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.

October 31, 2014

Global Voices
Tensions High as Holy Site Reopens Following Targeted Assassination Attempt of Jewish Activist in Jerusalem
The rooftops of Jewish (West) Jerusalem with a view of the Temple Mount (East Jerusalem) in the background. Image by Flickr user Jelle Drok (CC)

The rooftops of Jewish (West) Jerusalem with a view of the Temple Mount (East Jerusalem) in the background. Image by Flickr user Jelle Drok. (CC)

The targeted assassination attempt of right-wing Jewish activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick is being called a “dangerous escalation” in Israeli-Palestinian relations, leaving many concerned that the region is on the brink of a third intifada (uprising).

Glick was shot and is in critical condition as of late Wednesday night. Known as a “prominent right-wing activist”, Glick lobbied for greater access by Jews to the Temple Mount. Deemed as Judaism's most sacred site, the Temple Mount marks the original location of the Holy Temple, destroyed by Romans in 70 CE in an act that sent the Jewish people into exile for almost 2,000 years. It is also the site where Abraham the patriarch is said to have bound his son Isaac for sacrifice to God.

The Temple Mount is the world's third holiest site to Muslims and includes the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, from where it is believed the prophet Muhammad ascended to Mecca.

The day following Glick's shooting, the Temple Mount was closed to Muslim worshipers, reopening on October 31st with strengthened security ahead of weekly Friday prayers.

The site has been hotly disputed for years. The Second Intifada (the second Palestinian uprising against Israel from 2000 to 2005) was called the Al-Aqsa Intifada as it was precipitated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, an event considered to be incitement by the Palestinians, resulting in the start of a five-year cycle of intense violence between Palestine and Israel.

Glick is a leader of the organization Temple Mount Faithful, whose stated objectives include:

Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque were placed on this Jewish or biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination. The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of G‑d without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed, transferred to, and rebuilt at Mecca.

Here is an excerpt from a speech Glick gave, minutes before he was shot:

Citizen media responded to the assassination attempt. David Ha'ivri (“David the Hebrew”) asked followers to pray for Glick's recovery:

Daniel Seidemann is the founding director of an NGO called Terrestrial Jerusalem (ירושלים דלמטה) that describes itself as:

“… an Israeli non-governmental organization that works to identify and track the full spectrum of developments in Jerusalem that could impact either the political process or permanent status options, destabilize the city or spark violence, or create humanitarian crises.”

Seidemann observed:

He warned:

Israeli journalist and avid tweeter Barak Ravid remarked:

While in his Twitter feed, multiple commenters remonstrated him to “calm down,” “not to jump to conclusions,” and “be a journalist, not a muckracker.”

Yara, a doctoral student who identifies as Palestinian, responded:

Lisa van Wyk questioned:

“How do you define an uprising in the age of online activism and organised resistance? It's ongoing.”

US-based terrorism specialist Jonathan Schanzer posted multiple times as to the question of whether the escalation of violence in recent weeks indicates a coming intifada:

Writer and activist Mairav Zonszein noted:

We are also reminded that:

In addition, Glick, like two others who died in the last week, was an American citizen. Infant Haya Zissel Braun was killed in a terror attack when when a car rammed into a crowd on a train station platform and she was thrown from her stroller. Orwa Abd El-Wahab Hammad, who lived in the US until he was 6, was shot and killed by Israeli troops “after he attempted to hurl a Molotov cocktail [into] traffic.”

Dr. Belal Dabour, a physician from Gaza, reminds us about the 7-week offensive in Gaza that ended on August 26 and has the last word on the mounting tension:

by Maya Norton at October 31, 2014 10:17 PM

Lawrence Lessig
ugh.

There are so many sensible and fair questions and criticisms of our Mayday project. But this one is…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 31, 2014 06:07 PM

Global Voices
They Lied Until He Died: Zambia Acknowledges President's Illness Just Before His Death
Zambia's Supreme Court reserves ruling in presidential petition case, February 17, 2009, photo by Harrison Tuntu. Lusaka, Zambia. Demotix.

Zambia's Supreme Court reserves ruling in presidential petition case, February 17, 2009, photo by Harrison Tuntu. Lusaka, Zambia. Demotix.

Left in the dark about their leader's illness, Zambians were angry more than shocked to learn this week that the country's fifth president, Michael Sata, fondly known as King Cobra, died in London on October 28.

The government only recently acknowledged that the president was sick, waiting until October 20, four days before Zambia's 50th Independence Day, when Sata needed to be evacuated to Britain for emergency medical treatment. At the time, the presidential palace stated simply:

His Excellency, Mr. Michael Chilufya Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia, last night left for a medical check- up abroad […] First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba, some family members and his press aide have accompanied the Head of State.

This wasn't the president's first trip abroad to meet with foreign doctors, but it was the first time state officials admitted to Sata's medical needs. In the past, his administration has denied rumors by cabinet members about his declining health, maintaining that Sata was fine and busy at work. Earlier this year, the government told journalists that Sata spent a working holiday in Israel, though the Israeli media later reported that he was there to receive medical treatment.

The Zambian government's curious public relations hasn't gone unnoticed on social media. On Facebook, B.M. Jermaine Sikombe reproduced the presidential palace's vague statement announcing Sata's passing. Sikombe scoffed at the wording, calling on officials to take responsibility for leaving the public woefully misinformed. 

AS YOU ARE AWARE, HIS EXCELLENCY MR. MICHAEL CHILUFYA SATA, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ZAMBIA
HAS BEEN RECEIVING MEDICAL ATTENTION IN LONDON, IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

HE LEFT ZAMBIA WITH THE FIRST LADY AND OTHER CLOSE MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY ON OCTOBER 20, 2014.

HOWEVER, IT IS WITH A VERY HEAVY HEART THAT I ADDRESSYOU TODAY, TO INFORM THE NATION THAT OUR BELOVED
PRESIDENT AND LEADER, HIS EXCELLENCY, MR MICHAEL CHILUFYA SATA HAS PASSED ON.

Sikombe writes:

And then some one must without any emotions at all in an uncoordinated announcement start the statement …… as “AS YOU ARE AWARE, HIS EXCELLENCY MR. MICHAEL CHILUFYA SATA,…..”.

what did we know who told us he was London — can we henceforth stop this nonsense?

On his Facebook page, Emmanuel Mwamba, the former spokesman of Zambia’s second president, the late Frederick Chiluba, wrote:

When Zambians were confronted with sad pictures of a frail and clearly unwell President in April 2014, which immediately evoked feelings of concern and anxiety, government officials played down the concerns.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba regularly issued ridiculous statements to Radio Phoenix such as “the Opposition leaders questioning the health of President Sata are malicious”. “Sata will outlive his enemies that wish him dead”, President Sata is enjoying the best of his health”.

Of concern was the manner President Sata was carted around to; South Africa, India, United Kingdom and Israel in a secretive and hushed manner.

Recently the nation held with bated breath when President Sata opened the fourth session of Parliament on September 19th 2014. He looked seriously unwell.

Sata disappeared from the public eye last June, after he met a delegation of senior Chinese officials. He briefly reappeared at the official opening of the 2014-2015 parliamentary session, where he failed to read his prepared speech. He later traveled to New York to appear before the United Nations General Assembly, but he missed his allotted time slot to deliver his speech.

Zambian officials's public statements were equally misleading about the health of Levy Mwanawasa, the country's third president, who died in-office from a stroke in 2008. While Mwanawasa was in a hospital bed, his vice president, Lupando Mwape, famously told the media that the president was jogging in London.

In June 2008, President Mwanawasa collapsed at a meeting of the African Union in Egypt. He was rushed to France, where he died several weeks later.

by Gershom Ndhlovu at October 31, 2014 04:51 PM

India's Loud, Messy, Not-So-Happy Diwali Celebrations
Indians light crackers to celebrate diwali, the festival of light on a busy road in Allahabad on october 23, 2014. Image by Ritesh Shukla. Copyright Demotix.

Indians light crackers to celebrate diwali, the festival of light on a busy road in Allahabad on October 23, 2014. Image by Ritesh Shukla. Copyright Demotix.

During Diwali (the Hindu “festival of lights”), people dress up in new clothes—sometimes their best outfits—and light up lamps and candles inside and outside their homes, participating in prayers and launching fireworks. It's a noisy affair that produces a lot of pollution.

Despite a sustained anti-firecracker campaign, calls for a more environmentally conscious Green Diwali, an attempt to crack down on Chinese fireworks, and a 10pm-curfew, Indians didn't stay away from pyrotechnics anymore this year than last. As a result, the holiday once again made breathing difficult across the nation.

For years, India has discussed efforts to make the country's top cities as globally appealing as China's metropolises. For the next few days, India will actually obtain parity with China's biggest cities: in pollution levels! not urban efficiency or infrastructural sophistication. Thanks to Diwali, sound and air pollution in India has reached alarming levels.

On Twitter, Indians have issued public appeals to reduce pollution on Diwali:

Of course, some people argue that it wouldn't be Diwali without the noise and smoke:

According to reports, Delhi, Ahmedabad, and Chennai measured levels of toxic gases and materials in the air far above what's considered safe for breathing.

The festival started on Thursday, October 22, 2014. That evening, toxicity levels in the air spiked suddenly. According to the System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research, the air in Delhi will be more polluted than Beijing's atmosphere for some days to come.

In one of the biggest states in India, Madhya Pradesh, pollution even seems to be affecting the weather. (The state's average temperatures spiked 1.3 degrees, thanks presumably to the massive amounts of smoke and other gases released into the air.) Due to an absence of winds, the smog left by fireworks is expected to remain in the air for another 48 hours. 

Indian sportsmen lighten up the stadium  with candles and fire works on the eve of diwali in Allahabad on October 22,2014. Image by Ritesh Shukla. Copyright Demotix.

Indian sportsmen lighten up the stadium with candles and fire works on the eve of Diwali in Allahabad on October 22, 2014. Image by Ritesh Shukla. Copyright Demotix.

In many areas in India, sound pollution has also been a serious problem. Mumbai, for example, has struggled with noise levels above 80dB.

Diwali's environmental impact doesn't end with bad air and loud noises, either. In Chennai, celebrations created 27 tons of waste from firecrackers—a whooping 17 tons more than in 2013. Despite continued calls for a “Green Diwali” by the Industrial Waste Management Association, the holiday continues to produce growing amounts of trash, posing a greater problem every year for India's Common Hazardous Waste Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility.

What prevents Indians from addressing the environmental damages inflicted by Diwali? Is it that the public is simply ignorant about the threats to their own health and safety?

The Indian public, however, may be getting wise. Some encouraging data suggests that people are changing the way they celebrate Diwali. Several regions in Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh, and Pune recorded pollution levels this year that are actually lower than in previous years. While toxicity is still higher than doctors recommend, the data indicates that awareness campaigns in schools are finally making a difference. Indeed, firecracker manufacturers reported falling sales this year (down by 60-70 percent!)—a drastic decline, and welcome news for India's environmentalists.

Earthen oil lamps outside a house in Delhi during Diwali celebrations. Image by Prabhjot Kaur. Copyright Demotix (2/11/2013)

Earthen oil lamps outside a house in Delhi during Diwali celebrations. Image by Prabhjot Kaur. Copyright Demotix (2/11/2013)

In a bid to make Diwai more eco-friendly, New Delhi markets and even online stores are now selling a new line of products for “responsible citizens”—goods like upcycled candle moulds rangoli-inspired bamboo trays and sandstone diyas.

Here's hoping environmental awareness continues to spread in India and alternative celebrations catch on!

by Ravi Krishnani at October 31, 2014 02:38 PM

Melton Foundation and Global Voices Successfully Complete Second Round of Collaboration
Melton Fellow Nickhil Sharma's story, "‘Love Jihad’ in India: Reality, Myth or Simply a Case of Political Rabble-Rousing?" published on Global Voices Sept. 29, 2014.

Melton Fellow Nickhil Sharma's story, “‘Love Jihad’ in India: Reality, Myth or Simply a Case of Political Rabble-Rousing?” published on Global Voices Sept. 29, 2014.

This post was originally published on the Melton Foundation blog and is republished on Global Voices with permission. Articles from the first round of the Global Voices-Melton Mentoring partnership can be found here.

Have you heard the term “Love Jihad”? Did you know that social unrest has been a recurring topic in Latin American football World Cup events? Ever wondered how spouses of immigrant workers fare in the United States? Why do some areas in China have more of an advantage than others in higher education testing?

For the second year in a row, a team of fellows from the Melton Foundation (MF) has put global citizenship values into action through citizen journalism, giving a voice to those who are not heard. Melton Fellows partnered with mentors from Global Voices to learn how to write and publish for a journalistic outlet.
Gv-Melton Partnership

The current mentoring period stretched from April to September 2014. The team decided to focus on inequality and discrimination as the theme for this period. All articles written for this project are accessible here.

Not all of the fellows managed to meet the goal of writing three articles for Global Voices, realizing that journalistic writing is more difficult than expected. Still, the project as a whole offered a unique learning opportunity for all those involved.

Tejasvini Prasad, an Indian Melton Fellow living in the US, described her experience:

The project was fun and enlightening. The GV team holds writers to journalistic standards, so both sides of the story must be told, quotes sourced properly and the writers’ opinion kept to a minimum. This was a new kind of writing for me. The editors were very good and watching the post change through the editing pipeline was also interesting

Xing Qing, a Melton Fellow from China, described the results of the experience as well:

As an engineering student, it was the first time for me to try to collect and reflect on Chinese current affairs, which was really amazing to me. I gradually achieved the spirit of a journalist, and now pay more attention to what happens around me, and think about reasons and solutions. Global Voice was an extraordinary experience for me.

Melton Fellows were also able to form new connections across boundaries. Nickhil Sharma said:

Recently, when we celebrated Diwali in India, the Pakistani authors exchanged warm greetings with us! This was wonderful for me personally. It made me realize that differences can be resolved when we bring out the common goals and interests in us.

While the mentoring period is over, team members are planning to stay active on the Global Voices platform. Look for updates on their future projects.

The team included Melton Fellows (MF) from different countries and mentors from the Global Voices (GV) network:

by Guest contributor at October 31, 2014 02:19 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Myanmar Reporter Detained by the Military, then Killed

Many online activists used this photo as their Facebook profile photo. The Burmese script reads “everyone get involved to reveal the truth about the freelance reporter Ko Aung Kyaw Naing @ Ko Par Gyi”

The mysterious death of Ko Aung Kyaw Naing, a journalist widely known as Ko Par Gyi, has sparked anger among many in the Southeast Asian country.

Ko Par Gyi, who previously had served as a bodyguard for Aung San Suu Kyi, was covering recent clashes between the Myanmar Army and armed forces of the Karen minority rebel group in Mon State when he was detained by the Myanmar army on September 30. After three weeks, army officials notified the Interim Myanmar Press Council that the freelance reporter was killed on Oct. 4, while in their custody, and that his body has been buried already.

The death of the reporter while in the hands of the military outraged many and led to a gathering of more than 1000 people in downtown Yangon, the country's capital, on Oct. 26. Concerned citizens, activists and roughly 46 civil society groups have since united to call for an investigation into the death of the reporter. According to Radio Free Asia, approximately 20 protesters were arrested and being charged under an unspecified section of the penal code.

An official military report indicates that Ko Par Gyi was accused of serving as a “communications captain” of the Karen armed opposition group (DKBA – Democratic Karen Benevolent Army) and that he was shot when he tried to seize a gun from a guard, in an effort to escape the prison. Both Karen leaders and the family of the victim assert that he was not associated with the group.

The journalist's wife, Than Dar, a pro-democracy activist, is skeptical of the military's claim that her husband attempted to escape prison. She fears he was tortured and killed, and has demanded a full investigation of his death, including an exhumation and autopsy on his cadaver.

Myanmar's military junta has been in power since 1962, although democratic reforms were implemented in recent years. Today, a civilian government exists but the military continues to wield considerable power and influence in the bureaucracy.

Min Ko Naing from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society thinks that the army has been given too much authority without making them accountable for their actions. Speaking during the protest, he cited provisions in the Constitution that protect the army: 

Think about it carefully; the fact that there is a law in the constitution which states that if anyone from the army — from the rank of a soldier to the general — commits any kind of crime, the civil court cannot judge; it means that they have too much privilege, and this is a bully.

Ko Ko Gyi, a political activist from the same organization, feels that there is no rule of law or security in the country. He said:

Just look at the statement of the Defense Ministry. He was arrested on 30th (September), and killed on 4th (October); his wife inquired about him on 19th (October) but they did not answer anything and then only released a statement on 24th (October). It almost took a month, more than 20 days. Who is to take responsibility for this?

Nay Myo Zin from Myanmar Social Development Organization believes that the military's pledge to provide compensation to the family of the slain journalist could mean that “citizens are not worth more than a bullet.”

Moethee Zun, a political activist and founder of Democratic Party for a New Society, said that the army should not have killed him even if he was trying to flee:

It is obvious that Ko Par Gyi has never held a gun. He is a good and responsible person. Even if he had a gun, they (the army) should not have done that to him.

Blogger Moe Zay Nyein also thinks [my] that the army's accusation is not credible.

Ko Par Gyi was not someone who is afraid of prisons. His wife was also a political prisoner. He knew that he would be released again if he went to jail. In this age of democracy, he knew that there are people who would support him if he were ever sent to prison. He was familiar with the concept of imprisonment. Therefore, it is absolutely not believable that he tried to seize a gun in order to run and escape imprisonment.

Moe Thway from Generation Wave, one of the organizers of the protest, urged people to support reporters.

During the time when we did not have media freedom, political activists were the reporters. Even the wife of Ko Par Gyi was once sentenced to life imprisonment for writing political articles. If they did not risk their lives, we would never know the truth. Therefore, instead of calling them simply as reporters or political activists, the people should protect those who are trying to bring the truth to us.

This latest killing once again illustrates the critical need for the protection of media practitioners in the country. Although the censorship board has been abolished, the death of Ko Par Gyi is a grim reminder of the continuing limitations on media freedom and democracy in Myanmar.

by Global Voices at October 31, 2014 02:01 PM

Global Voices
Myanmar Reporter Detained by the Military, then Killed

Many online activists used this photo as their Facebook profile photo. The Burmese script reads “everyone get involved to reveal the truth about the freelance reporter Ko Aung Kyaw Naing @ Ko Par Gyi”

The mysterious death of Ko Aung Kyaw Naing, a journalist widely known as Ko Par Gyi, has sparked anger among many in the Southeast Asian country.

Ko Par Gyi, who previously had served as a bodyguard for Aung San Suu Kyi, was covering recent clashes between the Myanmar Army and armed forces of the Karen minority rebel group in Mon State when he was detained by the Myanmar army on September 30. After three weeks, army officials notified the Interim Myanmar Press Council that the freelance reporter was killed on Oct. 4, while in their custody, and that his body has been buried already.

The death of the reporter while in the hands of the military outraged many and led to a gathering of more than 1000 people in downtown Yangon, the country's capital, on Oct. 26. Concerned citizens, activists and roughly 46 civil society groups have since united to call for an investigation into the death of the reporter. According to Radio Free Asia, approximately 20 protesters were arrested and being charged under an unspecified section of the penal code.

An official military report indicates that Ko Par Gyi was accused of serving as a “communications captain” of the Karen armed opposition group (DKBA – Democratic Karen Benevolent Army) and that he was shot when he tried to seize a gun from a guard, in an effort to escape the prison. Both Karen leaders and the family of the victim assert that he was not associated with the group.

The journalist's wife, Than Dar, a pro-democracy activist, is skeptical of the military's claim that her husband attempted to escape prison. She fears he was tortured and killed, and has demanded a full investigation of his death, including an exhumation and autopsy on his cadaver.

Myanmar's military junta has been in power since 1962, although democratic reforms were implemented in recent years. Today, a civilian government exists but the military continues to wield considerable power and influence in the bureaucracy.

Min Ko Naing from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society thinks that the army has been given too much authority without making them accountable for their actions. Speaking during the protest, he cited provisions in the Constitution that protect the army: 

Think about it carefully; the fact that there is a law in the constitution which states that if anyone from the army — from the rank of a soldier to the general — commits any kind of crime, the civil court cannot judge; it means that they have too much privilege, and this is a bully.

Ko Ko Gyi, a political activist from the same organization, feels that there is no rule of law or security in the country. He said:

Just look at the statement of the Defense Ministry. He was arrested on 30th (September), and killed on 4th (October); his wife inquired about him on 19th (October) but they did not answer anything and then only released a statement on 24th (October). It almost took a month, more than 20 days. Who is to take responsibility for this?

Nay Myo Zin from Myanmar Social Development Organization believes that the military's pledge to provide compensation to the family of the slain journalist could mean that “citizens are not worth more than a bullet.”

Moethee Zun, a political activist and founder of Democratic Party for a New Society, said that the army should not have killed him even if he was trying to flee:

It is obvious that Ko Par Gyi has never held a gun. He is a good and responsible person. Even if he had a gun, they (the army) should not have done that to him.

Blogger Moe Zay Nyein also thinks [my] that the army's accusation is not credible.

Ko Par Gyi was not someone who is afraid of prisons. His wife was also a political prisoner. He knew that he would be released again if he went to jail. In this age of democracy, he knew that there are people who would support him if he were ever sent to prison. He was familiar with the concept of imprisonment. Therefore, it is absolutely not believable that he tried to seize a gun in order to run and escape imprisonment.

Moe Thway from Generation Wave, one of the organizers of the protest, urged people to support reporters.

During the time when we did not have media freedom, political activists were the reporters. Even the wife of Ko Par Gyi was once sentenced to life imprisonment for writing political articles. If they did not risk their lives, we would never know the truth. Therefore, instead of calling them simply as reporters or political activists, the people should protect those who are trying to bring the truth to us.

This latest killing once again illustrates the critical need for the protection of media practitioners in the country. Although the censorship board has been abolished, the death of Ko Par Gyi is a grim reminder of the continuing limitations on media freedom and democracy in Myanmar.

by Thant Sin at October 31, 2014 11:28 AM

October 30, 2014

Creative Commons
Sketchfab announces CC licensing; Microsoft, HTC, and British Museum early adopters

Sketchfab – an awesome website for sharing 3D models – just unveiled an option to make files downloadable. All of the files marked for download are available under Creative Commons licenses, including those from some big players like HTC, Microsoft, the British Museum and celebrated designer Francis Bitonti.

From the announcement:

This makes Sketchfab not only the best and easiest way to publish and embed a 3D file, but also a great place to find and use 3D content – for example for 3D printing, to build video games or VR experiments – or just to share and collaborate privately on 3D designs. Any user can now chose to publish 3D content for display only, or for display and download under Creative Commons licenses.

[…]

This launch comes with another important milestone: more than 200,000 3D files have been uploaded on the platform so far, making Sketchfab one of the largest repositories of 3D content, and the leading platform to publish and embed interactive 3D models. We want to thank all of our users for that, we are proud to be home for your work. This milestone, combined with our new download option, is strengthening our position as The place to be for 3D files.

Sketchfab co-founder Alban Denoyel told us that his team knew from the start that they wanted to use CC licenses rather than create a new license for model use. “As soon as we started looking into adding a download option on Sketchfab, we wanted to find a legal framework to cover the way people could use the files, and CC was top of mind as the perfect solution to do that.”

And did the high-profile users like Microsoft and HTC have any qualms about CC? Not really, says Alban. “We had a pretty straightforward approach, exposing our plans of enabling download under CC, and asking if they were in or not. No special concerns were raised, they quickly jumped in!”

Congratulations, Sketchfab!

by Elliot Harmon at October 30, 2014 09:36 PM

Global Voices
Anti-Censorship Play Receives Surprise Approval From Lebanon's Censors
Lucien Bourjeily’s headshot

Lucien Bourjeily’s headshot

A play that examines Lebanon’s censorship system has been approved by the country’s office in charge of artistic permits, a decision that could point towards a more open future for the country’s writers and performers.

“La3younak Sidna,” (“Sir Yes Sir”) was written by Lucien Bourjeily and will be produced by March, an NGO that campaigns for free speech in Lebanon. Billed by Bourjeily as the theatrical version of a documentary, it chronicles the team’s own struggles as they tried and failed to get a permit for their previous work, “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3” (“Will it Pass Or Not?”).

The expectation was that this play would be censored as well, but to their surprise, the permit was granted after a month’s wait.

Jubilant messages from the team flooded social media. “After almost 2 years of banning, ill-treatment, and unlawful passport confiscation by the authorities comes today's amazing SUCCESS,” reads Bourjeily’s Facebook status on 16 October. Gino Raidy, a member of March’s advisory board, began a blog post with the words: “Flabbergasted would best describe our reactions at this unexpectedly positive decision.”

Bourjeily is a longstanding critic of Lebanon’s lack of free expression protections. His last play “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3” was a fictional farce about bumbling General Security officers decimating the scripts of weary playwrights. There was a long wait after he submitted it to the bureau last year, and it was finally denied on the grounds that it was poorly written and inaccurate.

Lebanon’s laws allow censors to cut anything that might inflame political or religious tensions, but the system lacks oversight, and there is wide scope for individual officers to interpret laws as they see fit.

“We wanted to show that [the censors] can manipulate the law as much as they want,” Bourjeily told me in January, “and this is the biggest proof. They say ‘we’re protecting people,’ but they are only protecting themselves.” He vowed that he was committed to a long fight, and his perseverance earned him a spot on the shortlist for the NGO Index on Censorship’s 2014 Freedom of Expression Award, who also featured text from the play online and in their magazine.

Later in the spring, Bourjeily’s passport was confiscated by General Security just before he was due to fly to the UK to take part in the London International Festival of Theatre. The explanation? “You know what you did.”

Bourjeily spoke out about the incident online, sparking an international outcry, and the passport was returned a couple of days later.

Undeterred by all these setbacks, Bourjeily decided to poke fun at General Security by taking them at their word. If they deemed his fictional play about censorship too unrealistic, he’d write a play that documented his own experiences trying to get a theatrical permit, using real names and repeating conversations verbatim.

“There’s a saying in Arabic,” he told me. “Follow a liar to his doorstep.” There wasn't much hope that the play would get approved, but Bourjeily saw the process as an effective awareness campaign, and he relished the chance to include scenes that were even funnier and more bizarre than anything he could have dreamed up, like the time he walked in to see a copy of Playboy magazine on an officer’s desk – to censor it, of course.

He imagined that once the permit was once again denied, he might perform the piece online via a live-streaming service, and then he’d write yet another sequel. In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, he joked, “maybe one day the tenth sequel of ‘Will It Pass or Not?’ will be accepted and then we’ll throw a great party.”

So when the permit finally arrived, granting permission for the new play “La3younak Sidna” to be performed in Lebanon, Bourjeily and the March team could hardly believe their eyes.

The permit stated that the play was approved, pending one change. The censor board requested the playwright replaced the term “General Security” with “Censorship” throughout the text. The head of general security’s signatures on the request suggested that the text went all the way to the top of the chain before the request was granted. (General Security could not be reached for comment.)

Bourjeily’s Facebook post was full of wild enthusiasm. “Many times in Lebanon we’ve given up on our homeland just moments before we reach a better country,” he wrote, “just moments before we succeed in breaking the chains of oppression and corruption… this time we won’t & we shouldn’t!! … THANK YOU… each & everyone of you for standing up against censorship & supporting freedom of speech! One small strategic battle WON: hopefully many others will follow!!”

Raidy’s response was more measured. He noted on his blog that, “since our last attempt, the chief of the bureau and most of the team have been replaced and the new chief and team seemed far less intent on censoring free speech.” He added that the shift in attitude only confirms what the group have always argued, that the law is too vague, and that he hoped “that this will be the first of many steps towards a more pragmatic stance on censorship from the government.”

The play debuted at the American University of Beirut on October 23.

Also see our in-depth coverage Fighting for Their Art Against Censorship.

This story was commissioned by Freemuse, the leading defender of musicians worldwide, and Global Voices for Artsfreedom.org. The article may be republished by non-commercial media, crediting the author Jess Holland, Freemuse and Global Voices and linking to the origin. 

by Jess Holland at October 30, 2014 08:56 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Human Rights Activist Iyad El-Baghdadi Speaks Out on His Deportation from UAE
Iyad El-Baghdadi was arrested and deported from the UAE for his Tweets

Iyad El-Baghdadi was arrested and deported from the UAE for his Tweets

On April 30, 2014, Palestinian blogger and human rights advocate Iyad El-Baghdadi, a lifelong resident of the UAE, suddenly went silent on Twitter. Until last week, little was known of his fate.

On October 20, El-Baghdadi surfaced in Oslo, Norway and news broke that he had been arrested by UAE authorities on April 30. The blogger received no formal criminal charges — he was simply given the option of either living in indefinite detention in the UAE, or deportation to Malaysia. He chose Malaysia, and arrived there on May 13. Given his lack of official documentation, he remained in the Kuala Lumpur airport until June 8 or 9 until he managed to obtain a Palestinian Authority passport. El-Baghdadi was unable to leave the country until just last week. 

The next day, El-Baghdadi recounted his experience at the Oslo event, garnering great affection and support from the audience. El-Baghdadi. In an email interview with Global Voices, El-Baghdadi recounted how “the reactions to the speech were overwhelming. People were walking up to me telling me how they were crying. People were messaging me telling me that they're watching it in tears. I hope that this can be a turning point and a milestone and a call to action.”

He remained in Malaysia until October before moving to Norway, where he has applied for political asylum. El-Baghdadi speculated on whether specific tweets sparked his deportation, but told Global Voices that he does not “think it's a particular tweet but my overall activism.”

Iyad El-Baghdadi, has been a vocal advocate for human rights and democracy on social media and in the blogosphere. His blog describes his involvement with the 2011 Arab uprisings:

In 2011, with the “Arab Spring” uprisings, Iyad began tweeting about the Egyptian revolution, translating statements, chants, and videos from Arabic to English, which allowed the international audience to understand what was happening. In February 2011 he translated Asmaa Mahfouz’s now-famous pre-revolution call for Egyptians to go down and protest. This video collected over a million views, and Iyad’s translation became the standard in literature documenting the revolution. 

During the Libyan revolution, Iyad continued tweeting, cultivating reliable sources for information, making him one of the most active and important voices during that revolution. Between February 17 and the international intervention on March 19, 2011, he became known for his maps showing strategic on-the-ground positions. 

El-Baghdadi is an avid Twitter user and his apparent silence for 40 days — after his last tweet on April 30 — drew attention. Alex Rowell recounts: 

It wasn’t long after Iyad El-Baghdadi’s last tweet, on 30 April, that I realized something had to be wrong. This was Iyad, after all, a man who (literally) averaged over 35 tweets a day – and could comfortably double that figure when he got on a roll, or when some new dictator’s speech or sectarian massacre sent him into a fury. For him not to have tweeted at all for several weeks was, frankly, alarming. I wondered at first if he was observing a 40-day silence in mourning of the tragic death of Bassem Sabry, the Egyptian writer and friend of his who passed away the day before. But that milestone came and went without result. I feared he too had come into some misfortune, and asked on Twitter if anyone knew anything. No one did, but several people re-tweeted the question, suggesting many of us had the same concerns.

