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 01, 2014

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian Mathematician Aids Hong Kong's ‘America-Orchestrated Color Revolution’
Boris Kustodiev's "Bolshevik," edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Boris Kustodiev's “Bolshevik,” edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Ever wary of “pro-democracy movements,” Russia’s state-controlled mass media have been quick to describe the protests in Hong Kong as an American-orchestrated color revolution. RIA Novosti says former US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, “one of the authors of a paper about the Soviet threat,” has had a hand in destabilizing China. Channel One speculates that Washington is trying to punish Beijing for refusing to side against Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

American technology is undoubtedly playing a significant role in Hong Kong’s unrest. Initially, pro-democracy demonstrators used Instagram to publicize their actions and coordinate the protest. As tens of thousands have come out to call for freer elections, concerns about clogged cellphone networks have grown. After China blocked access to Instagram on the mainland, fears spread that Hong Kong officials might deliberately shut down data networks that enable users of mobile devices to connect to messaging services like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Thousands in Hong Kong have turned to a unique app called FireChat, which can use Bluetooth to allow communication between iOS and Android devices that aren’t even connected to the Internet. FireChat’s offline function only works when users aren’t far from one another, but this is a fairly surmountable obstacle for protesters banding together in public squares to resist police. Despite privacy concerns, the app already made a splash in Iran and Iraq, earlier this year.

Stanislav Shalunov, CTO and co-founder of Open Garden, FireChat's parent company. Opengarden.com.

Like other online services, Open Garden, FireChat’s parent company, is based in San Francisco. From the Russian perspective, one thing about Open Garden that sets it apart from competitors is that its co-founder and chief technology officer is Stanislav Shalunov, a Moscow native and graduate of Moscow State University’s Mechanics and Mathematics department. Shalunov, now an American citizen, told RuNet Echo that FireChat “is not Russian technology,” though he still values the education he received in Moscow in the 1990s.

Shalunov’s Moscow roots haven’t passed unnoticed in the Russia media, where some outlets have reported how “a messenger by a Moscow State mechanics and math graduate has become a protest instrument in Hong Kong.” Given the popular frame in Russia that the United States is masterminding Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrations, FireChat’s Russian tie-in is awkward for the pro-Kremlin press: where Instagram failed, the invention of a Moscow-born mathematician is aiding China’s most dramatic civic unrest since Tiananmen Square.

In a phone call with RuNet Echo, Shalunov said FireChat is foremost “a tool for communication, not revolution.” He is perfectly aware, however, that the app’s ability to overcome data network congestion (or the absence of a data connection altogether) makes it a powerful tool in the hands of protesters. In a mix of manifesto and self-promotion, he tweeted earlier yesterday:

Because FireChat involves the “exchange of information between users of the Internet,” the service will theoretically be subject to Russia’s new data localization regulations, which require such online services to store all user data on servers inside the Russian Federation. Shalunov says FireChat’s user data is currently housed on servers in the United States, though the contents and even the meta data of all exchanges aren't saved. Regardless, “FireChat will never store data in Russia,” Shalunov answered, when asked what the service would do, if the Russian government approaches Open Garden about complying with the new data localization law.

In comments to the Russian website Snob.ru, Shalunov explains that any form of mass censorship relies on the complacency of the public. “The degree of isolation in Russia today is completely voluntary,” he says. “And it’s much higher than could be achieved on a purely technical level.” Shalunov likens Russian Internet users to their counterparts in China, where homegrown alternatives to Google and Facebook are also more popular. “Russian users want everything to be Russian, Chinese users want everything to be Chinese,” he says with some disapproval, “and in all other countries, people prefer to choose the best.”

by Kevin Rothrock at October 01, 2014 03:09 PM

Pro-Democracy Protesters Have Turned Central Hong Kong Into a Colorful Sea of Umbrellas
Protesters used umbrellas to shield tear gas. Photo from Facebook group: Hong Kong Demo Now,

Protesters use umbrellas to shield themselves tear gas. Photo taken by PH Yang.

Can an umbrella be used as a tool to fight for democracy? Absolutely. In Hong Kong, peaceful demonstrators demanding genuine democratic elections are using umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray and tear gas and to to keep them from getting wet if the police deploys water cannons.

A striking image taken during the massive sit-in near government headquarters on September 28 showed crowds upon crowds of protesters holding umbrellas in a variety of colors, contrasting sharply with the police's riot gear.

Carol Chan designed the poster for the "umbrella movement" in Hong Kong.

Carol Chan designed the poster for the “umbrella movement” in Hong Kong. It said “Taiwan has sun flower movement, Hong Kong has sunshade movement”.

Foreign media have dubbed the peaceful protest the “umbrella revolution”. The Facebook group “Hong Kong Democracy Now” rectified the title to “Umbrella Movement” and wrote a explanatory note on it:

Foreign media has titled this movement the “Umbrella Revolution.” This is hardly a revolution. “Umbrella Movement” is a more suitable title in this context.

The only “weapons” we have, at most, are the umbrellas we always carry in our bags for the unpredictable weather. Hongkongers wish for nothing but stability. However, as much as we cannot see through the cloudy skies, we do not wish to be stormed upon.

“Umbrella Movement” represents a mellow but determined campaign: In the face of gale and storm, we will never back down!

The sit-in, called Occupy Central, demands that Beijing withdraw the framework it has imposed on the election of Hong Kong's top leader, called the chief executive, which requires those who want to run for the office to get majority support from a nominating committee stacked with pro-Beijing (and therefore pro-Chinese Communist Party) members. The sit-in protests spread from the financial district in Admiralty to the commercial district in Causeway Bay and Mongkok. Traffic in Hong Kong Island has remained paralyzed throughout the day of September 29.

Beijing mouthpiece Global Times ran an opinion piece on Occupy Central, which began on September 28, accusing the movement of ruining Hong Kong's image. Are umbrellas really more damaging to the city's image than armed police holding huge tear gas cannons?

Screen capture from local Television - TVB.

Screen capture from local Television – TVB.

by Oiwan Lam at October 01, 2014 01:26 PM

Global Voices
Once Banned From the US, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Goes Stateside
Screenshot of Mr. Narendra  Modi giving his speech at Madison square garden on Sunday 28 September, 2014.

Screenshot of Mr. Narendra Modi giving his speech at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, 28 September, 2014.

It was only this past February when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (still a candidate for the position) had his visa ban lifted to be able to visit the United States. And now, less than a year later, Modi has traveled to New York and Washington D.C. in a grand spectacle that included speeches at the UN General Assembly in New York, the Global Citizen Festival in Grant Park, and a gathering of 18,000 Indian-American immigrants at Madison Square Garden.

The original visa ban came in 2005 following Modi’s controversial handling of the Gujarat riots of 2002. The protests, which were set off when Muslims had burned a train filled with Hindu pilgrims in Gujarat, led to thousands of Hindus to riot against the Muslim community and burn many shops and communal buildings to the ground. Following the conclusion of the riots, Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, was heavily criticized and even accused of allowing the riots to happen. According to a senior official in Modi’s administration during the time of the demonstrations, Modi had said, “The Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson,” following the burning of the train filled with Indian pilgrims.

However, after much debate and controversy, the U.S. government had made the decision to grant Modi permission to visit the United States following his candidacy for Prime Minister.

According to Nancy J. Powell, who was the U.S. Ambassador who met with Modi about lifting the ban on his visa, the move is part of the “concentrated outreach to senior political and economic leaders” of the US.

Now, in an effort to further tighten relations between the US and India, Modi’s five-day visit not only includes public rallies but also organized efforts with top-tier global CEO’s in an effort to increase investment in India. In addition, Modi’s private meeting with US President Barack Obama is expected to boost ties between the two countries after facing rocky relations and troubled economic ties in the past year.

While Modi’s visit comes with a heavy political agenda, his wide popularity throughout the Indian-American community has led to massive gatherings of thousands of Indians and Americans alike during his visit to New York. So far, Modi’s most noteworthy speech has been at Madison Square Garden. Speaking of Indian patriotism and a time to revitalize the job industry to accommodate younger workers, including strengthening ties between the two countries, Modi’s speech flooded Twitter with praise and support from the Indian-American community.

Here is a video of Modi's full speech:

Druva Trivedi, a teenage girl from India, felt that Modi’s speech drew a connection between both the Indian and the American crowd:

Overrated Outcast, an account geared towards humor on political issues that gave Modi’s visit much coverage, poked fun at the energy that Modi’s speech had brought to the crowd:

Kartik Srinivasan, CEO of Vannam Painting Contractors, tweeted that Modi’s speech was powerful enough to even cause him to rethink his views on politicians:

However, there were some who took their passion for Modi too far. Rajdeep Sardesai, a popular Indian journalist now working for the India Today group, who had sparked wide controversy after his reports on the 2002 Gujarat riots, was assaulted by pro-Modi supporters outside of Madison Square Garden in New York. Sardesai, who had been at the event early in order to cover Modi’s speech, later said he was provoked by the hecklers and that he did not start the altercation.

A 41-second video clip of the assault has surfaced on YouTube, reaching over 100,000 views in less than 24 hours. However, a more detailed clip of the attack was later released by YouTube channel “The Fearsome Indian,” which appeared to show that Sardesai was in fact the one who had started the altercation:

Modi’s visit has not come without its fair share of controversy. A federal court in New York issued a summons against Narendra Modi for his handling of the Gujarat riots, following a lawsuit filed by the non-profit human rights organization American Justice Center. The group has even offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who would be able to serve the summons to Modi in person and provide video proof that it had been delivered.

Following the release of the summons, Modi’s Minister of External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin called the court order a mere distraction:

While Modi's visit to the US has been very eventful and lively, all eyes are now focused towards his meeting with President Obama. The two are expected to talk about strengthening relations along with increasing trade between the two countries, which could lead to a more elaborate relationship in the coming years. For now though, the world eagerly awaits to see if Modi will make the most out of his opportunity with Obama.

by Nikhil Dhingra at October 01, 2014 07:22 AM

ISIS Recruits Fan Bahrain's Sectarian Flames With YouTube Call to Arms
Three of the four Bahraini ISIS militants who called Bahrainis to take arms. Screenshot taken from a YouTube video

Three of the four Bahraini ISIS militants who called Bahrainis to take arms. Screenshot taken from the YouTube video shared on social media

Four Bahrainis who have joined the militant group ISIS have called on other Bahrainis to take up arms and join the fight against their ruling “tyrants”, the Sunni Khalifa royal family and the country's majority Shia population, in a YouTube video that surfaced on social media and recently went viral.

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.”

One of those who appeared in the video threatening the Bahraini regime is Lieutenant Mohamed Isa Al-Binali, whose defection from the Bahrain Defence Forces was reported on Global Voices earlier this year. Alongside, three other Bahrainis, who go by the aliases Abu-Laden Al-Bahraini, Abu-Alfida Al-Salami and Qaswara Albahraini, appear.

Mohamed (abu-Isa) graduated from the Police Academy in 2013 and was supposed to be a prison guard in Bahrain's infamous prisons, which have practiced systematic torture since 2011. Bahrain's Ministry of Interior issued a statement saying that he was sacked from his job because of his absence earlier this month. According to Arabic-language news reports, he had been in the ranks of ISIS for over four months.

Mohamed comes from a famous family in Bahrain, the Binali clan, which is closely affiliated to the Al Khalifa ruling regime. His cousin, Turki Al-Binali, who goes by the alias Abu-Sufyan Al-Salami (Al-Salami refers to the tribe of Sulaim in Arabia), is a high ranking preacher in ISIS. Prior to holding this public position in the terror organisation, he was arrested and released many times before in Bahrain.

In the video that follows, you can see him leading a protest in front of the American Embassy in Bahrain; that protest was not attacked by the authorities like the opposition protests usually are. His books can also still be found in libraries and bookshops around Bahrain in a country which bans hundreds of websites which oppose the government.

The BinAli affiliation with ISIS is longstanding. In May, Turki published information of yet another of his cousins dying while fighting within ISIS.

Confirmed news of the death of a Bahraini fighter with ISIS from Al-Binali family in Busaiteen. His name is Ali Yousif

The viral video focused on four major points:

  • Calling on the armed forces to defect
  • Calling for more Sunnis to join the jihad in Iraq and Syria
  • Calling on Sunnis to refuse working with Shia in public or private sector in Bahrain
  • Calling to boycott the upcoming elections

Many feel that the Bahrain government has turned a blind eye on the rise of ISIS sympathizers in the country. Prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab doesn't mince his words. His message is clear:

Bahrain consists of a Shia majority who have been complaining of marginalization for decades under the ruling Sunni royal family. In a response to a popular uprising in February 2011, “the Bahraini regime responded not only with violent force, but also by encouraging a nasty sectarianism in order to divide the popular movement and to build domestic and regional support for a crackdown,” wrote Mark Lynch at Foreign Policy.

While Bahrain has joined the coalition in its airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the environment of discrimination at home couldn't be any worse. As Mr. Rajab explains:

Now that this video is out, with its clear and loud message which has receptive ears in some circles in Bahrain, let's wait and see how the Bahrain regime deals with this new escalation of real terrorism from people within its ranks and of its own sect.

The ISIS threat against Bahrain coincides with similar messages to neighbouring countries, which too have turned a blind eye to the group, allowing it to fester and grow in ranks on their own soil. Mauritanian blogger Nasser Weddady tweeted:

Global Voices will not republish the video in question so as not to further spread ISIS propaganda and hate speech.

by Noor Mattar at October 01, 2014 03:51 AM

September 30, 2014

MIT Center for Civic Media
Nym Rights: Protecting Identity in the Digital Age

Do you have a name? More than one? Does it matter to you who knows it? Today at the Berkman Center, we hosted a talk by aestetix, an expert on pseudonomy online. This post is a liveblog of Aestetix's talk.

After being suspended twice by Google Plus during the nymrights fiasco of 2011, Aestetix helped created NymRights, focused on empowerment and education of digital identity. He's also been involved in the US national strategy for trusted identities in cyberspace.

Aestetix starts out by telling us about the NymWars of the summer of 2011. Aestetix, an early adopter of Google Plus, discovered one day that his profile had been suspended under their "Real Names Policy." He wasn't alone -- other people including Salman Rushdie had their accounts revoked. Even William Shatner got suspended -- Google didn't believe that he was who he claimed to be.

There's no such thing as a "real name" says Aestetix. Names and identity are different. Aestetix defines a name as a label or symbol that is used to identify a person, thing, or concept within a given context. Names are often used in a variety of official contexts: passports, universities, social security cards, and driver's licenses. It's legal for these names to vary. Consider, for example, the case where someone gets married, changes their name, and then updates their passport. It's completely legal for these things to be different. Aestetix tells us about someone whose name was "Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon" who changed his name to "Variable" who a judge forbade from changing his name to "Fuck Censorship." In some cases, people have been forced to change their "wallet names" because they were too long.

