President Xi Jinping used it at the CCP's forum on arts and culture in October. The idea of positive energy was introduced by Lu Wei, the director of the State Internet Information Office, in January 2013 to tame celebrities who spoke their mind on Twitter-like Sina Weibo

Sun Liping, a prominent social scientist teaching at Beijing Tsinghua university, responded to the open letter with one of his own:

辽宁日报公开信的事情真的不可小看。我看到的是网络版,不知是否有误。该信的署名是本报编辑部。我们知道,辽宁日报是辽宁省委机关报。以罕有的本报编辑部名义发出的东西,可以理解为辽宁省委对全国高校教师的要求。一个地方党委对全国高校教师发号司令,不觉得奇怪吗? 印象中,文革时都没有一级党委或机关报发出面对全国的公开信。只有造反队会发这种东西。 其实辽宁日报编辑部稍微有点脑子就不会写这种东西,一个不黑的东西是别人可以抹黑的吗?不信翻翻辽宁日报的老报纸,过去几十年国内外你们抹黑过多少东西。哪个最后你真的给抹黑了? 现在说纯粹的批评有没有意义。有人说,批评的同时提出解决的办法才是积极的,一味的批评就是抹黑。我首先要说,我认为批评的同时提出解决问题的办法是更有意义的。因此我经常和学生说,我只讲我能找到解决办法的问题,如果我自己找不出解决问题的办法,我干脆就不讲。但这只是我对我自己的要求,研究社会现象的,要尽可能找出解决问题的办法。但我并不认为,纯粹的批评,就是消极的。找出我们社会中的问题,分析这些问题的原因,即使没提出解决办法,也是有意义的。甚至只是把丑恶的现象揭露出来也是有意义的。前述美国扒粪运动,哪个都提出解决的办法了?关键是看你如何对待这种批评。1962 年,哈林顿出版《另一个美国: 合众国的贫困》,将美国的阴暗面集于一书。据说当时的总统约翰逊看了这本书,受到很大震动,他没有把哈林顿作为负能量。而是提出要建设伟大社会。建设伟大社会的目标,是向贫困宣战,向不平等宣战,向一切违反人权的现象宣战。抹黑祖国?祖国多大了?你哭天抹泪地口口声声声讨万恶的旧社会,旧社会那一段的中国算祖国吗?接连就辽宁日报公开信写了几条微博。因为公开信也是信,作为一个教师不回信不礼貌。最后以一个老师身份告诫那个编辑部(估计作者也都是学生辈的)几句:1、要讲道理的话把理论弄圆点,别顾头不顾那个。2、理论弄不出来起码在有限范围内讲点逻辑。3、上面两点如果都做不到,谦虚点。

Liaoning Daily's open letter cannot be ignored. I read the online version and am not a hundred percent sure of its accuracy. The open letter is signed by the newspaper's editorial board. We all know that Liaoning Daily is the official newspaper of the Liaoning province party branch. It is unusual to see the editorial board issue such an opinion, which can be considered a demand made by the Liaoning Chinese Communist Party committee of the country's university teachers. A local party committee giving instructions like this to the country's university teachers, isn't that strange? From what I remember, even during the Cultural Revolution no provincial level CCP committee issued such an open letter addressing the whole country. Only the revolutionary team [the Red Guards who challenged the authorities] would do that. If the Liaoning editorial board had basic intelligence, they would not do that. How can one blacken anything if the thing is not black to begin with? Just check the Liaoning Daily's archive and you will get a sense of how many things this paper tried to blacken in the past. Yet none of its “blackening” attempts eventually succeeded. Now, it said it is meaningless to criticize. Some say it is more positive to offer solutions alongside criticism. Pure criticism is “blackening.” I want to make it clear that, of course, it is meaningful to find a solution and I tell my students that I would only talk about issues that I can address and give suggestions for. However, this is a personal commitment and practice. I don't think social critique is negative. To identify the problem of a society and analyze the cause of the problem without an answer is meaningful. To reveal the ugly phenomena is meaningful. In the US, they had the muckraker movement and many did not offer any solutions. How you react to criticism is key. In 1962, Micheal Harrington wrote “The Other America.” The book is a record of the dark side of the US. According to hearsay, Lyndon Johnson, the then-president of the US, was shocked by the book. Yet he did not take it negatively, and instead put forward a plan to build a strong society by declaring war against poverty, inequality and inhumanity. Blackening our motherland? How old is our motherland? You screamed and yelled and attacked the old society [before the liberation of China by the CCP], but isn't the old society our motherland as well? I have written a few micro-blogs commenting on Liaoning Daily's open letter. As the open letter is a letter, we have to pay our courtesy as a professor and reply to it. Finally, as a professor I would like to give some advice to the editorial board (I assume the writers are of my students’ generation): 1. When putting forward an argument, please ground it in sound theory. Don't open a topic without any grounding. 2. If you fail to come up with a theory, at least be logical. 3. If you can't fulfill the above basic requirements, be humble.

Zhang Ming, a political scientist who teaches at Remin University, criticized the Liaoning Daily for spying on the professors:

辽宁日报派出记者暗访,整黑材料。这不是正常的采访报道,而是文化特务和间谍之行。这样做,把教师当敌人也就罢了,置当地的信息员和大学的党委于何地?

Liaoning Daily sent reporters to investigate [the professors] and collect information to smear them. This is not normal reporting, but spying behavior. It not only turned professors into enemies but also linked the authority of the university party committee and local party informants.

He said he believes that another anti-rightist movement is approaching:

一直有人警告说要有新的反右斗争,开始还不信,看到辽宁日报给高校教师的公开信,信了。这回,要抓多少右派呢?

For some time I’ve heard people talking about how a new anti-rightist movement is drawing near. I didn’t buy this at first, but the Liaoning Daily open letter to professors made me believe. How many rightists will be arrested in this round?

Xiong Feijun, an independent writer, believed the prescription for the country's corruption is criticism rather than “positive” comments:

祖国明明在贪官敲诈专制毒害下得了重病,不及时治疗只有死路一条。可贪官们一个劲忽悠祖国很强壮很健康,使祖国丧失治疗康复最佳时机。那些勇于说真话的良心志士深爱自己的国家,呼吁赶快把祖国送医院动手术切去专制毒瘤让祖国恢复健康浴火重生。可贪官们却说这是“抹黑中国”?天下有这等放屁的逻辑吗

The motherland is sick because of corruption. If we don't cure the illness, she will die. But the corrupt keep saying that the motherland is very healthy. Eventually the window of time to cure the illness will close on the motherland. Those who dare to tell the truth love their country and they urge the motherland to go to the hospital, cut out the tumor and be healthy again. The corrupt call that “blackening China”? What kind of logic is that?

The ideological battle against online opinion leaders has destroyed meaningful public conversations on Weibo as netizens now refrain from saying what they think. If the battlefield is indeed extended to the university, a place where knowledgeable experts address society's problems in a rational manner, it won't just affect the classroom. The persecution of tertiary education would not only likely stunt the country's social and political progress, but also give rise to a power struggle within the ruling class and social chaos — an unfortunately familiar outcome for China. Such man-made disasters have recurred throughout the country's contemporary history.

by Oiwan Lam at November 19, 2014 02:59 PM

November 18, 2014

Global Voices
Ugandans Launch Hashtag Campaign Against Telecom Giant
An MTN vehicle in Uganda, November 28, 2005, CC 2.0

An MTN vehicle in Uganda, November 28, 2005, CC 2.0

Eight million people use MTN Uganda, making it the country's undisputed mobile telecom giant. According to Chimpreports.com, customers have grumbled for years about unreasonable extra charges and unexplained reductions in service. For a long time, these complaints fell on deaf ears.

Earlier this month, however, Ugandans decided to pool their influence and launch a hashtag campaign against MTN.

A screenshot of  MTN customer's phone Belinda Kyomuhendo saying the service request was unsuccessful. Image used with permission.

A screenshot of MTN customer's phone Belinda Kyomuhendo saying the service request was unsuccessful. Image used with permission.

Justus Amanya, a local journalist, told reporters:

This week starting tomorrow 17th Nov 2014, we are going to officially hand in our dissatisfaction note and complaint to the Minister of ICT Hon George William Nyombi Thembo at his office on Parliament Avenue,” announced Justus Amanya who is leading efforts to pressure government to crack down on MTN’s “undemocratic and 24/7 robbery.

A staff blogger at Willappsug, a technology blog, summarised MTN customers’ anger as follows:

It is believed that Uganda is falling victim to multinational corporations who are now controlling politicians, media, government officials and pattern of consumption thus the misconduct of such big brands.

Ugandans who have always complained about the country’s leading Telecom Company, MTN Uganda, of charging their humble customers abnormal rates and unjustifiably deducting their airtime and internet bundles through Justus Amanya who is leading the protests for the government to crack down on MTN’s undemocratic exploitation have come out to say “This week, we are going to officially hand in our dissatisfaction note and complaint to the Minister of ICT Hon George William Nyombi Thembo at his office on Parliament Avenue.”

On Twitter, one Kampala resident asked:

Qwenga, a blogger and public relations professional, noted the horrible publicity this campaign makes for MTN:

Samson Tumusiime, a social media manager and co-founder of Veritas Interactive, had no kind words for the telecom:

Bob Muheebwa, meanwhile, simply wanted his money back:

Others online turned there minds to larger questions. Mwine Edgar, a political commentator, floated a conspiracy theory, for instance:

The ranting from dissatisfied customers goes on:

There were some voices of support for MTN, however. Akampa Aaron, one apparently satisfied customer, had some kind, albeit brief, words for the corporation:

by Prudence Nyamishana at November 18, 2014 07:11 PM

Japan's Appetite Is Pushing Bluefin Tuna to the Brink
japan bluefin tuna consumption

Photo by Flickr user Stewart Butterfield. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Japanese foodies are being confronted with the idea that the Pacific bluefin tuna is now threatened with extinction, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Pacific bluefin tuna was previously listed in the category of Least Concern about extinction.

The Switzerland-based IUCN recently added Pacific bluefin tuna to its Red List of endangered species. The announcement, as well as the plight of other fish stocks, has been met with shock by some Japanese netizens.

The Pacific bluefin tuna is now an endangered species and is now on the IUCN's Red List.

Another Twitter user reported:

Pacific bluefin tuna is now an endangered species, according to IUCN (http://t.co/ZuirAwncag), as is the Eyespot puffer (Takifugu chinensis) which has declined 99.99 percent over the past 40 years. I had heard about the eel, bluefin tuna, and herring, but now the puffer fish? It's like there is no concept of (sustainable) resource management.

The cause of the Pacific bluefin tuna's plight, according to the IUCN? Overfishing. The Pacific bluefin tuna accounts for about 70 percent of the world's bluefin catch. Immature fish (younger than three years old that have not had a chance to reproduce) account for 97 percent of the Pacific bluefin tuna catch.

Fisheries researcher Sumio Horikawa commented on the news:

Bruce Collete, head of the IUCN's Bluefin group, said that if [the Japanese] catch in the Western Pacific, notably of juvenile fish, is not reduced, in the short term Pacific bluefin stocks will not recover. I agree with his assessment.

While Japan consumes about a quarter of the world's tuna catch, bluefin tuna has been specifically targeted by the fishing industry for the sushi and sashimi markets all over east Asia.

Since the overwhelming majority of the bluefin tuna caught in the Pacific are juveniles that have not had a chance to reproduce, the population is estimated to have declined by 19 to 33 percent over the past 22 years.

Bluefin tuna is one of the most sought-after fish all over Japan. Despite pressures on worldwide stocks, there is, for the moment, plenty of fish to be found, and not just in high-class eateries:

Look at the bargain you get for 800 JPY (US$8). FIREBIRD's super-cheap gourmet Bluefin tuna super donburi tuna rice bowl is the best.