But UAE authorities evidently were rattled by his vocal tendencies and thus arrested him. Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept gave a detailed account of El-Baghdadi's arrest, detention and subsequent expulsion: 

Baghdadi….maintained a highly active social media presence during the revolutions which suddenly went quiet earlier this year, shortly after the death of his friend and well-known Egyptian activist Bassem Sabry. His last Tweet, about Sabry’s death, was on April 30th.

The very next day, he was summoned to an immigration office in the UAE, arrested, and told that he would be immediately deported from the country. “The morning I was arrested,” Baghdadi says, “I woke up still crying over losing him…I didn’t get to mourn him like everyone else.”

In addition, he tweeted the following: 

 

 

  

Bassem was El-Baghdadi's “friend, comrade, colleague and brother.” He is yet to over come the grief caused by the loss of his friend Bassem, who fell to his death from a balcony in Cairo. El-Baghdadi wrote of Bassem:  

His sincerity and love touched everyone he met or worked with. He was of course very smart and ambitious, but over anything else it was his humanity and warmth that won people over. He himself was a liberal, but he talked to and worked with everyone for the good of Egypt and the Arab world. Importantly, he was an excellent networker and a hub through which so many activists knew other activists and ultimately became best friends. Bassem knew everyone and everyone knew him and loved him. His death at such a young age and in such a tragic way was especially sad because Bassem was someone who could have made a great politician, a new kind of politician who is driven not by power and greed but by a genuine desire to do good. Bassem could have gone all the way, I honestly believed that one day he would be the President of Egypt. Even if he didn't get to do that, and didn't get to do so many things in his short life, he's still great and we'll never forget him. He'll always be a symbol and an idol for our movement.

Reactions to El-Baghdadi's ordeal have varyied, with some in support of UAE's actions and others against it. We asked El-Baghdadi what he thinks about these reactions:

The overwhelming response was shock and horror, disgust and anger at the decision, and genuine sympathy. The reaction across the board warmed my heart even in these difficult circumstances. So many people wrote to me to show their support and to tell me this is only a slight setback and that I continue to be an important voice. A small minority – the tyrant-lovers – continue to insult me and to call me names, but I never cared about them before and won't start to care now.

When asked about his decision to seek asylum, he replied: “most people weren't surprised and told me it's the right move, necessary for protection and for me to be able to continue my activities at full productivity and capacity without harassment.” We wish the very best for El-Baghdadi and hope that he will soon be united with his family.

by Nwachukwu Egbunike at October 30, 2014 06:05 PM

Global Voices
Human Rights Activist Iyad El-Baghdadi Speaks Out on His Deportation from UAE
Iyad El-Baghdadi was arrested and deported from the UAE for his Tweets

Iyad El-Baghdadi was arrested and deported from the UAE for his Tweets

On April 30, 2014, Palestinian blogger and human rights advocate Iyad El-Baghdadi, a lifelong resident of the UAE, suddenly went silent on Twitter. Until last week, little was known of his fate.

On October 20, El-Baghdadi surfaced in Oslo, Norway and news broke that he had been arrested by UAE authorities on April 30. The blogger received no formal criminal charges — he was simply given the option of either living in indefinite detention in the UAE, or deportation to Malaysia. He chose Malaysia, and arrived there on May 13. Given his lack of official documentation, he remained in the Kuala Lumpur airport until June 8 or 9 until he managed to obtain a Palestinian Authority passport. El-Baghdadi was unable to leave the country until just last week. 

The next day, El-Baghdadi recounted his experience at the Oslo event, garnering great affection and support from the audience. El-Baghdadi. In an email interview with Global Voices, El-Baghdadi recounted how “the reactions to the speech were overwhelming. People were walking up to me telling me how they were crying. People were messaging me telling me that they're watching it in tears. I hope that this can be a turning point and a milestone and a call to action.”

He remained in Malaysia until October before moving to Norway, where he has applied for political asylum. El-Baghdadi speculated on whether specific tweets sparked his deportation, but told Global Voices that he does not “think it's a particular tweet but my overall activism.”

Iyad El-Baghdadi, has been a vocal advocate for human rights and democracy on social media and in the blogosphere. His blog describes his involvement with the 2011 Arab uprisings:

In 2011, with the “Arab Spring” uprisings, Iyad began tweeting about the Egyptian revolution, translating statements, chants, and videos from Arabic to English, which allowed the international audience to understand what was happening. In February 2011 he translated Asmaa Mahfouz’s now-famous pre-revolution call for Egyptians to go down and protest. This video collected over a million views, and Iyad’s translation became the standard in literature documenting the revolution. 

During the Libyan revolution, Iyad continued tweeting, cultivating reliable sources for information, making him one of the most active and important voices during that revolution. Between February 17 and the international intervention on March 19, 2011, he became known for his maps showing strategic on-the-ground positions. 

El-Baghdadi is an avid Twitter user and his apparent silence for  179 days – from April 29 to October 22 (almost 6 months) - drew attention. Alex Rowell recounts: 

It wasn’t long after Iyad El-Baghdadi’s last tweet, on 30 April, that I realized something had to be wrong. This was Iyad, after all, a man who (literally) averaged over 35 tweets a day – and could comfortably double that figure when he got on a roll, or when some new dictator’s speech or sectarian massacre sent him into a fury. For him not to have tweeted at all for several weeks was, frankly, alarming. I wondered at first if he was observing a 40-day silence in mourning of the tragic death of Bassem Sabry, the Egyptian writer and friend of his who passed away the day before. But that milestone came and went without result. I feared he too had come into some misfortune, and asked on Twitter if anyone knew anything. No one did, but several people re-tweeted the question, suggesting many of us had the same concerns.

But UAE authorities evidently were rattled by his vocal tendencies and thus arrested him. Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept gave a detailed account of El-Baghdadi's arrest, detention and subsequent expulsion: 

Baghdadi….maintained a highly active social media presence during the revolutions which suddenly went quiet earlier this year, shortly after the death of his friend and well-known Egyptian activist Bassem Sabry. His last Tweet, about Sabry’s death, was on April 30th.

The very next day, he was summoned to an immigration office in the UAE, arrested, and told that he would be immediately deported from the country. “The morning I was arrested,” Baghdadi says, “I woke up still crying over losing him…I didn’t get to mourn him like everyone else.”

In addition, he tweeted the following: 

 

 

  

Bassem was El-Baghdadi's “friend, comrade, colleague and brother.” He is yet to over come the grief caused by the loss of his friend Bassem, who fell to his death from a balcony in Cairo. El-Baghdadi wrote of Bassem:  

His sincerity and love touched everyone he met or worked with. He was of course very smart and ambitious, but over anything else it was his humanity and warmth that won people over. He himself was a liberal, but he talked to and worked with everyone for the good of Egypt and the Arab world. Importantly, he was an excellent networker and a hub through which so many activists knew other activists and ultimately became best friends. Bassem knew everyone and everyone knew him and loved him. His death at such a young age and in such a tragic way was especially sad because Bassem was someone who could have made a great politician, a new kind of politician who is driven not by power and greed but by a genuine desire to do good. Bassem could have gone all the way, I honestly believed that one day he would be the President of Egypt. Even if he didn't get to do that, and didn't get to do so many things in his short life, he's still great and we'll never forget him. He'll always be a symbol and an idol for our movement.

Reactions to El-Baghdadi's ordeal have varyied, with some in support of UAE's actions and others against it. We asked El-Baghdadi what he thinks about these reactions:

The overwhelming response was shock and horror, disgust and anger at the decision, and genuine sympathy. The reaction across the board warmed my heart even in these difficult circumstances. So many people wrote to me to show their support and to tell me this is only a slight setback and that I continue to be an important voice. A small minority – the tyrant-lovers – continue to insult me and to call me names, but I never cared about them before and won't start to care now.

When asked about his decision to seek asylum, he replied: “most people weren't surprised and told me it's the right move, necessary for protection and for me to be able to continue my activities at full productivity and capacity without harassment.” We wish the very best for El-Baghdadi and hope that he will soon be united with his family.

by Nwachukwu Egbunike at October 30, 2014 06:03 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Speculative Civics: A Lunch Talk With Carl DiSalvo

Carl DiSalvo (@cdisalvo) an Associate Professor in the Digital Media Program in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. At Georgia Tech he established The Public Design Workshop, a design research studio that explores socially-engaged design practices and civic media. 

This talk is co-sponsored by the Center for Civic Media at MIT and the Engagement Lab at Emerson College on October 30, 2014. Liveblog by Catherine D'Ignazio, Erhardt Graeff, and Adrienne Debigare.

Catherine D'Ignazio introduces Carl DiSalvo and his work as uniting art, design, design research, and civic media. This talk coincides with the Civic Art Initiative and the question of what speculative thinking and the imagination's role is in civic life.

Carl will present some of his recent work, give us a specific example and present us with questions at the end for discussion. Some aspects of the work are exciting and some aspects are challenging. His work revolves around one big question - "How do we do democracy in the 21st century?" Democracy is something that we do actively. What is the role of design in democracy and how can it enable or thwart how we practice democracy.

He thinks he will spend decades answering this question. How do we narrow this down to approach it? Are there multiple kinds of democracy? Are there different characteristics of democracy that require different kinds of design? His first book - Adversarial Design - you have a lot of examples in support of design as consensus but what about examples of design as contestation?

Adversarial Design book cover

He has been working on design as related to civics. There is the landscape of civic technology - he shows an image from the Knight Foundation report. These technologies end up as apps, systems, and ways for citizens to exchange information with their governments. Are these new forms of civics? Or just familiar mechanisms delivered in new channels?

His background in design comes less from technology and more from design practice informed by the arts. Speculative design - for example the recent book by Dunne and Raby - has respawned a practice of critical design.

Walking Cities

He shows an image from the group Archigram called "Walking Cities." Archigram produced paper architecture. It was conceptual and used the tools of the time like collage and drawing. In this case - the question is What happens when we combine cities with robots? It may look quaint but it was a real provocation at the time. This is one way in which speculation comes into the role of civics.

He shows Raphael’s The School of Athens (16th C.) to illustrate Plato's book The Republic. This is a meditation around the "right" kind of civics. Another example is the project "Park(ing) Day" by Rebar. You rent a parking meter and you install a park there. What's interesting about this is that it's a different way to think about civics and design. It's not permanent city planning. it's temporary. Gives us an opportunity to use the city differently for a small period of time. This plays out differently in different contexts. For example, people in Atlanta get angry.

Speculative Civics What are projects that engage in speculation about what civics might be? What's different about this? The question is:

When is democracy?

The Philly 311 project, for example, is about democracy now. I can report my pothole now. I can comment on city infrastructure in the moment. We design for democracy in the now. The other projects are not fully in the now. Even Parking Day which takes place in a moment is a gesture towards what the city could be in the future. Archigram is about the future.

Part of the work of democracy is imagining the conditions and experiences of participation. Imagining Futures -- this might be a core thing that designers do. This is a big question that motivates his work.

A Project About Foraging

He shifts to talking about foraging. You might forage for apples on public apple trees. You can forage for mushrooms. You might forage for berries. He shows an image of a woman out collecting berries. There are three ways to characterize foraging:

  1. Foraging for ourselves
  2. Foraging to sell
  3. Foraging for a civic purpose

Concrete Jungle in Georgia forage to give food to the needy. They discuss their foraging activities as service provisioning for local food banks. It's a way of increasing the food resiliency and security of a community. They collect food in bags and put it in a truck and send it back to the food banks. They mainly collect apples. Foraging in this way is participating in a service provision to those in need, but it falls out of our normal considerations of both foraging and civics.

Georgia Tech built them an app but the group came back to them afterwards and said, "We really want a drone." Carl was a little taken aback.

Drones for Foraging This spawned the Drones for Foraging project. One of the challenges Concrete Jungle has is that they have to know where to go and what is the right time to pick. The apples have to be ripe. Foraging has a hipster cast about it but it's really a boring logistics problem. They wanted to see if drones could be used to monitor apple trees in one quadrant of the city.

The idea of using drones for agriculture is not new. They are regularly used in industrial agriculture. Farmers higher companies that do drone services. Then another company does the data analysis. They are almost exclusively used for industrial scale agriculture. He shows a picture of a farmer with a yellow and orange drone.

For the past year, they have been flying drones in and around Atlanta on fruit scouting missions. Foragers will learn to pilot the drone and fly it through the areas where they might pick food.

Image Detection software

They have also been asking "What kinds of support systems would be needed to support this practice?" To begin, they wanted to be able to use the drone to detect apples on apple trees. Though the accuracy non-optimal, as a design research experiment it became fascinating to try to describe "appleness." They explored the possibilities and limitations of their drone platform, Parrot Drone, a cheap $400 drone by attempting to detect color differences. Then, they used some open imaging tools to count apples as part of an experiment to see what it would take to move this platform from industrial agriculture to small-scale agriculture.

What has been revealed?

There are shifting scales of practice and shifting scales of technology. Shifting from industrial agriculture to foraging, what's noticeable is that the visual orientation of the drone changes. Flying overhead and measuring large scale fields is very different than flying through city streets and looking at things at a different scale.

It also makes us think about where the work is being done. We are a school of communications and humanities - we are interested in how we talk about and theorize these things. This prompts them to think about the fields of capital and the fields of civics differently.

How?

They are starting to describe foraging as post-capitalist practice (J.K. Gibson-Graham). Post-capitalist situation has parallel markets and labor, informal and community economies.

Can you also conceive of foraging as a kind of post-civics, with parallel systems of service provisioning and care? They are looking at the work of Henry Jenkins, Boler and Ratto, Department of Homeland Security's work on the Occupy Sandy movement considering it as an extra-state practice.

He describes the role of design as a means for adjusting scale. How do you adjust between scales? You can't just take a giant robot tractor and have it work on small-scale. How do you do that from every aspect -- interactions, user experiences, device ecologies, features, sensors & hardware?

Design can also be thought of as a "breaching experiment" to practices. So you are not "solving a problem" but rather you are experimenting with the problem. What the drone did is that it elicited things - people talked about habits and practices. It becomes a kind of magical object. You might have had those conversations without the drone but it served as an evocative object that elicited them. Desires, values and politics are potentially revealed through this process.

One of his closing questions is "Who is this work for?" He doesn't have a good answer for this. Many of the answers he might give are a problem. We might say the work is for (1) the users and it's about providing toolsets. The foragers now have a new tool and that would solve the design problem. But then it doesn't make sense as a research problem. You are just doing service providing for audience that normally doesn't get design & tech services.You could say (2) it's for designers. But in talking to folks at design firms they are not engaged in this practice. (3) It could be for industry. Intel is actually supporting all this work. They want to know how to redesign chips. What are future uses of platforms that they are not thinking about? How is a chip making company going to approach that? So they invest in research projects with foragers is they want to know if hobbyist drone people are around then how do those smaller-scale chipsets get designed. But then he reflects on whether the greatest impact is on the design of chips and then does that help with democracy?

You could say (4) it's for policy. Carl received an email from his associate dean of research told him he had to stop flying his drone NOW. The FAA will take the license to fly from the entire institute if you’re caught flying without a license. BUT the foragers can fly the drone. The FAA rule applies to those with a commercial practice and because Concrete Jungle gives their food away, they go through a loophole. This was fascinating to the Intel policy folks: what happens in a near future when average people want to put semi-autonomous sensor-laden tools in the world? Design research also becomes a probe here to policy potentially. Everyone should note that Carl does not fly drones anymore. (5) Another possible audience - social science or (6) Design Research as a Field - it's not clear it is a field or if we produce this knowledge who it's for.

The final way is where it connects back to art: (7) Contributing to a Social Imaginary: you are producing a vision of the future that is different than the present. This is something we normally expect of art rather than design. We can use our capacities as designers to model the future even though we don't know how exactly it will come about.

We should be answerable to something. If not, then it becomes too much like play.

QUESTION & ANSWER

Kate Krontiris: She appreciates the emphasis on imagination because it's so hard to imagine something other than status quo. She wants to understanding foraging as civic act. The Concrete Jungle people pull fruit from public and private trees. Are they involved with maintaining the trees for future crops? Is it mostly consumptive? What is their practice?

Carl: It's a great question. It's not something that they have ever talked about. They talk about caring for the trees. They maintain a private map with trees in people's yards. But maintaining the tree itself is not something they have talked about.

Kate: But what is civics? Is it because they don't sell it? That's what makes it civic.

Carl: It challenges our notion of civics. One of the things I think counts as civics is service provisioning for public life. They are contributing to that. To food security. By providing them with fresh fruits when they may not have them.

Jude: Curious about parking day. Have you observed how maybe these practices correlate to gentrification? How did they come to you and say they need a drone?

Carl: The relation of parking day to gentrification is a great question. I agree with you that thinking about these projects that claim to take over the city need to be considered. The folks from Concrete Jungle are cognizant of how they fit in the community. Their festival cider fest takes apples that people don't want to eat and they press them into cider and give it away. The audience is half their friends and half from the neighborhood.

How do they come and ask for a drone? They are a volunteer org and their core membership is 4-6 people who have different backgrounds - tech, biology, teaching. They are interested in taking risks. I think they knew about drones in agriculture and they knew we'd be open to it. Carl's first response was no, you don't need a drone. It was their idea. Now they've moved into instrumenting the apple tree directly.

Saul: Design as probe for policy. Cambridge decided last week it needed a drone policy. There was a viral video of a drone here being knocked out of the sky by a hawk. Framing this around imagination is interesting. Because the city is not interested in drones as imaginary space.

Carl: They have permission to fly on the grounds that are private property. The only time we ran into issues was on and around campus. The first time they flew it outside the building they are housed, security came in and said you can't do that—you'll hit someone in this public square. We have all these viral videos now: drones with bees, another where one fell on a triathlete. So maybe the public conversation has changed.

You could say that these regulations are ridiculous affecting a $400 drone. But you could easily imagine that drone falling on the public highway next to Georgia Tech and creating all sorts of problems.

I think drones are really exciting for citizen journalism, and that's where I worry about the limitations imposed on them.

Chelsea: Expressing concerns about fetishizing technology. How do you address that through the process and avoid that empty innovation adoption?

Carl: I agree with you about the technology thing. I must say I am in a digital media department and many colleagues think that digital component is primary. There are plenty of examples where paper-based versions of what we do may be more appropriate. When we work with communities, we try to let them lead with the choice of technology. There are times as experts that we have a responsibility to tell community members they aren't making the right choice. We can also tweak how we approach technologies when we use them. We can embrace the fetishization of certain technologies and push them in different directions.

Don Blair: I want to import all the questions you mentioned at the end to the DIY science / citizen monitoring space I am in. To make this more relevant to my work, I want to know how would things shift if rather than foraging on behalf of a food bank that they were foraging on behalf of themselves for caloric intake. Would you have thought about it differently? We are developing water qualities monitors. It's one thing to imagine what a citizen water monitoring project might look like and different if citizens are worried about some specific contaminant in their own drinking water.

Carl: People we talked to who do foraging for sustenance, don't need these technologies. They know where the food is and they don't need to monitor it. One of the characteristics of this project is that this is a "lower-stakes civics." It's not lower stakes for those who are hungry. But it's a different kind of relationship than the water quality monitoring.

In a short period of time, we have gone from imagining what an instrumented environment might look like to Kickstarter projects that produce these instruments for wide use. I remember CHI papers from 10 years ago that suggest we could instrument the environment and now we can.

Catherine: I think Don is pointing out that often times these citizen science experiments don't work. And there is still a disconnect from what is promised and what is possible.

Carl: Is this more or less real than drones for foraging? I think the context is more real.

Experimenting with drones does not affect their current practice. Georgia Tech research is doing this experiment, but it does not stop them from collecting apples across the city.

Catherine: How is the Walking Cities project different from the Drones for Foraging? The Walking Cities just need to show their images; their goal is to put a speculative idea into the social imaginary. But when you start doing this in the embodied world you run up against real policies and risk. When projects are operating in the real and bring in the social imaginary, does the fact that they are real diminish their speculative power, or is there something valuable about the embodied real-world aspect?

Carl: I have gotten that question before. The work of Archigram and Dunne and Raby are about the production of images and models that are non-functional. Is there a value of keeping some notion of speculation separate from some reality? Yes.

But there is something interesting about expanding what we see in our engagement with speculation. Architects in the 60s simply made drawings. Kickstarter could be a platform for speculative fiction—the way they put forward their short pitch videos to capture our imagination.

I like it when some aspect of my work hits the real world. "I just flew another drone into a tree." or Park(ing) Day is delimited by "how many quarters I have in my pocket." Drones for Foraging are not completely divorced from working in the real city, and they have technical limitations like only working for 20 minutes at time. And I enjoy thinking about those constraints.

Catherine: Speculative fiction may serve a research and development role for various organizations: companies, journalists, etc. Maybe the use of these drones serve as R&D for foragers.

Carl: That's a great idea. But journalists have an industry. Now what's the public forum where we share that information? We've created all this knowledge but we don't have the infrastructure by which to share the ideas. Maybe this is part of our responsibility as academics where we don't create the same thing over and over again?

Yu Wang: You haven't talked about what benefits this presents to the foragers.

Carl: There is nothing in place that impacts the foragers ability to do their work. For all of our projects we use a co-design process with the communities we are working with. This proceeds through a conversation about "what's next?" We have moved beyond the drones because they don't present a solution to them.

And the imagination being produced is not ours alone as researchers. The project would not exist without them.

We say maybe "empathy is a horrible idea" for civic work because it makes the person you are working with "the other." It's not that there are foragers and there are us, but now we are foragers too and identify by that label.

The two groups don't exist - we are one group together.

by kanarinka at October 30, 2014 05:45 PM

DML Central
Smart Schools in Sentient Cities
Smart Schools in Sentient Cities Blog Image

What makes a city “smart?” And, in a “smart city,” what makes a “smart school?” Designers, researchers and commercial technology companies are increasingly concerned with the development of "smarter cities," "programmable cities"  and "sentient cities" that are augmented with big data, sensor networks, and other computationally programmable processes  and software-supported practices. The smart city is an urban environment with a computational "nervous system." It appears to have some form of awareness, intelligence, and thoughtfulness, along with some ability to learn and to transform itself.

In many smart city programs, themes such as "smarter education" are emerging as important points of focus for various kinds of imaginings and product developments. It is surprising, then, that educational research has, to date, said very little about such data-intensive, spatially sentient and programmable cities.

This leaves a lot of questions to be addressed. What kind of educational future are we facing in sentient cities that are already becoming automated, plastered in data and augmented with context-aware devices offering mediated sensory experiences; in which billions of objects and machines can interrelate with one another via the Internet of Things; and in which the urban environment itself is able to track, trace and even "think of us?" What does it mean for people to learn in a city that can learn?

Data Platforms

A key feature of emerging smart schools, like the sentient cities they belong to, is their dependence on big data. A good example of such thinking is a report from the Chicago Council of Global Affairs focusing on big data in the organization and governance of a future "megacity." The report offers a vision of a future urban landscape in which the data generated by residents and city operations, twinned with the  ability to collect, analyze, and utilize data for decision making, is increasingly enabled by the prevalence of personal devices, increased connectivity, accessibility to high-performance computing and storage, and advanced analytics. An entire chapter on big data and education in such a data-driven megacity concludes that "harnessing data mining and applied analytics, big data in education can greatly increase the quality of instruction, monitoring, evaluation, and accountability."

What might such a big data-driven school look like? The authors of Learning with Big Data: The Future of Education suggest big data will ‘reshape learning’ through ‘datafying the learning process’ in three significant ways: through real-time feedback; individualization and personalization of the educational experience; and probabilistic predictions to optimize what students learn. These changes are being brought about, they argue, through a combination of:

          • online courses that enable the constant logging and tracking of learners through their clickstream data
          • e-textbooks that can ‘learn’ from how they are used and ‘talk back’ to the teacher
          • adaptive learning systems that enable materials to be tailored to each student’s individual needs through automated real-time analysis
          • the generation of personalized ‘playlists’ determined by an algorithm
          • new forms of data analytics that are able to harvest data from students’ actions, learn from them, and generate predictions of individual students’ probable future performances

The publication provides a seamless image of school as a "data platform," the "cornerstone of a big-data ecosystem," in which "educational materials will be algorithmically customized’ and ‘constantly improved."

The image of the smart school as a data platform in a massive urban big data ecosystem resonates strongly with images of the smart city as a real-time environment that appears more and more sentient and ‘knowing’ as instantaneous processes of data collection, analysis and feedback mechanisms are built-in to its operational infrastructure.

Cerebral Schools

Smart schools are also envisioned as being highly socially networked, with learners participating in a socially connected ecosystem of learning at home, at school and online. Visions such as Microsoft’s Educated Cities program, for example, exemplify a perceived symmetry between networked technical infrastructures with the apparently natural sociality of people. Its Educated Cities white paper emphasizes the social power of mobile devices and social media platforms to enable dialogues and open new "social channels," as well as the use of "social tools" to foster collaboration.

The student of a Microsoft Educated City is addressed as a social learner participating in new digitally mediated social configurations. It is based on contemporary preoccupations with open education, learning in the cloud, smart mobs, collective intelligence, participatory cultures and so on, and counterposes traditional schooling with the smarter possibilities of open networks, interconnected systems, interactivity and participation facilitated by social media networks.

Smart school visions like this position the social network as a model for reimagining learning. The algorithmic mosaic of calculations and connections constructed by programmers that actually constitutes a social media network is rendered invisible by these claims. Instead, it appears that social media enables people to engage in "natural" social learning activities — as if our natural sociality has demanded the affordances of social media. These conceptions are strengthened by expert claims about the "social brain," "social learning" and "social networks" that emphasize the social nature of the individual rather than individualist self-interest.

Claims about human social nature are as politically motivated as they are psychologically or neurologically rooted. The idea of the malleable "social brain" of the "social learner" connected to others via "social networks" is not natural and pre-given. It is an expertly constructed accomplishment based on a particular theory of the brain and human behaviour, practised in places like Facebook’s data science team, which presupposes people are naturally imitative and therefore manipulable and susceptible to social influences.

Such assumptions are based partly on populist neuroscientific understandings of the brain’s neural plasticity, mirror neurons and malleability, and on claims that our brains consist of neural networks connected to, and shaped by, social networks and their effects. These qualities of imitancy, malleability and susceptibility to being socially engineered through social networking effects are precisely what Facebook’s controversial "emotional contagion" study explored.

Within the smart school, then, learners are to be addressed and managed as malleable and imitative social learners with social brains, whose behaviours and actions can be nudged, tweaked and influenced by their participation in social networks. The cerebral school is not only a sentient environment, but one where insights from the brain scan have been translated into the school plan.

Sensing Environments

Another key feature of smart schools will be that they become "sensing environments" in which a wide variety of sensor and actuator devices will constantly capture information about both school facilities and the behaviour and movement of students. Examples include wearable electronics and biosensor devices designed to allow users to track, collect and analyze data on their own activities and health—sometimes called technologies of the "quantified self" or the practice of "wearing the self."

A market in such devices, like Sqord, are now being targeted for use in health and physical education in schools. As smart schools become sensing environments where data collection devices are worn on the body the functioning of such devices will interlace with school pedagogies and influence how students learn about their own bodies and health.

Through technologies of the quantified self, the student’s body is being redefined as a kind of programmable software that can be de-bugged, upgraded, patched and optimized. Metaphorically speaking, the quantified student is growing an "algorithmic skin," an artificial informational membrane that continually interacts with, and is activated by, a densely coded informational environment. In the smart school, the body and behaviour of the student can be predicted and modified.

These activities are part of a wider concern with future-thinking in education that is influenced by the technical capacity of computational statistics, machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics to project probabilistic predictions of future actions. Predictive tracking and sensing technologies include learning analytics platforms that can track students’ data over time, link them to behavioral models, and then combine those data to project likely future progress, actions, and outcomes. New kinds of educational data scientists and learning analytics companies like Knewton claim to be able to collect and mine millions of data points on students, with more data on students than Google has on its users.

The quantified student is the product of a massive data-mineable industry and the subject of smart schools where they are to be continually sensed and identified through their "data points" and subjected to continuous processes of data monitoring, predictive modelling, real-time prescriptive intervention, and pre-emptive pedagogic and pastoral practices.

Smart Citizens

Many smart city programs feature a strong emphasis on the idea of "smart citizens." The basic logic is that the economic, cultural and political functioning of smart cities will rely on smart people. There is a requirement in such urban environments, then, that people can help contribute to the monitoring and management of the city itself. Recent research from Citizen Sense suggests cities are now becoming more like "datasets to be manipulated," with citizens as ‘operatives’ with responsibilities for "operationalizing the cybernetic functions of the smart city. …The citizen is a data point, both a generator of data and a responsive node in a system of feedback."

What kinds of pedagogies contribute to the production of such a smart computational citizen? One way in which smart citizens might be shaped as computational operatives of the smart city is by learning to code. Learning to code acts as a kind of preparation for citizenship in a city where people are required to develop the computational skills required to become operatives, engineers and hackers of the smart city’s services and urban processes. The evidence for such an idea is in how various learning to code programs and clubs have been aligned with emerging "civic technology" and "coding for civic service" initiatives. These initiatives assume that many problems of urban management and control can be solved through the application of technical solutions and computational forms of thinking.

As such, learning to code is part of an emerging style of "political computational thinking" familiar to many smart city visions, which recasts complex social phenomena like politics, public health, and education as neatly defined problems with definite, computable solutions that can be optimized with the right code and algorithms.

Smart “Future-tense” Schools

Smart schools are in many ways techno-utopian futurist fantasies. But they reflect an emergent socio-technical reality in which data tracking, sensing and analysis, combined with particular behavioral models and theories of the social brain, are increasingly influencing educational administration, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. Smart schools will mobilize the constant collection and connection of data as a form of artificial sentience, making every aspect of school performance into a real-time process of data collection, analysis and feedback.

Moreover, as educational data science methods and learning analytics become increasingly powerful through the use of machine learning algorithms and predictive modelling, based on "sensing" the activities of students acting as their computational operatives, these sentient and smart schools will become able not only to provide real-time data on student activities, but also to make "future-tense" predictions of their likely outcomes and to prescribe automated interventions that might nudge their individual and social behavior and so pre-empt their futures.

Perhaps most significantly, smart schools will be schools that can "think of us" and both learn from and about us. Smart schools will be entirely hybrid environments in which human and nonhuman things will be able to interrelate and learn from one another—the social brain of the learner interacting with the sentience of the school. As people learn from and about machines, machines will learn from and about people in the smart school.