Many people use a variety of names. Maybe they're a sex worker who needs to protect their identity. In some cases, people who face judgment and harassment maintain separate identities to maintain safe spaces for conversation. Others use pseudonyms to create divides between their professional and personal lives. People sometime share the same name for carrying out a common activity under a shared identity, like publishing a book or hosting at Couchsurfing and Airbnb.

Aestetix tells us that rather than defining who we are, names are labels that help define relationships that we carry out in a particular context. Aestetix then asks us to consider different kinds of "nyms":

  • Pseudonym - a name often used to cover or hide a base name (Publius)
  • Polynym - a name consisting of multiple words or symbols
  • Mononym - a name consisting of one word or symbol (Madonna)
  • Autonym - a name bestowed upon oneself (Pope Francis)
  • Anonym - a name representing anonymity ("anonymous" on Internet comments)

Pseudonyms have played an important role in society. The pseudonym "Publius" was used to published the Federalist Papers. Aestetix asks us to imagine if we would have the constitution today if Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison had not used this pseudonym.

How do different companies deal with names and identity? Google has recently retracted their policy on "real names", although many people felt that the retraction wasnot enough, too late. In many online communities, people have said that real names make people more accountable, keeping anonymity under unmitigated control. People on Quora have argued that "real name" policies ensures a high quality community, but Quora has still faced issues of sexism in their community despite real name policies.

Airbnb required people to verify their identities use "Offline ID", "Online ID", or a video identifying who they are. Aestetix notes that Doc Searls has written about the Airbnb issue in greater detail. Although they have promised to anonymize data they share with the New York Police, Aestetix questions how easy it might be to de-anonymize that data, especially given other well-known de-anonymizations of data.

As Aestetix concludes his talk, the Q&A session explores questions of identity in healthcare, national security, censorship, leaks, and and journalism.

by natematias at September 30, 2014 05:28 PM

Global Voices
Fears of a Tiananmen-Style Crackdown Swirl in Hong Kong as Pro-Democracy Protests Continue
Thousands of protesters light up Admiralty, a business and commercial district in the city center in the evening of September 29.

Thousands of protesters light up Admiralty, a business and commercial district in the city center in the evening of September 29.

The round-up of the protests in Hong Kong demanding genuine democratic elections from the city's government and from Beijing was written by Oiwan Lam and originally published in Chinese on 29 September 2014 on citizen media platform inmediahk.net. It was translated by Stan Moon, a member of translator collective HKDemoNow on Facebook, and republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

After witnessing Hong Kong police’s abusive use of tear gas to suppress pro-democracy peaceful demonstrators, more Hong Kong people have stood up and joined the sit-in in major commercial districts, including Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok. The city's transportation has been paralyzed for two days, but those affected have expressed their support for the protesters with a belief that a temporary inconvenience is far better than being ruled by a “bad chief executive” in future.

Chan Kin-man, one of the organizers of the massive sit-in, dubbed Occupy Central, believes that the only way to resolve the current crisis is the resignation of Hong Kong's top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. It is necessary for the political reform process to start anew, Chan stressed in a press conference. Pan-democratic lawmakers also pressed the Chairman of the Legislative Council Jasper Tsang to hold a special meeting to impeach the chief executive.

In the aftermath of the violent crackdown, Fanny Law, a member of the Executive Council, admitted on a radio program that the police’s action has outraged the public and that they should explain their decision to the Executive Council.

Fear of a mini-Tiananmen Square crackdown

Another Executive Council member, Regina Ip, expressed her full support for the police’s operation during another radio talk show. She was confident that the police's decision was “based on assessment” with an intention to “bring about a deterrent effect.” In an earlier interview with the English-language newspaper South China Morning Post, she revealed that the government of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, was worried that a class boycott that has accompanied the protests would instigate a “mini-Tiananmen incident”, resulting in a bloody military crackdown just like what happened in Beijing during the 1989 pro-democracy protests there.

In the past few months, the idea of a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre has spread amongst both pro-establishment and opposition camps, especially after Chen Zuo-er, a Beijing official who is a high level consultant on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, claimed to employ “thunderbolt tactics” to clamp down Occupy Central protests. Reports and photos have also circulated showing that armored vehicles from the People’s Liberation Army (as China's military is called) have appeared in downtown streets late at night in the past months. On September 29, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece The Global Times ran an opinion piece proposing that the Hong Kong government seek the help of the mainland’s armed police to help end the “insurgency”.

Regina Ip's explanation revealed that the police crackdown had been authorized by the Hong Kong government to prevent military intervention from Beijing. While some pro-government politicians blamed the organizers of Occupy Central protests for setting the stage for the “mini Tiananmen Square crackdown”, they know that violent intervention comes from forces outside Hong Kong, but everyone is too afraid to name who is really behind the planning of this “Mini Tiananmen Square crackdown”.

Politics enter the classroom

After the Hong Kong Federation of Students and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) launched class boycotts and teaching strikes, almost all the tertiary institutions had class boycott assemblies on September 29. More than a dozen secondary schools responded by holding student assemblies on campus, which students documented with photos uploaded to social media. (inmediahk.net has collected a set of secondary school class boycott and school assembly photos on Facebook.)

The Hong Kong Chinese Women's Club College has always been known as conservative with strict school rules. Although the students did not have class boycott today, they wore black T-Shirts while holding rallies to raise the awareness of the students in the playground during class break, recess and lunch break. Photo submitted by student to inmediahk.net's Facebook.

The Hong Kong Chinese Women's Club College has always been known as conservative with strict school rules. Although the students did not have class boycott today, they wore black T-Shirts while holding rallies to raise the awareness of the students in the playground during class break, recess and lunch break. Photo submitted by student to inmediahk.net's Facebook.

The Department of Education issued a statement expressing regret over HKPTU’s call for a strike; the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers (HKFEW) urged teachers to stick to their duties and avoid politicizing the campus.

Some high schools with pro-Beijing management took action to stop students from holding assemblies in open areas. For example, the Wong Cho Bau Secondary School, a school directly under the HKPTU, prohibited the students from entering the snack bar and the school playground. The news about the school repression spread quickly through social media and some graduates decided to go back to school and show their support for the junior students outside the school gate. The repression inside the school campus has successfully brought politics into the classroom.

Occupy Central protests spread to other districts

Connaught Road, Yee Wo Street, and Nathan Road in Mongkok had been occupied for more than 48 hours by September 30. New participants continually arrived at the sites to take part in the sit-in action. Inmediahk.net's reporter interviewed a night-shift security guard who joined the Mongkok Occupation on 29 September after he finished his night duty. He indignantly stated: “I also carry a gun, but I will never point it to people!” Some students have chosen to return to the protest zones after class, with a belief that “You can't kill us all!” — a slogan which has been used frequently in recent protests.

by inmediahk.net at September 30, 2014 02:21 PM

Gay Rights in Trinidad & Tobago Once Again Out of Reach as Prime Minister Backpedals
Photo of the front page of the Trinidad Guardian by FREEPRIDE; used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Photo of the front page of the Trinidad Guardian by FREEPRIDE. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar struck a sour note with citizens last week when, after making the feature address at the Trinidad and Tobago Investment Conference in New York, she told the media that her government would not seek to decriminalise homosexuality as “it would not be prudent [...] to proceed in that direction at this time”.

Persad-Bissessar cited the draft National Gender Policy, explaining that feedback on the document was still “very divided”. Her position comes despite her promise, back in 2012, to end discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community via the very same gender policy. Two years later, it seems that equal rights is no longer a priority of her government.

In Trinidad and Tobago, Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act (1986), criminalises “buggery”. If anal sex is carried out between adults, the imprisonment term can be as much as 25 years. While the law is not generally enforced, the fact that it remains on the books means that it theoretically can be. Religious fervour contributes to the general lack of social tolerance.

To underscore the point of the prime minister's reneging on her promise, the Trinidad Guardian newspaper published portions of a letter which she sent to Lance Price, founder of The Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based non-profit that advocates for gay rights worldwide. Her 2012 correspondence was in reply to Price's concerns about the way in which Trinidad and Tobago's Immigration Act and Sexual Offences Act were discriminatory against the LGBT community. Persad-Bissessar wrote:

I wish to assure you that due consideration is being given to these issues by my Government.

I do not support discrimination in any form against any individual, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

I share your view that the stigmatisation of homosexuality in T&T is a matter which must be addressed on the grounds of human rights and dignity to which every individual is entitled under international law.

I have mandated my Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development [...] to prepare and present a national gender policy to Cabinet over the coming months.

It is expected that once adopted, this policy will forge the way forward for T&T as my Government seeks to put an end to all discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

On Facebook, reaction was swift, with one user noting that when it came to equal rights, the prime minister passed the buck onto the citizenry, suggesting that the issue “may require a referendum to get the views of the people”, yet her government was more than happy to proceed with constitutional reform without public consensus.

Blogger and university lecturer Rhoda Bharath took issue with the prime minister's short memory, saying:

Remember the promise of the national gender policy?
Remember that Kamla promised to review gay rights?
Neither does Kamla….
Can't wait to have folks in Gender studies tell me about all the hard work they doing on the national gender agenda….

An interesting angle to the controversy was the reaction of the country's Roman Catholic Archbishop, who retaliated against the prime minister's blame game. Persad-Bissessar had pointed fingers at the church, saying that a “Roman Catholic group” was up in arms about the draft gender policy; Archbishop Joseph Harris called the accusation “untrue” and “reckless”, saying that it insinuated the Catholic Church was supportive of the discrimination against the LGBT community. The Archbishop maintained that the church was just one of several religious groups that had reservations about some aspects of the gender policy.

On Facebook, Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar quipped:

I dunno but when you have the Catholic church saying you are backward this country's politicians better start reassessing their policies. That's like the Taliban saying you are too conservative.

He also posted a photo quote from American TV host and political commentator Rachel Maddow saying, “But here's the thing about human rights. They're not actually supposed to be voted on. That's why they're called rights.” Ramesar added:

Can we get Rachel to fly down and explain this to T&T politicians? They really don't seem to grasp the concept.

Diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch called the prime minister's stance “political cowardice”:

Obviously, with elections due next year, the PM is wary of her political survival, and is unwilling to tackle any contentious issue, including this one.

But, as a ‘senior counsel', the PM ought to be aware that the laws against the LGBT community are illegal. Not might be, but actually are. Given that the Constitution is granting equal rights to all, those laws that ban homosexuality etc are ultra vires… Outside of the Constitution.

The blogger also noted, however, that “these laws have not been challenged by the LGBT community in court” — a point that Rhoda Bharath also picked up on. Her perception was that gays in Trinidad and Tobago are not very vocal about advocating for their own rights as a community. She asked on Facebook:

Is the gay community willing and ready to step up, step forward and lead a mature discussion sexuality, identity and what they want?

She added, in a comment on the thread:

Trinis are generally insensitive and naive about gender and sexuality issues. We inadvertently oppress people with our ideas of normal and acceptable when it comes to those areas. However, if the community wants to be taken seriously… Beyond the news cycle… It needs to seize the opportunity to start and sustain the discussion. No movement for human rights was won on the sidelines.

The local gay community might argue that it hasn't been on the sidelines. The executive director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) criticised the prime minister's stance, saying that her “human rights by referendum” approach was an embarrassment to the nation. The timeline of CAISO's Facebook page is full of links and reader comments about the prime minister's faux pas. The page encourages people, whether gay or not, to “raise voice, raise children, raise funds and raise consciousness” so Trinidad and Tobago can become a more compassionate country when it comes to differences in sexual orientation and gender expression.

The gspott blog is also used as a means of disseminating information about any progress CAISO and other advocacy groups have made when it comes to LGBT equality as a human rights issue, putting the onus on changing the country's laws not just on the LGBT community but on others who value human rights.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at September 30, 2014 11:27 AM

Surviving Sierra Leone's Three-Day Ebola Lockdown
Ebola in Sierra Leone, West Africa, June 20, 2014, by Tommy Trenchard, Demotix.

Ebola in Sierra Leone, West Africa, June 20, 2014, by Tommy Trenchard, Demotix.

When the government of Sierra Leone declared its intention to confine six million people to their homes for 72 hours, many criticized the measure as excessive or downright impossible. The international medical charity Medicine Without Borders warned that the measure could help spread the disease further, if it led to new cases being concealed.

The government, however, says the exercise was a success. During the lockdown, no one was allowed to leave their homes from September 19 to 21, to allow health workers and volunteers to go door-to-door educating people about the disease.

For those three days, nearly 30,000 volunteers helped educate families, hand out soap, and identify the infected and deceased. By the end of the lockdown, the government had collected mountains of data to use in the fight against this scourge. Officials estimate that more than a million households were surveyed and 130 new cases discovered. 

Sierra Leone has recorded almost 600 deaths from Ebola, making it one of the worst-hit countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) calculates that 3,083 fatalities of 6,553 total cases of infection have occurred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

Umaru Fofana, a journalist and free-speech advocate in Sierra Leone, posted the following message on Facebook describing the discovery of new Ebola cases:

BREAKING NEWS: The three-day nationwide Ebola lockdown recorded 130 confirmed cases of the disease with 39 test results being awaited. Stephen Gaojia says the first day recorded 22, second day 56 and final day 52 cases.

A couple of days before the confinement started, Sierra Leonean President Enerst Bai Koroma addressed the nation, asking every citizen to do their part to contain the disease, stressing how important it is to know how to avoid contaminating oneself and others.

The president pointed out that the disease that came from a neighboring country, infecting people engaged in activities like attending funerals, visiting hospitals, and caring for the sick.

Commenting on a heart-breaking photograph of a likely Ebola patient praying over her sick family members outside a treatment center, Albert Mackoty wrote:

What makes the Ebola virus so terrifying is not its kill rate, its exponential growth, the gruesome way in which it kills, the ease of transmission, or the threat of mutation, but rather that people who care can do almost nothing but sit on the sidelines and watch.
This is Finda, a suspected Ebola patient praying over her sick family members before being admitted to the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center. As a parent what else can you do? This is heartwrenching.

Illiteracy, which stands at 35.1% in Sierra Leone, and certain cultural norms common in West Africa, such as washing, touching, and kissing the remains of the deceased, have exacerbated the Ebola problem in the region.

Writing on Facebook, Umaru Fofana gave an example of the disease's economic consequences in one town:

An entire town whose economy depends entirely on people who pass through it and stop by to buy fruits, veggies and tuber crops has been quarantined for 21 days. Moyamba Junction has suffered many Ebola-related deaths since a health worker was infected by a patient both of whom died. No vehicles are allowed to stop there nor anyone allowed to leave.