- Spotlight LLC (@misterspotlight)

Bluefin tuna became a popular staple following the Second World War, when great efforts were made to find food to feed a hungry population. The fish is now firmly entrenched in Japanese cuisine:

We drove to the beach at Shiomisaka, Shizuoka. And of course, the sea is the place to be! We ate barbeque bluefin tuna skewers, and grilled a tuna head whole. LOL.

Much of Japan's longline tuna fleet is based in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. Kesennuma is a small, isolated town on the Pacific Coast that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In an effort to revitalize the stricken city, the central government has pumped money into the Kesennuma's fishing industry, and the city is once again working at selling fish to consumers eager for a taste of fresh fish, and not just bluefin tuna:

Once again it's the season for delicious swordfish from Kesennuma and Sanriku coast, available for mail order. In Tohoku swordfish sashimi is prized even more than bluefin tuna. The fatty flesh is delicious. Just like in the picture, grade A Kesennuma swordfish will be delivered straight to you!

Tuna and swordfish are large predators that are slow to reproduce, and typically range the world's oceans in search of food and in order to reproduce. Their migratory paths across the high seas make this popular species of fish difficult to manage.

The southern bluefin tuna, a distinct species of bluefin tuna that breeds in the Indian Ocean, is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, and catches these days are about 80 percent of historical totals.

On a more positive note, the Atlantic bluefin tuna population is recovering after a disastrous decade that resulted in drastically lowered quotas. In 2013, the bluefin tuna spawning stock in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean reached nearly double the levels of the 1950s, according to an ICCAT estimate. As a result, in November 2014 some nations increased their quotas of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a move that is controversial.

by Nevin Thompson at November 18, 2014 04:59 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
At Home and Around the World, Supporters Demand Justice for Vietnamese Blogger Dang Xuan Dieu
“Free prisoner of conscience Dang Xuan Dieu” (Thanh Hoa prison camp). Photo from Viet Tan

“Free prisoner of conscience Dang Xuan Dieu” (Thanh Hoa prison camp). Photo from Viet Tan, used with permission.

A grassroots campaign is underway in support of Dang Xuan Dieu, a blogger and community organizer held virtually incommunicado since 2011. Little was known about Dieu’s condition until a fellow inmate was released in early October. Speaking with Radio Free Asia, Truong Minh Tam recounted Dieu's experience in solitary confinement, where he endured beatings, starvation, and other deprivations.

Shortly after Tam’s testimony, supporters of Dieu organized a visit to his prison in Thanh Hoa province, 170km from Hanoi. Despite obstacles thrown up by authorities along the way, several carloads of supporters arrived at the prison and held a peaceful vigil calling for his release. Prison officials denied the group a visit with Dieu but yielded to allow family members to view the detained blogger from about ten meters away.

On the ground in Vietnam

On the ground in Vietnam.

His friends also initiated a postcard campaign to raise awareness. Addressed to Dieu, the cards carry personalized messages of support and informed the jailers of Thanh Hoa prison that the world is watching. Printed on the backside of each card is the ruling by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which determined that the Vietnamese government’s imprisonment of Dang Xuan Dieu and 16 other activists is a violation of their human rights and international law.

Over the last several weeks, supporters have organized public meetups in Vietnam to collect signatures for postcards. A number of Catholic congregations have also held prayer vigils for Dieu. Prior to his arrest, Dieu was a contributor to the Vietnam Redemptorists News and known for his advocacy on behalf of children living in poverty and people with disabilities.

In Vietnam, actions like these represent a form of civil disobedience. The campaign for Dang Xuan Dieu follows a growing trend of activists gathering outside political trials, visiting detention centers, and supporting families of political prisoners despite official harassment.

Catholic diocese of Vinh (Vietnam). Photo from Viet Tan

Catholic diocese of Vinh (Vietnam). Photo from Viet Tan, used with permission.

Vietnamese communities worldwide have also joined in the postcard campaign. Many of the photos have been re-posted on a “Friends of Dang Xuan Dieu” Facebook page.

Don Le, president of the Federal Vietnamese Students Association in Australia, wrote on his Facebook page:

Sending postcards may be a simple task but they are one of many creative acts by Vietnamese youth around the world to show global support, remind jailers of the constant attention on Dieu's case and the determination to press for his release.

Swiss elected officials at the Vietnamese embassy (Geneva)

Swiss officials at the Vietnamese embassy in Geneva.

In Geneva, Swiss political figures lent their support and gathered outside the Vietnamese diplomatic mission.

In the Australian Parliament, MP Luke Simpkins remarked:

Dieu was arrested as part of a larger crackdown on human rights fighters, and is serving one of the longest sentences of any political prisoner in Vietnam.

Reports of Dieu’s severe mistreatment in prison prompted his lawyer, Allen Weiner of Stanford Law School, to call on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to take urgent action on the case, including a prison visit with Dieu. According to Weiner:

The mistreatment of Dieu is a clear violation of Article 19(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [and] flatly inconsistent with the representations made by the Vietnamese government upon its signing on November 7, 2013, of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In a joint letter issued on Oct. 28, seven rights groups–ACAT France, Access, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, English PEN, Media Legal Defence Initiative, PEN International, and Viet Tan–urged foreign embassies in Hanoi to visit Dang Xuan Dieu in prison and monitor his health.

Amidst advocacy efforts for Dieu from inside Vietnam and abroad, a note written by Dieu in his own blood was smuggled out of prison. Dieu explains in three short sentences why he is paying such a high price for his ideals:

I long to live in a society of FREEDOM and TRUTH. One in which no class divisions exist and people live with LOVE and RESPONSIBILITY to one another. But it is because of this that I have been persecuted, and for this I am willing and ready to die!

Dang Xuan Dieu

Dang Xuan Dieu (right) and fellow activists prior to arrest in 2011. Photo from Facebook support page.

by Global Voices at November 18, 2014 03:50 PM

Global Voices
At Home and Around the World, Supporters Demand Justice for Vietnamese Blogger Dang Xuan Dieu
“Free prisoner of conscience Dang Xuan Dieu” (Thanh Hoa prison camp). Photo from Facebook support page.

“Free prisoner of conscience Dang Xuan Dieu” (Thanh Hoa prison camp). Photo from Facebook support page.

A grassroots campaign is underway in support of Dang Xuan Dieu, a blogger and community organizer held virtually incommunicado since 2011. Little was known about Dieu’s condition until a fellow inmate was released in early October. Speaking with Radio Free Asia, Truong Minh Tam recounted Dieu's experience in solitary confinement, where he endured beatings, starvation, and other deprivations.

Shortly after Tam’s testimony, supporters of Dieu organized a visit to his prison in Thanh Hoa province, 170km from Hanoi. Despite obstacles thrown up by authorities along the way, several carloads of supporters arrived at the prison and held a peaceful vigil calling for his release. Prison officials denied the group a visit with Dieu but yielded to allow family members to view the detained blogger from about ten meters away.

On the ground in Vietnam

On the ground in Vietnam. Photo from Facebook support page.

His friends also initiated a postcard campaign to raise awareness. Addressed to Dieu, the cards carry personalized messages of support and informed the jailers of Thanh Hoa prison that the world is watching. Printed on the backside of each card is the ruling by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which determined that the Vietnamese government’s imprisonment of Dang Xuan Dieu and 16 other activists is a violation of their human rights and international law.

Over the last several weeks, supporters have organized public meetups in Vietnam to collect signatures for postcards. A number of Catholic congregations have also held prayer vigils for Dieu. Prior to his arrest, Dieu was a contributor to the Vietnam Redemptorists News and known for his advocacy on behalf of children living in poverty and people with disabilities.

In Vietnam, actions like these represent a form of civil disobedience. The campaign for Dang Xuan Dieu follows a growing trend of activists gathering outside political trials, visiting detention centers, and supporting families of political prisoners despite official harassment.

Catholic diocese of Vinh (Vietnam).

Catholic diocese of Vinh (Vietnam). Photo from Facebook support page.

Vietnamese communities worldwide have also joined in the postcard campaign. Many of the photos have been re-posted on a “Friends of Dang Xuan Dieu” Facebook page.

Don Le, president of the Federal Vietnamese Students Association in Australia, wrote on his Facebook page:

Sending postcards may be a simple task but they are one of many creative acts by Vietnamese youth around the world to show global support, remind jailers of the constant attention on Dieu's case and the determination to press for his release.

Swiss elected officials at the Vietnamese embassy (Geneva)

Swiss officials at the Vietnamese embassy in Geneva. Photo from Viet Tan, used with permission.

In Geneva, Swiss political figures expressed their concern directly to the Vietnamese diplomatic mission. They delivered a petition requesting the Vietnamese authorities to permit a Swiss delegation to visit Dang Xuan Dieu.

In the Australian Parliament, MP Luke Simpkins remarked:

Dieu was arrested as part of a larger crackdown on human rights fighters, and is serving one of the longest sentences of any political prisoner in Vietnam.

Reports of Dieu’s severe mistreatment in prison prompted his lawyer, Allen Weiner of Stanford Law School, to call on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to take urgent action on the case, including a prison visit with Dieu. According to Weiner:

The mistreatment of Dieu is a clear violation of Article 19(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [and] flatly inconsistent with the representations made by the Vietnamese government upon its signing on November 7, 2013, of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In a joint letter issued on Oct. 28, seven rights groups–ACAT France, Access, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, English PEN, Media Legal Defence Initiative, PEN International, and Viet Tan–urged foreign embassies in Hanoi to visit Dang Xuan Dieu in prison and monitor his health.

Amidst advocacy efforts for Dieu from inside Vietnam and abroad, a note written by Dieu in his own blood was smuggled out of prison. Dieu explains in three short sentences why he is paying such a high price for his ideals:

I long to live in a society of FREEDOM and TRUTH. One in which no class divisions exist and people live with LOVE and RESPONSIBILITY to one another. But it is because of this that I have been persecuted, and for this I am willing and ready to die!

Dang Xuan Dieu

Dang Xuan Dieu (right) and fellow activists prior to arrest in 2011. Photo from Facebook support page.

by Duy Hoang at November 18, 2014 03:48 PM

Climate Change, Ebola, Ukraine: Brisbane's G20 Summit Wasn't Just About Economy
The G-20 Leaders - Caricatures. Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey (CC License)

The G-20 Leaders – Caricatures. Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey (CC License)

There was extensive debate about what should have been discussed at Brisbane’s G20 summit on 15-16 November. As Clarencegirl shared on her blog North Coast Voices, even Pope Francis had ideas for that very public member of his Catholic flock, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott:

…there are far too many women and men suffering from severe malnutrition, a rise in the number of the unemployed, an extremely high percentage of young people without work and an increase in social exclusion which can lead to criminal activity and even the recruitment of terrorists. In addition, there are constant assaults on the natural environment, the result of unbridled consumerism, and this will have serious consequences for the world economy.

So what actually happened both in private meetings and the official forums? Netizens have had lots to say.

A speech by US President Barack Obama outside the official forum called on Australia “to step up” on climate change. It received lots of praise, including Meg Watson at Junkee:

You know when your dad’s been away for a while and he lays into you about not taking the rubbish out while he was gone? He says he’s not mad, just a little disappointed, then goes into an inspiring speech about how we all have to do our part around the house. That’s essentially what just happened to our entire country. President Obama has only been in Australia for a matter of hours and he’s already incited people to take action on climate change.

The view of well-known lawyer and human rights activist Julian Burnside was a popular retweet:

Abbott’s opening speech copped more criticism:

The satirical website Shovel was at work slamming his local content:

Many have been disappointed by the lack of aggression in the meeting of Australian PM Tony Abbott and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. There was no sign of Abbott’s threatened “shirtfront”.