Banner image credit: SamsungTomorrow

by mcruz at October 30, 2014 04:00 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Hungarians Reject “Internet Tax” With Protests, Motherboards
Protests in Budapest, October 2014. Photo by Marietta Le, used with permission.

Protests in Budapest, October 2014. Photo by Marietta Le, used with permission.

Juan Arellano, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Alex Laverty, Bojan Perkov, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Hungary, where tens of thousands took to the streets of Budapest on Oct. 26 to protest a proposed tax on Internet traffic. Some demonstrators threw old computer parts at the gates of the headquarters of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

The bill would require every Internet service provider to pay a tax per gigabyte downloaded by its customers. Along with opposition politicians and open Internet advocates, telecommunications firms are rejecting the proposal, saying that it will increase their costs and ultimately lead to a hike in the already-expensive market pricing of Internet access in the Central European country. The government reportedly likened the tax to the standard levy on long-distance telephone calls, despite the technical distinctions between telephone and Internet traffic.

This the latest in a series of policy initiatives by the Fidesz party to tighten regulations on media outlets and anti-corruption NGOs, all of which have stifled access to knowledge and free expression. 

Egypt’s senseless persecution of activists continues

Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was detained once again in connection with charges for which he has already served jail time. The pro-democracy activist has been arrested and jailed by every government that Egypt has seen since 2011.

An Egyptian court sentenced 23 activists to three years in jail, including Sanaa Seif, the sister of Alaa Abdel-Fattah. Seif has been on hunger strike for almost two months to protest the law under which she was sentenced, which bans demonstrations without prior police authorization and punishes violators with imprisonment. Seif’s lawyers intend to appeal the decision. 

Peru’s #LeyChavez will let your boss spy on your email

The Peruvian Congress is considering a bill that could give employers the right to review the emails of their employees. Known as #LeyChavez, the bill has become controversial among lawyers and Internet security specialists for its restrictions on privacy rights. The bill will not be brought before Congress for some time, leaving space for discussion around its implications for citizens.

Watchdog media site downed by DDoS attack on election day in Mozambique

The independent news site @Verdade experienced a massive Distributed Denial of Service attack on the eve of Mozambique’s general elections, preventing the site from covering the election in real time. The site’s staff believes it was targeted because it investigated assets and mining interests belonging to outgoing president Armando Guebuza and his family. It claims to know the origin of the attack but has not released this information to the public. 

Ebola is bad for you—and malware is, too

Malware messages claiming to be from the World Health Organization are spreading online, according to Trustwave’s SpiderLabs team. Unsuspecting users have reportedly opened emails claiming to contain important information and prevention tips about Ebola. The messages then installed malware that gives perpetrators remote access to victims’ computers.

Italy cooks up yet another Internet Bill of Rights

Italy put forth a draft of an Internet Bill of Rights for public consultation this week, via the new Civici platform that allows any citizen to comment on and suggest changes to the document. Inspired by Brazil’s Marco Civil process, and designed with an international framework in mind, the draft covers topics including the right to Internet access, net neutrality, and the right to anonymity. It also includes measures that require online service providers (i.e., open platforms, social networks, email services) to be fully transparent in their terms of service and to refrain from “algorithmic discrimination,” a principle that would chiefly apply to search engines. 

Global Voices contributor Ben Wagner, who serves as director of the Centre for Internet & Human Rights at European University Viadrina, told TechPresident he didn’t see “much added utility” in the bill. “The time of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies would be better spent drafting bills which prevent Italian companies like HackingTeam exporting surveillance technologies which enable human rights abuses across the world, or even to limit the massive use of domestic wiretaps in Italy,” he said.

Although there is support for the general principles behind the bill and the policy shifts that it could inspire, some Internet governance experts are skeptical of the project’s value, given that it is not clear that the bill would actually be legally binding. The consultation period will last from Oct. 27, 2014, through Feb. 27, 2015. 

British trolls, beware: the government is coming for you

The U.K. government is considering new regulations that would make online trolling an offense punishable by up to two years in jail. The move comes in the wake of a series of high-profile cases of online harassment.

Can YouTube takedowns buy you votes?

Brazilian netizens suspect presidential candidate Aecio Neves was responsible for the removal of two videos from YouTube, including a highly regarded documentary revealing links between some of Neves’ close political allies and the cocaine trade. The two-term governor of the state of Minas Gerais, which borders both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, has a history of seeking to stifle critical political views on social media. Last August, Neves filed a lawsuit against Twitter after the company refused to hand over data on 66 users he claimed were propagating lies and criticism about him and his campaign. Neves lost the election in its second round by a slim margin to sitting president Dilma Rousseff.  

Russia takes its seat on the ISIS censorship bandwagon

Russia is taking stringent measures to curb the online content about ISIS, including banning hyperlinks and labeling all videos by and about the group as “extremist.” While there’s no guarantee that this will have any concrete impact on terrorist activity, the new policies will unquestionably have negative consequences for online free expression.

Global Voices celebrates its tenth birthday!

Happy birthday to us! Since our first post on Oct. 26, 2004, Global Voices has grown in many dimensions—we’ve published more than 88,000 posts, have become one of the most dynamic human-powered translation communities online, and pioneered community-led advocacy and development work around the world. To kick off our anniversary celebrations, here are some reflections from our contributors on their first encounters with Global Voices

New Research

 

by Netizen Report Team at October 30, 2014 01:41 PM

Global Voices
With Homes and Infrastructure Destroyed, a Tough Winter Lies Ahead for Gaza
Winter is coming to Gaza, where some 100,000 people have been left homeless. On Twitter, @NourAlghussain says: "winter is on the doors here .and Gaza is still besieged >there's no materials to rebuild these houses #BreakGazaSiege"

Winter is coming to Gaza, where some 100,000 people have been left homeless. On Twitter, @NourAlghussein says: “winter is on the doors here .and Gaza is still besieged >there's no materials to rebuild these houses #BreakGazaSiege”

After the intense destruction caused by this summer's war, thousands of Gazans are left with insufficient resources to brave winter's coming cold.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in October 2014 that an estimated 20,000 homes were destroyed, displacing 100,000 people. Refugees either live with host families or in collective centers, like schools.

On Twitter, the first rains of autumn spurred concern for the refugees’ future.

Blogger Omar Ghraieb, who is based in Gaza, wrote:

Later that day, he added:

Posting these photographs when the rain finished, he tweeted:

In an article entitled, “No Shelter from Winter Rain for Thousands in Gaza,” collective blog Electronic Intifada‘s Rami Almeghari reported:

[...] hundreds of families whose homes were bombed by Israel lack basic infrastructure, including electricity and access to water, and remain in metal caravan shelters or at United Nations-run schools. Heavy rainstorms have recently swept through Gaza, further damaging the electricity, water and sewage networks.

“These people had no chance to be safe during the rains … it’s alarming for the whole population of the Gaza Strip, particularly those who have been displaced. The winter will be a difficult time for these residents,” [The Electronic Intifada's Rami] Almeghari explained

Though international donors have promised reconstruction aid, the physical process of reconstruction has not yet started. “These people have been waiting since the war ended in August for the reconstruction to take place,” Almeghari said

Numerous crowdsourced donation campaigns have also arisen. A selection of these are as follows.

An Indiegogo campaign by the Al-Rahma Society will provide winter clothing to refugee children. At time of writing, more than US$3,300 had been pledged of the $5,000 sought in funding:

Make Gaza children's winter warmer is the name of our campaign in which we advertise our message for the world to donate for our campaign, we try to collect money to buy the clothes for the children. When we receive any money we will start making deals with clothes stores, and prepare cards for the children to come and choose their needs. We will try to offer 50$ for each child.

On Go Get Funding, a user only identified as Abu Yazan has established a campaign called Help Gaza This Winter, raising $1,871 so far. The author writes:

Winter is coming for Gaza and this year its different than the years before. Winter this year will be hard since thousands of houses in Gaza are totally or partially destroyed and over 100,000 Palestinians are left homeless… This is an initiative to help these people out during the winter, to warm them, to protect them from the rain & expected floods and to reinforce their steadfastness in these hard times.

The campaign appears to be associated with Gaza Youth Breaks Out, an anonymous Palestinian youth group that describes itself on Facebook as a “political party,” as it links to them on the campaign page and they promote the project in this tweet:

The Save Gaza Project is running two simultaneous campaigns on Go Fund Me and Indiegogo. On Indiegogo, the campaign to provide backpacks and school supplies to children has raised 9,800 British pounds (about US$14,800) of its 15,000-pound goal, and on Go Fund Me, it has raised 5,200 pounds, 200 pounds over its original goal. The organization works in coordination with the Al-Tawheed Society in Gaza to distribute funds.

On Facebook, Palestine Loves Israel encourages donations to Gaza through Caritas, a well-respected international aid organization, writing:

As winter is about to come in the Middle East, many Gazans are still without proper shelter and suffer from a severe lack of warm clothes, blankets and other goods. I contacted Caritas Israel again to see weather they are still delivering goods to Gaza. They do… We recommend Caritas because they have been proven trustworthy and reliable more than many others that we checked so far, and they are working with local officials from the red cross and red crescent. http://www.caritas-germany.org/internationalaid/donations

During Israel's offensive in Gaza, 40 percent of Gaza's urban area was reduced to rubble, according to some estimates. Israel attacked the only power plant in Gaza on July 28, plunging the congested strip of 1.8 million people into darkness while putting its limited water and sanitation infrastructure under crippling stress.

On August 26, 2014, Israel and the Palestinian factions agreed to halt fighting indefinitely, putting an end to seven weeks of catastrophic destruction and loss of life. At least 2,100 Palestinians were killed, more than 10,500 injured, and 520,000 displaced during Israel ‘s massive offensive Protective Edge against the 40-kilometer-long coastal strip.

Follow our in-depth coverage: Indefinite Ceasefire War-Battered #Gaza

The photo included in the first tweet in the article was used widely over social media tagged with #Gaza and #Palestine, but its origin is unknown. If you know the original source, kindly provide it in the comments section below.
The citation of these campaigns does not signify the author's endorsement. The campaigns included in this post are examples of those mentioned on social media. There are many other funding opportunities available if you would like to support the people of Gaza through registered nonprofits.

by Maya Norton at October 30, 2014 08:00 AM

Thailand's High School Civic Activism in a Time of Martial Law
Student activists at their first conference in March 2014. The 'XI' sign represents 11 proposals on education reform. Image by Nattanan Warintarawet.

Student activists at their first conference in March 2014. The ‘XI’ sign represents 11 proposals on education reform. Image by Nattanan Warintarawet.

These days, you don't see much idealism or activism among Thailand's youth—not since a coup last May led to the imposition of martial law. Now that the government has banned public gatherings of five people or more, it's become extremely difficult for young people to get involved in social movements. Criticizing army officials or trying to organize protest actions against the state, many fear, might even put activists in danger.  

But not everyone in Thailand remains silent. 17-year-old Nattanan Warintarawet, more commonly known as “Nice”, has dared to speak up publicly, challenging the new military-backed government. Warintarawet has criticized the authorities in multiple areas, including academic freedom and youth politics. She has also challenged the state on sociopolitical issues ranging from the justice system to participatory democracy to fundamental human rights.

As Secretary General of the Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS), she organized several activities that have already had a strong effect on Thai society—an impressive achievement in a nation under martial law. Last month, the ELS published an open letter addressed to the prime minister and coup leader, General Prayut Chan-o-cha. ELS seeks reforms for Thailand's ailing education system, advocating an end to the country's top-down approach, which currently excludes students from much of the bureaucracy's decisionmaking.

…the underlying philosophy of education that stresses authoritarianism and causes hindrance to the critical thinking of students still endures.

We truly believe that the effective education reform must be based on a bottom-up or decentralized approach, not a top-down practice. Voices of students must be heard and taken into account.

ELS's open letter is partly a response to the junta's “education-reform roadmap”, published earlier this year, which identifies General Prayut's 12 “core values” in education.

  1. Love for the nation, religions and monarchy
  2. Honesty, patience and good intentions for the public
  3. Gratitude to parents, guardians and teachers
  4. Perseverance in learning
  5. Conservation of Thai culture
  6. Morality and sharing with others
  7. Correct understanding of democracy with the monarch as head of the state
  8. Discipline and respect for the law and elders 
  9. Awareness in thinking and doing things, and following the guidance of His Majesty the King
  10. Living by the sufficiency economy philosophy guided by His Majesty the King
  11. Physical and mental strength against greed
  12. Concern about the public and national good more than self-interest.
Student activists protesting in front of the Thai Education Department. Image by Nattanan Warintarawet (second from right).

Student activists protesting in front of the Thai Education Department. Image by Nattanan Warintarawet (second from right).

Earlier this month, ELS held a peaceful gathering in front of the Ministry of Education. Their aim was to raise student awareness and assert their right to debate the the policies and values that affect their lives. The Education Minister Admiral Narong Pipatanasai unceremoniously called their actions as abnormal.

Warintarawet told Global Voices that the rebuke by the education minister is a restriction on academic freedom:

We have to understand other people. We should respect others, based on humanistic values and not on those values of what the government said.

Different beliefs are not the cause of conflict. Conflict is caused by the inability to not being able to express.

An anti U-NET protest. The U-NET testing system requires every university/college student to take the test in order to graduate. Image by Nattan Warintarawet.

An anti U-NET protest. The U-NET testing system requires every university/college student to take the test in order to graduate. Image by Nattan Warintarawet.

Warintarawet argues that students need to participate in policymaking, which would in turn enable Thai youths to think for themselves. Like her peers, she faces challenges from some nationalist groups, who prefer students to remain obedient to the state. Warintarawet says she gets her determination from her parents, who encourage her to stay dedicated to nonviolent activism. 

We have to accept (that) our country has flaws but extreme nationalism will prevent us from growing.  My parents are supportive but my mother was initially worried. It took me 4 days to reassure her.

Warintarawet says stubborn commitment to outdated ideas is an obstacle to critical thinking—a skill she worries is desperately needed among Thai youth today. Warintarawet also believes government officials are monitoring her at her school, where life has become uncomfortable, she says. The attention amounts to “harassment,” in her own words.

The school administration is keeping an eye on me.

Many people like what I am doing but some don’t want to openly support me.

They have their studies and some say that as a student I should not fight for rights.

ELS recently launched a social media campaign and an online petition to promote academic reform and student rights awareness.

by Zashnain Zainal at October 30, 2014 06:43 AM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Molly Sauter and The Coming Swarm: A Fireside Chat

On October 29, 2014, The Berkman Center hosted Civic Media alum Molly Sauter in a "fireside chat" with Nieman Fellow Laurie Penny about Molly's new book The Coming Swarm: DDOS, Hactivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet. This is a liveblog of that conversation (not a transcript), co-written with Dalia Othman and Kendra Albert.

The Coming Swarm book cover

Laurie: Can you tell us please what is a DDOS?

Molly: How many people have younger siblings, and you may have gone to Disneyland? I have a little brother, and when we were going to Disney wherever, he would be like "Hey Molly! Hey Molly! Hey Molly!” repeatedly. Now, imagine your younger sibling is a server saying that to you over and over and over again. That’s a DDOS. Pinging a targeted server a bunch of times until it falls done. An activist DDOS is doing this with whitehouse.gov as the target. And there was a time when that was a reasonable action: on 4pm on a Wednesday, you would coordinate and start refreshing the page on whitehouse.gov and crashing it with your friends.

Laurie: I didn’t realize that this is something that has a long history, it spans long before wikileaks and Anonymous’s DDOS attacks then, it goes back to the WTO Battle for Seattle.

Molly: DDOS has been around at least since the early 1990s. For example, Quebec redphoning: calling the same political switchboard. Flood your congressman with more mail than they can read. Those are types of DDOS.

The Strano Network Net Strike was the first example back in 1995(?) that Molly found. Italian group attacking a French nuclear company. Electronic Disturbance Theater (that were involved with the zapatistas) and Electrohippies were both American groups who did activist DDOS in the 1990s

Laurie: Can you break that down a little bit, can you talk more about attention getting versus direct action?

Molly: Attention getting activism is a good way of describing the paradigm of activist intervention that we see contemporarily. Through press coverage of the intervention, you gain the attention you need to put it on the political agenda. Direct action is instead about working on the issue you want to make change on. Spiking trees to stop logging, or sending out your own ships to drive off whales from whaling ships in environmental activism and Electrohippies stopping the WTO from emailing itself.

Laurie: Protest is when I say I don’t like a thing, resistance is when I stop that thing from happening. So where does DDOS fall?

Molly: It really can be on either side of the spectrum. It depends on what your goals are. It's so easy with DDOS, where activists will direct the press toward an issue or target by DDOSing them. It's easier to do an attention-getting DDOS now than ever before - but much more difficult for you and your friends to take down servers on your own, because of advances in web infrastructure.

Laurie: Can we talk about Operation Payback linked to Anonymous? Especially for journalists in the room, that was a big deal, I remember that I did trying to learn the background.

Molly: Operation Payback was in the late fall / early winter of 2010. Everyone remembers Cablegate and Wikileaks in this room, right? The US government got upset over the cables publication and asked financial institutions to stop enabling funding of Wikileaks.

Anonymous was already, confusingly enough, involved in an action called "Operation Payback" targeting the MPAA and RIAA. They expanded their target pool to VISA, MasterCard, a Swedish banking site, and several congress member's sites. This lasted for a about a week, also under the name "Operation Avenge Assange." 

Laurie: Can we talk about the PayPal 14?

Molly: When Anonymous targeted Paypal,they targetted the PayPal blog (and not their credit card processing servers). Did you know PayPal had a blog? I didn't know they had a blog. Most people participating in that action used the Low-Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) to DDOS PayPal. There were some problems with the design of LOIC in the security of the end user. When you used LOIC you sent series of bits as well as a return address. Most of the participants didn't realize it. Some people did know about this and tried to alert others that the bug existed.

What happened next was either that Anonymous members kicked them from the IRC channel because they thought they were Feds, or that the flaw in the tool had been purposefully introduced and undercover Feds kicked the people pointing out out from the IRC channel. Think whichever makes you happy that day. PayPal collected the addresses and handed them to the FBI. Fourteen of the accusations stuck: and these fourteen participants were charged, and they all pled out. Most had to pay some restitution to PayPal.

Low Orbit Ion Cannon

Laurie: More importantly, who will play the PayPal 14 in the movie?

Molly: Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones will each get to play one of the PayPal 14.

Laurie: It’ll be like that scene in the Fifth Estate. Can you explain a little bit about the legal status of these actions and the CFAA?

Molly: CFAA is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and it is the main relevant legislation for these actions in the US. It is terrible. That is my opinion. It’s a fraud statute. It’s modeled on fraud statutes.

The sentencing recommendations get more intense the more people involved and the higher the estimated damage.

If I was Snidely Whiplash and I defrauded 200 little old ladies out of their life savings, I would be very good at what I do. That would be all I do. If I am an Anonymous participant, I can affect 200 customers by helping take down a credit card website for 5 minutes,. The CFAA does not scale to these two scenarios. It sees them similarly.

I'm not saying that companies don't make up damages out of whole cloth. [wink wink nod nod]

For example, the Koch Brothers website went down for 15 minutes. One guy was arrested for this. He was a truck driver. He had to pay $200,000 to Koch based on their cost to pay a consultant to rewrite the security infrastructure for the site. And because of joint and several liability, he was responsible for the whole amount.

Laurie: What you get at in the book is the power differential in this situation. Is it always as clear as the truck driver versus series fraud?

Molly: It is never that clear.

DDOS can be used for many different actions for many different purposes. It can be a used for extortion and harassment. It can be used as a tool for censorship. The Berkman Center wrote a great report on DDOS to censor activist media outlets.

Anyone can use them for a variety of aims: criminal or not.

Laurie: DDOS are not just attacks on speech but can be speech-acts themselves. Are there times when they are straight up censorship?

Molly: I think when governments DDOS media outlets it is straight up censorship. There are other situations where you have more tricky definitions. There was an ISP that was hosting a Basque Separatist website in Spain. There was a demand from a nameless group of people to take down that content. Eventually the ISP did take it down because it made it impossible for them to carry out their business.

There’s a difference between that and the Anonymous action saying we don't like how PayPal is handling funding to Wikileaks. You are objecting to the actions of a corporation and doing so by attack their public presence online. You aren't stopping them from conducting business by taking down the PayPal blog. It doesn't disrupt their communications / PR infrastructure to tell their story. If anything, it brings the press to them to comment on being DDOS'ed.

Molly: It's really hard for John Q. Public to make a change at a corporation. If you are trying to silence something, that is a free speech and ethical issue.

Audience member: Who gets to decide what is disruption and what is not?

[point made]

Laurie: This would be a good time to discuss democracy on the internet.

Molly: EDT wanted to draw a straight line between street activism and online activism. Digitally-enable activists versus Hacktivists that were primarily involved in computer networks and then moved to political use of those tools. EDT was interested in talking about these actions in street action terms: DDOS is a sit-in. While this metaphor served it's purpose at the time, it's problematic. Sit-ins draw out a romanticized reference to the civil rights movement, which does not accurately represent how activism unfolds.

The second problem with using the term sit-in is that it’s not a sit-in. The denial of that service is the illustrative part of that example. DDOS is more akin to a blockade.

Laurie: Say I have a problem with the internet. Why would I choose to use a tactic like this rather than send a letter to my MP?

Molly: The value comes from the fact that you don't have to rely on a faith in the system responding to you. If you believe that sending a letter to a Senator will give you a good faith response. If you don't believe the system with respond in good faith than those traditional avenues are closed off to you: maybe you don't use the right language, you won't get a response in time, or many other reasons.

So moving to a disruptive action like DDOS, a strike, or monkeywrenching means you are attempting to get someone to pay attention on your issue now.

There’s this really interesting article going around that talks about tactics suffragettes used before they got the vote. They did things like interrupting the Kentucky Derby to pin flags on the horses and starve themselves. When people saw the women starving themselves or chaining themselves to the gates of the White House they didn’t understand that. People responded by saying why don't they write a letter: But they did these actions because they did not have equal voice.

Laurie: Back in the day, suffragettes were seen as terrorists.

Molly: It is the interruption of the use of property and the flow of capitalism. People use disruptive tactics for a reason because often it's the only way to get on the public agenda.

Laurie: You say in the book: There is no public space on the internet. So how we do create a notion of publics and civics on the internet? You don't seem to have answers here, but

Molly: People have tried to make space on the internet through municipal wi-fi. There a government and corporate attempts to block the ability to create these public spaces. It's actually illegal to make municipal networks in some states.

It's shocking that we are unable to create these spaces.

Laurie: Why did you choose to position this a more popular book than a purely academic book?

Molly: I wanted this to be more than academic for a couple reasons. First, I think this is important. People aren't asking these questions or asking them the right ways. This is important for people writing about the internet and using the internet for political purposes. Primarily it was about appealing to a wider audience.

Laurie: What’s the end game? DDOS are time-delimited as a tactic because of the arms race in online security.

Molly: This will stay a fringe tactic because it's legally risky. And people that are in the activist mainstream will not go there because it's so risky.Even though I think DDOS will stay fringe and decline in popularity as a political tactic, I still think it's valuable as a really low bar for participation in political action online and civic disobedience.

In activism you talk about the ladder of engagement, which starts with signing a petition and then move toward a attending a lecture or march, and then volunteering and then traveling to participate. DDOS opens that door to online civil disobedience action with a low level of commitment and technical knowledge. And in that way it's very useful.

Laurie: Some of the penalties make this very risky as you said, do you see this trend continuing? I see people in the UK getting locked away for just participating in a sit-in. What scares the gov about DDOS activism?

Molly: The government is scared of DDOS because they want to define the space as one of war and protect their abilities to carry out intelligence in this space.

Molly Sauter and Laurie Penny

QUESTION & ANSWER

Schuyler Towne: You say that people act because they lose faith in the system…

Molly: In the great variety in the Iraq war protests there was one in San Francisco that created a major disruption where they sat in the road in a group with handcuffs, covered in PVC pipe connecting them and it was impossible to move them. But there were questions about what happens when an ambulance needed to drive through. What about a school bus. What a woman about to give birth? I’m not saying that Anonymous did this…and I’m not saying they didn’t, I don’t know.There are a certain number of activist populations that have lost faith in the system.

ACT UP was a very disruptive organization who engaged in a fight for a very long time. Disruption is appealing in the case when you reach the scale of thousands of people dying and the sense that society is doing nothing.

The extreme environmental movement is another good example. When you think that some things are going to irreparably harm the environment, you spike trees and blow up parts of the Tar Sands Pipeline.

Sara Marie Watson: How did you do the research for the book?

Molly: I don't have any interviews with activists in the book because I wasn't interested in having my notes subpoenaed by the government or courts and harm the activists.
I'm fortunate to have Biella Coleman as my advisor, and so there are parts of my book that do a press analysis. I did a lot of news analysis of how they covered the actions. I am a media theorist at heart and so using media theory and analysis to understand what was happening.

Ivan Sigal: Did you look at international comparisons at all?

Molly: I primarily focused on the US and Western Europe. I tried to learn Mandarin to look at China, but that only lasted a year. and so I was limited by the languages I could speak EDT was a primary mover in a lot of the 90s and they had their own archive. German activists also had their own archive, much of it was translated to English.I tried to study Syria context but most of it is not in English.

Audience member: Is this like a naive white middle class strategy?

Molly: This is an excellent point. To a certain extent, you are limiting your activist pool by requiring that you have an always on computer and internet connection and ability to install the software to DDOS. This is a very esoteric set of requirements to participate in a action.

Floodnet was all scheduled actions because it was during the time of dial-up. The Zapatistas created disruption by scheduling it through a web-based platform with a drop down menu that said choose the Mexican neo-liberal institution and the people knew what that meant.

Do I hope that one day everyone will be able to participate in the types of actions that are applicable to their needs and times? Yes. But there is a lot that needs to happen between now and then.

Chris Peterson: The definition of a disruptive act is that it plays outside the rules of this game. I'm happy with how you responded to the disruption in this event earlier. How do you make the case that these types of disruptive actions are acceptable?

Molly: I'm a big fan of Tressie mcmillan Cottom. She has written, "In a democracy everyone should be equally uncomfortable." Democracy is about distributing discomfort so that everyone takes some on. When someone needs to have their voice heard. Why is your opinion more important than my need to get to work? Well you might have that same need to have your opinion heard a year or more from now. And so we trade off on that responsibility. It's like everyone is keeping the speaker's corner warm for each other.

My case for disruption is that one day we each will need that. Plus, if no one keeps democracy on its toes, then it never.

Audience member: On a nonviolent spectrum, where do you categorize DDOS actions?

Molly: That is depends on our definition of violence. And your own opinion. I think an action that silence someone is an act of violence.

Audience member: I liked that you distinguish between DDOS action and DDOS attack. You mentioned that there was a bug in LOIC...

Molly: Saying it was a bug in the program is a misnomer. Rather it was a bug in the process. People didn’t know their identities were being shared and couldn’t take steps to be anonymous.

Same audience member: The lack of anonymity is actually a core feature of civil disobedience.

Molly: The modern conception of civil disobedience is not anonymous. This was influenced by MLK Jr's theory of change that if you put your own body on the line for abuse, you strengthen the point. DDOS actions come from a longer tradition where that is not an option. James Scott has a book called "Weapons of the Weak," and those are largely anonymous or covert routes. I find it annoying that the message we hear from politicians is that if you are not named in your struggle than your struggle is illegitimate. Because that basically says that I am already in charge and you need to let me be more in charge by abusing your body and life.

Audience member: My question is predicated on the premise that DDOS won't keep working. A botnet might work. But it's also a hierarchy. If you are interested in ethical protest online, what are the avenues available in the future?

Molly: Botnets have tried to deal with the ethical problem of not being able to be online all the time to hit the button and participate. Tools like LOIC allow you to say that I am dedicating my computer to this cause. Now there are many cases of illegal botnets being used for these issues, which has major problems.

Ethics is hard. There is like a Kinsey scale of ethics: nobody is perfectly ethical or unethical. Information exfiltration is less ethical but it is also considered to be okay depending on what the information is and the purpose you have for it.

Audience member: Where is this ethical line in the question of censorship? YOu mentioned in PayPal, Anonymous just took down the blog. But if they had the ability to take down the whole site, would that be censorship?

Molly: No that would not be censorship. Preventing a business from doing business is not censorship. A definition of censorship depends on the power differential of the players, how robust the target is to this influx, and what the actual impact is: whether you are actually stopping speech or not.

Follow-up question about efficacy...

There are many reasons to do an action. It's really hard to take down a corporate website. There are other ways that activists measure success of an action. You don't have to take down a site to get press coverage.

by erhardt at October 30, 2014 03:31 AM

Global Voices
Pioneering Trinidad & Tobago TV Personality Hazel Ward-Redman Remembered
Screen grab of Hazel Ward-Redman, taken from a documentary about the 50 most influential people in Trinidad and Tobago.

Screen grab of Hazel Ward-Redman, taken from a documentary about the 50 most influential people in Trinidad and Tobago.

This week, Trinidad and Tobago got news that Hazel Ward-Redman, a veteran television personality who encouraged the musical and artistic talents of generations of youth, had passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Her television programmes Twelve and Under and Teen Talent showcased the abilities of kids from all over the country – poetry, dance, music and singing were all standard fare – and launched the future careers of many who were passionate about the arts. Contestants went on to become writers, musicians and filmmakers. In 2006, when Trinidad and Tobago Television (the national broadcaster that produced Ward-Redman's shows) finally closed its doors, her colleague Neil Giuseppi reminisced:

And there was Auntie Hazel Ward whose cultural programmes set standards of excellence I attempted to follow in later years [...]

Over the years, ttt became the breeding ground for many of this nation’s cultural icons. Programmes like Scouting for Talent, Mastana Bahar, Teen Talent, Twelve and Under, Mainly for Women and Indian Variety, continuously unearthed the great wealth of talent that resides in our twin-island Republic. Several of the country’s top artistes got their first public recognition through the screens of ttt.

Trinidad and Tobago will forever owe a debt of gratitude to people like Hazel Ward-Redman [...] for their tremendous contributions to the development of the nation’s culture.

“Auntie Hazel”, as she was called, was honoured in a television documentary as one of the 50 most influential people in Trinidad and Tobago:

Tributes soon began to pour in via social media. On local radio station 96.1 WEFM's Facebook page, Ward-Redman was acknowledged for her work in television broadcasting. Commenters on the thread had fond memories of growing up watching her on television and commended her encouragement of young people. Anthony Brooks called her a “pioneer and trailblazer”, while Roma Sinanan described her this way:

Beautiful and exuberant spirit, so infectious that her personality was reflected on all who loved her and appreciated her tremendous contribution to our children of our land. Thank you and many blessings on your journey to the Source from which you came.

