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.

February 10, 2016

Luis Villa
Reinventing FOSS user experiences: a bibliography

There is a small genre of posts around re-inventing the interfaces of popular open source software; I thought I’d collect some of them for future reference:



The first two (Drupal, WordPress) are particularly strong examples of the genre because they directly grapple with the difficulty of change for open source projects. I’m sure that early Firefox and VE discussions also did that, but I can’t find them easily – pointers welcome.

Other suggestions welcome in comments.

by Luis Villa at February 10, 2016 04:13 PM

Global Voices
The YouTube Women: Delivering Hard-Hitting Digital Video Activism
Foto tomada de la galería de recursos gratuitos de la organización de derechos humanos Witness.

Image taken from gallery of free resources of Witness (, an organisation that works for human rights through visual media.

Melisa Trad is a young Argentinian activist participating in the International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia. The organisers of the event launched a competition for young people who wanted to demonstrate to the world — through the medium of video — the greatest issues facing their countries in terms of family planning.

Trad obtained a camera, chose her subjects and the locations in which to film them, and set to work:

I concentrated on creating a screenplay which combined accurate and reliable data with a series of arguments that would challenge the viewer on both a logical and an emotional level. I tried to appeal to the construction of a creative message, with the few technical tools which I had at my disposal.

In a short but conclusive video titled “A Story of Violence”, she shares what she defines as “the dream of an Argentina where we all have the freedom and resources to choose our own destiny.”

Melisa explains:

I believe that family planning should be a priority of policymakers, and I hope that the current government does not generate further setbacks in an area which has already suffered too many delays due to religious and ideological hurdles.

Choosing YouTube

Melisa's initiative is just one link in a chain of video-activism through which more and more women and LGBTIQ people are taking ownership of issues affecting their lives by delivering short, quick, hard-hitting messages.

Letícia Lopes, a student of the ‘Pós-Com’ postgraduate programme in communication at the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil and investigator of media platforms for the Gig@ group at the same institution, claims the potential of sites such as YouTube or Vimeo for promoting discourses of tolerance is almost limitless:

Film embodies the universe of the speaker, which is important for activism; creating a persona that others can identify with is a great tactic to muster support. In this sense, digital media is much richer in symbolic possibilities than other forms of publication. Another important factor is that video is very accessible and can be understood by anyone from the illiterate to academics. It is not demanding to produce – it can be filmed on a smartphone camera and there are free programmes available which make editing a breeze. In Brazil at least, where we have a very communicative culture, it is easy to spread the message, and far easier to persuade someone to watch a video than to read an article.

What many self-made videos produced by women and LGBTIQ people around the world have in common is the clear intention to play with language and challenge the “boring” and “unpleasant” prejudices aimed at feminists.

Moreover, these videos generate an empathy that traditional media cannot, says Lopes:

When the traditional media addresses the topics related to the diverse activisms, the activist is portrayed as the interviewee, playing an advisory role to someone else rather than telling their own story. The internet allows these activists to be the protagonists of their own productions and this changes everything, which is why it is so important that these people have a voice.

Five videos that will make you think

1. Busting the “femi-nazi” stereotype

The videos produced by the feminist micro-space La Tuerka are diverse and creative interpretations of existing feminist messages, many laced with humour and irony.

The particular video below tackles the idea of the “Femi-nazi”, which the speaker says exists “only in the minds of patriarchal society”:

2. Mansplain this!

From an unspecified Central American location, video-journalists Catalina Ruiz-Navarro (@catalinapordios) and Estefanía Vela Barba (‏@samnbk) explain the concept of “mansplaining” via their “Latin American feminist pop” channel e(s)tereotipas.

“Mansplaining” describes a situation well known to women: when men insist on condescendingly explaining something that women already know perfectly well, which can include chiding them that “feelings alone don't hold much weight”.

3. Women in the driving seat

This video finds multifaceted artist Alicia Murillo at her captivating best. Showcasing her corrosive humour, the video is called How NOT to run a campaign against sexism. Clue: avoid giving men the lead role.

4. Broadening the conversation

For Portuguese speakers Canal das Bee, a group of LGBTIQ girls and boys who speak freely about topics that range from female masturbation to the challenges a lesbian couple faces when deciding to live together, is highly recommended watching.

5. My hair and me

For many Afro-Brazilian women, caring for curly hair is about more than just grooming. Rayza Nicácio's video “As you've never seen me before” is an account, shot in the intimacy of her home, of her transition from straightened locks to a sea of curls.

Letícia Lopes explains:

I think a degree of success for digital activism is in the appropriation of the audio-visual as a complement of its production, something which presents, in a more succinct fashion, some important points in the greater debate. That is because I think the denser spaces of discussions, such as blogs, independent journalism sites or group debates are important for this activism. Because of this, film could be used as a way of painting topics discussed in these circles in a way to stimulate interest or summon new voices to the discussion.

And a few more of Global Voices’ favourite finds…

  • This unmissable video by Alicia Murillo from Píkara magazine describes the ubiquitous backlash that feminist blogs suffer at the hands of the infamous Machitrolls – male chauvinist trolls.
  • Canal das Bee boasts a series of short interviews with transgender people fighting to be included in Brazilian society.
  • Jout Jout are a collective with several videos that have already surpassed 2,000,000 hits. They cover a range of topics from lighthearted musings to discussions about abusive relationships and other heavy matters.

Featured image: Photo by Jay Morrison, taken from Flickr under CC License BY-NC-ND 2.0.

by Philip Smart at February 10, 2016 03:47 PM

After Revealing Workplace Sexual Harassment, an Iranian Newscaster Says It's ‘Time to Break Free’

Iranians on social media have been following the firestorm that ensued after newscaster Sheen Shirani, who works for the Iranian state's English-language network Press TV, came out with damaging evidence that her executives were subjecting her to sexual harassment.

On 5 February, Shirani posted a series of recordings from telephone conversations as well as messages from Facebook messenger and WhatsApp highlighting unsolicited advances by Hamid Reza Emadi, the broadcaster's news editor.

Emadi was added to a European Union blacklist for human rights violations by the European Court of Justice in 2013. Emadi was identified by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian reporter now living in exile, that Emadi took part in his interrogations and forced false confessions while locked away at Iran's Evin prison. Press TV aired a series of confessions by tortured detainees prior to Emadi landing on the EU sanctions list.

Shirani published the messages on Facebook. That same evening, she reported that Facebook had removed her post for not following Facebook's Community Standards. Emadi had sent her multiple requests to remove her recordings beforehand, but it is unclear whether there is a correlation between Emadi's objections and Facebook's removal.

Shirani's Facebook post after she discovers the evidence she posted against her former Press TV managers were removed by Facebook.

Shirani's Facebook post after she discovers the evidence she posted against her former Press TV managers was removed by Facebook.

In an video interview (featured at the top of this post) with Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist journalist living in exile, Shirani further explained Emadi's physical harassment in the office.

She also accused Press TV studio manager Payam Afshar of sexual harassment. After rejecting his advances, Afshar reportedly subjected Shirani to unjustified targeting, asking other employees to report on Shirani's petty infractions, such as arriving a second or two late for her broadcasts.

Shirani said she turned to Emadi for advice on how to deal with Afshar. After the problem with Afshar was solved with Emadi's help, Emadi reportedly reasoned his sexual advances under the rubric of his professional support for her:

I’ve always helped you. I’ve always been there for you. Whenever you wanted something, I’ve helped you. I’m not asking you to kill someone. You can help me as a friend. You can have sex with me as a friend.

In the recording Shirani shared with journalist Alinejad, Emadi is heard requesting that Shirani go to bed with him because he feels restless. After she tells him to make these requests of his wife, Emadi reasons, “If I could find my wife I would not ask you.”

This case highlights the precariousness of women's roles in Iran's professional settings.

In reaction to harsh criticism on social media accusing Shirani that she had in reality engaged in sexual relations with Emadi, she told Alinejad:

If I wanted to engage in a relationship with Mr. Emadi rest assured I would have reached higher echelons of Press TV rather than working there as a simple woman without a contract; a woman without insurance; a woman running the risk of being made redundant..I would have accumulated a lot of wealth and I simply would not be worrying about my future either, nor that of my son.

According to a report by IranWire, Shirani has left Iran, and her whereabouts unknown. While employed with Press TV, she always wore a hijab, in line with the broadcaster (and country's) strict rules on women's modesty; however, following her departure and accusations, she has presented herself without the headscarf. It's “time to break free,” she wrote on Facebook.

Shirani posts about shedding her hijab and leaving a job that compromised her dignity while forcing her to maintain a Islamic dress code.

Shirani posts about shedding her hijab and leaving a job that compromised her dignity while forcing her to maintain a Islamic dress code.

Press TV released a statement in Persian addressing Shirani's revelations. They explained they had suspended two employees while the investigation into the case continues, but did indicate whether the two employees were Emadi and Afshar. They also claimed that no formal complaints were made inside of Iran, and the public allegations were part of a political conspiracy meant to undermine Iran's political system.

by Mahsa Alimardani at February 10, 2016 02:16 PM

River Communities in Mexico Still Don't Trust Their Drinking Water Following a Mining Spill

Following the spillage of 40 million litres of copper sulphate into rivers Bacanuchi and Sonora, their waters ceased to be colourless, odourless and harmless. Picture: Mas de 131.

What is now considered the worst environmental disaster in the history of Mexico occurred a year ago when the mining corporation Grupo México contaminated the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers in the northern state of Sonora. Since then, the affected populations have officially requested the protection of their rivers seven times so that they be returned to their clean state.

Francisca García is from Aconchi (which means “strong wall in the water”), a village filled with red chili pepper crops that have been affected by the mine's arsenic spill. According to the state's tourism commission, Aconchi, which was founded in 1636, is one of the “picturesque villages settled on the Sonora riverbank, which form a colourful route where men, culture and the magic of each corner of the course of river Sonora all interweave.”

Francisca does not need such marketing. She knows what it means to live on the Sonora. She longs for the days when as a pre-schooler she would run to bathe in the river. Today, it saddens her not to be able to drink from these waters as well as that the contamination is killing off the harvest of red chili peppers, pumpkins, corn, peanuts, and and injuring livestock.

The spill occurred in the Buenavista del Cobre mine facilities, a subsidiary of the Grupo México, which belongs to the second richest man in the country, Germán Larrea. Arsenic, lead and other metals were released into the river.

The residents of Aconchi recall that it was on 4 August 2014 that they noticed the Sonora river's current had an unusual colour and smell, yet at first they did not read too much into it. Moreover, they calculated that if that water was flowing by on the 4th, it meant that it had already been running for 24 hours, since when it rains in the highest part of Cananea, that is how long it takes for the water to arrive at Aconchi.

On 6 August, the colour of the water became an intense yellow. The alarmed residents began to alert others via telephone or social media, while some turned to their municipal or civil protection authorities, but no one informed them of what was going on, why the water was arriving like that and whether or not it was dangerous to drink it.

Neither the company nor the authorities involved would let them know what was happening. During the hours that followed, the wells from which people obtained drinking water were shut down. In that moment began a panicked wave of bottled water purchases, as Zoila López, a mother from the municipality of Baviácora, recounted.

Zoila began to feel pain in her body; at government certified clinics she was diagnosed with the flu, but her symptoms intensified to the point where she lost all mobility. She sought help at the Federal Commission for Protection of Sanitary Risk's clinic (Cofepris) and the doctor who saw her sent her to a psychiatrist.

According to the diagnosis, Zoila suffered from depression. Penniless, as her family lived off agriculture, livestock and the harvest, which they lost after the spill, Zoila borrowed money to see a private doctor. In fact, her symptoms were caused by the arsenic in her body, which damages the nervous system. Her husband and her three small children presented the same symptoms.

Without any clear information and angry that the authorities and company were not being held accountable while the river and crops remained contaminated, Zoila, Francisca and hundreds of other people united to defend their rights, forming the Committees for the Sonora River Watershed from seven coastal municipalities in Sonora.

The committees approached a civic organisation, The Project on Organising, Development, Education and Research (PODER), for an appraisal of the case. In the investigation conducted by PODER, researchers found 55 irregularities incurred by Buenavista del Cobre, a subsidiary to the Grupo México.

The first irregularity was the cause of the spillage: the mining company assures that it was due to the excess of rain, even though two facts point to the contrary. Firstly, the Bacanuchi climate station registered a minimum of rainfall (0.5mm) that day. Secondly, in the version of events that PODER reviewed via the System of Access to Information (Mexico's access to public information law), Buenavista del Cobre states that “the hydraulic system was being repaired and the dam did not have any kind of valve”.

The same investigation maintains that part of the mine where the spillage took place was 50% constructed; moreover, it did not have a detection system nor a control for leaks. This means that the company was operating without the minimum requirements demanded by the country's environmental law.

As a way of resolving the consequences of the leak, the governing authorities created the Sonora Trust  with the goal of serving as a source and means of payment to carry out measures of remediation, reparation and/or compensation for the damage caused by the leak to both the environment and citizens’ health, in accordance with the Remediation Programme, and as a payment mechanism for complaints of material damage caused by the spillage, as stated on their website.

Nonetheless, until July 2015 the Remediation Programme had only been approved for zone 1, where the mine is located; in the four remaining zones, where the affected populations are located, it had not. This means that “10 months after the event took place, both Semarnat and Buenavista de Cobre have not been held responsible”, states PODER. The Committees for the Sonora River Watershed filed an official request on the matter.

However, the communities’ complaints about the company’s behaviour didn’t begin with the spill. Since the mine began operations, they have seen their rights violated, particularly in their access to information and right to be consulted. Francisca says that they have never been asked about this project.

As such, part of the strategy of the Committees for the Sonora River Watershed is to file official requests and complaints. They have finalised seven so far, one being for the lack of adequate consultation; by law the populations residing in the villages have the right to be consulted by Mexico's environmental agency before any environmental authorisations are granted.

Another request concerns the quality of the water in the wells, since official Mexican regulations establish lower standards than the international norm. Consequently, the water available to populations that depend on these wells can contain high levels of metals, contravening the human right to brackish, quality water. Zoila is certain that drinking water from a contaminated well, which was first given approval by the National Water Commission and consequently shut down, was the cause of her own and her family's illness.

On 7 October 2015, the committees obtained an important victory: Sonora's first district judge ordered that the National Water Commission carry out new studies due to the risk that populations might drink contaminated water. The committees offered to create an oversight group to ensure that the authorities comply with the judicial order in the best possible way.

And in February 2016, two water treatment plants began operations to filter their drinking water of the heavy metals — 18 months after the spill.

The remaining requests go hand in hand with their demands: they want the Sonora river to return to a clean state, they want to be confident that the water is safe to drink and they want their crops, on which they used to work every day, to continue to grow and feed them.

by Mafalda at February 10, 2016 10:10 AM

Chinese Authorities Pressured a Bangladesh Art Summit Into Censoring a Tibet Exhibit
The covered art installation after protest by the Chinese Ambassador. Image courtesy: Facebook page of Wasfia Nazreen

The covered art installation after protest by the Chinese Ambassador. Image courtesy: Facebook page of Wasfia Nazreen

The third edition of the Dhaka Art Summit took place 5-8 February 2016 and featured paintings, performance art, film screenings, and book launches. The annual event, hosted by the non-profit Samdani Art Foundation, showcases South Asian art and brings together hundreds of artists, scholars, curators and visitors from around the region and the world.

What's considered art in one place, however, can be seen as political heresy in another. Such was the case with one of the summit's multimedia installations. Created by Indian filmmaker Ritu Sarin and her artist husband Tenzing Sonam, a Tibetan living in exile in Dharmashala, the exhibit centered on those in Tibet who have self-immolated in protest of China's dominion over the region.

The installation, titled “Last Words”, consisted of facsimiles of five last messages along with their English translations written by people who self-immolated. These messages were part of a larger multimedia exhibit by Sarin and Sonam on Tibetan self-immolations in the past six years, which the duo inaugurated in Delhi last December.

Filmmakers and artists Tenzing Sonam & Ritu Sarin at the Dhaka Art Summit with Wasfia Nazreen (middle). Image courtesy Wasfia Nazreen's Facebook page. 6 February, 2016

Filmmakers and artists Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin at the Dhaka Art Summit with Wasfia Nazreen (middle). Image courtesy Wasfia Nazreen's Facebook page. 6 February 2016

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ma Mingqiang visited the exhibition on Saturday, 6 February and reportedly “exploded” at the sight of the Tibetan art installation, asking that they be removed immediately. Later, he sent the organisers a mail-in protest and requested that the works be taken down. The organisers obliged by covering up the five frames with white sheets with the artists’ consent.

In what was probably a subtle act of defiance, the artwork was covered up but left hanging on the wall.

Sarin expressed her frustration to newspaper The Indian Express:

This is bullying. The Chinese are asking for the works to be removed in a foreign country. We have just taken five letters that are actually available online; it is not even an interpretation.

The installation "Last words" by Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam as displayed on 5th & 6th February. Image courtesy Facebook Page of Wasfia Nazreen

The installation “Last words” by Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam as displayed on 5 and 6 February. Image courtesy Facebook Page of Wasfia Nazreen.

While mountaineer, activist, social worker and writer Wasfia Nazreen (pictured above) wrote on her Facebook page that the ambassador had “threatened dire consequences” if the pieces weren't removed. She continued:

Not surprised at the arrogance and bullying tactics of the Chinese government in shutting down any voice that disagrees with its official version of what is happening in #Tibet but, end of the day its about my own identity, as a Bangladeshi, a citizen of an independent country, i am sorry but you CANNOT capture our Spirit with force.

‘It can never shut down the voices of the movement’

One of the letters in the installation reads:

I, Tsultrim Gyatso, the warrior of the snows, set myself on fire for the welfare of all Tibetans. The golden teardrops. Alas, tears. Heartbreak. Brothers, do you hear? Do you see? Do you hear? To whom shall I tell about the suffering of six million Tibetans? Precious human body engulfed in flames. I set myself on fire for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, to free Panchen Rinpoche from prison, and for the welfare of six million Tibetans. May all sentient beings residing in the three realms be free from the three poisons and attain Buddhahood. May the lama and the Three Jewels hold dear those who are downtrodden and without refuge. Brothers and sisters of the Land of Snow, for the sake of Tibet’s unity, do not fall under the deceitful ways of the foxes.

“I, Tsultrim Gyatso, the warrior of the snows, set myself on fire for the welfare of all Tibetans. The golden teardrops. Alas, tears. Heartbreak. Brothers, do you hear? Do you see? Do you hear? To whom shall I tell about the suffering of six million Tibetans? Precious human body engulfed in flames. I set myself on fire for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, to free Panchen Rinpoche from prison, and for the welfare of six million Tibetans. May all sentient beings residing in the three realms be free from the three poisons and attain Buddhahood. May the lama and the Three Jewels hold dear those who are downtrodden and without refuge. Brothers and sisters of the Land of Snow, for the sake of Tibet’s unity, do not fall under the deceitful ways of the foxes.” Tsultrim Gyatso, 43, Self-immolated on 19 December 2013 Sangchu, Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. Image courtesy Wasfia Nazreen's Facebook page.

Tsultrim Gyatso, 43, self-immolated on 19 December 2013 in Sangchu, Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. Image courtesy Wasfia Nazreen's Facebook page.

Tibetans accuse China, which incorporated Tibet into its territory over 60 years ago, of religious and cultural persecution. The region has seen several large-scale uprisings in that time, and dozens of people in recent years have self-immolated in individual protests against Chinese control. China keeps Tibet firmly in its grip by heavily censoring the Internet, controlling media and restricting access to tourists and international press.

This is not the first time the Chinese government has tried to shut down Tibet-related exhibitions. In 2009, Chinese pressure resulted in the closure of a photography exhibition on Tibet named “Into Exile | Tibet 1949-2009” organised jointly by Students for a Free Tibet–Bangladesh and Drik Bangladesh.

In an interview with Catch News, Sonam described what kind of message China is sending with this action:

Do not encourage or give a platform to any opinion, narrative or voice that runs counter to the official Chinese line, particularly when it comes to Tibet or Xinjiang.

The underlying threat to this message is: If you do not comply, we will cut economic ties or otherwise make it difficult for you.

Others published their outrage on Twitter:

On Facebook, Ehsan Rahman Zia commented defiantly:

white sheets of paper @ dhaka art summit can surely cover up tibetan artworks that depicted the oppression of china in tibet, but it can never shut down the voices of the movement…. #‎আলোআসুক‬ (#Lettherebelight)

by Rezwan at February 10, 2016 08:33 AM

Viewers Complain China’s Spring Festival TV Gala Was Way Too Political This Year

Screen capture from 2016 CCTV Spring Festival Gala at 2:38:25

For decades, the Spring Festival Gala, produced by China’s state-owned Central Television (CCTV), has been must-watch programming for Chinese on Lunar New Year. Being such a high-profile media event, the program's producers usually manage to strike a balance between entertainment and political propaganda.

Not so this year. The gala in 2016, which is the year of the monkey, was arguably the most politicized in the show's history, and is now facing unprecedented criticism from the public.

The gala began with a rap, accompanied by an extravaganza, lauding last year’s achievements that Chinese gained under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

The rest of the program fell in line with Xi’s ideological theories and policies: singing about the Chinese Dream; emphasizing the need to make the People's Liberation Army strong; promoting the 13th Five-Year Plan, or roadmap for the country's development; stressing the patriotism of overseas homesick Chinese; and educating viewers on the core values of socialism.

In one segment, singers standing in front of a backdrop of a bright red Communist Party flag belted “No Communist Party, No New China” — a line from the 1943 political propaganda song “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China”. Another performance took the form of a revolutionary opera, in which a throng of dancers in red army dress reenacted how hard the red army trudged through a quagmire to build a communist nation.

The gala ended with a presenter saying, “Let us on gather around central Communist Party with the core principles of Xi.”

‘Why not make literature and art pure?’

“Is this probably the gala with the strongest political atmosphere ever?” one netizen remarked on Twitter-like Weibo.

This ideology-heavy gala is no accident. It's a result of President Xi’s political ambition: the consolidation of the Communist Party’s leadership under his set of political beliefs and policies.

Since stepping into the presidency in 2012, Xi has pushed the so-called Chinese Dream of revitalizing the nation—by invoking patriotism with an emphasis on the historic humiliation Chinese have suffered.

To purify the communist cadres, the ongoing anti-graft movement under Xi’s lead has put hundreds of corrupt officials into prison since 2012.

To cope with China’s slow economy, Xi’s tactics include promotion of domestic consumption, the “One Belt, One Road” plan to revive the ancient Silk Road as a modern Eurasian business corridor, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an initiative to support the construction of infrastructure throughout the region.

But all this growth and development comes at a high price at home. Authorities have also increased Internet censorship, suppressed press freedom and hit at rights lawyers and activists. Fiery patriotism and nationalism is also on the rise—as seen in this year's meticulously designed gala.

The situation reminds some of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who established a highly concentrated system that almost controlled every aspect of the country as well as a political culture of personality cult that led to 10 turbulent years of Cultural Revolution in which those deemed undesirable were purged from the Communist Party.

On Weibo, user YanxiaowuBOBO thought the gala should be recreational rather than political:

今年的春晚非常难看,感觉像看了一遍晚会版的新闻联播。 为什么不让文学和艺术纯粹一些? 前几年的春晚本来做得很好,已经在刻意减少这些泛政治化的成分,今年的每个节目无意中又被冠以 政治上积极向上的内涵,而不再接地气。 春晚如果成为一种太过意识形态的宣传工具,而不是快乐的来源,未免令人遗憾。

The New Year's gala this year is awful, I feel like I’ve just watched a daily news broadcast but in gala form. Why not make literature and art pure? Galas in previous years are good and had played down the political elements. Every segment in this year's gala was purposefully injected with politically positive themes, and not welcomed by audience. It is regrettable to see the gala not being a source of joy, that it has been utilized as a tool for promulgating ideology.

Art should serve politics (or so says Xi)

Xi held a forum for literature and art in 2014, the only meeting on literature and art development since Mao’s political campaign “Hundred Flowers Blossom” in 1956.

In the meeting, Xi emphasized the “enhancement and improvement of literature and art under the Party’s leadership”:


The Party’s leadership is the basic assurance for the development of socialist literature and art. The Party’s aim is to serve people with all its heart, and the aim of literature and art is to create works for the people. Seizing on this idea, the relationship between the Party and literature and art can be resolved in the right way; both the relationship between the Party’s principles and people’s character, political positions and freedom to create can be grasped accurately.

Both historical meetings implied that art should serve politics.

Lv Yitao, the general director of this gala, claimed in an interview that he was satisfied with how the Spring Festival Gala and “earned full marks on this test.” Still, netizens’ critical remarks have dominated on Weibo, to the extent that Lv has to close the comment option on his Weibo account, as did CCTV.

Chinese portal Sina took a poll on “How would you rate this year's gala?” Approximately 115,000 or 75 percent of voters gave the gala one star out of 10.

Many netizens thought the gala felt more like a mixture of stage performance and daily news broadcast on CCTV and quoted a mocking saying about what the network presents in its day-to-day coverage: “Leaders are always busy, people are forever blessed, and foreign countries are chaotic as ever.”

Weibo user “God blesses Yanming” remarked that the gala's swerve toward the overly political is a sign of a decline in art development:


The 2016 Spring Festival Gala became a downright platform for explaining policies. Form does not make up for a serious lack of human connotation; the continuous strengthening of ideology produces only simpering and lip-syncing. I cannot help but be reminded of what Zhao Dan [an artist promoted by the government] said in 1980: “With too much control and too concrete of guidelines, [the development of] art will be hopeless.” Thirty years have passed, and the issue on how to develop art has not yet been resolved.

“Which one [among the 39 segments] do you like best so far?” asked the People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, on Weibo an hour before the end of the gala.

“It is too hard to make a choice, none of them can be watched,” responded one netizen, Aj_Fu Butucao Huisixingren, summing up what many were probably thinking.

by Patrick Wong at February 10, 2016 08:27 AM

The Power of Social Media in Uganda's 2016 Elections
Michael Niyigeteka

Michael Niyitegeka, a respected authority on social media in Uganda. Photo from his official Twitter account, @niyimic

On February 18, Uganda goes to the polls. Like many countries around the world, social media has become part and parcel of political communication and conversation in Uganda. For example, social media played a significant role during the first ever presidential debate on January 15. The hashtag #UGDecides16 trended throughout the debate.

Ugandans like never before use social media tools to engage in election-related chatter. According to the Uganda Communication Commission, Uganda had over 11 million Internet users as of March 2015 and 1.8 million Facebook subscribers in the country of over 37 million as of Novembers 2015, while mobile subscriptions are estimated to be 19 million.

I spoke with Michael Niyitegeka, an accreditation consultant and an authority on social media in Uganda, to discuss the role that social media has played in this election season.

Prudence Nyamishana (PN): What has the role of social media been in this year's election in Uganda?

Michael Niyitegeka (MN): Social media has taken a role that nobody anticipated it would have. Out of the blue, there is a lot of attention from all the political actors and players. It's like they have woken up to the reality that social media is not something that they can take for granted. And so there has been a lot of investment, a lot of people hired to run social media campaigns and candidates’ pages. Therefore, the relevance and importance of social media in Uganda has gone to a different level. On the other hand, there has been what I can call amateurism because the people who hired and were hired to conduct social media campaign did not come up with clear strategies at the beginning of the campaign. As a result, some started strong and died out, others gained momentum as a the campaigns went on, but if they had planned in advance the aspirants would have had better mileage on social media.

Social media users in Uganda have also evolved and the number has increased. For example the number of people that have just joined Twitter during the campaign season is massive. Social media has claimed a position that it didn’t have in the beginning- it has become more important and more critical. People share real-time photos that caused some camps to ‘Photoshop’ crowds to give the impression to voters that they have support. Social media has elevated some political personalities and events such as the presidential debate, which was closely followed and intensely debated by Ugandans because of social media.

PN: Do you think Ugandans have successfully engaged with the presidential candidates on social media?

MN: From my observation, I think one or two presidential candidates are tweeting for themselves, the rest have hired social media teams. The candidates come up with a social media team, who come up with a Twitter handle and a Facebook page. They basically run the campaigns on behalf of the candidate. You don’t get the feel of the natural person, the actual candidate behind the Twitter handle but more of a robot tweeting on what the candidate is doing.

Have we been able to engage the camps from a machinery perspective? National Resistance Movement, the ruling party, has tried to organise Twitter chats but it’s also not consistent and people are not paying attention to them in terms of engagements. For instance, when the party hosted Hon Rebecca Kadaga, the first female Speaker of Parliament in Uganda, people were just tweeting what Kadaga was saying but it would have made more sense if Kadaga was the one tweeting and having a conversation with social media users. I am sure this would have been different. So social media engagement is something that political camps jumped on, but I don’t think that it is something that they seriously made strategies for.

A screenshot of the official Twitter page for

A screenshot of the official Twitter page for Uganda Presidential Debate. The event was one of the most tweeted election-related event in Uganda's political history.

PN: What has been the place of social media as a propaganda tool in this election season?

MN: Freedom of expression comes with responsibility to it. There are instances of irresponsible reporting and commenting on social media. Candidates have an obligation to be mature and responsible enough when saying things because they are not just communicating to their supporters, but to wider audiences. So different political parties should be responsible when putting out information, For example, when the ruling party secretary was recorded saying that those that cause confusion would have their children killed, people recorded the message and shared it widely.

We, the users, should also be responsible and verify information before sharing it because unverified information can easily lead to chaos and political violence.

PN: How do we score in terms of freedom of expression online?

MN: I think Ugandans still enjoy, to a greater extent, freedom of expression online. And I believe we cannot reach the levels of countries like Thailand that suppress media freedom online. With the amount of liberty and freedom Ugandans enjoy on social media have, nipping it up would be a difficult task. You would just have to have shut down the Internet.

PN: What role is social media going to play in terms of monitoring and observation on election day?

MN: There is a side of me that thinks that the Internet is going to slow down. That’s just me. Because you see if you are the person in charge and things are not going on as expected, a couple of things might happen. But with this wide-spread Internet, it is going to be difficult to do anything stupid. For instance there is a police truck in Mbale, a town in eastern Uganda, that was ferrying ruling party supporters, I don’t think in their wildest imagination they would have taken a photo and shared it as netizens did. There was another incident when someone from the ruling party was trying to claim on Twitter that the opposition Forum for Democratic Change ferries people to its rallies but people came out and blasted him. To counter his claim, social media users displayed multiple shots of the incident which showed that there were in fact cows in the truck. So anybody who is participating in this election has to be extremely careful.

PN: What do you think will be the role of social media post-election, in terms of civic engagement?

MN: Social media is going to continue growing; the space is going to continue growing more than it was in the past five years. We are going to have more leaders being held accountable though online activism, more people will pay attention to citizens’ sentiments and concerns expressed online. So social media is going to be an accountability tool. I will see somebody doing something and I will take a photo and share knowing it will be picked up by many other concerned citizens.

PN: Do you have any final thoughts?

MN: As Ugandans on social media, we need to go beyond the semantics of followers, the semantics of the number of likes, we need to start digging deeper and deal with real issues in a more realist way and that is going to require much more than just having likes or followers. It is important for us to look at analytics, collaborations, create valuable content for our followers. We  know governments, businesses and brands pay attention to social media.

by Prudence Nyamishana at February 10, 2016 12:33 AM

February 09, 2016

Tyler Broker on Expanding the “No Speculation” Test in Free Speech Cases

My friend and former student Tyler Broker is publishing an interesting and provocative free speech essay in the Gonzaga Law Review. I’ve asked Tyler to prepare a guest blog post. A draft of the full essay is available here.

Who would be so base as to challenge the conventional wisdom that commercial speakers receive less protection than noncommercial speakers? On the other hand, who would be so incurious as to leave unexamined the fact that during the last 20 years not a single regulation on commercial speech has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court while noncommercial speakers have occasionally lost?

The conventional wisdom is correct, to some extent. Federal regulators impose an extensive and complex set of rules on commercial advertising that have no analogs for noncommercial speech. And yet, when First Amendment challenges are brought, the Supreme Court applies a scrutiny that is rhetorically harsher but substantively weaker to noncommercial speech. This essay does not criticize nor argue for additional limits on the evolution of the commercial speech doctrine, in fact quite the opposite. The essay proposes a leveling up process, arguing that the Central Hudson “no speculation rule” should apply to all free speech cases.

No case better illustrates the mechanics of the commercial speech doctrine than Rubin v. Coors Brewing Co., 514 U.S. 46 (U.S. 1995). In Rubin, a beer manufacturer challenged the Federal Alcohol Administration Act’s (FAAA), 27 U.S.C.S. § 201, prohibition against disclosing alcohol content on beer labels. The Rubin Court struck down the restriction as an irrational governmental regulatory scheme, and cast serious doubt as to whether the regulation would advance the government interest in preventing the overconsumption of alcohol “in a direct and material way”. The Rubin Court acknowledged it was “common sense” to assume “that a restriction on the advertising of a product characteristic would decrease consumer selection of a product based on that trait,” yet insisted that commercial speech regulation must not promote the government interest based on “mere speculation or conjecture.”

In contrast to the judicial skepticism in Rubin, the Roberts Court in Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393, (2007) relied on a form of speculation and conjecture. There the Court accepted a principal’s speculation not only about the consequences of a student’s message “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” displayed during a school sanctioned event at a public place, but also about the student’s intent and mental state. This speculation was allowed to stand even though 1) the Court admitted the banner was “cryptic” and could be interpreted in many ways; 2) there was no evidence the sign caused a disruption; and 3) there was no evidence that would suggest any student who views such a sign is more susceptible to drug use. Further adding to the doctrinal incoherence, the Court in Frederick refused to treat the banner as political despite the fact that Alaska voters had debated and substantially supported marijuana legislation for two decades. An evidence-based standard has been found wanting even in noncommercial cases involving political speech such as Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Fund PAC v. Bennett, which received the strictest scrutiny possible by the Court.

When courts refuse to allow government speculation and conjecture to establish the need for censorship, the government is usefully pressed to provide material evidence proving that its speech restrictions truly serve its stated objectives. All free speech scrutiny should incorporate some form of a “no speculation” rule, requiring material evidence to justify the regulation of speech. The reasoning of the commercial speech cases is sound enough to inform all other areas of free speech scrutiny. To protect speakers from overreaching restrictions based on the Court’s (or a principal’s) untested common sense, the government must supply some evidence that the harms of speech are real.


by jyakowitz at February 09, 2016 06:38 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Roosh V shows how our society is not only misogynist, but racist too…


Last week Roosh V’s planned visit to the UK was abruptly brought to my attention. Splashed across my social media, I saw that he had planned eight meetings for his avid followers in cities from London to Edinburgh. Last time I had the displeasure of Roosh infiltrating my consciousness was when I had watched, with ever increasing outrage and despair, Reggie Yates’ BBC3 documentary on the manosphere. This time wasn’t going to be any less infuriating…


For those of you who are unfamiliar, Roosh is known as a ‘militant pro-rape pick-up artist’. His self-declared “neo-masculine” beliefs stake monumentally ground-breaking ideas - from the 19th Century. These include that a “woman’s value significantly depends on her fertility and beauty”; that promiscuity in women is a “negative behaviour”; and finally that “socialism, feminism, cultural Marxism, and social justice warriorism aim to destroy the family unit, decrease the fertility rate, and impoverish the state through large welfare entitlements.”