It seemed to be time for cuddling and making up, according to @lynlinking:

Meanwhile, protests went ahead as expected with only a few arrests on Saturday. It is a sign of the times that independent legal observers were present to monitor events. Flickr has numerous Creative Commons images of the G20 summit, including this one:

Independent legal observers

Independent legal observers – Image courtesy flickr user Paul Cunningham

Any concerns that climate change and Ebola wouldn’t get into the final communiqué were dispelled:

Commitments to economic growth (an extra 2.1 percent of GDP by 2018) and reform were given the thumbs up by many online:

However, Robert Fairhead was cynical about real economic outcomes:

Ukraine didn’t make the communiqué, but Vladimir Putin was blasted by other leaders off stage apparently. Ed Johnson, Sydney bureau chief at Bloomberg News, mused:

Outside the summit, Tim O'Keefe captured protesters against Putin on video:

Finally, the Ebola crisis managed to make the agenda:

So was the 400 million Australian dollars (350 million US dollars) spent on the G20 summit by the Australian government, value for money? You be the judge!

by Kevin Rennie at November 18, 2014 02:16 PM

‘Pickup Artist’ Julien Blanc Isn't Welcome in Brazil, Either
#TakeDownJulienBlanc

#TakeDownJulienBlanc. Photo from Facebook page “Conspiração dos Unicórnios Satânicos Pela ditadura Comunista Gay e Feminazi” (Conspiracy of Satanic Unicorns for the Communist, Gay and Feminazi Dictatorship”

Brazilian social media, following the example of other countries, has erupted in uproar over the past few weeks over US “pickup artist” Julien Blanc's scheduled visits to the country — and the country's authorities have listened.  

A petition against his coming has gathered more than 350,000 signatures. Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Itamaraty, responded quickly: It decided to deny Blanc's visa just two days after the petition was launched. 

His two lectures in Brazil, scheduled for January in the cities Rio de Janeiro and Florianópolis, cost US$ 800 for a ticket. Blanc is a “coach”  the company Real Social Dynamics, which calls itself the “international leader in dating advice.” He has become notorious recently for his advocacy of violent and sexist approaches in order to “seduce” women. Facebook page Ozomexplicanista (“Mensplainist”) has been capturing some of his tweets in screenshots (Blanc made his account private after his tactics became world famous): 

Julien Blanc LMR

Julien Blanc don't worry

His violent speech and open promotion of rape were the basis of the social media campaign against him, which urged authorities to deny his entrance — a decision that the Australian government also took following public outcry. People in the United KingdomCanada and Japan are similarly clamoring for the cancellation of his lectures and visa. 

Lola Aronovich, of the feminist blog Escreva Lola Escreva (Write Lola Write), republished a comment of one of her readers who has access to the Brazilian “pick-up artist” community. He described the kind of audience who praises figures like Blanc:

O grupo PUA Brasil é antigo, forte, bem organizado. Eles realizaram eventos cobrando R$ 500 o ingresso.

Eu passei horas lendo o que essa turma do PUA Brasil escreve. Grande parte é isso ai mesmo: estupro de vulnerável. Técnicas de conquista, sedução, sedação e como não deixar indícios de violência sexual e não criar imagem de malvado transferindo para a mulher por meio de técnicas subliminares elaboradas a responsabilidade pela relação. [...] 

A principal vítima desses PUAs são pré-adolescentes que atingiram a idade de consentimento, 14 anos. Elas são mais fáceis de ser conquistadas e têm vergonha de expor a violência.

The PUA Brazil group is old, strong and well organized. They hold events charging R$500 (about US$192) a ticket. I spent hours reading what those people of PUA Brazil write. Most of it is exactly this: statutory rape. Techniques for subjugation, seduction, sedation, how to avoid leaving traces of sexual violence or a bad guy image, transferring onto the woman through elaborate subliminal techniques the responsibility for the relationship. [...]

The main victim of those PUAs are pre-teens who have reached the age of consent, 14 years old. They are more easily seduced and are ashamed to expose the violence.

On the Avaaz petition page, organizers stressed the overarching meaning of the campaign: 

Essa petição não é uma causa só pra que Julien Blanc não entre no Brasil, gira em torno de uma causa maior: O Combate a violencia contra a mulher, pois não podemos suportar mais e é uma prova de que estamos juntos para combater isso!

This petition is not so that Julien Blanc isn't allowed to enter Brazil, it's about a greater cause: Fighting violence against women because we cannot bear it anymore and it is an evidence that we are all united in the fight against this! 

For feminist blogger Nádia Lapa, the boycott must be extended to those who sponsor Blanc's tour:

Ainda precisamos descobrir quem está patrocinando os eventos no Brasil e manifestar nosso repúdio e boicote. O que não precisamos é de uma convenção de homens que odeiam as mulheres.

We still need to find out who is sponsoring the events in Brazil and demonstrate our outrage and boycott. What we do not need is a convention of men who hate women.

Violence and rape culture 

According to the Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, a woman is raped in Brazil every 10 minutes. The Map of Violence 2012, from the Latin American School of Social Sciences, showed that 43,000 women were murdered in Brazil over the course of 10 years, an alarming number considering the recent progress in legislation and public policies for gender violence.

Psychologist and blogger Luciana Nepomuceno emphasized the importance of analyzing the situation beyond the “shock” that Blanc's explicit support of rape and aggressive tactics cause:

A existência dele e de um curso assim é possível apenas porque a nossa sociedade trata a mulher como um ser “menos que” o homem. Menos humano. Menos sujeito de direitos. Ele tá na paleta entre o estuprador em série e o cara que faz piada com os amigos dizendo que “mulher quando diz não, é talvez, e quando diz talvez, é sim”.

The existence of someone like him and a course like this is only possible because our society sees women as a being “less than” men. Less human. Less subject of rights. He is somewhere in the spectrum that goes from the serial rapist to the guy that make jokes with his friends saying that ”when women say no, it means maybe, and when they say maybe, it means yes”. 

Some debates also revolved around women's behavior, which sometimes “accepts” violent and oppressive approaches. In one of the posts on Ozomexplica's page, Thatiana Oliveira commented: 

Pois é, o que existem são mulheres reproduzindo o machismo, pois foram (des)educadas a pensar que só serão alguma coisa com um omi do lado (e todos seus privilégio$ de omi)… Essa.merda toda é um círculo vicioso e não sei o que é mais difícil desconstruir :(

Yeah, what we have is women reproducing sexism because they were (mis)educated to think that they will only be somebody with a man (and all his privilege$)… All this shit is a vicious cycle and I don't know what is harder to deconstruct :( 

The mobilization in many countries against these “lectures” demonstrate the growing rejection of rape culture, while violence against women continues to exist at terrifying levels, including in developed countries, as recent research conduced by the European Union demonstrated. As Luciana Napomuceno pointed out: 

Eu acho que as estruturas mudam na dinâmica dialética entre matéria e simbólico e um país dizer NÃO, não aceito esse discurso aqui, ainda mais um país jovem e que está se construindo – como o nosso, implica em um ganho não imediato com implicações que nem se pode dimensionar. É o sentido implicado nessa negativa que importa. O não, não pode entrar vai na contramão de toda uma cultura de apaziguamento e consentimento em relação à violência contra as mulheres. Seria um não muito bem vindo. 
 
Acho que a gente pode e deve fazer escolhas políticas. Acho que negar entrada a um discurso de violência é, sim, uma atitude política necessária. É hora de parar de minimizar as questões relativas à violência contra a mulher. É hora de tirar a luta contra o machismo das notas de rodapé.

I think that the structures change with the dynamic dialectics between the material and the symbolic and for a country to say NO, I don't accept this discourse here, even more in a young country that is building itself up like ours, it implies in not an immediate gain, but with implications that we cannot measure at the moment. It is the meaning of this negative response that matters. The no, you cannot come in contrasts with a culture of appeasement of and consent to violence against women. It would be a really welcomed “no”. 

I think we can and must make political choices. The negative response to a violent discourse is a needed political attitude. It's time to stop minimizing issues related with violence against women. It's time to take the fight against sexism out of the footnotes. 

After staying silent on the matter, Blanc granted an interview to CNN on November 17, in which he apologized for his attitudes, claiming his intention was never to offend or cause harm. Journalist Chris Cuomo, who conducted the interview, questioned the sincerity of Blanc's apologies, pointing to evidence that he openly encouraged violent tactics. Blanc defended himself, saying his online posts were simply a “horrible attempt at humor.”

by Mariana Parra at November 18, 2014 10:57 AM

Kathmandu's Big Facelift Ahead of the 2014 SAARC Summit
The preparations for the 18th SAARC Summit are in the final stage of completion. Image by Sumit Shrestha. Copyright Demotix (5/11/2014)

The preparations for the 18th SAARC Summit are in the final stage. Image by Sumit Shrestha. Copyright Demotix (5/11/2014).

Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, is getting a major facelift ahead of the 18th annual summit for the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is set to take place on November 26 and 27. Established in 1985, SAARC joins eight South Asian countries to promote welfare economics and collective self-reliance, and to accelerate the region's socio-cultural development. This is the first time Kathmandu will host the summit in 12 years

What's getting spruced up for the big meeting? Repair crews have been busy working on several roads and roadside houses, painting old walls and planting new trees. 

Using a group-maintained Twitter account, Nepali journalists have cataloged some of the improvements to the city:

The main roads and streets look clean and beautiful, thanks to the city's efforts. For Nepalis, accustomed to the old appearance, the new look is quite unbelievable.

Anuj Ghimire, a zoologist and photographer, tweeted:

Glancing quickly, it was like, what country is this again?

The authorities are even painting some of the private buildings and walls along the main roads.

Hinting at the sudden generosity of the authorities, Suvek Shakya, a software developer tweeted a cartoon.

It's right [I should go to the airport wearing old clothes. Who knows! The government might cut a suit for me!]

Neglected for years, the nine-story-tall Dharahara tower (a monument erected to national pride by Nepal's first prime minister, Bhimsen Thapa) and the Ghanta Ghar clocktower now have fresh coats of paint.

The Kathmandu Post tweeted:

Besides the beautification of their city, Kathmanduites have another reason to be happy during the SAARC Summit: the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) will ensure an uninterrupted supply of electricity during the summit. (Typically, Kathmandu Valley experiences around 9-10 hours of power cuts every day.)

With a dash of sarcasm, many of the city's residents are looking forward to the electric luxury:

Renovations to the 110-year-old main gate of the Singha Durbar (the country's administrative headquarters) have employed cement, against the instructions of the Department of Archaeology, which called for using the same traditional materials that went into constructing the first gate.

The Singha Durbar (Lion Palace) getting its main entrance gate restored. It is the official seat of government of Nepal. Image by Sumit Shrestha. Copyright Demotix (5/11/2014)

The Singha Durbar (Lion Palace) getting its main entrance gate restored. It is the official seat of government of Nepal. Image by Sumit Shrestha. Copyright Demotix (5/11/2014)

Rabindra Mishra, a senior journalist with the BBC, wrote about some of the restoration work being done in haste. The authorities, for their part, say it's been too difficult to find better restoration experts in time for the summit.

Amit Agrawal, an entrepreneur living in Kathmandu, tweets:

Kriti Bhuju, a writer, shares a similar thought:

The preparations for the SAARC summit seem to be a hit with Kathmanduites, but some already wonder what awaits the city, after the conference, when the repaired roads, buildings, and walls fall into disrepair again. 

Achyut Luitel, a development professional, writes:

Kathmandu right now has been like [someone] wearing an overcoat from Khasa [China] over old clothes. It is certain to wear and tear as the SAARC concludes.

by Sanjib Chaudhary at November 18, 2014 07:51 AM

Tens of Thousands Demand Justice for Typhoon Haiyan Victims in the Philippines
"Global Surge" protest in Tacloban City during the first year anniversary of super typhoon Haiyan. Photo Credits: Orion Yoshida.

“Global Surge” protest in Tacloban City, the “Ground Zero” of super typhoon Haiyan. Photo Credits: Orion Yoshida.