Apart from the fear and stigma associated with Ebola, there are also cases of violence committed against the sick. Isaac Osman Kargbo shared a message from Victor Sawyerr on the subject:

Being A Suspect Is Not A Death Sentence!!!I can’t help but shed tears as I saw suspected Ebola patients being treated with cruelty and violence. As it would happen, I came across three (3) different cases where suspects were maltreated and physically assaulted. Some of the security personnel at the various locations were loudly heard lambasting the suspects that it was their wicked ways that had caught up with them. The scenes were very pathetic and I couldn’t help myself but shed tears.
At this point I want to ask these questions:
i. Are Ebola patients now criminals?
ii. Are they not our families, friends and loved ones anymore?
iii. What crime have they committed?
iv. Do you know how many suspected cases have turned out to be negative?
There’s another account in the East End of Freetown where a health official molested a father whose child was dead and told him that it was Ebola that has killed his child and that he too should be prepared to die because he is also currently carrying the virus. Interestingly, all this happened at a time when the child’s cause of death has not yet been ascertained. These and many other issues linger in my mind as I continue to find the answers to them. I’m not saying that they should be touched and contacted bodily, but what I’m saying is that they should be counselled, as being a suspect is not a death sentence. These are some of the reasons why people refused to come out when they are ill

In an effort to combat discrimination against Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, Health and Sanitation Minister Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofanah declared a war against stigmatization and presented an aid package to five survivors being discharged from Connaught hospital. Each was sent home Le1,500,000 (about $340 USD), courtesy of the government, to assist with basic needs and discourage broader stigmatization.

Without citing the lockdown in Sierra Leone, the WHO is quoted in a French publication L'Express urging the states concerned by Ebola virus to take measures that are “proportionate and based on facts”. However, many observers consider this exercice as a success as it may had enabled health workers to contact three quarters of households and identify a lot of people who might have been infected.

On September 21, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the Health and Sanitation Ministry announced that it had achieved more than 75 percent of its outreach target, visiting roughly 1.5 million households across the country with educational materials about Ebola.

Similar mobilization exercises will continue in Sierra Leone's other hot spots. More recently, President Koroma announced that the Ebola lockdown will continue in the Port Loko and Bombali districts in the north, as well as the Moyamba district in the south, affecting 1.2 million people for a still-unspecified amount of time.

by Abdoulaye Bah at September 30, 2014 10:09 AM

Twitter Users Proclaim the Death of Indonesia's Democracy as Lawmakers Scrap Direct Voting of Regional Assemblies
nobodycorppilkada

A stencil art by @nobodycorp rejecting indirect regional elections

In a move that has provoked public outrage, the Indonesian House of Representatives has voted to scrap direct elections of the head of regional assemblies, instead opting for the Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) to lead the selection process.

After the fall of authoritarian ruler Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has been struggling to become a fully democratic country. Suharto was Indonesia's president for more than three decades. The post-Suharto era was supposed to be the country's transition towards democracy, but it was continually hampered by those who sympathized with the “old ways”. Nevertheless, there were some reforms in governance like the direct election process, which was hailed for upholding transparency and promoting citizen participation in politics.

One of the leaders produced under this mechanism was Jokowi, a furniture entrepreneur who became mayor of Solo City, governor of Jakarta, and now president of Indonesia.

But regional lawmakers argued that direct election is costly. If Indonesia will revert back to DPRD election, they claimed that it will generate savings of up to 2.9 billion US dollars. What they forgot to mention is that this institution is also notorious for being a den of corruption. According to the government agency Corruption Eradication Committee (KPK), there are 3,600 regional house members who are currently linked to various corruption cases. KPK fears that the DPRD election will create a systematic corruption mechanism.

It was reported that direct elections won't be annulled in four special regions, namely Aceh, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Papua.

News of the legislative plenary debate and voting immediately enraged many citizens who are supportive of direct election mechanism. Since nearly all Indonesian provinces are rich in natural resources, selecting the right leaders who will be able to protect the interest of the population is deemed crucial by many.

There are also suspicions that the partymates of defeated presidential candidate Prabowo, who control the majority of seats in parliament, maneuvered to push the voting in favor of the bill. Prabowo has contested the results of the presidential elections.

Twitter users popularized the hashtags #RIPDemokrasi and #ShameOnYouSBY to express displeasure over the decision of the House and against outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY):

Such an emotional morning, democracy has been gangbanged.

Facebook was also filled with protest messages against the House decision. Facebook user Bhimanto Suwastoyo appealed to voters to reject politicians who supported the scrapping of the direct election process:

THIS IS IT. Remember those lawmakers and parties voting for indirect elections and don't vote for them next time!

The matter will be forwarded to the Supreme Court for judicial review. Related to this, a petition was drafted urging the Supreme Court to annul the lawmakers’ decision.

Democratic Party politician Sutan Bhatoegana claimed that SBY requested for his party members to be “all out” in defending the people's right; however, the message was misunderstood as a command to “walk out” ahead of the vote counting. It was the walk out of members of the ruling party that swayed the vote in favor of the scrapping of direct elections.

Twiter user Idetopia poked fun at the party's choice to blame an autocorrect failure:

(Democratic) Party's internal investigation: faulty Shiftkey, intended to type “all-out” but instead typed “walk-out”

Clarifying the allegation of misreading SBY's text, Democratic Party's Executive Director Syarief Hasan said there was no error in SBY's message.

Idetopia concludes:

It didn't matter who triggered the walkout. The fact is that he (SBY) and his party has caused our democracy to revert 10 years (into the past).

by Carolina at September 30, 2014 12:28 AM

September 29, 2014

DML Central
Defining Digital Media, Museum-based Learning Connection
Defining Digital Media, Museum-based Learning Connection Blog Image

Clive Thompson is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired. I recently had the opportunity to bring him to my office in the American Museum of Natural History, tour the dino halls, and explore how his new book — “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better” — can help us understand how digital media can support museum-based learning (read full interview). At the end of our tour, we explored what his book has to say about Connected Learning and work funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative. The following is an excerpt of my interview with Clive.

In your book, you talk about the power of public thinking. Please give some examples and put it in the Connected Learning framework.

This is one of the great shifts in our behavior: when something interesting occurs, you now have the ability to broadcast that to the world, to interested friends, to interesting strangers, and to share what you are thinking or seeing. 

Whenever I talked to teachers, they would talk about how, whenever they created something in school, they had the students talking to the broader world instead of just talking exclusively to each other or talking to the teacher. Whenever they were making something that was going to be shown to the world, the effect was completely electric. The students worked a lot harder. They wrote better. They would pick apart other’s work: “Ah, I can’t understand that. You have to redo that. How is someone in Germany going to understand that because you are using these American idioms?” Teachers were saying, “The more I was able to create assignments or projects that were facing the world, the harder the students worked.”

This is really great because this ties together almost all three of the Connected Learning components: the academic stuff (you’ve got the teacher who is there creating or trying to create assignments that are actually plugged into their curriculum that have specific goals), the students are working unbelievably hard because they are getting the peer effects of the fact that there are going to be people they care about and strangers whose opinion they care about looking at this stuff, and they are doing all sorts of collaborative work, helping each other out.

So, the power of public thinking to catalyze excitement and harder work out of students is really significant.

There is a teacher, Heidi Siwak, up in Ontario, who I met through Twitter. She said, “I’ve been teaching for 10 years” — she teaches grades six through eight — “and, I’m discovering that if it comes to finding a factual answer, they can find that. I used to sit at the front of the room, giving factual information, and that’s just not crucial anymore. My job is super interesting now, although I need to figure out what that job is.”

She was reading this book, “Hana’s Suitcase,” which is a book about a little girl who dies in the Holocaust. So, she read it in her class and it’s intense stuff and they are all talking about how they could engage with the public about it, maybe have a conversation, and have the kids get in dialogue with other people. So, they decide to use Twitter and have a hashtag. They were going to talk about this book and the kids would write tweets about it. The kids were thinking through what it means to engage with the rest of the world on a sensitive subject. What if people were trolls? What if people would say rude things? What if nothing happens? They were thinking through all these civic aspects. So, this is an additional dimension to public thinking; when you start dealing with the actual public, you are now teaching kids civics. You are teaching them how to be a useful and productive citizen. How can you be helpful to other people? How can you encourage other people to help you?  

One of the great things about public thinking is that it costs almost nothing. You are setting up a blog, or tweets, or Flickr, or Instagram or... anything — pick your tool, as long as it usually costs nothing. The main thing you are grappling with is how much the school and the parents will allow to be public. But, the kids all love it.  

The second thing I found was also really interesting. For teachers, it used to be like, you know, when you wanted to teach kids something, your curriculum was dependent on what handouts you had or what books you had in your tiny library. So, you couldn’t very easily plug into the students preexisting interests to get them to like to learn curriculum-based material. You knew you had a kid who was really interested in basketball, but you couldn’t really find a way to bring that stuff into the classroom. Well, lo and behold, the Internet comes along with this ridiculous, roiling sea of stuff. A lot of teachers have simply found that it’s a lot easier to say, “Okay, we have got the basketball kids, so we are going to basically use that interest to teach them statistics, to teach math, to teach the history of America.” 

You can basically find material to plug into almost any kid’s interest and tie it to the curriculum, but it takes more work, right? Customized education is now possible because of the Internet, but customized education takes a large amount of work on the part of the teacher. The reason why you have these standardized curriculum is because, that way, they don’t have to go about reinventing the wheel with every student. Teachers are extremely overburdened because class size is rising again…. So, there is a limit to how much you can ask teachers to customize in that case. 

In fact, one of the things I found that’s really interesting was how much really exciting stuff was happening in after-school programs. They didn’t have to work with curriculum. They had smaller groups. It was in these non-curriculum based situations like after-school programs, or the computer teacher who had them for an hour and could do whatever he or she wanted, I would encounter some really radically interesting things going on. These teachers were getting amazing performance out of them. Students were writing longer. They were focused on doing this work for hours and doing these remarkably capable things, with game design, or music, or blogging.

To what do you attribute that?

It’s a combination of lack of curriculum and a smaller teacher-student ratio in those situations.  Those are not standard classrooms that are with 30 kids. So, you get teachers who are allowed to be more innovative because they are not tied down by curriculum and they can be more innovative because they don’t have to juggle 30 students.

Part of what was so exciting to me while reading this book is that you quote the work or interview Constance Steinkuehler, Kurt Squire, Mimi Ito, Henry Jenkins, Joe Kahne, danah boyd and Mitch Resnick and... I can go on and on. These people were all doing work funded by MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, which birthed Connected Learning.

I found work like Constance’s and Kurt’s work so amazing because they had done it in real classrooms and have these remarkable stories. In my education chapter, I actively set as my agenda that I was going to really only talk about public schools, and ideally public schools with almost no resources. You are dealing with kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds because my whole point is that if you’ve got a fairly wealthy school, and a low student-teacher ratio, and parents with like multiple degrees at home, the kids are going to be fine. And, they will probably figure out cool ways to use technology. But, what works when you have 30 kids and a bunch of English as a Second Language staff and parents who are working two jobs? When you don’t have any budget and you have maybe like a couple of crappy old laptops? That, to me, was what I really wanted to see. I only wanted to look at stuff that could scale. So, all those academics you are referencing were always going out there and talking to those people, people who are in challenging situations and getting good results.

I was impressed by how much of their research ended up in your book, especially given that the Digital Media and Learning Initiative only turns 10 next year. How have you seen this work mature in recent years?

I think that the maturity of the field comes from people having done a lot of experiments. And, they’ve begun to realize what works and what doesn’t work after 10 years. If you went back and looked at what people thought computers were going to be good at 15 years ago, there was a lot of goodwill. There were these ideas that computers on their own would be enough.  

But no, you need to scaffold the way this stuff works.There was the idea that kids would be adept, digital natives. They would inherently get this technology. Totally not true. They might be fluent at it, but it doesn’t mean they understand how it works.  There was the idea (unfortunately, I think still being pursued by Bill Gates) that types of formal education will happen so organically that you can increase the student-teacher ratio… and, it’s not true at all. Teachers are still enormously valuable and kids know that.

I think the other thing is that people realized that they spent a lot of money on stuff that wasn’t necessary, smartboards. Some of those smartboards are like five, ten grand. Schools would buy them because they had these great demos and, then, realize this wasn’t doing anything that you couldn’t do with a $400 projector. And, they could’ve bought 10 laptops, or 20 iPads for the cost they blew on that ridiculous smartboard. I’ve had teachers tell me that they’ve gone in the basement of their school and there’s like 15 broken whiteboards stacked up. You are looking at $150,000 worth of dead technology. 

So, some of the reason why I’ve seen people hitting up on the same strategies that tended to be low cost, and tended to be working with whatever kind of free tools that were just kind of lying around, and working with the tools the kids themselves were using in their everyday lives, was because they had seen schools get burned with these highly expensive, proprietary technologies. They were realizing, Wow, not only even if that did work, that’s not going to scale.

The other thing I think that happened is that we’ve been observing what kids are already learning in their everyday lives and taking cues from that. It took 10 years to observe what kids were doing. It’s not immediately obvious until you see the stuff happen. In one sense, I felt lucky because I played so many video games and I was so involved in video game culture that I had a direct personal experience of watching all this knowledge formation happen, and watching all this collaboration happen. I think that is the other thing that led me to all these scholars because some of them came up the same way… passionate about stuff, and they ran into kids and they realized all these kids were punching way above their weight in their side passions. They started thinking how we bring it to them in the classroom, which is the same question I was asking. So, we were all led to the same answer.

Banner image credit: Dan DeBold

by mcruz at September 29, 2014 04:00 PM

Global Voices
‘Love Jihad’ in India: Reality, Myth or Simply a Case of Political Rabble-Rousing?
Activists of United Hindu Front raising slogan during a protest against Love jihad in New Delhi, India. Image by Anil Kumar Shakya. Copyright Demotix (23/9/2014)

Activists of United Hindu Front protesting against Love Jihad in New Delhi, India. Image by Anil Kumar Shakya. Copyright Demotix (23/9/2014)

A section of India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some right-wing, Hindu activists in India have recently been in the news for their vociferous, public protests against ‘Love Jihad‘, an alleged phenomenon in which young Muslim men reportedly target and “lure” young non-Muslim girls by feigning love and then forcibly convert them to Islam at the time of marriage. There are some who even say that post-conversion, the women are sometimes dumped and the men move on to conquer new targets.

However, the question that a large section of Indians are asking is whether ‘Love Jihad’ really exists or is it a myth that is being purposely propagated for religion-based political gains.

The complaint against ‘Love Jihad’ is not new and neither is it confined to India alone. However, while allegations keep emerging out of India, Pakistan and even the United Kingdom, the majority of the Indian media continue to regard it as a conspiracy theory and political propaganda by right-wing activists and politicians.