As some-one who self-identifies as both a feminist and Marxist, I can say that I certainly do care about destroying the family unit - if it is a “family unit” from Victorian Britain. It is of utmost importance to reject the “family unit” as conjured up from the dark recesses of wretched little minds which stubbornly refuse to accept equality and freedom. I advocate for equality across sex, gender-identification, and sexuality. I advocate for rights of fertility, work, and welfare. I advocate against sexual violence in all its forms, including rape culture, and especially the idea that the way to get rid of rape culture is to legalise it (on private property). Yes, you read that correctly.


On January 19th Roosh announced his plans for organised meet-ups across the UK and the world on his website, Return of Kings. This was followed by a collective outcry on social media supported by shared online newspaper articles and eloquent blog-posts. I’d also seen the circulation of two different protest marches in Glasgow, where I had previously gone to university, and an online petition calling on David Cameron to ban Roosh’s entry to the UK.


Then, on the 4th February, only a few days after the initial outpouring of disgust, Roosh announced that the meetings were cancelled as he could not ‘ensure the safety of his followers’. I saw one social media user comment that the irony of these men feeling unsafe in the streets had been lost on them. And it had. Arguments for free speech dominated online spaces, with little regard for the infringements to women’s freedom these ‘rights’ would entail. A follow-up post on the Return of Kings site managed to incite some laughable conspiracy theories about the media and perform a poor reading of a Fight Club quote (NB: Davis Aurini, the point of the story is that you’re not supposed to blindly follow Tyler Durden, you absolute space monkey).


But if you can bare to get past the fragile masculine egos of broken Gen-X men, there is something even more horrifying in store. Dusting back those murky cobwebs we are greeted with the latent racism in our own reflection. Responses to Roosh’s visit were co-ordinated and publicised through online social networks, by brilliantly strong women and allies. But mainstream news coverage of Roosh’s visit and the resultant social movements across the UK to prevent it remains virtually non-existent. The Independent and the Guardian both have sassy online follow-ups, and even the Daily Mail have an online piece tearing into him. Yet we are found wanting in terms of extensive coverage or substantive critique. Substantive critique regarding the role he plays in our culture, the patriarchal values he embodies, and the sickness in our society he symbolizes. Symbolizes by allowing us to see there is no systematic prevention of a man who admits to date-raping women with alcohol (and shaming them for it) within poorly titled books.  


How does this compare to the near moral panic incited by our media about the Cologne attacks? The story of the ‘spike of sexual assaults by immigrants’ across Europe has been making the rounds through the printed press and mainstream TV news broadcasters. The sheer amount of coverage is staggeringly different. The framing is something else altogether. “Women are told not to go out at night alone” due to “migrant rape fears”, yet the gangs of self-confessed rapists Roosh planned to bring together are not mentioned. Roosh is a “loner” at worst, and this growing community is certainly not endemic of the ugly misogyny of our culture. Not only does this discrepancy in coverage and framing highlight how deeply entrenched Roosh’s manosphere arguments and rampant misogynistic values are in our culture, it shows our not-so-well-veiled racism: our refusal to address sexual violence unless it conforms to narratives that uphold heteropatriarchal norms, and white, straight, male privilege.


Laurie Penny wrote an article discussing how we must not to let the bigots steal feminism after the Cologne attacks. Roosh V shows how they already have. Action against sexual violence is only legitimised when the men at the top of our society don’t have to feel uncomfortable about it. Yet, here it is, staring us in the face in the form of Roosh V’s over 20,000 twitter followers. And you still want to try and tell me that feminism isn’t important in the Western world? How can we begin to fight for the equality of women globally when our society not only ignores sexual violence but uses “feminism” as coded racism and neo-imperialism?


Once again we are witness to women’s bodies being subject to the petty projects of nation-states and colonial reinforcement. It is not new that sexual violence against women enacts the drawing and contestation of cultural boundaries. Rape is often a particularly fine-tuned instrument of war. The female body symbolizes the home, the motherland, and as such it can be conquered, pillaged and torn apart. For those who spoke against the Cologne attacks but do not speak against Roosh, this is what you fear: another man on your property. You are as wrong as he is, and you enact another form of violence against the women you claim to protect. Despite still living in the epoch of nation-states and the failed masculine dreams of sovereignty and private property, women’s bodies are not symbols of your ownership, power or protection. You repeatedly violate them every day with your refusal to accept the on-going sexual violence deeply entrenched within our own ‘progressive’, Western values.


It’s not just the contestation of the boundaries of Europe that are being wrought in our blurry acceptance and non-acceptance of sexual violence. American rapper Tyler the Creator was quietly banned from the UK for lyrics he wrote five years ago, but it took a whole parliamentary debate to decide it is better to greet the notorious misogynist, racist and outright lunatic Donald Trump with ‘ridicule’. Is it because banning white, straight, rich men looks bad? This society is ridicule. It ridicules and undermines sexual violence experienced daily, in all it’s forms. It refuses to see it’s own disgusting misogyny and instead unsubtly dumps its masculine anxieties on the Other. To every woman and ally who put up a fight against Roosh V and his hateful organisation, I applaud you, your bravery and your strength. But it is not a fight you should be fighting alone. So much sexual violence in our society remains invisible. It remains today that sexual violence is only seen when the perpetrator is one society is comfortable seeing as a criminal, as a rapist. Given the still shockingly high sexual violence statistics across Britain, it’s time for us to take a long, hard look in the mirror.


by Katie Arthur at February 09, 2016 03:15 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
“A Good Day for the Internet Everywhere”: India Bans Differential Data Pricing
Net Neutrality And Creative Freedom explained. Image from Flickr by Anna Lena Schiller. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Net Neutrality And Creative Freedom explained. Image from Flickr by Anna Lena Schiller. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

India distinguished itself as a global leader on network neutrality on February 8, when regulators officially banned “differential pricing”, a process through which telecommunications service providers could or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services offered based on content.

In short, this means that Internet access in India will remain an open field, where users should be guaranteed equal access to any website they want to visit, regardless of how they connect to the Internet.

In their ruling, Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) commented:

In India, given that a majority of the population are yet to be connected to the internet, allowing service providers to define the nature of access would be equivalent of letting TSPs shape the users’ internet experience.

The decision of the Indian government has been welcomed largely in the country and outside. In support of the move, the World Wide Web Foundation's Renata Avila, also a Global Voices community member, wrote:

As the country with the second largest number of Internet users worldwide, this decision will resonate around the world. It follows a precedent set by Chile, the United States, and others which have adopted similar net neutrality safeguards. The message is clear: We can’t  create a two-tier Internet – one for the haves, and one for the have-nots. We must connect everyone to the full potential of the open Web.

A blow for Facebook's “Free Basics”

While the new rules should long outlast this moment in India's Internet history, the ruling should immediately force Facebook to cancel the local deployment of “Free Basics”, a smart phone application that offers free access to Facebook, Facebook-owned products like WhatsApp, and a select suite of other websites for users who do not pay for mobile data plans.

Facebook's efforts to deploy and promote Free Basics as what they described as a remedy to India's lack of “digital equality” has encountered significant backlash. Last December, technology critic and Quartz writer Alice Truong reacted to Free Basics saying:

Zuckerberg almost portrays net neutrality as a first-world problem that doesn’t apply to India because having some service is better than no service.”

When TRAI solicited public comments on the matter of differential pricing, Facebook responded with an aggressive advertising campaign on bill boards and in television commercials across the nation. It also embedded a campaign inside Facebook, asking users to write to TRAI in support of Free Basics.

Two-page Free Basics newspaper advertisement urging Indians to advocate against net neutrality protections before the government. Image widely shared on social media.

Two-page Free Basics newspaper advertisement urging Indians to advocate against net neutrality protections before the government. Image widely shared on social media.

TRAI criticized Facebook for what it seemed to regard as manipulation of the public. Facebook was also heavily challenged by many policy and open Internet advocates including non-profits like the Free Software Movement of India and the campaign. The latter two collectives strongly discouraged Free Basics by bringing public opinion where alone facilitated a campaign in which citizens sent over 2.4 million emails to TRAI urging the agency to put a stop to differential pricing.

Alongside these efforts, 500 Indian startups including major ones like Cleartrip, Zomato, Practo, Paytm and Cleartax also wrote to India's prime minister Narendra Modi requesting continued support for net neutrality—on the Indian Republic Day January 26.

Stand-up comedians like Abish Mathew and groups like All India Bakchod and East India Comedy created humorous and informative videos explaining the regulatory debate and supporting net neutrality which went viral.

Had differential pricing been officially legalized, it would have adversely affected startups and content-based smaller companies, who most likely could never manage to pay higher prices to partner with service providers to make their service available for free. This would have paved the way for tech-giants like Facebook to capture the entire market. And this would be no small gain for a company like Facebook: India represents the world's largest market of Internet users after the US and China, where Facebook remains blocked.

The Internet responds

There have been mixed responses on social media, both supporting and opposing. Among open Internet advocates both in India and the US, the response was celebratory:

There are also those like Panuganti Rajkiran who opposed the ruling:

A terrible decision.. The worst part here is the haves deciding for the have nots what they can have and what they cannot.

Soumya Manikkath says:

So all is not lost in the world, for the next two years at least. Do come back with a better plan, dear Facebook, and we'll rethink, of course.

The ruling leaves an open pathway for companies to offer consumers free access to the Internet, provided that this access is truly open and does not limit one's ability to browse any site of her choosing.

Bangalore-based Internet policy expert Pranesh Prakash noted that this work must continue until India is truly — and equally — connected:

by Global Voices at February 09, 2016 05:12 AM

Global Voices
‘A Good Day for the Internet Everywhere': India Bans Differential Data Pricing
Net Neutrality And Creative Freedom explained. Image from Flickr by Anna Lena Schiller. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Net Neutrality And Creative Freedom explained. Image from Flickr by Anna Lena Schiller. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

India distinguished itself as a global leader on network neutrality on February 8, when regulators officially banned “differential pricing”, a process through which telecommunications service providers could or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services offered based on content.

In short, this means that Internet access in India will remain an open field, where users should be guaranteed equal access to any website they want to visit, regardless of how they connect to the Internet.

In their ruling, Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) commented:

In India, given that a majority of the population are yet to be connected to the internet, allowing service providers to define the nature of access would be equivalent of letting TSPs shape the users’ internet experience.

The decision of the Indian government has been welcomed largely in the country and outside. In support of the move, the World Wide Web Foundation's Renata Avila, also a Global Voices community member, wrote:

As the country with the second largest number of Internet users worldwide, this decision will resonate around the world. It follows a precedent set by Chile, the United States, and others which have adopted similar net neutrality safeguards. The message is clear: We can’t  create a two-tier Internet – one for the haves, and one for the have-nots. We must connect everyone to the full potential of the open Web.

A blow for Facebook's “Free Basics”

While the new rules should long outlast this moment in India's Internet history, the ruling should immediately force Facebook to cancel the local deployment of “Free Basics”, a smart phone application that offers free access to Facebook, Facebook-owned products like WhatsApp, and a select suite of other websites for users who do not pay for mobile data plans.

Facebook's efforts to deploy and promote Free Basics as what they described as a remedy to India's lack of “digital equality” has encountered significant backlash. Last December, technology critic and Quartz writer Alice Truong reacted to Free Basics saying:

Zuckerberg almost portrays net neutrality as a first-world problem that doesn’t apply to India because having some service is better than no service.”

When TRAI solicited public comments on the matter of differential pricing, Facebook responded with an aggressive advertising campaign on bill boards and in television commercials across the nation. It also embedded a campaign inside Facebook, asking users to write to TRAI in support of Free Basics.

Two-page Free Basics newspaper advertisement urging Indians to advocate against net neutrality protections before the government. Image widely shared on social media.

Two-page Free Basics newspaper advertisement urging Indians to advocate against net neutrality protections before the government. Image widely shared on social media.

TRAI criticized Facebook for what it seemed to regard as manipulation of the public. Facebook was also heavily challenged by many policy and open Internet advocates including non-profits like the Free Software Movement of India and the campaign. The latter two collectives strongly discouraged Free Basics by bringing public opinion where alone facilitated a campaign in which citizens sent over 2.4 million emails to TRAI urging the agency to put a stop to differential pricing.

Alongside these efforts, 500 Indian startups including major ones like Cleartrip, Zomato, Practo, Paytm and Cleartax also wrote to India's prime minister Narendra Modi requesting continued support for net neutrality—on the Indian Republic Day January 26.

Stand-up comedians like Abish Mathew and groups like All India Bakchod and East India Comedy created humorous and informative videos explaining the regulatory debate and supporting net neutrality which went viral.

Had differential pricing been officially legalized, it would have adversely affected startups and content-based smaller companies, who most likely could never manage to pay higher prices to partner with service providers to make their service available for free. This would have paved the way for tech-giants like Facebook to capture the entire market. And this would be no small gain for a company like Facebook: India represents the world's largest market of Internet users after the US and China, where Facebook remains blocked.

The Internet responds

There have been mixed responses on social media, both supporting and opposing. Among open Internet advocates both in India and the US, the response was celebratory:

There are also those like Panuganti Rajkiran who opposed the ruling:

A terrible decision.. The worst part here is the haves deciding for the have nots what they can have and what they cannot.

Soumya Manikkath says:

So all is not lost in the world, for the next two years at least. Do come back with a better plan, dear Facebook, and we'll rethink, of course.

The ruling leaves an open pathway for companies to offer consumers free access to the Internet, provided that this access is truly open and does not limit one's ability to browse any site of her choosing.

Bangalore-based Internet policy expert Pranesh Prakash noted that this work must continue until India is truly — and equally — connected:

by Subhashish Panigrahi at February 09, 2016 05:07 AM

Classrooms Without Teachers Spread in Southern Venezuela

Indigenous children return home from school. Photo taken from the Flickr account of barloventomagico under Creative Commons license.

This post was originally published in Morelia Morillo's blog, The Chronicles of the Border.

Although they love their profession, upwards of 300 teachers in Gran Sabana, Venezuela, have left their classrooms to find more affordable pay in other industries. Instructors—mainly those from an indigenous background—are walking away from grade schools and junior high schools to take jobs in gold and diamond mines, while others (namely the Creoles, or non-indigenous peoples) find other work as taxi drivers or vendors selling Tupperware, hot dogs, empanadas, or gasoline.

Far from the coast, on the border with Brazil, even the most qualified teachers earn an average 20,000 bolivares ($20 in the black market, the only one available) a month, while the average cost of renting a room runs just as high. People who want to eat can expect to spend, at a minimum, another 500 bolivares ($.50) on a kilo of cornmeal. In urban areas, where there's no public transport, a single ride usually costs about 300 bolivares ($.30).

Venezuela uses four different exchange rates simultaneously. The result is that things can either be extremely cheap, or unbearably expensive, depending on the rate used. According to the Mises Institute, Venezuelans must rely on the black market to meet their demands for foreign currency. Therefore, people naturally rely on the black market rate, though it is much less advantageous (getting as high as 900 bolivars per dollar, versus 6.3-200 bolivars per dollar on the “official” market).

The Gran Sabana is the ancestral territory of the indigenous Pemón tribe. It's a pristine area home to various environmental protection entities: Canaima National Park, the Tepuyes Natural Monument, Bolivar’s Southern Protected Zone, and the Ikabarú Hydraulic Reserve.

For years, studies from the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana and one of its subsidiary companies, Electrificación del Caroní (Edelca), have established convincingly that this area is excellently suited to tourism and generating water for hydroelectric production. Nevertheless, mining in the area has become increasingly uncontrolled.

It’s November 2015. Mining is rampant in rural areas—even within the Canaima National Park. In the capital city of Santa Elena de Uairén, there’s a market for everything imaginable and domestic fuel sales abound.

It is estimated that half of the gas coming out of the local service stations, where long lines form daily, goes to the mines. The other half of the fuel is sold to clients in Brazil. A 200 liter-drum can cost up to 300,000 bolivares ($300). In Venezuela, a liter of gasoline doesn’t even cost one bolivar ($0.10). In Brazil, it costs nearly four Brazilian reals ($1).

An official from school district number four, in the Gran Sabana municipality, confirmed that during the 2014-2015 academic year, at least 80 teachers resigned. She warned, moreover, that the real figure could be even higher, given that some teachers withdrew from their classes without formally terminating their employment at the Ministry of Popular Power for Education.

In addition, the same source said that, so far, during the first three months of the 2015-2016 school year, at least 25 teachers have resigned.

Another official in the same office reported anonymously that 300 teachers throughout the city resigned at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, exploding the students-to-teachers ratio in both indigenous communities and urban areas.

At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, school principals, district officials, and officials from the mayor’s office met to discuss the situation and drafted a letter to the Ministry of Education, then led by Héctor Rodríguez, to expose what was happening and request 109 new teachers. In response, in November, 83 new teachers were brought in, but the rest of the problems that have led to this crisis remain unresolved.

In some cases, vacancies remain. Valdirene Dos Santos told the Mujeres del Agua Foundation’s blog that school children of different grades were gathered into a single class in the El Paují community.

In the Bolivarian Comprehensive School known as “El Salto,” half of the teachers left. Some retired, others left because of disabilities, and others resigned. In light of this event, some parents had to take the lead in the classroom. For two months, Kámala Manjari served as second-grade teacher, for example.

At the beginning of the school year for first-graders at the Gran Sabana preschool, which is attached to El Salto, was delayed for at least a month when one teacher requested her retirement and another requested leave due to a disability. Finally, the Common Council of Brisas del Uairén and the city of Gran Sabana hired a teacher, who earns 24,000 bolivares ($24) a month.

The school in the indigenous community of Las Agallas closed until further notice and the school in Ikabarú, the capital of the second parish of the city, began classes at least a month late, once the Bolivar School Zone managed to hire five new teachers—all from other cities, apparently with the stipulation that they not request any changes over the next eight years.

In Ikabarú, an area dominated by the ministry industry, located about 114 kilometers (70 miles) of dirt road from Santa Elena, a chicken costs up to two grams of gold—at least 30,000 bolivares ($30). To get paid, a teacher must travel to the capital city, paying for a ride in a rusty vehicle (3,000 bolivars, or $3, each way). All payments are made to the teachers through Bank of Venezuela checking accounts, which only has branches and ATMs in the capital city. Teachers receive a debit card, but local ATMs only process daily withdrawals of up to 3,000 bolivares ($3).

The teachers who remain, those who didn’t resign, do it because they like to or because they are about to retire, but they also sell products, clothing, gasoline, drive cabs,” the official told us confidentially.

A couple's testimony

Nardy Torres and David Silva are married, the parents of two girls, and teachers. They both love their profession; they feel that it’s the only way they serve their families and their community. Both Nardy and David have resigned from their positions, however, stating “economic reasons.”

“Because with two salaries we still couldn’t afford to eat,” David explains.

He resigned a year and a half ago. He served as the pastoral coordinator of the “Faith and Joy of Manak Krú” school. His workload was 36 hours a week and at that time he earned 4,500 bolivares ($4.50), plus a bonus for his coordination work.

I went to the market and there was a moment when I used all of my paycheck, part of my savings and my cesta ticket (a food voucher given by law to employees in Venezuela).”

Now, he works in transportation, although incidentally, he told us his car is currently immobile because it's missing spare parts. He and his wife have a small store in his wife's grandmother’s house, where he sells plastic containers under an awning on the side of the Troncal 10 highway. “For the passing Brazilians,” he says.

I would like to be teaching, that's my thing. I would like for this situation to change and return to teaching because in the country’s current situation, a teacher can’t make a living.”

Nardy teaches preschool at the “Darak Merú” school. She resigned at the end of the last school year, but will continue to work until December because her superiors said, “If you resign, who will the kids be left with?” Now she works at the grocery store selling ice cream and making pound cakes.

by Melissa Wise at February 09, 2016 03:46 AM

Iranian Couples Are Increasingly Living Together Outside of Marriage
A young couple sit atop a hill overlooking Tehran. Image from ICHRI.

A young couple sit atop a hill overlooking Tehran. Image from ICHRI.

This post originally appeared on and is published here in collaboration with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

First they called it “white marriage”. Now it’s “black coupling.” But no matter how Iranian officials choose to label the growing trend of young unmarried couples living together, it’s becoming more and more common.

That’s because the phenomenon is directly related to socioeconomic disparities between Iranian men and women, a sociologist speaking on the condition of anonymity told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

For example, more women are choosing to live with their male partners outside of wedlock because men and women do not have equal status under Iranian law.

“Most of the conditions contained in marriage contracts are in favor of men,” said the sociologist, who specializes in women’s studies. “Men have more rights regarding divorce, or determining the place of residence, and controlling their wife’s travels, education and employment.”

Iranian men and women are also not exposed to many opportunities to interact with each other during their development due to gender segregation—imposed at the state and familial levels—so “white marriages” are seen as a way for couples to be together without bureaucratic entanglements.

“This type of lifestyle allows women and men to enjoy living under one roof together without any complications,” especially when official statistics show many marriages end up in divorce, explained the expert.

But the sociologist warned that the government’s growing opposition to so-called white marriages could endanger women in Iran, who already have less rights than men under the Islamic Republic’s constitution.

“If a woman is attacked by her male partner, she would have no legal protection,” the sociologist told the Campaign. “Instead she would be asked by the police and judicial authorities about her marital status, and if she is not legally married, she will be in a lot of trouble.”

Since co-habitation outside of wedlock is often kept secret from traditional Iranian parents, women could also become less willing to seek familial support even if they were being subjected to mental and physical abuse by their partners.

Under Iranian Sharia law, men and women are required to register their marital union. Those who choose not to do so are considered by the state as living in sin and committing adultery, an offense punishable by death.

But more and more young Iranians are choosing to take the risk.

Perceiving the growing trend as a threat to revolutionary ideals, state officials are condemning the lifestyle choice through words and actions.“The decline of marriage statistics is a serious threat, and unfortunately, many young people have turned to ‘white marriages,’ which is a new malady and a serious blow to the family,” says Seyed Reza Salehi Amir, an adviser to Iranian President Rouhani.

He added that compared to last year, marriages have declined by 6.5% and divorces have increased by 4.5%.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the few societies in which the pace of change is very fast and the fast-paced changes are worrisome,” he said.

The Young Journalists Club, affiliated with the state broadcasting organization, has attributed the rise of unmarried couples to the infiltration of “Western freedoms and modernity” in Iranian society.

The Judiciary’s cultural affairs deputy has also urged the media to “stop referring to this inauspicious phenomenon as a ‘white marriage’ and instead call it ‘black coupling.’”

During the summer of 2015, the government announced the implementation of the “Stable Family Promotion” project in Tehran Province, aimed at combating “white marriages” that were described as an “imported concept incompatible with the harmony and happiness of the Iranian family.”

Some Iranian academics are meanwhile publicly insulting and shaming women who choose to cohabitate with their partners.

Women entering “white marriages” only last as long as they are young and beautiful, sociologist Amanollah Gharaee Moghaddam told the conservative Entekhab newspaper.

“After that they will turn into prostitutes,” he said.

by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran at February 09, 2016 12:02 AM

February 08, 2016

Global Voices
Is Taiwan a Country, a Self-Governing Island, or a Breakaway Territory or Province of China?
'The Island Formosa and the Pescadores', depicted by Johannes Vingboons in around 1640. Copied from Chinese Wikipedia.

‘The Island Formosa and the Pescadores’, depicted by Johannes Vingboons in around 1640. Formosa is the name given to Taiwan by Portuguese explorers who sighted the island in the 16th century. PHOTO from Chinese Wikipedia.

A German friend once asked me about the sovereign status of Taiwan, and I told him that Taiwan is a country because we elect our own president and legislators, and we have our own currency and passport.

My friend bought what I said, but his wife didn’t. She is a political scientist, and based on what she heard about Taiwan, she thought the relationship between China and Taiwan bore more similarities to the relationship between the East and West Germany. In other words, as Chinese and Taiwanese can communicate in Mandarin and as the two countries’ cultures are so similar, it would have made sense for China and Taiwan to have pursued reunification after the Cold War ended.

I argued that a better comparison was the relationship between the UK and US. The British and the Americans share a similar language, and a certain percentage of Americans were actually British before their war of independence. Americans, nevertheless, claimed their independence because they—or at least their founding fathers—subscribed to a different political ideology. Taiwan, likewise, embraces a democratic political system, while China’s political framework is that of a socialist republic run by the Communist Party of China (CPC). China is a great country. Like many countries in the world, Taiwan also wants to make friends with China. However, many of the 23.4 million Taiwanese prefer not to unite with China because we embrace different political systems. What has happened between Hong Kong and China proves that it does not work.


A selection of recommended books, films, and musical works about Taiwan:

Tyzen Hsiao’s symphony ‘Taiwan the Green’: Many Taiwanese refer to this as the unofficial National Anthem of Taiwan.

Formose: French-language illustrated storybook by Li-Chin Lin depicting the author’s childhood and adolescence during the White Terror period in Taiwan.

Formosa Betrayed: George H. Kerr's account of Taiwan's abandonment by the international community after World War II.

A City of Sadness’: Film by Hsiao-Hsien Hou that tells a story related to the incident that triggered the Republic of China’s military repression in Taiwan, after Japanese surrendered.

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale’: Film by Te-Sheng Wei about the revolt by Taiwanese Aborigines under Japanese colonialism.

China, or People’s Republic of China (PRC), always claims that Taiwan has been part of China from the very beginning, but it is not true if we check history records. Taiwan became part of China during the period of the Qing Dynasty in 1683, and the Qing government did not seriously govern Taiwan except collecting heavy tax from Taiwanese and using military forces to repress ‘insurgents’. It was not until 204 years later, in 1887, that Taiwan was made a province.

In fact, if Taiwan was not attacked by the French during the Sino-French War (1883-1885), the Qing government might never have given Taiwan provincial status. But the Sino-French War revealed the Qing government’s fragility, as well as Taiwan’s strategic position as a bulwark in the West Pacific again to other Asian countries with strong military forces. Eight years later, in 1895, after the first Sino-Japanese War, the Qing government was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan.

At the end of World War II (WWII), the Republic of China (ROC) took control of Taiwan after Japan surrendered. Taiwan was a colony of Japan during the Kominka movement or Japanization of subjects of the Empire of Japan. Since Japan was an enemy of China during WWII, the ROC government had difficulty considering Taiwanese their fellow countrymen. Taiwanese did not even speak Mandarin at that time.

During the Chinese civil war (1946-1950), the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-Shek, decided to consolidate the power of his exiled government in Taiwan after it was defeated by the CPC’s People’s Liberation Army in China in 1949. During the period of White Terror (1949-1987) and after, the Taiwan democracy movement took decades to build a free and democratic society. They finally succeeded, and in their quest for a new society, forged a new Taiwanese national identity that is quite different from China’s.

A historical photo of the Tsou people in Taiwan playing their music instruments. This photo is originally posted at

Historical image of the Tsou people in Taiwan playing music instruments. Photo:

Before 1683, Taiwan was inhabited by Taiwanese aborigines, who are very proud of their role in the history of Polynesia. Studies of genetics, pottery styles, languages, and the existence of plants such as the Pacific paper mulberry suggest that the Lapita, the ancestors of those who would go on populate Polynesia and Micronesia, very likely lived in Taiwan before they traveled to other islands. For Taiwanese, the question of finding aboriginal bloodlines in our genealogy is central to discussions about Taiwan’s independence, because there is evidence that very few of the Han Chinese  who moved to Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty period were female.

Underlying the debate about bloodlines is an idea about historical viewpoints and their role in forming national identity. Taiwan’s history is generally viewed from two different perspectives: one that is China-centered, the other Taiwan-centered. According to the China-centered version, China was kind enough to bring Taiwan back into the family after WWII. In the Taiwan-centered version, both the Chinese and the Japanese empires were colonizers.

Taiwanese and their supporters' outreach events at Harvard Square in Boston. They explained Taiwan's situation to the interested pedestrians. Photo by Chia-Chun Chung. Republished by Global Voices with permission.

An outreach event by Taiwanese and supporters at Harvard Square in Boston that explained Taiwan's situation to interested passers-by. Photo by Chia-Chun Chung. Republished by Global Voices with permission.

Let us return, however, to the question of whether Taiwan is a country, a self-governing island, a breakaway territory of China, or a province of China. It is a difficult question for diplomats and journalists, and it is not an easy one even for Taiwanese.

Firstly, it is true that Taiwan was—for that brief eight-year period before WWII—a province of China. But Taiwan is not currently a province of China, as China has no control over Taiwan. This is the political reality. To clarify the situation further we can refer to the history of Mongolia. Mongolia was once part of China under the Qing Dynasty, pursuing its independence in 1911 and became an independent country later on (a long story). No one would say that Mongolia is part of China just because it was part of China more than 100 years ago.

Yet some still insist on calling Taiwan a province of China because China claims so. Many agencies still use the formulation ‘Taiwan, Province of China’, either out of ignorance or because they enjoy close relations with China. To counter the China-centered viewpoint, some Taiwanese spend lots of time writing to these agencies in order to persuade them simply ­to use the term ‘Taiwan’, without further political attribution.

The terms ‘self-governing island’ and ‘breakaway territory’ are more widely used in international media reports that refer to Taiwan’s sovereignty status. ‘Self-governing island’ at least has the virtue of being relatively neutral, but it's also inaccurate, as the territory of Taiwan comprises several islands. ‘Breakaway territory’ (or ’renegade province’) is a formulation of the English-speaking world. According to the China-centered historical view it's not incorrect, but it sidelines the Taiwanese-centered view of history. In Taiwan, it's likely to offend the pro-independence community.

Taiwan’s sovereign status is tricky in many ways. Even though we Taiwanese possess almost every attribute of a ‘nation’, we have very few diplomatic allies. Taiwan is recognized by only 22 nations as a sovereign state, and diplomatic allies of the PRC are strongly requested not to recognize Taiwan a sovereign state even in non-diplomatic international events like film festivals. As a result, Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, nor even of the World Health Organization (WHO), and it's the rare international mainstream media article that refers to Taiwan as a ‘country‘.

Thanks to Sophie Hsu, Brian Hioe, and Oiwan Lam for the valuable discussions and comments about this article.

by I-fan Lin at February 08, 2016 02:37 PM

For Mainland Chinese, Taiwan's Earthquake Relief Efforts Stand in Stark Contrast to Their Own
A 17-storey building collapsed during the 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Tainan on February 6. Photo from Apple Daily non-commercial use.

A 17-storey building collapsed during the 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Tainan on February 6. Photo from Apple Daily. Non-commercial use.

A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck southern Taiwan on February 6, just ahead of the Lunar Chinese New Year, the most important festival among Chinese. International and domestic rescue teams have continuously been searching for survivors in the ruins for two days. Hundreds have been rescued, but at least 38 people have been confirmed dead and more than 100 people remained missing on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

Most of the victims were from a 17-storey apartment complex in Tainan city. The building collapsed during the earthquake, and hundreds of residents were buried in the ruins. Below is a local TV footage of the major earthquake damage:

While the rescue work continues non-stop, the Tainan city government has started an investigation into the quality of construction materials of the building.

The news of the Tainan temblor quickly traveled across the strait to mainland China, where Web users pointed out the difference they perceived between Chinese relief work and what they were seeing in action on the ground in Taiwan.

In such a tightly controlled environment as China, mainland Chinese media must stay positive and avoid criticizing their country's authorities when reporting on local disasters, such as last year's Tianjin explosions. In the case of the Tainan earthquake, readers noticed that Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times highlighted the possible poor construction problem of the 17-storey building that had collapsed. While some echoed the media outlets in criticizing the Taiwanese authorities and the supposed failure in governance, others mocked the double standard of state- and party-affiliated media.

Given the strict censorship measures that China has put in place on social media, mainland Chinese netizens could not openly compare disaster relief work in China and Taiwan. Instead, they shared one of the Tainan city government's progress reports on earthquake relief work on social media to show how democracy makes a difference in recovering from a disaster. The progress report presented detailed updates on the calamity, the locations of newly set-up relief centers and the number of relief team members in each affected district. The reports are released to the public a few times a day.

In mainland China, disaster reporting typically spotlights the country's leaders coordinating the rescue work in the affected area and doesn't mention any of the concrete details of the relief measures. Mainland Chinese netizens spotted the difference when reading the Tainan progress report. Below are some of the comments on the report:

这才是干实事的 不需要谁下达指示 不需要谁高度重视 不需要谁慰问关怀 赶紧救人才是最有效的

The first time I've seen such a clear report, all this information is wanted by the public.
This is the advantage of democracy.
All departments have their own role. They do not need the president to coordinate. To be frank, the president is not an earthquake expert, his coordination will only mess up the relief work.
So concrete, transparent and efficient.
This is substantial work. There is no need for anyone to give orders, no need for anyone to pay special attention, no need for anyone to express concern or care, all the focus is on rescue work.
Detailed, concrete, no bureaucratic speech.
No special attention from leaders – no long list of officials visiting the affected areas – this is the difference between the two governments in social governance.

Patriotism to the unsympathetic extreme

Meanwhile, the day after the quake, Chinese President Xi Jinping conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims, stressed the blood ties between Chinese in Taiwan and in China and offered assistance for the disaster relief work.

While some Chinese observers anticipated the relationship between Taiwan and China would be tense after Tsai Ingwen, the leader of the opposition party, won the Taiwanese presidential election last month, Xi's comments on the blood ties linking Chinese across the strait was viewed as a show of good will. Though Taiwan has had de-facto sovereignty for decades, the Chinese government insists it is an inseparable part of China.

But the friendly gesture was sullied by overly zealous mainland Chinese Web users who were eager to defend their country against “separatists”.

Twitter user @wildwong displayed a screen capture image of the aggressive comments from popular social media platform Weibo:

在台中國人平安 只希望台獨都能被震死!
解放軍此時不救更待何時? 把航母開過去趕快開展救援工作, 大陸人民會在第一時間捐款祈福.
我只想告訴大家, 這個表情不是 ‘祈禱’, 而是 ‘gimme five’ 擊掌慶祝的意思.
常聽老年人說: 女人當家房倒屋塌. 蔡英文該下台了吧?

Hoping that all Chinese in Taiwan are safe, and all the Taiwan independence advocates are shaken to death!
This is the right time for the People's Liberation Army to act and rescue. Send the navy aircraft carrier to rescue them. People from mainland China will donate and pray for you. [The comment implies that China should take advantage of the moment to take control of Taiwan with military force.]
I want to clarify, this emoji [placing two palms together] is not praying, but ‘give me five’, a celebratory gesture.
Old people are saying: with a woman in control, the house will collapse. Tsai Ingwen should step down.

by Oiwan Lam at February 08, 2016 02:03 PM

Unbelievable: Saudi Arabia's Vice Police Arrests a “Female” Mascot
Saudi Arabia's vice police arrested this mascot at the opening of a sweet shop because .. it wasn't wearing the Islamic attire

Saudi Arabia's vice police arrested this mascot at the opening of a sweet shop because .. it wasn't wearing the Islamic attire

Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or religious police, arrested a female mascot at the opening of a sweet shop in the capital Riyadh because it wasn't wearing the Islamic attire enforced on women in the conservative kingdom. What was worse, was that the mascot was actually a man, pretending to be a woman, who was not covered, and who was making inappropriate gestures with a male mascot which was accompanying it.