A series of protests themed “Global Surge” was organized across the Philippines and several cities around the world to commemorate the first year anniversary of super typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda), and to condemn the government’s “criminal negligence and corruption” in the aftermath of the disaster.

Haiyan was the strongest typhoon to make landfall in world history. Victims, their families, and supporters labeled Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III “waray pulos” or incompetent for his administration’s alleged poor performance in handling the disaster relief, rehabilitation, and recovery efforts.

Over 20,000 people joined the protest march in Tacloban City while another 20,000 people protested in Roxas City, Estancia, Kalibo, Iloilo City and other parts of Panay Island which are some of the areas hardest hit by Haiyan.

Some disaster survivors and their supporters also marched to the door steps of the Malacanang presidential palace in Mendiola while Filipino communities and solidarity groups organized various gatherings in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, and across Europe.

The protesters criticized the Aquino government for allegedly aggravating the destruction brought about by Haiyan through the absence of a sustained relief and rehabilitation program, the reported misuse of calamity funds by politicians and relief agencies, and the profit-oriented feature of the rebuilding plans.

Groups such as the People Surge, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Tindog Network, International League of People's Struggles, and Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment initiated the formation of Daluyong, a national network of disaster survivors. They also used the hashtag #RememberHaiyan during the protest actions.

Activists also chided President Aquino for not visiting the Haiyan survivors in Tacloban where more than 2,000 died during the typhoon. Renato Reyes, one of the protesters, asked on Facebook:

Why is Aquino skipping Tacloban on the first anniversary of Yolanda/Haiyan? Is it because of the protesters that will be gathering in the city starting tomorrow? Why can't he face the outraged survivors on this important day?

Official government data puts the number of deaths at 6,300 and the number of missing at 1,061, but independent estimates by People Surge and Civil Society groups puts the number of fatalities at over 18,000.

A statistical analysis by independent think tank Ibon Foundation revealed that the accomplishments enumerated by the Aquino government are drastically below the targets it made earlier.

The Aquino government's Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan was signed only on October 29, 2014, almost a year after the calamity.

Below are some photos of the “global surge” protests:

A snapshot of the protest of Haiyan survivors and supporters in Tacloban City. Photo Credts: Kathy Yamzon.

A snapshot of the protest of Haiyan survivors and supporters in Tacloban City. Photo Credts: Kathy Yamzon.

The hacktivist group Anonymous hacked over 20 government websites to protest the government's criminal neglect of Haiyan survivors. Photo Credits: AnonymousPH.

The hacktivist group Anonymous hacked over 20 government websites to protest the government's “criminal neglect” of Haiyan survivors. Photo Credits: AnonymousPH.

A section of the 12,000 protesters in Roxas City. Photo Credits: Kashmer Diestro.

A section of the 12,000 protesters in Roxas City. Photo Credits: Kashmer Diestro.

Haiyan survivors from Samar arrive in Tacloban City in boats to join the protest action. Photo Credits: Kathy Yamzon.

Haiyan survivors from Samar arrive in Tacloban City in boats to join the protest action. Photo Credits: Kathy Yamzon.

Protesters in Manila covered themselves with mud as part of a nationwide synchronized performance to dramatize the plight of Haiyan victims. Photo Credits: MaiMai Uichanco.

Protesters in Manila covered themselves with mud to dramatize the plight of Haiyan victims. Photo Credits: MaiMai Uichanco.

Protesters in Estancia town meanwhile decried the continuing delay of compensation for residents affected by the oil spill caused by the running aground of a power barge at the height of typhoon Haiyan. Many residents filed a class suit against the company that owned the barge and other government agencies. The oil spill caused the evacuation of more than 2,000 residents from their communities, which were contaminated by poisonous fumes.

Big protest by residents of Estancia town, Iloilo seek justice for Haiyan victims. Photo Credits: Bayan-Panay.

Protest by residents of Estancia town, Iloilo seek justice for Haiyan victims. Photo Credits: Bayan-Panay.

Political analyst Benjie Oliveros wrote on alternative news website Bulatlat that the rehabilitation efforts are being hampered by massive corruption and wrong government priorities:

How could the people “build back better” when they have no land on which to build their houses? How could the people acquire sustainable livelihood when those engaged in agriculture do not own the land they till and those who eke out a living through other means would be constantly displaced and thrown to remote areas where there are no livelihood opportunities?

Investigative journalist Kenneth Guda visited Tacloban and interviewed some of the survivors. He wrote on Facebook:

They cry every time they retell their stories. And not just because they lost loved ones and what little properties they had during the storm. They cry every time they talk about how their children starved during the first few weeks after the storm. They cry today because they could not move on. [...] They cry because they are thankful for whatever help individuals and groups are able to give them, but they cry in anger at a government that promises help but always fails them.

An open letter from typhoon Haiyan survivors to Pope Francis has also been widely circulated online in relation to the pope's upcoming visit in January next year. The letter laments how Haiyan victims continue to suffer from hunger, disease and government neglect.

According to “global surge” organizers, they will inform Francis about the real situation of Haiyan survivors during the his visit to Tacloban in January 2015.

by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya at November 18, 2014 12:25 AM

November 17, 2014

Global Voices Advocacy
There's a Dark Side to Alibaba's Massive Profits in China
Artist Wu Tun's T-shirt print. From Wu's Twitter.

Artist Wu Tun's T-shirt print. From Wu's Twitter.

Every year on November 11, e-commerce giant Alibaba makes business headlines with its sales record on Singles Day, a holiday celebrating China's single men and women that has become a popular online shopping day. This year, the company racked up US$9.3 billion, almost doubled last year's US$ 5.8 billion.

The news came about two months after Alibaba set the record for the world's largest initial public offering (IPO) in the US stock market, with its market value measured as US$231 billion at closing time on its first day.

Alibaba's rosy prospects are to a large extent a result of its monopolized status in China's online shopping market. Yet to maintain such privilege, it has to work closely with the government and the Chinese Communist Party in sanctioning independent organizations and political dissent.

In September, not long before Alibaba's began trading on the US stock market, the Taobao online shop of an independent library project called China Rural Library (CRL) was forced to shut down while the authorities cracked down its 19 libraries across the country. The CRL's main income for its education and library project has been generated from its online shop. The Chinese authorities consider independent citizen initiatives a challenge to the Chinese Community Party's representation of the people.

A few days ago, Amazon-like Taobao, which is owned by Alibaba, shut down artist Wu Tun's online shop, which sold T-shirts with the phrase “Love Can't Be Here” printed on them. The Chinese character for “love” sounds like “Ai,” and the T-shirt is inspired by an overseas campaign, “Ai Can't be Here,” which calls for the release of Ai Weiwei, an artist-activist who was detained for 81 days without any official charges. Currently Ai is still monitored by the national security police and could not leave the country.

Prominent political dissident Hu Jia explained to Radio Free Asia how the authorities have suppressed dissents via online shops:

你只要是发出异见,当局一般来讲围剿你的手段基本上两方面,一个是斩断你的社会联系,让你四面楚歌,你身边的家人朋友对你避而远之,还有一个手段就是斩断你的经济来源。现在当局就是这样,他的侦查情报系统非常发达,可以获取到各种各样的信息,这些异见者他们的生活来源是从哪里来的。如果你是在中国国内获得的这些收入,他掐死你太容易了,就给你关这个网店,用不了10分钟就办妥了,你的店就给你销户了。

Once your voice your opinion in opposition, the authorities take two measures to get at you. First, cut off your social contacts. Make you feel lonely and sad as your family and friends are forced to stay away. Second, cut off your income. They collect information from all sources and identify dissidents’ major sources of income. If you get your income from mainland China, it is too easy to bring you down: They just need to shut down your online shop. In less than 10 minutes, your shop no longer exists.

Political dissidents have not only criticized Taobao. The monopolized market means small retailers face vicious competition, of which only a minority of shops survive.

A small retail shop owner explained the adverse effects of the monopoly on online shopping business in China. The article circulated online for a period of time and Letscorp, a website that bridges information across the Chinese-speaking community, reposted it on November 13, 2014:

绝大多数人会使用网络购物的方式来购物。当中也包括我,我现在所有的衣服裤子和很多工具都是网购,又好又便宜,又方便。的确很好。[...]

不良影响 ①:大批的商店、服装店、工具店、数码城、商场、将会关门歇业,即使留下的也是苦苦支撑,难以有富余的利润。网上经常有看到北京中关村,深圳华强北等一些以前举足轻重的大市场已经陷入了萧条。

②:很多零售店主失业,很多营业员,促销员将会失业。很多房东老板的店铺将会租不出去。这一部分人是最先受到淘宝影响的,且影响是最大最直接的。[...]

淘宝的成立初衷就是让所有卖家直接面对消费者,减少中间环节,让消费者得到好处。这个成立初衷也许是好的,但是淘宝演变到今天他自己也没有想到会发展成这样。会发展成为消灭了实体中间商,最后连厂家都不得不为了生存大量竞争起来。[...]

马云曾经说过一句话将来要么电子商务,要么无商可务。[...]整个中国百分之五十的零售都归淘宝卖了,而且还是很低或者没有利润的卖的,而且还会影响本来实体店卖的价格,大家想一想中国会怎样,中国的经济会怎样。原本从中能够获得利润而养家糊口的有多少人,多少家庭。我不敢想,没有利润的中国将会发生什么。

The majority of people, including myself, will shop online. I get all my clothing and hardware from the Internet. It is very convenient and cheap, which is really great. [...]

Yet the adverse effects are: 1. A large number of shops — fashion shops, hardware shops, electronics shops — will be forced to close. Even if they manage to survive, business is difficult and they hardly make enough profit to carry on. From what has been reported online, Beijing's Zhongguancun, Shenzhen's Huaqiang North district [both are famous shopping destinations for computers and electronics] and others are in a great depression.

2. Many owners of small retail shops are forced to shutter. Their sales workers lose their jobs. The situation affects the landlord of shop floors as they can't rent out their place. These people are directly affected by Taobao.

The original idea of Taobao is to reduce the transaction costs so that the consumers can get more benefit. This is a good intention. But now the platform has evolved into something that the founder could not foresee. It will eventually eliminate all the middlemen and the manufacturers will have to compete with each other in a vigorous manner. [...]

Jack Ma [the founder and CEO of Alibaba] once said, in the future there would be no more trading except from e-commerce [...] Now 50 percent of the retail business in China is traded through Taobao. The price is so low that there is very little profit margin. The pricing has affected the prices in real shops. Please imagine the future of China's economy. Without making enough profits, how can people support their families?

by Oiwan Lam at November 17, 2014 11:50 PM

Global Voices
Stencil Art ‘Terrorises the Powers That Be’ in South Africa
A traffic sign showing how to get to Khayelitsha, a ‘dehumanisation zone'. Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/.

A traffic sign showing how to get to Khayelitsha, a ‘dehumanisation zone'. Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission from The Tokolos Stencil Collective.

A South African anonymous radical art collective, Tokolos-Stencil, is using stencil art to keep the memory of the 2012 Marikana mine massacre alive, disrupt colonial and apartheid statues, “terrorise the powers that be” and remind South Africans that if they want freedom and justice, they must be willing to fight for them.

Tokolos is a slang for Tokoloshe, a mischievous, dwarf-like spirit in Zulu mythology that becomes invisible by drinking water.

Writing about its work on the Africa is Not a Country blog, the collective says:

The Tokoloshe emerges from its secret lair. Like a thief in the night, it creates a mirror image of ourselves in some of the most contrary of places and then instantly vanishes.

These living pictures take us deep into the contradictions of our society. They take us back to our bloody, violent and racist history; they lay bare the smokescreens of popular culture showing us the oppressive reality of this purported democracy; and they create echoes of indignation at injustice while also reflecting on our own role in maintaining such cruelty.

Tokolos-Stencil has been putting up its “disruptive” artwork in many parts of South Africa, particularly Cape Town. Their work has appeared in government buildings, offices of political parties, highways, on bridges and public statues and even on private property such as American fast food chain McDonald's and a Ferrari dealership.