Anand Ranganathan, (@ARangarajan1972) contributing editor at Newslaundry.com, conveyed this sentiment:

In India, the outcry over ‘Love Jihad’ first hit national headlines in 2009, based on reported cases from coastal Kerala and Karnataka. However, the issue then lost steam and reports became a rarity until this year, when championship-winning Indian shooter Tara Shahdeo claimed that her husband Ranjit Kohli (alias Rakibul Hassan Khan) posed as a Hindu to get married to her and that she only found out about his religion a couple of months later. Tara filed an FIR (police report) alleging that she was assaulted by her husband for refusing to convert to Islam.

Close on the heels of this story came reports of other similar incidents, including a case in which a girl alleged that she had been gang-raped and then forcibly converted. These cases sprung into the limelight, bringing the issue of ‘Love Jihad’ out of the closet once more, triggering fierce debates — both online and offline.

Many felt that the ruling BJP was focusing on the issue to garner Hindu votes in an upcoming by-elections. However, the results, which were declared on September 16, 2014, showed that the BJP had in fact lost some of the landslide advantage (and seats) that it had won just four months ago in the national elections. 

Seemi Pasha (@seemi_pasha), an editor and anchor at a well-known mainstream news channel, tweeted:

But does ‘Love Jihad’ exist and is it in reality the social problem that some make it out to be? Or is it a hype, a myth even? The opinion seems to be divided among the masses, with stances often reflecting the person's religious and political leanings.

For example, Anil Kumar (@AnilAarush), who describes himself as an iconoclast from Bihar and is a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tweeted his belief that ‘Love Jihad’ exists. According to him:

On the other hand, Rachana Raj (@integrated_me) rubbished the idea. She wrote:

Her sentiments were seconded by Deepak Mehta, a young executive assistant living in Mumbai, who commented on Quora:

With high confidence, we can say it does not (exist). As in, there is no such centralized activity happening anywhere in India. There might be some delusional individuals doing so, but there is no large-scale, collaborated effort. There have been numerous investigations by the Kerala and Karnataka state police and CID (Crime Investigating Department), all of which failed to unearth any evidence or proof…The issue is being given a communal flavor by extremist organizations who have nothing better to do.

There are still others who are either unsure about whether to believe that ‘Love Jihad’ exists or not. For example, Shikha S (@shikha_shrivas), who is a computer engineer, appeared confused. She mentioned:

In order to understand how the youth felt about the issue, Global Voices spoke to a few young Indians.

Sidharth Kini, a member of the BJP’s Youth Wing in Bangalore, appeared to be a firm believer that ‘Love Jihad’ is a reality. He said:

Love Jihad’ is a very old concept but the terminology is new. The Arab rulers waged wars in the name of Islam and forced people to either convert to Islam or give up their lives. Further, during Mughal rule [in the 16th and 17th centuries] conversion of Hindus was very severe; they demolished Hindu temples, destroyed statues, and burnt Vedic scripts

According to Kini, teenage girls are not only lured into marriage but also often ensnared for trafficking:

Teenage Hindu girls are (their) main target as in that age their thinking won’t be mature enough and they will easily fall for money and the rich image created by Muslim boys. Even though these guys are poor, they are financially aided by various organizations so that they can buy branded attire and costly bikes. These boys are instructed to build friendship and then a strong relationship so that the girl will become ready to come with them leaving behind her family.

Nidhi Raina, a 23-year-old employee of Mercedes-Benz India in Bangalore, said she does not find it difficult to believe Love Jihad exists. She said:

I think young women could fall for it. The entire process is so well crafted that it doesn’t give the real intention away very easily. It’s just like how terrorists are recruited by brainwashing

Mandeep Chawla, a 22-year-old mechanical engineer originally from Ranchi and now working in Bangalore, felt the same, though he admitted that not all conversions were forced:

Every religion has some good in it and many people see the good part of the Muslim religion, which leads them to accept. This is mainly because other religions generally teach them the good knowledge there already is in their own religions. But to certain extent Muslims are praised when other people come to their religion, because according to their teachings they will get a reward from God from converting a disbeliever into a believer. I think that it (Love Jihad) is definitely possible. History stands as evidence here. I just feel that some Muslims have misunderstood what the Qur’an teaches and stands for by indulging in forced conversions. However, one cannot neglect that many Hindus and Christians convert to Islam by free will and not all conversions are forced.

Shruthi Nadig, a 22-year-old engineer also from Bangalore, however, disagreed. She refused to accept that girls could be so gullible:

If you're asking my personal opinion, I would definitely disagree. Considering the fact that I am an independent person aware of the stuff happening around me, I don’t think i could be lured, I believe I am not that naïve. But sometimes you fail to notice a person's real intentions, mostly because the time you spend with this person is too long and you believe in this relationship for the way it has turned out so far. So, I guess it's possible depending on the seriousness of the relationship.

Mohammad Aaqib Jameel, an employee at Tata Consultancy Services in Bangalore, felt that jihad was a pious term in Islam, and using it for such trivial purposes did not go down well with him:

Jihad is probably the most misunderstood term in today’s world. It’s saddening that parties use it for all such non-sense. I just don’t understand how just love would be sufficient to convert a person’s religion, something they have followed from their childhood!

Even as the nation debates the reality of this phenomenon, some Hindu right-wing organizations have started a campaign called “Love Trishul” —  ”to save young Hindu girls trapped in the clutches of ‘Love Jihad'”. Some other communities have gone to the extreme of preventing young girls from using cellphones in order to “protect” them from ‘Love Jihad'. Religion aside, this has sparked a debate around gender and personal freedom.

R. Jagannathan (@TheJaggi), editor at Firstpost & Firstbiz, reacted to this news:

Only time will tell what the reality of ‘Love Jihad’ is. For now, one thing is for sure: ‘Love Jihad’ could fan communal tensions in a diverse India, as it already seems to have polarized its population.

by Nickhil Sharma at September 29, 2014 03:57 PM

How a ‘Small Dream to Be the Change’ Grew Into a Charity With the Best Social Media Campaign in Uganda
Ugandan activist

The founder of 40 Days Over 40 Smiles Esther Kalenzi holding a baby during #BeSanta campaign. Photo used with her permission.

40 Days Over 40 Smiles Foundation is a Kampala-based, youth-led charity organisation committed to helping vulnerable children and communities to access quality, all-round education support and entrepreneurial training aimed at self-sustainability. The organisation relies on the use of social media as a platform for raising awareness and find solutions.

40 Days Over 40 Smiles started on 27 February, 2012, when Esther Kalenzi opened a Facebook page and then asked her friends to donate anything they had such as food, clothes, books, toys, money and join her during the Easter weekend to deliver the items and celebrate with the kids in two orphanages.

On Easter weekend, they visited two orphanages where they played with the children, ate, danced and made merry. They created over 40 Smiles.

I recently caught up with Esther Kalenzi to talk to her about 40 Days Over 40 Smiles.

Tumusiime Patrick (TP): Can your give a little background about yourself?

Esther Kalenzi (EK): I am a Ugandan woman who is passionate about positive change within my community. I use my friends, skills and networks to involve as many Ugandans especially the youth in improving the society which they live in.

TP: 40 Days Over 40 Smiles has been in the news both in the local and international media. Please share with us what it’s all about and why the name “40 Days Over 40 Smiles”?

EK: It is a confluence of youth who use fun events and social media to raise funds which support vulnerable children.

It is a registered organization that simply started as a small dream I had to ‘be the change’ I wanted to see.

The name came about in 2012 during the lent period (40 days of fasting) when I opened a Facebook group and encouraged friends and family to donate material towards those who were less privileged and would not have family over Easter. Over 40 smiles meant I was targeting 40 children or more. That Easter weekend, we visited and distributed items to 150 children.

TP: Last year, 40 Days Over 40 Smiles emerged as the best social media campaign in Uganda, beating other companies like MTN and Airtel which are prominent telecom companies in Uganda. How did you manage to pull it off?

EK: How did we pull it off? I have no idea. People voted us and we won! I think one of the things that stands out about us is that we are not commercial, we are driven by the need to help others. We have invested our time, energy and resources in this relentlessly. We didn’t think we could beat such household names but I guess we must have done something right.

TP: There are many ways to raise funds for charity, but 40 Days Over 40 Smiles mainly uses social media to raise funds. Why did you choose this option?

EK: Like I said before, the organization started as a Facebook group and did quite well. I thought we should continue with this winning formula. Additionally, it is cheaper, close to our target group who are the youth and it is also accessible.

TP: From all the social media campaigns 40 days Over 40 Smiles has been running for the past two years, which one has been the most successful and why?

EK: It is undeniably #BuyABrick. We raised 8,000,000 Ugandan shillings (US$3,024) in 10 days online as we raised money to build a dormitory. The team did a good job, we had a great plan that we executed and of course the support from the cyber world overwhelmed us.

TP: How do you manage to balance your personal social media activities and those of 40 days over 40 smiles?

EK: Hmm, that is a tricky one. To be honest the times I am most active on social media are when I am rallying people for a cause I believe in; whether it is 40-40, the cancer run or the story of a woman who succeeded against all odds.

TP: Please describe a typical process you go through to run a social media campaign, for example the ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign.

EK: Buy a brick for example had us think what the smallest component of a building is. Of course there are things smaller than a brick but it is easy to relate to. Once we had that, we came up with the hash tag and then discussed how to execute it using the available resources.

We can’t claim responsibility for all the success, we got so much support that we did not expect.

TP: Do you think Ugandans and Africans as a whole look at social media as a major tool for positive social influence?

EK: Yes. We are living proof that it works and shall continue to work.

TP: Many social media campaigns have not successfully lasted for more than a year. How has 40 Days Over 40 Smiles survived for two years now?

EK: To be honest we are overwhelmed by this. I strongly believe that the dedicated team I have and the fact that we are in it because we are passionate about the cause helps. We did not set out to gain popularity and leave, we shall still be here even when (God forbid) we have only one loyal supporter.

TP: What are the main challenges you’ve had to deal with in using social media as a tool to raise funds for 40 Days Over 40 Smiles?

EK: Social media is not always ‘honest.’ Some people might seem like they are interested in helping yet it is just ‘for show’ because they have an audience that they are trying to impress.

Additionally, there is audience fatigue, sometimes a lot is going on and people will not take interest unless they see a benefit for them.

TP: Do you plan on expanding the reach of the 40 Days Over 40 Smiles social media campaigns beyond the main social media platforms you currently use?

EK: Yes, we are already in the process. We realize the constant need of innovativeness and versatility. We would like to reach as many people as possible but above all, we need them to realize that this isn’t a onetime project; it is a way of life.

TP: Are there any particular people that you look up to for inspiration as you run the activities of 40 Days Over 40 Smiles?

EK: There are several leaders from our time or before our time who have relentlessly followed their dreams and managed to garner support even when it was not the most popular thought. Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela come to mind.

TP: What advice would you give to people out there that may want to do something similar to what 40 Days Over Smiles is doing?

EK: I would love for as many people as possible to follow their dreams, especially young people. Uganda is ripe with potential and we need to maximize the use of our very young population.

It does not have to be exactly what 40-40 is doing but I would love for us to inspire positive agents and dreamers whether in the arts, music or whatever. They simply need to get started. It always does seem it is impossible until it is done but if you believe in yourself and persist, you will see it come to fruition.

by Tumusiime Patrick at September 29, 2014 02:55 PM

Pro-Democracy Protesters Have Turned Central Hong Kong Into a Colorful Sea of Umbrellas
Protesters used umbrellas to shield tear gas. Photo from Facebook group: Hong Kong Demo Now,

Protesters use umbrellas to shield themselves tear gas. Photo taken by PH Yang.

Can an umbrella be used as a tool to fight for democracy? Absolutely. In Hong Kong, peaceful demonstrators demanding genuine democratic elections are using umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray and tear gas and to to keep them from getting wet if the police deploys water cannons.

A striking image taken during the massive sit-in near government headquarters on September 28 showed crowds upon crowds of protesters holding umbrellas in a variety of colors, contrasting sharply with the police's riot gear.

Carol Chan designed the poster for the "umbrella movement" in Hong Kong.

Carol Chan designed the poster for the “umbrella movement” in Hong Kong. It said “Taiwan has sun flower movement, Hong Kong has sunshade movement”.

Foreign media have dubbed the peaceful protest the “umbrella revolution”. The Facebook group “Hong Kong Democracy Now” rectified the title to “Umbrella Movement” and wrote a explanatory note on it:

Foreign media has titled this movement the “Umbrella Revolution.” This is hardly a revolution. “Umbrella Movement” is a more suitable title in this context.

The only “weapons” we have, at most, are the umbrellas we always carry in our bags for the unpredictable weather. Hongkongers wish for nothing but stability. However, as much as we cannot see through the cloudy skies, we do not wish to be stormed upon.

“Umbrella Movement” represents a mellow but determined campaign: In the face of gale and storm, we will never back down!

The sit-in, called Occupy Central, demands that Beijing withdraw the framework it has imposed on the election of Hong Kong's top leader, called the chief executive, which requires those who want to run for the office to get majority support from a nominating committee stacked with pro-Beijing (and therefore pro-Chinese Communist Party) members. The sit-in protests spread from the financial district in Admiralty to the commercial district in Causeway Bay and Mongkok. Traffic in Hong Kong Island has remained paralyzed throughout the day of September 29.

Beijing mouthpiece Global Times ran an opinion piece on Occupy Central, which began on September 28, accusing the movement of ruining Hong Kong's image. Are umbrellas really more damaging to the city's image than armed police holding huge tear gas cannons?

Screen capture from local Television - TVB.

Screen capture from local Television – TVB.

by Oiwan Lam at September 29, 2014 12:23 PM

Taiwanese See in Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Protests What a Future With China Might Be Like
The supporters from the Black Island Youth.' Photo by the Black Island Youth. CC BY-NC 2.0.

The supporters from the Black Island Youth.’ Photo by the Black Island Youth. CC BY-NC 2.0.

If Beijing had its way, the democratic island of Taiwan would be reunified with mainland China under the same political set-up known as “one country, two systems” that gives Hong Kong a certain amount of autonomy from the central government (or at least is supposed to). 

But as thousands continue to protest in Hong Kong for genuine democratic elections and are met with tear gas and pepper spray, some Taiwanese think the “one country, two systems” idea has failed and the autonomy “enjoyed” by Hong Kong is a sham. 

Taiwanese student activists expressed their support to Hong Kong students’ class boycott on 22 September 2014 in the hopes of raising awareness in Taiwan of Beijing's manipulation of Hong Kong's election reform.

In response to the violent clashes between the student protesters and the Hong Kong police on 27 September and the debut of a massive sit-in dubbed Occupy Central the following day, more than a thousand people gathered in the Freedom Square in Taiwan to express their solidarity with Hong Kong protesters.

Beijing will allow former British colony Hong Kong a direct vote for its next top leader, but requires candidates to receive majority support from a largely pro-Beijing nominating committee before being put on the ballot. Protesters argue that this election framework, presented by the Standing Committee of the National Congress of People Committee, goes against the universal suffrage that Hong Kong was promised.  