The Independent Media Producers Association of Trinidad and Tobago noted:

We have lost a valuable Icon today. Please stop for a moment and remember the light that was Aunty Hazel. May she rest in peace.

On Twitter, Patricia Worrell felt as if something significant had come to an end:

People who knew her personally or professionally flooded Facebook with tributes of their own – I was one of them:

Auntie Hazel Ward, thank you for understanding young people and encouraging their talent. I appeared (along with my guitar) as a guest artiste on one of the 12 and Under shows; Auntie Hazel always had a way of making you feel special. Farewell and God speed to a woman who did yeoman's service for music and the arts in this country.

Writer Lisa Allen-Agostini shared this anecdote:

I remember being on Teen Talent a million years ago. I auditioned at Newtown Girls and the accompanist Maurice Connors was so puzzled at my (ahem) unique vocal ability that he stopped halfway through and asked what I was singing. Aunty Hazel kindly asked me whether I had another talent. She let me return after half hour's practice in the yard, and loved my poetry. Not exactly a star is born but still. RIP Aunty Hazel.

My colleague, filmmaker Danielle Dieffenthaler, summed up her influence like this:

For a generation of us, she was the inspiration.

Hazel Ward-Redman's funeral is scheduled for this Saturday in San Fernando, the main city in south Trinidad.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at October 30, 2014 12:26 AM

October 29, 2014

Global Voices
Understanding Southeast Asia in 19 Infographics

Home to more than 600 million people, Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. A gateway to the Pacific, it is an important trading hub. It is also blessed with a rich and diverse natural ecosystem. The eleven countries of Southeast Asia are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and East Timor. Except for East Timor, all countries in the region belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Next year, the region hopes to realize “ASEAN 2015″—the full integration of Southeast Asian economies, along the lines of the European Union.

The region is a place of contradictions, too. It is home to glitzy skyscrapers like Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, and it hosts the infamous sweatshops that are the target of consumer boycott campaigns in the United States and other developed countries. Southeast Asia’s uneven development is also reflected in the rise of rich countries like Singapore and Brunei, while poor countries like Laos continue to search for viable economic models.

With so much going on in Southeast Asia, infographics offer a useful heuristic for understanding the area, highlighting the diversity of the ASEAN community and the challenges that lie ahead.

The ASEAN Community Facebook page. Notice there are only 10 children representing 10 countries. East Timor is not yet a member of ASEAN

The ASEAN Community Facebook page. Notice there are only 10 children representing 10 countries. East Timor is not yet a member of ASEAN.

Southeast Asia is home to varying degrees of democracy. The recent coup in Thailand is just the most recent example of an ASEAN country's military intervening in its own domestic politics.

Countries like Myanmar have implemented democratic reforms in the past few years. Presumably as a result, recent elections attracted higher voter-turnout levels:

The region now confronts shared environmental threats, as well. Almost annually, forest fires in Indonesia generate deadly haze in Malaysia and Singapore. Expanded rubber plantations and palm oil production are spurring deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia, eradicating the region's endemic species. 

Despite the impressive economic growth of many countries in the region, there are still worrying signs that income inequality—the so-called “wealth gap”—is also rising:

Many consumers complain that tax rates are too high:

Image from Visual.ly

Image from Visual.ly.

One of ASEAN's major trading partners—and a chief competitor for foreign investment—is China.

Oil and gas deposits also abound in the region. Unfortunately, they are located in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), where ASEAN nations and China have overlapping claims.

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

The movement of people across borders in Southeast Asia has been a source of intense friction between ASEAN members, particularly concerning issues of global significance like human and sex trafficking, which are widespread in the region.

Image from Trendnovation Southeast

Image from Trendnovation Southeast.

Tourism is big business—one of the area's most promising industries for developing the region further.

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

Islam is the dominant religion in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. There are also large Muslim communities across the region:

Image from Mcedralin Files

Image from Mcedralin Files.

Internet speed is slow in many ASEAN countries, but it has improved in the law few years:

Like many places around the world, Facebook is the most popular social network in Southeast Asia:

Despite the uneven and poor IT infrastructure in many ASEAN countries, mobile-phone density in the region is quite high. Myanmar lags, but investors are quickly establishing a presence there, too.

Image from Fifty Viss, created by ASEAN DNA

Image from Fifty Viss, created by ASEAN DNA.

Mobile-phone subscriptions have increased dramatically in the past decade:

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

Life expectancy is also rising in most ASEAN countries:

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam are the most populous countries in the region:

Image from Mcedralin Files

Image from Mcedralin Files.

Obesity is also a growing problem in ASEAN countries:

Over the past ten years, there has been a boom in nursing enrollment in several Southeastern Asian countries, particularly in the Philippines, in response to the demand for young health workers and caregivers in wealthier countries.

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

With world-famous cities like Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur, third-world spectacles in Jakarta, Manila and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), and exotic destinations in Phuket, Bali, and Boracay, it's hard to deny the singularity of Southeast Asia. As it continues to prosper and assume greater prominence in the world, the region should also address the lingering inequalities that undermine its continued growth and robust future.

by Mong Palatino at October 29, 2014 04:34 PM

Take a Photographic Tour of Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy ‘Umbrella Square’
Major landmarks in Admiralty protest site. Image created by DASH.

Major landmarks in Admiralty protest site. Image created by DASH.

Pro-democracy protesters have occupied three major sites in Hong Kong for over a month now to demand an open nomination system for the candidates in the election of the city's top leader in 2017. So far, talks between officials and representatives of student activists haven't gone far — Hong Kong's government insists that the largely pro-Beijing nominating committee prescribed by mainland authorities cannot be changed. 

To prepare for a long-term occupation, protesters have turned the sit-in sites into orderly, functioning villages, decorated with political messages for the public by pro-democracy artists and designers.

The protest site in Admiralty is serving as the headquarters for Occupy Central, as the movement is called. Here, organizers hold public gatherings and report on the latest developments of the democracy movement. At last count, protesters have set up more than 1,600 tents.

Dash, a student activist media platform, created a map (see image at top) showing major landmarks at the Admiralty protest site. Below is a brief explanation of the landmarks with photos taken by Au Kalun, a former journalist and a famous blogger.

1. Umbrella Square at Harcourt Road

Umbrella Square. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

Umbrella Square. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

Protesters have occupied eight vehicle lanes across Harcourt and Connaught roads, with more than 1,600 tents erected here. A statue, Umbrella Man, designed by a 22-year-old university student, stands in the so-called Umbrella Square. 

Umbrella Man statue set up by a 22-year-old student. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

Umbrella Man statue created by a 22-year-old student. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

2. Study Hall

Many students joined the class boycott to participate in the massive sit-in. To help them continue learning while on site, carpenters set up tables and chairs and volunteer teachers give classes in the study hall area.

Students are reading and doing their homework in the study hall. Photo taken by Au Kalun,

Students reading and doing their homework in the study hall. Photo taken by Au Kalun,

3. Lennon Wall

The Lennon Wall in Admiralty is covered with colorful Post-it notes. People write their wishes and dreams for the future of Hong Kong and stick them onto the wall.

Lennon Wall covered with colorful post-it stickers. Photo taken by Au Kalun

Lennon Wall covered with colorful Post-its. Photo taken by Au Kalun

4. Wall of Shame

The wall of shame is the iron gate outside the government headquarters. The iron gate was built in August after a protest against the development of Hong Kong's Northeast New Territories. The city's top leader, the chief executive, then ordered security to be strengthened surrounding the building with a two-meter-high iron gate to prevent people from entering the square. Protesters have turned the wall into a forum for posting critical comments about the government.

Two-meter high iron gate outside the government headquarter is now called the wall of shame. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

Two-meter-high iron gate outside the government headquarter is now called the wall of shame. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

5. Highway plant

Beijing continues to say that Occupy Central will not change the politically rally of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of mainland China. However, the students insist on “dreaming the impossible.” One artistic statement of this daring attitude is growing plants on the highway.

A plant that symbolizes the realization of an impossible dream. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

A plant that symbolizes the realization of an impossible dream. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

6. Honorable blockade

The police department has been under public scrutiny since they deployed tear gas to suppress peaceful protesters on September 28. Later, on October 3, opponents of the Occupy Central movement attacked protesters at Mongkok while the police turned a blind eye to the violence. Police denied that they allowed or worked with thugs to clear the protest site and stressed that the police department is “Guang ming lei luo” (光明磊落) – a Chinese term which carries a rich meaning to describe a person's character as upright and honorable, bright and straightforward, open and forthright, candid and sincere. Protesters and netizens have started using the term with a sense of sarcasm after the “dark corner” video was released.

A hugh blockade set up by the protesters. They called it a "candid" blockade. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

A hugh blockade set up by the protesters. They called it a “honorable” blockade. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

7. Dark Corner

On October 14, protesters tried to block a major road, Lung Wo Road, that connects the eastern and western side of Hong Kong island in reaction to the police clearance of blockades that day. One of the protesters was handcuffed and brought to a dark corner where he was beaten by seven police officers. The beating was recorded by a TV news camera. The spot where the police violence took place became a major landmark in Admiralty.

The spot where 7 police officers beat up a handcuffed protesters is now marked as dark corner in the google map. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

The spot where seven police officers beat up a handcuffed protester is now marked as dark corner on the google map. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

8. Infrastructure

Construction workers have set up infrastructure, such as staircases, to help people crossing the highway block and enter the protest site. For the public bathroom near the government headquarters, people have donated all sorts of body care products like soap, toothbrushes, toner, napkins and tissue so that protesters can keep themselves clean while camping out.

You can find all sort of body care items in the public bathroom near the government headquarter. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

You can find all sort of body care items in the public bathroom near the government headquarters. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

9. Empty Road and Tunnel

Connaught Road is a most congested road in Hong Kong island. The sit-in has transformed the city landscape and now the highway and the vehicle tunnel are empty and the air is free from exhaust.

The empty vehicle tunnel looks rather surreal. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

The empty vehicle tunnel looks rather surreal. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

10. Harcourt Village and Umbrella Roundabout

Civic groups that promote alternative lifestyles have also move into the protest site. You can see people weaving cloth, making leather products, painting and planting vegetables in the highway. The umbrella roundabout installation outside the Legislative Council symbolizes the need to reflect on the path of society's development.

A simple weaving machine has been set up in the Harcourt village. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

A simple weaving machine has been set up in the Harcourt village. Photo taken by Au Kalun.

Follow our in-depth coverage: Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

by Oiwan Lam at October 29, 2014 04:03 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
#LeyChavez: Peru's Chavez Law Could Endanger Email Privacy in the Workplace
Privacy

Imagen de g4ll4is en flickr, usada con licencia Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Links in Spanish unless otherwise noted.

Does an employer have the right to look at his or her employees’ emails? This is not a rhetorical question, but rather a situation that is likely to become a reality in Peru if the Congress approves a ruling by the Commission on Labor and Social Security of the Congress of the Republic.

The bill included in the report, issued on Sept. 24, entitled “Act to regulate the use of information technology in public and private workplaces,” and stated that it seeks to “protect the constitutional rights of the worker referring to the privacy and confidentiality of communications”, in Article 3 mentions [es]:

Los medios informáticos en el centro de trabajo son de titularidad del empleador, independientemente de su asignación al trabajador y su uso no genera una expectativa razonable de privacidad o secreto.

Information technology in the workplace is the property of the employer, regardless of its allocation to the workers, and its use does not generate a reasonable expectation of privacy or confidentiality. 

Further on, Article 7 establishes:

En ningún caso las facultades de control y fiscalización del empleador suponen la interceptación o acceso a los correos electrónicos, redes sociales y demás medios informáticos de comunicación de titularidad del trabajador, bajo responsabilidad administrativa, civil y/o penal según corresponda; salvo que exista autorización escrita de este.

In no case do the powers of control and supervision of the employer involve interception or access to the email, social networks, or other information technology media belonging to the employee under administrative, civil, and/or criminal responsibility accordingly, unless written authorization  has been given. 

Erick Iriarte, a lawyer specializing in the use and regulation of the Internet, showed his concern over the aforementioned Article 3 contradicting Article 2, section 10 of the Constitution, which establishes confidentiality and inviolability of private communications and documents. He later adds:

El proyecto confunde el uso de herramientas informáticas con los contenidos que puedan circular por ellas, haciendo que los mecanismos de control sobre los primeros terminen afectando los segundos [...]. No se puede por contrato ceder derechos y esto parece olvidarse la comisión con este dictamen, cuando plantea en el art. 7.1 que el trabajador puede por “autorización escrita” permitir la interceptación o acceso a correos electrónicos.

The bill confuses the use of IT tools with the content that can be circulated by them, making the control mechanisms over the former affect the latter [...]. Rights cannot be assigned by hires, and the commission seems to have forgotten this with this report, when it states in Article 7.1 that the employee can permit the interception or access to email by “written authorization”.  

Aside from this, Iriarte also raises other unforeseen contexts: 

[El proyecto] Adicionalmente abre las puertas para situaciones que afectarán a cualquier persona aun cuando use sus propios instrumentos informáticos. Esto se entiende en el artículo 2, donde dice que la conexión a Internet también es considerada un instrumento. Es decir: ¿si llevo mi laptop y la conecto a la red del empleador, este puede monitorear mi propia computadora?

[The bill] additionally opens the door to situations that will affect any person even when using their own software tools. This is understood in Article 2, where it says that Internet connections are also considered instruments. That is, if I take my own laptop and connect it to my employer's network, can my computer be monitored? 

Nonetheless, Iriarte concludes that there are parts of the bill that would be beneficial: 

…de mantenerse este proyecto todos los emails de funcionarios públicos se volverían de libre acceso [...]. Esto también incluiría todos los contenidos de comunicaciones de whatsapp realizadas en móviles (de acuerdo al artículo 2 del dictamen) aun siendo sus propios equipos (si utilizan la conexión a internet de la institución).

…by keeping this bill, all emails of public officials would become freely accessible [...] This would also include all of the content in WhatsApp communications on mobile devices (according to Article 2 of the report) despite being their own devices (if they use the institution's Internet connection)

Blogger Julio Cruz Merino, also a lawyer, sees this bill as an attack on constitutional rights and liberties by legislators in the camp of Alberto Fujimori, Peru's former president who is now in prison for human rights violations committed under his administration. Martha Chávez, President of the Committee on Labor and Social Security, is part of this bloc. Also part of this group is Congressman Carlos Tubino, who presented one of the bills that the Committee took a stance on in the ruling:  

Para conocimiento general, el Ministerio de Justicia y el Tribunal Constitucional (Exp. N° 04224-2009-PA/TC) han indicado que otorgar esa potestad al empleador es incompatible con el derecho fundamental al secreto de las comunicaciones del trabajador. Por lo tanto, y si se usa la lógica, la razón y se aplica correctamente el derecho aunque sea por una vez en el Perú, el pleno del Congreso de la República debería rechazar de plano la pretensión de la bancada naranja.

For general knowledge, the Ministry of Justice and the Constitutional Court (Exp. N° 04224-2009-PA/TC) have indicated that granting this authority to the employer is incompatible with an employee's fundamental right to confidentiality of his or her communications. Therefore, if logic and reason are used and the law is applied correctly, even though it may happen only once in Peru, the Congress of the Republic should outright reject the claim of the orange bench.

While Congresswoman Martha Chávez is not the author of the bill, the initiative is known as the Chavez Bill (#LeyChavez [es]) in the Twitter world. Erick Iriarte put together a few of Chávez's tweets that defend the bill.

@MarthaChavezK36‘s arguments in defense of her Labor Privacy ruling (which can be called the #chavezlaw)

Although it is evident that the bill, as is, could serve as a basis for abuse on behalf of the employers, these abuses could also be produced on the employees’ end. Internet security specialist Dámasco Fonseca says:

Leaking info, commercial secrets, and more is what the the Labor Privacy ruling (poorly labeled the #ChavezLaw) is looking to stop

The only thing that should be demanded of the Labor Privacy Ruling (poorly labeled the #ChavezLaw) are clear regulations from the start and training in use 

Did you sign a document at work that says they will even look at your personal email? That ends with the #ChavezBill. ONLY CORPORATE EMAILS.

The discussion will continue, as it will be some time before the ruling will be seen in the Congress.

Post originally [es] published on the Globalizado blog.

by Marianna Breytman at October 29, 2014 02:13 PM

Global Voices
Mexican University Students Go On Strike Over Ayotzinapa Tragedy
Ayotzinapa en la UNAM 1 foto TRC

“They were taken alive, we want them back alive!” Ayotzinapa at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Photo by the author, J. Tadeo

The Mexican government continues to face pressure over the murders of students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural School in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, in southwest Mexico, and demands that the missing students, who disappeared more than 26 days ago, be returned alive.

In early October, Mexicans took to the streets calling for the students to be returned. People from different walks of life united for the cause. Later, the country's student community went on a 48-hour strike.

Several schools at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which is the largest public institution of higher education in the country, as well as the Metropolitan Autonomous University, joined the movement. News and analysis website Animal Político shared a list of the schools and colleges that are participating in the strike.

Comunicado de las acciones a emprender por la Facultad de Derecho con motivo del paro nacional. Foto cortesía de http://juantadeo.wordpress.com/

Statement of the actions to be taken by the School of Law during the national strike. Photo courtesy of http://juantadeo.wordpress.com/

Website Sopitas said that more than 70 educational institutions on the national level joined the temporary suspension of activities.

Marco Zavala shared the following image:

The School of Law joins the national strike in the fight for Fundamental Rights! 

Ana Lilia Mata said that the chancellor of the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos joined the cause:

President of the UAEM leads the protest in favor of the Ayotzinapa teachers

Sanjuana Martínez called for President Enrique Peña to behave respectfully towards the families of the victims of these crimes: 

How long does the government of Enrique Peña Nieto think it can hide the victims of Ayotzinapa? Respect for the families of the 43. #EPNBringThemBack

Not everyone was in favor of the strike, however. Twitter user Joaquin expressed himself as follows in regards to the movement: 

Thinking that a national strike helps to improve things is proof of the mediocre thinking that prevents this country from moving forward 

In this context of widespread discontent, the political firestorm cannot be underestimated. Journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva said that October 22, 2014, was a good day for the governor of Guerrero to leave and begin preparing an explanation as to why “within and outside of Mexico, the night of Iguala will pursue him for the rest of his days,” in reference to the night when the violent acts that prompted the protest occurred. 

Beyond the political and legal consequences, if any, of the disastrous incidents, the human tragedy and the grief felt by the families of the students that lost their lives and those whose whereabouts are unknown should be kept in perspective. 

Follow our in-depth coverage Bring Back Mexico's Missing #Ayotzinapa Students

by Marianna Breytman at October 29, 2014 01:31 PM

Creative Commons
CC Science’s Indian November

india2014We are in New Delhi and Mumbai for a number of presentations, workshops and meetings. Please come say hello if you are at these events or in the area.

SciDataCon2014 in New Delhi

The International Conference on Data Sharing and Integration for Global Sustainability (SciDataCon) is motivated by the conviction that the most research challenges cannot be addressed without attending to issues relating to research data essential to all scientific endeavors. However, several cultural and technological challenges are still preventing the research community from realizing the full benefits of progress in open access and sharing. CODATA and WDS, interdisciplinary committees of the International Council for Science (ICSU) are co-sponsoring and organizing a high profile international biennial conference at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Nov 2: A day long Text and data mining (TDM) workshop offered in collaboration with ContentMine

TDM is an important scientific technique for analyzing large corpora of articles used to uncover both existing and new insights in unstructured data sets that typically are obtained programmatically from many different sources. While the science and technology TDM is complex enough, its legal complications are equally dizzying. Not only is its legal status unclear at best, it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction making cross-national collaboration difficult. Besides the license status of the original material, contractual agreements between research institutions and publishers, who are often the gatekeepers of the corpora, can create significant hurdles. The workshop offers an introduction to TDM, presenting the legal considerations through hands-on exercises.

Nov 3: How well is the data chain working?

Effective and efficient application of scientific data for the benefit of humanity entails agreed goals, clear and reproducible methods, and transparent communication throughout the data chain from producer to user via data organizer and research publisher. How well is that working? A Panel Discussion at the close of each day will summarise that day’s conclusions, and respond to the question of how well the data chain may be working from a trio of perspectives: Conference Organizer, data-management expert, and data producer.

Nov 5: Citing Data to Facilitate Multidisciplinary Research

Synthesis Data Citation Principles and Their Implications for TDM: Importance, Credit and Attribution, Evidence, Unique Identification, Access, Persistence, Specificity and Verifiability, and Interoperability and Flexibility: these eight important phrases describe the data citation principles agreed upon by the community and published under a joint declaration and endorsed by 185 individuals and 83 organizations. But, what are the implications of these principles beyond just citation, particularly with respect to automated analysis of large corpus of articles? This presentation will briefly present the principles, and then explore some of the issues that we have to come to grips with in order to make text and data mining (TDM) easy for scientists.

Nov 5: Challenges and Benefits of Open Science Data and International Data Sharing

Maximizing Legal Interoperability Through Open Licenses: Many scientists do think about interoperability as they have to work with colleagues from other domains. However, common interoperability efforts are focused on technical, and if we are lucky, semantic interoperability. Rarely do scientists think of legal interoperability in the design of their science experiments. Can my work be legally mixed with someone else’s work without violating any intellectual property (or worse, privacy and security) laws? Is my work portable across not just scientific domains but also across judicial boundaries? We attempt to shed light on some of these questions in this presentation.

Nov 5: Talk on CC/OKF open science activities to be given at the computer science dept., Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi

Jenny Molloy, OKFN Open Science and I will be introducing the young computer science students at IIT-Delhi on the various open science and data activities around the world. This talk is organized by Prof. Aaditeshwar Seth, Computer Science, IIT-Delhi.

Nov 6-8: Meetings on citizen science and sensors at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), Mumbai

HBCSE at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai is a National Center with the broad goals to promote equity and excellence in science and mathematics education from primary school to undergraduate college level, and encourage the growth of scientific literacy in the country. We will be discussing with HBCSE’s metaStudio potential areas of collaboration in citizen science and the use of sensors in projects to accelerate the growth of scientific awareness in the country through direct public participation in science.

by Puneet Kishor at October 29, 2014 06:12 AM

Luis Villa
Understanding Wikimedia, or, the Heavy Metal Umlaut, one decade on

It has been nearly a full decade since Jon Udell’s classic screencast about Wikipedia’s article on the Heavy Metal Umlaut (current textJan. 2005). In this post, written for Paul Jones’ “living and working online” class, I’d like to use the last decade’s changes to the article to illustrate some points about the modern Wikipedia.1

Measuring change

At the end of 2004, the article had been edited 294 times. As we approach the end of 2014, it has now been edited 1,908 times by 1,174 editors.2

This graph shows the number of edits by year – the blue bar is the overall number of edits in each year; the dotted line is the overall length of the article (which has remained roughly constant since a large pruning of band examples in 2007).

Edits-by-year

 

The dropoff in edits is not unusual — it reflects both a mature article (there isn’t that much more you can write about metal umlauts!) and an overall slowing in edits in English Wikipedia (from a peak of about 300,000 edits/day in 2007 to about 150,000 edits/day now).3

The overall edit count — 2000 edits, 1000 editors — can be hard to get your head around, especially if you write for a living. Implications include:

  • Style is hard. Getting this many authors on the same page, stylistically, is extremely difficult, and it shows in inconsistencies small and large. If not for the deeply acculturated Encyclopedic Style we all have in our heads, I suspect it would be borderline impossible.
  • Most people are good, most of the time. Something like 3% of edits are “reverted”; i.e., about 97% of edits are positive steps forward in some way, shape, or form, even if imperfect. This is, I think, perhaps the single most amazing fact to come out of the Wikimedia experiment. (We reflect and protect this behavior in one of our guidelines, where we recommend that all editors Assume Good Faith.)

The name change, tools, and norms

In December 2008, the article lost the “heavy” from its name and became, simply, “metal umlaut” (explanation, aka “edit summary“, highlighted in yellow):

Name change

A few take aways:

  • Talk pages: The screencast explained one key tool for understanding a Wikipedia article – the page history. This edit summary makes reference to another key tool – the talk page. Every Wikipedia article has a talk page, where people can discuss the article, propose changes, etc.. In this case, this user discussed the change (in November) and then made the change in December. If you’re reporting on an article for some reason, make sure to dig into the talk page to fully understand what is going on.
  • Sources: The user justifies the name change by reference to sources. You’ll find little reference to them in 2005, but by 2008, finding an old source using a different term is now sufficient rationale to rename the entire page. Relatedly…
  • Footnotes: In 2008, there was talk of sources, but still no footnotes. (Compare the story about Motley Crue in Germany in 2005 and now.) The emphasis on foonotes (and the ubiquitous “citation needed”) was still a growing thing. In fact, when Jon did his screencast in January 2005, the standardized/much-parodied way of saying “citation needed” did not yet exist, and would not until June of that year! (It is now used in a quarter of a million English Wikipedia pages.) Of course, the requirement to add footnotes (and our baroque way of doing so) may also explain some of the decline in editing in the graphs above.

Images, risk aversion, and boldness

Another highly visible change is to the Motörhead art, which was removed in November 2011 and replaced with a Mötley Crüe image in September 2013. The addition and removal present quite a contrast. The removal is explained like this:

remove File:Motorhead.jpg; no fair use rationale provided on the image description page as described at WP:NFCC content criteria 10c

This is clear as mud, combining legal issues (“no fair use rationale”) with Wikipedian jargon (“WP:NFCC content criteria 10c”). To translate it: the editor felt that the “non-free content” rules (abbreviated WP:NFCC) prohibited copyright content unless there was a strong explanation of why the content might be permitted under fair use.

This is both great, and sad: as a lawyer, I’m very happy that the community is pre-emptively trying to Do The Right Thing and take down content that could cause problems in the future. At the same time, it is sad that the editors involved did not try to provide the missing fair use rationale themselves. Worse, a rationale was added to the image shortly thereafter, but the image was never added back to the article.

So where did the new image come from? Simply:

boldly adding image to lead

“boldly” here links to another core guideline: “be bold”. Because we can always undo mistakes, as the original screencast showed about spam, it is best, on balance, to move forward quickly. This is in stark contrast to traditional publishing, which has to live with printed mistakes for a long time and so places heavy emphasis on Getting It Right The First Time.

In brief

There are a few other changes worth pointing out, even in a necessarily brief summary like this one.

  • Wikipedia as a reference: At one point, in discussing whether or not to use the phrase “heavy metal umlaut” instead of “metal umlaut”, an editor makes the point that Google has many search results for “heavy metal umlaut”, and another editor points out that all of those search results refer to Wikipedia. In other words, unlike in 2005, Wikipedia is now so popular, and so widely referenced, that editors must be careful not to (indirectly) be citing Wikipedia itself as the source of a fact. This is a good problem to have—but a challenge for careful authors nevertheless.
  • Bots: Careful readers of the revision history will note edits by “ClueBot NG“. Vandalism of the sort noted by Jon Udell has not gone away, but it now is often removed even faster with the aid of software tools developed by volunteers. This is part of a general trend towards software-assisted editing of the encyclopedia.NoSwagForYou
  • Translations: The left hand side of the article shows that it is in something like 14 languages, including a few that use umlauts unironically. This is not useful for this article, but for more important topics, it is always interesting to compare the perspective of authors in different languages.Languages

Other thoughts?

I look forward to discussing all of these with the class, and to any suggestions from more experienced Wikipedians for other lessons from this article that could be showcased, either in the class or (if I ever get to it) in a one-decade anniversary screencast. :)

  1. I still haven’t found a decent screencasting tool that I like, so I won’t do proper homage to the original—sorry Jon!
  2. Numbers courtesy X’s edit counter.
  3. It is important, when looking at Wikipedia statistics, to distinguish between stats about Wikipedia in English, and Wikipedia globally — numbers and trends will differ vastly between the two.

by Luis Villa at October 29, 2014 06:02 AM

October 28, 2014

Global Voices
People in Burkina Faso Are Taking to the Streets Against a ‘President for Life’
Statue of President Campaoré Taken Down by Protesters in Burkina Faso - via Edem Tchakou (with permission)

Statue of President Compaoré taken down by protesters in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso – via Edem Tchakou (with permission)

Protests have rocked Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, and other cities since mid-October following President Blaise Compaoré‘s proposal to revise the West African country's presidential term limits.

A president can only run for two presidential terms under the current constitution. But that constitution has been amended three times — in 1997, 2000 and 2002 — since it was approved in 1991. These amendments have allowed Compaoré to remain in power for 27 years. 

The proposed revision, which is set to be voted on through a referendum this coming week, seeks to reduce the current seven-year term to five years. The proposal would reset the clock to zero (so to speak) and allow him to run three more times and, if he wins, to be president for an additional 15 years.

On October 28, tens of thousands of people marched through the capital, chanting for change mostly in a peaceful manner. Still, a few protesters toppled the president's statue located at the center of Bobo Dioulasso and police threw tear gas at the protesters in Ouagadougou.

The leader of the opposition, Zephirin Diabre, is one of the leading organizers of the protests. On October 26, he tweeted a call for people to march together:

The protest will start with a get-together at the Place de la Nation on October 28 at 8 AM #Ouagadougou

He then added why he thought it was time for citizens to take action:

NO to the tweaking of the constitution. We need to reject forever the concept of president for life. We must refuse the hijacking of the constitution !

The protests were widely documented and followed on Twitter via the hashtags #burkina#bf226 and #iwili. Mossi Dramame, from the capital, posted a few images:

People of Burkina, Africa is with you. Compaoré out ! #Burkina

Here is a snapshot of the attendance on Tuesday morning:

Human tidel wave at the Place de la Révolution in #Burkina Faso #iwili cc @papalioune @paddoff

Even if they understand the reason for the protests, some Burkinabe are unsure that civilian disobedience is the right way to go about it. Yaya Boudani reports some of those views from Ouagadougou:

Il faut choisir des voies légales pour arriver à trancher le différend entre le pouvoir et l'opposition. Il n'y a pas d'autres voies sinon une voie illégale qui va braquer les uns contre les autres. On va tomber dans une crise que personne ne peut maîtriser.

We must choose means within the rules of the law to settle this issue between the government and the opposition. There is no other way because going the illegal way will polarize the nation. The country may enter a period of crisis that nobody can control.

Observers from the neighboring countries are anxiously observing this new development in Burkina Faso. President Compaoré played a pivotal role in mediating the Ivorian crisis in 2010.  Following the November 2010 presidential election, Côte d'Ivoire experienced a drawn-out governance crisis after the two opposing leaders, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, both claimed victory. Protests and all-out violence marked the period from the initial standoff, as neither Gbagbo or Ouattara showed signs of backing down. Compoaré spearheaded a mediation task force to try to out a halt to the violence.  