On Twitter, netizens laughed and joked at the incident, complaining about the eroding freedoms left for people. Many could not even bring themselves to believe that this incident actually took place.

Najwa Hammoud tweets in disbelief:

They arrested a mascot???

Migrant Soul is also confused:

Is it for real? Yes, it is. The religious police actually arrested a mascot and reactions to this arrest can be found under the hashtag #الامر_بالمعروف_تعتقل_دمية which translates to #Vice_Police-Arrest_a_Mascot.

Naifco, who has 216K followers on Twitter, shares this circular from the Vice Police with more juicy details about the incident:

On this day, we received a number of reports about two dolls, one a man and the other a woman, which were making unacceptable gestures in front of Sanabil Al Salam shop and their presence attracted a huge crowd on the King Abdulla road. We went to the said location and witnessed the two dolls doing what the complaints said. We found a man in the female mascot and after contacting the superintendent of the Kharj area, we spoke to the man (in the doll) and made him and his supervisor write a statement that they will not repeat this again and we reminded them about Allah and that what they did was pretending to be women and that is against sharia (Islamic law). They expressed remorse and asked them to accompany us to the station, to complete the formalities.

For many, the incident was an opportunity to complain about dwindling rights in the ultra-religious kingdom. Aziz Alqenaei laments:

The arrest of intellectuals; women's rights; flogging and stoning; implementation of Sharia law; and now the arrest of a mascot for not complying with Islamic attire. It is painful that Muslim's causes are now issues that the civilised world has moved away from

Jalal AlBaqshi adds:

Whoever reads about the increasing record of inhumane trespasses will still be surprised that a mascot has been arrested? Never. We are not surprised.

And from Kuwait, writer Dalaa Almoufti warns:

Wait for the news in newspapers around the world and in foreign satire shows

Would you blame anyone for carrying the story?

by Amira Al Hussaini at February 08, 2016 11:43 AM

DML Central
Annotation, Rap Genius and Education

Annotation educator Jeremy Dean came to me through my serendipity amplifier: Twitter. I watch some people think aloud in public and some people attend to my public online musings; when I think out loud in perceiving range of the right publics, the serendipities start amplifying. One of my Rheingold U students asked me via an open tweet whether I still use Diigo for social bookmarking; I replied that I also liked Diigo as a way to have conversations with learners about online texts through highlights and comment threads. I had not known Dr. Dean, but he was following me on Twitter, and when he saw my Diigo reference he asked me if I’d be interested in checking out as an annotation tool for educators.

Annotating web pages is not a new idea; for some, open annotation that achieves a critical mass of users has been something of a grail quest. I first learned about Reframe-it in 2008; it has since morphed into a collective intelligence tool using deliberative polling methodologies. Google’s Sidewiki launched in 2009 and shut down in 2011. Harvard Library Lab’s Highbrow calls it “a textual annotation browser,” but it is far broader than a simple annotation tool (“Highbrow applies the design principles of genome browsers to textual analysis and annotations. It shows, at a high level, which regions of a text are densely annotated and then supports zooming in to inspect annotations in detail.”)

Annotation took off the same way so much of the web took off – by unexpected exaptation of an online activity that seems, on the surface, to be unrelated to educational uses of online annotation. The Rap Genius website started as a way for hip-hop fans to upload song lyrics and to engage in collective discussion of the meanings and references of the lyrics not only through textual annotation but through graphic, audio, video supplements to specific parts of rap songs. In 2013, Dr. Jeremy Dean left his role as Project Leader in the Digital Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas, Austin to become Chief of Education at Rap Genius. Not long after that, I took notice when my mentor in all aspects of education, Cathy Davidson, not only extolled Rap Genius, but used it to annotate her MOOC on The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.

Dr. Dean and his students used Rap Genius to annotate the Great Gatsby – embedding conversation about a text in the text. In 2015, Dean joined, an annotation service based on open standards. He brought his enthusiasm for educational annotation with, creating student and educator portals with detailed examples of how collective annotation can enhance learner engagement with the texts – and with analyzing the texts together. High school students in New Jersey annotated a New York Times opinion page, other high school students annotated poetry across the Internet, another class annotated a PDF of a David Foster Wallace essay.

This 12-minute video conversation with Jeremy Dean gets into more detail about what collective annotation looks like and why he remains so enthusiastic about it.

Banner image: Students at New Tech High @ Coppell annotate the web using Photo by Janelle Bence

The post Annotation, Rap Genius and Education appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at February 08, 2016 06:00 AM

Global Voices
A Costa Rican Political Party's ‘Incendiary’ Ad Didn't Seem to Help Them at the Polls
Elecciones municipales 2010 en Costa Rica. Foto en Flickr del usuario Ingmar Zahorsky (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Costa Rican 2010 municipal elections. Photo on Flickr by user Ingmar Zahorsky (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

This post was originally published in Spanish. An edited version in English appears below.

On February 7, Costa Rica elected mayors for its 81 municipalities. These were the first elections where people voted jointly for councillors and the other municipal positions. Before the 2009 reform, these positions were elected together with presidential elections. Back then it was usual for voters, without deeper knowledge about the local candidate, to elect the same party across all ballots.

Each one of the seven provinces of the country are divided into cantons, with 81 cantons in total. In each canton, a series of small parties have appeared with hopes of winning control of the local government. To achieve that, they're offering voters — who have historically had low interest in municipal elections — the moon and the stars.

For this election, candidates pulled out all the stops from life-size cut-outs to professionally made jingles. But perhaps the most curious and controversial was a video advertisement from the Libertarian Movement Party (LMP) that received criticism for being incendiary and aggressive.

A screenshot of the LMP's controversial video ad posted to their Facebook page. "Libre" means "free" in Spanish.

A screenshot of the LMP's controversial video ad posted to their Facebook page. “Libre” means “free” in Spanish.

News site reports:

El video toma como base una escena de la película Revolución: El cruce de los Andes, que llama a la lucha y al enfrentamiento para “rescatar a la Patria”. Sobre el video, el Movimiento Libertario coloca palabras con las que dicen estar identificados como “esfuerzo”, “nunca es suficiente”, “dispuestos”, y “libertad”.

The video is based on a scene from the [Argentinian] movie “Revolution: The Crusade of the Andes”, and calls for struggle and confrontation to “rescue the Homeland”. In the video, the Libertarian Movement uses words they say they relate to, such as “effort”, “it's never enough”, “willing” and “freedom”.

The party ended up not winning a single mayorship in the elections.

Libertarian in name only?

LMP, which was established in 1994, managed to become the third political force in the country by 2010.

Libertarians are not very popular in Latin America, seeming to stay in academia for the most part, which makes the Costa Rican case an interesting one .

Although promoting itself as a party with libertarian ideology, many Costa Ricans don't view the LMP as such.

Relatively recently created, the Libertarian Movement is viewed by a big proportion of the population as a right-wing party, while the party, with broad literary license, calls itself liberal.

On one hand, they are opposed to taxes, social security, regulation by the state, and defend casinos and informal taxi drivers.

On the other hand, in the last presidential elections movement leader Otto Guevara said that he is opposed to abortion and marriage equality, indicating a clear contradiction with their alleged libertarian principles:

“En estos casos de violación, nos oponemos al aborto. Consideramos que orresponde brindarle a las mujeres un acompañamiento, para proteger la integridad y la dignidad, tanto de la madre como la del niño que lleva en su vientre, esto con la finalidad de que cuando nazca ese niño, la madre tenga la oportunidad de entregarlo en adopción, para que otras familias que estén dispuestas a darle amor tengan la oportunidad de adoptarlo, sin sacrificar la vida de ese menor”, expresó el candidato Otto Guevara.

In these case of rape, we are opposed to abortion. We think it's appropriate to provide women with company, to protect the integrity and dignity of the mother and the child she carries in her womb, so when this baby is born, the mother can have the chance to give the baby up for adoption, so other families who are willing to love them have the opportunity of adoption, without sacrificing the life of the baby.

‘These little Costa Rican army and far-right political groups are symptoms’

The video ad has been criticized on several levels, but the strategy seems to be on purpose. After Luis Guillermo Solis’ victory in 2014, Barrantes acknowledged that he commercialized the then-candidate as if he were promoting a soda or a soft drink:

“Había que dejar de pensar en una campaña para ciudadanos y pensar en consumidores. Este negocio es de vender ideas y esperar que las personas te paguen con su voto”, dice Barrantes, como para empezar a explicar la estrategia de campaña del PAC […].

We had to stop thinking of it as a campaign for citizens and think of consumers. This is a business of selling ideas and waiting for people to pay with their vote.

Judging by the 1.3 million votes that the incumbent president received from an electorate of roughly 3 million that time round, the approach seemed to work. Unfortunately for the LMP, however, it didn't do quite as well this time around.

The footage in the Libertarian Movement's controversial ad is not original. It is an excerpt of the Argentinian movie “The Crusade of the Andes” which follows José de San Martín, a 19th-century Argentinian general. But Iván Barrantes, known as the mercadólogo (marketing specialist), who was in charge of presidential campaign for incumbent president Luis Guillermo Solís, from center-left Citizens’ Action Party (PAC), defended his work:

Aunque el video no es una autoría original, Barrantes alega que no es un plagio ni demuestra que tienen pocos fondos económicos para producir un anuncio publicitario, sino que aprovecharon el mensaje de la película, que está accesible en Youtube “como muchos otros” videos o cortos.

Although this is not an original video, Barrantes claims it's not plagiarism nor shows they don't have enough money to produce a video advertisement, but that they took advantage of the message of the movie, which is available on YouTube “like many other” videos or short films.

The ad shows an army — an interesting visual since Costa Rica has had no army since 1949.

It also refers to things that aren't related at all to Costa Rica, including South American heroes that are virtually unknown locally as well as battles for independence, when Costa Rica is a country where independence came by mail two months after it was signed in Guatemala in 1821, without a drop of blood shed.

It insists on the concept of “freedom” in a land considered as one of the oldest and strongest democracies in Latin America.

These images of soldiers and conflict have generated a strong rejection in the average Costa Rican citizen, evoking a movement called Costa Rica Libre (Free Costa Rica), a militarized anti-communist group in favour of “freeing” Costa Rica.

That advertisement could seem to us idiotic… but these little Costa Rican army and far-right political groups are symptoms.


by Gabriela García Calderón at February 08, 2016 03:22 AM

February 07, 2016

Global Voices
Will Egyptian Doctors Vote in Favor of a Nationwide Strike Next Friday?
A cartoon that went viral featuring Medical syndicate chairman, Hussein khairy, beating a police officer.

A cartoon that went viral featuring Medical Syndicate Chairman Hussein Khairy stopping a policeman from beating him.

Egypt's top prosecutor has ordered the re-opening of Al-Matariya Teaching Hospital, in Cairo, following a week-long strike led by its doctors, after two of their own were reportedly attacked by a group of policemen. The doctors said they would continue their strike, backed by the Doctors Syndicate, until legal action is taken against the policemen involved in the incident.

Representatives from the Doctors Syndicate and the Ministry of Interior Affairs reached a deadlock after a parliamentary committee, which mediated a discussion over the dispute, failed to bring a compromising solution for both sides.

Incident brief

According to news reports, a group of low-ranking policemen assaulted two doctors at the Matariya Hospital for their refusal to issue a report including fake injuries in the case of an injured conscript. Egypt's Doctors Syndicate announced its official support for the strike launched by physicians, who demanded taking immediate legal action against those involved in the assault. Clashes also occurred between representatives of the Doctors Syndicate and representatives of the Ministry of Interior Affairs after the doctors refused to accept an official apology until all investigations are carried out. The situation exacerbated as Dr Hussein Khairy, Doctors Syndicate chairman, insisted that the hospital remains closed until the policemen involved in the assault on the doctors are held accountable.

Khairy and deputy head of the syndicate, Dr Mona Mina, were summoned by East Cairo prosecution over the accusation report they had filed to the general prosecutor. Meanwhile, the syndicate has scheduled an emergency meeting for all its members on February 12, to discuss the incident and move forward with their demands. Members will also be voting over launching a nationwide general strike, as reported in the Daily News Egypt.

The hospital's shutdown has enraged government officials, with the general prosecutor condemning the actions taken by the hospital doctors, saying the strike a “constitutional crime which obstructs a public institution from serving the citizens.” However, doctors are not budging and syndicate member, Hossam Kamal, told the Daily News Egypt:

Doctor’s strikes are a legitimate form of collective action all over the world according to international protocols.

Social media backs the doctors

Meanwhile, political activists, public figures, and movements showed their support to the doctors strike and expressed their solidarity through social media channels.

TV host and activist Dr Bassem Youssef, who is originally a physician, supported the medical syndicate strike through his Twitter account, which has 6.33 million followers:

ِAll my greetings to Dr Mona Mina and Dr Hussein Khairy, who was the best to teach me surgery courses at Al Kasr el Ainy Hospital. Support doctors strike against police brutality

He then tweeted:

Remind police officers who are bullying the doctors of the days of the revolution, when they stayed at home out of fear, while the doctors didn't leave the hospitals and the protesting squares

Bassem added this image that reads in Arabic #Support_Doctors_Syndicate against police brutality to express his solidarity:

It was not only Bassem Youssef who backed up the strike but also many activists, who encouraged the decision taken by Dr Khairy and Dr Mona, expressing their support under the hashtag #Support_Doctors_syndicate.

Political activist Khaled Teleima tweeted:

#Support_Doctors_Syndicate in the face of bullying

Shady el Ghazaly Harb, a founding member of the 25th of January Revolution Youth Coalition, who is also a doctor, supported ‘his’ syndicate:

“For the first time I'm proud of my syndicate, the doctors syndicate, in its defense of the physicians’ rights and its chairman who's unaffiliated to any party or organization #Support_Doctors_Syndicate #Support_Hussein_Khairy”

Human rights activist and lawyer, Mokhtar Mounir, showed his admiration to the Doctors Syndicate in this Facebook post in which he supported the strike:

الفرق أصبح في من يقود النقابة ومن يستطيع أن يثور من أجل كرامة مهنته ومن أجل كرامة المواطنين في مواجهة نظام غاشم

..the difference lies in those leading their syndicates, and in those who could revolt for the dignity of their profession and the dignity of citizens in the face of a brutal regime

TV presenter Ossama Gawish tweeted:

#Support_Doctors_Syndicate against the state bullying that does not respect the physician's dignity and is unable to protect him in his workplace

Video editor and human rights activist Mahmoud Salmani criticized the prosecutor's actions:

If you are to bring Dr Khairy and Dr Mona Mina to trial then first you must interrogate the Ministry of Interior Affairs. At least Mona and Khairy never kill

The April 6 Youth Movement also issued a declaration announcing its support to the strike and pinned its content in an Arabic post on their Facebook page:

يعلن شباب 6 إبريل كامل التضامن مع نقابة الأطباء في مواجهة الحملة الشرسة التي تشنها ضدهم الأذرع الأمنية والإعلامية للنظام الحاكم.
وأكدت الحركة إدانتها الكاملة لإنتهاكات الأمن المتصاعدة بلا محاسبة أو عقاب والتي طالت الجميع على إختلاف إنتمائاتهم من طلاب وصحفيين وباحثين وحقوقيين في ظل إرهاب السلطة لكل من يقف ضد مظاهر الفساد والكذب والتدليس التي أصبحت أسلوب إدارة هذه البلاد
لقد بات واضحاً أن جميع المصريين هم من يدفعون فاتورة ترضية وإستمالة السلطة الحاكمة للجهات الأمنية والقضائية الذين صاروا فوق القانون.
يؤكد شباب 6 إبريل دعمهم الكامل لمطالب الأطباء وتحركاتهم السلمية المشروعة ضد إهانة أعضائها والإعتداء عليهم أثناء تأدية وظيفتهم وتواطئ أجهزة التحقيق مع الداخلية ضد الضحايا ونؤكد أن أطباء 6 ابريل مشاركون بقوة في هذه التحركات وندعم دور نقابة الأطباء بكل الطرق.
يدعو شباب 6 إبريل كل النقابات المهنية الوقوف في وجه ممارسات أمن النظام الذي آمن العقاب فعاد لينتقم من الجميع ووصلت ممارسات القمع والتعذيب والتدليس والتزوير لمستويات غير مسبوقة في تاريخ البلاد.

The April 6 youth movement announces its full solidarity with the Doctors Syndicate strike against the vicious campaign launched by the media and the security arms of the government. The movement condemns the escalating security violations that are disregarded and receive no accountability or punishment. Violations reached all people regardless their affiliations or differences, including students, journalists, researchers, and rights activists under the umbrella of authority terrorism for anybody who stands up against corruption and fraud.
It has become clear that Egyptians are the ones paying for the attempts taken to appease security and judicial authorities; who are now above the law. Therefore, the April 6 movement affirms its full support to the doctors’ demands and their peaceful legitimate actions in the face of insulting and assaulting members of their syndicate while performing their jobs. It also supports the syndicate against the act of complicity between investigation sectors and the Ministry of Interior Affairs against the victims. In addition, the movement's doctors are strongly taking part in this strike and are fully supporting the role played by the syndicate in this manner.
Hence, April 6 movement calls upon all syndicates to stand in the face of the regime's security forces who are not subjected to legal punishments and their practices have reached unprecedented levels of torture, fraud, and forgery

On Twitter, the messages of support continues. El Fateh tweeted:

The only syndicate that didn't succumb to the regime and has preserved the physicians’ rights against the brutality of the police

Ahmed Ezzarab asked:

How can a doctor be responsible for the life of a patient when he is unable to protect himself and his dignity?

Mohamed Ali added:

The Doctors Syndicate took honorable steps against the savagery of the state. May God protect those behind these actions #Support_Dr_Hussein_Khairy”

And Khaled Diab concluded:

by Salma Essam at February 07, 2016 07:46 PM

Broken Is the Road of Political Promises in Trinidad & Tobago
Screengrab of signage for the Couva Children's Hospital in Trinidad, taken from a CNC3 news broadcast.

Screengrab of signage for the Couva Children's Hospital in Trinidad, taken from a CNC3 news broadcast.

Initially, the expected completion date for a specially designated medical facility in central Trinidad dedicated to the care of children was March 2015, but the opening of the Couva Children's Hospital, nestled in the political heartland of the country's previous government, was delayed.

On August 14, less than a month before the country's general elections, the hospital was officially opened by Trinidad and Tobago's then-prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Though commissioned, the hospital was not completed and therefore was never actually available to the public.

While the new government dealt with criticism from the opposition over not allocating any money in its 2016 budget for the hospital's completion, the new finance minister, Colm Imbert, insisted that the financial arrangement for the facility was a government-to-government one with China.

The new administration was therefore under no obligation to continue to fund it, especially since, Imbert told the now-Leader of the Opposition, “I assume that you opened a complete facility.”

Imbert also stated his intention to launch an investigation into why hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds were being used for a project that was meant to be fully funded by the Chinese Government.

Now, to add to the opposition's woes, part of the roadway leading up to the hospital has collapsed, causing a political firestorm.

There has been a lot of speculation as to what exactly caused this to happen.

Some fear that the collapse is a result of bad work done on the road or is due to the hospital being built close to the Central Range earthquake fault line.

Meme being widely shared on Facebook.

Meme being widely shared on Facebook.

Under a Facebook meme poking fun at the island's former prime minister, Facebook user Harold Creese commented:

We money get wasted on the hospital and we have to spend more money to repair its roads that have not been used, just now it […] collapsed and we have to pay for the hospital being built on a fault line. Kamliar (Kamla) and her forty brigands should be held responsible for this and not [hold] the country at ransom for their deficiency. Oh what a waste of hard working tax dollars gone in boball [sic: ‘bobol’, meaning ‘corruption’] and this is not the breakdown of the beginning of the corruption of the PP (People's Partnership) government, whew!

The facility stands on a 60-acre parcel of land which used to belong to Caroni (1975) Limited, the old state sugar production company.

Costs on the project reportedly amount to an estimated TT $1 billion (just under US $155 million).

Construction was kickstarted in 2012 by the Shanghai Construction Group and the hospital was supposed to be fully operational by January 2016 after full training for staff was completed, in addition to other final touches.

Instead, the opening was further delayed due to staffing and budgetary allocations for operating the hospital.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the rush to build and “open” the hospital before last September's elections.

Way back in 2013, one Facebook user left a comment on the facility's page supportive of the government's plan to build the hospital.

Many children have died over the years because of the danger of travelling while ill. This is a dream come true for parents like myself and others. To my Honourable Prime Minister thats the greatness of your heart, thats why the people of this nation love you so much. Thanks for the dream becaming a reality.

The road to that dream has now collapsed — literally.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley slammed the poor work done on the roadway in a statement to the media on February 2:

The Couva hospital is a construction site, the last information I have is that by the end of March, the contractor would have completed the construction. What you are seeing there is that those election arrangements are unfolding a bit more.

A Facebook post by Speak Out T&T suggested this was an accident that was always waiting to happen:

Flashback: the UNC was warned by local and international seismic experts NOT to build the hospital at its current site […] because it is right next to the active Central Range Fault (CRF). […]

But they built the hospital anyways, simply because its current location serves the UNC's PR campaigns. A government who truly cared about Healthcare and the nation's children would have taken the almost $4 billion the UNC spent on the Teaching Hospital and the Children's Hospital and build a brand new San Fernando General, a brand new Port of Spain General, completed the specialist centers in Mt. Hope and STILL have money to upgrade health centers across the country.

‘But the hospital was built so the PNM should just open the hospital for people's children. Except, no. According to UDECOTT, the building was not built to code, is on moving soil and an active fault line so putting people's children in there is the most dangerous thing the government could do. The government must take this time to ensure that the building is safe, which means spending money that we don't have. Thank you Kamla. Thank you UNC. ‪#‎Fraud‬ ‪#‎Childrens‪#‎Hospital

Opposition Senator Khadijah Ameen made a different claim, saying that the work was done properly, but the roadway collapsed as a result of the construction of a retention pond that was recently built under the present government.

Finally, in a letter to the Trinidad Express newspaper, one citizen, Thelma Joseph, indicated with sarcasm what she thought of the government's priorities:

I fully endorse the views of our Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that priority must be given to investment for the completion of vital and important projects like the Brian Lara Stadium.

A completed stadium would allow the population to be in an environment which will keep us physically fit with less stress. […]

With a healthier nation there would be no need to waste further investment to complete projects like the Couva Children's hospital.

by Atiba Rogers at February 07, 2016 01:55 PM

A Young Pakistani Woman Hopes Her Soul-Searching Motorcycle Trip Will Inspire Others
Zenith Irfan defied Pakistani social boundaries and set off to honor her father's legacy by taking a motorcycle trip across Pakistan from Lahore to Kashmir. She hopes her blog and videos will inspire future adventurers who aspire to end gender stereotypes in Pakistan. Credit: 1 Girl 2 Wheels/FB

Zenith Irfan defied Pakistani social boundaries and set off to honor her father's legacy by taking a motorcycle trip across Pakistan from Lahore to Kashmir. She hopes her blog and videos will inspire future adventurers who aspire to end gender stereotypes in Pakistan. Credit: 1 Girl 2 Wheels/FB

This article by David Leveille for The World originally appeared on on February 4, 2015, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

There are different ideas about what freedom is.

Listen to this story on »

But at least one is simply taking off on a motorcycle — going in any direction — as fast or as far as your heart tells you to go.

Zenith Irfan describes herself as “a 21-year-old Capricorn on an epic motorcycle journey amongst the terrains of Pakistan with nothing but her free-hearted soul.”  She went on that journey last summer. Among the few things she carried with her, was a concern that her stories serve as a guide for future women adventurers who aspire to end gender stereotypes in Pakistan.

Zenith says her father, who died at a young age, inspired her to make the journey.

“When I was 12, my mother and I were going through some pictures, family photographs, and my mother told me that ‘your father wanted to travel all across the world on a motorcycle’ and she was telling me how this was his dream and he could never accomplish it because he lived such a short life. And my mother got this crazy idea that I should pursue this dream of his and take it on as a legacy for my father … because in our culture we are usually bounded with certain limitations, like parents don’t allow their children to go on trips or to have some fun because of the culture around us. It’s a very restrictive culture.”

Stepping across those cultural boundaries, and encouraged by her mother and brother, Zenith crossed Pakistan on a motorcycle during August and September of 2015.

 In the city, where children are caught up in the artificial world of gadgets and games. There exists, ambitious souls in the mountains of Kashmir. These little angels walk 2-3 miles daily, just to read a few alphabets. Indeed, those who have less, are spiritually privileged, than those who have more. Credit: 1 Girl 2 Wheels

In the city, where children are caught up in the artificial world of gadgets and games. There exists, ambitious souls in the mountains of Kashmir. These little angels walk 2-3 miles daily, just to read a few alphabets. Indeed, those who have less, are spiritually privileged, than those who have more. Credit: 1 Girl 2 Wheels

“When I was riding through Khunjerab Pass, that’s the pass that connects Pakistan with China, there was this man near the security check post and he was telling me how I should not be riding a motorcycle and I should go back home. And I just passed a smile him, like I waved off his comment. That was the only negative comment I got. I never got any threats.”

“The Prophet Muhammad narrated ‘Don't tell me how much educated you are, tell me how much you travelled.’ This quote hit my heart straight. The knowledge we have from books and dictated syllabus may open our imaginations, but does not open the door to experience. Traveling, climbing trees and catching butterflies opens our sensory perceptors. Having a small conversation with a native village man, picking up cotton from white dew fields, opens the window of knowledge and experience through which we learn culture and stories, stories that never made it to literature.”

“Motorcycles are seen as one of the most dangerous vehicles to travel in. So I actually want everybody to travel on a motorcycle instead of a car because a motorcycle gives you a 360-degree vision of everything that’s around you. You can see the air, the sun and you’re literally going through each and every experience physically, mentally and spiritually. So I encourage everybody to adopt a motorcycle as a travel buddy.”

See a video of some of Zenith's travels on Facebook here.

by Public Radio International at February 07, 2016 12:00 PM

Indigenous Otomí-Ñätho Communities in Mexico Exercise Their Autonomy to Defend Their Lands
Votación como en Cherán elección asamblea comunal Huitzizilapan_Aldabi Olvera

Like Cheran, Michoacán, and the Zapatista Caracoles of Chiapas, the Ñätho community of Huitzizilapan have exercised their sovereignty and voted to form their own communal assembly. Photo: Más de 131.

Huitzizilapan, whose old name is N'dete, which means “big town”, currently encompasses 12 indigenous Otomí-Ñätho communities living in the area between the two large cities of Mexico City and Toluca.

A year ago, its people organized themselves to defend their forests, a movement that ultimately led them to elect their own representatives free from the influence of any political party on 7 December 2015.

That day, the indigenous people waited for the arrival of the Agrarian Ombudsman, the authority which can give power to assemblies formed on communally owned lands in Mexico.

However, the ombudsman never arrived, citing an accident as the reason.

Meanwhile, members of the National Human Rights Commission, who were invited by the comuneros (a Mexican term for members of an agrarian community) to document the assembly, left without warning.

This did not stop the indigenous community members from exercising their rights in line with convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, the Mexican Constitution and agrarian legislation.

During the assembly, by a show of hands, they unanimously choose the “candidates of the people”.

The Ñätho, however, say that they were forced to confront a new assembly convened by the Agrarian Ombudsman without legal grounds on 18 January 2016.

The Ñätho worried that the local government and the pro-government Institutional Revolutionary Party would impose another parallel authority instead of the authority which the people already had elected.

They therefore decided to make efforts to reinforce their vote.

“We are getting organised and visiting all the comuneros so we can win again”, said Abundio Rivera, one of the local leaders.

In a statement released on 12 January, the comuneros criticised the town's former authorities, who had links to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, for handing out 2,000 Mexican pesos to each person to persuade them not to support the chosen “candidates of the people”.

“We are working on increasing awareness”, stressed Rivera. And they did, on 18 January 2016 they won again.

Since 2003, the federal government has set up registers of comuneros in agrarian and communal centres around the country.

In Huitzizilapan, there are 904 comuneros who make decisions involving the land. Since then, all kinds of projects have been imposed by the communal authorities, without any prior consultation with the people.

The idea behind the 2014 movement and the formation of a group of candidates from open assemblies held in the town was to reverse the environmental destruction and protect the integrity of the Huitzizilapan people’s lands.

Once elected on 7 December, the first words of the new commissariat were:

Todos sabemos la gran problemática del núcleo comunal, tendremos que cuidar nuestro territorio, nuestra agua y nuestro bosque y atender otros problemas. Me parece que tengamos en cuenta a los que los que están afuera y en casa que son ciudadanos de San Lorenzo. Que abramos el padrón para que se puedan registrar”.

We all know the great difficulties facing the community, we must care for our land, our water and our forest as well as deal with other issues. To me it seems we must keep those citizens of San Lorenzo whether they be at home or away, in mind. Let us give them the chance to voice their vote.

Another comunero went even further in saying:

Voy a luchar para que abran las puertas, que se abra la autonomía del pueblo. Más allá de abrir el padrón, abrir las puertas del pueblo y recuperar la autonomía que hace quince años poseía, porque jóvenes y niños tienen derecho a decidir en tierras y bosque y que ya no venga la Procuraduría Agraria a mandarnos”.

I will fight for the autonomy of the people, not just the chance to vote. I will open the doors to the people and recover the autonomy we had 15 years ago, because our children have the right to decide what happens to their land and forest, independent of the Agrarian Ombudsman.

The president's order

Along with its neighbours, Xochicuautla and Ayotuxco, Huitzizilapan faces the construction of the Toluca-Naucalpan highway, which was contracted to a corporation owned by Juan Armando Hinojosa, one of the businessmen most favored by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's government.

At the beginning of 2015, the former town commissioner and member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Luis Enrique Dorantes, passed a supposed “forest exploitation plan” without notifying the people.

A few months later, on the morning of 5 July, young men and women from Huitzizilapan set themselves up at the community council offices, lighting campfires to watch an assembly in which Dorantes had planned to hand over part of the peoples’ land to the local government of Lerma, though a process called “disincorporation”.

That morning the church bells rang next to the council offices, and hundreds of residents answered the call to expel around a thousand police from their town.

Women, young people and children of Huitzizilapan have met with indigenous people from all over the country, as well as with some of the families of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in the state of Guerrero who remain missing.

Their case has led them to file protection orders against an expropriation decree on their land ordered by Peña Nieto in March 2014, as well as to create a community newspaper and paint messages such as: “We are all comuneros” and “Here the people are in charge” on walls around the town.

Precious forest

The forests defended by Xochicuautla and Huitzizilapan are recognised by Mexico's government as the Tributary Sub-basin Forestry and Water Sanctuary.

The 105,844 hectare area is classified as the Zempoala La Bufa Ecological, Recreational Tourist Park, and is known as the Otomí-Mexica Park.

Peña Nieto and Governor Eruviel Ávila insist on constructing a highway for 39 kilometres through this forest, which would practically divide it in two. Avila declared in December that the project will be completed in 2016.

When elected on 7 December, the new commissariat of the people asked, “Why do we care for the forest?”

He then answered the question saying, “Because it is the lungs of both the Valley of Toluca and the Valley of Mexico. It is a matter of preserving it for future generations, let's raise awareness”.

by Glenn Bower at February 07, 2016 11:28 AM

How an Indian Singer's Impromptu Inflight Performance Led to Crew Members’ Suspension
Sony Nigam's impromptu concert on Jodhpur-Mumbai Flight. Click on the screenshot to watch the video.

Sony Nigam's impromptu concert on Jodhpur Mumbai Flight. Click on the screenshot to watch the video.

Indian airline company Jet Airways has suspended all five crew members of a Jodhpur-Mumbai chartered flight after a video of Bollywood playback singer Sonu Nigam‘s impromptu performance during a recent flight went public.

The video, taken by a passenger on a mobile phone, went viral after it was posted to YouTube and has been viewed over 170,000 times at the time of writing.

It features the singer singing using the in-flight public address system and some of the audience standing.

According to reports when co-passengers requested him to sing for them he took over the mic of the cabin PA system and sang a couple of his hits.

Many passengers appeared perplexed at first before bursting into applause and shouting cheers of encouragement.

Even though the video was shot a month back on January 4, it only came out in public recently. Following a request by The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) officials the airline have temporarily suspended the all-women crew that was present on that flight.

Skonu Nigam, one of the highest paid Indian playback singers, has sung and acted in several Indian movies and released pop albums. He was nominated for the Oscars in 2015 along with composer Bickram Ghosh for their composition in the Hindi movie Jal.

On social media Jet Airways were accused of an overreaction.

Some users supported the step in favour of passenger security:

Shivakumar Muruganandam comments on YouTube:

Rules are for everyone. PA system is kept for a specific purpose and this is a misuse. There maybe lot of passengers in that plane who don't give a damn about Sonu Nigam or his songs and this is nuisance to them. period.

However, Nigam himself criticized Jet Airways’ suspension calling it “real intolerance”:

In a public statement Nigam said:

I have witnessed an elaborate fashion show in an aircraft. I have heard of small concerts happening in an aircraft. I have seen pilots and crew members cracking humorous jokes to loosen up passengers in other countries, which is so cool. To suspend crew members for asking me to sing on the address system, when the seat belt signs were off, and no announcements were to be made, is nothing less than punishing someone for spreading happiness.[..]Indians, need to loosen up. This act of lack of common sense, according to me, is real intolerance.[..]

Apart from many posts supporting the airline's decision to respect the law and passenger's safety, and many other comments opposing the crew members’ suspension, the event showcasecd Indian Twitter's humour.

Akshar Pathak wrote a series of witty tweets inserting words connected with air travel into some of Nigam's most popular songs:

Sonu Nigam as airhostess: Please close the tray table and tighten your seatbelt. [We] won't let you go to the toilet! (original lyrics “Toilet jaane nahi denge tujhe. Jaane tujhe, denge nahi.” from one of Nigam's popular Bollywood songs)

Jet Airways, in a recent tweet, has confirmed that the crew members have be grounded temporarily but will resume in their jobs after a “relevant” briefing/training:

by Subhashish Panigrahi at February 07, 2016 10:00 AM

February 06, 2016

Global Voices
The Former Refugee Behind One of Liberia's Few Bookstores, Where Children Can Read About Themselves
Girls like Miatta (left) come to storytime at One Moore Bookstore in Monrovia. Owner Wayétu Moore (right) also publishes books like the one they're reading, "Gbagba," a Liberian word that means "corruption." Credit: Prue Clarke. Used with PRI's permission

Girls like Miatta (left) come to storytime at One Moore Bookstore in Monrovia. Owner Wayétu Moore (right) also publishes books like the one they're reading, “Gbagba,” a Liberian word that means “corruption.” Credit: Prue Clarke. Used with PRI's permission

This article by Prue Clarke for The World originally appeared on on January 30, 2015, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

One Moore Bookstore, a small shopfront on a busy street in downtown Monrovia, represents many firsts. Though there are stores here that sell text books, this is the first selling books purely for reading pleasure. And its owners publish some of the only books aimed at Liberian children. The bookstore is a rare place where kids might hear a story read to them just for fun.

In this poor West African nation wracked by war, poverty and most recently Ebola, reading is not something people generally do for pleasure. Kids read when required in school, but Liberia still has one of the world's highest rates of illiteracy.