Black Island Youth, an activist group active in the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan explained why they support the protest in Hong Kong in their Facebook page:

黑色島國青年陣線過去一年來,在臺灣反對同樣罔顧人民聲音的中國國民黨,並抵抗其背後日益鮮明的「中國因素」。我們對於香港青年在香港抵抗中國共產黨的勇氣與努力非常敬佩。

The Black Island Youth has protested against the [pro-unification ruling party] Kuomintang, which keeps ignoring Taiwanese citizens’ voices, and has resisted the ‘China factor’, which has more and more influence over the Kuomintang. As a result, we highly respect the courage and effort of the young people in Hong Kong shown in your protest against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Beijing rejects Taiwan's independence and considers the island a wayward territory.

A Taiwanese blogger, shophist4ever, pointed out that the election framework imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing reflected the failure of “one country, two systems”:

其實中國政府可以不用作的這麼難看,畢竟一國兩制有示範給台灣看的目的存在。結果現在中國端出來的所謂「政改框架」,根本就是由北京來欽定特首的設計,真正看過民主國家普選制度的人,一定是無法接受的。

The Chinese government does not need to make things so ugly. The ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong is also a demo for Taiwan. However, the so-called ‘electoral reform framework’ proposed by China's government is actually designed for a [Hong Kong] chief executive selected by Beijing. For a person who has seen a real election in a democratic country, they will not accept this proposal.

Kuo-Chang Huang, one of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement, which occupied Taiwan's legislative building for three weeks to protest a secretly negotiated trade deal with China, pointed out that the Chinese Communist Party's infiltration in Hong Kong has eroded the rule of law in the city and warned Taiwan not to follow in Hong Kong's footsteps:

如果你要看中共滲透一個社會的方式,你去看香港。他們已經到讓人難以理解的程度,本來香港不該容許這種事,以前英國殖民時,香港沒有民主,但有法治;但現在香港法治的實際實踐,會讓你覺得香港沒有民主,連法制也逐漸在流失當中。

If you want to observe how the CCP infiltrates a society, you should observe Hong Kong. Things have been changed to an extent that is difficult to be understood. Such things should not be tolerated in Hong Kong. When Hong Kong was governed by Britain, there was no democracy, but there was legal system. Now based on the practice of legal institutions in Hong Kong, you may feel that there is no democracy, and its legal system is degraded.

香港之前一國兩制、選特首、五十年不變的承諾,中國可以說翻臉就翻臉,他當然知道這樣翻臉有政治代價,你就是說話不算話的政權,自己作的承諾都可以公然毀棄,但他為何敢做?因為香港已經是中國的囊中物了,我已經把你放在口袋裡了--香港人,你們放棄反抗,我已經把你緊緊握在手上,你奈我何?

The CCP promised Hong Kong ‘one country, two systems,' the right to elect their chief executive, and no change in 50 years. Nevertheless, the CCP changed their mind overnight. The CCP surely knows the political cost of their treachery—it becomes a deceitful party that publicly breaks its promise. Why does the CCP dare to do it? Because Hong Kong is in the pocket of China—Hong Kongers, you are in my pocket. Give up your resistance. Since you are in my hand, what can you do?

從中國角度來看是這樣的,對台灣也一樣,中共希望台灣在經濟上不斷依存中國市場,這樣他就可以慢慢把台灣收入口袋中,之後在政治上,他有太多籌碼,讓台灣人認知現實,「你已經逃不出我的手掌心,你還要跟我談什麼?」這是兩岸關係的最後結果,是把台灣慢慢配合中共統戰策略、放到中共口袋中

From the point of view of China, Taiwan is in the same position as Hong Kong. The CCP plans to make Taiwan economically rely on the market in China so that it can put Taiwan in its pocket slowly. Afterwards, the CCP will have a lot of chips in the political negotiation. The CCP will let Taiwanese see the reality. ‘You cannot escape from my hand, so what do you want to negotiate with me?’ The end game of the cross-strait relationship is to unify Taiwan and put Taiwan in the CCP’s pocket.

The supporters in the Freedom Square.' Photo by the United Social Press. CC BY-NC 2.0.

The supporters in the Freedom Square.’ Photo by the United Social Press. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Nevertheless, the protests in Hong Kong have inspired Taiwanese activists. A retired professor, Chin-Hsing Liu, talked about what he observed in his trip to Hong Kong this June when an unofficial referendum on voting rights, which earned hundreds of thousands of signatures, was taking place:

這次香港行,給我很大的震撼,過去我以為香港既已回歸,土地相連,人民都自認是中國人,怎麼可能脫離「祖國」的魔掌?[…]我錯了。已經孵化的小雞,不可能再塞回蛋殼去。曾經擁有自由的人,也不會放棄自由的。香港的民主運動起步雖遲,卻方向堅定,力道十足。

This trip to Hong Kong was a big shock to me. Previously I thought since the sovereignty of Hong Kong has been transferred to China, Hong Kong is geologically connected to China, and Hong Kongers used to consider themselves as Chinese, how can they escape from the hand of China? […] I was wrong. You cannot force a chicken back into an egg. A person who used to have freedom will not give up freedom. Although the democracy movement in Hong Kong started late, they have a firm direction and full power.

by I-fan Lin at September 29, 2014 12:18 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Internet Governance and the Struggle for Control: New Study from CELE
The Internet Governance Forum in Vilnius, 2010. Photo by Veni Markovski via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Internet Governance Forum in Vilnius, 2010. Photo by Veni Markovski via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Written by Carlos Cortés, Researcher at CELE.

There is no one-click solution for governing the Internet. The debate about the management of the network is, above all, a struggle for control. Network neutrality, critical resources, infrastructure, copyright enforcement, and online privacy, among others, are topics that evolved from arrangements of power and influence –quite distributed and decentralized in some cases, less so in others. And while private actors had the grip in these arrangements, governments are increasingly exerting influence over the Web.

A new study by the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information at the University of Palermo, Buenos Aires, suggests that Internet governance, rather than just being the host of institutions and multilateral formulas, is a contested space for the control and management of this unique technology. It also argues that the multi-stakeholder model, often upheld by civil society as the key to unlocking a more equitable and human rights-abiding approach to policymaking for the global Internet, may not be the silver bullet that some want it to be.

Just as streets and highways determine how we drive through a city, the coding of the Internet has immediate influence on our conduct: We cannot post on Facebook without an account. We can upload and download files only according to certain protocols. 

We argue that online architecture is all but a spontaneous structure: Power influences configurations, and configurations distribute power. Hence, each of the actors involved in the Internet –intermediaries, content owners, users, and governments– exert their share of influence in an effort to achieve their own goals.

Today, a majority of civil society groups (mostly hailing from the west) promote the formula “multi-stakeholder” approach to Internet governance, maintaining that mutually agreeable governance solutions can be generated through dialogues where all those who hold stake in the Internet — governments, companies, technical experts, human rights advocates, and users at large — have a seat at the proverbial table. Yet the stakeholders sitting at the table currently are not willing to give up their position of control. We believe the Internet governance struggle should open to all the forces and actors that exercise power in the network, regardless of their visibility and readiness to debate the issues in question.

Carlos Cortés is a researcher at the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Argentina. A legal scholar originally from Colombia, he is currently pursuing a Master's degree in media studies at the London School of Economics.

by CELE at September 29, 2014 11:57 AM

September 28, 2014

Global Voices
Second Hunger Strike Over Highway May Leave Trinidad & Tobago Fighting For Its Soul
Environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh during his 2012 hunger strike. Photo by Jolynna Sinanan, used with permission.

Environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh during his 2012 hunger strike. Photo by Jolynna Sinanan, used with permission.

Two years ago, Trinidadian environmental activist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh embarked on a 21-day hunger strike that ended only when the government gave assurances that there would be an independent review of the section of proposed highway that his lobby group, the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM), was against. The HRM contends that the Debe to Mon Desir stretch of highway intended to link San Fernando to Point Fortin, two major hubs in south Trinidad, would displace many homes and damage the environment.

Kublalsingh's dissent quickly became symbolic of growing public dissatisfaction about matters of transparency and good governance and the cavalier manner in which the electorate's concerns are often managed by those in public office. The Highway Re-Route Movement has even accused some politicians, now in government, of previously supporting their cause. The precursor to the HRM was the Debe to San Francique Highway Action Committee, which formed in 2006, a lobby group in which Minister of Parliament Dr. Roodal Moonilal was involved.

Ten days ago, Kublalsingh restarted his hunger strike on the grounds that the government has not abided by the findings of the Armstrong report, which reviewed the records relating to the highway's construction. The Certificate of Environmental Clearance, for instance, contains “an extensive list of conditions” intended to address the lack of detail presented to the Environmental Management Authority. Because “a significant amount of work” still needs to be done to get the necessary approvals, the report suggested that “no further work be undertaken on the Highway site until all of the conditions contained in the CEC have been fulfilled.” All plans specified in the Environmental Impact Assessment must be submitted to the EMA for approval by the relevant bodies, including the Storm Water Management Plan and the Water Management Plan. This no-work recommendation is also in accordance with the Town and Country Planning Act. The Armstrong report also found it “imperative” that a proper Social Impact Assessment be undertaken before a decision is made whether or not to continue with the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Highway, “given the potential for severe adverse impacts on the resident population and other stakeholders.”

Despite these suggestions, which the government promised they would consider back in 2012, construction on the highway has not halted and the prime minister has refused to meet with Dr. Kublalsingh to discuss an alternative to the contentious route.

Afra Raymond, a blogger and president of the
Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry, which proffered the idea for the independent review, gave a factual and measured response to the controversy:

Some of the issues now emerging offer disturbing echoes from Kublalsingh’s first hunger-strike in November 2012, but [...] these are the very reasons we need to think again so as to find a different way to speak about our country’s large-scale development.

His post began by providing valuable context to the current impasse: The San Fernando – Point Fortin Highway has been proposed for over 40 years; Kublalsingh undertook his initial hunger strike to press for an urgent review of the Debe/Mon Desir section of the highway; civil society's proposal of the independent audit, which was spearheaded by the Joint Consultative Council, eventually brought the strike to an end. The audit was completed and its findings published “after a review process in which the State’s concerns were addressed.” Finally, the National Infrastructure Development Company paid the JCC for costs associated with the review, since that was the body through which funds were disbursed to members of the review team.

Contrary to what some believe — especially those forced to sit in heavy traffic — the Highway Re-Route Movement is not against the highway itself, just the portion it considers a threat. The fact that construction continues on the Debe to MonDesir section is contentious: supporters of the highway just want to see it completed.

According to Raymond, “an alternative view is that the commitment of Public Money to complete a disputed link while it was under study is itself questionable,” but he also called the HRM's stance calling on the government to stick to the Armstrong report's findings “unrealistic”.

There is good news to be had, he maintained:

The Armstrong Report is an historic achievement, to my knowledge being the first review of a State-sponsored project ever undertaken by a Civil Society group in the Caribbean. The Report represents an attempt to review the competing claims on the evidence and therefore promotes the ideal of fact-based decision-making in public policy.

Those are the positives we have to take from this turbid situation and we need to act soberly so as to ensure that those gains are not lost in the heat of this moment. Kublalsingh’s sacrifice opened the way for the Civil Society proposal to be accepted and the Armstrong Report is now a reality.

Many people have been asking whether there is a legal obligation on the State to consider the Armstrong Report and it is clear to me that such an obligation does exist.

Roman Catholic priest Fr. Clyde Harvey, who ministered to Kublalsingh during his first fast, said that the hunger striker was challenging citizens to find “the soul of the nation”. Kublalsingh told Harvey that the heart of the matter could be summed up in three words: truth, transparency, trust. Harvey maintained that:

The Armstrong Report, which is at the centre of all this, is not about the Honourable Prime Minister, it's not even about Wayne Kublalsingh. It's about whether or not we as a people can develop principles and processes which allow us to believe in ourselves, to always stand for truth and to try to be transparent in all that we do.

Popular blog Wired 868 called the situation “an environmental tipping point in the fight to save endangered wetlands” and criticised what it saw as the prime minister's hypocrisy:

Even as Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was boasting to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday that her Government emphasizes human development and not ‘concrete, steel and buildings', her Government was proving otherwise in the eyes of certain groups back at home.

Dr Kublalsingh has made it clear that all the Highway Reroute Movement is asking is that the Prime Minister stick to her word when, following the first hunger strike and multiple layers of action by members of the HRM, she agreed to halt work on the disputed area and review the work on the development of that section of the highway.

The post highlighted some of Kublalsingh's concerns, including the questionable procurement process for the highway's construction, the fact that there were issues with the project's feasibility, and the report's findings that the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project was flawed. The post concluded that “Dr Kublalsingh may be facing his toughest battle yet”:

He and the communities from Debe to Mon Desir are committed to a fight to the end even as they acknowledge their slingshots and arrows may not be enough to stop the might of the bulldozer as it erases their history and threatens to tip this ecologically diverse and rich country into a land of concrete jungles, contributing to the global warming and climate change that it has promised to fight against at the United Nations Climate Summit.

Raymond questioned whether Trinidad and Tobago had the resolve to surmount this hurdle:

We need to summon the will to turn this corner, the State needs to exercise its powers in a reasonable fashion and that means that the Armstrong Report must be properly considered. The public needs to be advised of that consideration and its outcomes. [...]

In years to come it will seem literally unbelievable that the State routinely carried out large-scale developments without this kind of study and consideration. The future is an inescapable part of reality, it is waiting for all of us.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at September 28, 2014 11:37 PM

Hong Kong Police Unleash Tear Gas on Peaceful Pro-Democracy Protesters
Protesters in Hong Kong are using umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas.  Photo from Twitter @15MBcn_int

Protesters in Hong Kong are using umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas. Photo from Twitter @15MBcn_int

Protesters demanding genuine democratic elections in Hong Kong were met with batons, tear gas and pepper spray during the second day of demonstrations in the city.  

Following clashes between Hong Kong police and student protesters on September 27, pro-democracy group Occupy Central with Love and Peace kickstarted a massive sit-in at 1:30 a.m. the following day to pressure China's government into withdrawing its requirement that candidates for Hong Kong's top leader get majority support from a largely pro-Beijing nominating committee. 

Riot police began attempting to disperse protesters wielding batons and deploying tear gas and pepper spray beginning at 6 p.m. on September 28. Thousands of protesters were still in streets near the city's financial center confronting riot police by the time this article was published. 

Unverified accounts of police using rubber bullets to shoot at protesters have circulated on social media. Key protest organizers have urged protesters to retreat at around 10 p.m.

China has promised special administrative region Hong Kong, which enjoys certain autonomy from the mainland, a direct vote in the 2017 chief executive election, but pro-democracy activists maintain the nominating committee undermines the people's right to choose their leader. 