A member of the Ivorian government, Alain Lobognon, weighed in on the protest via his Twitter feed:

Any political system is defined by its objectives and its context. China is an exception when it comes to democracy. Why can't Burkina Faso follow the same path?

Observers are afraid that violence might escalate soon. Reports on News Ouaga show that protests the week before were becoming more contentious:

Après des manifestations relativement pacifiques la semaine dernière à Ouagadougou, des groupes de “50 à 300″ individus “agressent” depuis dimanche des députés de la majorité devant leurs domiciles, les accusant d’être “corrompus”, “traîtres à la nation”

After relatively peaceful protests last week in Ouagadougou, groups of “50 to 300″ individuals attacked members of the parliament at their homes on Sunday, accusing them of being “corrupt” and “traitors to the nation”.

by Rakotomalala at October 28, 2014 10:01 PM

Gabriela García Calderón, Making Global Voices Part of Her Daily Life for 7 Years
Gabriela Kenya

Gabriela in Kenya in 2010, with the Great Rift Valley at the background. Courtesy Gabriela García Calderón Orbe

Gabriela García Calderón is a committed and ever-friendly Global Voices member who has tirelessly contributed great content and built up this vibrant, decade-old community since joining in 2007. She is one of the most regular and prolific contributors and recently took up the position of acting editor for Latin America. 

Global Voices (GV): When Juan Arellano interviewed you back in July 2009, you had been a translator for GV Spanish for almost two years. Today, you have over 7,160 contributions on GV in Spanish – a top number at GV if I'm not mistaken — and over 415 on GV in English. Above all, you now are acting GV editor for Latin America. Please tell us about the stages of your involvement within Global Voices.

Gabriela García Calderón (GGC): It was all a gradual process. I started in late 2007 as volunteer translator for GV in Spanish and two years later, Eddie Avila, then regional editor, invited me to be an author. I became then a volunteer translator and an author. When our former editor Silvia Viñas had her maternity leave, she asked me to fill in for her during the two months of her leave. And when she decided to change jobs, I was asked to fill in for her provisionally.

In the meantime, I've also written some posts for Rising Voices, and I am currently helping Eddie Avila with his Rising Voices Amazonia Project.

GV: Did your experience of translating, authoring and editing change your vision of the world during this time?

GGC: Yes, it made me think a lot more about the people affected by any news or event we report. The news aren't just about a crash or a rally anymore, it's about some girl that tweets how she felt sick when tear gas was thrown next to her, or an aid woker who shares his thoughts after seeing directly the effects of a typhoon. This makes me consider the human side of news, and realize it's not just statistics and numbers, but individuals.

GV: Does your work with GV impact your practice as a lawyer?

GGC: Being part of GV has made me more sensitive to what happens in the world. Likewise, when I read about a legal case, I tend to focus on how it is affecting someone and try to enforce law. We read about so many place where people don't get justice, that I feel lucky from my place in the world to be able to help someone to feel their rights are respected.

GV: Did the social media scene change a lot in Latin America since, say, 2009? 

GGC: Back in 2009, Twitter wasn't as used as it is right now. Now, politicians express their thoughts via Twitter and sometimes they create quite a buzz with just 140 characters. Even common citizens use Twitter to denounce incidents where they feel their rights are being violated. Or to report earthquakes, very common in this country. For instance, some days ago, Lima was shaken, and it took a little while for the media to react. But immediately after that, Twitter started to be flooded with messages about the earthquake.

GV: You are also an active blogger. What place does your blogging hold in your daily life? 

GGC: My blog has brought me many happy moments, many good friends in very diverse countries and the idea that sharing every day events and incidents is worth while, no matter how insignificant we feel they are. It's amazing how similar ideas and thoughts we may find when we face any given simple situation, no matter if it happens in Peru, in Spain or in Qatar.

GV: Could you also elaborate somewhat on how you manage your own time for all these tasks, including your work as a lawyer? Any tips? 

GGC: Each day brings its own troubles. What I do every day is divide my activities and see which ones have priority. If a post on GV has to be published right away, everything else will have to wait. The same goes with all other activities. That works for the weekdays. On the weekends, I tend to be away from the computer, which is no easy task! I end up checking my e-mail at some point and carrying out some tasks to reduce my week work load.

GV: Anything else you'd like to add?

GGC: I wish GV a happy tenth anniversary, and I wish many more anniversaries to come. I am so glad to belong to this incredible community, where everybody counts as one and where everybody has their own share to say.

by Suzanne Lehn at October 28, 2014 03:40 PM

As Taiwan Considers Marriage Equality, Tens of Thousands Attend Pride Parade
Walk under the rainbow flag. Photo by Sound of Silence. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Walk under the rainbow flag. Photo by Sound of Silence. CC BY-NC 2.0.

About 70,000 people attended Taiwan's LGBT pride parade on October 25 to celebrate the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity and encourage the public to do the same.

The number of participants was one of the largest that the parade has seen since the first was held in 2003. In recent years, it has become the biggest pride parade in Asia and attracted many overseas attendees.

The theme of the 2014 parade was ‘Walk in Queers’ Shoes,’ featuring voices from marginalized LGBT communities such as physically disabled people, HIV-positive people and sex workers.

Most of the participants in the parade voiced their support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. A marriage equality bill was presented to the Legislative Yuan by the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights in 2012. The legislature passed the first reading on October 25, 2013, but the legislative process was suspended in reaction to a massive mobilization of opponents of same-sex marriage.

Gay rights activists began pushing legislators to resume their work in early October this year and a public hearing for the bill was held on October 16. Many couples in the LGBT communities took the opportunity of this year's pride parade to share their stories and hope with others.

Below are some photos from the parade.

A participant with a rainbow puppy. Photo by J. Michael Cole. CC BY-NC 2.0.

A participant with a rainbow teddy bear. Photo by J. Michael Cole. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Participants in the parade. Photo by J. Michael Cole. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Participants in the parade. Photo by J. Michael Cole. CC BY-NC 2.0.

The parade  around the Freedom Square. Photo by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Drag queens dancing and singing in the Liberty Square. Photo by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

A gay couple said on their T-shirts that they have been together for 8 years and they are looking forward to getting married. Photo by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

A couple said on their T-shirts that they have been together for eight years and they are looking forward to getting married. Photo by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Participants in the parade. Photo by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Participants in the parade. Photo by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

by I-fan Lin at October 28, 2014 03:09 PM

Poignant YouTube Videos Give Voice to Ordinary Iranians

Filmmaker Ali Molavi has released a new YouTube video that asks 50 Iranians one question: What is your biggest fear? Molavi goes out into the streets of Tehran and captures the answers of a wide array of Iranians who discuss matters that are universal to the world over, as well as very pertinent to the social, cultural, and political conditions of Iran.

Answers that could be applied universally included “the confusion of this world”, “heartbreak”, “loneliness”, and “God”. Pertinent to Iran were answers such as “war and nuclear matters”, and “fear of the fact that women in Iran have no value.”

Iran is currently under international sanctions for its nuclear program that many believe is for military purposes. Under constitutional law and the Iranian penal code, Iranian women have many unequal rights within Iran, a struggle fueling the country's women's movement since before the beginning of the 1979 Revolution. 

Molavi is a freelance filmmaker and animator based in Iran, who started this series in February 26, 2013 with a YouTube video asking Iranians what they wished for. He followed it up in January 4, 2014 with another video asking Iranians what ability they wished for.

by Mahsa Alimardani at October 28, 2014 12:08 PM

Register Now for the Global Voices Summit 2015: January 24-25 in Cebu, Philippines!
Cebu Provincial Capitol Building, Cebu City, venue for the Global Voices Summit 2015. From Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Allan Jay Quesada.

Cebu Provincial Capitol Building, Cebu City, venue for the Global Voices Summit 2015. From Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Allan Jay Quesada.

Registration for the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2015 is now open!

The theme of our 2015 Summit is “The Open Internet: Local Perspectives, Global Rights.” Participants from over 70 countries will gather at the Cebu Provincial Capitol in Cebu City, Philippines on January 24-25, 2015 to explore the connections between the open Internet, freedom of expression and online civic movements around the world. 

Since 2006, Global Voices Summits have brought together the most innovative and inspiring digital activist and citizen media communities from around the world. These meetings spark new friendships and are a rich breeding ground for ideas and collaborations across borders. And great food, excursions, culture and celebration always find a place in the schedule.

Learn more about the event, and register here to be part of our exciting 10th anniversary Summit. 

Looking forward to seeing you in Cebu City in January!

The Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2015 has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Ford FoundationMacArthur Foundation, GoogleOpen Society Foundations, Knight FoundationYahoo!, the Web We Want campaign, Making All Voices Count, and the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism.

by Georgia Popplewell at October 28, 2014 11:14 AM

A Sharply Divided Brazil Reelects Dilma Rousseff. Let the Healing Begin?
Incumbent Dilma Rousseff is chosen for another 4 years at Brazil's presidency. Image by Flickr user Luiz Fernando Paredinha. CC BY 2.0

Incumbent Dilma Rousseff is chosen for another 4 years at Brazil's presidency. Image by Flickr user Luiz Fernando Paredinha. CC BY 2.0

Brazilians reelected Dilma Rousseff as president on Sunday in the most competitive vote since the end of the country's military dictatorship and the beginning of direct elections in 1989.

The incumbent from the Workers’ Party finished with 51 percent of the valid votes (excluding blanks and nulls, which added up to 21 percent of the total), against 48 percent for challenger Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party. 

With Rousseff's victory, the Workers’ Party will see their time in power extend to at least 2018, a rule that began after former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva gave the party its first presidential victory in 2002. No other political party in Brazil’s recent history has remained that long in the country’s highest office (16 years come 2018).

In her first speech after the results, she remarked on the importance of uniting the country after what was considered an extremely polarized campaign, with accusations exchanged between both candidates as well as their supporters. She said:

Não acredito, sinceramente, que essas eleições tenham dividido o país ao meio. Entendo, sim, que elas mobilizaram ideias e emoções às vezes contraditórias, mas unidas por sentimentos comuns: a busca por um futuro melhor para o país. […] Algumas vezes na história, os resultados apertados produziram mudanças mais fortes e rápidas do que as vitórias amplas. É essa a minha esperança. Ou melhor, a minha certeza do que vai ocorrer a partir de agora no Brasil.

I honestly do not believe that those elections have divided the country in half. From what I understand they have mobilized sometimes contradictory ideas and emotions, but united by common goals: the pursuit of a better future to our country. […] Sometimes in history close call results have produced faster and stronger changes than easy victories. This is my hope. Rather, this is what I am certain will happen from now on in Brazil.

In her speech, she promised to give full priority to political reform, a long-awaited call from society that, among other things, would forbid political parties from receiving donations from companies for election campaigns. Rousseff proposed the reform after the June 2013 protests in a response to the demands of those in the streets, but has encountered a lot of resistance in partisan and intellectual circles. To do wide-reaching reforms, a Constitutional Assembly must be called, but according to some specialists an assembly has the legal power to define its own agenda, which could leave room for non-desirable changes in the law.

She also spoke about fighting corruption and controlling the growing inflation – for which her government has been heavily criticized in the last two years. Days before the election she was accused of knowing of corruption in Petrobrás that supposedly benefited allied politicians. The scandal was published on the cover of Brazil's most circulated magazine, right-wing Revista Veja. Rousseff denies the accusations and says she will press charges against the publication.

Rousseff's supporters celebrate her victory on Sunday night at Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo. Image by Flickr user Ninja Mídia. CC BY 2.0

Rousseff's supporters celebrate her victory on Sunday night at Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo. Image by Flickr user Ninja Mídia. CC BY 2.0

Defeated candidate Aécio Neves also gave an official speech in which he thanked his supporters. He stated the importance of “uniting the country around a honorable project that dignifies all Brazilians”.

On social media, some of his voters didn't take the defeat as lightly. Many have posted black images as their profile photos on Facebook in a sign of “grief” and some went as far as to set up a petition on Avaaz to impeach President Rouseff. They want to gather 5 million signatures – so far, they have passed the 1-million mark.

“Luto” in Portuguese means mourning. 

Demonstrations against people from northeastern regions, where Rousseff did well in the ballots, happened as usual, with some proposing splitting the country in half — one image proposes calling the north “South Cuba”.

Packing my bags to go to South Cuba.

But many good-natured initiatives also followed the results, like a fake Facebook event (creating fake events for laughs is a recent trend in the Brazilian Internet) called “Barbecue to make amends with friends lost during the elections”, or the Tumblr “Coxinhas <3 Petralhas”, with positive messages one “team” might send to the other now that the elections are over. “Coxinha” is a derogatory slang for rich young people, a word often used by Neves’ opponents to refer to his supporters; whereas “Petralha”, also derogatory, refers to supporters of the Workers’ Party, in a reference to Irmãos Metralha — the Brazilian translation of Disney’s “The Beagle Boys.”

"If they divide Brazil, I want to stay in the same side as you. Friends again?"

“If they divide Brazil, I want to stay in the same side as you. Friends again?”

by Taisa Sganzerla at October 28, 2014 10:59 AM

Taiwanese Facebook Users Are Tagging a Death Row Inmate in Their Travels to Demand Justice
The cover page in facebook for 'Cheng Hsin-Tze plays around the world.' CC BY-NC 2.0.

The cover image for Facebook group ‘Cheng Hsin-Tze plays around the world.’ CC BY-NC 2.0.

Taiwan is one of the world's 40 countries that maintain the death penalty in both law and practice. Twenty-six prisoners were executed between 2010 and 2014 in the East Asian island nation.

Human right groups have advocated for the abolition of capital punishment in the island country by throwing the spotlight on specific death row cases. One of them is the case of Cheng Hsin-Tse, who was found guilty in 2006 of murdering a police officer in 2002 in a karaoke entertainment room. According to Cheng's testimony, the cop was killed by his friend who was also shot dead in the KTV. Cheng's fingerprints were not found on the gun and an eyewitness testified that Cheng was sitting besides him when the shooting took place.

As there is no direct evidence against Cheng, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty appealed to the Department of Justice to review the case. But authorities are reluctant to re-open the file, so the civic group has decided to advocate for Cheng on Facebook.

People brought the figure of Cheng Hsin-Tze to the 2014 LGBTQ Pride Parade. Photo by Lin Hsinyi. CC BY-NC 2.0.

People brought the figure of Cheng Hsin-Tze to the 2014 LGBT Pride Parade. Photo by Lin Hsinyi. CC BY-NC 2.0.

The group created a Facebook user account for Cheng Hsin-Tze and created an event, “Cheng Hsin-Tze plays around the world,” inviting other Facebook users to tag Cheng, who has been behind bars for more than 12 years, when they are enjoying their freedom traveling around the world.

Chang Chuan-Fen, a writer who focuses on human rights, helped promote the event on his blog:

這不是社運團體第一次使用臉書當作傳播工具,但是卻創造了許多不曾出現過的效應。每個臉書使用者,只要關心這個主題、願意參加,無論天涯海角都可以來玩。做法是發動態的時候,標註「鄭性澤」就行了。[...]

「鄭性澤一直玩一直玩一直玩」的遊戲規則就是這麼簡單:標註鄭性澤,讓他聞香,也讓他的臉書頁面上充滿這些聲援者的動態。[...]

玩的人是那麼認真的許下心願:「我回家了,阿澤,希望你也可以很快回家。」標註活動最真實的效應,就是讓人「把鄭性澤放在心上」。

This is not the first time that activists have used Facebook as a tool to spread awareness. Nevertheless, this special event creates some effects that we have not seen before. Every Facebook user can join this event no matter where they are as long as they care about this topic and are willing to participate. The way to participate is to tag #ChengHsin-Tze when they update their status on Facebook. [...]

The rule of ‘Cheng Hsin-Tze plays around the world’ is very simple: tag Cheng Hsin-Tze so that you can share these life events with him, let him smell the world and let other see the views of Cheng's supporters. [...]

People who participate this event are heartily praying for him, ‘I am home, and I hope Hsin-Tze can go home soon.’ The effect of this event is to have him firmly in our thoughts.

Two Tze in Central, Hong Kong.  Reneedog's photo on Facebook.

Two Tze in Central, Hong Kong. Reneedog's photo on Facebook.

In about two week's time, 6,300 Facebook members have joined the event, and these people have tagged him from 16 countries with Cheng Hsin-Tze.

Reneedog Lamia, a lawyer, joined the event by posting a photo of a cut-out of Cheng Hsin-Tze posed next to his friend, whose Chinese name also carries the word “Tze”. The photo was taken in Central, the financial district of Hong Kong. He asked the question: what if “Tze” was your friend?

這些朋友的努力是要讓阿澤得到一個重啟調查的合理審判
而不是無條件釋放
當然經過嚴謹且正當的調查,阿澤是冤的
即應釋放,國家系統並應負起該有的責任
而這個活動,就是要喚醒司法的責任
如果阿澤是冤的,我們卻挽回不了什麼
最後的那聲槍決,是不是在訴說
你有罪,是因為你窮,還交到壞朋友,還夜唱
你有罪,是因為你雖,所以該死。

[...] 「可是……如果他真的是壞人呢?」
當阿澤是你的家人、朋友、甚或你自己時
你希望社會承擔這個兩面如果的哪一邊?
司法的任務如果在毋枉毋縱
那毋枉比毋縱,更為可貴,更加重要。

The goal of these tags is for Cheng Hsin-Tze's case to be re-evaluated, not for him to be released unconditionally.
If Cheng Hsin-Tze has been treated unjustly, after a right and thorough investigation, we should release him immediately, and the justice system should take responsibility. This [Facebook] event is to demand that our justice system take responsibility.
If Cheng Hsin-Tze is treated unjustly and we cannot save him, the sounds of his execution by firing squad will speak to us: ‘You are guilty because you are poor, you have a bad friend, and you go to karaoke at night. You are guilty because you had bad luck, and you are doomed.’

[...] ‘What if he really is a criminal?’
If your family member, friend or even yourself were in the position that Cheng Hsin-Tze finds himself in, what would you hope people would assume, [that he is guilty]?
If the goal of justice is to avoid unjust treatment and connivance, the former one is more valuable and important than the later.

by I-fan Lin at October 28, 2014 02:27 AM

50 Years Later, Zambians Are Asking What Independence Day Means
Zambia's National Freedom Day last year in Lusaka. October 24, 2013, photo by Owen Miyanza. Demotix.

Zambia's National Freedom Day last year in Lusaka. October 24, 2013, photo by Owen Miyanza. Demotix.

Zambia celebrated its golden jubilee last week, on October 24. This year's anniversary marked the first time in 50 years of independence that Zambia's sitting head of state was absent at the festivities, as President Michael Sata was abroad for what his staff called a “medical check up.”

While Zambians all over the world celebrated the holiday with food, the national colours, and anything else they could lay their hands on, some observations have raised serious questions about the country's past and future.

Zambia's official golden jubilee logo.

Zambia's official golden jubilee logo.

The most high-profile criticism came from the opposition: United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema called on people to wear black to commemorate and not celebrate the occasion:

What did the freedom fighters envisage this country will be 50 years down the road? Is it what it is today? Since the PF came to power on a platform of lies and deceit the country has witnessed repression, the country has witnessed violation of fundamental human rights, freedoms and liberties, bias public media coverage, police brutality, political violence of unprecedented levels I never thought I would live post 1991 to see a country that has so much political violence.

Some Zambian social media users didn't agree with Hichilema, who spent the day comforting the bereaved and distributing bags of corn meal and cooking oil, but it was Canicius Banda, one of UPND's two vice presidents, who attracted the most attention on Zambia's golden jubilee with a question posed on Facebook. Banda challenged the public to think harder about the holiday, asking if independence day celebrates the mere passage of time, or the country's achievements since that hot summer night 50 years ago, when Northern Rhodesia transformed itself into the Republic of Zambia. He wrote:

ON ZAMBIA'S GOLDEN JUBILEE [The Case of Merely Rejoicing Over the Passage of Time and NOT Achievement/The Calendar Parties]: Vernon Mwaanga, one of Zambia's own freedom fighters and political authorities, in his book, The Long Sunset, observes as follows: ‘…the colonialists left more than 40 years ago and in the case of many African countries we can no longer blame them for our woes. Slavery belongs to our painful past. Now we must transform our countries and move towards modernity, correcting our past mistakes, but moving forward all the time…’ The Republican Vice President Dr Guy Scott, fifty years post-independence, only one week ago, commenting on the 2015 National Budget said this: ‘Our priorities as a nation are wrong. Instead of fighting unemployment we are focusing on single-digit inflation; meanwhile citizens in the Lukanga swamps are surviving on [eating] scorpions. This is not right.’ Mr Alexander Chikwanda, Minister of Finance, a few weeks ago stated as follows: ‘We have failed to progress in this country because of leadership failure.’ Mr Chikwanda is spot on with his diagnosis. As we start another 50 years, we need a new breed of youthful, patriotic, nationalistic, knowledgeable, wise and God-fearing leaders. This is our prayer. Lord hear us! And we are sure that He will answer our prayer. These ‘Belinda Times', times of deception must surely end!

Michael Chishala, in a contribution to the online news website Zambian Watchdog, wrote:

After 50 years of self-rule, it is shameful that our economic statistics are equivalent to war-torn countries, some of which are now doing better than us in many areas. Every Zambian government has blamed something other than themselves for the mess we are in. They are elected to bring change but they fail, while we the citizens are not putting enough pressure on them. It is time we the new generation make a change.

Chishala then posed some ways forward for Zambia:

I believe there has to be a change of ideas and attitudes. Zambians should firstly realize that they should take their vote seriously and not be swept off their feet by smooth talking politicians. They should adopt a skeptical disposition and thoroughly question prospective candidates … Civil Society, the Church, political parties and all of us must press for a drastic reduction in the powers of the Executive, arguably the greatest single problem.

In a joint pastoral letter on Independence Day Eve, Zambia's three “mother” body churches—the Zambia Episcopal Conference, Christian Council of Zambia, and Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia—stressed the need for poverty reduction as a top priority:

The challenge though still remains for Zambia to put in place better redistributive policies so that the majority poor and the most vulnerable in our society are not left to be mere spectators in the current economic activities. In other words, the country’s economic boom would only be meaningful if it significantly reduces poverty among the people of Zambia and allows the active participation of the majority citizenry. Unfortunately, what we see being achieved is the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor and marginalization of rural areas in terms of infrastructure development and economic activities.

by Gershom Ndhlovu at October 28, 2014 12:25 AM

October 27, 2014

Lawrence Lessig
Great winner of the candidate-specific contest at #MaydayIn30,…

Great winner of the candidate-specific contest at #MaydayIn30, supporting Staci Appel (IA-3). Share.

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 27, 2014 10:41 PM

Fantastic winner of the #MaydayIn30 video contest — and a remix…

Fantastic winner of the #MaydayIn30 video contest — and a remix to boot! Share.

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 27, 2014 10:11 PM

Global Voices
Off-Field Drama in West Indies Cricket Strike Heats Up Online Discussion
West Indies at bat during a Twenty20 International cricket match; photo by Rich Bee, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

West Indies at bat during a Twenty20 International cricket match. Photo by Rich Bee, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

The West Indies Cricket team's 2014 tour to India has been cancelled, after the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) announced a pullout, causing reverberations around the globe. The impetus? A decision by the West Indies team, led by one-day international captain Dwayne Bravo, to go on strike.

According to strongly worded letter signed by Bravo, the players’ union representative, former West Indies player Wavell Hinds had failed to represent the players, having signed a new collective bargaining agreement with the West Indies Cricket Board without player consultation. Team members have been threatening to strike since the beginning of the tour, finally deciding to take action before the fourth one-day international match (a previous match had been cancelled due to an impending cyclone.) This means that the remaining matches, a T20 game and three tests, have been cancelled.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the Indian cricket board, was threatening to sue the WICB for breach of contract, but has instead decided to break bilateral relations, thus cancelling the upcoming series between the two teams, including an Indian tour of the Caribbean scheduled for 2016.

According to the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), there was a change in the remunerative package for the senior West Indies team in order to allow for the payment of salaries to the over 90 players who participate in the Caribbean's first-class domestic league. While the senior players agreed that the first-class players needed to be paid in order to raise the standard of cricket, they had not agreed to the severe cuts they received.

This is a major development in the world of cricket and there has been much discussion about it. Several letters from the different parties involved have gone back and forth, arguing their cases. This has led to great confusion and contradictory stories — initially, it was not even clear whether the WICB had in fact called off the tour. Many of the West Indies players have taken to social media to share their opinions.

All-rounder Kieron Pollard felt that the players were being unfairly vilified for trying to protect their earnings:

However, fast-bowler Tino Best, who is not currently a member of the senior team, called on the other cricketers in the region to support Hinds:

Current test captain Denesh Ramdin responded to the claims that the players were responsible for the pullout, and not the board. He has since taken down his tweet of October 18, but linked to this article, in which the secretary of the BCCI stated that their problem is with the WICB rather than the players. But middle-order batsman Marlon Samuels, who is not a member of WIPA, has denied that the decision to strike was unanimous.

Sports blogger David Oram suspected that the recent changes in the leadership of the West Indies cricket team have something to do with its current problems:

It is no coincidence that the current tragedy has unfolded at a time when West Indies cricket is bereft of strong leadership. In the past 12 months the WICB has dispensed with its ODI Captain, its Test Captain, its Chairman of Selectors and selection panel, and its Coach (Ottis Gibson confirming that he was indeed sacked, not ‘separated’ by mutual agreement). Is it surprising therefore that they seem also to have dispensed with international player contracts, and maybe soon international cricket too?

Would the cowardly withdrawal of the troops from India have been permitted under Ottis’ stewardship? He was just as much identified as Sammy in promoting the ‘one-team’ ethic within the WI side. Without either of them rallying the team, the players have headed in a separate direction, with wholly separate, and separating ideals.

Darren Sammy, who interestingly was elevated to to the captaincy during a strike prior to a series against Bangladesh four years ago, left this message on his Instagram page:

Always played with a smile on my face. Been loyal and faithful to wi. Took some serious criticism for it to but I stand for what's right even when my backs against the wall. All we ask for was to go back to the old structure for this tour while we talk. Did we have to come to this. A simple act of humanity is all it takes. Did u have to call off my #indiaTour #SMDH

A commentator at Barbados Underground noted the irony of the West Indies being in crisis when, due to the fact that the rise of professional leagues like the Indian Premier League, there is a lot more money in cricket:

Of course it seems practical to work diligently to put out a fire if our house is burning; you don’t fan the flames because you are pissed-off and see an opportunity to get the occupants with whom you are in dispute out the door. Let the law and course of time move you to a resolution, difficult though that may be. Cherish the house and retain it in the best condition for eventual take over.

But life’s funny and not always practical is it… because when you have the means to buy another house you are less interested in preserving the one in dispute. You spite your adversary so much that you no longer care if that house turns to ash.

A harsh analogy, you say, but is it. Somebodies for a long time seem hell-bent to diminish the lovely edifice that is WI cricket.

It’s comical that we protected and saved the house against colonial racism practices, the 2 bumper rules, reduced county contracts, distorted revenue sharing terms in the days when our teams generated top dollar etc.

And now joke of all jokes we are burning down the house ourselves.

There is still great uncertainty as, despite the acrimonious relationship between the West Indies management and its players, this is a nearly unprecedented situation, with some calling it the greatest threat to West Indies cricket since the region began playing test cricket over 80 years ago.

by Matthew Hunte at October 27, 2014 09:44 PM

Japan’s Cabinet Members Are ‘Falling Like Dominoes’ to Corruption Scandals
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a press conference given ahead the G7 in Brussels. 5 June 2014. Photo by Aurore Belot. Copyright Demotix.

The cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has received several setbacks so far in the month of October. Two female cabinet ministers have been forced to resign over alleged misuse of political funds.

And now the replacement for one of the recently departed ministers is under fire after only three days on the job for allegedly allowing his political support group to claim expenses for a trip to an S&M bar. 

Yoichi Miyazawa, who replaced newly minted Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yuko Obuchi, is also himself under fire for holding shares in Tepco, the giant power utility he's responsible for regulating as trade and economy minister.

Members of Abe's cabinet are “falling like dominoes” according to horseracing tabloid Nikkan Gendai.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government has been in power since December 2012, about 18 months after the “triple disaster” of a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident devasted much of Japan's northeast coastline.

Much of Abe's mandate so far has been scandal free, in part because Abe and his supporters have displayed remarkable restraint and focus in achieving their goals, compared to previous governments (Japanese prime ministers typically have a life-span of about a year).

On the economic front, Abe's government has been focused on somehow stimulating the Japanese economy. Some attention has been paid to the phenomenon of relatively low participation by Japanese women in the labor force, and the status of women in general in Japan.

As a result, Abe recently tapped five woman to serve as ministers in his cabinet, but this renewed focus on “womenomics” was quickly derailed by a series of scandals involving four out of five of the female appointees, two of whom have since resigned in the last week.

The resignation of Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi on October 20 is considered to be a blow to Abe's efforts to focus attention on economic revitalization and the status of women in Japan by pledging to fill 30 percent of management positions with women by 2020

Women on average account for just 6 percent of management positions. About half of Japanese companies don’t even have any female managers

Obuchi, the daughter of the late and fondly remembered former Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi, was appointed to her post just a month before at the beginning of September. She was forced to resign after questions arose about how campaign staff were spending political funds.

The second minister to resign in October, former Justice Minister Midori Matsushima, allegedly distributed custom-made uchiwa handheld fans to people attending a summer festivals in her Tokyo constituency. Giving voters even apparently insubstantial gratuities is against Japan's election laws.

Now, just a few days after assuming his post, Obuchi's successor, new trade and industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa, has been accused of misspending political funds. Miyazawa's fate will shed a light on how men and women are treated differently in politics in Japan.

Shortly after Miyazawa assumed his post on October 20, it was alleged that members of Miyazawa's local constituency political support group in Hiroshima have claimed expenses for a trip to an S&M bar.

Miyazawa claims he didn't know anything about it and in any event his staff haven't actually broken and rules, but social media has been quick to pounce on this juicy story:

It's standard practice to make the local constituency assistant the fall guy. The opposition parties could get some traction by asking if Miyazawa's real intention was to “whip” his constituency assistant for some sort of mistake…

“Trade and Economy Minister Miyazawa summoned to Diet to be questioned over S&M bar expense tab” (TBS, JNN, Yahoo! News) http://t.co/3c3VgP3UV3

It also turns out that Miyazawa, who as trade and industry minister now oversees Japan's power industry, also owns shares in Tepco, the largest utility in Japan:

Nikkan Gendai reporting there is an eruption of criticism calling Miyazawa a “ridiculous choice” for trade and industry minister. http://t.co/ABEmweJE9O

Anti-nuke campaigners are also raising questions about the integrity of Miyazawa (64). Why? Because as a cabinet insider it turns out that Miyazawa is one the biggest Tepco shareholder of any [ruling party] LDP lawmaker.