That will all change if the owner of One Moore Bookstore has her way. Wayétu Moore, 30, is a Brooklyn-based author who fled Liberia with her family when she was 5. She opened this book store here last year. And she's been publishing books for Liberian children since 2011.

Like children in other poor countries, most kids here only have the chance to read books donated from the West.

“These books are about Bobby playing baseball, or Cindy on the cul-de-sac,” Moore says. “And pizza, and things that really aren't typical of the everyday local Liberian child.”

The donated books also serve to idealize foreign cultures and make them seem more legitimate than the children's own, Moore says. Altogether, it makes reading comprehension harder.

“If the child understands the concept, then really all they're struggling for is learning how to read,” Moore says. “But if they don't understand the concept, then they have to learn how to read and learn what the content is referring to.”

Some of the titles in One Moore Book's series for Liberian children. Credit: Prue Clarke. Used with PRI's permission

Some of the titles in One Moore Book's series for Liberian children. Credit: Prue Clarke. Used with PRI's permission

So with her sister Wiande, also a writer and their sister Kula, an artist, Moore set out to change that. They wrote “J is For Jollof Rice,” the first book ever done for Liberian children. Then came books with other Liberian writers and their artist brother, Augustus. Their publishing house One Moore Book has gone on to create a series with Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat. And they're now creating books for Brazil and Guinea; a fifth series will launch in Ghana later this year.

The books are having a powerful impact, says Liberian education expert Mamawa Freeman Moore. “You see the kids’ reaction to these books. Those are things that arouse their interest, and it motivates them to read.”

As a professor at the University of Liberia, Mamawa is well qualified to assess the impact of the books. But she has a bigger role in their creation: She's Wayétu Moore's mom.

A rescue mission

In 1989, Mamawa Moore was a teacher and the mother of three little girls in Liberia. She won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study education at Columbia University, and her family decided it was too important to pass up. Mamawa left her children and husband for New York, unaware of the calamity that was about the engulf their country.

Within months Charles Taylor, who went on to become the first former head of state convicted of war crimes by an international criminal tribunal, had launched the reign of terror that would kill 250,000 people. Wayétu's father fled the capital with the girls on his back. They wandered for weeks, hiding in the forest and eating whatever they could find. Eventually they took refuge in a rural village.

In New York, Mamawa heard nothing. There were no landlines, no cell phone, no Internet. “The only news I heard from the family was what I saw on CNN,” she says.

And those reports were filled with stories of brutality and child soldiers. On top of it all, Mamawa was pregnant. She would give birth to a son in New York, not knowing whether the rest of her family was alive or dead.

Children read "Gbagba," a book by Liberian author Robtel Neajai Pailey about corruption. Credit: Prue Clarke. Used with PRI's permission

Children read “Gbagba,” a book by Liberian author Robtel Neajai Pailey about corruption. Credit: Prue Clarke. Used with PRI's permission

After the baby arrived, she knew she had to go and find them. Mamawa flew to neighboring Sierra Leone, and on the border she found a woman fighter who knew her family and was willing to bring them out.

Recounting moment still brings tears. “After almost a week she brought my family,” she says. “It was a joyful day. Very, very happy. I will never forget that day.”

Wayétu was five when they fled. Eventually the family settled in Houston, but the trauma left Wayétu shy and plagued by nightmares. Mamawa encouraged her children into the arts, hoping it would provide some relief.

Sanctuary in words

“I read and wrote and read and wrote,” Wayétu says. “And it helped me to heal. It helped me to find my voice.”

Wayétu wants children in Liberia to have the chance for the same sanctuary she found. As she watches the kids in her bookstore read, she says she is driven by a sense of duty. She knows of girls who have to leave school every day to sell water sachets, and they can't go home until selling all of them. Girls like that don't have time to do homework, but Wayétu understands.

“I could be that woman sending my daughter out after school to sell just to make ends meet,” she says, as emotion catches her throat. “I would hope that someone cared enough to come back and give to her.”

by Public Radio International at February 06, 2016 12:00 PM

Anxiety Over Government-Sanctioned Violence Engulfs Uganda as Elections Approach
A screenshot of YouTube video showing police officers arresting the opposition official.

A screenshot of YouTube video showing police officers arresting a female opposition official. The official was stripped naked. Some Ugandans expect to see more incidents of election-related police brutality.

Tension is building as Uganda goes to the polls on 18 February in a hotly contested election in which two of the top candidates are former allies of incumbent president Yoweri Museveni, Dr. Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi. President Museveni is seeking to extend his 30-year-old reign with a fifth term in office.

As the clock ticks towards election day, fears over arbitrary arrests by the government and post-election violence are circulating both on social media and mainstream media.

There is every reason for Ugandans to worry. Opposition politicians including Kizza Besigye, who was accused by police of endangering public order, and Amama Mbabazi were arrested and later released in 2015. Military General David Sejusa, who opposes President Museveni was arrested last month and detained at Luzira maximum-security prison. He is charged charged with being absent without leave from the army and participating in politics. He will appear in court on February 9.

Last year, the government trained 11 million crime preventers — civilian volunteers recruited by police — which some activists have compared to Interahamwe, a Hutu paramilitary organization of Rwanda that was formed just before the genocide there.

Despite a call from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Network Uganda, Chapter Four Uganda, and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative to suspend the ‘partisan’ crime preventers, the government and the Ugandan police have been adamant.

The inspector general of police told those that don't understand what crime preventers are to go and hang.

Statements that senior government officials have uttered in the past month have sent chills amongst Ugandans. For example, the executive director of the Media Centre, which is responsible for press releases and other official information from ministries and government departments, Ofwono Opondo, warned members of diplomatic missions in an official statement against meddling in internal politics of the country.

Justine Lumumba Kasule, the secretary general of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, shocked the nation when she said children intending to create chaos might not be spared the government's violence:

When President Museveni, the chief fighter, is still seated on the throne, whatever they are planning, tell them the government of NRM is not going anywhere! Don’t send your children to bring chaos in Kampala and cause confusion during elections, disrupt peace in the country, government will handle you…. you will be shot.

Newspaper The Daily Monitor reported that the deputy resident district commissioner, Erick Ssakwa, warned that those who are found disrupting the February 18 elections in Jinja District will be shot dead.

News website Chimpreports reported that the Mbarara Police Deputy Commissioner Jaffar Magyezi even threatened that animals could be targeted:

Magyezi also said Police will not permit presenting animals such as goats to the candidate which are painted in party colors, noting that this violates the rights of animals.

Something that Winnie Byanyima, the wife of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, scoffed at:

In response to the fears and threats, Ugandans have taken to Twitter to carry out campaigns for peaceful elections using the hashtag #IpledgePeaceUg.

by Prudence Nyamishana at February 06, 2016 08:28 AM

These Speed Drawing Videos Promote Tolerance and Women Empowerment in Indonesia
A screenshot of the video promoting tolerance in Indonesian society.

A screenshot of the video promoting tolerance in Indonesian society.

A non-governmental organization (NGO) has produced several speed drawing videos which advocate conflict resolution through peaceful actions in Indonesia.

The NGO Search for Common Ground used the videos as part of their education campaign to promote women empowerment, tolerance, and preventing extremism in Indonesian society.

The two videos tackling women participation in governance aim to “transform the public’s attitudes and perceptions of women’s role in democracy, governance, and leadership.” Women comprise less than 20 percent of elected leaders in Indonesia.

This video highlights the marginalization of women in Indonesia and the need to elect women leaders in order to revoke discriminatory laws:

To succeed in electing women candidates, political parties need to prepare and create the conditions to encourage women participation in elections.

This video inspires women to join politics:

The group also released two videos about tolerance and extremism.

With the spread of extremist and violent doctrines targeting vulnerable youth, the need for alternative messages to violent intolerance that celebrate Indonesia’s spirit of pluralism and unity in diversity is increasingly urgent.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. In recent years, there has been a number of clashes between Christians and Muslims which underscore the need to promote tolerance. This video seeks to address that issue:

Another video discourages young people from falling prey to extremist teachings and attitudes:

by Mong Palatino at February 06, 2016 07:14 AM

Calls for Civil Disobedience in Australia Over Children's Offshore Detention
Let Them Stay - OHCHR Facebook

#LetThemStay – Courtesy United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR) Facebook page

A High Court decision upholding Australia's offshore detention system for people seeking asylum has prompted calls for civil disobedience. Many people are particularly outraged that there are 80 children including 37 babies among 267 people currently facing deportation. Among them is a five year-old boy allegedly raped on Nauru.

A campaign focusing on the children, based on the theme of #LetThemStay, had commenced before the judgment.

First Dog on the Moon's cartoon for the Guardian Australia captured the widespread revulsion:


The current policy for ‘border protection’ is aimed at refugee arrivals who come by boat. It has two main arms:

1. Offshore detention on either Nauru or Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, with the aim of resettlement in regional countries for those successful in their asylum claims. Essentially anywhere but Australia. Most remain in detention centres because of the lack of acceptable countries for relocation.

2. Turning back of refugee boats heading for Australia.

The stated goals include defeating people smuggling and ending deaths at sea.

The BBC canvassed the broader issues in a November 2015 article Australia asylum: Why is it controversial? Public opinion is divided:

Domestically, asylum is a hot political issue. Polls have shown that a significant number of Australians approve of taking a tougher stance

The Australian Human Rights Commission also has an online guide for anyone seeking detailed information.

Doctors defying the law

Staff who work or have worked at the island detention centres are prevented by law from commenting on their experiences. This has not prevented a number from speaking out. This video presents the views of Sydney paediatrician Hasantha Gunasekera:

The doctors have strong support as founder of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre indicates:

Clergy risk gaol to offer sanctuary

Following the court decision, several churches have been offered as sanctuary. The Anglican dean of Brisbane has taken a leading role, defying a possible ten year gaol term:

Inciting Civil Disobedience

Michael Short, columnist at Melbourne's daily newspaper The Age, was one of many who has called for action:

He was not alone:

Quick action

Refugee groups quickly organised snap rallies and mass protests around the nation:

The United Nations Human Rights office was prompt in criticising the situation:

Their Facebook page urged “Australia to refrain from transferring all concerned individuals to Nauru.”

In the latest development Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the State of Victoria, has offered to take in the 267 people:

by Kevin Rennie at February 06, 2016 07:05 AM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Designing The Numbers That Govern Wikipedia: Aaron Halfaker on Machine Learning in Large-Scale Open Production

How can we engineer open production at scale, and what can we learn from feminist critiques of technology that could help us achieve those goals? At the Berkman Center this Tuesday (video), Aaron Halfaker talked about the challenges of scaling large-scale cooperation, the values that motivate efforts to keep that cooperation going, and lessons from Feminist Science and Technology Studies for maintaining large-scale socio-technical endeavors like Wikipedia.

Aaron Halfaker is a computer scientist at the Wikimedia Foundation. Halfaker earned a Ph.D. in computer science from the GroupLens research lab at the University of Minnesota in 2013. He is known for his research on Wikipedia, including the decline of participation on the site, the role of automated accounts, and systems to eliminate vandalism while supporting new editors. Most recently, Halfaker built an artificial intelligence engine for Wikipedia to use to identify vandalism. Aaron's work with Stuart Geiger and others has been a major inspiration in my own PhD research. I wrote about Aaron's PhD project last June in The Atlantic and blogged Stuart Geiger's Berkman talk in 2014.

Revscore WP.jpg
Illustration By Mun May Tee - CC BY-SA 4.0

Aaron starts out by talking about his early experience as a Wikipedia contributor. Wikipedia is really big, with roughly 5 million articles in the English Wikipedia. To illustrate just how large it is, he shows us the list of lists of lists on the site, walking from sublist to sublist, to the point where you actually learn how to pronounce the name of an ancient Egyptian Pharoah. Wikipedia is also a wiki, a collection of documents that a wide range of people edit -- and edit they do. Wikipedia has around 100,000 active volunteer editors, who contribute to a wide range of topics and communities.

Today, he promises to talk about three things: Wikipedia as a socio-technocal system, critiques of algorithmic quality control, and infrastructures for socio-technical change, with a focus on the dangers of subjective algorithms.

These days, Aaron thinks about Wikipedia as a system that converts available human attention into output that looks like an encyclopedia. His work focuses on how this system manages inputs and outputs. As a researcher focused on computer supported cooperative work, Aaron looks at issues where social questions and technology questions are inseparable.

To illustrate the unique challenges of studying Wikipedia, Aaron talks about work by Robin Dunbar, who studied fishing villages and the limitations of their networks at around 150. Wikipedia, on the other hand, has over 100,000 participants. As a researcher, Aaron looks at the ways in which the infrastructure of Wikipedia brings together large collections of people for the work they do together -- you can't just look at the people or just at the technology in order to understand activity at that scale. That's why he calls them "socio-technical systems."

The Five Main Subsystems of Cooperation on Wikipedia

Aaron next takes us on a tour of the specialized subsystems that facilitate cooperation on the site.

One set of systems are focused on work allocation. He describes a quote by Eric Raymond that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." Visibility is critical to open collaboration, he says: we can get efficient contributions from people if enough people see things. His parallel is that "given that enough people see an incomplete article, all potential contributions to that article will be easy for someone."

A second issue is regulation of behavior. This is one of the most well studied questions on Wikipedia. But as an introduction, he says that there are two kinds of norms: prescriptive norms are rules about how you should do things; descriptive norms come from across the community. If you want to propose it, you can write an essay, put it in front of the community, and the community might vote on making it a formal guideline or policy. If a norm gets introduced formally, it's easier to enforce. One example of a formal guideline is the Wikipedia expectation of "verifiability" for contributions. He talks about his early work on the growth of informal regulations on the site, showing ways that people cite these norms.

Next, Aaron talks about the quality control systems on the site, which are focused on identifying and removing damage from the site. In addition to asking people to look at vandalism, the site has a fully-automated system for detecting vandalism. It's fast but it can only catch a small proportion of vandalism. Next, contributions are reviewed by a semi-automated system that organizes people to review them in about 30 seconds. Finally, the organization has "admins" who have the capacity to ban vandals.

Wikipedia is built by a large number of people, so community management is also an important part of the system. Each day, around 6,000 people join Wikipedia in some way per day. The site has a system that tries to detect good faith contributors from the bots and vandals so they can offer meaningful support to them.

Another system that facilitates the site are the practices through which Wikipedia reflects and adapts; unlike most other platforms, Wikipedia is led by its users. And so Aaron is accountable to Wikipedia users and contributors in ways that the typical tech company employee won't be.

The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System
Aaron tells us about his early work on the growth of Wikipedia. In the early days of Wikipedia, everyone knew each other. But from 2004 to 2007, the site scaled dramatically, increasing to around 50,000 contributors. So the people running Wikipedia added quality control tools to maintain the site. Almost immediately afterward, participation on the site started to decline. What led to that?

To help us understand this, Aaron talks to us about research by Donna Haraway on scientists who were studying the same apes. The male-dominated science groups drew conclusions about reproductive competition and dominance, while feminist scientists drew conclusions about communication and social grooming. To make sense of this, Haraway developed a theory of "standpoints and objectivity" -- depending on your standpoint, you might think that certain things are important to understand and come to different objectivities. By acknowledging this, Haraway argued, it's possible to develop complementary objectivities that come from these different standpoints.

Standpoint Theory in Wikipedia

Standpoint theory can help us understand the problems experienced by the Wikipedia anti-vandalism system. Coming from the standpoint that Wikipedia is a firehose, bad edits must be reverted, and that they should minimize effort dealing with those problems. These systems led to a 90% reduction in effort and an increase in efficiency in reducing vandalism. But unfortunately, these new systems were forgetting to welcome the newcomers. In other words, the quality control efforts were overriding the community management goals. Building on the standpoint of newcomer welcoming, Wikipedia has been able to develop new initiatives like "The Coop" and "The Teahouse" dedicated to welcoming new contributors.

Aaron next tells us about a system called Huggle, which has been an essential line of semi-automated defense against vandalism on the site (I've written about it here). Huggle shows users possible vandalism and asks Wikipedians to rate a comment as good or bad. When a rater clicks the "bad" button, their comment gets deleted and they get a warning. Even three years later, the system doesn't account for newcomers who have good faith but might have made a mistake or might be contributing in ways that other Wikipedians haven't done in the past.

What is it about the technology that made it so stable that it didn't adapt to new knowledge about its weaknesses? Aaron argues that the problem lies in the machine learning classifiers that sit underneath systems like Huggle. These systems look at all contributions and decide if the contribution is good, bad, or probably bad. All three quality control systems in Wikipedia have machine learning, and all of them have the basic standpoint that led to the decline of Wikipedia in the first place. Developing new machine learning classifiers is *hard* and so people with an interest to develop new machine learning systems from different standpoints have struggled to successfully complete them.

Aaron is working on what he calls "progress catalysts," things that help people get started with alternative initiatives with less effort required. So he's been working on centralizing "revision scoring" -- the work of identifying exactly what is in a particular contribution. That's the thinking behind the ORES system, which offers automated measures of particular edits.

Aaron is working to extend the ORES system so that people can evaluate the quality of an edit, moving beyond Good/Bad classification to include "reverted," "damaging," and "goodfaith" machine learning models, hopefully offering a "progress catalyst" for others to develop their own responses to problems on the site.

Subjective Algorithms and Feminist Critiques
Citing Zeynep Tufekci, Aaron talks about how algorithms are increasingly making subjective decisions in cases where there may not be a right or wrong answer. Responding to Zeynep, Aaron talks about debates on Wikipedia where machine learning systems might learn cultural biases from Wikipedians and then keep out contributions from people who have alternative views. The Wikipedia:Labels initiative supports people to review and correct this problem of feedback loops. Aaron also talks about other feminist-inspired work, where he's moved away from building specific tools for people. Now as an employee of the Wikimedia foundation, Aaron focuses on developing infrastructures that make it easier for other people to do their own tinkering and ask their own questions.

Erhardt asks how Aaron handles the process of people proposing things that could go into the machine learning systems. Answer: Aaron often gives this talk at conferences and hackathons. Rather than ask them directly what features should go into the models, he asks Wikipedians what their backlogs are asks them to describe their backlogs. He also reaches out to Wikimedians who are central to communities across a wide range of languages.

Another participant asks how the social networks of Wikipedia participation are changing over time. Aaron talks about all of the implicit interactions that people have, even when people aren't talking directly to each other. He's been developing efficient datastructures that support people to collect data and ask questions about interactions on the site.

Question: you showed us an undesirable feedback loop. How could positive feedback loops be identified? Aaron talks to us about the WikiCredit project. Often, subject matter experts choose not to participate in Wikipedia because they can't necessarily be credited for their contributions. For example, if you edit articles that get many page views, it might be valuable, but the article on Breaking Bad gets far more views than the article on Chemistry. Halfaker is trying to work on a set of measurements that capture aspects of importance, it might help people evaluate their work in meaningful ways. He wants to create recommendation systems that will help people find articles where they could have impact. He also wants a way for academics to be able to point to the impact of their contributions to Wikipedia.

Erhardt asks about the biological metaphor that Aaron uses: we know that there are situations where immune systems go haywire. Is the standpoint problem part of the issue? Might the machine learning systems flash crash like algorithmic trading? Aaron agrees that these are risks as well, and for that reason, he's curious to think about the immune systems within complex systems-- he's looking for immunologists whoare

I asked Aaron Halfaker about the way that he's taken into account critiques from feminist researchers when designing new quantitative systems. Is there a way to include qualitative methodologies into the work that he's doing? Aaron talks about the importance of finding collaborators who aren't like him and listening to people who may not even be expert researchers.

by natematias at February 06, 2016 04:01 AM

Global Voices
China Tries to Be Hip With Its Latest Political Propaganda Songs
Last October, Xinhua released an English catchy song to explain to foreigner China's 13th five year plan. Image from the video.

Last October, Xinhua released an English a catchy song to explain to foreigners China's 13th five-year plan. Image from the video.

Many China observers have argued that current President Xi Jinping's leadership style bears uncomfortable similarities to that of Chairman Mao Zedong, the ruthless revolutionary and founding father of the People's Republic of China who ruled from 1949 to 1976. Since 2012, Xi has consolidated his power as the head of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government and the military through an anti-corruption campaign. He has also engaged in an ideological battle by stifling independent thought and encouraging zealous patriotism.

However, as some scholars have pointed out, the times have changed and so has the social-political context in China, meaning the recentralization of power will not be a simple copycat of Mao's red China. In fact, the following propaganda videos, which combine Western-style popular culture with red culture, offer a glimpse of how the political and social scene in China has evolved.

From propaganda to ‘rapaganda’

The latest propaganda video is a rap released by Xinhua, China's state news agency, to promote Xi's idea of the “Four Comprehensives“, a set of strategies to realize the so-called China Dream of revitalizing the nation.

Xinhua, in a tone that could almost be self-mockery, introduced the rap with the comment, “There is no brainwashing in it, you can't help yourself from listening to it 200 times or more…” In fact, the term “Four Comprehensives” appears more than 100 times in three minutes, and the catchy chorus, which repeats four times, easily gets stuck in the listener's head:

Say it with me, The Four Comprehensives, The Four Comprehensives, a prosperous society is the goal

Say it with me, The Four Comprehensives, The Four Comprehensives, reformation is progress

Say it with me, The Four Comprehensives, The Four Comprehensives, the rule of law is guaranteed

Say it with me, The Four Comprehensives, The Four Comprehensives, building up the Party is the key;

The Four Comprehensives will establish a society that everybody dreams about!

The propaganda song has clearly appropriated popular culture to reach out to youth, but judging from popular social media platform Weibo, echoes of the song mainly came from media outlets, Chinese Communist Party-affiliated organizations and official government accounts.

It wasn't the first propaganda rap. This one was released by state-owned CCTV last December to promote the achievements of the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform, with the rapper speaking about reform efforts in education, healthcare and household registration (“Change, change, change, change”), the anti-corruption campaign (“Flies, tigers and big foxes. Catch, catch, catch, catch”) and environmental protection (“Cure water, air and land. Cure, cure, cure, cure”). The hip-hop samples clips of Xi's voice explaining his determination in implementing policies as the leader of the reform group:

Less official propaganda to a karaoke beat

Apart from official propaganda released by state media outlets, party-affiliated groups or individuals also produce popular songs to promote Xi's image. Most of these songs are to encourage common people to sing along, the beats flow at a moderate pace and are catchy, like many popular karaoke songs.

For example, the song “Xi Dada Loves Peng Mama” presents Xi as a romantic and courageous figure who loves his wife Peng Liyuan dearly. The lyrics praise his “bravery” in fighting against corruption, urging all men to learn from Xi and all woman to learn from Peng. The video was uploaded online on November 18, 2014, and within one week, it had more than 22 million views. The composer claimed that he was inspired by CCTV's news feature on Xi and Peng's relationship.

Last September, a similarly styled song also went viral online. The lyrics claimed that everyone in the country loves Xi Dada (a popular nickname for Xi that means “Uncle Xi”) for his care of the people, his courage, his righteousness, his upbringing, and his contribution to the nation.

The message of the above song actually resembles the epic propaganda song “The East is Red” released during the violent Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s, which praises Mao Zedong as China's founding father.

Both Mao and Xi are populist leaders, but their political aesthetics as reflected in the propaganda videos are very different and will not generate the same effect. The age of the crescendoing anthem as a way to capture hearts and minds is gone.

by Oiwan Lam at February 06, 2016 03:36 AM

February 05, 2016

Global Voices
Global Deforestation Is Decreasing. Or Is It?
Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Photo by Flickr user Neil Palmer (CIAT). CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Photo by Flickr user Neil Palmer (CIAT). CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0.

This post by Jeremy Leon Hance was originally published on, a magazine that highlights international environmental solutions in action, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

It started, as many things do, with a rumor. In 2013, Matt Finer, a researcher with the Amazon Conservation Association, heard from locals that someone was cutting down rainforest deep in the Peruvian Amazon, far from prying eyes. So Finer and colleagues did something that would have been unheard of 10 years before: Using high resolution satellite imagery, they found a couple hectares of felled trees in a seemingly impenetrable sea of forest.

“You could just see this little smidge of forest loss and we said, ‘Maybe that’s it,’” says Finer.

Over the next few years, the team watched the destruction spread from just a few hectares to more than 2,000. It eventually connected the loss to United Cacao, a company based in the Cayman Islands with ambitions to become the “world’s largest and lowest cost corporate grower of cacao,” according to its website. Armed with dramatic satellite images, Finer and colleagues took the story to the Peruvian government and press, hoping to make a difference. The case is now in Peruvian court to determine if the company undertook the proper steps before clearing the forest. In the meantime, according to Finer, the agriculture ministry has responded by slapping United Cacao with a “paralyzation” order to halt its operation. But, says Finer, weekly satellite imagery shows United Cacao is not complying. “The deforestation is happening as we speak,” he says.

The world has struggled for decades to stem deforestation through a variety of means. In 2008, biodiversity expert Norman Myers said that deforestation in the tropics was “one of the worst crises since we came out of our caves 10,000 years ago.” Ongoing loss is driving fears of mass extinction. But the loss of forests — both tropical and temperate — also plays a big role in the global climate crisis: Experts estimate that 10 to 15 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions are due to land use change. Not only that, but forests are vital to mitigating soil erosion, stemming floods, maintaining precipitation and even boosting human health and happiness.

The world has struggled for decades to stem deforestation through a variety of means, including setting aside new protected areas, improving laws and enforcement at the national level, creating international programs such as REDD+, and making corporate commitments to cut out deforestation altogether.

Yet nothing has changed how we approach deforestation like satellite monitoring. In recent years, this has revolutionized our ability to track deforestation. Instead of relying on local government statistics, researchers and activists are now able to monitor changes in the forest from their laptops and smartphones.

What does this information tell us about how we’re doing at beating deforestation — and what we might do to make further progress toward this global goal?

Global Assessments

Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released its latest Global Forest Resources Assessment. According to the assessment, we have seen a net loss of forests of 129 million hectares since 1990, an area about the size of Peru. But the report, released every five years, also found that the rate of deforestation had slowed recently: forests experienced 56 percent less net loss annually in the past five years than during the 1990s. The Global Forest Resources Assessment found a significant slowdown in deforestation in the tropics, while net forest cover in temperate regions was either stable or rising.

Anssi Pekkarinen, leader of the FAO’s Forest Monitoring and Assessment Team, says the team is “quite confident” that deforestation has slowed in the tropics. Between 1990 and 2000, tropical forests lost more than 9 million hectares (20 million acres) annually, but over the past five years annual losses slightly exceed 6 million hectares (10 million acres), according to the Global Forest Resources Assessment. Critics, however, contend the FAO data are marred by dependence on local governments with varying abilities — and desires — to accurately monitor or report forest cover. Moreover, definitions of forest vary depending on the government and the time period, making comparing forest loss over decades difficult.

Meanwhile, one of the most rigorous studies in recent years found that forest loss actually accelerated by 62 percent in the tropics from 1990 to 2010.

Lead author Do-Hyung Kim, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland, College Park, says the study, published in 2015 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was meant to provide an “alternative” to FAO data based on “a consistent definition and methods.” To do the analysis, Kim and colleagues analyzed 5,444 Landsat satellite images, comparing past and present forest cover using the same definitions.

“Brazil is the exception, not the rule at all, in reducing its rate of deforestation.” – Matt HansenKim’s conclusions are buttressed by findings from a 2013 study in Science that found forest loss in the tropics jumped by more than 200,000 hectares every year from 2000 to 2012. The research declared that Brazil’s recent crackdown on deforestation was negated by rising destruction in other tropical countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Brazil is the exception, not the rule at all, in reducing its rate of deforestation,” says lead author Matt Hansen, a remote sensing scientist at the University of Maryland.

There is little disagreement, however, that deforestation has slowed in temperate regions. For one thing, the data are generally more reliable in these regions. According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment, net forest cover has actually risen in countries such as the U.S., Russia and China over the past 15 years. This doesn’t mean these nations aren’t continuing to clear-cut forests, but the total amount of land devoted to forests has grown. China, for example, has undertaken ambitious forest planting programs to combat desertification and soil erosion (although most of these are monoculture plantations rather than diverse forests).

Apples and Oranges

Worldwide, Global Forest Watch — an interactive mapping tool online — has found that tree cover loss has steadily increased (with some fluctuations) between 2001 and 2014. But Rachael Petersen, a research analyst for World Resources Institute, which operates GFW, says comparing the FAO and GFW data is like “comparing apples to oranges.” This is because FAO largely measures land use change, while GFW covers tree cover loss. For example, clear-cutting a forest in the southern United States is not considered deforestation by FAO so long as the land remains designated as a production forest — that is, clear-cut and regrown at regular intervals. But GFW will detect loss for that year, because the satellites see felled trees — even if forests will soon grow there again.

FAO says it does not include oil palm plantations or fruit tree monocultures under its definition of forests, but it does include pulp and paper plantations as well as replanting efforts that usually depend on a single species.“Taken together, [the GFW and Global Forest Resources Assessment] data give us a more complete understanding of how forest landscapes are changing,” says Petersen.

Another major issue plaguing the data today is whether monoculture plantations should be counted as forests. FAO says it does not include oil palm plantations or fruit tree monocultures under its definition of forests, but it does include pulp and paper plantations as well as replanting efforts that usually depend on a single species. And most analyses of satellite data sets don’t distinguish between forest plantations and diverse forests, meaning that research dependent on satellites usually counts mature oil palm, rubber, acacia or other plantations as forest simply because from the a bird’s eye view they look like forest.

But the idea that any monoculture plantation is a forest drives ecologists crazy.

“They’re about as biologically similar to native forests as my front lawn,” says William Laurance, an expert on tropical forests with James Cook University in Australia.

Indonesia vs. Brazil

In the end, no measurement of deforestation is without fault. But, ultimately, we may be missing the point by focusing on relative rates of global deforestation. Even if we go with the best-case slowdown scenario, deforestation is still happening at an unsustainable pace. Every year, our planet has less forest than it did before — and much less primary forest. Every year, more species — many of them not even named — become threatened with extinction or go extinct. And every year more planet-warming carbon enters the atmosphere from destroyed forests.

This is nowhere more evident than in Indonesia, which in 2015 saw 2.1 million hectares (5.2 million acres) of land — much of it peat and rainforest — go up in smoke.

During the dry season, farmers and plantations routinely clear peat and rainforest in Indonesia by burning it, creating a toxic haze that blankets the wider region. But last year — due in part to El Niño and global warming — the fires proved particularly fierce and long lasting. Erik Meijaard, an Indonesia-based ecologist, dubbed them “the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century” even as the months-long crisis failed to capture anywhere near the global media attention as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

In all, the disaster resulted in the direct deaths of 21 people, at least half a million acute respiratory infections, hundreds of cancelled flights and immeasurable impacts to wildlife. The World Bank estimated a total loss to the Indonesian economy estimated at more than US$16 billion. It also released a carbon bomb: At the height, the fires emitted more carbon dioxide on a daily basis than the entire U.S. economy.

For those who have followed the turmoil of Indonesia’s forest policies, none of this was surprising. Suffering from decades of corruption, lax laws, decentralized governance and powerful industrial players, Indonesia’s forests are in crisis.

But, maybe Indonesia should look to Brazil. The Amazonian country was once the global pariah when it came to rainforest destruction. Now experts repeatedly point to it as a model for how to really take on deforestation. A leader in the application of satellite monitoring, Brazil has combined the new technology with strong governance, tough forest laws and vast protected areas. And it’s working: Deforestation in Brazil slowed 70 to 80 percent from the early 2000s to today — though it has risen slightly in recent years.

“Brazil is the best to date in intervening in an ongoing deforestation dynamic and actually greatly reducing it,” says Hansen, who points to the country’s “vigorous civil society, government mandates and an engaged private sector” as key to the initial success. In a nutshell, Brazil’s many stakeholders came together to take on a hugely complex, but not unsolvable, problem. The battle is not over there, but it is moving in the right direction.

“Replicating those conditions elsewhere may prove challenging,” Hansen says. For instance, in Indonesia, the palm oil industry routinely plays down the problem and the government still sends mixed messages on the importance (or lack thereof) of protecting forests, even going so far as to criticize recent zero deforestation pledges by corporations.

Moving Forward

Many hold out hope that the Paris climate agreement, signed by virtually every nation in the world in December, could point to a new era for the world’s forests. Included in the agreement is a request that countries conserve and enhance forests in order to mitigate carbon emissions.

Every year more of the world’s biggest corporations and industries are announcing “zero deforestation” pledges.The Paris agreement also lent considerable support to REDD+, a long-debated program that establishes a mechanism by which wealthy nations pay poor tropical countries to keep their forests standing. Under discussion for a decade, the program has yet to prove itself and still faces a number of critics. But a commitment of $5 billion by Norway, Germany and the UK to REDD+ announced on day one of the Paris talks should see the program finally kick into high gear.

At the same time, every year more of the world’s biggest corporations and industries are announcing “zero deforestation” pledges, a trend started in Brazil in 2008. Many of these pledges don’t go into effect for 5 or even 15 years and, even more problematic, such pledges often only apply to so-called high conservation forests, a definition that remains under heavy debate but basically means forests with high carbon content or rare species. Still, such pledges show that at least some in the private sector are beginning to view deforestation as no longer permissible.

Finally, experts say that recognizing the rights of local people and indigenous groups to their traditional forests could be one of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to protect standing forests from razing. Many indigenous groups still lack legal tenure to their traditional lands in tropical countries, but where they have secured their rights — for example in parts of Brazil — research often shows that forests are well protected. In some cases indigenous groups were even better at halting deforestation than government sanctioned protected areas. Efforts to achieve indigenous rights to forests are ongoing, but sluggish for many of those groups who are watching their forests — and their way of life — vanish to chainsaws.

Concerned citizens elsewhere are also doing their part by being conscientious about purchases that may come with deforestation baggage, including everything from paper to timber and beef to palm oil. Just as important is to support courageous groups and individuals putting pressure on world leaders to protect our remaining forests amid the twin climate and biodiversity crises. If Brazil is any example, we’ll need all hands on deck — governments, industry and citizens — to truly end deforestation.

Jeremy Leon Hance is a senior writer for, Jeremy Hance has also written for Yale 360 andConservation magazine.  He is the author of the new book Life is Good: Conservation in an Age of Mass Extinction. He tweets from @jeremy_hance.

by Ensia at February 05, 2016 11:41 PM

Kuelap, the Ancient Fortress That Aims to Become the Second Biggest Tourist Destination in Peru
Final del camino, Kuélap. Foto en Flickr del usuario Luis Cordova (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

End of the road, Kuelap. Image on Flickr by user Luis Cordova (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Kuelap is an important Peruvian archaeological site located in the province of Luya, in the Amazonas region, built by the Chachapoya culture of Andean people 1,000 years ago. It might not be so well known worldwide as Peru's Machu Picchu, the ancient, sky-high estate built by the Incas, but Peruvian authorities are trying to change that.

Kuelap, a kind of walled city, has the following features, according to tour group Tambopata:

Forma un conjunto arquitectónico de piedra de grandes dimensiones, ubicado en lo alto de una montaña a 3.000 msnm. Se encuentra […] en la provincia de Luya. Se estima que su construcción se realizó hacia el año 1000, coincidiendo con el período de florecimiento de la cultura Chachapoyas.
En lengua nativa, Kuélap significa “lugar frío” y es que, a pesar de encontrarse en la selva peruana, tiene un clima templado, seco durante el día y con temperaturas muy bajas durante la noche.