Hong Kong police called the sit-in illegal and blocked roads and pathways leading to the government headquarters. More and more people arrived and scattered around Admiralty and Central districts as they attempted to reach the government headquarters by walking pass the Harcourt and Connaught Highway. Eventually the two main roads at the center of the financial district were blocked at around 3 p.m.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying held a press conference at 3:30 p.m. repeating his stand that election reform in Hong Kong has to be restricted by the framework set by Beijing and that the police would take action against illegal protests, in accordance with the law.

Thousands of protesters were surrounding the government headquarters at various spots in Admiralty and Central districts, blocking several roads. Police raised an orange-colored warning sign, stating “disperse or we fire”:

At 6 p.m., the riot police started firing tear gas.

Many Twitter users uploaded photos of the violent crackdown. @imrika1874 posted a photo capturing riot police pointing guns at peaceful protesters, who were raising their hands:

@jeromyu posted this scene:

Journalists and the elderly became the target of the police's pepper spray:

Instead of escaping from the scene, many people dispersed and returned with better equipment, such as raincoats, gas masks and goggles:

In addition, the police instructed the metro company to shut down the Admiralty station in order to deploy more riot police to back up the crackdown. But protesters set up a barricade at the entrance of the subway to block police:

In response to the police violence, the Federation of University Student Union urged for continuous class boycott this week. The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions called for a worker's strike, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union will also launch a teacher's strike.

by Oiwan Lam at September 28, 2014 06:09 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Laos Joins Southeast Asian Neighbors in Imposing Stricter Internet Controls
An Internet cafe in Laos. Photo from Flickr user Jon Rawlinson. CC License

An Internet cafe in Laos. Photo from Flickr user Jon Rawlinson. CC License

Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong has signed a new decree imposing stricter Internet control in the country. Signed last September 16, 2014, the new regulation promotes responsible and “constructive” use of the Internet among Lao netizens.

A few months ago, Lao officials announced that they were studying the experience of other Southeast Asian nations as a guide in drafting an Internet law which they plan to implement this year. They chose the restrictive cyber laws of Myanmar and Vietnam as models in formulating the framework of Laos’ Internet law. Laos officials also reportedly looked at the approach used by China in regulating the Web.

As expected, the result is a law that claims to support the growth of the Internet but actually contains numerous contradictory provisions that undermine free speech and other citizen rights.

Provisions that recognize the privacy rights of Internet users, the protection of intellectual property, and prohibitions on pornography may be less controversial for Laotians. But the law also prohibits sharing photos that “contradict Lao traditions and culture.” The question is this, who will decide whether an obscene image insults Laotian heritage?

The same decree also identified several so-called “cybercrimes” whose definitions are unclear and very broad. They include:

- Disseminating false information against the Lao People's Revolutionary Party;
- Circulating information that encourages citizens to be involved in terrorism, murder, and social disorder;
- Supporting online campaigns that seek to divide solidarity among ethnic groups and between countries;
- Spreading information that distorts truth or tarnishes the dignity and rights of individuals, sectors, institutions and organizations;
- Sharing of comments whose contents are in line with the abovementioned prohibitions.

Internet service providers are ordered not to provide service to individuals, legal entities or organizations whose movement seeks to undermine the Party and government policies.

Based on these guidelines, it seems that legitimate criticism of government programs and policies can be interpreted as a criminal act if it creates division, confusion, or “disorder” among the public. It is easy to see how authorities could use the law to prosecute journalists, activists, and other critics of the government.

The law also prohibits the creation of anonymous or pseudonymous accounts online, purportedly in an effort “to ease the efforts of authorities in regulating the Internet.” This is a big blow to citizens who seek to expose wrongdoings in the government through the Internet.

The government believes that this kind of Internet regulation is necessary to prevent abuse and misuse of the Internet as a space for communication and connection. While acknowledging the positive contributions of the Internet to the local economy, Lao officials also warned that it can be used to cause panic in society. They cited the spread of inaccurate information about the Lao Airlines crash and a recently online rumor of human organ trafficking in Attapeu province. In both cases, the Laos government was forced to make official statements to clarify the wrong information.

Despite these excesses, however, the Laos government previously vowed not to block the Internet, believing that it is essential to the “modernization and industrialization” of the country. But the new Internet law will undermine the commitment of Laos officials to keep the Internet open and free. It will discourage netizens from maximizing online spaces to engage public officials and challenge public policies.

The law could also impede the growth of the IT sector. In 2011 there were only 60,000 Facebook users in Laos. Today, more than half a million Lao citizens use the popular social networking site. According to news reports, there are now five telecommunications companies, seven Internet service providers and about 900 computer shops in the country. At this time, what Laos needs is a law that will boost this industry and not something that will unfairly penalize critics, activists, and even ordinary Internet users.

It is unfortunate that Laos has aligned itself with its neighbors in the region that are implementing repressive Internet laws to stifle dissent, intimidate the opposition, and even punish critical citizens. Laos should strive to distinguish itself in the region by adopting a human rights-based framework in regulating the Internet.

by Mong Palatino at September 28, 2014 12:57 PM

Global Voices
Laos Joins Southeast Asian Neighbors in Imposing Stricter Internet Controls
An Internet cafe in Laos. Photo from Flickr user Jon Rawlinson. CC License

An Internet cafe in Laos. Photo from Flickr user Jon Rawlinson. CC License

Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong has signed a new decree imposing stricter Internet control in the country. Signed last September 16, 2014, the new regulation promotes responsible and “constructive” use of the Internet among Lao netizens.

A few months ago, Lao officials announced that they were studying the experience of other Southeast Asian nations as a guide in drafting an Internet law which they plan to implement this year. They chose the restrictive cyber laws of Myanmar and Vietnam as models in formulating the framework of Laos’ Internet law. Laos officials also reportedly looked at the approach used by China in regulating the Web.

As expected, the result is a law that claims to support the growth of the Internet but actually contains numerous contradictory provisions that undermine free speech and other citizen rights.

Provisions that recognize the privacy rights of Internet users, the protection of intellectual property, and prohibitions on pornography may be less controversial for Laotians. But the law also prohibits sharing photos that “contradict Lao traditions and culture.” The question is this, who will decide whether an obscene image insults Laotian heritage?

The same decree also identified several so-called “cybercrimes” whose definitions are unclear and very broad. They include:

- Disseminating false information against the Lao People's Revolutionary Party;
- Circulating information that encourages citizens to be involved in terrorism, murder, and social disorder;
- Supporting online campaigns that seek to divide solidarity among ethnic groups and between countries;
- Spreading information that distorts truth or tarnishes the dignity and rights of individuals, sectors, institutions and organizations;
- Sharing of comments whose contents are in line with the abovementioned prohibitions.

Internet service providers are ordered not to provide service to individuals, legal entities or organizations whose movement seeks to undermine the Party and government policies.

Based on these guidelines, it seems that legitimate criticism of government programs and policies can be interpreted as a criminal act if it creates division, confusion, or “disorder” among the public. It is easy to see how authorities could use the law to prosecute journalists, activists, and other critics of the government.

The law also prohibits the creation of anonymous or pseudonymous accounts online, purportedly in an effort “to ease the efforts of authorities in regulating the Internet.” This is a big blow to citizens who seek to expose wrongdoings in the government through the Internet.

The government believes that this kind of Internet regulation is necessary to prevent abuse and misuse of the Internet as a space for communication and connection. While acknowledging the positive contributions of the Internet to the local economy, Lao officials also warned that it can be used to cause panic in society. They cited the spread of inaccurate information about the Lao Airlines crash and a recently online rumor of human organ trafficking in Attapeu province. In both cases, the Laos government was forced to make official statements to clarify the wrong information.

Despite these excesses, however, the Laos government previously vowed not to block the Internet, believing that it is essential to the “modernization and industrialization” of the country. But the new Internet law will undermine the commitment of Laos officials to keep the Internet open and free. It will discourage netizens from maximizing online spaces to engage public officials and challenge public policies.

The law could also impede the growth of the IT sector. In 2011 there were only 60,000 Facebook users in Laos. Today, more than half a million Lao citizens use the popular social networking site. According to news reports, there are now five telecommunications companies, seven Internet service providers and about 900 computer shops in the country. At this time, what Laos needs is a law that will boost this industry and not something that will unfairly penalize critics, activists, and even ordinary Internet users.

It is unfortunate that Laos has aligned itself with its neighbors in the region that are implementing repressive Internet laws to stifle dissent, intimidate the opposition, and even punish critical citizens. Laos should strive to distinguish itself in the region by adopting a human rights-based framework in regulating the Internet.

by Mong Palatino at September 28, 2014 12:52 PM

Lawrence Lessig
#IStandWithHongKong

Fifty thousand Hong Kong residents (the equivalent of 3 million Americans) have taken to the…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at September 28, 2014 11:51 AM

Global Voices Advocacy
Anton Nossik on the Coming End of Facebook, Twitter, and Google in Russia
A Russian apocalypse might be headed for social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

A Russian apocalypse might be headed for social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Severing Russia’s connection to American Internet giants looks increasingly likely. Earlier today, September 26, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) revealed it has formally demanded that Facebook, Twitter, and Google obey a new law requiring “organizers of information distribution” to store on Russian soil six-month meta data archives, making them accessible to Russian police. Also, the Duma is poised to pass the final reading of amendments to another law that will require websites and certain apps to store all user data on servers located inside Russia by January 1, 2015, rather than September 2016, as the law originally planned.

For months already, speculation that the Kremlin will cut off access to American online social media has been a regular feature of commentary about the RuNet. Now, one of the Russian Internet’s most respected voices says he’s confident that websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google will soon be things of the past in Russian cyberspace. Writing on LiveJournal today, media expert and founding member of the Russian blogosphere Anton Nossik explained why he thinks the end is nigh in Russia for websites used by billions around the globe.

With the author’s permission, RuNet Echo is making Nossik’s blog post available to English speakers.

“Facebook, Twitter, and Google: the Mechanics of Disconnection,”
by Anton Nossik

Roskomnadzor has started preparing to block in Russia the servers of Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

The original plan was to block these services in the second half of 2016, but Duma deputies suddenly changed their minds this week, approving revisions to new legislation that move the disconnection date to January 1, 2015. But Roskomnadzor is hurrying to create the preconditions for this shut-off even sooner.

The technology for disconnecting is two-stage. First, the government will present foreign Internet companies with clearly impractical demands to relocate all user data to locations under the control of Russia’s FSB [the Federal Security Service]. Then, for failing to comply with these demands, state officials will disconnect them. More accurately, they’ll disconnect us from them.

After being registered by Roskomnadzor as an organizer of information distribution, a website must maintain “on the territory of the Russian Federation information [from the past six months] about the reception, transmission, delivery, and (or) processing of communication by voice, writing, images, sounds, or other electronic means between users of the Internet.” Failure to fulfill these demands carries a penalty of up to 500,000 rubles, Roskomnadzor explains.

Maybe you're thinking the journalists at Izvestia left out an important nuance: just exactly whose data needs to be stored on Russian soil. Does this concern only Russian citizens, Russian-speaking Internet users worldwide, or citizens of any country, who happen to be on Russian territory, when accessing the Web?

In fact, Izvestia’s journalists aren't guilty of anything here. Of course, they could have asked the Roskomnadzor official this interesting question, and maybe even did ask, but simply weren’t permitted to print the answer. The raw truth is that the answer isn’t actually written in the federal law passed by the government. There was no effort to limit the jurisdiction of the Duma’s laws and the legitimate sphere of interest of Russia’s FSB—not by the criterion of citizenship, not by language, not by geography. If you read Federal Law 97 as it was actually written and passed, you’ll see that it concerns the reception and transmission of anyone’s data—American and European, Japanese and Canadian, Israeli and New Zealander, without any kind of restrictions. And the law’s definition of a blog is also quite generous. Allow me to quote the law, as you probably won’t believe me:

The owner of a site and (or) particular page of a site on the Internet, on which there is publicly accessible information and which attracts more than 3,000 daily visits from users of the Internet, (henceforth referred to as a “blogger”) is obligated to observe the laws of the Russian Federation, when distributing and using this information, including the distribution of said information on the website or website’s page by other users of the Internet.

Here it’s plainly clear there aren’t restrictions of any kind. Not by citizenship, not by language, and not by geography. If you’ve got 3,000 unique visitors in a day, you’re on the list, so please fall in. Even if your language is Indonesian and your entire audience is on the island of Java. Either you recognize the jurisdiction of a flock of sheep [i.e., Russia], or we’ll block you. That's what the law says.

Naturally, nobody is planning to enforce this law as it was passed. From the beginning, the task has been something else. Still ten days before the law went into effect, Roskomnadzor’s Maxim Ksenzov explained to everyone that his agency wouldn’t enforce any provisions of this law in any way except as selective political censorship.

We do not aim nor have we ever aimed to organize a census of all popular Russian-language Internet users. This would be a pointless exercise, and the law isn’t about that. […] The blogger registry created by the law, which Roskomnadzor will launch on August 1, wasn’t created to provide statistical calculations […]. We see no specific need for a preliminary assessment of the number of Internet users who potentially fall into the law’s “blogger” category. The statistics will be gathered as the law is enforced and will be flexible.

Flexibility is perhaps the defining quality of Russian law enforcement this season. Whomever they point the finger at tomorrow will be the next one visited by this “flexibility.” But the top priority now is blocking Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s services in Russia. The Duma has set a deadline of January 1, 2015, but Roskomnadzor is hurrying to get it done even earlier.

I don’t know what brought on this rush. In any event, for now we’re only talking about the kind of disconnection technology that is easily overcome with the help of proxies and VPN.

This text is a full English translation of an article by Anton Nossik that appeared in Russian on Nossik’s LiveJournal blog on September 26, 2014.

by Kevin Rothrock at September 28, 2014 02:18 AM

September 27, 2014

Info/Law
On Accuracy in Cybersecurity

I have a new article on how to address questions of accuracy in cybersecurity up on SSRN. It’s titled Schrödinger’s Cybersecurity; here’s the abstract:

Both law and cybersecurity prize accuracy. Cyberattacks, such as Stuxnet, demonstrate the risks of inaccurate data. An attack can trick computer programs into making changes to information that are technically authorized but incorrect. While computer science treats accuracy as an inherent quality of data, law recognizes that accuracy is fundamentally a socially constructed attribute. This Article argues that law has much to teach cybersecurity about accuracy. In particular, law’s procedural mechanisms and contextual analysis can define concepts such as authorization and correctness that are exogenous to code. The Article assesses why accuracy matters, and explores methods law and cybersecurity deploy to attain it. It argues both law and cybersecurity have but two paths to determining accuracy: hierarchy, and consensus. Then, it defends the controversial proposition that accuracy is constructed through social processes, rather than emerging from information itself. Finally, it offers a proposal styled on the common law to evaluate when accuracy matters, and suggests that regulation should bolster technological mechanisms through a combination of mandates and funding. Like the cat of Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment, information is neither accurate nor inaccurate until observed in social context.