Opposition lawmakers were quick to notice that Miyazawa hold shares in giant power utility Tepco, a clear conflict of interest for any trade and industry minister, who is in charge of regulating the power industry. Kouji Sugihara Green Party of Japan Diet and critic for decommissioning nuclear power in Japan wrote:

Miyazawa must quit! Speak up and tell Trade and Economy Minister Miyawa to resign! Fax or telephone his Tokyo office, or phone his local constituency office. Say that it's a clear conflict of interest for the trade and industry minister to hold shares in Tepco, and that the minister must resign.

Not everyone thinks the revelations about Miyazawa are such a big deal.

Toshio Tamogami, a retired air force chief who has since transformed himself into a political pundit and darling of Japan's far-right netizens, poo-poohed the allegations against Miyazawa, in a statement that was re-tweeted hundreds of times and set off a lively debate:

At a press conference on October 24, Defense Minister Akinori Eto said that the opposition parties are trying to gain concessions from the government regarding the issue of whether or not Miyazawa's staff used political funds to pay for a visit to an S&M bar. This is what the role of the opposition is all about in the Diet — to create a lot of sound and fury that means nothing. The government side has got to go on the offensive to nip this sort of behavior in the bud. The government should always be setting the agenda, not the opposition.

The Abe government may not be able to set the agenda for some time. New stories about the spending habits of other cabinet ministers are starting to pop up in the news.

Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Finance Minister and cabinet heavyweight Taro Aso are starting to come under scrutiny in Japan's tabloid press:

Front page headline: “TOP TWO GOVERNMENT PLAYERS USING POLITICAL FUNDS TO PARTY ALL NIGHT.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has spent 30 million yen [about US$280,000] on “events” over the past three years. Finance minister Taro Aso has spent 100 million yen [about US$930,00] on entertainment expenses, and has passed on more than 18 million yen to a mistress.

It's all about spending money like a drunken sailor. Quite squalid, isn't it? FML

In any event, lurid shenanigans are nothing new for (male) Japanese politicians. Some Twitter users are digging up reports of misdeeds by members of the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, now sitting in the opposition:

MAFF deputy minister Iwamoto appears to have illegally spent political funds on a variety of nightclubs and cabarets, places where you can slip a 10,000 yen note into the cleavage of hostesses, or pay money to receive all sorts of wild services. If we're going to say the LDP Miyazawa's spent 18,000 yen at a club, then at least remember that the DPJ's Iwamoto spent at least the same amount.

by Nevin Thompson at October 27, 2014 07:59 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Russia Step Ups Censorship of ISIS Social Media Content
Russia's new efforts to search for and delete ISIS social media content. Images edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Russia's new efforts to search for and delete ISIS social media content. Images edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Its territorial gains over the past year have astounded the world, but some of the most surprising successes for ISIS have come in cyberspace, where the group's social media presence is booming. Using Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, as well as various Internet memes, ISIS releases videos and images, often featuring violent scenes of beheadings and torture against Iraqis and Syrians. Supporters and various twisted Internet users are quick to upload and disseminate this content all around the world. 

Al Qaeda spin-off ISIS has come to control one-third of Syria and a quarter of Iraq, unleashing havoc and horror in its path. It has attracted thousands of youth from around the world, who have been indoctrinated in its extreme ideology, which even the notorious Al Qaeda has found “brutal.”

But what is driving the sudden online expansion of ISIS? Governments hope that cracking down on its spread in social media will help limit the group's reach ideologically and logistically. 

Recently, Russian Duma deputies asked the Attorney General to label extremist all videos by and about ISIS, which would obligate federal censors to ban the publication and sharing of such content. Last week, officials responded by asking Russia's media oversight agency, Roskomnadzor, to ban access to almost 400 different hyperlinks on Vkontakte and YouTube leading Internet users to the ISIS propaganda film, “Clanging of the Swords.” Earlier today, October 27, the Attorney General appealed to Roskomnadzor again, ordering it to ban seven different pages on Vkontakte for carrying ISIS calls to extremist and terrorist acts.

Roman Khudyakov, the parliament deputy heading the initiative, says free access to sites with ISIS content presents a threat to the Russian state and society, popularizing Islamic fundamentalist ideas. Khudyakov, citing the presence of Russian subtitles on some of ISIS’s videos, says the materials are aimed at recruiting new members from Russia.

The move to forbid ISIS’s media content joins a broad trend of growing Internet surveillance and censorship in Russia, but the feasibility of weakening ISIS's recruitment efforts by targeting social media is questionable. Last June, the the security consultancy Soufan Group published a study about the online recruitment efforts of Syrian combatants, finding that new members are often “interconnected within self-selected bubbles.” In other words, the ISIS videos and memes circulating online might be a mere consequence of preexisting social networks in the offline world, rather than the result of some brilliant social media marketing campaign.

As Global Voices has written in the past, charges of terrorism and extremism are some of the ways police around the world limit free expression and justify the incarceration of social media users. In Russia, there is a long history of persecuting Muslims, including the use of torture to extract confessions from those suspected of having ties to terrorism.

While Russia's crackdown on ISIS online content might succeed in weakening the group's reach, it will also make ordinary citizens—particularly those who share religious materials online—more vulnerable to new criminal prosecutions, which threaten more arbitrary detentions and mistreatment of prisoners taken into custody.

by Global Voices at October 27, 2014 04:55 PM

Global Voices
Get to Know Global Voices’ Managing Editor Sahar Habib Ghazi
jsk-sahar-ghazi-desk

Sahar Ghazi. Photo by Sam Stewart, used with permission. October 2013.

Holding the editorial reins of Global Voices has become, after 10 years,​ ​a​n increasingly complicated task. Past managing editors understood this well, and so does current managing editor Sahar Habib Ghazi.

But unlike those who came before her, the Global Voices community doesn't know Sahar very well, so the idea emerged to talk with her to learn ​more about her, her goals and her concerns for the site. Through a small crowdsourcing process, various members of the community submitted questions. Not all questions reached the final stage due to space constraints, but the interview was thorough nonetheless. Read for yourself!​

Global Voices (GV) : Can you tell us about yourself and what you did before joining Global Voices?

Sahar Ghazi (SG): I’m the managing editor at Global Voices. I experiment with strategies and think of ways to facilitate and support our unique, borderless community and completely virtual newsroom. I also help craft editorial and social media policies, plan special coverage and manage partnerships. Before joining this amazing community in 2012, I worked as a journalist in Pakistan where I covered war, elections, earthquakes, floods, human smuggling, and kidney tourism, always searching for hope in my storytelling. In 2006, I helped launch the country's first English-language TV station. I did a lot of behind-the-scenes work at DawnNews, breaking news and running live broadcasts. In 2009, I produced a TV series on US-Pakistan relations, called the Disposable Ally. I was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University in 2011; there I explored creating citizen-generated content for mainstream media in Pakistan through Hosh media.

When I’m not sitting in my GV portal overlooking San Francisco, I’m cooking a few feet away in our kitchen, running on a trail close to our place, or playing with my 2-year-old daughter Nava at a park.

GV: Your work at GV until some weeks ago has been mostly behind the scenes. Can you tell us a bit about it?

SG: Whenever someone asks me what Global Voices is like, I say it is the kindest place in the world. I joined this wonderful community as the deputy editor in June 2012, while I was almost 8-months pregnant. How many organizations do you know that would hire someone that is pregnant?

My first formal interaction with the community was during an interview with Georgia, Ivan and Solana on Skype. Before they could launch into any questions, I said I wanted to tell them about something important that I couldn’t fit on my resume – my swollen belly. I told them that if this was an in-person interview, that would be the first thing they would notice about me, but since this is a virtual process, I felt compelled to let them know that I was 6-months pregnant. They started laughing and said Solana’s pregnant too! After I was hired they told me that my immediate honesty, and concern about their time before myself, was one of the reasons they thought I’d be a good fit for the community.

Since joining GV I have tried to facilitate our community of writers and editors by launching discussions about reporting, sourcing and writing practices and have tried to create tools for them to use. Along with our news editor Lauren Finch, I’ve worked on revamping our Style Guide (GV Style Wiki) and tried to streamline our newsroom workflow to focus more on story structure and news writing standards.

Through community participation and endorsement, I also helped put together GV’s first editorial code. Even though we made a name for ourselves as a credible news source many years ago, we never had a formal code until 2013. I thought it was important to have something in writing — for transparency and for our authors and editors to refer to. Some of our community members and authors are at the forefront of freedom of speech, minority rights and Internet freedom movements in their countries. This gives us great access to underreported issues and stories within those communities, but it can also raise some conflict of interest concerns. So we needed to find a way to tailor existing editorial codes for our unique circumstances. It took a few months of back and forth with our community and editors, but I think we reached a sweet spot in the final code that everyone endorsed in August.

When I joined GV, I was soon manning most of our social media accounts on my own. It was exciting to see our social media followers and traffic grow, but it was also overwhelming. (We currently have 74K+ followers on Twitter and 61K+ on Facebook.) So I asked our community for help, we crafted some guidelines and now we have an awesome team led by Asteris, Rami Al Hames, Rayna, Kevin Rennie, Mohamed Adel, Chris Moya amongst others on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Google + accounts.

Last year, I helped kickstart a weekly video hangout series called GV Face. We use Google Hangouts on Air to delve deeper into trending topics with our authors and editors around the world. We have covered dozens of stories with our contributors in Brazil, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Pakistan, Serbia South Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Taiwan and Ukraine.

Sahar with the core team at our Essex meeting, April 2014. Photo credit: Jeremy Clarke

Sahar with the core team in Essex, Massachusetts. April 2014. Photo credit: Jeremy Clarke

GV: What were some of the things that you had in mind when you accepted the managing editor position?

SG: I think more engagement and conversation with the community is essential. We have over 1,200 members on the internal community mailing list now. Having engaging and participatory conversations there can be challenging, but I want community members to feel like I am approachable on the list, and off the list. I want our community to know that their opinions and feelings matter to me, and my role as managing editor is first and foremost to facilitate them, their work and help deepen their ties to GV’s mission.

Our storytelling and editorial process has evolved organically over the years. Ever since I joined the community there have been a series of words I’ve been hearing from editors and community members about what was important to them: building bridges, having impact, being true to our mission.

To that end, I’ve been trying to engage in a dialogue with the community about writing with purpose, clarity and impact the last few months. You might have seen a few threads on our mailing list or heard the discussions in a few hangout sessions.

Global Voices has always been a mission-driven organization. We are still focusing on writing about the most underreported stories in the world. I do think, however, the “online” part of our original name, Global Voices Online, has undergone a massive transformation in the last 10 years, and any editorial experimenting we are doing is to address just that.

In 2014, it is a lot harder to find well-written trusted blogs, there is much more propaganda on the Internet to sift through, and the most trusted netizens are using social media to write, which can be a polarizing echo chamber.

To top it off, mainstream media has evolved. Many mainstream media organizations did not understand the “web” 10 years ago; now they have become much more social media and Internet savvy. Their voice is loud on the Internet — sometimes louder than us. We have an even bigger responsibility to take on the single-focused news agendas that mainstream media pushes in most regions of the world.

So to me, our role in this new online ecosystem is still about bringing the most unheard voices to the forefront, but it also has to be about correcting all the injustices that exist in mainstream media's representation of stories. We have to also speak for the most “misrepresented” voices.

Because of the mainstream media's invasion (!) of the Internet, there is an urgency for us to clean the online information space by writing for deeper impact, and take on the agendas that they push.

We also want more people reading our stories because we want to continue building bridges. When I look at traffic to our site, I am only thinking about the number of people we are building bridges for. If we want the whole world to look like GV, we have to build bridges for them to hop on over to our side, in a way that they can understand, that's why lately we have been focusing on writing with impact, clarity and purpose.

Paula asked: What are your inspirations in terms of media and news websites? What are the coolest things out there in your opinion, and how do they compare to Global Voices?

SG: I am inspired by anything that challenges the existing narrative of a country and people, or provides an alternative to the dominant news angle of a particular story. Today, anyone can be a news producer, but that does not mean the most authentic or disempowered voices will rise up. We live in an era of massive misinformation and disinformation.

Sahar at a TV shoot in a village outside Islamabad, Pakistan. January 2008. Photo credit: Amber Rahim Shamsi.

Sahar at a TV shoot in a village outside Islamabad, Pakistan. January 2008. Photo credit: Amber Shamsi.

Mainstream news organizations are increasingly shaping the narrative online, and they push news agendas according to their bottom lines or their home country's foreign policy agendas. Governments are increasingly corrupting the online space with their own propaganda and trolls. I am inspired by all initiatives that challenge the status quo or keep the online information space in check; whether that is Vox.com or AJ-plus with their cutting-edge design and agenda-challenging explainers, Radio Ambulante with their simple radio format that focuses on telling Latin America's most important untold stories, Syria Deeply which goes in depth into the lives of the people of war-torn Syria or viral portraits by Brandon from Humans of New York, which offers intimate glimpses of humanity beyond the latest headline. At Global Voices we try not to reinvent the wheel and go for amplifying good work done by like-minded organisations. We often cite Vox, AJ-plus, Radio Ambulante and have republishing partnerships with Syria Deeply.

Estefanía asked: Do you see innovations such as transmedia features and data journalism coming to Global Voices in the short-term future?

SG: I would love to see more multimedia features and data journalism on GV. Visual communication can be effective and quick way of telling complex stories that resonate. Last month GV contributor Gilad Lotan, who is also a data journalist, produced this in-depth data report, “Israel, Gaza, War & Data – The Art of Personalizing Propaganda.” The data was eye-opening and this important angle was under-explored in a story that is often over-reported or misreported. Gilad's piece did extremely well, attracting lots of new visitors to the site with an average reading time of eight minutes.

Sana asked: While there are a thousand things that can make a journalist feel depressed, what really motivates you?

SG: To me, the human condition is inherently multifaceted. I tend to question everything and believe that nothing in the world is black and white. So I am not demotivated by difficult or ugly stories of war or death. If anything they motivate me to look deeper for the grey areas that are missing from the story being told. While bad news tends to dominate headlines, even in times of war, there are always stories that can make you see the wonders of everyday life and celebrate the resilience of people. War reporters on the ground tend to see this and experience it more. In mass media outlets, as stories make their way down the supply chain to copy editors and editors the contradictions and complexity of life in the saddest of times become less tangible, but I think the key is to have more eyes and ears on the ground in these difficult spots to capture the story beyond the sadness and ugliness. Initiatives like Syria Untold and Syria Deeply are crucial. This year we've been trying to lift the veil on life in Aleppo, Syria, beyond the conflict with a moving first-hand account by Marcell Shehwaro. Marcell’s stories are from a war zone but she herself stands out as a character of resilience and hope.

Elizabeth asked: Can you name the challenges and opportunities of running a newsroom with citizen journalists as opposed to professional ones?

SG: The industry is rapidly changing. There is a lot of cross-pollination between citizen media and traditional newsrooms in methods of reporting, packaging news and distribution. Lines are increasingly getting blurred. To me, the opportunities and challenges are essentially the same.

The challenges of every newsroom is to get the facts right, link to trusted sources, make deadlines, and write stories that will inform people.

With GV, we try to take it a step further. We write stories with a mission: We want a more equitable world, we want to build bridges between people, and we want our readers to think and feel for people and places the mainstream media doesn't tell them about.

And within that, I think our biggest opportunity lies: working with a team of dedicated, trusted and caring volunteers who are singularly motivated by making this world a better place by telling stories from their communities with authenticity, from an angle that is often under-explored or unknown.

That said, I think the GV newsroom treats editing as a process of facilitation. Our goal is to support and be of service to our volunteers, who by virtue of our global community have varied perspectives, skills, and availability. We start our editorial support with the understanding that we need to be sensitive to these dynamics, and that we're here to serve the community, rather than command it.

Elizabeth: What can mass media outlets learn from Global Voices?

SG: We spend a lot of time at Global Voices thinking about existing news frames and the impact our reporting has on the narrative of a particular region or people. The truth is mass media is guilty of reducing many different, complex countries to one single tainted angle. There are so many countries that mass media has trained us to only see through the lens of terrorism, war, drugs, or disempowered women. At Global Voices, we focus on the exact opposite, if a country is known for drugs or rape, we try to raise the voices telling a different story. Because a different story always exists.

In the last 10 years, mass media outlets have already learned a lot from Global Voices and community-driven organizations like us. They’ve learned how to curate and use social media and blogs as a source of news stories. We have also played a role in shifting the news industry’s understanding that there does not need to be a concrete wall between the news producer and their audience; when engagement takes place, beautiful things happen, important voices and stories get reported. In fact, if you look at masthead of most mass media outlets now, they have senior editors in their newsroom focusing on engagement and audiences.

Funny GVer asked: What makes GV different from mainstream news websites, as now we are also linking a report's success with the number of clicks and visits it receives?

SG: Our goal is to empower people who value justice, equality and empathy around the world with tools to tell their stories. We want more people reading these stories because building bridges to promote global understand is central to our mission. The community we empower, the motivation behind empowering them, is what makes us different.

Whenever I look up our site’s traffic, I look at time on site. Did 1,000 readers spend three minutes reading an 800-word story? If they did, to me that is success, because that metric is an indicator of the people we have connected with, the people we have shown another perspective, the people we are building bridges for.

That said, this is not something new. We've been paying attention to traffic as a measure of our impact since 2007. We care about it because the goal of Global Voices is to amplify alternative voices and stories. Measuring visits is a way of understanding our success in amplification. The only thing that's changed is an increased effort to demonstrate that our content is interesting and useful — in order to honor both our mission and our contributors — but that change took place as a result of the Nairobi Summit meetings.

Finally, as much as we like to criticize mass media, it is important to remember that most mainstream journalism sites don't produce content just because it's likely to garner traffic. That's true for some digital-first publications, but it's rarely the only value for mainstream media either.

Sahar with her family, Mo, the monkey, her husband Tabriz, and Nava on Eid at their home in California. October 2014.

Sahar with her family, Mo, the monkey, her husband Tabriz, and Nava on Eid at their home in California. October 2014.

Funny GVer: What is the future of GV? Do you see it turning into a mainstream news organisation?

SG: No, but I do hope the exact opposite happens. I think a non-profit, community-driven news organization with a mission to increase global understanding like Global Voices should be the model that everyone within the media industry should aspire to. I’d like to live in a world where everyone was a GVer.

Many thanks for your time, Sahar!

by Juan Arellano at October 27, 2014 04:36 PM

DML Central
All About That Badge
All About That Badge Blog Image

I often hear people say, “It’s not about the badge. It’s about the learning.” Well, yes. It is always good to bring the focus back to what we value. But, what if it really is about the badge? What if, by insisting on the learning, we miss something even more social, more fundamental than what is being learned. Before I get booed off the stage for saying this, let me explain.

In 2013, each of the 30 Badges for Lifelong Learning projects responded to a series of questions about their first year of badge system design. I went through the data and published the findings in “What Counts as Learning: Open Digital Badgesfor New Opportunities” as part of the Connected Learning Report Series. Going through the data, what struck me most was what one project described as the “so what” question. Once a learner has earned a badge, so what?

I’m going to argue that this is the most important question we can ask about badges, and it has nothing to do with learning, or assessment, or motivation for that matter. It also has nothing to do with technology. Equally important, “so what” also is not the same question as “why bother?” The “so what” question is more about negotiating what some refer to as trust networks, and what Thomas Green calls the “medium of exchange” in his book “Predicting the Behavior of the Educational System”* (1980).

“We have already seen...that such things as certificates, degrees, transcripts, and the like serve an essential role in establishing the ‘medium of exchange’ that permits activities performed in one institution of the system to be substituted for the same activities as if they had been performed in another. Perhaps some other devices could serve the same function but not be recognized as degrees, certificates, diplomas, or transcripts. It is hard to imagine what that social invention might be.”

We would take a different design approach to badges for learning if we treated this work as a social invention instead of a technological innovation. Green uses the words “device” and “medium of exchange” almost interchangeably to describe certificates, degrees, transcripts, and diplomas. But, “medium of exchange” suggests social actors doing something with the device, and that is the puzzle we have yet to fully understand when it comes to badges. Once a learner has earned a badge, so what? The answer often has nothing to do with technology and a lot to do with trust networks — although, at the very least, the technology must work.

In Barry Joseph’s blog post, “My Beef with Badges,” he writes: “I hear descriptions of new badge projects designed as if [a broad ecosystem of badges] already exists, as if youth can take their badge from one learning context and find it valued within another. Some badge systems are even designed without prioritizing such a need.”

Without prioritizing this need, we risk overcomplicating the learning with a lot of complex technology that is not easy to build. Lessons learned from the 30 Badges for Lifelong Learning projects suggest that badge system design is a degree more complex than curriculum development. Having a shared language is critical, understanding the dynamics of collaboration is crucial, and without a superior user experience, the purpose of badges can easily become lost.  

In other words, if we are going to do this, we better understand what it takes to build a “medium of exchange.” Better badge technology is important, but there also needs to be a collective belief in the value of badges, and this cannot happen in the absence of trust networks. To better understand this, consider Brazil.

In the early 90s, Brazil’s inflation was so bad that people would check the value of their currency each morning to see how much it had dropped overnight. A big drop meant it was worth hustling to the store to buy food or gas or other products before store clerks could mark up yesterday’s prices. A colleague of mine who was in elementary school in Brazil during these years says he raced to spend his allowance right away before his money became worthless. If you live in a relatively stable economy, it is hard to imagine how the value of your currency could plummet at such an alarming rate. 

In response, a team of Brazilian economists implemented an audacious plan to stabilize the country’s inflation. They developed an alternate, virtual currency that had a one-to-one value with the American dollar, a temporary measure that they planned to retire after the real currency stabilized.

But, that never happened. Instead, the opposite occurred. When the real currency stabilized, the alternate currency replaced the old one and became the new. What is most remarkable about this story is that the economists intended to switch the currencies all along, a massive act of hoodwinking that by most accounts went over without a hitch.

Why the hoodwinking, though? Why not just introduce a new currency and tell people to go forth and earn, save, and spend? Because currency is the collective belief that something has value. Without that collective belief, without that trust network, there can be no wide-scale medium of exchange. The economists knew this when they indexed the new currency to one that was relatively stable, and grafted this new value onto the traditional currency. Without the collective belief in what is ultimately a shared value, this could never happen.  

To put this in more concrete terms, imagine a badge system designed for a public library’s summer reading program. Let’s say the library designs the system so that youth can earn badges for reading and display these badges on their profiles or personal blogs. There is value in a badge system designed for this purpose, but there is no medium of exchange or trust network for these badges. However, in a scenario where librarians and language arts teachers establish a trust network between the public library and middle school, there is a medium of exchange. Instead of having students record on sheets of paper what books they have read, teachers tell the students they can participate in the library’s badge-based reading program, which supports social features if students wish to share what they read with their peers. But, the main exchange exists for students who want their badges to have value to someone else, in this case their language arts teacher.

Trust networks do not have to be large scale, but they do need to be defined. And, fostering collective belief that the badges have value does not have to involve hoodwinking. It can be defined and created within or across institutions, and may even evolve beyond what was initially designed. 

In the badge world, the next great challenge is to foster collective belief in badges, and there is no silver bullet, no technology, that can replace the core work of building trust. Every organization that plans to build a serious badge system needs to think carefully about their trust network and maybe write, “so what?” in large bold letters somewhere prominent until there is a clear answer. Learners need to trust that answer if we expect badges to become widespread.

The Hive Learning Networks and Cities of Learning are the trust networks to watch because they will teach us how diverse organizations foster a collective belief in the value of badges exchanged between and among them. It makes me think, If badges are about trust and fostering collective belief in what has value, maybe in fundamental ways it really is about the badge.

* Many thanks to Michael Olneck, professor emeritus of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for discovering and sharing this quote. 

Banner illustration by Maritess Steffen

Guest blogger Sheryl Grant director of social networking for the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition and a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science.

by mcruz at October 27, 2014 04:00 PM

Global Voices
Photo Exhibition Highlights Racism Against Lebanese of African and Asian Heritage
Woman looking at photographs from the Mixed Feelings exhibition at AltCity, September 24, 2014, Beirut. Photo by Marta Bogdanska

Woman looking at photographs from the Mixed Feelings exhibition at AltCity, September 24, 2014, Beirut. Photo by Marta Bogdanska (used with permission)

This post was originally published on Lebanon-based blog Hummus For Thought. The following is a shortened version.

A new exhibition seeks to tell the story of Lebanese of African and Asian heritage as well as tackle racism in Lebanon.

The “Mixed Feelings” exhibition, the brainchild of Lebanese Nigerian researcher and activist Nisreen Kaj and Polish photographer and artist Marta Bogdanska, has involved several key members of Lebanon’s civil society as well as several NGOs in highlighting the oft-ignored daily realities of Lebanese of African or Asian heritage as well as migrant workers who work in Lebanon.

Kaj and Bogdanksa introduced the project, which will tour Lebanon, as being two-fold. The first, “Mixed Feelings: Racism and ‘Othering’ from a Lebanese Perspective,” includes 33 photos of Lebanese who are of African or Asian heritage. About a third of the participants were interviewed, and quotes in Arabic and English discussing topics such as race and national belonging accompany the photos.

The second part of the project is still in the works. 

As for the what motivated them to create “Mixed Feelings,” Kaj and Bogdanska explained:

Renee Abi Saad from Jisr Qade. Photo by Marta Bogdanska

Renee Abi Saad from Jisr Qade. Photo by Marta Bogdanska

So, the main motivation of the project is to talk about racism, simply. Racism is an important issue that is rarely directly addressed within and by civil society movements in Lebanon and around the world, yet it is an issue that definitely needs to be understood and defined within its time- and geographic- specific context, and then addressed accordingly.

If you look at Lebanon, we have around 250,000 migrant domestic workers (in an overall workforce of 1.45 million, and this figure is estimated to be higher), primarily women from the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Madagascar and a number of West African nations. This is a significant number of people who provide much needed services, who live here, who develop relationships here, who have families here, who assimilate, integrate, spend, earn, etc. They are very much part and parcel of Lebanon, and are a significant part of the country’s ethno-scape.

Yet, due to a number of factors – such as socio-economic status; doing what is perceived as dirty work; being perceived as foreign / outsiders / ‘others’; and gender-related vulnerabilities – these women and associated social groups frequently find themselves marginalized and excluded, facing racism and racialization, all of this which sometimes leads to tragic consequences (such as suicides, and physical, sexual, mental and psychological abuses).

They went on to explain how deep racism runs in Lebanese society:

Audience member looks at a picture that was presented to the public during the panel discusion at IFI in AUB, October 8, 2014, Beirut. Photo by Marta Bogdanska

Audience member looks at a picture that was presented to the public during the panel discusion at IFI in AUB, October 8, 2014, Beirut. Photo by Marta Bogdanska

Furthermore, classism is usually tied to negative stereotyping and has become the excuse for “race” based discrimination in the country, a “we don’t have a racism problem, we just don’t want to swim with a maid or housekeeper, regardless of her nationality” way of thinking, where you have these class divisions (that are also very unacceptable) based on perceived “racial identifiers”, which is actually then racism, and which also demonstrates how racism is about intersectionality, about intersecting oppressions, and not just about “skin color”.

In addition to this “classism, not racism” discourse, you also have a discourse on racism in Lebanon that is very much an ‘us’ versus ‘the outsiders’ narrative; so we have the existence of two seemingly homogeneous and separate units – us the Lebanese and them the outsiders – that leaves little or no room to explore any other position or experience with racism in the country. 

Photography as the project's medium was carefully chosen for maximum impact, they said:

Audience listening to the discussion at AltCity on Sep 24, 2014, Beirut. Photo by Marta Bogdanska

Audience listening to the discussion at AltCity on Sep 24, 2014, Beirut. Photo by Marta Bogdanska

[Photography] is accessible to everyone and it talks to you immediately, without words. We want to confuse people a little bit in the beginning: to make then ponder about who are the people in these photographs at first and then to realize and think. It is an awareness project but because all the participants are recognizable it becomes also intimate and personal.

This year, with the traveling exhibition that goes from one place to another, we are also trying to build a community around the project, which is starting to work out. A lot of people speak about it and we are getting positive feedback.

by Joey Ayoub at October 27, 2014 11:16 AM

Lawrence Lessig
"This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government…"

“This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 27, 2014 10:16 AM

"This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government…"

“This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 27, 2014 10:16 AM

The "conventional wisdom" of Ken Vogel’s great book

When Ken Vogel’s book came out this summer it felt like a gift (the Kindle edition even came…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 27, 2014 09:58 AM

Global Voices
‘Hunger Games’ Salute Gives Hope to Democracy Activists in Thailand

In an image resonant of a Hollywood movie, attendees at the cremation of former deputy House speaker Apiwan Wiriyachai held up the three-finger salute to the former Prime Minister of the country Yingluck Shinawatra, in what could be seen as a silent message of hope for Thailand.

Please know : there are still many anti-coup Thais who refuse to be oppressed by the military

The image, which was originally posted on the BBC Thailand Facebook page has been shared on that platform over 650 times and shared on Twitter over 70 times, including re-tweets from Thais with large followings such as @toyubomm. The BBC set up this Facebook page in an effort to avoid the systematic attack on the rule of law and liberties which followed May’s coup, including the banning of political gatherings and arresting and detaining hundreds of politicians and anti-coup activists.

The raised armed salute, inspired by the fantasy blockbuster “The Hunger Games,” has been appropriated as the unofficial symbol of anti-coup activists and supporters of the pro-democracy movement.

This activity on Facebook and Twitter occurs at a time of increasing tension in the country, as the military junta continues its massive crackdown of online speech and personal expression in the country. Having taken measures to censor citizens on social media and block hundreds of offensive websites, including the UK’s Daily Mail website, in the past week one of the major political blogs in Thailand on the Asian Correspondent website, Bangkok Pundit, announced that it is going on hiatus as a result of “the constrained environment of commenting publicly about Thai politics in the immediate aftermath of the coup.”

Whilst the closure of the anonymous blog is another set-back for the freedom of expression of the Thai people, images such as the three-fingered salute being shared on social media provide a small glimmer of hope for the future of this once open and democratic country. 

by Khun Somchai at October 27, 2014 09:24 AM

October 26, 2014

Global Voices
10 Years Ago Today, Global Voices’ First Post Appeared…

10 years ago today, the first post appeared on the Global Voices web site. Photo by Georgia Popplewell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

At 10:03pm on the night of Tuesday October 26, 2004, somewhere in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Rebecca MacKinnon, CNN journalist-turned-fellow at Harvard's Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, crossed the last few t’s, dotted the final i’s, and hit the “publish” button on the back end of the WordPress blog her Berkman colleague Ethan Zuckerman had set up a few days before. And so the first Global Voices blog post was born.