It's a huge stone architectural complex, located at the top of a mountain 3,000 metros above sea level [about 9,800 feet]. According to some estimations, it was built circa 1,000 AD, when the Chachapoya culture was at its peak.
In the native language, Kuelap means “cold place”, a reference to the fact that despite its location in the Peruvian jungle, it has temperate weather, dry during the day and with very low temperatures during the night.

The archaeological complex was “rediscovered” in January 31, 1843, by Juan Crisóstomo Nieto, a judge from Chachapoyas. While carrying out work related to his position, he arrived at the virtually unknown site — due to its location in a forested and rainy area that is hard to access — with the help of some local guides.

Kuelap is not free of mystery:

Los habitantes de Kuélap, abandonaron su ciudad antes de la llegada de los españoles, por razones que hasta hoy no han sido descubiertas. El sabio italiano Antonio Raimondi, el primero en estudiar la zona en 1860, encontró en el lugar el esqueleto de un hombre de dos metros de altura y cráneos con cabellera rubia, lo que creó un misterio no descifrado hasta hoy.

The old occupants of Kuelap abandoned their city before the Spaniards arrived, for reasons that remain unknown. Italian researcher Antonio Raimondi, the first one to study the area in 1860, found a skeleton of a two-meter-tall [6'5″] man and skulls with blonde hairs, which sparked a mystery that goes unsolved to this day.

In its day, Kuelap's residents used limestone to build the complex; its main architectural attractions include the Torreón (fortified tower), the Castillo (castle) and the Tintero (inkwell). The latter, as noted by historians, seems to have been used as an astronomical observatory and is considered a ritual structure because of its unique inverted cone shape.

Kuelap has several attractions, as seen on this short list from travel agency Aracari:

Petroglifo en Kuélap. Imagen en Flickr del usuario Jorge Gobbi (CC BY 2.0).

Petroglyph in Kuelap. Image on Flickr by user Jorge Gobbi (CC BY 2.0).

Podrá ver de cerca los Sarcófagos de Revash con sus petroglifos rojos, los de Karajía que tienen la forma de las estatuas de la Isla de Pascua, descubrir algunas de las estructuras deterioradas de La Congona, La Joya o Macro. Un sitio que no puede perderse es el Museo Leymebamba donde se encuentran las momias que se encontraron cerca de la Laguna de los Cóndores.

You'll be able to see up close the Revash sarcophagus with their red petroglyphs and the Karajía ones that have the same shape as the Eastern Island statues as well as discover some of the deteriorating structures of La Congona, La Joya and Macro. A place you can't miss is the Leymebamba Museum, which holds all the mummies that were found by the Lake of the Condors.

Peruvian authorities would like to transform Kuelap into the country's second biggest tourist destination, and with that in mind the first cable railway will be ever built in Peru. Plans are to have it finished by July 2016, according to reporting from newspaper El Comercio:

[…] en el distrito de Tingo María (Luya, Amazonas). Este permitirá acceder a la fortaleza de Kuelap en tan solo en 20 minutos, en un viaje cómodo y seguro en el que se podrá admirar las montañas de verdor y el bosque de niebla.
El objetivo final es transportar mil pasajeros por hora.

[…] in the district of Tingo María (Luya, Amazonas). It will allow access to the Kuelap fortress in just 20 minutes, in a comfortable and safe trip where you will be able to admire all the greenery of the mountains and the misty forest.
The ultimate goal is to transport a thousand passengers per hour.

Twitter users have posted photos, facts and comments about their own visit to Kuelap:

The Kuelap fortress is located in the Amazonas region on top of the Barreta hill at 3,000 meters above sea level

January 31, 1843, discovery of Kuelap…

Kuelap, the impressive fortress on the 171st anniversary of its discovery.

I've posted 106 photos on Facebook in the album “FORTRESS OF KUELAP – Province of Luya – CHACHAPOYAS”.

by Gabriela García Calderón at February 05, 2016 11:54 AM

A Dying Swan Resurrects Faith in the Creativity of Trinidad & Tobago Carnival
Peter Minshall's Carnival King "The Dying Swan: Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova"; photo my Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Peter Minshall's Carnival King “The Dying Swan: Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova”. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

What does an early 20th century ballet solo have to do with Trinidad and Tobago Carnival? Ask Peter Minshall, designer extraordinaire. His intermittent hiatuses from the spectacle of Monday and Tuesday's Parade of the Bands — led by kings and queens in magnificent costumes — have left a gaping hole in the creativity and symbolism of the masquerade, to the point where many enthusiasts feel that the festival has been diminished from a love of making mas (as Carnival design and performance are called in the twin-island republic) to a business of mass production.

The master is back for Carnival 2016, however, with an alluring and controversial costume called ‘The Dying Swan: Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova‘. Performed by Moko Jumbie dancer Jha-Whan Thomas, the portrayal has easily been the most talked about aspect of this year's Carnival, trumping the fiasco that was the International Soca Monarch semi-finals, and the jokes about the poor standard of this year's musical offering and the effect the country's recession is having on attendance at Carnival events.

‘A high mas, a real mas’

Minshall is used to causing a stir; his mas constantly pushes boundaries. The last band he brought out in 2006, ‘The Sacred Heart’, provided commentary on societal ills, including the dangers of HIV. The National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) endorsed the portrayal, and in a stunning performance on Carnival Tuesday on the stage of the Queen's Park Savannah, Minshall's performers managed to put a condom on a huge phallus to the shock of some and the awe of others.

In comparison, the outcry over a cross-dressing swan must seem tame, but nevertheless, it has been the subject of heated online discussion.

Journalist Sunity Maharaj, in a guest post at Wired868, described the breath of fresh air that the portrayal has brought to the Carnival landscape:

Just as the heart was groaning under the weight of yet another foreign franchise coming to serve us coffee [the Starbucks franchise will soon be opening its doors in Trinidad], in floats Ras Nijinsky to turn the imperial order upside down before sending it forth, unrecognisable to itself in ras and drag.

This Minshall Ras Mas is, indeed, a high mas, a real mas—a Carnival maestro making new mas with old European masters.

When it emerged on stage on Thursday night, the marvel of ‘The Dying Swan—Ras Nijinsky in Drag’, did what Minshall does best. It cut the clutter, silenced the noise, changed the rhythm, re-contoured the imagination and posed the question: What is Mas?

‘What is Mas?’

This question was examined in a Facebook thread on Trinidad-born writer Monique Roffey's page, where she asked the question, “Ok Trinis, why is a dying swan at all relevant to Caribbean society? Why all the fuss?” The ensuing comments were reposted with permission on Active Voice — the blogger, Annie Paul, wrote:

Jhawhan Thomas’s rendition of the swan was powerful and eloquent i thought especially with all the inversions and subversions trailing behind it. Europe, Africa, male, female, traditional mas vs beads and bikinis — so many collisions were choreographed into this creation it was thrilling.

Writer, editor and Carnival enthusiast Nicholas Laughlin gave one of the most pertinent explanations of the costume's relevance to a Caribbean space:

I can’t escape the sense that The Dying Swan is Minshall’s meditation on the place — aesthetic, intellectual, emotional — he finds himself in at nearly the end of his career as an artist.

The ballet that inspired the maswork is about the inevitability of death […] It’s a classic Minshall move to have taken this exemplary work of European ‘high’ culture and translated it via two traditional Carnival characters, the moko jumbie and the Dame Lorraine. And through a minimalist but rigorously considered form, a deceptively simple performance by the masquerader, a touch of self-awareness and self-parody (it’s a burly dude in drag, after all), to have made something that his audience can plainly delight in, while feeling the little emotional quiver of recognition that this is an artist’s elegy for his art.

Artist Edward Bowen added:

Several layers to ‘the fuss’ – firstly the unexpected return of Minsh, secondly, with the usual ‘difference’ of content and presentation, often quite startling, thirdly the obvious androgyny, and fourthly, that collection and more of content = drama, abstracted, left field, story telling, theatre – our society allows him that stage, his mas, perhaps we need the stories, more stories.

The gender-bending swan

James Christopher Aboud thought that the costume was also significant in that it forced discussion about gender discrimination in the country:

Minshall is an adapter, and the fact that the stilts fail to capture the graceful movement of Pavlova is not the point, although I noticed that at once. He made a connection with something other than ourselves, which is what the mas is supposed to do, and, by that adaptation, made it ours. Pavlova in drag is the original thought here, shocking the ballet purists and entering our transgender debate.

Laughlin added:

It occurred to me that there might be a sly reference here too to the pisse-en-lit, another traditional ‘drag’ mas in which men portray women to deliberately evoke disgust and disdain–and which may have a fresh relevance at a moment when gender and sexual identity and expression are being vigorously debated and (re)contested.

Functional and emotive

Writer Judy Raymond made the point that the mas was brilliant both symbolically and functionally. This was the first time that the stilts on a Moko Jumbie costume were altered — in this case shaped to mimic the elongated elegance of a ballerina en pointe — which must have been much more difficult to control compared to the regular, sturdier-looking stilts, though Nicholas Laughlin, who perused the costume up close, says it is “very solidly engineered”. Comparing Ras Nijinsky with the usual costume offerings, Raymond said:

Did you see the others? I haven’t yet this year, but they are almost always a variation on a fancy Indian or a giant clamshell-shaped thing on wheels that the masquerader drags along around/behind him- or herself. […]

Minsh draws on traditions from all over the world–because they’re all ours too–just as he drew on the work of Alexander Calder to produce his human mobiles–and especially stands on the shoulders of mas giants to produce something that is new–a moko jumbie combined with European ballet. And yes, as Eddie says it’s real theatre, and it included androgyny in a reference to one of the issues that this society is only now beginning to address. He doesn’t overestimate the value of originality but no one else understands how to combine the basic mechanical principles and characters of the mas into a new work of art that says something about the world and especially our corner of it now.

"Peter Minshall ..... The Dying Swan-Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavloa ...Carnival 2016"; Instagram photo by Ashraph Richard Ramsaran, used with permission.

“Peter Minshall ….. The Dying Swan-Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavloa …Carnival 2016″. Instagram photo by Ashraph Richard Ramsaran, used with permission.

Laughlin added:

As for brilliance on its own terms, though The Dying Swan isn’t technically innovative (Minshall did a moko jumbie king and queen as far back as 1988, and it’s now standard in the repertoire), and certainly not epoch-defining like Man Crab, I think it achieves the simple but not-so-simple thing that Minshall’s works have long argued is the meaning of mas: to give the performer the means to express an energy, an emotion, an idea beyond what the body alone can do.

In this case, I’d say, it starts in the gorgeous elongation of the masquerader’s limbs and thus the bird-like delicacy of his steps. It’s also remarkable to me how the generally male energy of the moko jumbie is subverted here without sacrificing presence or scale. And I am obviously no Carnival judge, but the scoring system ought to reward those kings and queens that can move entirely through the muscles and energy of their masqueraders, i.e. with NO WHEELS.

No ‘King of Carnival’

Despite all its public attention, Gin Awai didn't particularly think the costume itself was worthy of the title of ‘King of Carnival':

Audiences respond to drama […] the performance is breathtaking drama come to life. Still don’t think it’s a good Carnival King.

The theatrics don’t translate without the Minshall story. Seems more apt for Cirque du Soleil than first place. Interested to see what more drama would be created in the finals.

I predict more glitter and a blackened bird.

This turned out to be a moot point — Minshall's king placed third in this year's finals, but many were disappointed that there was no surprise spectacle to witness. Back in 1983, when Minshall created a convincingly threatening Man Crab which was brought to life by masquerader Peter Samuel and copped the King of Carnival title, his pristine white canopy was dramatically flooded with red paint on the night of the finals.

Not only did Minshall's 2016 ballerina not win, it was roundly criticised by other veteran mas designers, one of whom won the overall competition and maintained that Moko Jumbie portrayals were not mas. In a public Facebook post, Attillah Springer quickly corrected him:

Dear Mr. Eustace
In 2015 I had the opportunity to work with Trini/British artist Zak Ové to install two eight foot moko jumbie sculptures in the Great Court of the British Museum. […]

Your comments showed such a shocking lack of knowledge and were delivered with such hubris I wondered who had died and made you an authority on anything else but how to drag an ugly lump of shiny empty nothingness across the Savannah stage.

I read things about masquerade that the likes of you would probably never see because apparently you don’t know that the moko jumbie is in fact one of the most ubiquitous forms of African masquerade on the continent.

‘The spirit of Carnival'; ‘The better part of who we are’

Love it or hate it, there was no disputing that the costume elicited a response — which in itself speaks to its success. Actress Martina Laird described it this way:

Towering and proud, beautiful and grotesque, tragic and comic. Sexuality explicit and concealed. An amazing drag statement of ownership made on the very mainstream stage of the Savannah. Such challenge being very much the spirit of Carnival. Not to mention the parody of Eurocentric high culture in Trinidadian context

Perhaps most importantly, according to Sunity Maharaj, the gender bending swan is a symbol of hope for the country's future:

Although Carnival is no longer subject to the ostracism of the past, what it still awaits is our recognition that it might be the better part of who we are: a people joyfully at work, confidently problem-solving, open to change, willing to innovate, happy to collaborate.

Inside there somewhere might be found the principles to organise a functional society.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at February 05, 2016 11:32 AM

Miriam Meckel
Wetten, dass …?


Der IT-Konzern Alphabet wird wertvollstes Unternehmen der Welt. Wetten auf die Zukunft der digitalen Wirtschaft beflügeln die Börse.

Mit Volldampf voraus, in jede Richtung, gerne auch in alle gleichzeitig. So wurde die einstige Internettraditionsmarke Yahoo in den vergangenen drei Jahren durch den rasanten Wandel der digitalen Wirtschaft navigiert. Eine Navigation ohne klare Koordinaten und also auch nicht erfolgreich. Erfolg, das wäre in Zeiten der schnellen Internetwirtschaft nicht weniger als eine Neuerfindung von Yahoo gewesen. CEO Marissa Mayer hat nach erneut enttäuschenden Zahlen verkündet, sie werde 15 Prozent der Belegschaft entlassen, Büros schließen und „strategische Alternativen“ ausloten. Der kundige Übersetzer liest dies als das, was es ist: eine strategische Kapitulationserklärung und der Anfang vom Ende von Yahoo. 30 Prozent hat die Aktie allein im vergangenen Jahr verloren. Die Kapitalmärkte haben ein feines Gespür dafür, was mit einem Unternehmen los ist.

Das Gespür der Märkte hat Apple bislang perfekt bedient. Das Unternehmen steht mit dem iPhone für den Übergang von der industriellen in die digitale Wirtschaft. 2011 löste Apple damit den Ölkonzern ExxonMobil als wertvollstes Unternehmen der Welt ab. Geradezu genial hat Steve Jobs seine Produkte auf die Kundenbedürfnisse in Zeiten des mobilen Internets ausgerichtet. Die aktuellen Quartalszahlen allerdings haben viele Investoren enttäuscht. Apple ist noch immer hochprofitabel und meldet weiter Rekordzahlen. Aber CEO Tim Cook hat die Märkte nun zum ersten Mal auf künftige Umsatzrückgänge eingestimmt. Apples Umsatz hängt zu 60 Prozent am iPhone. In einem zunehmend gesättigten Markt werden weniger Wachstumssprünge als Preis- und Margenkämpfe die Unternehmensgeschichte fortschreiben. Die Apple-Aktie ist in den vergangenen zwölf Monaten um 20 Prozent gefallen. Die Kapitalmärkte registrieren mit Röntgenblick, wie viel Licht am Ende des Tunnels leuchtet.

Alphabet hat Apple vom Spitzenplatz verdrängt und ist nun das am höchsten bewertete Unternehmen der Welt. Zum ersten Mal konnten Investoren einen detaillierteren Blick in die Quartalszahlen von Alphabet, der Muttergesellschaft von Google, werfen. Und sie sahen Erfreuliches: ein Umsatzplus von 18 Prozent und einen Nettogewinn von knapp fünf Milliarden Dollar. Die entstehen wesentlich aus dem hochprofitablen Kerngeschäft von Suchmaschine, wachsender mobiler Werbung und der Video-Plattform YouTube. Die übrigen bei Alphabet gebündelten Projekte zur Haushaltsvernetzung, zum selbstfahrenden Auto, zur virtuellen Realität und künstlichen Intelligenz machten in 2015 hohe Verluste von 3,6 Milliarden Dollar.

Diese sogenannten „other bets“ sind unternehmerische Wetten auf die Zukunft. Keiner weiß, ob sie aufgehen. Warum lassen die Kapitalmärkte sich davon nicht negativ beeindrucken? Weil die digitale Wirtschaft an der Schwelle zu ihrer nächsten Evolutionsstufe steht: der vollständigen digitalen Vernetzung unseres Lebens. Alphabet wettet auf diese Zukunft und kurbelt damit kräftig die Fantasie der Investoren an. Die Aktie hat in einem Jahr um mehr als 40 Prozent zugelegt. Nichts ist in der digitalen Wirtschaft so öde wie ein Unternehmen von gestern. Und nichts ist so monoton wie eine Strategie, die immer dieselbe bleibt. Wer nicht auf die Zukunft wettet, realisiert künftige Verluste schon in der Gegenwart.

by Miriam Meckel at February 05, 2016 08:00 AM

Global Voices
Did Argentina’s New President Just Arrest His First Political Prisoner?
Milagro Sala. Photo:Romina Santarelli/ Argentinian Culture of Ministry under Creative Commons License.

There are many questions for Milagro Sala to answer. Photo: Romina Santarelli taken from Argentinian Culture of Ministry Flickr account under Creative Commons License.

The arrest of social activist and indigenous leader Milagro Sala on January 16 has been the cause of both international outcry and domestic protest in Argentina over the past few weeks. Thousands of people took to Plaza de Mayo in the capital city of Buenos Aires, protesting an arrest they believe violates civil liberties (including the right to assembly).

Sala, who leads the Tupac Amaru Association and serves as a Parlasur lawmaker, was organizing protests in the province of San Salvador de Jujuy when she was arrested. She and many other social organizations set up camp in Belgrano Plaza in mid-December, opposite to the principal government building in Jujuy, protesting against reforms made by newly elected Governor Gerardo Morales to the distribution and control of social benefits. Before these reforms, Sala and her association were chiefly responsible for administering these resources.

Officially, Sala was arrested on two charges: “inciting criminal behavior” among the people in the camp at Plaza Belgrano, and spreading “disorder” by lobbying cooperatives to oppose the governor's reforms by resisting the state's new requirements.

The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) in Argentina and Amnesty International Argentina were among the first to denounce her arrest:

Urgent Action demands the immediate release of Milagro Sala

Milagro Sala is a fighter who brings organization and social and political revindication. The kind that the right fears. #FreeMilagroSala

Mariela Belski, the executive director of Amnesty International Argentina, says it presents a clear “attempt to criminalize practices related to the exercise of the right to protest and freedom of expression.” Both the CELS and Amnesty International Argentina also say that her arrest warrant is vague and does not clearly define the charges against her.

CELS, together with ANDHES (the Northwestern Argentine Lawyers for Human Rights and Social Studies), has already filed an application with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) on Sala's behalf.

Shortly after her arrest, supporters took to Twitter with #LiberenAMilagroSala (#Free Milagro Sala).

Users were quick to describe her as the first political prisoner in Argentina since President Mauricio Macri took power in December.

Milagro Sala is the first political prisoner of Macri in Argentina.

Some users suggested that her arrest was the result of discrimination because she is a woman and because of her indigenous origins.

Her worst sin is bringing collective conscience to a group segregated by racism in a pseudo caste system.

What they can't stand about Milagro Sala is that she is indigenous, a woman, and she has organized the poor.

Many in the international community have also denounced Sala’s arrest. Members of Parlasur at the Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Parliament both condemned the arrest.

Officially, newly elected President Mauricio Macri had little to do with her arrest, though he has endorsed the policing measure and met with Governor Morales at the Casa Rosada.

Nonetheless, Twitter users have criticized Macri for hypocrisy, given his objections to the arrest of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez at the Mercosur conference just a few weeks earlier. The comparison when posed by an Argentine journalist caused Macri to storm out of a press conference in Davos.

You ask to free political prisoners while you keep Milagro Sala in custody.

In his first two months in office, President Macri has faced several difficult trials already, and his critics say he takes an “authoritarian approach” to civil liberties. Police officers in La Plata met demonstrators with rubber bullets after they began protesting job cuts in the region. Protesters assembled twice at Plaza de Mayo before Sala's arrest, demanding changes to media laws and the reinstatement of a prominent dissident who was fired from his radio show. His co-host recently started a YouTube show, where she also calls for Sala's release.

Loved or hated?

Milagro Sala is a longtime ally of former President Cristina Kirchner. Tensions between Sala and Governor Morales (President Macri's political ally) have been rising since he took office two months ago. Morales says he's bringing an end to a monopoly of power in the province (which was led by Sala and her association until now). According to his campaign platform, he seeks to bring “transparency” the the system, which he argues Sala used to collect money and power. Morales says Sala’s main goal is to the change in power dynamic, achieving some kind of co-government in the province. The governor even says Sala was a mafia-style leader in Jujuy, allegedly getting involved in the trafficking of both drugs and people.

One Twitter user claims that the majority of people from Jujuy support Morales.

Jujuy is no Milagro. Jujuy's people don't support corruption. Milagro Sala is not a political prisoner. She was detained for many causes. Respect the rule of law.

Another called out Amnesty International for defending Sala, saying the organization has failed to offer a full picture of her leadership in Jujuy:

M Sala is known for violence, patronage and graft, corruption. To call her a persecuted politician is to offend those who really are.

Sharing a photograph of a burned out city building, one Facebook user pointed out that Sala's protests weren't always peaceful:

Asi quedó la casa de gobierno de jujuy luego que Milagro Sala protestara. Esto es obra de quien se dice una pacifista? Esto no es un delito? Se puede protestar sin incendiar, atropellar,etc?

This is how the Governor's Office in Jujuy looked after Milagro Sala protested. This is the act of someone who says she is a pacifist? Is it a felony? Can you protests without starting a fire or running someone over?

There are also videos online showing Sala's often aggressive behavior.
Since Sala's arrest, Prosecutor Liliana Fernandez de Montiel has launched another investigation regarding a complaint made by Morales about the alleged appropriation of $29 million, as part of an advance for a program for social housing not yet built. In connection with the case, police raided Sala's home and offices earlier this week.
These are not the only claims made against Sala regarding money. She's also accused of receiving three different salaries from the state, and Twitter users have recently mocked her, following revelations that she owns a smart car worth $28 million pesos.

Milagro Sala is the perfect synthesis of how kirchnerism [after the former Kirchner government] understands political militance: she earned three salaries from government

This is the new model of smart.

To demand Milagro Sala's liberation, I propose that we all go in a rally honking with our smart [cars]

Political commentator and left wing activist Fabian Harari agrees that there are many questions that Milagro Sala must answer. He highlights that her arrest however is related to her protest and this is what sets a dangerous precedent.

Milagro Sala tiene que responder por muchas cuestiones. No por organizar un acampe, ni por cortar rutas. Eso no es un crimen, es el derecho más importante. Milagro Sala debería responder por conductas realmente criminales, pero contra la clase obrera y que exceden con mucho la imputación que le hizo el gobernador Gerardo Morales.

Milagro Sala has to answer many questions. But not for organizing a camp, or blocking roads. That's not a crime—it is a most important right. Milagro Sala really should respond [to charges of] criminal behavior, but [regarding crimes] against the working class—crimes that that far exceed the accusations made by Governor Gerardo Morales.

Harari argues that Governor Morales’ real grievances lie elsewhere.

El Estado contrató y seguirá contratando en negro, sin cargas sociales, sin jubilación y sin derecho a la sindicalización, como lo hace Milagro Sala.

Además, la política burguesa en Argentina siempre usó a los negocios sucios como fuente de financiamiento y a las patotas como elemento de coacción. No va a dejar de hacerlo. Es decir, los manejos de Milagro Sala son los de la política argentina. Su responsabilidad es la de toda una clase social. Gerardo Morales y Cambiemos no están en contra de todo esto. Simplemente quieren ser ellos los beneficiarios.

The state hired and will continue to recruit in black, without social security, with pensions, and without any right to organize, as Milagro Sala does.

Moreover, bourgeois politics in Argentina always used corrupt businesses as a source of funding and street gangs as an element of coercion. It will not stop. That is, Milagro Sala's wrongdoing is the stuff of Argentina's politics. Herr responsibility is to an entire class. Gerardo Morales and Cambiemos are not against this. They simply want to be the beneficiaries.

The different narratives over Milagro Sala and her arrest show the continued political divides in Argentina between supporters of the former Kirchner government and the current regime. The Argentine TV show “Intratables” is shown every night from Monday–Friday, when political analysts, journalists, and politicians are invited to discuss the most important issues of the day. The following video clip is from one episode that demonstrates the show's heated nature.

by Maral Shafafy at February 05, 2016 07:28 AM

‘Lion's Blood’ Stickers Pop Up All Over Sri Lanka, Stoking Fears of Renewed Ethnic Hatred
Logo of the Sinha-le movement

The ‘Sinha-le’ image.

A sticker campaign undertaken by a Buddhist nationalistic movement in Sri Lanka has some observers fearing harassment of ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

The image, which has also circulated on social media, shows a lion with the word “Sinha-le”, meaning “lion’s blood” in Sinhala —  a reference to the lion ancestor that Sinhalese Buddhists claim. Some Muslim residents in the Nugegoda suburb of the capital Colombo also discovered that their walls and gates had been spray-painted with the word.

Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, with 74.88% of the total population, followed by Sri Lankan Tamils at 11.2% and the Sri Lankan Moors or Muslims at 9.2%. Past years have seen a disturbing trend in which some political leaders or organizations have instigated religious tensions and persecution on minorities.

Madille Pagngnaloka Thera is the general secretary of Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa, the group which is promoting ‘Sinha-le’, and happens to be a former activist with right-wing Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist organization Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). He said in a press conference that the movement is based on the Buddha's saying “Sabbe Saththa Bhavthu Sukhi Thaththa” (May all beings be happy). In an interview with The Sunday Observer news site, Thera elaborated on the ideas behind the movement:

Democracy means the will of the majority, but our rulers always attempted to entertain multi-ethnic politicians ignoring the majority Sinhalese. In order to realise their narrow political objectives, they created the Sri Lankan nation rather than rebuilding the Sinhala nation on its true indigenous roots. As a result, we have been deprived of many things. During our epic journey to rediscover our lost heritage, the Sinhale campaign was born.

The group maintains that they will not point an accusing finger at the Muslim or Tamil communities, but will simply stand beside the Sinhala community in the face of injustice. The movement is being supported by political heavyweights like the opposition UPFA Parliamentarian Udaya Gammanpila and the Sinhale National Movement.

‘Renewed hate campaign on the Muslims’

In reality, the Sinha-le symbol means different things to different people, and many commenters are skeptical of the movement's motives. As Himal Kotelawala wrote for online publication

To some, it’s a badge of ethno-religious pride in the face of growing anti-national forces; to others, an oppressive reminder of their place in society that could potentially spark the flames of another bloody conflict. Still others dismissively call it a meme, a harmless bumper sticker that doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things, blown way out of proportion by social media do-gooders. The truth, as is often the case with such things, probably lies somewhere in between.

Blogger Indi Samarajiva further explained:

The Sinhale movement isn’t necessarily racist, but in practice it is. Especially online, it’s tied up with the usual racist bullshit (think BBS) – ie, Sinhalese great, Muslims bad, this is a Sinhala country, etc. There are a lot of wonderful things about Sinhala culture, but this parochial racism isn’t one of them. We’re an island people and we evolved by taking the best of other cultures (Buddhism, chili, cricket) and making them our own. We have also co-existed with different types of people for basically ever.

Over at citizen journalism site Groundviews, Hilly Ahmed said bluntly:

Today, politically motivated groups alleged to be close to the former regime have unleashed a new wave of hate and racism under the “Sinha Le” label. They are determined to create divisions amongst the different communities once more and the provocations of the “Sinha Le” group are clear evidence of the renewed hate campaign on the Muslims.

‘The litmus test will be around how we respond to extremism’

Sri Lankan Twitter users had a mixed reaction:

Malinda Seneviratne argued on his blog that the Sinha-le word is confusing:

The problem is not the sticker or the wording, but its associations with organizations that are racist and intolerant of other groups. There is also the problem of the word in its ahistorical break (i.e. Sinha-Le instead of Sinhale, ‘le’ meaning ‘blood’ and its depiction in red which is obviously associated with violence). There is legitimate anxiety which spills into fear and even fuels extremism (latent or otherwise) among other groups when the word, either in its integrity or break, is painted on the walls of buildings owned by or associated with those in other communities.

However, there is hope that the extremists are a minority as of now. TED Fellow alumnus and blogger Sanjana Hattutowa wrote:

As Sri Lanka embarks upon constitutional reform and other major projects this year, involving the whole of government and reshaping how we see our country, I expect ‘Sinha-le’ to be the first salvo in what will be many more movements, on similar lines, that attempt to deny, destroy and decry the essential diversity in our country. The litmus test will be around how we respond to extremism, and what measures can be proactively taken to combat the growth of these movements amongst young adults – the future leaders of Sri Lanka.

by Rezwan at February 05, 2016 12:34 AM

February 04, 2016

Global Voices
Pakistani Women Are Reclaiming Public Spaces, One Teacup at a Time

Photo courtesy of Girls at Dhabas Facebook page.

Girls at Dhabas” is a movement started by two Pakistani women to reclaim public spaces in South Asia. The group's Facebook page describes them as “Desi feminists and women defining public space(s) on [their] own terms and whims”. Dhabas are roadside stalls that serve food and tea that are a traditionally male domain across South Asia. They are frequented mostly by men or women accompanied by a man.

It all began in May 2015, when Sadia Khatri and Natasha Ansari, based in Karachi, started using the hashtag #GirlsAtDhabas, curating photos of women, sent to them on Tumblr. Soon, dozens of women across South Asia began sharing photos of themselves at dhabas, on Twitter and Tumblr, launching a conversation about safe spaces for women. The movement's Facebook community page has now crossed ten thousand members.

A post on the Facebook page describes the urge to loiter:

The question is: can we now claim the right to other kinds of pleasure? The pleasure of sitting in an unbroken park bench, reading a book or eating a banana (why not a banana?). The pleasure of walking the streets at night without anxiously looking over our shoulders. The pleasure of not having to change clothes in a car because your family thinks they are immodest. The pleasure of not having to hide when you enter your building at 2 am in the morning for fear of what the neighbours will say. The pleasure of using a clean well-lit toilet at 4 am in the morning on a public street without worrying that none will be open. This kind of pleasure can only come from the right to take risks without the fear of loss of reputation as good girls. — Why Loiter?

What does pleasure mean to you?

It is clear that these girls walk the talk and aren't just about hanging out with their friends at tea cafes. In Pakistan, the movement went beyond dhabas and organised a cricket match in solidarity with girls from the University of Karachi, after the students were attacked by Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT), the student wing of a religious political party, for playing a cricket match on college premises.

Bilal Farooqi, a journalist with The News International, tweeted:

Fariha Awan had this to say:

In response, those in the movement have tried to involve women from different classes, especially working-class women, in partnership Awami Workers Party, a left-wing political group in Pakistan.

The Facebook page for the event provided more insight into the meeting:

The absence of women from Pakistan's public spaces represents their systematic exclusion from a social and fully human existence. It is a symptom of an overwhelmingly patriarchal society that needs to be actively resisted…Girls at Dhabas will be co-facilitating a dialogue with the Awami Workers’ Party Isb-Rwp on women and public spaces in Pakistan this Monday in Islamabad. We will be discussing how to start things off in Islamabad, forming a local community around the issue and discuss ways people can get more involved.

As a response to the culture barriers erected by society, “Girls at Dhabas” and similar movements offer an insight into often overlooked resistance movements in Pakistan and across South Asia.

by Faisal Kapadia at February 04, 2016 05:20 PM

Political Interference? The Culling of Japan's Broadcasters Culminates in a Respected Journalist's Ouster
Kuniya Hiroko, announcer

Kuniya Hiroko, announcer, NHK Close Up Gendai. Image from YouTube.

Japanese national broadcaster NHK's decision to oust popular and respected journalist Kuniya Hiroko from a long-running current affairs program has many lamenting the death of quality journalism on Japanese television.

Kuniya has anchored prime-time current affairs program Close Up Gendai since 1993. Under Kuniya's lead, the program developed a reputation for strong investigative reporting and analysis, which in Japan, like many other countries, is in short supply on television.

However, NHK announced in late January that Kuniya's tenure at Close Up Gendai will end on March 31, 2016, the end of Japan's fiscal year. The announcement comes in the wake of accusations of political interference at NHK and after it was determined that she “staged” an interview in April 2015, although it's believed her ouster is payback for posing hard questions to government chief cabinet secretary and key ally of President Abe, Suga Yoshihide, in July 2014.

At 58, Kuniya is also one of the older women to appear in an authoritative role on television, and her age and her gender may also play a role in the decision to not renew her contract.

Kuniya isn't the only one signing off for good. Several other prominent television broadcasters and commentators on private networks are also stepping down or being removed from the airways.

Pressure from the Abe government? All newscasters critical of the government have been taken off the air, one after the other. #furutachi ichiro #kishii shigetada #zenba takako #kuniya hiroko

After veteran Mainichi News journalist and TBS commentator Kishii Shigetada criticized the Abe government's controversial security legislation last year, conservatives took out newspaper ads accusing Kishii of violating Japan's broadcast laws. Kishii announced he would step down from his work as a commentator on TBS's News 23 program, but would still continue to comment on government policy.

Zenba Takako will also leave News 23 at the end of March.

TV Asahi news anchor and popular Japanese television personality Furutachi Ichiro will also step down in April following rumors of political interference. Furutachi has anchored late-night newscast Hodo Station on Asahi Television for 12 years.

Kuniya's employer NHK has been under fire for some decisions it has made in recent years, especially under the helm of NHK Director-General Momii Katsuo. Momii was elected to his position as director-general in December 2013, almost exactly a year after Abe Shinzo was elected prime minister of Japan.

There are suspicions that Momii, who comes to NHK from the private sector, is working closely with the right-leaning Abe government to transform NHK from a public broadcaster into an organ of the state. Besides asking NHK management to quit (they did not), Director-General Momii mused that NHK's broadcasting should support the Japanese government's stance on territorial disputes with South Korea, Taiwan and the People's Republic of China while also downplaying the issue of “comfort women“, as the thousands upon thousands of women across Asia who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II are known.

However, as with other public broadcasters around the world, Momii's real mission may be to transform NHK, which operates with a US$5 billion budget, into a more market-oriented company.

As for Kuniya Hiroko, she has not announced her plans post-Close Up Gendai. NHK has said the show will be updated for an international audience and will feature a rotating lineup of seven female announcers.

A selection of Hiroko Kuniya's broadcasts in Japanese can be viewed for now on the official Close Up Gendai YouTube Channel.

by Nevin Thompson at February 04, 2016 03:31 PM

Twitter-Based Doodling Community Inspires Creativity Across Eastern and Central Europe
Topic: "If Njegoš was alive these days" by Zombijana Bones. Published with permission.