The collective encourages South Africans to download and spray paint their artwork in public places. Protesters used their artwork in support of a platinum mineworkers’ strike in May 2014 outside parliament.

“Remember Marikana” is the collective's main campaign, which is meant to remind South Africans and the authorities not to forget 16 August, 2012, when members of the South African Police Service killed 34 Lonmin mine workers and wounded at least 78 people. The incident is the deadliest use of force against civilians by the police force in post-apartheid South Africa.

One if its artworks about Marikana features Nelson Mandela, who is quoted in a fictitious African proverb:

Image source:http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

Image source:http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission from The Tokolos Stencil Collective.

Nelson Mandela says “Remember Marikana”

“If Madiba says it, it must be true.” – African Proverb

The “man in the green blanket” trademark for “Remember Marikana” (see the image below) is the iconic image of Marikana workers’ leader Mgcineni Noki, who was killed by police in August 2012:

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

The [African National Congress] ANC must remember what they did to the people of Marikana. [South Africa's Deputy President] Ramaphose, [South Africa's President] Zuma, [South Africa's Police Commissioner] Phiyega and [South Africa's Minister of Police] Mthethwa are complicit in mass murder.

This stencil was done outside the ANC offices in Mowbray, Cape Town.

When the collective was invited by Brundyn+ Gallery to exhibit at the “bourgeois” art gallery's #FirstThursdays initiative, they decided to disrupt the gallery's “space of exclusion”:

We feel that the entire #FirstThursdays initiative is an exclusionary space meant to help the middle class pretend that their culture is significant and relevant. Instead, First Thursdays merely serves to exclude the poor black underclass. Many of the art installations talk about the poor but rarely if ever do they actually build space of inclusion.

In order to disrupt this space of exclusion, Tokolos deposited an unsanctioned installation of its own: a pota-pota toilet from a Khayelitsha shack settlement. These disgusting plastic laptop toilets are completely unsanitary and yet thousands of people live with them every day. By placing the toilet in the middle of Hipster Heaven, we hope we disrupted the space and made visible, even if for only a few minutes, those who are generally unseen.

A portable toilet known to Cape Town's poor residents as a "porta-porta" or a "laptop". The toilet was used as a disruptive installation Brundyn+ Gallery and Open City (Church Square) in Cape Town. Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

A portable toilet known to Cape Town's poor residents as a “porta-porta” or a “laptop”. The toilet was used as a disruptive installation Brundyn+ Gallery and Open City (Church Square) in Cape Town. Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

The collective also uses its artwork to identify South Africa's “dehumanisation zones“:

Khayelitsha, a human dumping ground of about 1 million people was built by the apartheid government and continues to be maintained by the current neoliberal ‘democratic’ regime.

The townships are hell on earth. They are a space that dehumanises all those who live in it.

Stencil signs proclaim Langa township to be a dehumanisation zone:

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

Langa is the oldest township in Cape Town. It was built to control and contain migrant Xhosa speaking blacks from outside Cape Town who came in search of work. Langa still serves this purpose which is why it only has two entrances – easy for the army to block off and control. The Langa Temporary Relocation Area is a dumping place for blacks who have been evicted from other land. Even though it is associated with the N2 Gateway Housing Project, few of the people dumped there with the promise of housing in the project ever receive houses.

Joe Slovo's dehumanisation zone in Cape Town:

Joe Slovo shack settlement. Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

Joe Slovo shack settlement. Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

This is Joe Slovo shack settlement as visible from the N2 Freeway in Cape Town. It is one of hundreds of shack settlements of different sizes throughout Cape Town.

It exists out of necessity – because our land and housing policy is one continued dispossession of poor blacks who, with nowhere else to go, are crammed into tiny pieces of land in hellish townships.

The collective has embraced the word “terrorism” and even claimed full “responsibility for the act of terrorism against the heritage of White Supremacy in South Africa on the night of 20 October 2014″:

 Disruption of colonial and apartheid legacy. Image source:http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

Disruption of colonial and apartheid legacy. Image source:http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

The collective used a Coca-Cola warehouse in Cape Town to paint a message of support to Palestinians saying “Coke Is Blood From Gaza“:

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.


On voting, the collective asked South Africans to vote in order to get “free lack of education”:

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

On private schools:

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

Wynberg Boys’ High School. Like all private schools is NON-POOR ONLY.

#rememberyourpriviledge [sic]

On Cape Town Mayor Patricial de Lille's new drug awareness campaign:

“My name is Patricia de Lille and I have an elitism problem. I don’t use drugs but my anti-poor policies create hundreds of new addicts every day.”

If the City of Cape Town really wanted to address the the drug problem, they would realise that the city that works for a few is the problem [Cape Town's slogan is "The City That Works For You"].

Tokolos-Stencil's redesign of "The City That Works For You" slogan into "The City That Works For A Few." Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

Tokolos-Stencil's redesign of “The City That Works For You” slogan into “The City That Works For A Few.” Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

Tokolos disrupts the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town to remind South Africans that colonialism and the Marikana massacre are a part of a history of dispossession and murder of poor blacks:

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/

Image source: http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. Used with permission.

“Cecil John Rhodes’ statue overlooking the Green Mile is a reminder of a man who held imperialist and racist views, but who also donated the [stolen] land on which UCT is built. Is it appropriate to give his memorial a place of honour on the UCT campus? Are we risking setting aside history? And should recognition of a gift extend into perpetuity?

by Ndesanjo Macha at November 17, 2014 11:16 PM

Jamaican Sexism Flexes Its Muscles as Gender Gaffes Stir Public Outrage
AJ Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Jamaica. Photo by The Commonwealth, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

AJ Nicholson, minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Jamaica. Photo by The Commonwealth, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Jamaica is known for many things: its music and culture, the legacy of its heroes, its literary contributions, its dominance of international track and field — even the homophobic pronouncements of its politicians. Most recently, the misogynistic ideas of some of Jamaica's leading men, in both the public and private sectors, has entered the spotlight thanks to two events: the decision of one prestigious boys’ school not to allow women to attend its annual dinner and an off-colour remark about rape by a member of parliament.

Addressing the first incident on his blog, writer Kei Miller drew a connection between power and gender in Jamaica:

[...] it’s rather incredible to me that so many Jamaicans are dismissive of recent and fair objections being levied at one of our oldest high schools – Kingston College – whose Old Boys have decided, despite recent progressive policies, to revert to an older and regressive policy and host an all-male annual dinner.

Had Kingston College invited only alumni to the dinner, it would likely have been a non-issue. The result — a mostly male gathering — would have been largely the same, as most Jamaican high schools are segregated by gender. What happened, though, was different. Non-alumni were welcome at the dinner, provided they were men. 

University lecturer Dr. Carolyn Joy Cooper criticized the dinner's ban on women with a little gay-panic humor, joking that the decision revealed the organizers’ latent homosexuality:

I have great respect for the KC old boys who have proudly come out and made their sexual preference absolutely clear. The female sex is not for them.

Given Jamaica's reputation for homophobia, the joke naturally upset some people. Miller, for instance, thinks it may have missed its mark, which was the bigger picture:

…Though I know her politics are much more complicated than that, it kinda grieves my heart to see sexuality being used – even if jokingly – as a way to send coded insult to the Old Boys who really do deserve insulting. It reinscribes the idea of homosexuality as something worthy of public shame and ridicule. Perhaps in this, Cooper’s irresponsible joking is not wildly different from AJ Nicholson’s flexi-rape joke. Both represent humour at the expense of vulnerable people.

This brings us to the parliamentarian. In a debate about the proposed flexi-work bill, Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte suggested that women leaving work after dark could be at higher risk for sexual assault. Arnold Joseph Nicholson, who heads the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, responded with a flippant quip about “flexi-rape”. Nicholson eventually withdrew his comments under the insistence of the senate president and was pressured into making a more public apology, when faced with widespread criticism over the incident. Miller called it “one of the most unapologetic apologies one could muster”.

Some groups have called for Nicholson's dismissal and his public approval has evaporated after revelations that he sent threatening emails to other female senators over the incident. Twitter was full of commentary, a lot of which came from female users who found Nicholson's behavior disgraceful:

One Twitter user noted that women's groups and female politicians are strangely silent on the subject:

These two seemingly unrelated events have managed to bring into sharp focus the enduring patriarchal attitude that still makes some Jamaican men think they have the right to undermine women, objectify them, and discuss them in purely sexual terms. Thanks to Internet platforms, fortunately, those without the power and resources of institutions and the state are able to discuss this issue in ways that would have been impossible a decade ago.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at November 17, 2014 07:22 PM

DML Central
Writing in Libraries: Processes and Pathways to Inquiry and Learning
Writing in Libraries: Processes and Pathways to Inquiry, Learning Blog Image

Earlier this year, I wrote about the possibilities for libraries that embrace writing as the literacy of the masses and how libraries might function as more powerful sponsors of literacy if they were to be more inclusive of writing literacies. During the last year, my colleague Jennifer Lund and I have been collaborating with our faculty at Norcross High to explore the use of written conversation strategies with students as a starting point for inquiry and participatory learning. Inspired by a December 2013 Harvey Daniels workshop sponsored by our school district on written conversation strategies, Jennifer and I have explored the use of these strategies across different content areas with a variety of texts, teen learners, and adult learners.

One strategy in particular, the "write around text on text," has yielded powerful results with our students. With a write-around, “small groups of kids write and exchange notes about a curricular topic for several rounds — maybe 5 to 15 minutes of sustained writing — and then they burst into out-loud talk that’s rooted in their extended written rehearsals” (Daniels 155). The write around text on text variation calls for students to “…annotate the same copy of a text at the same time, jotting down their responses in the margins” (Daniels 184). Students not only annotate multiple texts, but they then can dialogue with their peers by responding to the written annotations with a question, an opinion, a request for clarification, or further developing the idea with their own response that may be developed with evidence from the texts, personal experience, and/or prior knowledge. 

The texts may be teacher selected, student selected, or some combination of the above. While we use traditional forms of fiction and informational texts, we also sometimes throw in questions for students to write around. In addition, we interpret the notion of “text” broadly by including a variety of texts, including photographs, charts with data, infographics, videos, social media texts composed with tools like Storify, and physical objects. Student responses can be a statement, a question, or even a drawing/graphic representation of their ideas. The write around text on text can be an effective medium for students to either engage with texts they are using as part of content area study or as springboard to inquiry and topic selection for investigation. Our typical structure for writing around text on text includes:

      • 5-7 minutes to review some basic protocols of the activity; some teachers will preview these with students the day before if they feel their students need extra scaffolding or have not had much experience with written conversations. Some teachers will also scaffold student learning by integrating a smaller scale version of the activity in class with pairs or small groups of four students.
      • Depending on the texts, the learning targets, time constraints, and needs of the learners, students will then write quietly around the texts and their peers annotations for 10-25 minutes. For a class of 30-35 students, we will typically place two texts on a large sheet of butcher paper and place that butcher paper on a large table. We have found that eight tables with two texts for annotating is a good fit for most of our classes. Students can move about freely as they are ready, and we encourage them to take at least two passes by each table and its texts so that they can not only annotate the text but then respond to their peers annotations. We also tell students they can stand or sit as they write — we let them choose their comfort zone.
      • We then move to a small group response when the silent writing time is finished. We typically have students form groups of 3-4 people, and we provide them some type of open-ended prompt or reflection strategies to help them synthesize what they have read in terms of both the texts and the responses from their peers. 
      • We conclude with a large group share out that is usually co-facilitated by Jennifer, me, and/or the teacher. Students report out to the large group the highlights of their reflections and questions they’ve developed during the small group share time. One of our favorite ways of facilitating large group share is to use the large easel sized post-it notes or our Steelcase Verb whiteboards for students to record their ideas and to help them remember their talking points when it is their turn to share in front of the class. 