Cite: Derek E. Bambauer, Schrödinger’s Cybersecurity, 48 UC Davis Law Review (forthcoming 2014).

 

by Derek Bambauer at September 27, 2014 05:16 PM

Global Voices
Violent Clashes Between Hong Kong Police and Peaceful Student Protesters
More protesters arrived and they were gathered in front of the government headquarter. Photo from inmediahk.net

More protesters arrived and they were gathered in front of the government headquarter. Photo from inmediahk.net

Hundreds of riot police used pepper spray and batons to disperse peaceful student protesters at Hong Kong's Civic Square earlier today, September 27. Roughly 75 protesters have been arrested.

For the past week, thousands of university and high school students have boycotted classes, gathering in Tamar Park to demand that Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chung Ying open a public dialogue about election reform.

The Beijing framework set by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress requires candidates for Hong Kong's top leader, the chief executive, to get majority support from a nominating committee before running for office. This new principle, which guarantees the candidates of the chief executive will be pro-Beijing, does not enjoy wide support in Hong Kong. Leung, ignoring public opinion, has insisted that the Beijing framework keeps Hong Kong on the path of democratic development. He has refused to meet face to face with student protesters, accusing them of being “irrational”.

Over the past week, protesters had made several failed attempts to force Leung into a public debate. On September 26, a pro-Beijing group reserved Tamar Park for another function. At 10:30 p.m., student protesters decided to move their assembly from the park to Citizen Square in front of the main government building, which is designed as a public space but has been sealed off with barricades since June.

About 200 students managed to penetrate the barricades and enter Civic Square, but police stopped the rest of the demonstrators. As riot police attempted to enter the square in pursuit of the students inside, other protesters raised their hands (to show they were unarmed) and formed a human shield to block the officers. Confrontations broke out in various spots, and police ended up pepper spraying the peaceful protesters. So far, around 13 student leaders and 61 protesters have been arrested.

Hong Kong Apple Daily has released a video about the confrontation:

Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of a high-school activist group called “Scholarism,” was handcuffed during his arrest. He is accused of participating in illegal assembly, disturbing public order and forcing entry into a government building. The police rejected his bail application.

Protesters formed human shields and raised their hands to show that they were peaceful. But the police still pepper sprayed at them.

Protesters formed human shields and raised their hands to show that they were peaceful. But the police still pepper sprayed them. Photo from inmediahk.net

Soon after news of clashes spread on social media, many people rushed to the scene at midnight to join the student protest. Hinhope, a local teacher, was among one of these late arrivals. Writing online, he described what he witnessed overnight:

1. 學生和市民在受傷:現場唯一可見的暴力與有人受傷,是警察用警棍攻擊只原地停留的學生和市民,以及警察持續不斷地用胡椒噴霧讓年輕人面部嚴重受傷。
2. 雨傘和水:因此,在現場的話,會見到不斷有後排的學生和市民,將雨傘和一瓶瓶的水傳到跟警察距離最近的人群;雨傘是為了減低胡椒噴霧射出時的傷害,而水是為了緩和痛苦。[...]
3. 舉高雙手:在場的學生和市民經常全體舉高雙手,以示大家手無吋鐵,且不會作任何行動——大家只是要站在原位,僅僅讓身體停留在那位置,以示爭民主的決心。僅僅站著,舉高雙手。但胡椒噴霧還是會一陣陣地向學生們射去。[...]
9. 人鍊、耐性:守在公民廣場入口那條路上,七到八排學生組成的人鍊陣,堅定不移,手勾手,就站在那兒,站了一整晚。他們的眼神,透視出非一般的耐性 […] 大多是年輕的女孩子。

1. Students and ordinary citizens were injured: The only violence I witnessed came from police. Some police used their batons to shuffle students and citizens who were just standing nearby. The police also pepper sprayed young protesters directly in their faces and seriously hurt them.
2. Umbrellas and water: You can see students and people from behind kept passing umbrellas and water to those who were near the police. The umbrellas were to block the pepper spray and water was to clean their faces and reduce the pain. […]
3. Hands up: The students and other citizens raised their hands to show that they were unarmed and would not fight back — people just stood there and occupied the space with their bodies to show their determination to struggle for democracy. But they were still pepper sprayed […]
9. Human shields and patience: On the road leading to Civic Square, students formed chains by holding each others’ hands. They just stood there for the whole night. You could see the patience in their eyes […] most of those standing on the frontline were young girls.

Citizen media platform inmediahk.net reporter Ng Cheuk Hang wrote on Facebook that he'd never before encountered such ruthless police behavior. He and other journalists captured on film several episodes of police pepper spraying demonstrators:

A photo taken by Ng Cheuk Hang when he among other photo-journalists were cornered and pepper-sprayed at.

A photo taken by Ng Cheuk Hang when he among other photo-journalists were cornered and pepper-sprayed at.

今晨受傷的過程是這樣的,先被防暴警察用盾牌拍打背包,然後向我直射胡椒噴霧,第一下尚可忍受,可是防暴警察再用盾牌逼我和前面的攝記和示威者埋牆,差點就人踩人,然後再向我們噴射多次胡椒噴霧,這時已經完全忍不了痛。
經過現場醫護人員醫治後已無事,但今次有同學被打得頭破血流,也有同學被推倒後再被警察拖行。這是我見過香港最暴力的一次鎮壓行動,面對學生,真的需要用到防暴警察嗎?
真的很痛,由心裡痛出來的痛。

The situation this morning was like this: riot police used their shields to hit my backpacks and pepper-sprayed my face. I could bear the first blow, but the police forced against a wall other photo journalists and protesters standing in front of me. I was almost trampled, and then I was pepper sprayed over and over. The pain was unbearable.

After being treated by a medical team, I recovered. But another student was hit on his head and bled a lot. Another student fell down and was dragged along the ground by police. This is the most violent crackdown I have ever seen in Hong Kong. Does the government really need to call upon riot police to respond to students?

My heart is filled with pain.

Police sealed off the civic square and took action to arrest 61 protesters in the afternoon on 27 September 2014. Photo from inmediahk.net's Facebook.

Police sealed off Civic Square and arrested 61 protesters in the afternoon on 27 September 2014. Photo from inmediahk.net's Facebook.

Meanwhile, Hinhope is urging teachers to strike and stand up for their students next week:

學生在帶頭行動、而受暴力對待了,老師和相關機構們,是否應考慮宣布星期一起全面罷課,聲援學生?預備佔中的人們,是否不應再等,立時與疲勞受苦的學生站在一起。

Students were on the frontline, facing violence. Shouldn't teachers and others in related spheres strike with the students next Monday? Shouldn't we be preparing for a mass sit-in, to stand together with our students?

Thousands of protesters were still gathering in front of the government headquarter late at night on 27 of September. Photo from Facebook user Fernando Cheung.

Thousands of protesters were still gathering in front of the government headquarter late at night on 27 of September. Photo from Facebook user Fernando Cheung.

Police may have arrested dozens of protesters at Civic Square, but more demonstrators arrived and occupied the road in front of the government headquarters.

A number of civic groups have condemned the police for using excessive force. Thousands of people were still gathering in front of the government building at Civic Square protesting against police violence and calling for the release of protesters late at night on 27 September.

The police announced the evening assembly illegal and urged the crowd to disperse. Riot police were on hand in large numbers, standing by and ready to disperse the crowd, if ordered to do so.

by Oiwan Lam at September 27, 2014 03:40 PM

What it Means to be Puerto Rican for Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera

At a time when there are more Puerto Ricans living outside the island, questions on what it means to be Puerto Rican become essential. A letter written by Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera deals with just that.

In it, he offers his views on

Photo from Facebook page Free Oscar López Rivera.

Photo from Facebook page Free Oscar López Rivera.

Puerto Rican identities. This letter is the first entry in a newly created section of the online magazine La Respuesta, dedicated to writings by and about Oscar López Rivera. Here is an excerpt:

To be Puerto Rican means to me to carry out all the responsibilities that our citizenship demands. It means to struggle to keep our culture, our language, our history, our idiosyncrasies, our music, our dances, our culinary skills, and our roots alive, and to decolonize our minds and our homeland. It means that we should struggle to protect and preserve everything that defines the Puerto Rican nation.

The diasporic identities aren’t synonymous with Puerto Rican identity. i’m not a Nuyorican. i have lived in this country for over five and a half decades. i speak both languages, but Spanish remains my primary language. In the late 60′s a handful of Puerto Ricans put together a journal called ‘the Rican.’ i thought the name was an error. It didn’t survive because just a handful of Ricans read it and identified with it. i use Spanglish like many other diasporic Puerto Ricans do. i enjoy the poetry of Pedro Pietri and the plays written by Miguel Piñero. i believe many diasporic Boricuas can identify with Spanglish, and we can be sure it will continue morphing and evolving.

Oscar López Rivera has been imprisoned in the United States for over thirty years because of his political beliefs. López Rivera, 71, has been imprisoned for 33 years in the United States charged with “seditious conspiracy” and “conspiracy to escape” for which he received a 70-year sentence. He is a fighter for the independence of Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States. Politicians, artists, and many people across different ideologies have united to ask US President Barack Obama to pardon López Rivera, who has been called the longest held political prisoner in the western hemisphere. 

To find out more, please read our previous coverage here, herehere, and here.

by Ángel Carrión at September 27, 2014 03:17 PM

8 Things You Wanted to Know About Madagascar but Were Afraid to Ask
Young Malagasy girls by Hery Zo Rakotondramana on FlickR - CC BY-SA 2.0

Young Malagasy girls by Hery Zo Rakotondramana on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island by area, yet it still remains a mystery to many people. Recently in the spotlight because of a visit from Valérie Trierweiler, former partner of French president François Hollande and author of the bestseller “Merci pour ce moment” (Thank you for the moment), Madagascar is as intriguing for its biodiversity as it is for the way it straddles Asia and Africa.

So, whether you are planning your first trip to Madagascar, you want to know about your friends’ homeland, or you just want to learn more about this part of the world, here are eight things you might have been wondering about Madagascar but were afraid to ask. The answers come from Malagasy citizens who are active on the web—check out their blogs and videos.

1) I'm going to Madagascar soon and would like to get a better idea of what everyday life is like for the people there. What is the typical way of life for the Malagasy?

That depends who you ask. According to the World Bank, 90 percent of the Malagasy people live on less than US$2 per day. The disparities of wealth in Madagascar are such that there is not really a typical way of life to speak of. Randriamihaly,a blogger in Madagascar, describes the disparity:

Ainsi, les princes et les princesses sont ceux qui possèdent le plus. Il ne faut pas s’étonner de les entendre parler de leur vie à Tana comme d’un conte de fées. Ils vivent dans une bulle increvable. Leurs palaces gardés par les agences de sécurités sont truffés de meubles dorés et de gadgets de haute technologie. Ils sortent de là en 4×4 pour aller dans ces lieux qui leur sont réservés : écoles américaines ou françaises, restaurants, piscines, spa,  centres commerciaux. [..] A quelques mètres de là, dans Antananarivo, l’enfer, c’est ce que vit la famille d’Ernestine. Cette femme se lève très tôt le matin afin de préparer ses enfants pour l’école : se laver à l’eau froide du bidon, manger la soupe de riz avec le bout de viande fumée et partir à pied. L’école, c’est le rêve auquel elle s’accroche. Elle croit que si ses enfants parviennent à décrocher un diplôme, n’importe lequel, ils pourront s’en sortir plus tard et ils n’auront pas à vivre un calvaire quotidien comme elle. Elle va chez les patrons, elle peut tout faire : lessive, vaisselle, ménage, porteuse d’eau, garde d’enfant, tout. Et le soir, elle revient exténuée, ses enfants dorment déjà. Elle veille sur leur sommeil à cause des rats qui peuvent attaquer. Et puis, comment avoir un bon sommeil lorsqu’on est à 4, 5 ou 6 à dormir dans une seule pièce de 2 m de largeur ?  

The princes and princesses are the ones who have the most. Don't be surprised if their lives in Tana sound like fairy tales. They live in an impenetrable bubble. Their luxury hotels are protected by security guards, filled with gilded furniture and high-tech gadgets. They go out in their 4x4s to places only they go: American or French schools, restaurants, pools, spas, shopping centers. . . . A few meters away, in Antananarivo, Ernestine's family is living in hell. She gets up very early in the morning to get her children ready for school: washing up with cold water from a can and eating rice soup with a bit of smoked meat before leaving on foot. She clings to the dream of a good education. She believes that if her children manage to get a diploma, any diploma, they will later be able to get by and won't have to suffer everyday like she does. She goes to her employers’ homes and does everything for them: the laundry, the dishes, the cleaning, carrying water, babysitting, everything. And in the evening, she comes home exhausted, her children already asleep. She stays up while they sleep to watch out for the rats that can attack in the night. Besides, how can anyone have a good sleep when there are four, five, even six people sleeping in a single two-meter-wide room?

So there is no such thing as a typical everyday life in Madagascar; this is true in any country but especially this one, a country where the middle class is just a sliver.

2) How do you pronounce the current president's name? 

Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana has been the president of Madagascar since January 2014. According to The Guardian, his name is the longest of any current world leader. It's not easy to pronounce, even for the Malagasy. If you ever meet the president, instead of taking the risk of butchering his name and bringing diplomatic embarrassment upon yourself, it might be a better idea to refer to the name of his party, the Hery Vaovao (“New Forces”), or lend him a flashlight to keep him from worrying about electric power all the time. But if you really insist on pronouncing his name, here is how you should say it ( at 0:09 in the video) : 

3) We're planning on cross-country hiking across the island. What do we need to know to stay safe?  

News out of Madagascar these past few years has been full of stories of poverty, health crises, instability and highway robbery. The memories of two vazaha (white foreigners) being lynched on the Madagascan island of Nosy Be are still fresh in people's minds. That being said, hiking across the island is a unique experience that many tourists and Malagasy embark on every year.

The main health risk is malaria. The country as a whole is classified as being in Zone 3, meaning that the strain of malaria found here is somewhat resistant to chloroquine (the most frequently used anti-malaria medication worldwide for both prevention and treatment). Malaria is present over 90 percent of the Madagascar territory. Here are some tips to stay protected: (via Le Guide du Routard, a renown tourist guide for french-speaking backpackers):  

- il est indispensable de prendre un traitement antipaludique.
- le soir, porter des vêtements les plus couvrants possible et, mieux encore, traités (par exemple avec Insect Ecran® trempage) ;- sur les parties découvertes, utiliser lotions ou crèmes répulsives efficaces. S'enduire les parties découvertes du corps dès le coucher du soleil ;
- utiliser une moustiquaire.