Topic: “If poet and philosopher Njegoš were alive these days” by Zombijana Bones. Republished with permission.

Every Monday, drawing aficionados across former Yugoslavia visit Twitter profile @crtkamo, which means “We doodle” in the closely related languages of Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian. On that day, the people behind this online drawing community post the doodle prompt for the week. Participants then start making and submitting their creations by tweeting under the hashtag #crtkamo.

Doodling topics have ranged from “something the size of a coin” and “kilometer of hair”, to toys and pirates, dream house, “a happy sky” and summer, to David Bowie and Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series. The participating artists use various techniques and styles and share each other's works.

“This is not a contest” is the main rule of the game. Many of the images get re-tweeted by the main account, and that's the only reward provided by the organizers. Co-founder Zombijana Bones explained in an interview:

Crtkamo postoji od 11. avgusta 2014.
Do sada smo imali 80 tema. Nedeljno dobijemo oko tridesetak radova (nekad više nekad manje).
Radi se o neprofitnoj inicijativi, gdje naš odabir zapravo nije nikakav sud da li je taj rad dobar ili ne, jer mi smatramo da su svi dobri.

“We doodle” has existed since August 11, 2014.
We have had 80 topics, so far. We receive about 30 works per week (sometimes more, sometimes less).
This is a nonprofit initiative, and our selection does not imply our value judgement about the works because we think they are all good.

Topic: Voodoo dolls. Art by Aleksandra Tosman, used with permission.

Topic: Voodoo dolls. Art by Aleksandra Tosman, used with permission.

Podgorica-born Zombijana works as a designer and is a popular online artist in her own right, with 12,000 followers on Twitter and 67,000 likes on Facebook. Fans across the ex-Yugoslavia region have been ordering t-shirts with her illustrations of witty tweets, and in May 2014 she held an exhibition at the POINT Conference in Sarajevo, selling original works to raise money for victims of the terrible flooding that year.

Topic: "Winter Clothes" by Zombijana Bones. Published with permission.

Topic: “Winter Clothes” by Zombijana Bones. Published with permission.

The “We doodle” project started as collaboration between Zombijana and freelance artist Živko Kondić. When he withdrew due to lack of time in November 2014, the most active member, Aleksandra Tosman from Belgrade, replaced him in running the initiative. The duo have not missed a week since, alternating as agenda-setters and curators. They use the project to support humanitarian causes, and sometimes they provide bonus presents such as books or cinema tickets for participants. However, the primary goal of everyone involved is “to have fun and bring more art to the Internet.”

Topic: Foxes. Art by Aleksandra Tosman. Published with permission.

Topic: Foxes. Art by Aleksandra Tosman. Published with permission.

Topic: Ninja Turtles. Art by Zombijana Bones. Published with permission.

Topic: Ninja Turtles. Art by Zombijana Bones. Published with permission.

Topic: Cowboys and Indians. Art by Aleksandra Tosman. Published with permission.

Topic: Cowboys and Indians. Art by Aleksandra Tosman. Published with permission.

All you need to join #crtkamo is a will to draw. Full disclosure: Both my young son and myself have participated in “We doodle”, and from experience I can tell you that any tool that enables you to express yourself visually will do, be it a pencil and notebook, post-it note, digital camera, scanner, or painting software.

by Filip Stojanovski at February 04, 2016 03:03 PM

Malaysia's ‘Toxic’ Politics Are Similar to ‘Game of Thrones’, Says Prime Minister's Brother
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Photo from Najib's official Facebook page

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Photo from Najib's official Facebook page

Malaysia's political situation must be really in bad shape if you have the brother of the prime minister comparing recent events in the country to the Hollywood drama series ‘Game of Thrones’.

Nazir Razak, brother of Prime Minister Najib Razak and chairman of the country's second largest bank, expressed concern about the fallout from the corruption scandal involving the ruling party. In an Instagram post which quickly went viral in Malaysia, Nazir could see some parallels in Malaysia's political troubles to the story of the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’, in which different families in a medieval European-esque world brutally compete for power.

The text of his post reads:

So what lies ahead? The parallels with GoT continue. The future terrifies me: I just can't see how our institutions can recover, how our political atmosphere can become less toxic, how our international reputation can be repaired. I think we have to pause, fix our moral compass and deal with our structural problems holistically. I believe we need National Consultative Council 2 now.

Last year, the prime minister was accused of pocketing almost 700 million US dollars from 1MDB, a state-run investment firm. Najib claimed that the money in his personal bank accounts was a political donation from a member of the Saudi royal family. The issue sparked protests across Malaysia, while some of Najib's allies even called for his resignation.

But early this year, the attorney-general cleared Najib of all wrongdoing.

However, the issue continues to divide the country. Many are not convinced that Najib received the money on behalf of the ruling party.

Former Cabinet Minister Rafidah Aziz questioned if this action by the attorney-general will set a negative precedent for future political donations. Rafidah's Facebook post was shared by more than 5,000 users.:

…the AG should be prepared to explain the details ..and the implications of the decisions…

… it a Precedent set now, in how donations channeled to individuals, through private accounts, can be returned …not necessarily in full..AND the slate is regarded clean ? No case …?

Aziz, who is a member of the ruling coalition, also urged the prime minister to learn from this debacle:

Perhaps the most important LESSON that Pm would have, learnt is NEVER to go around seeking political donations from anyone ,that CANNOT be explained clearly, at first glance. AND NEEDING A LONG TIME TO EXPLAIN!

Especially from foreigners ! Or from ANYONE for that matter!

In addition to the local investigation, Najib's government is also facing questions from foreign authorities. The Swiss authorities reported that almost four billion US dollars had been stolen from Malaysian state companies, and Singapore has seized some bank accounts in relation to a money laundering probe.

Many citizens continue to question the legitimacy of the political donation:

While others wondered about how things can proceed after the announcement:

Others called for further investigations:

And finally, some humor:

by Jerrenn Lam at February 04, 2016 01:45 PM

Colorized Photos Show Manila in Ruins After the Second World War
Colored photo of the old legislative building which was destroyed during the Battle of Manila. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Colorized photo of the old legislative building which was destroyed during the Battle of Manila. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

During World War II, Manila was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army. In early 1945, American forces and Filipino guerrilla fighters liberated the Philippine capital after a month of battle. Because of the fierce fighting and heavy bombings, Manila became the second most devastated Allied capital (next to Warsaw, Poland) during World War II.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bloodshed in 2015, the Philippine government launched an online portal which features photos, videos, essays, maps, testimonies, and other reports pertaining to the historic battle. The special collection also offers colorized photos of some of the iconic buildings and war scenes in old Manila.

During the Battle of Manila, more than 100,000 civilians were killed and the city’s government buildings were almost completely destroyed. The government briefer sums up the situation in the capital after the battle:

100,000 Filipinos perished, government buildings lay in ruins—and Manila was Pearl of the Orient no more. The once illustrious city and the Orient’s first cosmopolitan hub that merged the East and West now vanished under piles of debris.

The European heritage of Manila (Philippines was a colony of Spain for more than 300 years) was lost because of the destruction of the city. The government briefer adds:

Filipinos lost invaluable articulations of culture and their identity as a people. Government buildings, universities and colleges, churches as well as other institutional landmarks perished along with all the valuables in their possession. Buildings suffered demolition to pave the way for progress. This meant doing away with European architecture in lieu of the functional, American style architecture that inspires some of our buildings today. Only few among the original edifices would remain intact.

Take a look at some of the colorized photos of old Manila after the war. Some photos are also superimposed with how they look today:

Colored photo of American soldiers during the Battle of Manila. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Colorized photo of American soldiers during the Battle of Manila. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Colored photo of Manila downtown in ruins. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Colorized photo of Manila downtown in ruins. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Superimposed photo of soldiers crossing the Pasig River and how it looks today. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Superimposed photo of soldiers crossing the Pasig River and how it looks today. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Colored photo of soldiers in front of the presidential palace. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Colored photo of soldiers in front of the presidential palace. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Superimposed photo of Japanese soldiers marching near the presidential palace and how the street looks today. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

Superimposed photo of Japanese soldiers marching near the presidential palace and how the street looks today. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

This memorial was built to honor the civilians who died during the Battle of Manila. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

This memorial was built to honor the civilians who died during the Battle of Manila. Photo from the official gazette of the Philippine government

This rare video documentary, shot in Kodak color, provides a glimpse of the devastation caused by the war:

While Japanese forces are mainly to blame for killing thousands of civilians, some historians have also accused the American military of bombing government buildings and other infrastructure that destroyed the economy of the country’s capital.

by Mong Palatino at February 04, 2016 10:25 AM

Amid Political Posturing and Dancehall Vibes, Jamaica Finally Announces Election Date
"Into the crowd" at a People's National Party political rally in Jamaica. Photo by Christina Xu, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

“Into the crowd” at a People's National Party political rally in Jamaica. Photo by Christina Xu, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Speculation about when Jamaica's prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, would declare the date of the country's 2016 general election was put to rest on Sunday, January 31, when she made the announcement at a massive People's National Party (PNP) rally at Half Way Tree, a bustling section of the capital.

Having opted not to call the election in December 2015 as originally planned, many were impatiently waiting to see when they could make their voices heard at the polls. Now carded for February 25, 2016, this will be the 17th general election for the country — nomination day is set to take place on Tuesday, February 9.

Blogger Annie Paul, who curated the social media response to Simpson-Miller's announcement in this Storify post, noted:

While there had been much speculation that election date would be February 29, the birthday of Edna Manley, wife of Jamaica's first Premier Norman Manley, the date turned out to be one few had mentioned as a possibility: February 25. But as journalist Naomi Francis pointed out February 25 will be exactly 10 years since Portia Simpson Miller became Prime Minister of Jamaica.

While the prime minister quipped that “one good term deserves another”, not everyone was pleased about her untimely move. In the hours leading up to the election rally, many people started to grow impatient. It didn't help that the date itself was not revealed right away:

To further complicate matters, while the prime minister's party, the PNP, was having its rally, the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) held a counter event in the former capital, Spanish Town. Airing both rallies simultaneously proved to be a challenge for most media organisations and caused quite a bit of upset:

While the political repartee was mind-numbing for some Twitter users, others bypassed the talk completely and focused on the entertainment:

While some netizens were of the opinion that image matters, others felt that their fellow Jamaicans were being distracted by bells and whistles:

In what has historically remained a two-party system, however, one Twitter user saw the election results as inevitable:

Another noticed a worrying trend:

But the opposition party was not prepared to resign themselves to defeat so early in the game — even JLP spokesman Audley Shaw took a dig at the current government:

There are also spinoff political movements that have been throwing their hat in the ring. As far as the National Democratic Movement (NDM) party is concerned, this year's general election is going to happen 11 months before it's constitutionally due for one main reason — the government will not be able to “face the people” once the next budget is presented. The NDM also pointed fingers at both the government and the opposition over the hole of ever-mounting debt that the country just cannot seem to dig itself out of. The country is currently indebted to the International Monetary fund (IMF) to the tune of over 2 trillion Jamaican dollars (approximately US $16.5 billion).

In a public post, Facebook user Astley Scott felt that instead of playing the blame game, the NDM should be explaining its own vision to potential voters:

For a chance at the polls the NDM needs to say how they would achieve the things they laid out for the government to do. It needs to be realistic methods and not just vague statements. They must also identify the resources and spell out the effect these actions will have on Jamaicans. If they cannot do this they may as well shut up. Seriously hoping to hear their proposed strategies.

Of course, only time will tell which party will emerge victorious on February 25, but one netizen, Gordon Swaby, has been sharing his own online poll in an attempt to predict the results:

If PNP wins, it will be their 10th victory at the polls, compared to the JLP, which has won seven elections in the past. Some netizens, however, still feel like they don't have much of a choice. On a comments threat about Simpson-Miller's election announcement, Richard S. said:

It is amazing to see how much people can be bamboozled and deluded. It would be interesting to measure the response from those making a ton of noise, as to how much they have seen a prosperous turnaround in their individual lives.

I don't care much for any political party or politician if there [sic] main goal is not uplifting the poor and providing genuine opportunities for all. Jamaica is in need of a leader who is truly interested in laying aside partisan politics for the greater good of the country. What I witnessed in the video is hyped up bravado and noise akin to a dance hall atmosphere. Is the reason why much of Jamaica has fallen into such moral decay and poverty, because of our acceptance of wanton leadership?

by Atiba Rogers at February 04, 2016 09:31 AM

DML Central
Making Learning Matter in the Digital Classroom

In a recent blog post, I discussed the noteworthy success of a web-based course launched by a research university in a high-profile initiative that emphasized online access as much as digital education. As I pointed out, student evaluations are almost never universally positive about large courses, particularly required courses with many drafts due for projects that can feel like “busy work” to skeptical undergraduates. I interviewed the course instructor, Alexandra Sartor, in this blog post and wanted to follow up with the instructional designer, Ava Arndt, as well.

A disclaimer is probably in order here, since I’ve known Arndt for more than a decade as a friend and colleague. It was from Arndt that I first heard the humorous expression about the shortcomings of traditional large and impersonal lecture courses that encourage passivity and distraction: “distance learning begins in the second row.”

In her interview with DML Central, Arndt began by explaining how her enthusiasm for digital technology began in the conventional classroom: “I became interested in online education by being a teacher. I was teaching at UC Irvine, and I wanted to extend connection opportunities outside the classroom. By using web resources, we could continue conversations and connect with course materials outside of class. I looked at a bunch of platforms that might allow students to continue talking. It didn’t matter to me if these richer discussions were online or in class.”  

To Arndt, it was obvious that “time limits or their own speed at processing and digesting material or  just simple shyness” were inhibiting discussion. She described how she wanted to “continue conversations about the readings” and acknowledge that there were “different types of students.”

Based on these “robust discussions that I found fruitful for their learning space and time,” Arndt extended her experiments and began to design curricular materials to be used by others, so students and faculty “could look back” and experience a “natural extension of in-person class.” This process started by making some instructional materials previously published in handbook form for the Humanities Core Course available online and considering interactive design possibilities.  As she explained, her work was “not about a replacement for in-person instruction.” Instead, she hoped to provide “a different angle or added value.” Thus, “increasing their connections to each other and the material because we can.”

Of course, as pundits have observed, operating at the system-wide level could be more challenging. “UC had been pretty far behind major universities in having a big presence in terms of online education. Each campus had access, but there was not widespread adoption or use. There were outliers and pioneers who did things, but it was not a cohesive effort,” just “fragmented pockets at individual campuses.”  

According to Arndt, ILTI (the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative) and UC Online presented a “cohesive online plan and presence across campuses,” although administrators were well aware that “the push was to have a very tailored approach” and present courses to students with substance as well as style.  Instructional designers were tasked with devoting “a lot of time spent developing each course that would not be impersonal or robotic, that would be of the same quality that they would have in an in-person class.”

When asked about coming trends, Arndt mentioned “adaptive learning, which basically allows branching and complexity” to be “mindful of individual students.”  She thought that productive directions would be “hybrid,” because “we educate a lot of students; many of them do commute or have jobs,” but these students have “a desire for contact.”

Arndt also emphasized the fact that “increasingly, the skills needed to take an online class are skills that will serve [students]  well in the future.” Often, so-called “digital natives” still need instruction in computer-mediated communication. “Students are not as computer literate” as their age stereotypes. “They need to know how to interact with technology, and most jobs now require people to interact online quite a bit. Increasingly, the focus is less on the online part and more on the connection part and the interactivity and feedback loops. It allows us to do things in a different way; it’s not better or worse. Often, what is attributed or blamed on technology doesn’t have much to do with technology alone.”

Arndt cautioned about avoiding unrealistic expectations. “Faculty come with the expectation that it is going to be less work. ‘I can do this in a couple weeks and then be done.’ Instead, it’s a different kind of work, with more up-front, and the expectation shouldn’t be that the learning won’t be the same.”  

She also noted that online education has begun to “shine a big giant spotlight on teaching practices” and give “time and space to think about how students learn.”  Participants might have “a better experience but also [a]  more difficult [one].” By requiring faculty to start “changing, altering their practices,” the process isn’t pain free. “And, students have similar unrealistic expectations, they think it is going to be easier, less engaging. However, they tend to report back that they like the live discussions and online chat boards, that they interacted with their peers more, and that they were surprised at the level of interaction that is possible. Often, I find myself being the cheerleader in the face of negative expectations.”

She mused about the need to adjust expectations as designers.“We underestimate the degree to which students are not sitting in a room on a laptop. We have students who do courses entirely from their phones. They might be economically motivated, but it might also be a choice.” With smartphones and tablets come many challenges. “They are not at one place. They are commuting. connecting from different locations.  Everyone has expectations that everything will be accessible from everywhere.”  

When asked about the benefits of working in instructional technology, like Sartor, Arndt praised the opportunities to work collaboratively. “Being part of a team is one thing that is really wonderful. We are pulling teaching back into being a truly collaborative effort.” With a “very large team of people developing it, there can be rich collaboration across skill sets and faculty and really productive for learning, because it leads to innovation, and it’s fun.”

The post Making Learning Matter in the Digital Classroom appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at February 04, 2016 06:00 AM

Global Voices
The Movement for Affordable and Accessible Sanitary Napkins in South Asia
Mass Community Health Teaching in Accham, Nepal - Sunita showing how to make a cloth pad. Image from Flickr by Possible. CC BY 2.0

Mass Community Health Teaching in Accham, Nepal – Sunita showing how to make a cloth pad. Image from Flickr by Possible. CC BY 2.0

In many cultures and societies around the world, there is a stigma attached to menstruation. Girls in developing countries miss up to one week of school or work every month due to lack of sanitary products, inadequate facilities and shame associated with periods.

Shortcomings in education and poor hygiene during menstruation can also lead to discomfort, rashes and infections.

But in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, various efforts are underway to help make sanitary napkins affordable and available to the country's women.

The message spreads in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the available sanitary napkins on the market are costly. Foreign manufactured ones cost more than 120 Bangladeshi taka (US $1.50) as there is a 60% supplementary tax imposed on the imports.

But a locally manufactured brand called Joya, which costs 60 taka (US $0.75) for eight pads, falls short, according to blogger and activist Marzia Prova:

“জয়া” র এত প্রচারণা দেখে, “দেশি জিনিষ ব্যবহার করব না মানে” টাইপ ভাব নিয়ে জয়া ব্যবহার করলাম। [..] ইউজ করতে গিয়ে দেখি প্যাডের আঠা জাস্ট একটু খানি। প্যান্টির সঙ্গে ঠিক ভাবে এটাচড থাকে না। যেকোনো মুহূর্তে পড়ে যাবার সম্ভাবনা থাকে । তারপর উপরের কভার ভীষণ খসখসে, আমার তিনদিনের মাথায় জঙ্ঘায় লাল র‍্যাশ উঠে পড়ে। [..]

ভাবা যায়, দেশের পিরিয়ড হওয়া নারীর সংখ্যা ৫ কোটির ও বেশী। অথচ এই দেশে “মেইড ইন বাংলাদেশ” স্যানিটারি ন্যাপকিনের সংখ্যা মাত্র দুইটা নিদেনপক্ষে তিনটা, এবং তার একটাও মানসম্মত নয়, কোনদিক থেকেও ! এটা আসলে কার উদাসীনতা ! দেশের সর্বস্তরের নারীদের স্যানিটারি ন্যাপকিন ব্যবহারের প্রতি আগ্রহ তৈরি লক্ষে প্রচারণা চালান হয়, অথচ দামে এবং মানে দেশের একটা প্যাডও ভাল নাই। সব শ্রেণীর মেয়েদের কাছে প্যাড পৌঁছে দিতে কি আসলে কেউই প্রকৃতপক্ষে আগ্রহী নয়?

After watching the much hyped advertisements I started using “Joya” with the zeal I reserve for local products. [..] I saw that the adhesive in that pad is inadequate. So it does not stick to the undergarment and is prone to be displaced. Its cover is very rough, I got rash on my thigh in just three days.

Can you believe, in our country there may be 50 million menstruating women. But only two or three female sanitary products are “made in Bangladesh” and their quality is not up to mark! Whose negligence is it? We see campaigns across the country to increase awareness among women to use hygienic sanitary pads, but there is no affordable and good quality pad in the country. It seems nobody is interested to provide affordable or free pads to every women in this country.

But there are people who are doing something about it. Girls in a drop-in-centre (shelter home) in Dhaka, run by an NGO called Oporajeyo Bangladesh, are making their own pads by hand with a cost of only 4.50 taka (US $0.06).

The organisation provides shelter for these girls with violent or tragic pasts, trains and rehabilitates them for school or work in different garments factories or beauty parlours. In an interview with Feminism Bangla, a feminist blog, the organisation's executive director Wahida Banu explained her dream of commercialising the product:

অপরাজেয় বাংলাদেশ পথশিশুদের নিয়ে কাজ করে। আমরা এখানে প্রত্যেক শিশুকে রিপ্রডাক্টিভ হেলথ, এইচআইভি প্রভৃতি নিয়ে সেমিনার করি, ক্লাস করি, শিক্ষা দেই। বলি ৩ থেকে ৬ ঘণ্টা পর পর প্যাড বদলানোর কথা। এরাই যখন মেইন্সট্রিম স্কুলে যায়, তখন নিজেরাই সে স্কুলে বাচ্চাদের এই বিষয়ে ধারণা দেয়, যেটা টিচাররা পর্যন্ত এড়িয়ে যায়। [..]

আমার মেয়েগুলো ক্লাসে যাচ্ছে, ফ্রেন্ডদের বলছে, ওরা আগ্রহ পাচ্ছে। এখন এসে বলছে ওদের ফ্রেন্ডরাও প্যাড চায়। [..] অনেকের কাছে অফার পেয়েছি এক টন তুলা, বা এক টন ইলাস্টিক তারা কিনে দিতে প্রস্তুত। লটে যখন তুলা বা ইলাস্টিক কেনা হবে তখন প্যাডের দাম আরও কমে যাবে। মরার আগে বাংলাদেশে আমি ৪ থেকে ৫ টাকার প্যাড করেই যাব।

Oporajeyo Bangladesh works with street kids. We teach every kid about reproductive health, HIV, etc. We tell them to change pads every three to six hours. When they go to mainstream school, they communicate this knowledge to other children, even the teachers don't teach them this. [..]

Our girls are telling their friends in their class, and they are also interested. So they come to us saying that their friends want the pads. We got an offer from others, who are eager to help with purchasing the raw materials in lot — 1 tonne of cotton or 1 tonne of elastic rubbers. When we can buy them in lots, the cost will be lower. I want to produce sanitary pads costing 4 or 5 taka before I die.

A ‘revolution’ in India and Nepal

In Nepal, there are a number of menstrual pad projects that train local women to sew menstrual pad kits. A huge problem in using the traditional methods is to wash the menstrual rags for reuse and dry them in an hygienic way without much exposure. Students at the Art Center College of Design in California have built one low-cost, easy-to-use tool to wash and dry reusable sanitary cloths.

And in India, Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school dropout from a poor family in southern India turned social entrepreneur, has ‘revolutionised‘ menstrual health for rural women by inventing a simple machine to make cheap sanitary pads. His machines have been installed in more than 1,300 villages in 23 of the 29 states of India. A manual machine costs around 75,000 Indian rupees (US $1100) and can provide employment for 10 people. The machine can produce up to 250 pads a day, which cost about 2.5 rupees (US $0.04) each.

According to a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, only 12% of India's 355 million menstruating women — compared to 88% in Japan, 64% in China and nearly 100% in Singapore and Japan — use sanitary napkins, with 70% of women saying their family can't afford to buy them. The rest resort to unhygienic alternatives like non-sanitised clothes with cotton, sometimes combined with ashes and husk sand.

Muruganantham, who was recognised in 2014 among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, shared in a TED talk how he began his movement for sanitary napkins in India.

His machine was reportedly replicated in Jordan to help Syrian refugees.

The impact on the environment

Inspired by Muruganantham, more and more social enterprises have been launched in India to manufacture cheaper sanitary pads. However, there are also the critics who say that focusing on sanitary pads and ignoring traditional cloths used for menstrual hygiene isn't sustainable. Sinu Joseph, a menstrual health educator from India, comments:

The hypocrisy is such that while foreign organizations are promoting the need to introduce sanitary napkins in India by saying that 88% of Indian women are using cloth, in their own country they are promoting reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups, citing environmental reasons. If that is the case, then India is far ahead of the rest of the world in being environment friendly. [..]

What we do need is a simple solution of providing information in schools and communities on maintaining menstrual hygiene, be it with cloth or pads. And leave it to women to decide what they wish to use.

Then there is the question of disposing the pads. The thought of hygienic disposal of sanitary napkins got Kathy Walkling into the business of making biodegradable cloth pads as part of the Indian all woman group Ecofemme that produces and exports fair-trade cloth sanitary napkins from India to 14 countries in the world. Other organisations in India have started producing cheap compostable pads like Azadi pad and Anandi pad.

Menstrual health and hygiene isn’t merely a women’s issue. If a large number of the population is being held back because of a problem which is often ignored then it affects the whole population. If only the policy makers could recognise and accept this truth.

by Rezwan at February 04, 2016 02:08 AM

February 03, 2016

Global Voices
A Tanzanian Woman's Brutal Mob Assault Highlights Racism in India
Screenshot of the torched car from which Tanzanian students were dragged out and beaten.

Screenshot of the torched car from which Tanzanian students were dragged out and beaten.

A 21-year-old Tanzanian student was violently assaulted in Bangalore, India, on 31 January 2016 by a mob in a disturbing instance of vigilantism and racism.

The mob, which targeted her after a Sudanese student allegedly hit and killed a 35-year-old woman while driving in the area, beat her, stripped off her clothing and paraded her around naked while the police reportedly watched. The Tanzanian student, who is a second year business student at Acharya College, came to the spot travelling in another car along with four others some 30 minutes afterward and was not even remotely connected to the accident.

Nevertheless, the mob forced the students out, beat the driver and torched their car. They robbed them of their belongings, then proceeded to strip the girl naked. The incident only hit the news on 3 February after she went to the local police and they refused at first to register the case.

The horde was so enraged that they beat someone from the crowd who had offered her a T-shirt to cover up with. When the young woman then tried to enter a local bus nearby, the passengers pushed her back down into the hands of the mob.

The violence sparked a flood of condemnations on Twitter:

Racism against people of dark skin in India

According to Bosco Kaweesi, a legal adviser for the All African Students in Bengaluru, the frenzy continued into the night, as local residents went to houses where African students live and harassed them. He said they also stopped vehicles in the street to check if the occupants were African-looking. The African student community is still scared and students are reluctant to come out in the open.

Racism against dark skin exists in India. Black men are dogged by the assumption that they are violent or a criminal, and black women that they are sex workers. As Crystal Kushwaha, an American woman married to an Indian man, explained on question-and-answer site Quora:

[Indians] favor light skin, and in turn, dislike dark skin. Which leads to prejudice against their own race (those with dark skin), as well as others with dark skin.

A video uploaded to YouTube by India Times in April 2015 offers insight into the kinds of encounters with racism some Africans have in India, including being spit at, pointed at, laughed at, called offensive names and treated as dangerous:

One man explains witnessing that racism be passed on from parent to child:

There was a lady and the child was having issues with the mother. And the mother was like come on, chalo, let's go, and the baby was actually disturbing the mother. She turned and saw me coming behind them and the only thing that she could use to scare the child was to tell the child to look at me, said “See! This person is going to take you away. Look at him, he's going to take you away.” What kind of scaring is that? Because a child like that will grow up not wanting to associate with any kind of black person.

‘Travesty of all things humane and Indian’

Social media users also pointed out other factors at play, such as police tolerance for mob justice. Nitin Bangera commented in Facebook:

This Bangalore case of the Tanzanian woman reminds me of many conversations with friends about road accidents, A lot of people I've had hypothetical chats with say that if they ever knock somebody over in India, they'd flee immediately Or flee immediately to the police station even, but they would not stay at the scene at all, because “dude the mob will kill you”
If such incidents happens in Bangalore like places, we all need to rethink what kind of society we are living in.

While VC John said:

This is a blatant travesty of all things humane and Indian! The police who refused to take a complaint need to be fired and investigated.

Supriya Nair believed the assault case mimics violence based on social caste:

Stripping and parading a young black woman for a made-up reason is textbook upper-caste violence, replicated on the basis of race.

Ankit Singh cried in anguish:

India! Tolerant India! We are a tolerant nation with a thing for parading women naked and torching stuff. Hey, at least we didnt kill her! If this was in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq or some other country, the girl would have been killed. We spared her life! India! Tolerant India!

by Rezwan at February 03, 2016 10:54 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: From Egypt to Kenya to Venezuela, Online Political Speech Feels Riskier Than Ever

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Over the month of January 2016, government authorities in Kenya pursued criminal allegations against several bloggers and social media activists. Among them is recognized journalist and influential blogger Yassin Juma, who supporters believe was targeted for his coverage of a recent attack on a Kenya Defence Forces camp in El-Adde, Somalia by the violent extremist group Al-Shabaab. Kenyan Twitter users responded in force, voicing support for Juma on the #FreeYassinJuma hashtag. Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet has warned Internet users against spreading images that “glorify terrorists”.

Threats against social media activists, journalists and artists meanwhile have continued apace in Egypt since the January 25 anniversary of the 2011 revolution. Popular Egyptian cartoonist Islam Gawish was arrested on January 31 when officers from the “Artistic Products” Department of the state police raided the offices of Egypt News Network, where Gawish works. Interior Ministry officials say the network was operating without a license, and that Gawish will be charged with running an unauthorized personal website. It is not clear which website the charge refers to. Those close to Gawish, who is best known for his work with Al-Waraqa comics and has 1.6 million followers on Facebook, believe the raid and charges were motivated mainly by his artistic work, which focuses on Egyptian society and politics.

And in the western hemisphere, a Venezuelan man affiliated with the Justice First political party was detained after “threatening” President Nicolas Maduro on Twitter. Public servants in particular seem to be punished for social media posts deemed offensive by the authorities. At least three other citizens are currently in prison for messages they posted on Twitter in 2014.

Will Free Basics get the boot in India?

India’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRAI) says it will soon issue an order regulating free or subsidised data packages for mobile phone users. It is expected that the order will bar services such as Facebook’s “Free Basics” app, on the basis of network neutrality and market competition principles. An unnamed source from TRAI told the Times of India: “These [programs] are discriminatory and are against the concept of digital democracy. We will not allow them.”

Malaysia blocks Medium over corruption coverage

The independent investigative news site Sarawak Report, which follows political activity in the eastern state of Sarawak, was blocked in Malaysia last year after running a series of articles highlighting corruption under the current government of Prime Minister Najib Razak. As a solution that turned out to be temporary, administrators of Sarawak Report began republishing their stories on the US-based writing platform Medium. Just this week, Malaysian officials asked Medium to take down an article that contained especially damning allegations about Najib’s use of public funds, claiming that it contained “false content”. When they refused, Malaysian authorities ordered local ISPs to block Medium altogether.

In a statement from their legal team, Medium wrote: “We’ve received no evidence that the post violates any of our Rules, or any law. We stand by investigative journalists who publish on Medium. Until we receive an order from a court of competent jurisdiction, the post stays up.”

Saudi pulls back death sentence for artist Ashraf Fayadh

Following a massive outcry that has spread from the Gulf region to Russia and even as far as Chile, the Saudi Arabian government reduced Palestinian artist Ashraf Fayadh’s sentence from the death penalty to eight years imprisonment and 800 lashes. Fayadh was charged with blasphemy and promoting atheism in his 2008 poetry collection Instructions Within.

Canadian allies go to bat for jailed programmer in Iran

Supporters of jailed Iranian-Canadian programmer Saeed Malekpour are calling on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene on the programmer's behalf. Malekpour was prosecuted and convicted in 2009 in Iran for writing an open source software program that others used to upload pornographic images to the Internet. The initiative to bring fresh attention to the case is spearheaded by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Iranian-American actress Nazanin Boniadi and Canadian film director Paul Haggis.

Copyright claim or censorship tactic? Ecuadorian media NGO faces more challenges

The Spanish company Ares Rights continues to issue copyright claims in what looks like an attempt to suppress criticism of the Ecuadorian government. In one recent case, the executive director of media watchdog site Fundamedios received a copyright complaint that could have forced the entire site to shut down.

EU-US Safe Harbor negotiations hit choppy waters

The US and EU reached a temporary deal on the transfer of data between the two regions, overcoming a stalemate over how Internet companies like Google move data between the EU and US. Negotiations between were fraught and officials failed to reach an agreement by Sunday’s deadline. The US has guaranteed that its intelligence agencies will not be given indiscriminate access to data moving from the EU to the United States, but it appears that commercial considerations may also be slowing down the process.

The rules governing data transfer were established under a Safe Harbor Framework, which was struck down last spring by European judges who ruled that the protections for Europeans’ data when transferred to the US were insufficient. In response, officials from both regions sought to negotiate a new set of rules to accommodate European concerns over surveillance by US intelligence agencies. But these negotiations appear to have broken down over issues such as how Europeans could seek legal remedy in American courts, and multiple national privacy agencies that have threatened to take “aggressive legal action” without sufficient regulations in place. As it must be approved by each EU member state, the deal has a long way to go.

New Research


Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Marianne Diaz, Hae in Lim and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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by Netizen Report Team at February 03, 2016 09:54 PM

Creative Commons
COMMUNIA hosts public domain celebration in the European Parliament

This is a guest post by Lisette Kalshoven.

On Monday, January 25th COMMUNIA organized a Public Domain Day celebration at the European Parliament. COMMUNIA advocates for policies that expand the public domain and increase access to and reuse of culture and knowledge, and consists of many organisations including Creative Commons, Kennisland and Centrum Cyfrowe. The event, which focused on showcasing creators who have chosen to donate their output to the public domain, was hosted by MEP Julia Reda.

Julia Reda at the Public Domain Day Celebration by Sebastiaan ter BurgCC0

Highlighting creators sharing in the public domain

COMMUNIA invited creators such as Kenney Vleugels, who makes game assets available to other game developers under the the CC0 Public Domain Dedication, Alastair Parvin of, who is developing an open source approach to sustainable housing, Femke Snelting of Constant, who is publishing public domain magazines, Eric Schrijver, who is writing a sharing guide for artists, and Thomas Lommee from Open Structures, a standardised open design system. The lunch discussions focused on the artistic and design practices of these creators and the challenges they run into. A recurring theme was the legal uncertainty created by overly complex copyright laws, and the excessive length of copyright protection.

The public domain is traditionally seen as a body of works that are no longer under copyright because the terms of protection have expired. Public Domain Day celebrates this very moment, when the period of copyright protection ends for works of certain authors. But the public domain is not simply a dusty collection of old works. During the event COMMUNIA highlighted the fact that the public domain is a modern phenomenon—it is alive. We celebrate the practice of authors contributing to the public domain long before their copyright expires. From this perspective, the ongoing policy debate on European copyright will structure the shape and scope of our collective public domain for years to come.

pd dayPublic Domain Day Celebration at the European Parliament by Sebastiaan ter Burg; CC0

Copyright debate in Europe should support the public domain

The European Commission is in the process of proposing changes to the copyright rules in the EU. It laid out some of its ideas through a Communication in December 2015, and will present concrete legislative proposals in June 2016. In 2016 and beyond COMMUNIA will advocate for specific points, including the three below. You can read more here.