The beauty of the write around text on text is that it a flexible learning structure that can be adapted for multiple learning contexts across any subject area and with learners from kindergarten to college-age students. While we have followed the basic guidelines provided by Daniels, we also give ourselves permission to improvise and adapt in response to the needs of our students or to tailor it more specifically to learning goals that can further inquiry. 

Feedback we have received from students includes:

      • They enjoy and appreciate hearing many student voices, something that sometimes gets silenced in traditional class discussions.
      • They like being able to see different perspectives on a text or topic; several remarked how the written conversations helped them see something they had not noticed before or how the responses of their peers changed their stance on a text or topic. We see that they begin to understand learning is social and how meaning can be constructed together.
      • Students like the freedom in being able to physically move about and respond at their own pace during the write-around.
      • Students are focused on ideas, not grammar or spelling.
      • Everyone has opportunities to contribute to the written and oral discussions.
      • Students often remark that this activity is one that helps them think more critically and deeply.
      • Students are usually surprised by how fast the time passes and they can do sustained writing as long as they do.
      • Many students love the “freedom” of the space of the media center/library and being able to participate in the activity without feeling “confined” by the space constraints and seating arrangements of the traditional classroom (a point which we feel supports our efforts in progress of transforming our library into a learning studio for teachers and students!)

What has struck us time after time is how deeply so many students (adult and teen!) engage with the texts and the activity. Jennifer and I are continually astonished by the impact of these low-tech learning tools: markers and butcher paper. The trajectory of energy has been consistent with nearly every group as the writing intensity is like a crescendo in music. For us, we love that learners get to use writing as a process for metacognition and that it is a pathway to learning with many points of access. This type of writing is a departure from the other types of formal or creative writing students do in the library that are usually summative in nature; instead, these written conversations are a formative means to help them move from point A to B in their learning. 

As I have been sharing out my efforts on my blog over the past year, I’ve been delighted to see other school librarians adapting these strategies as a mode for learning with students and teachers in their libraries this year. My friend and fellow librarian Sara Kelley-Mudie of the Hawken School in Northeastern Ohio recently used the write around text on text strategy to help students select topics for an inquiry unit on World War I. Sara and I recently chatted about her experiences and thoughtful insights in using write-arounds to help students discover and introduce topics for research:

I invite you to read Sara’s recent blog post about her use of written conversation strategies.

As you can see, we are all excited to continue to interpret written conversation strategies and to utilize them for a variety of learning contexts as part of our collaborative work with teachers and students. When I think about Deborah Brandt’s assertion that writing literacies will become the dominant literacy of the masses (161-162), I can’t help but wonder how opportunities to utilize writing in ways like these will help our students for real world as well as academic learning situations and how we as librarians can re-invent the ways that libraries function as meaningful and positive sponsors of literacy. If you are interested in reading more extended pieces, viewing videos, and seeing photo sets about the ways librarians and teachers are using written conversation strategies, please bookmark my Pinterest board that is a work in progress. In my next post, I will share additional ways (low-tech, high-tech, and a hybrid of the two) I’m integrating writing literacies into inquiry processes through collaborative partnerships in the library. 

Works Cited

Brandt, Deborah. “How Writing Is Remaking Reading.” Literacy and Learning: Reflections on Writing, Reading, and Society. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. 161-76. Print.

Daniels, Harvey, and Elaine Daniels. The Best-kept Teaching Secret: How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, and Grow Fluent Writers, K-12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2013. Print.

Photos by Buffy J. Hamilton

by mcruz at November 17, 2014 05:33 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
From Cambridge to Shenzhen: An update of NGO2.0

[Crossposted at cmsw.mit.edu.]

Core members of NGO2.0 NGO2.0 technology salon
Core members of NGO2.0, and NGO2.0 technology salon

Starting this past August, NGO2.0 evolved from a project originated in MIT’s New Media Action Lab into a Shenzhen-based Chinese nonprofit organization, the TuOu Center for Nonprofit Tech Development. The path from Cambridge to Shenzhen—China’s most progressive coastal city—was filled with obstacles and challenges. Made up of eleven dedicated volunteers, NGO2.0 started off in 2009 as a social-media literacy-training project designed to help grassroots NGOs in the underdeveloped regions of China to leverage new media to collaborate with each other, recruit volunteers, and explore innovative ways of serving their communities. To date, we have taught 340 NGOs across NGO issue areas how to use social media to make their presence visible to each other and to the rest of China beyond the small towns and villages where they are based.

Simultaneously, NGO2.0 has been building a change platform connecting partners committed to transforming China’s philanthropy and public interest sector. Together, the partners are working to create an enabling environment for change makers from different sectors to emerge, find each other, and form communities both online and offline.

Two of our most successful change platforms are the NGO-Techie Group and the NGO2.0/Oracle China’s Nonprofit Technology Group. Each network has drawn participants from foundations, NGOs, IT companies, universities, nonprofit technology startups, software developers and interaction designers’ communities.

We believe in leveraging local resources to solve local problems. But the networks focus less on solutions per se than a socially constructed approach to change, which means building cross-sector dialogues and giving every participant the opportunity to share problems and propose strategic alternatives. In a culture such as the Chinese where “collaboration” is easier said than done, community building will be a prioritized task for us, which includes establishing a network with provincial support-type NGOs that can reach deep into the hinterlands of the country.

Meanwhile, through a connection via the MIT Center for Civic Media, we got in touch with an Egyptian NGO Helwa Ya Balady that expressed interest in using the crowd-sourced map developed by our chief engineer Yu Wang, a CMS graduate student. This chance encounter allowed NGO2.0 to open up the source codes of our map (www.ngo20map.com) sooner than we expected. We are making plans to visit Vietnam to find opportunities for similar collaboration.

by jing at November 17, 2014 03:31 PM

Global Voices
There's a Dark Side to Alibaba's Massive Profits in China
Artist Wu Tun's T-shirt print. From Wu's Twitter.

Artist Wu Tun's T-shirt print. From Wu's Twitter.

Every year on November 11, e-commerce giant Alibaba makes business headlines with its sales record on Singles Day, a holiday celebrating China's single men and women that has become a popular online shopping day. This year, the company racked up US$9.3 billion, almost doubled last year's US$ 5.8 billion.

The news came about two months after Alibaba set the record for the world's largest initial public offering (IPO) in the US stock market, with its market value measured as US$231 billion at closing time on its first day.

Alibaba's rosy prospects are to a large extent a result of its monopolized status in China's online shopping market. Yet to maintain such privilege, it has to work closely with the government and the Chinese Communist Party in sanctioning independent organizations and political dissents.

In September, not long before Alibaba's began trading on the US stock market, the Taobao online shop of an independent library project called China Rural Library (CRL) was forced to shut down while the authorities cracked down its 19 libraries across the country. The CRL's main income for its education and library project has been generated from its online shop. The Chinese authorities consider independent citizen initiatives a challenge to the Chinese Community Party's representation of the people.

A few days ago, Amazon-like Taobao, which is owned by Alibaba, shut down artist Wu Tun's online shop, which sold T-shirts with the phrase “Love Can't Be Here” printed on them. The Chinese character for “love” sounds like “Ai,” and the T-shirt is inspired by an overseas campaign, “Ai Can't be Here,” which calls for the release of Ai Weiwei, an artist-activist who was detained for 81 days without any official charges in 2011. Currently Ai is still monitored by the national security police and could not leave the country.

Prominent political dissident Hu Jia explained to Radio Free Asia how the authorities have suppressed dissents via online shops:

你只要是发出异见,当局一般来讲围剿你的手段基本上两方面,一个是斩断你的社会联系,让你四面楚歌,你身边的家人朋友对你避而远之,还有一个手段就是斩断你的经济来源。现在当局就是这样,他的侦查情报系统非常发达,可以获取到各种各样的信息,这些异见者他们的生活来源是从哪里来的。如果你是在中国国内获得的这些收入,他掐死你太容易了,就给你关这个网店,用不了10分钟就办妥了,你的店就给你销户了。

Once your voice your opinion in opposition, the authorities take two measures to get at you. First, cut off your social contacts. Make you feel lonely and sad as your family and friends are forced to stay away. Second, cut off your income. They collect information from all sources and identify dissidents’ major sources of income. If you get your income from mainland China, it is too easy to bring you down: They just need to shut down your online shop. In less than 10 minutes, your shop no longer exists.

Political dissidents have not only criticized Taobao. The monopolized market means small retailers face vicious competition, of which only a minority of shops survive.

A small retail shop owner explained the adverse effects of the monopoly on online shopping business in China. The article circulated online for a period of time and Letscorp, a website that bridges information across the Chinese-speaking community, reposted it on November 13, 2014:

绝大多数人会使用网络购物的方式来购物。当中也包括我,我现在所有的衣服裤子和很多工具都是网购,又好又便宜,又方便。的确很好。[...]

不良影响 ①:大批的商店、服装店、工具店、数码城、商场、将会关门歇业,即使留下的也是苦苦支撑,难以有富余的利润。网上经常有看到北京中关村,深圳华强北等一些以前举足轻重的大市场已经陷入了萧条。

②:很多零售店主失业,很多营业员,促销员将会失业。很多房东老板的店铺将会租不出去。这一部分人是最先受到淘宝影响的,且影响是最大最直接的。[...]

淘宝的成立初衷就是让所有卖家直接面对消费者,减少中间环节,让消费者得到好处。这个成立初衷也许是好的,但是淘宝演变到今天他自己也没有想到会发展成这样。会发展成为消灭了实体中间商,最后连厂家都不得不为了生存大量竞争起来。[...]

马云曾经说过一句话将来要么电子商务,要么无商可务。[...]整个中国百分之五十的零售都归淘宝卖了,而且还是很低或者没有利润的卖的,而且还会影响本来实体店卖的价格,大家想一想中国会怎样,中国的经济会怎样。原本从中能够获得利润而养家糊口的有多少人,多少家庭。我不敢想,没有利润的中国将会发生什么。

The majority of people, including myself, will shop online. I get all my clothing and hardware from the Internet. It is very convenient and cheap, which is really great. [...]

Yet the adverse effects are: 1. A large number of shops — fashion shops, hardware shops, electronics shops — will be forced to close. Even if they manage to survive, business is difficult and they hardly make enough profit to carry on. From what has been reported online, Beijing's Zhongguancun, Shenzhen's Huaqiang North district [both are famous shopping destinations for computers and electronics] and others are in a great depression.

2. Many owners of small retail shops are forced to shutter. Their sales workers lose their jobs. The situation affects the landlord of shop floors as they can't rent out their place. These people are directly affected by Taobao.

The original idea of Taobao is to reduce the transaction costs so that the consumers can get more benefit. This is a good intention. But now the platform has evolved into something that the founder could not foresee. It will eventually eliminate all the middlemen and the manufacturers will have to compete with each other in a vigorous manner. [...]

Jack Ma [the founder and CEO of Alibaba] once said, in the future there would be no more trading except from e-commerce [...] Now 50 percent of the retail business in China is traded through Taobao. The price is so low that there is very little profit margin. The pricing has affected the prices in real shops. Please imagine the future of China's economy. Without making enough profits, how can people support their families?

by Oiwan Lam at November 17, 2014 03:11 PM

Rising Voices
Preparing for the Chariboan Joi Cultural Festival Festival in Shipibo Communities

Rising Voices Grantee Project Update.

IMG_0962

Shipibo youth in the community. Photo provided by the project.

Nonra mato jatibi saludanai, which means “greetings to all of you” in the Shipibo language. We would like to share the progress, experiences, and lessons learned from the second month of the project. The primary task of the Chariboan Joi team has been to organize the program of the cultural festival in a participatory manner. We did so with representatives from the four communities involved, Betania, Palestina, Bethel, and Alva Castro. This way, the communities identify and take ownership of this activity, so that they feel that this is their festival.