Like many first messages, it was hardly momentous in terms of content. It announced the agenda for a meeting Rebecca and Ethan had managed to shoehorn into the schedule of a conference taking place at Harvard Law School on December 11 of that year. The meeting, which Rebecca would describe in a second post published later that night, was called “Global Voices Online: Blogging for Independent Journalists, Concerned Citizens and Activists”, and would comprise a series of “freewheeling workshops and discussion tracks” focusing on:

 “…the use of weblogs and other new technologies to enhance online global dialogue and political advocacy. Participants will include international webloggers, journalists and activists with an interest in online communication techniques. A major focus of the meeting will be to develop strategies for spreading the use of online participatory media by civil society, activists, and journalists in places generally ignored by the mainstream international media.”

10 years later, here we are. Since Rebecca’s first post we’ve published over 88,000 more articles. We've become a human translation powerhouse. We've developed special sections for our freedom of expression and development work. We've won a bunch of awards. We've become interpreters, not only of languages, but of culture, politics and social dynamics, sought out and referenced by media professionals, policymakers, academics and others seeking to connect with the diverse voices and stories coming out of citizen and social media around the world. And we've held several more meetings and Summits, (with another coming up in January!).

Members of the community at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2010 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Georgia Popplewell (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Members of the community at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2010 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Georgia Popplewell (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

But the achievement we're perhaps proudest of has been building and sustaining a large and vibrant volunteer community dedicated to fulfilling the Internet’s potential as a global connector. Today we kick off our 10th anniversary celebrations, building up to our official birthday on December 11, with a selection of reminiscences by some of these folks about their first encounters with Global Voices.

Eddie Avila (Bolivia): “One day back in 2005, I noticed a trackback [on my blog] that informed me that this blog called Global Voices had linked to a post about Bolivian politics. Next thing I knew, an email appeared in my inbox from David Sasaki inquiring whether I would be interested in writing weekly posts about what was happening in Bolivian blogs. Naturally I felt honored, but I also felt a responsibility to properly represent my country for a global audience that seemed to generalize and reduce my country to only a few limiting characterizations.” (Read full post here)

Rezwan (Bangladesh): “I was already doing small roundups about South Asia in my blog and guest-blogging in a couple of regional ones. Then in July 2005 I received a mail from Global Voices co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon: “We find that we've been linking to you quite frequently over at Global Voices and would love to know a little more about you…” She requested me to post on Global Voices. I was thrilled to write for Global Voices, and the rest is history.” (Read full post here)

Portnoy (Taiwan): “I started to write blog(s) and learned that there was a brand new world out there. I accidentally found Global Voices, read some posts, and was surprised by its novelty and network. Without any hesitation, I began to translate interesting posts I read from GV. My first translation was this one, and I added my personal comment to share it with my blogging friends in Taiwan. I didn't know who might read them, but with each translation I did, I felt connected with someone on the globe…. I kept on translating posts until one day I received a message from Rebecca MacKinnon, our dearest co-founder, who read Chinese and invited me to join GV…. I am now managing several new media projects in Taiwan, trying to challenge the walking dead media world in Taiwan.” (Read full post here)

Marianna Breytman (USA): “My crazy adventure with Global Voices began back in 2011 when I was looking for volunteer opportunities and came across an article about GV in The New York Times. Soon after, I joined the Lingua team and began translating posts from Spanish into English. My first translation was about the controversy generated over Mario Vargas Llosa attending Argentina's International Book Fair in 2011….That first translation has opened so many doors for me, including everything from expanding my professional network to making new friends all over the world.” (Read full post here)

I-Fan Lin (Taiwan): “I wrote my first post in Global Voices in 2007…. When I wrote these articles, I kept asking myself why people from other countries would be interested in what happens on this island…. I attended my first GV summit in Budapest in 2008. During that meeting, someone came to me and said, ‘Oh, I like your post about Matsu and other culture events in Taiwan.’ That is the magic moment: I was convinced that it is worth sharing our stories with other people.” (Read full post here)

Abdoulaye Bah (Guinea/Italy): “One evening in December 2008—by then I had retired—to avoid arguing with my wife about what to watch on TV, I started to search on the Internet for a voluntary activity I could undertake. Among the sites I came across was Global Voices. I read a few posts and liked them. Immediately, I contacted Claire Ulrich, the person in charge of the French group and I started to partake…. I didn't have any blogging experience beforehand. I didn't even know what Facebook, Twitter, netizen, citizen media, blogs or posts were. My only previous activity had been the creation of a forum for the victims of the dictatorship in my country. I became a blogger thanks to the patience of Claire Ulrich, who helped me create Konakry Express, a blog designed to broadcast information on the grave violations of human rights that occurred in Guinea on the 28th September 2009.” (Read full post here)

Kevin Rennie (Australia): “Immediately after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Global Voices managing editor Solana Larsen asked me to write a post. I was surprised as I thought that our disaster would not be of interest to the rest of the world which experiences floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis that kill thousands or tens of thousands. Much to my surprise ‘Australia: Bushfires devastate Victoria’ was one of the more popular posts of the year.” (Read full post here)

Community members at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Community members at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by Global Voices (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Nwachukwu Egbunike (Nigeria): It was in 2011, the year of Nigeria’s general elections, and we were witnessing the usual theater of the absurd and normal that has for ages characterized Nigerian…politics. I wrote this blog post on the Endless Chatter in Naija’s Political Space. Somehow, I chanced upon the Global Voices site that very day. I was impressed, although I knew nothing about what GV stood for. I did an email to Ndesanjo Macha, the GV Regional Editor for Sub-Saharan Africa in which I shared the link of my post and asked if it could be republished on GV. Ndesanjo responded in the affirmative and…. after a series of email exchanges and I told him that I would love to become a contributor. I must note that I was quite impressed with the frankness of our discussion…. It might seem trivial, but living in a milieu that is characterized by the arrogance of ‘big men’ syndrome, I was surprised that he even responded to my mail at the first instance.” (Read full post here)

Suzanne Lehn (France): “Back in 2008, there was this moment of grace and hope, the campaign and election of Barack Obama, when many in the world held their breath and felt that change was at hand. And with this moment came this beautiful GV project, Voices without Voices, led by Amira Al-Hussaini and which is now sleeping in the depths of the internet's archives. The impulse to be part of this exciting venture was compelling, and Amira guided my first shaky steps as a fledgling author with her firm and gentle hand. Thus I came to do a survey of some first reactions to Barack Obama's election in the francophone world.” (Read full post here)

Mamisoa Isabelle Raveloaritiana (Madagascar): “I met Global Voices for the first time when I went to the office of Jentilisa, the editor on Global Voices in Malagasy, as we worked together in the same company. I saw him doing something on his computer, and when I looked at his computer screen, I saw the words Global Voices, and came across by an article written by Lova Rakotomalala, whose title was “Françafrique casts shadow in Gabon, Madagascar, and Mauritania“, and I noticed that the article was translated into Malagasy…. I was very impressed by the quality of Malagasy language written by Jentilisa, which made me realize how beautiful and important our mother tongue is….I was interested to know more about Global Voices and asked Jentilisa to tell me about it.” (Read full post here)
 

Dercio Tsandzana (Mozambique):

“Conheci o Global Voices graças a visita da Sara Moreira (ex editora do Global voices Lusofonia) ao meu país, onde visitou a minha Universidade e falou do Global Voices e convidou-nos a juntar-me a família GV.

Naquele dia fiquei impressionado com o GV, e disse para mim mesmo que o meu sonho passaria por publicar um Artigo e assim foi no dia 18 de Dezembro de 2013.
No Global Voices conto actualmente com 25 artigos escritos e traduções que foram publicados em menos de um ano que estou nesta grande família. Não existe ainda um grande activismo social pelas redes socais em Moçambique como em outros países, mas actulamente a consciência tende a mudar e as pessoas a despertar.

O Global Voices projectou-me para o mundo e me está a abrir muitas portas, dei entrevistas a DW para Moçambique, tenho artigos saídos do Global Voices em Jornais Nacionais e até artigos publicados no Canal France 24.”

“I learned about Global Voices thanks to a visit by Sara Moreira (ex-editor of Global Voices Lusofonia) to my country. She visited my university and talked about Global Voices and invited us to join the GV family. That day I was impressed with GV, and it became my dream to write for Global Voices. I've written 25 articles and translations in the year I've been a part of this big family. Mozambique doesn't yet have extensive activism through social networks like in other countries, but nowadays we're seeing an awakening in people's consciousness. Global Voices projected me into the world and has opened many doors. I've given interviews to the DW Mozambique, have Global Voices articles appearing in national newspapers, and been published in France Canal 24.” (Read full post here [pt])

Prudence Nyamishana (Uganda): “My first post was about David Tinyefuza, a Ugandan Army general who had fallen out with the president and was now whistleblowing against the government…. At the time…I didn't have a job and all my friends were wondering why in the world I was taking on work and not expecting any payment…. I told them I was going to do what I loved… and that it was an opportunity to tell Uganda's stories. More worries came from my father, who had experienced the rough times of Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin‘s repressive regime. He said: “I hope what you are doing is not political. I do not want you landing in trouble. You know when a government wants to stay in power they become repressive, they are scared of their own shadows.” I took his words to heart but I was not planning to retreat.” (Read full post here)

Laura Vidal (Venezuela): “I wrote to Eddie Avila to ask him if I could try to participate as an author, and he… welcomed me to the authors’ group. My first post as an author was about a crazy character I read about in a professor’s blog…. I had a blast writing about it, and it felt great to do something about this frustration for the lack of stories of a Venezuela that is rarely seen.” (Read full post here)

Sami Boutayeb:

“Ma première traduction, en 2011 a été suscitée par un appel lancé par le responsable d'un forum fréquenté par des traducteurs participant à la localisation du projet OLPC. Il était question d'un blogueur égyptien, Alaa Abdel Fattah, qui avait été actif dans la communauté des traducteurs de logiciels libres, et qui avait été emprisonné arbitrairement. C'est ainsi que j'ai traduit pour GV Advocacy et que j'ai rejoint la formidable équipe GV francophone. J'ai eu la joie d'apprendre par la suite que Alaa Abdel Fattah avait été libéré (provisoirement car il a été ensuite à nouveau arrêté).” (Lire le billet complet ici)

“My first translation, in 2011, was prompted by an appeal from the leader of a forum for translators involved in the localisation of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. It had to do with an Egyptian blogger, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who had been active in the free software translators’ community, and who had been unjustly imprisoned. That was how I started translating for GV Advocacy and joined the formidable GV Francophone team. I was delighted to learn afterwards that Alaa Abdel Fattah was freed (provisionally, as he was then arrested again).” (Read full post here [fr])

Mohamed EGohary (Egypt): “I joined Global Voices as an Arabic translator in February 2009. Back then I was a bilingual blogger, writing about Egyptian affairs as well as web2.0…. The editor who welcomed me to Global Voices was Yazan Badran, probably first real interaction with a Syrian…. My first translation was about Gaza. Palestine to me before Global Voices was something I only read about in mainstream media, and you will never to get to know details about conflicts from mainstream media…. Through Global Voices I learned that every conflict has a sea of people, everyone has their own life, memories, happiness and pain….” (Read full post here)

Read the complete series of “first post” and “first translation” reminiscences at the Global Voices Community Blog. And stay tuned as the Global Voices 10th Anniversary celebrations continue!

by Georgia Popplewell at October 26, 2014 06:04 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Leaked Recordings of Zambian Ministers’ Conversations Raise Privacy Concerns

Zambian government ministers are learning the hard way who to trust—and who not to—after two had private conversations secretly recorded and leaked to local media. 

In late September, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, a close relative of President Michael Sata who serves as his second-in-command, woke up to find a transcript of a conversation he had with an unknown person in one of the country’s leading private daily newspapers, The Post.

The transcript revealed his feelings about President Sata, his cabinet colleagues, Chinese investors and also his love for imported red wines “brought for him from London.” The 77-year-old president is in poor health, leaving many wondering who shall assume his role, should he need to step down.

Chikwanda is quoted in the transcript in which he uses a mix of English and local language, saying:

As my relationship with the President, my relationship with him would be better if I was outside government because then, I can involve the system in many ways. When you are in that position, you are like in a hole. There are certain matters which I have to handle which are complicated like family matters. I have to handle that. It’s not an easy thing. But there is a bond of a relationship with myself which is very deep. It would be nice for me if I could give him space, but you know that at the moment, ba President tabali bwino [the President is not very well] and so some of us are now having to double our input in order to make up for the deficiencies, sickness…

The Post published the conversation between Chikwanda and the unknown person following events going back to late August, when Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, who was also Secretary General of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, was dismissed from his position by President Sata. Kabimba had allegedly campaigned for the republican presidency, with the support of The Post.

Zambian President Michael Sata. Photo by Zambia Reports.

Zambian President Michael Sata. Photo by Zambia Reports.

Following the departure of Kabimba, who was widely seen as an ally of The Post, the newspaper ran a series of scathing editorials accusing policymakers including Chikwanda of abusing their office. The Post linked these individuals with millions of dollars the government is said to owe mining companies in value-added tax refunds.

During the same period, the Zambia Revenue Authority, which falls under the Ministry of Finance, raided The Post in an effort to recover millions of Kwacha (local currency) in unpaid taxes.

Barely a month after the publishing of Chikwanda’s private conversation, the Zambian Watchdog published an audio recording of Robert Sichinga, the Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry whose son is married to one of the President Sata’s daughters, speaking with a woman whose identity has not been made public.

In the audio clip, Sichinga, talking to the woman who has come to be known as Bana Nono [Mother of Nono] reveals how ill President Sata is and how some ministers are happy each time he goes away thinking they may soon assume his position:

I don’t really understand … understand some of my colleagues even the same [Acting President Edgard] Lungu. He seems to be in the campaign mode as well … (interruption) … yes to take over … (child cries) … yes … same with GBM [former Defence Minister Godfrey Bwalya Mwamba] … (another interruption) … (loud bang from a plate) … each time they hear the man is gone … bena mubwalwa bayachesha ati twalakasenda (them they go into beer drinking spree whole night celebrating saying we are getting it) … I think that’s evil)….

The recording of the two ministers’ conversations was not especially surprising. Roughly a year ago, it was widely reported that President Sata warned a traditional leader who was critical of the PF government that he knew “everything” that he said in his bedroom. During the same period, the ruler of the restive Western Province, whose residents want to secede from the rest of Zambia, had to flee his palace when he discovered a recording device under his throne.

Private conversations involving ministers brings into focus issues of privacy not only for government leaders, but for the general public. In February of 2014, all Zambians were required to register their SIM cards with state authorities, a policy shift that left some concerned about what mass communications surveillance measures might lie ahead for Zambia.

by Gershom Ndhlovu at October 26, 2014 04:11 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Creating Learning Guides for Community Makers

On Saturday, October 26, 2014, Nathan Matias and I co-facilitated a session at Mozilla Festival on creating "Learning Guides for Community Makers" along with Gabriela Rodriguez, Janet Gunter (@JanetGunter), Linda Sandvik, Vanessa Gennarelli.

The main goal of the session was to help participants create a learning guides for other community-focused makers based on initiatives, projects, and workshops they have already organized, hosting them here:

youthcivictech.mit.edu

We are also interested in connecting practitioners together who are working at the intersection of code/data literacy, civic technology, and youth development. The effort was inspired in part by MIT Media Lab alumni projects like Young Activists Network (Leo Burd) and ScratchEd (Karen Brennan).

We kicked off the session by discussing "What do we mean by civic and community-focused making?" This proved an engaging topic, especially as we dug into my own definition and goals. I offered the idea that there are changes we would like to see in the world, and we would like more people to be in the business of making change, so its important to support the growth of an inclusive Civic Tech movement. We debated whether a sense of membership in some kind of "civic tech movement" was a necessary part of community-focused making. We agreed that community-focus was both about working in existing communities as well as building new communities through collaboration, forming and strengthening relationships with others.

To guide our thinking with examples, we shared two existing learning guides and invited the co-facilitators to discuss their own work. Vanessa talked about co-designing courses with P2PU, Linda talked about three acres and a cow and kite mapping, Janet talked about The Restart Project, and Gabriella talked about Data Uraguay.

Ahead of the Mozilla Festival, Alisha Panjwani, Leo Burd, and Don Blair helped us create a template for the learning guides meant to emphasize the community-focused goals and specific context of any initiative or workshop. The better we can define who was involved and why, the better we can see who is missing and also what might be needed to adapt a learning guide to one's own context. We ask contributors to tell a story about what they did and what roles youth and technology played in the work. Most importantly, we ask contributors if they are willing to offer contact information for those who come across a guide. If we can connect people doing the same work, this will be a bigger success than a thousand perfectly written guides.

After participants in the Festival session worked on their learning guides, we reconvened to discuss the process and think about how it could be improved. Laurenellen McCann suggested we should look into collections of cases already out there like Beautiful Trouble and Getting in on the Act and see how they think about community-focused making, which doubled as a suggestion of tapping into existing communities of practice.

Linda talked about the difficulty of explaining how to fly a kite as a part of her Kite Mapping learning guide. This is not something easily translated through text, and perhaps links to YouTube videos with relevant explanations would be one way to address that question. This is also an opportunity for collaboration on projects where connecting experienced kite flyers to initiatives like citizen science and youth skill-building should be encouraged through the learning guides.

Vanessa noted as she worked on her own learning guide, that she was struggling to convey the "emoting" that was an important part of organizing her project; we need to think about how to incorporate that in the template. More broadly, she found the process of reflecting on her own work to be of incredible value. She suggested another goal for the learning guides might be to create a space for organizers to reflect on core ideas and process of their work by attempting to develop a guide to it. This was an important insight into the community-making involved in pulling together this collection.

A good example of this in action came from participant Andy Lulham, who described his work with GoodGym in London, a fitness community that runs together to parts of the city where they then participate in a community project. He reflected on how this was largely an adult-oriented group but that there was no reason why he couldn't reach out to local schools and other youth groups to incorporate those communities and make it more age-inclusive, which was a beautiful outcome of the session.

In summary, we had a great session with deep engagement from our participants. Many of whom committed to helping grow this project going forward, including refining the template, evaluating the learning guides, and creating ways that organizers who try the guides can share back what they learn. Nathan and I hope to host more workshops in the future and eventually present the learning guides at the Digital Media and Learning conference in June 2015 in order to open up the collection to that community of makers.

Many thanks to all who participated and co-facilitated!

by erhardt at October 26, 2014 03:38 PM

Global Voices
Thai Students to Hong Kong Protesters: ‘Do Not Give Up’
thai students

Screenshot of the Hangout.

In a wide-ranging Google+ “Hangout” discussion about conditions in Thailand and the rule of law, five Thai students and pro-democracy activists sent a message to activists in Hong Kong: “Don't give up.”   

The number of participants — five — is significant because Thai law currently prohibits gatherings of five or more people to discuss political matters. Further, anyone calling for protests on social media can be prosecuted for sedition. The students have been actively protesting the current military junta there, which assumed power earlier this year in a coup. 

I organized the Hangout with the group. Rick Rhian, an activist who studies civil engineering at Prommanusorn School, has this message to Hong Kong student protesters:

The message that I want to give the Hong Kong students is, do not give up and do not let the system of Thailand be advanced upon you guys.

Others also shared their support for the Hong Kong protesters and democracy throughout the region. A video excerpt of the discussion is below.  

The demonstrations in Hong Kong occurred in response to the Chinese government's decision in September to limit candidates for Hong Kong elections to those selected by a nominating committee in Beijing. 

The Thai activists discussed many subjects including current conditions in the country, their recent activities at Thammasat University and elsewhere, and the military junta's efforts to remove references to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from Thai history textbooks.

In May, a Thai military junta ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup. The junta repealed the country's constitution, declared marital law, and imposed stricter limits on freedom of expression and assembly. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of the Thai army, was named new prime minister. Chan-ocha has said they will hold elections in the future but has not specified a date other than to say they will not take place in the next two years.

by Khun Somchai at October 26, 2014 02:25 PM

Tunisians Head to Polls to Elect a New Parliament
Voters stand in lines to cast their votes at a polling station in Tunis. Photo by Tunisia Live shared on Twitter

Voters stand in lines to cast their votes at a polling station in Tunis. Photo by Tunisia Live shared on Twitter

Tunisians are voting today to elect a parliament under the country's new constitution. This year's elections are one of the final stages in the country's democratic transition after the ousting of former dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

This year more than 13,000 candidates are competing for 217 seats at the Assembly of the People's Deputies which will serve for the next five years. Competing electoral lists include political parties, coalitions and independent candidates.

Tunisia's electoral law does not allow opinion polls but two of the strongest contenders in this year’s legislative elections are the Islamist Ennahda Movement, which emerged as the winner of the 2011 election; and Nidaa Tounes, founded in 2012 and led by 86-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi, who served under the previous autocratic regimes of Habib Bourguiba and Zine el-Abidin Ben Ali.

Tunisia's proportional representation system means that it is very unlikely for one party to win an overall majority. As a result, post-electoral coalitions will be fundamental in determining the outlook of the future government.

Polling stations opened at 7am and will close at 6pm. More than 5 million registered voters are eligible to cast their votes.

Mark Green, the director of the International Republican Institute which deployed a team of election observers throughout Tunisia, shared this photograph at a polling station in the capital Tunis:

Turn out differed from one polling station to another. Chafik Sarsar, head of the independent commission overseeing the elections described the turnout as ‘encouraging'.

Tunis-based independent journalist Elodie Auffray shared turnout rates at a number of polling stations she visited:

Polling center in Borj Louzir, not a single line, but as of midday 310 from the 520 registered voters in one bureau did cast their votes

In this voting center near Grmbalia, 206 of the 818 registered voters did vote as of 9:45am

Blogger Karim Benabdallah tweeted a photograph of his inked finger:

Done, after less than an hour of queuing compared to six hours in 2011

Voter turnout is expected to be lower this year compared to 2011 due to the popular dissatisfaction with the performance of the political class during the past three years. In 2011, Tunisians elected a National Constituent Assembly for a one year term to draft a constitution. But the assembly's activities lasted three years and a political crisis rocked the country in 2013 after the assassination of two political opponents to the previous Ennahdha-led government. In addition, the interim authorities’ lack of response to urgent socioeconomic demands disillusioned a number of Tunisians.

Vanessa Szakal from Nawaat which spoke to protesters, who on October 23 staged a protest calling for a boycott of the elections, wrote:

Many evoke a disinterest in elections given the economic crisis and security issues that have only exacerbated over the course of the past several years. Promises made during the 2011 elections initially inspired very high hopes but have since been the source of extreme disappointment. The bipolarization of the electoral process, essentially based upon the notion of strategic voting, and the struggle against terrorism do not help the silent majority to decide whether or not to vote. In the almost complete absence of economic and political programs, it is difficult to differentiate between the hundreds of electoral candidates.

Yet some, could not hide their excitement.

Tunis-based journalist Asma Ghribi tweeted:

Some hinted that the world should forget a little bit about the self-proclaimed Islamic State and pay more attention to the ongoing democratic process in Tunisia:

Others hailed Tunisia's relatively peaceful and smooth political transition in comparison to other countries in the region:

by Afef Abrougui at October 26, 2014 02:00 PM

October 25, 2014

Lawrence Lessig
Friends at The Nantucket Project remixed my talk to produce this…

Friends at The Nantucket Project remixed my talk to produce this beautiful 6 minute video, and Time is spreading it broadly. Let this be dedicated to the kids from Hong Kong who are reminding us all about the ideals of democracy. 

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 25, 2014 08:20 PM

Re Upton: It just gets curiouser and curiouser!

The campaign team released the following fact-check on the Upton campaign’s continued response…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at October 25, 2014 08:02 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
9 Best Practices for Diverse Inclusion and Cooperation in Open Communities

How can open source and participatory communities like Mozilla support diverse inclusion? Here at the Community Building Track at the Mozilla Festival, an international group of organizers convened to discuss ways to cooperate effectively across gender, age, accessibility, and cultural differences. It's part of a larger initiative here at the MozillaFestival to create a community building handbook for open communities.

The session was facilitated by Beatrice Martini, Katelyn Rogers, Flore Allemandou, J. Nathan Matias, Deb Soumya, Alifiyah Ganijee, Leo McArdle, Ibrahima Sarr, and Cynthia Ng. These notes were created by me and Katelyn Rogers.

In the session, we broke into groups, identifying best practices for diversity and suggesting actions that we could take next.

9 Best Practices for Inclusive Communities

Codes of Conduc are a baseline practice for ensuring that disrespectful conduct is not acceptable at any level of participation. Although they're often discussed in relation to gender diversity, they should also account for age and accessibility guidelines. Here are a few examples of Codes of Conduct that we could find: Allied Media, Ashe Dryden, Hacker School.

Diverse Mentorship and role models offer welcoming support to people who are less well represented within a community. Ensuring diversity among speakers and leaders in our communities is an important step, and it's important to.

 

One way to avoid tokenism is to partner with other communities to create trust and working relationships across culturally diverse groups over time.

Offer facilitation training to people within your community, supporting them to develop practices and instincts of listening, respect and inclusion. Training often helps people overcome instincts (like speaking too fast, too much, or interrupting others) that might other be dis-inclusive.

Great events welcome families and offer childcare to support parent involvement, and to support families to learn and create things together. When parents learn and create technology together with their children, fears and concerns about young people's technology interests can be overcome. Childcare opens participation to carers who might otherwise be excluded from in-person events.

 

Broaden your outreach by asking participants to suggest other people who don't look them, and then ask those people the same question.

Organize socializing events that are broadly inclusive. In some cases, this might involve providing space for non-drinkers. Other organizers build socializing time into the official event schedule, since some people (like parents) need to leave after business hours.

Funders and leaders should include diversity as a funded component of every project, since outreach and inclusion cost money.

Inclusion takes time; successful initiatives and partnerships across demographic and cultural diversity take time to build trust and working relationships over multiple gatherings.

Join the Conversation!

In this session, we also collected a large number of actions to take in this space, ideas that will evolve as we work together on the Community Building Handbook here at the Community Track at MozFest. We'll be here all weekend (see the schedule), join us or tweet any of the organizers!

by natematias at October 25, 2014 12:56 PM

Global Voices
3 Online Initiatives to Boost Voters’ Involvement in Tunisia's 2014 Elections
Tunis, Tunisia. 22nd October 2014 -- Images of those killed and wounded in the Tunisian revolution are held up at a protest over the light sentences handed out to suspects accused of killing protesters outside the interior ministry in Tunis. -- Ahead of the Tunisian election, relatives of those who died or were injured in the revolution rallied outside the interior ministry in Tunis to protest the light sentences handed out to suspects accused of killing protesters. Copyright: Demotix

Tunis, Tunisia. 22 October 2014 — Images of those killed and wounded in the Tunisian revolution are held up at a protest over the light sentences handed out to suspects accused of killing protesters outside the interior ministry in Tunis. — Ahead of the Tunisian election, relatives of those who died or were injured in the revolution rallied outside the interior ministry in Tunis to protest the light sentences handed out to suspects accused of killing protesters. Copyright: Demotix

Tunisians are encouraged to vote in the country's parliamentary elections this Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014.

While voting turnout in 2011 was less than 45 per cent, civil society organisations have joined forces to launch new initiatives aimed at encouraging citizens to take part in the elections.

Tunisians now have access to material online to choose from the myriad of political parties and candidates taking part in the elections. They are also able to verify the candidates’ messages and even report on corruption and abuse.

Ikhtiar Tounes (Arabic/French)

Ikhtiar Tounes, which translates to Tunisia's Choice from Arabic, is a platform that compares voters’ opinions and answers on certain political and economic issues in Tunisia with several parties’ proposed solutions and programs. The end result is a comparability rate between the user's views and those of different parties registered on the platform.

Birrasmi.tn (French)

“Birrasmi” is a casual expression in Tunisia. It means “really?”

This platform verifies proposed solutions or recent statements made by political parties with sourced facts. The platform then assigns a credibility badge ranging from “totally true” i.e. feasible to “totally false” i.e. impossible to achieve.

Billkamcha.tn (Arabic)

Billkamcha is an anti-corruption platform where citizens can report administrative corruption in the country through several means of communication with the platform.

Several other organizations such as I-Watch or Mourakiboun have been working closely on monitoring the organizations of the elections, and transgressions have been noted. Some include signature buy-outs from citizens and/or data theft. Some candidates for the presidential elections have been involved in this scandal without further investigations or procession to trial.

List of organizations monitoring Tunisia 2014 Elections

List of organizations monitoring Tunisia 2014 Elections

Some voters today reported that their names are missing where they thought they were registered to vote. Others were registered in two bureaus.

To follow a live citizen coverage of the elections, you can follow the hashtag #TnElec2014. The National Public Television has also set an interactive digital map (Arabic) where results will be gradually reported in the upcoming days after the votes have been counted.

Tunisia will be holding its presidential elections next month on November 23.

by Ahmed Medien at October 25, 2014 12:05 PM

October 24, 2014

Global Voices
Hitting Below the Belt? Trinidad & Tobago President Tries to Gag Comedian Over Jokes About First Lady
Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona, speaking at the International Criminal Court's  Judicial Candidates Forum in New York in 2011. Photo by Coalition for the ICC; used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona, speaking at the International Criminal Court's Judicial Candidates Forum in New York in 2011. Photo by Coalition for the ICC; used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Trinidad and Tobago netizens did a virtual facepalm this week when it was revealed via a tweet from a journalist that the country's president, Anthony Carmona, had issued a legal letter intended to bar local entertainer Rachel Price from making fun of the first lady's fashion sense.

As of yesterday, Price said she still had not received the letter, but was prepared to come out guns blazing once she did.

Her Excellency Reema Carmona was roundly criticised by many for her choice of outfit at the Fashion for Development event last month, during the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The selection of a thick tan belt worn over a black dress gave the illusion – at least in photographs – of a bare midriff. Many thought it inappropriate for an event which the first lady attended in her official capacity, and some still maintain that there was no belt at all.

Trinidad and Tobago is a country reputed for its picong — satirical banter that is not only part of every Trinbagonian's arsenal of repartee, but which has historically been the foundation of countless calypsoes that provide critical social commentary. In this context, the president's move came as a surprise and opened the head of state up to even more criticism.

In his inaugural speech, Carmona famously made the point that the Office of the President “is not impotent”:

I do want to emphasise [...] that I am not an Executive President. Under the Westminster form of governance, there are parameters within which I must operate. Powers you think I have… I do not. Powers you think I do not have… I do.