  1. Ensure that the mere digitisation of public domain works does not create new rights over them. Some member states would like to allow anyone who digitized a public domain work to claim new exclusive rights. This creates legal uncertainty and undermines the concept of the public domain.
  2. Introduce a mandatory and strong exception to copyright for educational use. We need to ensure that education is not burdened by copyright-related barriers. To ensure this, we need a broad, harmonised exception. It should cover all types of uses, including digital and online activities, both inside and outside of the classroom.
  3. Allow cultural heritage institutions to make out-of-commerce works available online. Vibrant and diverse cultural heritage institutions are one of the defining features of our European culture. In order to remain relevant, they need to show their collections online. A new exception should allow these institutions to make available online the out-of-commerce works in their collections.

COMMUNIA is following the events in Brussels closely, and is sharing the advantages of a strong public domain and a flexible copyright to policy makers. You can see photos from the Public Domain event here (all CC0, created by Sebastiaan ter Burg). If you want to stay informed on the changes in European copyright, you can follow the developments on the COMMUNIA blog. If you are interested in the area where copyright and education clash, please have a look at our Medium series on it: Copyright Untangled.

The post COMMUNIA hosts public domain celebration in the European Parliament appeared first on Creative Commons blog.

by Timothy Vollmer at February 03, 2016 07:25 PM

Doc Searls
The Giant Zero

The Giant Zero

The world of distance

Fort Lee is the New Jersey town where my father grew up. It’s at the west end of the George Washington Bridge, which he also helped build. At the other end is Manhattan.

Even though Fort Lee and Manhattan are only a mile apart, it has always been a toll call between the two over a landline. Even today. (Here, look it up.) That’s why, when I was growing up not far away, with the Manhattan skyline looming across the Hudson, we almost never called over there. It was “long distance,” and that cost money.

There were no area codes back then, so if you wanted to call long distance, you dialed 0 (“Oh”) for an operator. She (it was always a she) would then call the number you wanted and patch it through, often by plugging a cable between two holes in a “switchboard.”

Distance in the old telephone system was something you heard and paid for.

Toll-free calls could be made only to a few dozen local exchanges listed in the front of your phone book. Calls to distant states were even more expensive, and tended to sound awful. Calls outside the country required an “overseas operator,” were barely audible, and cost more than a brake job.

That’s why, to communicate with our distant friends and relatives, we sent letters. From 1932 to 1958, regular (“first class”) letters required a 3¢ stamp. This booked passage for the letter to anywhere in the country, though speeds varied with distance, since letters traveled most of the way in canvas bags on trains that shuttled between sorting centers. So a letter from New Jersey to North Carolina took three or four days, while one to California took a week or more. If you wanted to make letters travel faster, you bought “air mail” stamps and put them on special envelopes trimmed with diagonal red and blue stripes. Those were twice the price of first class stamps.

An air mail envelope from 1958, when the postage had gone up to 7¢. This one was mailed from a post office, where the sender paid an extra penny for the second green imprint on the left there.

The high cost of distance for telephony and mail made sense. Farther was harder. We knew this in our bodies, in our vehicles, and through our radios and TVs. There were limits to how far or fast we could run, or yell, or throw a ball. Driving any distance took a sum of time. Even if you drove fast, farther took longer. Signals from radio stations faded as you drove out of town, or out of state. Even the biggest stations — the ones on “clear” channels, like WSM from Nashville, KFI from Los Angeles and WBZ from Boston — would travel hundreds of miles by bouncing off the sky at night. But the quality of those signals declined over distance, and all were gone when the sun came up. Good TV required antennas on roofs. The biggest and highest antennas worked best, but it was rare to get good signals from more than a few dozen miles away.

In TV’s antenna age, you needed one of these if rabbit ears wouldn’t do. The long rods were for channels 2–6 (no longer in use), the medium ones were for channels 7–13, and the short ones were for channels 14–83 (of which only 14–50 are still operative). The pigeons were for interference, and often worked quite well.

All our senses of distance are rooted in our experience of space and time in the physical world. So, even though telephony, shipping and broadcasting were modern graces most of our ancestors could hardly imagine, old rules still applied. We knew in our bones that costs ought to vary with the labors and resources required. Calls requiring operators should cost more than ones that didn’t. Heavier packages should cost more to ship. Bigger signals should require bigger transmitters that suck more watts off the grid.

A world without distance

Everything I just talked about — telephony, mail, radio and TV — are in the midst of being undermined by the Internet, subsumed by it, or both. If we want to talk about how, we’ll have nothing but arguments and explanations. So let’s go instead to the main effect: distance goes away.

On the Net you can have a live voice conversation with anybody anywhere, at no cost or close enough. There is no “long distance.”

On the Net you can exchange email with anybody anywhere, instantly. No postage required.

On the Net anybody can broadcast to the whole world. You don’t need to be a “station” to do it. There is no “range” or “coverage.” You don’t need antennas, beyond the unseen circuits in wireless devices.

I’ve been wondering for a long time about how we ought to conceive the non-thing over which this all happens, and so far I have found no improvements on what I got from Craig Burton in an interview published in the August 2000 issue of Linux Journal:

Doc: How do you conceive the Net? What’s its conceptual architecture?

Craig: I see the Net as a world we might see as a bubble. A sphere. It’s growing larger and larger, and yet inside, every point in that sphere is visible to every other one. That’s the architecture of a sphere. Nothing stands between any two points. That’s its virtue: it’s empty in the middle. The distance between any two points is functionally zero, and not just because they can see each other, but because nothing interferes with operation between any two points. There’s a word I like for what’s going on here: terraform. It’s the verb for creating a world. That’s what we’re making here: a new world.

A world with no distance. A Giant Zero.

Of course there are many forms of actual distance at the technical and economic levels: latencies, bandwidth limits, service fees, censors. But our experience is above those levels, where we interact with other people and things. And the main experience there is of absent distance.

We never had that experience before the Internet showed up in its current form, about twenty years ago. By now we have come to depend on absent distance, in countless ways that are becoming more numerous by the minute. The Giant Zero is a genie that is not going back in the old bottle, and also won’t stop granting wishes.

Not all wishes the Giant Zero grants are good ones. Some are very bad. What matters is that we need to make the most of the good ones and the least of the bad. And we can’t do either until we understand this new world, and start making the best of it on its own terms.

The main problem is that we don’t have those terms yet. Worse, our rhetorical toolbox is almost entirely native to the physical world and misleading in the virtual one. Let me explain.

Talking distance

Distance is embedded in everything we talk about, and how we do the talking. For instance, take prepositions: locators in time and space. There are only a few dozen of them in the English language. (Check ‘em out.) Try to get along without over, under, around, through, beside, along, within, on, off, between, inside, outside, up, down, without, toward, into or near. We can’t. Yet here on the Giant Zero, everything is either present or not, here or not-here.

Sure, we are often aware of where sites are in the physical world, or where they appear to be. But where they are, physically, mostly doesn’t matter. In the twenty years I’ve worked for Linux Journal, its Web server has been in Seattle, Amsterdam, somewhere in Costa Rica and various places in Texas. My own home server started at my house in the Bay Area, and then moved to various Rackspace racks in San Antonio, Vienna (Virginia) and Dallas.

While it is possible for governments, or providers of various services, to look at the IP address you appear to be using and either let you in or keep you out, doing so violates the spirit of the Net’s base protocols, which made a point in the first place of not caring to exclude anybody or anything. Whether or not that was what its creators had in mind, the effect was to subordinate the parochial interests (and businesses) of all the networks that agreed to participate in the Internet and pass data between end points.

The result was, and remains, a World of Ends that cannot be fully understood in terms of anything else, even though we can’t help doing that anyway. Like the universe, the Internet has no other examples.

This is a problem, because all our speech is metaphorical by design, meaning we are always speaking and thinking in terms of something else. According to cognitive linguistics, every “something else” is a frame. And all frames are unconscious nearly all the time, meaning we are utterly unaware of using them.

For example, time is not money, but it is like money, so we speak about time in terms of money. That’s why we “save,” “waste,” “spend,” “lose,” “throw away” and “invest” time. Another example is life. When we say birth is “arrival,” death is “departure,” careers are “paths” and choices are “crossroads,” we are thinking and speaking about life in terms of travel. In fact it is nearly impossible to avoid raiding the vocabularies of money and travel when talking about time and life. And doing it all unconsciously.

These unconscious frames are formed by our experience as creatures in the physical world. You know why we say happy is “up” and sad is “down”? Or why we compare knowledge with “light” and ignorance with “dark”? It’s because we are daytime animals that walk upright. If bats could talk, they would say good is dark and bad is light.

Metaphorical frames are not only unconscious, but complicated and often mixed. In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson point out that ideas are framed in all the following ways: fashion (“old hat,” “in style,” “in vogue”), money (“wealth,” “two cents worth, “treasure trove”), resources (“mined a vein,” “pool,” “ran out of”), products (“produced,” “turning out,” “generated”), plants (“came to fruition,” “in flower,” “budding”), and people (“gave birth to,” “brainchild,” “died off”).

Yet none of those frames is as essential to ideas as what Michael Reddy calls the conduit metaphor. When we say we need to “get an idea across,” or “that sentence carries little meaning,” we are saying that ideas are objects, expressions are containers, and communications is sending.

So let’s look at the metaphorical frames we use, so far, to make sense of the Internet.

When we call the Internet a “medium” through which “content” can “delivered” via “packets” we “uploaded,” “downloaded” between “producers” and “consumers” through “pipes,” we are using a transport frame.

When we talk about “sites” with “domains” and “locations” that we “architect,” “design,” “build” and “construct” for “visitors” and “traffic” in “world” or a “space: with an “environment,” we are using a real estate frame.

When we talk about “pages” and other “documents” that we “write,” “author,” “edit,” “put up,” “post” and “syndicate,” we are using a publishing frame.

When we talk about “performing” for an “audience” that has an “experience: in a “venue,” we are using a theater frame.

And when we talk about “writing a script for delivering a better experience on a site,” we are using all four frames at the same time.

Yet none can make full sense of the Giant Zero. All of them mislead us into thinking the Giant Zero is other than what it is: a place without distance, and lots of challenges and opportunities that arise from its lack of distance.

Terraforming The Giant Zero

William Gibson famously said “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Since The Giant Zero has only been around for a couple decades so far, we still have a lot of terraforming to do. Most of it, I’d say.

So here is a punch list of terraforming jobs, some of which (I suspect) can’t be done in the physical world we know almost too well.

Cooperation. Getting to know and understand other people over distances was has always been hard. But on The Giant Zero we don’t have distance as an excuse for doing nothing, or for not getting to know and work together with others. How can we use The Giant Zero’s instant proximity to overcome (and take advantage) of our differences, and stop hating The Other, whoever they may be?

Privacy. The Giant Zero doesn’t come with privacy. Nor does the physical world. But distance alone gives some measure of privacy in the physical world. We also invented clothing and shelter as privacy technologies thousands of years ago, and we have well developed manners for respecting personal boundaries. On The Giant Zero we barely have any of that, which shouldn’t be surprising, because we haven’t had much time to develop them yet. In the absence of clothing, shelter and boundaries, it’s ridiculously easy for anyone or anything to spy our browsings and emailings. (See Privacy is an Inside Job for more on that, and what we can do about it.)

Personal agency. The original meaning of agency (derived from the Latin word agere, meaning “to do”), is the power to act with full effect in the world. We lost a lot of that when Industry won the Industrial Revolution. We still lose a little bit every time we click “accept” to one-sided terms the other party can change and we can’t. We also lose power every time we acquiesce to marketers who call us “assets” they “target,” “capture,” “acquire,” “manage,” “control” and “lock in” as if we were slaves or cattle. In The Giant Zero, however, we can come to the market as equals, in full control of our data and able to bring far more intelligence to the market’s table than companies can ever get through data gathered by surveillance and fed into guesswork mills that: a) stupidly assume that we are always buying something and b) still guess wrong at rates that round to 100% of the time. All we need to do is prove that free customers are more valuable than captive ones — to the whole economy. Which we can if we build our own tools for both independence and engagement. (Which we are.)

Politics and governance. Elections in democratic countries have always been about sports: the horse race, the boxing ring, the knockout punch. The Internet changes all that in many ways we already know and more we don’t. But what about governance? What about direct connections between citizens and the systems that serve them? The Giant Zero exists in all local, state, national and global government contexts, waiting to be discovered and used. And how should we start thinking about laws addressing an entirely new world we’ve hardly built and are years away from understanding fully (if we ever will)? In a new world being terraformed constantly, we risk protecting yesterday from last Thursday with laws and regulations that will last for generations — especially when we might find a technical solution next Tuesday to last Thursday‘s problems.

Economics. What does The Giant Zero in our midst mean for money, accounting and everything in Econ 101, 102 and beyond? Today we already have Bitcoin and its distributed ledger, the block chain. Both are only a few years old, and already huge bets are being made on their successes and failures. International monetary systems, credit payment and settlement mechanisms are also challenged by digital systems of many kinds that are zero-based in several different meanings of the expression. How do we create economies that are both native to The Giant Zero and respectful of the physical world it cohabits?

The physical world. We live in an epoch that geologists are starting to call the Anthropocene, because it differs from all that preceded it in one significant way: it is altered countless ways by human activity. At the very least, it is beyond dispute that our species is, from the perspective of the planet itself, a pestilence. We raid it of irreplaceable substances deposited by life forms (e.g. banded iron) and asteroid impacts (gold, silver, uranium and other heavy metals) billions of years ago, and of the irreplaceable combustible remains of plants and animals cooked in the ground for dozens to hundreds of millions of years. We fill the planet’s air and seas with durable and harmful wastes. We wipe out species beyond counting, with impunity. We have littered space with hundreds of thousands of pieces of orbiting crap flying at speeds ten times faster than bullets. The Giant Zero can’t reverse the damage we’ve caused, or reduce our ravenous appetites for more of everything our species selfishly calls a “resource.” But it puts us in the best possible position to understand and deal with the problems we’re causing.

The “Internet of Things” (aka IoT) is a huge topic, even though most of the things being talked about operate in closed and proprietary silos that may not even use the Internet. But what if they actually were all to become native to The Giant Zero? What if every thing — whether or not it has smarts inside — could be on the Net, at zero distance from every other thing, and capable of interacting in fully useful ways for their owners, rather than the way they’re being talked about now: as suction cups on corporate and government tentacles?

Inequality. What better than The Giant Zero’s absent distance to reduce the distance between rich and poor — and to do so in ways not limited to the familiar ones we argue about in the physical world?

The unconnected. How do we migrate the last 1.5 billion of us from Earth to The Giant Zero?

A question

I could go on, but I’d rather put another question to those of you who have made it to the end of this post: Should The Giant Zero be a book? I’m convinced of the need for it and have a pile of material already. Studying all this has also been my focus for a decade as a fellow with the Center for Information Technology and Society at UCSB. But I still have a long way to go.

If pressing on is a good idea, I could use some help thinking it through and pulling materials together. If you’re interested, let me know. No long distance charges apply.

This piece is copied over from this one in Medium, and is my first experiment in publishing first there and second here. Both are expanded and updated from a piece published at on May 16, 2008. The drawing of the Internet is by Hugh McLeod. Other images are from Wikimedia Commons.


by Doc Searls at February 03, 2016 06:13 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
ISPs Take Kremlin to Court Over Online Surveillance
Taking on the goliath of Russian Internet surveillance. Original image: Flikr user αndrΩ / David and Goliath. CC 2.0. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Taking on the goliath of Russian Internet surveillance. Original image: Flickr user αndrΩ / David and Goliath. CC 2.0. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Two Russian Internet service providers that have agreed to take to court the Federal Security Service (FSB) to challenge the legality of SORM—the surveillance system the federal police uses to spy on Internet use.

This is no small feat. For Russia’s Internet surveillance system to work, ISPs have install special (and very expensive) equipment that essentially grants the FSB snooping powers. According to journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, the “SORM box” is “one of the world’s most intrusive listening devices, and it is the Russian government’s front line in a monumental battle for the future of the Internet.”

The ISPs are taking the case forward under the leadership of the Moscow non-commercial group Society for Defending the Internet (OZI), headed by IT-specialists Leonid Volkov and Sergei Boiko. Launched in December 2015, OZI plans to challenge government encroachment on Internet freedom and to push back against the “many state and near-state organizations that are systematically ruining the Internet in Russia.”

The case against SORM is not OZI’s only fight: the organization is also seeking volunteer programmers to develop a system that would monitor the physical channels that connect the RuNet to the outside world.

Volkov says there are currently 50-200 of these channels, but there are concerning rumors that Moscow would like to reduce this number to 3-4, oligopolizing the industry. The drop in competition, Volkov argues, would provide the Kremlin with opportunities to award market shares to “friendly firms”. OZI doesn’t expect it can stop this process, but Volkov hopes that monitoring the issue will give Russians time to react before it’s too late. A small number of channels would also make it far easier to disconnect the Russian Internet from the World Wide Web in the event of a political crisis.

For the past several years, Leonid Volkov has been one of the leading tech figures in Russia’s democratic protest movement, developing e-democracy software, supervising online voting in 2012 for the “Opposition Coordination Council”, and running anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny’s 2013 mayoral campaign in Moscow (which only narrowly failed to force a second round). Today, Volkov is a project manager at “Team Navalny,” coordinating efforts to expose corruption in the Russian state.

OZI hopes to carry out this work with a staff composed mainly of volunteers and a budget sustained mostly by crowdfunding, though donations from supportive businesses are also welcome.

by Kevin Rothrock at February 03, 2016 05:16 PM

February 02, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Saudi Arabia Reduces Ashraf Fayadh's Death Sentence to Eight Years in Prison and 800 Lashes
Ashraf Fayadh .. via Instagram

Ashraf Fayadh .. via Instagram

Saudi Arabia overturned the death sentence of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, accused of apostasy and other blasphemy-related offenses which he denies, to eight years imprisonment and 800 lashes, announced his lawyer via Twitter today.

In a tweet, which had a press press release in Arabic attached to it, his lawyer Abdulrahman Al-Lahim said the court has revoked the death sentence, replacing it with the prison sentence and the public lashings, at the rate of 50 lashes per week, as well as enforcing Fayadh to renounce his poetry in Saudi official media:

The lawyer maintained that Fayadh was innocent and called for his immediate release from prison.

Fayadh, who was born and lives in Saudi Arabia, has curated art shows in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale and has been a key leader of Edge of Arabia, a British-Saudi art organization. Fayadh was first detained in August 2013 in Abha, in South Western Saudi Arabia, by the country's religious police, also known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The 35-year-old was released on bail only to be arrested again on January 1, 2014, when he was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes. After his attorneys appealed, judicial authorities decided to re-try his case before a new panel of judges, who sentenced Fayadh to death in November 2015, on charges of promoting atheism in his 2008 poetry collection, Instructions Within.

According to Human Rights Watch:

Prosecutors charged him with a host of blasphemy-related charges, including: blaspheming “the divine self” and the Prophet Muhammad; spreading atheism and promoting it among the youth in public places; mocking the verses of God and the prophets; refuting the Quran; denying the day of resurrection; objecting to fate and divine decree; and having an illicit relationship with women and storing their pictures in his phone.

On Twitter, many continued to criticise Saudi Arabia and its human rights record, despite the reduction of Fayadh's sentence. Zena tweets:

Bandar Almogtrb adds:

Justice is the immediate release of Ashraf Fayadh and compensating him for what has happened to him and his family from all this

And Naser Al-marshdi says its high time Saudi Arabia had a written law to avoid what he described as arbitrary rulings by judges:

Ashraf Fayadh's case is clear proof that there needs to be written laws which judges abide to and not base their rulings on their feelings and impressions and personal interpretations

Meanwhile, Shatha Nour is shocked anyone would celebrate this decision as a victory for Saudi justice:

I am shocked with those celebrating Saudi justice. Is jailing him for eight years just? Or are the 800 lashes just? What justice are you talking about?

Also read:

Russia and Chile Join the Global Campaign to Save a Saudi Poet From Execution

by Amira Al Hussaini at February 02, 2016 10:21 PM

Rising Voices
First Steps of Participatory Research Project: Indigenous Languages and Digital Media
Photo by Diego Gómez Aldana.

Photo by Diego Gómez Aldana.

The rapid development of digital media, which began during the last decade of the 20th century, has had unanticipated effects at the beginning of the 21st century. Peoples, whose cultures and languages were marginalized and displaced by the Nation-State, have appropriated – slowly, but surely – these media to reassert their cultural and linguistic presence in cyberspace.

In Latin America, the most notable trends in digital activism have been predominantly led by the Spanish-speaking mestizo populations. However, gradually and in parallel, we have started to see more and more examples of the appropriation of digital tools by communities and individuals who belong to Indigenous peoples. From the translation and localization of free software and social media to the digital documentation of their own practices, stories, and artistic expressions, to the design of apps for the teaching and learning of Indigenous languages, Indigenous digital innovations are developing within a range of activities which are not always easily recognizable as “activism”.

We need to look at these initiatives, however, in relation to their regional context. Here, despite the constitutional reforms implemented to recognize and guarantee the rights of the Indigenous peoples of Latin America in the last two decades, both the State and society at large do not seem willing to implement two of the main demands made by Indigenous movements: to promote national education in Indigenous languages and to allow the creation of Indigenous-owned mass media.

Faced with the State’s failure to fulfill its commitments, individuals, groups, and communities are inventing new ways to strengthen their languages, taking advantage of the lower costs of digital technology tools, and of the support of free software activists. Within this “cultural activism”, individual Indigenous activists and collectives are setting up online digital radio stations and video; recovering, digitizing, and redistributing old audio and video recordings; building community mobile networks; producing video clips to revitalize near extinct languages; publishing bilingual blogs and memes (in their languages and Spanish); learning how to interweave different internet platforms and social media; making participatory and community films in which they create new visual narratives; reporting their struggles and connecting them to other Indigenous struggles through news sites, Twitter and YouTube; and “placing” their voices onto the (Sound)cloud to tell jokes, sing to the jungle, and provide their opinions about their future.

Photo by Diego Gómez Aldana

Photo by Diego Gómez Aldana

Since 2013, Global Voices started a strong collaboration with organizations and activists involved in digital innovation initiatives around Indigenous languages. With the financial support of Hivos and other allied institutions, it helped to co-organize Indigenous Language Digital Activism Gatherings in the region. The first one took place in Oaxaca, Mexico, in October 2014, and two more followed in Bogota, Colombia, in June 2015, and then in Cusco, Peru, in December 2015. These activities gave a new thrust to the connections and mutual recognition among participants and inspired the creation of a Network of Indigenous Language Digital Activism.

In this same line of work, with the support of the Ford Foundation, a team of Indigenous researchers began to assemble in October 2015. This team will be in charge of developing a research project based on 15 experiences where digital technology and media were employed to document, pass on, and strengthen Latin American Indigenous languages.

This team includes a principal investigator, Genner Llanes-Ortiz (Yucatec Maya), an associate investigator, Pedro Cardona (Zapotec), and four regional investigators, Ruben Hilari (Aymara), Liseth Atamain (Awajun), Duvan Almendra (Misak) and Yasnaya Aguilar (Mixe). The members of this team are themselves leaders of their own projects and digital innovators in their own languages. Their personal experience and empathy will be key to understand the digital initiatives included in the study from the point of view of their actors.

  • What motivates Indigenous groups and individuals to undertake a process to recuperate, strengthen and promote their languages using digital media?
  • What are their objectives and what are the goals they pursue?
  • What difficulties do they face in their social and political context?
  • How do they resolve the challenges they face in terms of digital infrastructure?
  • What are their communicational strategies of choice?
  • What are the alliances they create?
  • How do they access external technology training, or how do they train themselves?
  • How are they received by their own linguistic communities, the national society, and the global cyber networks?
  • What are their future aims, and what resources could contribute to enhance or increase the impact of their work?

These are some of the questions that will guide the research of these Indigenous digital initiatives. The research project aims to establish collaborative relations with activists and organizers so that its outcomes would have a favorable impact in their work. The first results in the systematization of digital innovations in Indigenous languages will be made public on this site:, where online conversations will also be facilitated to receive feedback and to engage with new questions and lines of enquiry.

Photo by Eduardo Ávila

Photo by Eduardo Ávila

After the first steps in the assembly of the team, a round of discussions has followed to identify the conceptual field and to establish working definitions that would lead the investigation. Because the field of the study has never been addressed in this way or in this scale, it is expected that the work of this group of Indigenous activists, promoters and academics will shed new light to understand the challenges and opportunities that the so-called “digital era” poses to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Digital activism of Indigenous languages follows multiple pathways of which this research will barely scratch the surface, but we hope that the information and analysis resulting from this effort will open the way for new and better inquiries.

by Genner Llanes-Ortiz at February 02, 2016 10:10 PM

Global Voices
No Smoking Please, We're Turkmen
Photo by Curran Kelleher. CC BY 2.0

Photo by Curran Kelleher. CC BY 2.0

Citizens in Turkmenistan will have a much harder time puffing away their worries over the country's brewing economic crisis this year, following an effective ban on cigarettes in the isolated state.

Even before the latest crackdown in January, which has seen cigarettes disappear from shops and heavy regulations for the certification and import of tobacco introduced, there were bans on advertising tobacco and smoking in public spaces.

Last year, the country was declared the country with the fewest smokers per capita in the Europe and Central Asia region by the World Health Organization, a geographical category state media subsequently rephrased as “the world”.

Eurasianet provided some background to the latest anti-tobacco drive.

Dogmatic opposition to smoking among the authorities goes back a long way.

The late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died of heart failure in late 2006, banned smoking in all public places in 2000. In doing so, he acted with the typical zeal of a former smoker. After being operated on for heart problems, he was told by doctors to give up cigarettes, which is when he decided to try and extend the prohibition to all his subjects.

Similarly, when Berdymukhamedov came to power, he was notably on the chunky side. Since then, he has embarked on an exercise drive that has visibly slimmed him down. Accordingly, he has become an energetic proponent for healthy living.

State television on January 15 broadcast the faintly surreal sight of diplomats, village elders, representatives of the local media and students shoveling narcotics and blocks of cigarettes onto a pyre.

Before airing the demonstrative act, state television showed a news report about the capture of a group of people accused of illegally smuggling cigarettes into Turkmenistan. The group included two businessmen, an official with the customs service and a representative of the government standards agency. As the report explained, the businessmen bought the cheap and low-quality cigarettes abroad, the customs official took bribes to look the other way and the standards agency official provided certification to ensure the goods could be sold in shops.

‘Bans, bans, and bans’

Netizens from neighbouring countries such as Russia have tended towards criticism of the anti-smoking restrictions, which have already seen cigarette packs double in cost on the black market according to the Eurasianet report.

Андрей Ростов likened Turkmenistan's actions to those of Russia's own ban-happy government:

Ну, Горбачёв тоже боролся с алкоголизмом и вводил “сухой закон”.
Ваш нейтральный и независимый перзидент уже уничтожил в Ашхабаде зелёные насаждения, запретил открывать окна в домах в центре города (ему гадалка нагадала, что его убьют из окна, когда он будет ехать на работу)…”(с) уничтожает спутниковые антенны и кондиционеры. Доллары запретил, теперь за сигареты взялся. Скоро будете перенимать передовой российский опыт, вы будете сжигать еду.

Well, Gorbachev also fought alcohol consumption and introduced a “dry law”. Your neutral and independent president already destroyed green trees in Ashgabat, put a ban on opening windows in the city centre (a fortune teller told him that he’ll be killed from a window on the way to work)…he destroys satellite dishes and air conditioning. [Sales of] dollars are banned, now it’s cigarettes’ turn. Very soon, you’ll go Russia's way of burning food.

An anonymous commenter added:

Запреты, запреты и запреты. Люди уже ничего не могут самостоятельно делать.

Bans, bans, and bans. People cannot do anything on their own these days.

‘Puffing away like locomotives’

Visitors to the opposition website Chrono-tm showed support for the new measures, however, and spoke in favour of healthy living. A similar trend was observed in the comments section of a YouTube report.

Сигареты — это такая гадость! Правильно, что их убирают из продажи.

Cigarettes are disgusting! It’s only correct they are banned from sale.

Говорят, что будут продавать по три пачки в месяц на человека. Ну как с долларами.

People say that they will allow three packs per person per month. Just like they did with dollars.

*Prior to the ban on dollar sales, citizens were restricted in the amount of foreign  currency they could purchase.

Давно пора! Сами травятся и окружающих травят. Если на западе существует культура потребления (зоны для курящих и некурящих, ограничение в продаже несовершеннолетним, и т.д.), то в ТМ этого нет, пыхтят как паровоз где попало.

It’s overdue! Smokers kill themselves and people around them. While in the West there is a culture of consumption (areas for smokers and non-smokers, the restriction of sales to minors, etc.), there was [originally] nothing like that in Turkmenistan, [people] puffing away like locomotives anywhere.

List of smoking banks in the world. Source:

A map of smoking restrictions in the world via Wikipedia.

But one commenter argued it would be better if authorities awakened a desire to live longer and healthier in the people instead of constantly imposing more restrictions and bans:

Думается, что запрещать что-либо — это полный бред. Люди так устроены, что все равно будут жить вопреки запрету. Если байствующий главарь хочет сохранить здоровье, так пусть создаст такие условия, что бы хотелось жить долго и счастливо. Тогда богатые, довольные своей жизнью люди сами избавятся от вредных привычек ради удлинения своей счастливой жизни

Banning something is complete nonsense. People are made in such a way that they will live in violation of those bans. If the leader wanted to promote a healthy lifestyle, he should create conditions where people want to live longer and more happily. Once rich and satisfied with their lives, people will shelve their unhealthy habits in order to prolong their happy lives.

by Anna Fergana at February 02, 2016 05:59 PM

Saudi Arabia Reduces Ashraf Fayadh's Death Sentence to Eight Years in Prison and 800 Lashes
Ashraf Fayadh .. via Instagram

Ashraf Fayadh .. via Instagram

Saudi Arabia overturned the death sentence of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, accused of apostasy and other blasphemy-related offenses which he denies, to eight years imprisonment and 800 lashes, announced his lawyer via Twitter today.

In a tweet, which had a press press release in Arabic attached to it, his lawyer Abdulrahman Al-Lahim said the court has revoked the death sentence, replacing it with the prison sentence and the public lashings, at the rate of 50 lashes per week, as well as enforcing Fayadh to renounce his poetry in Saudi official media:

The court has decided to overturn its previous decision and issued a new verdict. Details enclosed.

The lawyer maintained that Fayadh was innocent and called for his immediate release from prison.

Fayadh, who was born and lives in Saudi Arabia, has curated art shows in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale and has been a key leader of Edge of Arabia, a British-Saudi art organization. Fayadh was first detained in August 2013 in Abha, in South Western Saudi Arabia, by the country's religious police, also known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The 35-year-old was released on bail only to be arrested again on January 1, 2014, when he was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes. After his attorneys appealed, judicial authorities decided to re-try his case before a new panel of judges, who sentenced Fayadh to death in November 2015, on charges of promoting atheism in his 2008 poetry collection, Instructions Within.

According to Human Rights Watch:

Prosecutors charged him with a host of blasphemy-related charges, including: blaspheming “the divine self” and the Prophet Muhammad; spreading atheism and promoting it among the youth in public places; mocking the verses of God and the prophets; refuting the Quran; denying the day of resurrection; objecting to fate and divine decree; and having an illicit relationship with women and storing their pictures in his phone.

On Twitter, many continued to criticise Saudi Arabia and its human rights record, despite the reduction of Fayadh's sentence. Zena tweets:

Bandar Almogtrb adds:

Justice is the immediate release of Ashraf Fayadh and compensating him for what has happened to him and his family from all this

And Naser Al-marshdi says its high time Saudi Arabia had a written law to avoid what he described as arbitrary rulings by judges:

Ashraf Fayadh's case is clear proof that there needs to be written laws which judges abide to and not base their rulings on their feelings and impressions and personal interpretations

Meanwhile, Shatha Nour is shocked anyone would celebrate this decision as a victory for Saudi justice:

I am shocked with those celebrating Saudi justice. Is jailing him for eight years just? Or are the 800 lashes just? What justice are you talking about?

Also read:

Russia and Chile Join the Global Campaign to Save a Saudi Poet From Execution

by Amira Al Hussaini at February 02, 2016 04:44 PM

For Myanmar’s People, Aung San Suu Kyi’s Government Marks a New Dawn

The opening session of Myanmar's parliament. Photo taken from the Myanmar Ministry of Information Official Facebook Page.

The opening session of Myanmar's parliament on February 1, 2016, was greeted by many citizens as an important milestone in the country's transition to democracy. The parliament is dominated by the National League for Democracy (NLD), which defeated the military-backed party in the general elections last November. NLD is led by former political prisoner and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar became an independent state in 1948, but lost its short-lived democracy when General Nay Win grabbed power in 1962. After more than two decades of military dictatorship, a massive national riot broke out, forcing General Nay Win to step down in 1988. Two years later, a general election was held, but the army did not recognize the results showing Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of national hero General Aung San, had won. Instead of becoming president, she was placed under house arrest by the junta led by the new military dictator, General Than Shwe.

It was only after another two decades that the military government announced its intention to implement democratic reforms in the country. A new constitution was unveiled, which preserves 25 percent of the seats in parliament for the army. In 2010, the military-backed party led by former General Thein Sein dominated the election, which was marred by widespread irregularities.

The new government continued to enforce draconian policies such as the persecution of minority ethnic peoples, the arrest of critical journalists and activists, and the intensification of local conflicts. But surprisingly, it also pursued significant political reforms such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the dissolution of censorship and the liberalization of the Internet.

After her release from prison, Aung San Suu Kyi led the opposition to an electoral victory. But she is constitutionally barred from becoming president since her spouse and children are foreigners. The new ruling party will nominate a new president in two weeks, but Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to remain a powerful voice in the new government.

Meanwhile, many people in the country are optimistic about the first day of the new government. Here are what some people are saying on social media.

Phyu Phyu Thi posted on Facebook the significance of the people's role in the election.

Today is the day we have been waiting for so long. People Power

Helen Aye Kyaw noted that the first parliament session was chaired by a woman.

သဘာပတိကလည်း အမျိုးသမီးပါ

Change indeed. The session is chaired by a woman. Daw Khin Htay Kywe.

Photo shared by Helen Aye Kyaw (screen shot from television). Daw Khin Aye Kywe of the NLD party reading the agenda of the parliament.

Human rights activist Aung Myo Min also recognized the significance of this event:

ပြောင်းလဲမှုတခုတော့ သိသိသာသာပါ… အမျိုးသားထိုင်နေကျနေရာမှာ အမျိုးသမီးတယောက်တယောက် နေရာယူလိုက်ပါပြီ…

The change is really significant. Now a woman is taking the place where only the men have sat in the past.