To accomplish this, a team from the Indigenous Youth Organization from the Ucayali Region (OJIRU for its initials in Spanish) made a coordinating visit, led by Douglas Tangoa from the community of Betania and who is the primary link among the communities. We met with the chief from Betania and with the educational authorities from the communities. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the proposal, and they suggested that the festival contain songs, dance, and traditional Shipibo theater. There will also be a short sporting tournament.

There were many elements that needed to be coordinated for the festival, such as transport, sound equipment, and electrical generator. In regards to the food, we arrived at an agreement with the community kitchen. In exchange for their services, we will leave them some utensils that they need. It was very nice to meet the elders that will share their stories; one of whom is a traditional medicine man and has experience in front of the cameras, and is also a relative of Douglas.

PUC_1751

Boat used to travel to the communities. Photo provided by the project.

On the other hand, we were surprised that despite the Shipibo culture is traditionally oral, they asked us for official documents about the project and formal letters of invitation. All of this will be resolved soon. It appears that the institutions created by the State, such as the community board, the chief, or the educational institutions and their boards, follow a more westernized formality.

In earlier times, there was no central figure of chief, but rather there were family clans with their representatives. Now, the chief principally represents, manages, and communicates with agents external to the community, such as businesses, NGOs, and the Peruvian State. In general and in everyday life, our communities are governed by customary laws and a peaceful anarchy, understood in the best sense of the term.

Meanwhile, in the city, we waited for the return of the team scheduled for Monday, November 3, but heavy rains started to fall for many hours per day, and for safety reasons, the boats did not depart. When the rain diminished, there were not enough passengers to depart. So the team had to stay longer, as a sort of forced vacations. The OJIRU youth missed some of their classes, but they took advantage of the time to get to know the community better, as well as to help with some repairs to the house of Douglas’ family.

Finally, they returned on Thursday, November 5. We gathered on Saturday the 8th to make the final arrangements for the festival program:

Place: Betania Community / Date: December 2, 2014

Citizen journalism workshop (50 youth)

  • Breakfast
  • 08:30 am: Training on citizen journalism using mobile phones
  • Practice: Walk around the community making audio reports
  • 11:30 am: Evaluation of the reports and feedback
  • 01:00 pm Lunch
  • 02:00 pm: Sports activities

The activities of the festival itself wil be:

  • 05:00 pm: Welcome and inauguration of the Festival (300 attendees)
  • 05:30 pm: Cultural acts, songs, dances or dramatization of stories
  • 06:15 pm: Broadcast of 3 audio stories from the morning workshop
  • 06:30 pm Narration of 4 traditional stories by Shipibo elders
  • 07:30 pm: Awarding of prizes to cultural acts
  • 08:00 pm Closing
  • 08:15 pm Dinner

The youth that make the 12 best audio reports will receive a more extensive training in January 2015 to be held in the Arkana Alliance offices. The cultural stories will be recorded for editing and translation to Spanish and English.

At the suggestion of OJIRU, three students from the Intercultural University of the Peruvian Amazon will join the Chariboan team as a way to strengthen the support. In addition, Sydney Morical, Arkana Alliance volunteer will also provide support, especially for the reports. We are also waiting to confirm other offers to film the festival.

IMG_1081

Sunset in Betania after the rains. Photo provided by the project.

Thank you for reading us, and greetings to all.

Translated from Spanish by Eddie Ávila.

by Diego Villegas at November 17, 2014 01:20 AM

November 16, 2014

Miriam Meckel
Versprechen und Strafe

25-formatOriginal.gif

Privatanleger sollen neuerdings Strafzinsen zahlen. Unverschämtheit? Nein, derzeit das richtige Signal für offensivere Anlagestrategien.

Auf Verbrechen steht Strafe. Fragt sich, welches Verbrechen die Anleger begangen haben, dass sie nun mit Negativzinsen bestraft werden. Keines – so lautet die naheliegende erste Antwort. An den Finanzmärkten hat die Kette von Schuld zu Sühne viele Glieder.

Noch immer stecken wir mitten in der Staatsschuldenkrise, die Wachstumsprognosen sind eher mau. Die Inflationsrate verharrt bei derzeit 0,8 Prozent. Und die Europäische Zentralbank (EZB) will die Niedrigzinspolitik fortsetzen und den Markt weiter mit billigem Geld fluten. Optimale Voraussetzungen für Anlagerenditen sehen anders aus.

Im Frühsommer hat die EZB zum ersten Mal formal die Nulllinie unterschritten. Banken, die Geld bei der EZB parken, müssen derzeit einen Strafzins von 0,2 Prozent zahlen. Es war nur eine Frage der Zeit, bis der Negativzins auch die Privatanleger erreichen würde. Die Deutsche Skatbank hat mit einem ersten gezielten Stich versucht, das Thema Strafzins anzureizen. Wenn nun weitere Banken folgen, zeigt das: Ausgereizt ist es noch lange nicht.

In seinem Werk über „Die Philosophie des Geldes“ (1900) schrieb Georg Simmel: „Eine je größere Bedeutung der Zins im wirtschaftlichen Leben erhielt, desto geringer wurde er.“ Das war prophetisch: In diesen Zeiten gilt: Je mehr wir auf den sicheren Zins fixiert sind, desto weniger Rendite bringt uns das angelegte Geld.

Wo kein Verbrechen, da keine Strafe? In der Zinspolitik setzt diese Logik, scheint es, aus. Haben sich deutsche Anleger doch etwas zuschulden kommen lassen? Haben sie. Deutsche Anleger sind für diese Zeiten zu konservativ. Risiko? Nein, danke. In kaum einem anderen Land wird dem Sparbuch noch immer so gehuldigt wie bei uns.

Sparbuch, Lebensversicherung, Bausparvertrag und Immobilien sind der Deutschen liebste Anlageformen. Bei allen von ihnen gilt: Das Gefühl der sicheren Anlage ist teuer erkauft. Kleine Beispielrechnung: Eine Inflationsrate von 1,5 Prozent im vergangenen Jahr und 0,2 Prozent Zinsen auf dem Sparbuch ergeben minus 1,3 Prozent. Wir hatten längst Negativzinsen, bevor die EZB sie eingeführt hat.

Der Glaube an sichere Investments führt auch zu Verblendung. Anlagen finden reißenden Zulauf, wenn der schlaue Emittent „Sicherheit“ als Zauberwort verwendet. Dann kaufen sich Deutsche auch gern mal in windige Riesenradprojekte in Singapur, Peking oder Orlando ein. Irgendwann kommt die Stunde der Wahrheit und mit ihr oft der Totalverlust. Und dann ist das Geschrei groß. Stand doch „sicher“ drauf.

Unwissenheit schützt vor Strafe nicht. Weder beim überschätzten geliebten Sparbuch noch bei der unterschätzten Gefahr des Vermögensverlusts bei vermeintlich sicheren Investments. Wer sein Geld heute richtig anlegen will, muss sich vom Sparbuch verabschieden, die Anlagestrategie diversifizieren und vor allem auch überschaubare Risiken eingehen. Dazu kann der ärgerliche Strafzins durchaus einen Beitrag leisten: endlich die ängstliche Zurückhaltung deutscher Anleger gegenüber der Aktie zu brechen. Als Langfristanlage sind Aktien unschlagbar. Aus volkswirtschaftlicher Sicht darf der Strafzins ruhig richtig weh tun. Mehr als 2000 Milliarden Euro liegen auf deutschen Sparkonten herum. Geld, das mit jedem Tag weniger wert ist. Das Pro-Kopf-Vermögen ist bei uns im vergangenen Jahr nur um 2500 Euro gestiegen, in den USA um 10 000 Euro. Vermeintliche Anlagesicherheit bremst reales Vermögenswachstum. Höchste Zeit also, die Anlegerschockstarre zu durchbrechen.

Eine aktuelle wissenschaftliche Studie zum menschlichen Sparverhalten zeigt: Kluges Anlageverhalten wird zu einem wesentlichen Teil vererbt. Die deutsche Liebe zum Sparbuch als genetische Prädisposition? Dann sind wir nicht zu retten. Aber: Nach der Studie ist das Sparverhalten in den Genen verankert, die auch unsere Gewohnheiten beim Essen und Rauchen bestimmen. Es soll ja sogar Menschen geben, die sich das Rauchen abgewöhnt haben – aus Einsicht, nicht durch Strafe.

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by Miriam Meckel at November 16, 2014 06:24 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Researching Love and Thanks on Wikipedia: CrowdCamp Hackathon Report

"Change favors the prepared," Louis Pasteur once famously noted in a lecture on the nature of scientific observation. The best academic events create moments of highly likely inspiration, and the luckiest ones bring that inspiration into action. That happened for Emily Harburg and me this weekend at CrowdCamp, a two day intensive hackathon on crowdsourcing and social computing research.

CrowdCamp brought together over a dozen gradstudents from across the US to share ideas, brainstorm research projects, and actually implement & test our ideas. The day started out with a fascinating range of creative exercises. We grouped into teams and used design cards to imagine new technology designs in 90 second brain-jams (design something that helps you forget your friends; design something that migrant workers could use to connect across borders, etc). Next, we did a rapid speed pitch session, where rotating groups of four researchers took 90 seconds to talk to others about their passions and find common interests. By the end of the morning and our second round of coffee, the room had grouped into common themes around crowdsourcing education and accessibility. Within these academic MegaZords, the idea went, small groups of Research Rangers could focus on a project that combined, like fire, air, earth, and water to summon a Captain Planet of common research.

During the speed pitch session, I got to meet Emily Harburg, a PhD student in Technology and Social Behavior at Northwestern and alum of Disney Research. Emily and her colleague Mike Greenberg had been working to study gratitude and expressions of appreciation in peer production communities like Wikipedia and WikiHow. I was floored. Over the last two years, I've also been slowly building a thread of work looking at gratitude, thanks, and acknowledgment online. Both of us, it turns out, had recently started to archive data from Wikipedia. Emily was archiving WikiLove, and I was collecting data on the Thanks feature. Meeting each other was a major serendipity moment. Over the next two days, we combined our ideas and made huge progress towards a research to study the role that thanks and appreciation play in creative communities online.

Love, Thanks, and Motivations Online

In recent years, designers of cooperative social technologies have been creating technologies to support peer thanks and appreciation, in hopes of improving performance and retaining newcomers by fostering supportive communities. I've written elsewhere about the wide range of gratitude technologies used in companies and online communities. On Wikipedia, interpersonal appreciation takes the form of two systems: WikiThanks and WikiLove, which are designed to foster supportive encouragement among contributors.

On Wikipedia and other online communities, researchers have long been interested in the motivations of contributors, asking if treating people better might have an effect their experience and participation. Researchers have looked at the effect of positive and negative on Wikipedia, the effect of upvotes on participation levels and polarization, and the effect of quality control systems on newcomer retention, and the link between participation levels and different kinds of motivations (altruism, self-interest, reciprocity, reputation, etc).

Appreciation on Wikipedia takes two forms: WikiLove and Thanks. WikiLove is a message of appreciation sent between any two people with a Wikipedia account. To send WikiLove, navigate to someone's User page, click the heart button, select the type of WikiLove you want to send, add a message, and send the note. The receiver will receive a notification via email and the Wikipedia notification system. The WikiLove you created will appear on their User Talk page:

Wikipedia Thanks are more closely associated with individual edits that individual users. To send a thanks, view the edit history of an article, find an edit you especially like, and click the "thanks button." The receiver will be notified of your appreciation.

Research on thanks and love could yield powerful explanations on matters of the design and governance of crowd platforms. It might also help us understand the role of appreciation in human behaviour. In the area of design, we might be able to quantify the trade-offs between offering personalized messages and simply having a "thanks button." Qualitative studies have shown that learners in the online creativity platform Scratch prefer personal remix attribution to automated messages, but which of these actually have the most meaningful effect overall? Emily and I are hoping to answer that question. We're also hoping that research on the role of appreciation in commons based peer production (like Wikipedia) might contribute to general knowledge about human behaviour.