The speech made waves; people hoped to see less rubberstamping and more action when it came to matters of public concern. Rachel Price's jabs seemed trivial in comparison to pressing national issues, and netizens said as much via memes and on Twitter. The focus quickly shifted from the first lady's wardrobe…

reems

…to the president's defense of her:

president powers

Other Twitter users couldn't understand why Price was singled out, considering that so many — both on social and in mainstream media — were talking about it:

Some suggested the move was an attack on freedom of speech:

There were those who stood firmly in defense of the first lady and her right to wear whatever she chooses. Fashion designer Robert Young thought the reaction to Mrs. Carmona's outfit was “sexist and filled with internalized colonialism.” He made the point that fashion is a cultural phenomenon, saying, “Bellies are shown all over the world. The late Indira Gandhi must have shown her's.” (sic)

From the president's perspective, the issue is that his office considers Price's statements — though it isn't clear which ones — defamatory. Price has reportedly been promoting a comedy show at which she promises to target the first lady's attire, but it is not known if the letter refers to this or other comments. Public relations expert Dennise Demming felt that the president's response to Price was a bit like “using a hatchet where a scalpel is needed”, saying that he has only succeeded in “dignify[ing] poor humour and improv[ing] her popularity.”

It is also being debated whether the Office of the President should even be party to the legal action, since defamation cases can only involve individuals. At an address he gave at the 2014 Presentation of Graduates at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, the president likened Price's comments to cyber-bullying, telling graduates that social media websites had degenerated from “performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals” to “a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”

In response to this, and the president's insistence that people should “maintain respect” for his office, Facebook user Colin Robinson said:

I real tired of all this shit about office and reputation. Go and do some real work and get a reputation! Dignity of which office? Any office in Trinidad and Tobago have any dignity? We taking way people dignity every day in Magistrates Court, and police shooting them dead, and Kamla [Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister] and all of them could fock all who they want but they keeping laws against bulling on the books, and Wayne Kublalsingh is a reptile [...] And you want to preserve the dignity of you office??? And is not even like I feel Rachel Price right to spend so much time ponging a next woman for wearing a dress. Reema and she belly could wear whatever the kissmearse she want. But when you in public office you must take picong and pong and grin and wave. Else do not stand up next to Mrs. Ban on my tax dollar.

At Wired868, a site known for its political satire, Mr. Live Wire was all over the issue like fabric draped over a mannequin:

The late President ANR Robinson often challenged a sitting Prime Minister on matters that he felt ran contrary to the spirit of the constitution and abused the trust of the nation.

The current President is more like the dude who goes to a fete with his lady half-dressed and then wants to fight anyone he catches looking.

Some Facebook users thought the whole affair was a case of — as Trinidadians say — “do so don't like so”, reminding netizens of a similar lawsuit that was filed 11 years ago. On that occasion, Price was the one issuing the legal letter to radio talk show host Ricardo “Gladiator” Welch for libel and slander. Welch counter-sued and Price eventually dropped the lawsuit.

This time, it appears that Price isn't backing down. She commented on her radio show:

This is a democracy and if I can’t talk about the President’s wife belly that was in meh eye, then something very wrong…Yuh damn right, I doh know meh place. But I know meh citizenship. I mightn’t know meh place but yuh know meh home. This is Trinidad and Tobago.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at October 24, 2014 06:28 PM

How Chinese President Xi Jinping and His Yellow Umbrella Became a Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protest Meme
Xi confronted with Riot Police in Mongkok. Image via Arm Channel in Facebook.

Chinese President Xi Jinping photoshopped into a scene of protesters confronting riot police in Mongkok. Image via Arm Channel in Facebook.

Photoshopped images of Chinese President Xi Jinping holding an umbrella at various pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are the latest political memes to go viral on social media. 

It started with Chinese state media's announcement that a photo of Xi visiting Hubei Province won the country’s top photojournalism prize. He was holding an umbrella and talking to some engineers in the rain. His pants were rolled up to prevent them from getting wet:

The photo, which is rather typical of mainland Chinese political propaganda to push a grassroots image of their leaders, quickly caught the attention of Hong Kong netizens. They remixed the photo, placing Xi and his yellow umbrella against the background of protest sites in Hong Kong, where people have gathered to demand
an open nomination system for chief executive candidates instead of the largely pro-Beijing nominating committed insisted upon by the mainland.

President Xi joined the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. Image created by Andy Sum.

President Xi on the cover of Time magazine. Image created by Andy Sum.

Mainland Chinese media outlets are accusing the recent protests, called Occupy Central by local media or the Umbrella Revolution by foreign media, of being as color revolution that seeks to undermine the central government's authority, a serious charge. The political memes of Xi holding an umbrella — the symbol of the protest — have been a source of comic relief given the tense political atmosphere.

A photoshopped image of American magazine Time's cover showing Xi holding an umbrella in tear gas was reposted by 100most, a popular cultural magazine on Facebook, and attracted more than 10,000 likes and 800 shares. Ivan Wong commented with sarcasm:

習總果然是我們的父母官啊,「一把遮、一個眼神、一邊摺褲」落區聽民意的習總為689作親身示範。

President Xi is such a parent-like leader: He demonstrated to 689 [refers to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying who won only 689 votes from the 1,200-member election committee in 2012] how to mingle with local communities and listen to people's opinion with “an umbrella, a sincere-looking glimpse and a cuffed pant”.

The meme below shows Xi edited into a scene at Admiralty, the key Occupy Central sit-in site in central Hong Kong:

Xi in Admiralty protest site. Image source: Leung Pak Kin via  Facebook 100most.

Chinese President Xi edited into the Admiralty protest site. Image source: Leung Pak Kin via Facebook 100most.

Surprisingly, Patrick Li reported that the meme has survived so far for more than 24 hours on WeChat, China's popular messaging and calling app, without being censored.

The Xi umbrella meme confronting riot police at the Mongkok protest site is perhaps the most dramatic as Mongkok is a heavily crowded, diverse working-class commercial district where violent conflicts have broken out almost every day since the sit-in began on September 28 between police officers and protesters, as well as between pro-Beijing groups and pro-democracy protesters.

Despite several police attempts to clear the area, resilient protesters in Mongkok have non-violently reclaimed the streets. The protest site in Mongkok generally sees a more grassroots participation from lower- to middle-class background, while college students, teachers and professionals frequent Admiralty.

Netizen Stephanie Lai believed if China's top leaders were really willing to stand with the grassroots communities like the image of Xi in Mongkok, people in Hong Kong would embrace reunification with China.

Xi at the top of Lion Rock. Via Tang Earthquake's Facebook

Xi at the top of Lion Rock. Via Tang Earthquake's Facebook

The most up-to-date meme is Xi at the top of Lion Rock in Hong Kong. The Lion Rock Hill has been a symbol of the hardworking spirit of the Hong Kong grassroots because of a popular TV drama in 1970s.

In a recent interview with New York Times, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying argued that the government would not accept that idea of citizen nomination of candidates because the poor and working classes would dominate the elections. In response to his comment, a group of hikers decided to occupy the Lion Rock Hill by hanging a large banner that says “I want true universal suffrage” on October 23.

The political memes not only help the symbol of the Umbrella Revolution to travel further, but they also serve as a reminder of the role China has to play in the future of Hong Kong. President Xi keeps expressing his concern for the common people. Does that concern extend to the democratic wishes of Hong Kong's people?

by Ellie Ng at October 24, 2014 03:51 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Algorithms & Data-driven Storytelling Panel at the Computation + Journalism Symposium at Columbia

I'm at the 2014 Computation + Journalism symposium at Columbia University. Here's a quick intro to what we are talking about:

"Data and computation drive our world, often without any kind of critical assessment or accountability. 
Journalism is adapting responsibly—finding and creating new kinds of stories that respond directly to 
our new societal condition. We are excited that you can join us for a two-day conference exploring the 
interface between journalism and computing." (Symposium program)
 
Here is a live blog account from the first panel which consisted of three papers about Algorithms and Data-Driven Storytelling.

The Story Discovery Engine: Artificial Intelligence for Public Affairs Reporting

Meredith Broussard, Assistant Professor, Temple University

 

She shows a slide of Data from Star Trek. There is no such thing as Commander Data. Most of what we know of AI comes from the movies. What's real about AI is what we can make with code, algorithms and data.

It's hard as a reporter to come up with original story ideas. She was a reporter and wanted to move into educaion reporting. She had reported in a number of areas and wanted to write a story about textbooks but didn't have the sources. She wanted to talk with people at best schools, worst schools but didn't know where to start. She built some software to solve her reporting problem.

She also got a tip from a source who said that you could send your kid to a reputable school as long as you did fundraising for books. She wanted to see if there was a relationship between book shortages and the fact that students haven't been able to pass standardized tests in Philly public schools.

 

She shows a slide of the education system as a funnel. Standards like the Common Core lead to Scope & Sequence at the local level. This is a document that teachers read that should correspond to standards and helps teachers know what the students should know at different points in the school year. Then Branded Curriculum goes along with these. The top three companies have a 35% market share for educational materials.

 

So she still wanted to write a story about the education system. She built something based on a concept from AI called an "expert system". The idea is that you can ask a box advice and the box gives you answers as good as human ones. This idea fell out of favor because human intelligence so far supersedes black boxes based on code. She revived this idea and instead of having advice coming out of the box, she made it so that data visualizations came out of the box. It's a story discovery engine that a reporter can use to discover a story around public affairs. Could be used for education, public affairs or other topic area. Any area where you have a set of well-defined rules and way of operating.

A reporter is good at looking at what should be versus what is. In this case, the rules are articulating in laws and policies so that's why it works well for public affairs. Her prototype can be found at stackedup.org and the code is free on github.com. The site has a couple different components. She wrote 7 stories that were published in various places, most recently on the Atlantic's site. The "Reporting Tool" column helps you discover the stories. You can see how much textbooks cost for all of the schools or one of the schools. It shows that, for example, for a single textbook a school district would need to spend almost $9,000 in order purchase the needed books. You can also see whether a particular school that is missing the required textbooks is underperforming on standardized tests in comparison to the rest of the school district. You can see both that there are not enough books and that the school is not performing well. She is suggesting that these things are related. The tool addresses 241 schools and every grade in that data set.

She discusses the impact of her stories and her tool. There was a lot of media attention and one of the administrators responsible for book shortages were fired. It turns out money for textbooks had gone missing. Another senior administrator also left. In the process of this, the school district discovered a secondary problem with financing textbooks and has taken steps to remedy it.

She thinks of this project as using Big Data for social justice. She worked with three developers over six months to build this. They built it in a way that can be applied to any school district in the country.

Questions from the audience:

Q. You stated in your article that the school's inventory data turned out to be missing. what is the impact of that when the data is wrong?

A. One of the things that is fascinating about data-driven work is when you explore the places where the data is missing.

Q. A lot of time legislation is written in a way that doesn't easily lend itself to code, how did you deal with that?

 

A. There is not a strict translation of legislation into code. I had to take apart the legislation itself and rewrite the rules. That's a human intervention. It's not scalable but it's necessary.

Transparency and Interactivity in Data-Driven Rankings

Nick Diakopoulos, University of Maryland

Stephen Cass, IEEE Spectrum

Joshua Romero, IEEE Spectrum

 

Nick Diakopoulos wants to share his research around rankings and creating ways to share rankings more interactively and transparently with the public. A new ranking came out earlier this month. LinkedIn analyzed millions of users on the platform. It looked at rankings for media professionals and showed that New York University, Hofstra and Duke were the top three. US News and World Report ranks these places usually much lower. This is surprising. Rankings are a mystery. We don't really know what is driving the ranking behind these things.

 

US News & World Report does publish the criteria and their weighting, but LinkedIn publishes a blog post. They say they analyze people who end up in "desirable companies". It's difficult to understand that and then compare to US News & World Report. They started working with IEEE (largest professional org for electronics and electrical engineers) to rank the top programming languages.

IEEE & Nick ranked the top 10 programming languages. Java is at the top and the list includes Python, Javascript, PHP, Ruby, R and C. They had a multitude of criteria, including what is most widely used, what is trending, what platforms the language works on. Their task was to open up these rankings and provide insight into how they ranked these things. Users could drill down into a ranking and see that Google, Github, and other sites were driving that technology's particular ranking. Users could create their own rankings and compare those to how the IEEE-defined system ranked languages.

They wanted users to be able to understand through creating their own rankings.

 

What was the response from the public to this report?

 

A couple thousands tweets and likes and a couple hundred comments. 1285 tweets translated to 884 original tweets. Many of those were in the editing interface. 127 of those were people who had gone in and tweaked the rankings in various ways. 6 of them had tweet text that referred to how they had edited the rankings. The team did not have in-app metrics to assess engagement.

 

Comments on the app were interesting. People were critiquing the editorial decisions the team made. Why is a language missing? Why is SQL a programming language? People pointed out things that were missing, definitions, classifications and methodology among other things.

Take Aways

Only 16% of tweets interacted deeply with the editing/filtering capability. This raises the question as to how much transparency in ranking systems really necessary? When do people care enough to step in and trying to know more about the behind the scenes.

 

He takes the other points as design criticism and is reflecting on the editorial decisions they made.

 

The edge cases provide an opportunity for co-constructing meaning with the users of the visualization.

Regulatory Breakdowns in Oversight of U.S. Stockbrokers

Rob Barry, Wall Street Journal with Jean Eaglesham

 

Rob leads by talking about a real-world process of gathering data and turning that into stories, including some of the hurdles and analytical problems. For him, the most difficult part was obtaining the information.

There are 634,000 people who are licensed traders. FINRA is one of the financial industry regulators. Many of us might think the job of a trader would be done by etrade today. It's interesting that there are still hundreds of thousands of people who call people up and try to get them to buy securities. Those traders fall under an opaque regulatory regime. FINRA used to be the NASD and then merged with the NY Stock exchange. It's made up of the traders AND regulates the traders. It's a non-governmental entity so there is no way to request information from them. So if you want to know a list of traders that have criminal pasts, you can't get that.

But, for every stock broker, FINRA puts up a dossier of their histories. They forbid you from "scraping" the data and you can't get the data by asking. So their question was how could they get that data? The data is actually stored in a state repository called the Central Registration Depository. Every state has jurisdiction over the individual brokers in that state.

However, every state told them they didn't have access to that data. Rob's team had to actually work with them individually and tell them how to navigate the interface of the software, which buttons to click on and where the data lived. He shows a completely incorrect letter from the Attorney General of New York that states that the state doesn't have the data they were requesting. Rob shows how just prior to that letter, the state of NY had made exactly the opposite case in a court case.

 

They got CD discs from all the states and he shows a photo of all of those disks. The data came in all of the different formats - XML, CSV, Access, Excel. They got 110 million rows of data in total. They had to consolidate the data into a single database they could query. They had to eliminate duplicates. They got around 550,000 individuals identified from the overall field of 630,000 that they knew existed.

They were interested in the "disclosures" like criminal record, bankruptcy, customer complaints  and liens. For the first time, they were able to see who the people are. 13% of people had at least one red flag. Three or more red flags - 2% or 10,000 - fit that category. A couple hundred even have more than 10 red flags in their history.

One of the things they did was follow the brokers as they traveled from firm to firm. A lot of them were located in Long Island. A number of individuals from one firm all moved to another firm at the same time. They also cross-referenced all 550K individuals with public records databases. They found a pattern of "cockroaching", meaning brokers scuttling from firm to firm. They also showed how individuals dodged arbitration claims by closing up shop. They saw this pattern in the data.

Rob is interested in this because of the lack of disclosure. He sees data journalism as a way of going around this lack of disclosure to get at information that should be public.

 

Questions from the Audience

Q: What lessons learned came out of this practice? Repeatability and scalability are mantras of computation. Is there something you could share around how to repeat and scale this kind of work?

 

A: I'd be embarrassed to share the code with you guys. We are looking to make more information available in the coming weeks. The process of asking for the information. There are tools for filing FOIAs but that stuff needs a lot of work. Dealing with government in bulk is hard.

 

Q: Paul Resnick asks if you had all the computer scientists in the room, what would you have done differently?

 

A: Rob would like to have more sophisticated data analysis techniques at his disposal. He doesn't know the acronyms like 'LDA'. He wishes more CS people could work in newsrooms but the pay won't work.

 

Q: Are you making the data available? How could people re-use this?

A: The question of reuse is really hard. Internally it's hard to even tell your colleagues. Sharing externally - we want to be very careful with public records. We are going to make more data available but it's not a decision that I have the jurisdiction to make.

 

 

by kanarinka at October 24, 2014 03:45 PM

Global Voices
Ideological Divides Run Deep in Brazil Ahead of Presidential Runoff

On one side, fear of communism. On the other, fear of fascism. Will the two groups ever make peace? Image by flickr users Ninja Mídia and Aécio Neves. CC BY 2.0

On one side, fear of communism. On the other, fear of fascism. Will the two groups ever make peace? Image by Flickr users Ninja Mídia and Aécio Neves. CC BY 2.0

Within only a few days until the presidential election runoff, emotions are running high among Brazilian voters. Countless rallies supporting both candidates — Aécio Neves, from the center-right Brazilian Social-Democratic Party (PSDB), and incumbent Dilma Roussef, from the center-left Workers’ Party — have taken over Brazil’s major cities in the past weeks. 

But some believe the tone of political discourse has taken a hateful turn in the streets and especially on social media, with campaigns bullying rather than debating ideas.

On one side, Neves supporters at rallies hold signs against corruption and express their fear that Brazil is headed toward a Bolivarian dictatorship, “like Venezuela”, they say. On the other, Rousseff's supporters talk of losing Brazil's hard-earned social policies and regressing to the hardship of the 1990s, when PSDB was in charge. The more one side salutes the national flag, the more the other raises the red one. As Brazil approaches its seventh direct elections since it became a democracy, will these two ideological groups ever reconcile?

Just yesterday, in downtown São Paulo some Neves and Rousseff supporters clashed after both groups ran onto each other by chance. And on Tuesday, at São Paulo's PUC University opponents threw coins, cigarettes, plastic cups and other objects at protesters supporting Roussef’s reelection. In a YouTube video, a student is shown saying “the university is not a place for political campaigns” – despite wearing a sticker in support of Aécio Neves’ candidacy.

A first-time presidential candidate and former governor of Brazil’s second most populous state, Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves has tapped a sector of Brazilian society unsatisfied with the Workers’ Party government, who's been in power since 2003. Historically, the Social-Democractic Party has represented conservative sectors of Brazilian's middle and upper classes, as opposed to the Workers’ Party, which had its genesis in the working class. 

Poverty, race and privilege

The kind of voter that each party attracts has not only been a cause for much debate, but also ammunition for the campaigns to influence people’s choice. 

After the first round, when incumbent Dilma Rousseff finished with 42 percent of the votes, ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), who governed with the Social-Democratic Party and now is a vocal Neves’ supporter, gave an interview to news website UOL saying Rousseff did well in far-flung cities and poor regions because its populations were “less informed”. Some believe this encouraged the xenophobic rants against Brazil’s northerners that followed the first round.

Another ex-president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who supports Rousseff, echoed a local community leader's controversial declaration about a potential Neves’ win on Twitter:

“A PSDB government means the genocide of the black youth population”, Elaine, representative of the outskirts cultural movement. #OutskirtsWithDilma

A young black man responded:

I'm black and I vote for Aécio, stop trying to divide Brazilians by color or income, we are all # 45 [PSDB's voting number]

The idea that the poor vote for Rousseff and the powerful and rich vote for Neves has been largely exploited by the Workers’ Party campaign. Earlier this week, they dug up an old interview that Neves gave to a local New Jersey newspaper in 1977, when he was a 17-year-old exchange student in the United States. Under the title “A teen’s life in Rio not much different”, he talked about his life in his home country, saying things like “In Brazil, everyone has two maids, one for cleaning and one for cooking”, or “I have never made my own bed”, statements that the Workers’ Party have used to portray him as an elitist “daddy’s boy”, distant to the reality of most Brazilians. 

Candidate Aécio Neves was featured at a US newspaper when he was 17 years old; what he said back then has been used by PT to portray him as a "daddy's boy". Image: Brasil247

Candidate Aécio Neves was featured in a US newspaper when he was 17 years old; his rather classist testimony has been used by the Worker's Party to portray him as a “daddy's boy”. Image: Brasil247

Is that portrayal so far off? Though he is a vehement supporter of meritocracy, his first job at 19 years old was as an adviser to his own father, who was a federal deputy in the 1970s, and he owes much of his political career to his family. His supporters certainly don't help that negative image: on Thursday, pro-Neves activists joined a rally in São Paulo that The Economist called the “cashmere revolution”. The march took place at Avenida Faria Lima, a major financial hub in the city, and most of its attendees were wearing suits and pashminas, and carrying pricey iPhones. According to the magazine, “the only thing missing was the champagne flutes.”

‘How unpleasant is all this generalization that people are doing?’

In a much shared TV Folha video, featuring activists from both sides, his supporters openly displayed their aversion towards the Workers’ Party. One woman says, “If it were up to me, there would be a military intervention”, while others worship the police. Another girl says she believes the Workers’ Party is the one who creates this hateful environment and that “they’re trying to segregate us, to pit us against each other.”

Rousseff supporters, however, believe the hate is actually directed at them, and mainstream media is to blame. For TV presenters and vloggers PC Siqueira and Diego Quinteiro, media has a crucial role in making people misunderstand left-wing positions. They created a video called #DesçaDoMuro, or “Get out of the middle”, calling on people to openly profess their political opinions even if they seem radical. “And please, don’t start telling us to go to Cuba or North Korea. Listen to what we have to say”, they insist.

Others still call for a more moderate tone, believing that “choosing a team” is harmful. Journalist Gustavo Foster posted on his Facebook:

Como é desagradável essa generalização que muita gente faz. De um lado, “quem estuda não vota na Dilma”; do outro, vídeo engraçadinho tirando eleitor do Aécio para clone da Rachel Sheherazade com deficiência mental. A gente sabe que não é assim. Isso é uma das coisas mais despolitizantes que se pode fazer. Um desserviço à ainda recente e capenga democracia brasileira.

How unpleasant is all this generalization that people are doing? On one side, “people who study don't vote for Dilma”; on the other, funny videos characterizing Aécio's voters as clones of [conservative TV presenter] Rachel Sheherazade. We know it's not like that. This is one of the most depoliticizing things that a person can do. A real disservice to our still recent and broken democracy. 

Humorist website Cocadaboa's founder Wagner Martins also proposed a more good-natured debate:

Desafio eleitores do Aécio fazerem um elogio ao governo Dilma.  Desafio eleitores da Dilma a falarem uma coisa que seria boa em um governo do Aécio. Vamos ver qual dos dois lados é mais gentil, civilizado e ponderável. E quem são os extremistas. E quem vai se abster. Comentem aí.

I challenge Aécio's voters to make a compliment about Dilma's government. And I challenge Dilma's to say something positive about Aécio's possible government. Let's see which side is more polite, civilized and flexible. And who are the extremists. And who won't say anything. Start commenting.

But his challenge was to absolutely no avail, with most commenters responding with sarcasm, such as “I like when PT steals, I’m pro-corruption”, or “A Neves government will make the shareholders of the company I work for happier”. Perhaps the widely shared @thaisss self-deprecating tweet sums up how many Brazilians feel at the moment:

Everyone who's lost family and friends because of the elections, let's spend Christmas together

by Taisa Sganzerla at October 24, 2014 03:32 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
Global Voices
There's an Island Made of Toxic Trash Rising Out of the Sea in the Maldives
Thilafushi, this is where they burn the garbage in paradise. Image from Flickr by Hani Amir. CC BY-NC-ND

Thilafushi Kuni Gondu - This is where they burn the garbage in paradise. Image from Flickr by Hani Amir. CC BY-NC-ND

Each year, approximately one million tourists visit the island nation Maldives for its sunny warm weather and stunning natural beauty.

But there's an ugly consequence of all those visitors, along with the Maldives’ own 395,000 residents: the combined trash accumulated is a headache for the small country.

To deal with the problem, the government decided in December 1991 to use a separate island as the final destination for the huge amount of waste produced by the tourism industry. Thilafushi, nicknamed ‘Rubbish Island', originally was a lagoon called ‘Thilafalhu’ with a length of 7 kilometres and a width of 200 metres at the shallowest regions. Huge pits were dug, and waste was deposited into the middle of the pit, which was topped off with a layer of construction debris and then uniformly levelled with white sand.

An average of 330 tonnes of rubbish are brought to Thilafushi every day, most of which are from Malé. At one point, more than 31,000 truckloads of garbage were being transported to Thilafushi annually. Open-air burning of garbage is also practiced here.

Today, Thilafushi has a landmass of more than 0.43 km2, which is leased to industrial activities such as boat manufacturing, cement packing, methane gas bottling and various large-scale warehousing.

The blog of environmental organisation Bluepeace wrote that used batteries, asbestos, lead and other potentially hazardous waste mixed with the municipal solid wastes in Thilafushi island are seeping into the water and creating serious ecological and health problems in the Maldives. However, the concerns have never materialized into a campaign by local activists.

Mordy at collaborative travel project Atlas Obscura described the problem:

Commercial activity along with indiscriminate dumping has brought an abundance of toxic materials to the lagoon – broken oil drums, asbestos, lead, and other noxious metals mix in with daily household garbage items creating a noxious sludge. There is little around the island that goes unpolluted as harmful substances seep into the water and smoke from burning waste floods the air.

Thilafushi island - where garbage just seeps into the ocean as the poisonous tides and toxic winds will. Image fro Flickr by Hani Amir. CC BY-NC-ND

Thilafushi island – where garbage seeps into the ocean. Image from Flickr by Hani Amir. CC BY-NC-ND

Filmmaker Alison Teal has made a documentary about her time in the Maldives as a part of her online film series Alison's Adventures. Some remarkable photos of Alison’s trip to the garbage island can be found here.

The government temporarily banned rubbish dumping on the island in December 2011 after a surge in waste floating in the island's lagoon and drifting out to sea. But still now all the garbage from Malé ends up there.

Alibeyya, a commenter on an article on local news site Minivan, pointed to the crux of the problem:

The delicate environment of Maldives is in need of a responsible waste management system. It is a big challenge given the geographical situation where each island including resorts must manage its own waste. [..] The resorts should be able to contain to get rid of their waste without having to dump to Thialfushi lagoon.

In early 2013 there were reports that Maldives’ waste management is being hampered by local politics and lack of funding. Amidst local reports of illegal dumping of wastes in Thilafushi, there was huge confusion over the responsibility for the management of garbage dumping. The Thilafushi management was transferred to the Malé City Council (MCC) in 2010 and a contract was signed in 2011 with the Indian-based company Tatva Global Renewable Energy to rehabilitate the island and manage the garbage problem.

But the deal never was implemented due to bureaucracy and political interference and recently it was cancelled, making the future of Thilafushi uncertain.

Abdullah Faraz writes in an opinion piece in Minivan News:

The first point to note is that underneath all the political rhetoric and maneuvering lies a real issue that affects many lives – the public health hazard, teachers and students being hospitalised, closing of schools, the smoke, the stench etc.

The public has a right to feel disaffected by this crisis, and is indignant and up in arms with good cause.

The second point to note is though this is a manufactured crisis; there is no inherent direction to which this raw emotional energy of the public may flow.

What is for certain: a new jail soon is set to be opened on Thilafushi island next month.

Additional input by Saffah Faroog

by Rezwan at October 24, 2014 11:32 AM

Joi Ito
Why I joined PureTech


When I became the director of the MIT Media Lab three years ago, my previous primary "occupation" was investing in and advising startup companies. I invested in mostly Internet-related software and service companies (e.g., Twitter, Flickr, Kickstarter). Joining the Media Lab and MIT was bit of a "pivot"-academia was a fundamentally different model for impacting the world, focused more on fundamental science and technology that wasn't as easily commercialized.

In order to focus on the Media Lab after joining, I decided I would stop investing in startup companies. (I invested in Media Lab alumni companies, Littlebits and Form Labs, before I officially started at the Lab.) As I immersed myself in learning about the Lab and MIT, I continued to learn and think about how different types of science and technology made their way into the world. In particular, I was intrigued by how biomedical research, which has a major impact on human health, seemed to have an extremely different profile, requiring a great deal of upfront investment. I knew very little about biomedical research but was very interested.

Even before I arrived at MIT, I had heard about Bob Langer. He is famous for his impact on commercializing biomedical research, and for helping to substantially advance the field of bioengineering. He has 1,050 patents and a group of dozens of researchers. Bob is one of the 11 Institute Professors at MIT who are recognized by the Institute for their outstanding contributions and who report directly to the provost and not a dean.

Last June, David L. Lucchino, a former student of Bob's who had run a startup coming out of Bob's lab, invited me to my first Red Sox game together with Bob Langer and a few of his friends. I got to sit next to Bob and he offered to teach me about his field and show me how to do things at MIT. Since then, Bob has become a true mentor and now has an affiliation at the Media Lab, working with the Center for Extreme Bionics, an Institute-wide initiative based at the Media Lab to work on a wide variety of technologies focused on eliminating human disabilities.

Recently Bob told me about a related project that he has been working on as a co-founder and senior partner at a company called PureTech. PureTech focuses on taking science and engineering, primarily in the healthcare area, and developing innovative products and companies. It provides a base for researchers and funds the early development of both the technologies and the companies.

A team of senior partners, researchers, and entrepreneurs is currently working on 11 projects at various stages of development. The company is run by Daphne Zohar, its founder and CEO. On the surface, it looks like an incubator, but it really is a new model in many ways. There is actual translational research going on within PureTech, where the PureTech team is actively both acting as founders and also operating labs and running experiments.

Bob told me that more and more of the PureTech companies had software and Internet elements, and that they were looking for more expertise in that area on the board. This sounded like the perfect opportunity for me-participating in conversations about healthcare, bioengineering and biomedical technology with the best in the field while being allowed to contribute an area of business where I had some experience.

Healthcare is universal: we are all patient-consumers on some level and the patient will increasingly be at the center of healthcare decision making. We will also be immersed in technology that can measure our physiology in real-time as shown by the emergence of wearables. As technology and clinical practice converge, digital technologies will also increasingly enter the world of mainstream medicine, creating an entirely new area increasingly being referred to as "electronic medicine," which has the potential for incredible growth. Vast amounts of data that Internet and tech companies use to make decisions can also be leveraged for healthcare, opening opportunities for real-time disease monitoring and new targeted patient engagement opportunities.

I recently joined the board and PureTech announced a new funding round today. I have been working on two companies in particular, Akili - a cognitive gaming company that aims to diagnose and treat cognitive problems, and another cross-disciplinary digital health project that is still in stealth mode.

I think that healthcare and bioengineering are exciting spaces that are growing quickly, and thanks to many amazing labs in this field in the Kendall Square/Cambridge area, we have a regional advantage. I hope that PureTech can help create an effective pathway to impact health in new and positive ways, and that I can help contribute to this while continuing to learn.

Photo: via Alkili

by Joi at October 24, 2014 10:11 AM

Feeds In This Planet