Former blogger and political prisoner and current Member of Parliament Nay Phone Latt honored the heroes of the democracy movement:

ဒီလိုနေ့မျိုးရောက်ဖို့ နည်းမျိုးစုံနဲ့ရင်းနှီးပေးဆပ်ခဲ့ကြတဲ့ အဘဦးဝင်းတင်အပါအဝင် ဒီမိုကရေစီသူရဲကောင်းများအားလုံးကို
ဒီနေ့မှာ ထူးထူးကဲကဲ သတိရနေမိပါတယ်။
ဒီပုဂ္ဂိုလ်တွေရဲ့ စိတ်ဝိဉာဉ်တွေကို ဦးထိပ်ပန်ဆင်ပြီး
ရဲရင့်လေးနက်စွာနဲ့ ရှေ့ခရီးကို ဆက်လျှောက်ပါ့မယ်။

Today I am specially remembering the heroes of democracy including Uncle U Win Tin, who all sacrificed their lives for this day to arrive. Keeping alive their spirit in my heart, (I) will bravely walk forward.

The Ladies News Journal also shared a photo of the wife of journalist Ko Par Gyi, who was shot dead by the military during the previous government. She is now also a member of parliament representing her hometown:

Photo shared by the Ladies News Journal.

The post reads:

ကမ္ဘာ့သမိုင်းတွင် မှတ်တမ်းဝင်သွားပြီဖြစ်တဲ့ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံမှ အကြမ်းမဖက် ဒီမိုကရေစီအောင်ပွဲ

Myanmar's non-violent democracy victory that made it to the world.

However, some people are still skeptical about the continuing involvement of the army in lawmaking:

This includes cartoonists, who are still critical about the army's influence.

Cartoon by Cartoon Win Aung. Shared by BrainWave.

Cartoon by Cartoon Win Aung. Shared by BrainWave. The text reads: “if it is not in the right environment, it is impossible to grow.” The text over the tree reads: Democracy.

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by Thant Sin at February 02, 2016 03:43 PM

How to Train for Digital Literacy in Venezuela—When Internet Isn’t Always Available
Workshop in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Photo by Jose Monasterios on Twitter.

Workshop in Barquisimeto. Photo by Jose Monasterios on Twitter.

Global Voices Exchange (GVeX) is a Rising Voices project aimed at developing training and mentoring frameworks for the practice of digital advocacy in the Global South. In this post, republished from the GVeX site, Marianne Díaz Hernández, one of the project team members, explains her experience with digital literacy training in situations without connectivity.

I spent last November traveling through my country — Venezuela — with citizen media network Reporte Ya to give workshops on social media use for coverage of the December parliamentary elections, including tips and tools for digital security. These activities were aimed at ordinary citizens, including college students, professionals from different backgrounds and even politicians.

In a sociopolitical context where traditional media is not functioning properly, digital media and social networks have somehow fulfilled, at least partially, the need for information, communication and debate around social and political topics; however, Internet penetration in Venezuela is still somewhere around 62% and digital literacy, even though it hasn’t been measured, is obviously lacking. This is the reason why we thought it was important, given the circumstances, to help people understand and empower themselves in the use of social media tools.

Context is king

Audience’s contexts are always different, usually not homogeneous, and not the same as the facilitator’s. We had to deliver the same workshops in the capital city of Caracas and in villages with very little Internet connectivity; in some places people couldn’t choose their ISP or they had regular blackouts for several hours. Coming prepared with all sorts of tools and apps doesn’t mean that our audience is going to be able to use them; it is very important first to analyze the context and develop a proper strategy that can be adapted to the specific audience and the particular challenges it faces.

Everyone needs data

Not only analysts need to understand how to retrieve and analyze big amounts of data; regular citizens as well can find useful to learn how to interpret a trending topic, or the critical mass a particular piece of information can achieve and its meaning with regards to the particular context and situation. For instance, when a lot of fake photographs are appearing and thus disseminating rumors in the context of a political upheaval, learning how to reverse search for an image can be very useful for anyone, and creating a relationship of responsibility towards the information that we receive, consume and replicate can mean all the difference to a connected citizen.

Beware of jargon

When we train about very specific issues, for instance when we train about technology use, it’s easy to take for granted that your audience shares some previous context with you as a facilitator. However, they all have different backgrounds, and some terms might mean something different — or nothing at all — to them. It’s important to give them the opportunity to catch up to you, and to provide materials that are understandable and in their language. When delivering workshops to indigenous populations, we had to understand that Spanish, even though it’s the official language of the country, is not their mother tongue but their second language, and this means there is already a language barrier. Making guides and materials available in your audience’s language can make an enormous difference.

Internet outage map for Venezuela parliamentary elections, Dec 6, 2015. Crowdsourced by NGO Acceso Libre via Open Street Maps.

Internet outage map for Venezuela parliamentary elections, Dec. 6, 2015. Crowdsourced by NGO Acceso Libre via Open Street Maps.

Plan for the best, prepare for the worst

Depending, again, on the context, it is possible to find ourselves delivering a workshop in an auditorium with WiFi and the latest model of projector available, or it’s possible that there is a blackout and there is no electricity — and of course, no Internet — and you have traveled six hours only to be there for that day. Suspending the activity is not an option, because it means it won’t get done another time. To be prepared means to have a plan B and sometimes, also a plan C for when everything fails: to have offline backups of everything you need, and not to get too overwhelmed when everything that can fail actually does fail.

Your job is not done when you exit the room

In my country, there is a culture of two-hour workshops with no hands-on training or follow-up. This means that the rate of people who actually leave the workshop and apply what they have learned is very low. Understanding that it is your duty as a facilitator to do follow-up after the event has taken place, and provide additional support if needed, can make all the difference between someone who only sat there for a couple of hours and then returned to their regular life, and someone who actually applied the knowledge to their life.

All in all, I think that all of this sums up to being aware of differences, which in my opinion is one of the most important skills an activist or an advocate can have: to realise that you cannot assume that your audience has the same background, context, tools, opinions or privileges that you might have, and to see that as an advantage instead of an obstacle to be surpassed: to learn how to navigate, ride and thrive on difference can be a powerful motor for change.

by Marianne Díaz Hernández at February 02, 2016 03:36 PM

The Zika Virus Threat Looms Large in the Caribbean
"Death to Chikungunya #Trinidad" may soon have to be renamed to "Death to Zika". Photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

“Death to Chikungunya #Trinidad” may soon have to be renamed to “Death to Zika”. Photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

The Zika virus is causing a bit of a panic in the Caribbean after Brazilian health authorities noticed an unusually high incidence of microcephaly in areas of the country that have high mosquito populations. Microcephaly is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which the head circumference of newborn babies is smaller than usual. Brazil has since made a connection between the mosquito-borne Zika virus and the foetal brain-damage outbreak — and doctors there are suggesting that the virus “could be having a wider range of effects” on foetal development. Unsurprisingly, the virus is spreading beyond South America.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the most southerly islands in the Caribbean archipelago, the virus has been declared a national health emergency.

As in other areas where the virus is a threat, women have been advised not to get pregnant, but this is not always a surefire method of prevention in a region where access to contraception may be limited or a low priority for those in lower income brackets, and where religious beliefs often play a role in decisions over artificial birth control.

Trinidad and Tobago appears to be taking a proactive approach to the problem, however. Rapid Response Units (RRUs) are being set up throughout the twin island republic to deal with the prevalence of the the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which spreads the disease. Fogging and spraying of residential communities, which has not been as widespread as is needed to keep the mosquito population at bay, will also be on the increase. The country's health minister has given instructions that during the country's Carnival season, all the major event venues will be sprayed, though he stopped short at screening visitors for the virus at ports of entry, saying it was not a feasible proposition. Instead, he encouraged people to take precautions against getting bitten and to ensure that their homes are not breeding grounds for mosquitos.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has announced that the Zika virus constitutes a global health emergency:

At the Barbados Underground blog, Kammie Holder wrote a guest post lamenting the “lazy” response to the Zika threat by the country's health authorities:

Zika is upon us with the US CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] issuing a travel advisory against countries with cases. Unfortunately, many are not reporting that this mosquito born disease also causing paralysis in adults. Hopefully, some day the lazy indifferent decision makers will learn the importance of the proactive approach. I guess they are waiting until the planes start arriving empty to act.

Scientists are currently investigating whether the Zika virus is also linked to the nerve disorder Guillain-Barré, which can cause paralysis.

Much further north along the archipelago, Babette, a Dominican Republic-based blogger, remembered the debilitating effect the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has had on her:

I have not been well really since the chikungunya.

That must be about two years now […] the pains in my joints have not really left me, just as some had predicted might happen.

Dona Gloria, my neighbor who has 25 years on me, stops in front of the bars on my ground floor apartment on her way to the market and we rub our respective wrists and complain about our ankles.

Of the Zika threat, she wrote:

Now there is another virus on the way. One that attacks new bornes [sic]. Called Zika. It gives them tiny heads. The women and girls are being told not to get pregnant.

But the Catholic Church, which rules here under the Papal Nuncio, forbids the use of contraceptives (ah yes, you think that they use them? that the machos spend their money on latex? that they take showers with raincoats? think again)

and abortion is prohibited […]

Fears over the spread of the disease and its threat to children still in utero have resulted in several countries issuing travel advisories, which could in turn have a serious negative effect on Caribbean tourism, the economic mainstay of several regional territories. There is currently no treatment or vaccine available for the virus.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at February 02, 2016 01:57 PM

Lokman Tsui
my next research project: personal data protection in hong kong

Have you ever wondered what others know about you? We live in an era where everything that we do, including who we call, for how long and at what times, what websites we visit and how often, all can be recorded in minute detail. This can be a scary thought: information is power and money, as companies can share your information with law enforcement or sell it to other companies, oftentimes without your consent.

Am I being overly concerned? Well, remember what happened in 2010 in Hong Kong? Initially denying accusations that they had sold people’s personal information without their consent, Octopus ended up confessing that, yes, they had sold away personal information of their users, making a not insignificant profit of HKD44m, which was about 31% of its total revenue. Octopus is the company famous for pioneering the smart card that everyone in Hong Kong has and uses to conveniently pay for a wide range of things, from public transportation, to candy bars, to electricity bills, with just one simple tap of the card. The personal information Octopus sold included partial identity card numbers; partial date of birth, including year and month; mailing address without block and floor details; occupation; gender; range of salary; and spending on a reward scheme. Upset and angry that Octopus was collecting, processing and even selling their personal information, users demanded to know why this could happen at all, and whether anything could be done about it. This incident ultimately led to the strengthening of data protection law in Hong Kong, which was already known for being the first jurisdiction in Asia to have a dedicated personal data protection law.

A strong law that guarantees the protection of personal information in Hong Kong: that’s great. But is it working? That’s not so clear: there was a record high number of complaints in 2015, with 40% of the complaints “related to the use of personal data without the consent of data subjects”. Perhaps not surprising, a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed how people are increasingly feeling a sense of resignation and fatalism when it comes to privacy: more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also feel that this already happened and that they cannot do anything about it. But people still care about privacy: another study by Pew revealed that 93% of adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important; while 90% say that controlling what information is collected about them is important.

I study internet freedom. I believe being able to protect your privacy is critical not only because privacy is a human right, but also because privacy helps free expression: if you feel you are being watched, you will self-censor yourself. It’s why I am working on a research project, to understand the collection, processing and sharing of personal information here in Hong Kong; a research project that is in collaboration with InMedia Hong Kong and the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. If you’re interested, keep your eye on this space: there will be more to come.

by Lokman Tsui at February 02, 2016 04:31 AM

February 01, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian Social Network VK Claims to Protect Users From Warrantless Surveillance
The headquarters of VK on Nevsky Avenue in Saint Petersburg (aka Singer House). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The headquarters of VK on Nevsky Avenue in Saint Petersburg (aka Singer House). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

VKontakte, the most popular social network in Russia, Ukraine, and other post-Soviet countries, has long been the subject of speculation about how exactly it deals with requests for user information from law enforcement and secret services.

VKontakte (or VK for short) representatives have generally remained tight-lipped about the inner workings of their user data management. But in January 2016, the network's press-secretary in Ukraine, Vlad Legotkin, suddenly opened up about VKontakte policies on data privacy, censorship, and, most importantly, on working with secret service requests (though he did not specify whether his comments related to Ukrainian or Russian law enforcement). Below is a verbatim translation of Legotkin's VKontakte post on the matter from January 11.

Друзья и коллеги-журналисты всегда спрашивают, почему команда VK не воспринимает всерьёз регулярные заявления профессиональных экспертов интернета — когда горе-блогеры и чиновники пытаются спровоцировать нас, чтобы, получив любую реакцию, набрать дополнительных баллов в глазах читателей и зрителей. Объясню нашу позицию.

Мы — не та компания, которая будет оправдываться на ежемесячных пресс-конференциях, убеждать партнёров сотрудничать с нами и заниматься самолюбованием с телевизионных экранов в погоне за минутой мнимой славы. Мы занимаемся созданием сервисов и выступаем за открытую конкуренцию. Выбирайте лучших.

Одни хвалят VK за отсутствие жёсткой цензуры по отношению к пользователям, другие годами критикуют за это же. Наша позиция останется очевидной и неизменной: в VK нет места цензуре. Более того, вся персональная информация и сообщения, которые находятся в сети, охраняются законом о тайне личной переписки. Если владельцы VK или любого другого ресурса начнут передавать личную информацию коммерческим либо государственным организациям, они нарушат не только моральные принципы, но и нормы закона.

Мы часто слышим: если кому-то из представителей государства будет нужно, они потребуют предоставить доступ к конфиденциальным данным безо всяких законных для этого оснований, а создатели самих ресурсов ничего не смогут сделать. Но на деле для абсолютного большинства людей сам миф о спецслужбах (который жив ещё с 2007-го года) является своеобразным способом потешить своё самолюбие. Им представляется, что их личная информация настолько важна, что даже спецслужбы, которых в первую очередь интересует борьба с государственными переворотами, стремятся во что бы то ни стало получить к ней доступ.

Наверняка существуют и те, чьи опасения действительно оправданы — в силу того, что они регулярно занимаются нарушением закона. Если Вы торгуете оружием или наркотиками, распространяете детскую порнографию или имеете отношение к организованной преступной деятельности, не пользуйтесь нашим сайтом вообще. Удалите свой аккаунт безвозвратно. VK как площадка всегда даёт возможность высказать мнение всем сторонам при соблюдении простого условия: сообщение должно быть корректным и не должно нарушать законы.

Для тех, кто любит и ждёт официальные заявления по поводу выдачи данных, сообщу следующее. Единственным условием, при котором личная информация может быть разглашена, является предъявление правоохранительными органами постановления суда, по которому передача такой информации является необходимой для проведения расследования. Мы подробно изучаем каждый запрос, чтобы быть уверенными, что для его удовлетворения имеются достаточные юридические основания: может быть передана только та информация, которая требуется по закону в рамках конкретного расследования.

Прошу прощения у всех, кого этот факт разочарует. Действительность бывает не столь интересной и сенсационной, как глупости, коими Вас пытаются напугать, манипулируя сознанием. И пугают-то люди, которых за ноутбуками видно лишь на фотографиях от пресс-служб. Для таких слово «интернет» всё ещё существует с заглавной буквой — как имя мифического персонажа или название страны из сказки.

Friends and fellow journalists always ask me why the VK team doesn't take seriously the regular claims of professional Internet experts—that is, when said bloggers and officials try to provoke us, to get any reaction out of us so they can earn more points in the eyes of their readers and viewers. Let me clarify our position.

We are not a company that will justify itself in monthly press-conferences, beg the partners to collaborate with us or preen at getting onto TV screens chasing the fleeting moment of glory. We work on creating services and stand for open competition. Choose the best.

Some praise VK for lack of harsh censorship directed at its users, others have been criticizing us for years for this very thing. Our position remains obvious and unchanged: there is no place for censorship at VK. Moreover, all personal information and messages stored in the network are protected by the law on privacy of personal correspondence. If the owners of VK or any other resource begin to pass personal information to commercial or state organizations, they will violate not only moral principles, but legal norms as well.

We often hear: if a representative of the state deems it necessary, they will demand access to confidential data without any legal grounds for it, and the founders of the websites won't be able to do anything in response. But in reality the very myth of secret services (which has been kicking around since 2007) is, for the absolute majority of people, a way to boost their own ego. They like to think that their personal information is so important that even secret services, who are mostly interested in combatting coups d'etat, strive to gain access to it no matter what.

It's likely there are those whose fears are warranted–due to them routinely violating the law. If you sell firearms or drugs, distribute child pornography or have connections to organized criminal activity, you better stop using our website period. Just delete your account for good. VK as a platform always gives an opportunity to all sides to speak their mind on one simple condition: the message must be considerate and must not violate any laws.

For those who love and expect official statements on giving out user data, I'll say this. The only condition upon which personal data can be disclosed is when law enforcement agencies can show a court-issued warrant which states that disclosing such information is necessary for conducting an investigation. We study each request for data carefully, in order to be sure that there is sufficient legal ground for satisfying it: we can only disclose that information which is required by law as part of a specific investigation.

Apologies to everyone who will be disappointed upon reading this. Reality is often less interesting and sensational than the foolish claims they're trying to scare you with while manipulating your conscience. And the people trying to scare you are only visible as press snapshots peeking from behind their laptops. For such people the word “Internet” is still spelled with a capital “I”—like the name of some mythical creature or the name of a country from a fairy tale.

Legotkin's explanations, while frank and no-nonsense, are at odds with independent observations and VK's own history when it comes to dissenting political speech. According to Russian media reports based on insider intelligence of those working on Russia's SORM surveillance system, the Russian government has played an active role in the evolution of VKontakte. Not only does the state monitor the website’s users, the sources claim, but it has also ensured VKontakte’s popularity over Facebook by obligating Internet providers to dedicate greater bandwidth to VKontakte traffic.

The turbulent history of VKontakte

In September 2014, Russia’s Internet group became the sole owner of VKontakte, the country's largest social network. Mail.Ru group management is said to have close ties with the Kremlin, and the company happens to also own Russia’s other large social network, The new CEO of VK, Boris Dobrodeev, has direct ties to the Kremlin propaganda machine: he is the son of Oleg Dobrodeev, who is in charge of Russian state TV and radio broadcaster VGTRK.

Pavel Durov in 2012. Image by Nick Lubushko, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Pavel Durov in 2012. Image by Nick Lubushko, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Previously, VKontakte founder and long-time CEO Pavel Durov said he refused to share information on Ukrainian opposition Euromaidan groups organizing on VKontakte with Russian secret police in December of 2013. Durov said he refused the law enforcement requests because Russia's jurisdiction did not apply to Ukrainian VKontakte users. “Giving Ukrainians’ personal data to Russian authorities would not only be a violation of the law, but would be a betrayal of the millions of Ukrainian citizens who trusted us,” Durov wrote at the time. He has also refused to block opposition groups aligned with Russian blogger and opposition political figure Alexei Navalny on VK.

But Durov had to sell his stake and eventually leave the company at the start of 2014, moving abroad and citing pressure from state security services and unfavorable business conditions in Russia as his reasons. VKontakte soon after blocked Ukraine-affiliated communities, including some right-wing nationalist groups in March of 2014.

While VK's staff may truly believe its policies about personal data and censorship are fair and transparent, the new owners and management may have different ideas about confidentiality of user information, especially when concerns like national security and international political influence are on the line.

by Tetyana Lokot at February 01, 2016 09:47 PM

Global Voices
The Dangerous and Complex Reality of Women Who Join Central American Gangs

La presencia de las mujeres en las maras de centroamérica crece y su importancia, tanto dentro como fuera de los grupos es crucial para los procesos de pacificación. En la imagen, una mujer pandillera de El Salvador con los tatuajes que distinguen a los miembros de las maras. Fotografía de The Guardian [seudónimo del autor] publicada en el blog Oriente al Día y usada con autorización.

The image shows a woman from a gang in El Salvador with the tattoos that identify gang members. Photo by ‘The Guardian’ [the photographer's pseudonym], published with permission on Oriente al Día's blog.

The world of gangs, which represent a significant proportion of the violence affecting Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras (known as the northern triangle), becomes much more complex when examined through the lens of the women involved.

According to a study carried out by UNICEF in 2011, women represent approximately 20% of gang members in Honduras alone. These gangs, which had a huge impact in the civil war that gripped the region for a decade, are often seen as a refuge from the violence and homelessness that many young people's lives are defined by.

Many women believe that belonging to a gang shelters them from everyday violence and strengthens them against the aggression that surrounds them (often committed by their own gangs). El Salvador is a dangerous country for women. According to the Violence Observatory of the NGO the Organisation of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), about 2,521 women have been murdered in the last six years, an average of 420 every year. This statistic isn't on its way down, unfortunately, due to the violence in the region caused by drug trafficking.

report titled ‘The Violent and the Violated’ by the NGO Interpeace highlights the factors that push many young people into joining a gang: “Extreme poverty, sexual violence, childhood maltreatment, dropping out of school, unemployment, easy access to weapons and drugs and, in every case, growing up surrounded by violence in neighbourhoods run by gangs.”

The website InSight Crime also analysed the problems that women face in these zones, and emphasised the following:

A partir de 2012, El Salvador registró la tasa de feminicidios más alta del mundo. Según el ex ministro de seguridad del país, el aumento de los feminicidios coincidió con la creciente incorporación de las mujeres a las pandillas. En Honduras, especialistas en temas de género informaron en 2010 que las novias y las madres de los pandilleros estaban siendo asesinadas cada vez más en actos de venganza.

Since 2012, El Salvador has registered the highest level of femicides in the world. According to the ex-minister for security, the increase in the number of women murdered has coincided with the growing number of women joining gangs. Specialists in gender issues stated that in Honduras in 2010 the wives and girlfriends of the gang members were increasingly being murdered in acts of revenge.

From girlfriends to gang members

Poverty, structural violence and marginalisation are strong factors to why both men and women have joined gangs. However, the violence women suffer is more normalised and accepted by society. Other common reasons why women join gangs are being in abusive relationships, having a partner already in a gang or wanting to feel safe from potential rape on the streets.

In an interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, Lucía Pérez, a member of Mara Salvatrucha, one of the most feared gangs in El Salvador, recognises the context of poverty and violence that surrounded her as she entered the world of gangs — and how she had to earn the gang's respect:

Yo me gané el sitio dentro de las filas. Era ruda y valiente. En general, a las mujeres nos toca hacer casi lo mismo que a los hombres: robar, vender drogas, armas, organizar algún secuestro y asesinar, claro […] En el barrio era parte de la rutina, de la forma de socializar, de sobrevivir. A mí nadie me dijo que era bueno o era malo. A los 12 años aprendí a ser una asesina, pensaba que era la mejor forma de defenderte, de ser del grupo fuerte y no del débil.

I won a place in one of the gangs. I was brave and tough. In general, women have to do almost the same things as the men: steal, sell drugs and weapons, organise kidnappings, and kill of course… In the neighbourhood it was part of our routine, how we socialised and survived. Nobody ever told me it was good or bad. At the age of 12 I learned how to be a killer, and I thought it was the best way that people could defend themselves, by being on the strong side rather than the weak one.

Lucía's story also demonstrates how difficult it is to get away from a gang, not only because of their codes of conduct which prevent them leaving, but also because of the physical appearance and history that come with membership:

[Yo] estaba tatuada y [con] eso todo el mundo sabe que es por que perteneces a una Mara. [Además…] la policía me había detenido varias veces, y con estos antecedentes nadie te da trabajo. Un día, me encontré que no tenía pañales para mi segunda bebé, que apenas tenía una semana. Le pedí dinero a su papá y éste me obligó a que lo acompañara a asaltar la casa de una anciana y [ahí] nos detuvieron.

I was tattooed, and this lets everyone know that you are part of a gang. The police had also caught me several times, and no one will give you a job when you have that sort of background. One day, I realised that I had no more nappies for my second baby, who was only a week old. I asked her father for money, and he made me come with him to burgle an old woman, and we were caught.

In a statement published on Oriente al Día blog, which focuses on news and opinions, a secondary school teacher offered his views of the relationship between young people and gangs and how they permeate different spaces. In some of these cases, the girls become the girlfriends of gang members and become known as jainas; in others, they become gang members themselves:

El reclutamiento de mujeres es primordial en la mara, ya que estas ayudan a esconder droga, recoger la renta e incluso asesinar a miembros de la mara rival […] Las jainas son mucho más peligrosas que las mismas mareras. Nadie puede tocarlas, ni verlas. Ellas tienen que ser leales a su marido para no perder este status dentro de la mara, y la vida.

Recruiting women is essential for gangs, as they help to sell drugs, collect income and even murder members of the rival gang… The girlfriends are much more dangerous than the female gang members. No one is allowed to touch them, or even see them. They have to be loyal to their husbands so that they never lose this status within the gang, and in their lives.

Initiations and exits

At first, the women who are hoping to become gang members have to stand being raped by some or all the members of the gang. Nowadays, many get to choose between being raped or being beaten up, just like the majority of their male counterparts. The majority choose the latter: for many of them, taking the blows becomes a form of gaining respect and proving themselves to be just as strong as the men, according to the Interpeace report.

Leaving a gang isn't something that happens often, since membership is for life. Ex-gang member ‘Little One’ explained in a 2009 piece by Andrés Martinez on now-defunct Spanish news website how entering ‘The 18′, one of El Salvador's biggest gangs, was a one-way decision:

Ingresar en una mara te marca de por vida, y en el caso que nos ocupa de forma literal: un 18 tatuado en su cara le recuerda cada vez que se mira al espejo que hace tiempo tomó una decisión sin marcha atrás […] Hoy se ha convertido en su castigo, en el responsable de que no pueda salir a la calle. […] Si la ve la policía, seguramente la detengan. Si se le ocurriese borrarse el tatuaje, los '18’ podrían sentirse ofendidos, entenderlo como un rechazo a la mara, y eso se castiga.

Joining a gang marks you for life, literally: the '18’ tattooed on your face reminds you every time you look in the mirror that you made a decision that's impossible to back out of… That becomes your punishment, meaning you can't go out on the streets… If you were seen by the police, you'd be arrested. If you decided to remove the tattoo, ‘The 18′ could become offended, taking it as a rejection of the gang, and they would punish you.

The gang structure can almost be seen as a more violent version of everyday macho attitudes. In the documentary ‘Segundos en el aire’ (Seconds in the air) from the Simeón Cañas University and the University Institute of Public Opinion in El Salvador, patriarchal gang culture echoes Salvadoran society as a whole:

Es un grupo de hombres, configurado por hombres, pensado por hombres y diseñado por hombres, en el que las mujeres son minoría cuantitativa, y en el que no existen razones para creer [… están] todos los estereotipos, prejuicios, desbalances y desigualdades entre hombres y mujeres que prevalecen en la patriarcal sociedad salvadoreña […]. De hecho, el machismo de la pandilla es una réplica, en versión micro, del extenso patriarcado salvadoreño.

It's a group of men, run by men, planned by men and designed by men. Women are the minority, and there is no reason to believe all the stereotypes, prejudices, imbalances and inequalities that prevail in the patriarchal Salvadoran society aren't there. In fact, misogyny in gangs is a microcosm of widespread Salvadoran patriarchy.

by Eleanor Weekes at February 01, 2016 07:18 PM

What Kicked Off in Uruguay that Lasts for 40 Days?
Desfile de Llamadas al ritmó del candombé. Imagen en Flickr de la usuaria mabel flores (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Llamadas parade to the rhythms of candombe. Image on Flickr by user Mabel Flores (CC BY-ND 2.0).

The Uruguayan Carnival (“the longest carnival in the world”) kicked off on January 21, 2016. It's a popular celebration carried out nationwide between mid-January and late February that combines festivities of European and African origins over a period of 40 days, where theatrical shows, dances, colors, and the sound of drums are the rule.

The Uruguayan Carnival has two main aspects, the murgas and the candombe, as explained by Guillermo Font:

[…] no son antagónicas sino que más bien se complementan: las murgas, de origen español, cuyas letras tienen un alto contenido de humor y sátira social y política, la voz del pueblo, y jugaron un importante papel socio-cultural durante la dictadura (1973-84), y el candombe, de origen afro-negro, que recrea los orígenes africanos de los negros esclavos y la época colonial, con sus trajes, cantos y bailes típicos, culturas y religiones, y su evolución natural hasta nuestros días. Se suman las otras categorías Humoristas, Parodistas y Revistas.

[…] they don't oppose each other, but rather complement each other: the murgas, of Spanish origin, are rich in humor and social and political satire lyrics. They work with the voice of the people, and had an important socio-cultural role during the dictatorship (1973-84); and the candombe, of African origin, recreates the African origins of the black slaves and colonial times, with clothings, chants, and typical dances, cultures, and religions, and their natural evolution to this day. To these items, other categories (such as Humorists, Parodists and Varieties) are added.

The murgas express the “essence of people's sentiment“:

La categoría Murgas es conceptualmente un natural medio de comunicación, transmite la canción del barrio, recoge la poesía de la calle, canta los pensamientos del asfalto. Es una forma expresiva que trasunta el lenguaje popular, con la veta de rebeldía y romanticismo.

La murga, esencia del sentir ciudadano, conforma una verdadera autocaricatura de la sociedad, por donde desfilan identificados y reconocidos, los acontecimientos salientes de la misma, lo que la gente ve, oye y dice, tomado en chanza y en su aspecto insólito, jocoso y sin concesiones y si la situación lo requiriera, mostrará la dureza conceptual de su crítica, que es su verdadera esencia.

The murga category is conceptually a natural means of communication, it conveys the song of the neighborhood, it collects the street poetry, sings the feelings of the road. It's an expressive way that exudes popular language, with the seam of rebellion and romanticism.

The murga—the essence of citizen of people's sentimento—makes out a real self portrait of society, where they march identified and recognized, its noted events, what people see and say, wittily approached, and its unusual aspect, humorous and without licences and, if the situation requires it, it will show the conceptual roughness of its criticism, its true essence.

Meanwhile, candombe is a cultural manifestation of African origin that:

[…] es una manifestación espiritual, que representa los sentimientos del pueblo Afroriental. En él se conjugan, las tradiciones de los pueblos de Benguela, Angola y Kongo junto a lo de los españoles, portugueses, guaraníes, charrúas y chanás.

[…] is a spiritual manifestation, that represents the popular feelings of the Afroeastern people. There, traditions from the Benguelas, Angolas, and Kongos, along with the Spanish, Portuguese, Guaranies, Charruas, and Chanas get combined.

Along with tango, there is candombe fue declarado, which is inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity de la humanidad by UNESCO. It is part of Uruguay's African legacy:

El candombe ha sido tan fuerte, profundo y esencial que en lugar de haber desaparecido […] se ha convertido en un elemento cultural que identifica a Uruguay.
En su época cumbre, los africanos organizaban el candombe todos los domingos y en las grandes fiestas de Año Nuevo, Navidad, Resurrección, San Benito, Virgen de Rosario y San Baltasar.

Candombe has been so strong, deep and essential that, instead of disappearing […] has become an identifying cultural element of Uruguay. […]

During its high point, Africans organized candombe every Sunday and during the major festivities of New Year, Christmas, Resurrection, St. Benedict, Virgin of the Rosary, and St. Balthasar.

The traditional ways of celebration of the Uruguayan Carnival are three: theater-musical representations, dances and entourages, marches and parades, such as the llamadas.

Unprecedented. Montevideo goes through 40 days of celebration with the kicking off of the longest carnival in the world, the Uruguayan Carnival.

During the opening parade of the carnival in Uruguay, a new rhythm was born, “candomambo”, fussion of mambo and candombe – Candombe is it!

This is the longest carnival in the world and can go on during two months.

If you like murgas… Follow the Uruguayan carnival here.

The website Carnaval del Uruguay includes a complete list (in Spanish) of the activities that will be held during these days of celebrations.

by Gabriela García Calderón at February 01, 2016 05:52 PM

An Interactive Digital Archive Helps Preserve Traditional Australian Aboriginal Literature
Cover of the book "Bäruwuŋu mala wäŋa bunhawuy" Author: Djäwa Illustrator: Yambal written in the Gupapuyŋu language of Australia available at the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

Cover of the book “Bäruwuŋu mala wäŋa bunhawuy” Author: Djäwa, Illustrator: Yambal, written in the Gupapuyŋu language of Australia available at the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

The following story was originally published as a case study of the Angkety map – digital resource report produced by First Languages Australia. It is republished here with permission.

The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages project began with a commitment to develop a digital archive to support and enhance Australian Aboriginal knowledge practices.

The archive contains digitised material in Indigenous languages from the Northern Territory, with an initial focus on sourcing material from area schools that had a bilingual education program. These schools had literature production centres, which produced books in local languages. Teacher–linguists and literate production supervisors recorded a wide array of stories: versions of old-time children’s stories; pre- and post-contact histories; books about the environment, hunting, bush medicines, ghost stories, creation stories, stories of memorable events, life stories, conception stories, and cautionary tales. There were readers, curriculum documents, bilingual magazines and newspapers. Stories came from schoolchildren, community members, and community elders.

Searching Living Archive map according to location or language.

Searching Living Archive map according to location or language.

While some of the books are still available in the communities, books from some sources had dispersed and were retrieved from small private and large public collections from around Australia. The copyright holders (e.g. the Northern Territory Department of Education) gave permission to digitise the books, and each named contributor was also sought (or family members of those who had passed away) to give permission for the books to be made public on the open-access website.

The archive now contains hundreds of books in over 25 languages from communities across the Northern Territory. A highly visual interface allows users to access the books through a map where they can click on either a language or a place, and cover images of the books are presented for selection. Standard search and browse options are also available, searching both metadata and full text. Most of the books are illustrated, and many have English translations. In consideration of the preservation and presentation needs of the archive, multiple versions and formats of each item are created in the digitisation process. Books are published in the archive as PDFs, accompanied by Unicode text-only versions, while high-resolution preservation image scans are available on application. Some have been published as talking books, combining the original printed page with newly recorded readings. The provision of the material in different formats opens up potential uses for the resources.

Cover of the book “BE WE 93” Author: Marrŋanyin, B. Illustrator: Wadaymu, P., written in the Djambarrpuyŋu language of Australia available at the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

Cover of the book “BE WE 93” Author: Marrŋanyin, B. Illustrator: Wadaymu, P., written in the Djambarrpuyŋu language of Australia available at the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

Publishing the components of image and text makes the archive a great source of content for creating resources in the future, in collaboration with the story owners. It provides flexibility for people to adapt the material to their own use, such as updating text, adding new images, creating new ways to engage with the content.

Inside page of BE WE 93 book.

Inside page of BE WE 93 book.

A Creative Commons licence allows non-commercial use of the materials with appropriate attribution. The process of reformatting reflects the activity and excitement that surrounded the original preparation of the books—the recording, the transcribing, the illustrating, the checking, the making, printing, collating, and distributing. It is this activity, and the ability for the material in the archive to be added to, edited, updated, which keeps it alive.

The archive balances the competing needs for material to be held as representation of
knowledge, and for the archive to be performative, flexible and usable in multiple ways.

The second stage of the project involves engagement of users with the materials in the archive. A ‘search and rescue’ effort invites people to add more materials to the collection; there are efforts to engage communities in customising and enhancing their own collections; schools are invited to incorporate materials from the archive in the curriculum; and academics from around Australia and globally are encouraged to draw on the resources. The archive is still being modified to allow such engagement, in consultation with stakeholders.

by Rising Voices at February 01, 2016 05:46 PM

Feeds In This Planet