Expressions of thanks have been shown to affect performance in a variety of contexts: the timeliness of juvenile justice case workers, the size of tips in restaurants, the likelihood of repeat mentorship sessions, and the efficiency of volunteer fundraising. The Wikipedia dataset is one of the largest measurable collections of gratitude in a community anywhere, and by studying it, we might be able to learn more about how thanks functions in creative communities, especially in relation to our sense of self-efficacy, reputation, and social worth.

What We Did at CrowdCamp: Analyzing Love and Thanks

At CrowdCamp after comparing notes, the two of us wrote code to download a sample of love and thanks to explore the viability of a natural experiment (based on historical data) versus a field experiment (where we would intervene and observe the effect). At the time, we didn't realize how easy it was to use the Wikipedia API, so we scraped 9,991 WikiLoves and 10,000 Thanks from the English language Wikipedia site using Python code and the scraper library BeautifulSoup. Across that sample of gratitude, we counted 11,367 givers and receivers. We took a random sample of 1,000 of those givers and receivers and downloaded summary statistics for each of those users.

Using data from our sample of Wikipedians, we created histograms that showed us the distribution of givers and receivers of thanks in relation to the number of edits they have made. The results were promising: it looked likely that we could look at the effect of thanks and loves across all levels of experience:

Distribution of Love and Thanks Involved Wikipedians by Edit Count

What we Did at CrowdCamp: Designing Our Study

Based on this promising analysis, we spent the rest of our weekend creating a literature review on Zotero, designing surveys that we can issue to people who have given and receive thanks, and planning the next stages of our research. Here is the presentation we shared at the end of CrowdCamp:

 

What We're Doing Next

Since CrowdCamp, Erhardt Graeff (MIT) and Mike Greenberg have joined the project, and we've made substantial progress on defining our sampling strategy, acquiring more complete data from Wikipedia, stratifying the sample, and designing a set of natural experiments (within subjects designs and comparison group designs), survey approaches, and potential field experiments. We expect to have our first set of results by the end of the year.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to the CrowdCamp organizers for creating a fantastic environment, and to CMU's HCI Loft for hosting us. We had an amazing time!

 

Thanks also to Erhardt Graeff and Mike Greenberg for joining as fantastic contributors, to Stuart Geiger, who advised our study design, and to Joseph Reagle, who hosted Nathan to discuss online gratitude with his class on online communities, offering encouragement and inspiration.

by natematias at November 16, 2014 05:13 PM

Creative Commons
SciDataCon 2014 Recap
scidatacon
Photo by Puneet Kishor published under CC0 Public Domain Dedication

Earlier this month, CODATA and World Data System, both interdisciplinary committees of the International Council for Science, jointly organized SciDataCon, an international conference on data sharing for global sustainability. The conference was held Nov 2-5, 2014, on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Creative Commons Science had a busy schedule at the conference attended by 170+ delegates from all over the world, many from the global south.

scidatacon-tdm
Photo by Puneet Kishor published under CC0 Public Domain Dedication

We started early with a full day workshop on text and data mining (TDM) in cooperation with Content Mine. The workshop was attended by a mix of PhD students and researchers from the fields of immunology and plant genomics research. It was really rewarding to see the participants get a handle on the software and go through the exercises. Finally, the conversation about legal uncertainty around TDM appraised them about the challenges, but bottom-up support for TDM can be a strong ally in ensuring that this practice remains out of the reach of legal restrictions.

During the main conference we joined panel discussions on data citation with Bonnie Carroll (Iia), Brian Hole (Ubiquity Press), Paul Uhlir (NAS) and Jan Brase (DataCite) and international data sharing with Chaitanya Baru (NSF), Rama Hampapuram (NASA) and Ross Wilkinson (ANDS). We also participated in a daily roundup of the state of data sharing as presented at the conference organized by Elizabeth Griffin (CNRC).

sneha SciDataCon, which used to be called CODATA, is held every two years, and is an important showcase of open science around the world. It is an important gathering for it brings together many scientists from the global south. A lot remains to be done to make real-time, pervasive data sharing and reuse a reality in much of the world, but there are heartening signs. At a national level, India’s data portal holds promise, but making data licensing information more explicit and data easily searchable by license would make it more useful. Citizen science projects in the Netherlands, India and Taiwan demonstrated how crowds can be involved in experiments while ensuring the user-generated content is made available for reuse, and SNEHA’s work on understanding perspectives on data sharing for public health research was particularly insightful of the value of listening to the feedback from participants.

We look forward to continue working with CODATA and WDS promoting and supporting open science and data initiatives around the world, and particularly in the global south, and hope for more success stories in the next SciDataCon.

by Puneet Kishor at November 16, 2014 12:09 PM

Global Voices
Kuwait Sentences 1,000 Bidoon Children to Illiteracy
More than 1,000 stateless children in Kuwait are not allowed to go to school. "Your silence on preventing Bidoon children access to education is a crime," reads the placard on the left. The other one reads: "I have a dream. But I am Bidoon." Photograph shared on Twitter by @nawaf_alhendal

More than 1,000 stateless children in Kuwait are not allowed to go to school. “Your silence on preventing Bidoon children access to education is a crime,” reads the placard on the left. The other one reads: “I have a dream. But I am Bidoon.” Photograph shared on Twitter by @nawaf_alhendal

While international NGOs are actively trying to save Syrian refugee children from falling behind in school, there is another Arab country that is systematically denying an education to a group of children. As schools opened across Kuwait in September, over 1,000 children from the Arab nation's “stateless” Bidoon community (“bidoon” is Arabic for “without nationality”) stood outside school gates crying, because they were not allowed to enter the premises with the rest of their classmates. The reason: lack of birth certificates.

The Kuwaiti state refuses to issue birth certificates to stateless children, denying their very existence from the moment of their birth. The Bidoon issue is a long-standing one in Kuwait, but the government is now using different tactics to isolate and ostracize members of this group. Ironically, the barring of Bidoon children from entering elementary schools is happening in a school year following one in which some of the top high school graduates were Bidoon girls. These students, however, despite having exceptionally high grades, were still not allowed to pursue undergraduate degrees at Kuwait University.

Bidoon adults are often stereotyped as criminals. In every instance of a highly publicized crime involving stateless individuals, the concluding rationale is that this is typical and expected behavior from the “uncivilized Bidoon”, which justifies labeling them as unworthy of fair treatment. However, it is important to acknowledge the vicious circle that governs Bidoon life in Kuwait. Barred from attending public schools, and usually unable to afford private education, the only employment easily accessible to the Bidoon are minimum wage jobs. This leaves opportunities for a bright future painfully restricted, though so many of them have ambitious, dreams and talents similar to that of any Kuwaiti citizen.

By depriving Bidoon children of the right to attend school, Kuwait is perpetuating a damaging stereotype and intentionally sentencing an entire generation of innocent children to a lifetime of illiteracy, paving the way to unemployment, drug dealing, crime, and resentment. Too often, I see Bidoon boys no older than eight or nine years old selling watermelons on the street during Kuwait’s smoldering summer, or peddling cheap light-up toys at stoplights in the evenings. These children are absolutely conscious of how drastically different their daily routines are from those of other kids.

When Bidoon children were denied entrance to their schools during the first week of school this year, only a handful of cases were initially mentioned on social media. Some Kuwaitis volunteered to cover their tuition and buy them the new uniforms required for them to attend school — before discovering the true source of the problem was the lack of birth certificates.

It is striking that the only real effort to rescue these children from a lifetime of limited possibilities came from Kuwait’s civil society. The Teachers’ Society of Kuwait launched an initiative called “Katateeb Al Bidoon”, and called on educators to volunteer to teach Bidoon children at The Teachers’ Society’s residence. Several did, and Bidoon children did indeed show up in uniform, lunchboxes in hand, eager to learn anywhere and at any time. But as selfless and noble as this initiative may be, it cannot be denied that these children are receiving an improvised form of education in a place that isolates them from their peers.

In the month of October, various groups protested in front of Kuwait’s Ministry of Education demanding that Bidoon children be allowed to return to school. The most heart-wrenching aspect of the protests was that they took place at 10am, with Bidoon children showing up in their school uniforms, carrying posters, at a time when they should have been sitting in their classrooms, not protesting being denied their universal right to education. Imagine the psychological trauma and confusion this is going to inflict.

Here are some photographs from the protests by Kuwaiti activist Nawaf El Hendal (used with permission):

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In my public elementary school, I learned to read and write in both Arabic and English, to count, play the piano and paint, and I learned many of the basic social skills I've needed to get by in my current adult life. These are things that many of us may have taken for granted as children, but as adults, we absolutely cannot underestimate how important they are in shaping individuals into responsible and active citizens. Moreover, we cannot underestimate the inevitable, long-term consequences of over 1,000 children not having access to that essential experience. Not knowing how to write a sentence is in itself a prison sentence.

It is time to stop punishing innocent children and making them pay the price of dirty politics. Schools are meant to be places that help children flourish, feel secure, grow more aware of their unique qualities and endless capabilities. But this year in Kuwait, schools have become places that turn Bidoon children away. It’s time to rectify this transgenerational mistake by legislating inclusive policies, not new means of segregation.

by Abrar AlShammari at November 16, 2014 08:43 AM

November 15, 2014

Global Voices
What World Leaders Should Discuss at Brisbane's G20 Summit
G20 Summit in Brisbane Australia. Flickr photo from GovernmentZA (CC License)

G20 Summit in Brisbane Australia. Flickr photo from GovernmentZA (CC License)

The G20 summit on 15- 6 November 2014 has done what terrorism has never managed to do – shutdown the centre of an Australian city, namely Brisbane. Just the arrival of Barack Obama has been a showstopper.

On Friday, Facebook user Peter Black indicated why:

South Bank Brisbane for G20

South Bank Brisbane G20 – Courtesy Peter Black Facebook

On my walk home from South Bank this afternoon, I got stopped by a police officer by the name of Chenin Newson on the river walk in front of the Stamford Plaza. He wanted to know why I had taken this photo of the Stamford Plaza a few minutes earlier. He also wanted to know what I was doing in the area. I explained that I lived in New Farm and had been walking around all afternoon observing the G20. He asked for my name and identification, both of which I happily provided. He took down my name, license number, address and phone number. He explained that under the G20 (Safety and Security) Act the police were required to be extra vigilant around restricted areas. I said I understood but that there was also nothing in the Act that made it an offence for me to take photos. He agreed. He then asked me what I did. I said I was lecturer in law at QUT. He thanked me for my time and understanding, and wished me a good afternoon.

Discussion about the gathering of world leaders has been more about what might not be talked about than the actual agenda. The G20 is primarily an economic forum. Climate minimalist Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has tried hard to keep off climate change.

The Macrobusiness blog sees the lighter side by pointing out the elephant outside the room:

More on the ironic G20 weather forecast. If it reaches the forecast 39C it will break the November record by more than 4 degrees

Russian President Vladimir Putin and others embroiled in the Ukraine crisis won’t be trying to solve their disagreements. The presence of Russian warships in the South Pacific has fed the melodrama surrounding his strained relationship with Tony Abbott:

For those with time, a visit to Twitter hashtag #shirtfront will reveal more on this testosterone-fed duel.

You can choose from several popular hashtags on Twitter. Much more parochial are the old but affectionate #Brissie and the trendy #Brisvegas#G20Brisbane has been trending but has a global input as does #G20.

The Ebola crisis is another issue that many want debated. Nurses broadened it to include health funding in general:

There are the usual side events and protests marches. One discussion point concerns the legality of wearing Anonymous style masks under special G20 legislation:

Watch this space for more on the developing story as the official part of proceedings begin.

by Kevin Rennie at November 15, 2014 11:02 PM

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