- Antimalarial medication is a must.
- In the evening, wear clothes that cover you as much as possible. If the clothes are medicated (for example, with an antimalarial fabric soak such as Insect Ecran®), even better. Slather an effective mosquito repellent lotion or cream on exposed body parts, especially after sunset.
- Use a mosquito net.

Chikungunya and other tropical diseases are also found in Madagascar. The basic rules for avoiding them are the same as in any other country. As far as instability is concerned, there are no official statistics on crime in Madagascar, but it is present enough in public consciousness to have a negative impact on tourism . Mofo Lany, who lives in the country's capital of Antananarivo, offers his point of view:

Il ne se passe pas une semaine sans que les journaux ne relatent des faits de violences dans la capitale malgache Antananarivo. Toutes les couches de la population, des plus aisées aux plus modestes, sont victimes de ce phénomène. Même les étrangers ne sont pas en reste. Les attaques à main armée sont particulièrement nombreuses. 

Not a week goes by without the newspapers reporting violence out of Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital. All levels of society, from the most well off to the least, are victims of this phenomenon. Even foreigners are not immune. Holdups are particularly common.

4) Should I learn Malagasy when I am in Madagascar? If so, how?

Ideally, yes. But like learning any language, Malagasy requires determination and high motivation. And, like any other language, it has its easy aspects and not-so-easy aspects. The pros:

  • No distinction between gender such as masculine or feminine
  • No distinction between number: singular and plural are the same
  • Only three tenses: past, present, future, and unconjugated

As for the cons, Lilikely, a French expatriate, shares the experience of learning Malagasy as a vazaha (“foreigner” in Malagasy):

- Déjà, pas mal de gens parlent un peu français : beaucoup dans les grandes villes, et assez peu dans les campagnes. Du coup, c'est plus facile pour se faire comprendre, on finit toujours par trouver quelqu'un pour nous aider si ce qu'on cherche est compliqué. Du coup, on n'a pas besoin de se forcer, et si on est un peu flemmard, on profite de cela.
-La grammaire. Ca parait simplissime au début.  MAIS… Tout cela c'est pour la forme active. Et au final, les malgaches s'expriment surtout avec la forme passive… nettement plus difficile à maîtriser.
- Les références culturelles et la façon d'exprimer les idées sont aussi très éloignées des nôtres
- Les spécificités régionales font que le découragement arrive vite lorsqu'on voyage. 

- Quite a few people speak a bit of French: a lot in the bigger cities, less so in the countryside. So that means it's easier for people to understand you, and someone can always help you if you have trouble finding what you need. So you don't need to try that hard, and if you're kind of lazy, that's okay.
-The grammar. It seems simple at first. BUT… That's only for the active form. And, it turns out, the Malagasy mostly speak using the passive form… which is obviously harder to master.
- The cultural references and the way people express their ideas here are also very different from our own.
- Linguistic features that are specific to particular regions can be easily discouraging when you're traveling.

How can a person learn Malagasy? Here are some resources that can give English speakers an introduction to the language: the basics on mylanguages.org, a phrasebook from Wikitravel, and an explanation of the verb tenses

5) Are the Malagasy people African, Asian, or something else?

Betsileo, Madagascar, 1908 CC-BY-2.0

Betsileo, Madagascar, 1908 CC-BY-2.0

Ah, the question that won't go away! This is the part where we tackle the more controversial questions about Madagascar. This particular question is understandable as the country is situated right between Africa and Asia and its population is very diverse. The problem is the debate that comes after the question–discussion on the subject is often steeped in prejudiced, racist undertones. If you are truly curious and can read French, Dominique Ranaivoson, a professor and expert in Malagasy literature, has written at length on the topic in French. One of the first facts to know is that 18 traditional tribes have been counted in Madagascar, which include people of African, Asian, or Arab origin. Another fact is that a sort of latent racism exists between these different Malagasy groups.

Pêcheur Vézo par Jean-Louis Vandevivère  CC-BY-2.0

Vézo the Fisher by Jean-Louis Vandevivère CC-BY-2.0

6) Why do some Malagasy people “turn the bones” (famadihana) of their dead relatives?

Ah, the other controversial question! The famadihana, or “turning of the bones,” is a funerary tradition honoring ancestors. An explanation of the ritual from Lay in Antananrivo:

Un razana (ancêtre)  peut se manifester à un de ses descendants dans son rêve ou dans un tromba en lui disant qu’il a froid. Il promet en contrepartie de bénir ses descendants dans leur vie quotidienne. C’est ainsi que les Malgaches rouvrent les tombeaux et remplacent les tissus qui recouvrent les restes de leurs morts. C’est l’occasion de fêtes monumentales, de danses et de beuveries

A razana (ancestor) might appear to one of his or her descendants in a dream or in a vision, complaining of cold and promising to impart blessings upon the lives of his or her relatives. This is why the Malgasy reopen their family members’ tombs and replace the shrouds covering the remains of the dead. It is a time of massive celebration, dancing and drinking.

Soahary explains the particular way the tradition fits in the context of Malagasy culture:

La relation des Malgaches avec la mort et les parents déjà partis est assez particulière. On considère que nos ancêtres veillent sur nous.  Ainsi, ils ne sont jamais vraiment partis. On leur rend hommage périodiquement en recouvrant leur corps de nouveaux linceuls. 

The Malagasy people's relationship with death and deceased family is rather unique. We consider our ancestors to be watching over us, and thus, they are never really gone. We pay tribute to them periodically by wrapping their bodies in new shrouds.

Hemerson Andrianetrazafy, lecturer and researcher in civilization at the University of Antananarivo, adds:

 Le famadihana est très exactement le rituel par lequel la dépouille d’un parent atteint le statut de razana, d’ancêtre. Un moment capital dans la spiritualité malgache, car tous les morts ne deviennent pas automatiquement des razana  [..] Pour les Malgaches, la mort n’est pas une dissolution, un anéantissement, mais une étape conduisant au statut d’ancêtre. « Tsy maty fa lasan-ko razana », (Ils vivent mais sous une autre forme), servant d’intermédiaire entre les vivants et les zanahary, les divinités.

In fact, famadihana is the ritual that makes a family member's body achieve razana (ancestor) status. It is a major event in Malagasy spirituality, for not all of the dead automatically become razana. . . . Tsy maty fa lasan-ko razana (They live on, but in another form), serving as mediators between the living and the zanahary, the deities.

Many Christian Malagasy people have pointed out this practice is in conflict with Biblical principles. The practice of famadihana is becoming less common for this reason, as well as the high cost of the ceremony.

7) Why is circumcision (or hasoavana in Malagasy) so common in Madagascar?

Another tradition in Madagascar is the circumcision of young boys before the age of two.

This is another opportunity to celebrate as a family. In Madagascar the practice is not linked to any religious tradition, but it is not without controversy. Ariniaina explains why she had her son circumcised:

Mais pourquoi faire ce rituel? J’allais me justifier en disant que c’est pour des raisons médicales. Comme quoi des saletés peuvent rester dans le prépuce, que plus tard, il se peut qu’on doit quand même le circoncire parce qu’il aura des problèmes de santé. Il sera alors plus âgé, plus conscient de la douleur. Ainsi, j’aurai regretté de ne pas avoir fait la circoncision plus tôt. Mais, au fond, est-ce la culture qui l’emporte? N’est considéré « vrai homme » que celui qui est circoncis. 

But why partake in this ritual? I was going to justify it by saying that it's for medical reasons. That dirt can get trapped in the foreskin, meaning he may have to later be circumcised anyway due to the resulting health problems. And by then he'll be older and more aware of the pain, and I would regret not getting the circumcision done sooner. But the truth is, it is cultural: he who is not circumcised is not considered a “real man.”

8) What is the connection between Madagascar, the country, and ”Madagascar”, the cartoon?

There isn't any. Well, two things, actually: 1) Nightclubs in Madagascar really did groove to “I Like to Move It, Move It” in the 1990s. 2) Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks, the company that produced the “Madagascar” film trilogy, has donated US$500 000to the non-profit organization Conservation International to promote ecotourism in Madagascar.

by Savannah Goyette at September 27, 2014 08:08 AM

Philippine Mall Apologizes For Selling Shirts that Say Rape is a ‘Snuggle with a Struggle’
Photo Credits: Karen Kunawicz

From Karen Kunawicz's Facebook Account.

When poet Karen Kunawicz shared a photo from the boys section of the SM Mall Department Store on Facebook earlier this week she sparked widespread outrage among Filipino netizens.

Kunawicz asked: ‘Really SM Department Store? In the boy's section?’ The T-shirt had the following statement printed on it: ‘It’s not rape, it’s a snuggle with a struggle.’

The next day, SM Malls, the Philippines’ largest shopping mall chain owned by the country's richest man, was compelled to issue a public apology and promised to withdraw the shirt from their stocks.

The controversial shirt led women's rights activists to hold a picket at an SM mall branch. Meanwhile, the Gabriela Women's Party is set to file a congressional resolution on the issue.

Kunawicz's Facebook post has gathered over 1,800 likes and was shared more than 4,700 times. Several posts on Twitter expressed indignation against the ‘pro-rape’ shirt:

Bench “Naked Truth” Fashion Show

Meanwhile, a major apparel brand was also forced to issue a public apology in the wake of a fashion show that also caused a public scandal.

Netizens condemned retail brand Bench for trampling on the dignity of women during ‘The Naked Truth Denim and Underwear Fashion Show’. Former Gabriela Women’s Party representative Liza Maza posted on Facebook:

At the Naked Truth Bench show – Bench should be held accountable for this degrading and dehumanizing portrayal of women and should apologize.

One of the scenes from the show featured a female model who was on all fours crawling on the stage while a popular actor held her on a leash as if she were his pet. The Plump Pinay by Danah & Stacy wrote that the Bench fashion show ‘crossed the line’ and ‘made their blood boil’, saying the scenes glorified sex slavery and human trafficking:

Didn't anybody from the company know that treating people like dogs (literally) was one of the cruel exercises the Nazis did in concentration camps to strip a person from his/her dignity and humanity? To make them feel utter shame and inferiority? No one felt uncomfortable enough to call this out from the production team? Not any one?

by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya at September 27, 2014 06:16 AM

Thailand's Military Stops University Lecture on ‘Authoritarianism’ and Detains Professors
About a hundred students of Thammasat University joined the planned lecture on authoritarianism. Photo from Prachatai website.

About a hundred students of Thammasat University joined the planned lecture on authoritarianism. Photo from Prachatai website. Used with permission.

Last week a group of students at the prestigious Thammasat University hosted a public lecture on “the collapse of authoritarian regimes in other countries”. While the discussion was presumably focused on other countries, the government seemed to decide the topic was too close to the current situation in Thailand and shut it down

Thailand's incumbent Prime Minister is the army chief who staged a coup in May. The army subsequently drafted a constitution, appointed members of the legislative assembly, and designated the coup leader as the country's head of state. Despite the appointment of a new government body, the army continues to ban protest actions and public gathering of five or more people, aside from strictly monitoring and controlling the mainstream press. Those who defy the army are threatened with prosecution and even imprisonment.

The military asked the public lecture to be cancelled and the university complied by locking the lecture hall. The students then moved downstairs to the open hall way. The lecture was given by a senior history professor Nidhi Eaowsriwong , and a popular political science lecturer Prajak Kongkirati. The police tried to ask the event to be cancelled but failed, so they asked the speakers and hosting students to go to a local police station.  The station was promptly guarded by military personnel.

Students provided first-hand accounts of the situation on Twitter:

The academics who were asked by authorities to be at the [local] police station, as far as we know, are Nidhi Eaowsriwong, Janjira Sombatpoonsiri, Prajak Kongkirati

The academics who were taken by authorities are Nidhi Eaowsriwong, Janjira Sombatpoonsiri, Prajak Kongkirati

Having a good time at the local police station

While the Thai Prime Minister described the detention as an “invitation” to a police station, The Bangkok post reports that the participants received an “attitude adjustment” while in custody.

Scholars from 16 universities signed a statement condemning the action taken by the military:

As academics from 16 universities in Thailand, we condemn the the military and the police for intimidating academics and students within a university premise. The action by the military and the police clearly constitutes a severe infringement of academic freedom, and is absolutely unacceptable.

The excuse that the panel discussion might harm national security is groundless. Academic discussions like the one at Thammsat University have always been a regular, normal affair, and have never proved to harm national security.

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, urged the government to end the crackdown on academic freedom:

While telling the world that they are not dictators, the Thai military authorities are extending their grip into universities and banning discussions about democracy and human rights. Prime Minister Prayuth should immediately end this crackdown on academic freedom and free speech.

The incident is another sign of the continuing deterioration of human rights protection, academic freedom, and free speech in Thailand under a military-backed government. But it is also proof that many groups and citizens are quietly asserting the return of normalcy and democratic rights in the country.

by John Smith at September 27, 2014 06:03 AM

Rising Voices
The Amp #21: September 1 to 26

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Rising Voices is pleased to announce this year's Amazonia microgrants will be awarded to seven citizen media outreach projects across South America. Meet the seven projects from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

FROM THE BLOG

Project Updates from our grantees:

End of the Summer Team Building and Looking Forward to the School Year – Youth from the RV grantee project Against the Current took part in creative activities during their summer break. These team building activities are setting the table for future multimedia Umoⁿhoⁿ language revitalization activities.

Never a Shortage of Topics for Girl Activists in Kyrgyzstan – The Girl Activists of Kyrgyzstan grantee project continues its workshops by exploring potential topics that the participants want to share through blogging.

Theatre Technology House field research.

Theatre Technology House field research.

The Community's Questions Will Be the Foundation of our Radio Soap – What does the community think about the state of Ugandan democracy? Following field research conducted by the RV grantee project Common Community, the team will now begin to write the script for the audio podcast soap to explore those issues.

Jalaibi.com- Workshop Planning Underway – Rising Voices grantee Jalaibi shares some of the lessons learned after the first workshops held in Islamabad, as it looks forward to the next activities in Karachi.

Taking the Mayan Language Tz'utujil to Social Media – It started with a Facebook Group and Page for the grantee project in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala that is working with local youth to revitalize the Mayan language T'zutujil through the use of social media. Israel Quic writes about these early activities.

Media Literacy and Resisting Manipulation: Project Update – Rising Voices grantee The Post-Conflict Research Center recently launched its Balkan Diskurs platform, which will be the space where the participants will be able to share their views following the upcoming October workshops to take place in Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina

Other RV posts:

HiperBarrio/Convergentes: A Virtual Community Evolves While Preserving Its Essence
– A look at Rising Voices alumnus project HiperBarrio and its evolution since first receiving a microgrant in 2007.

CONTESTS AND AWARDS

storymaker_4Free Press Unlimited is launching the first ever StoryMaker competition in Africa. The competition is open to journalists, bloggers and activists across Africa who submit video stories that showcase human rights issues that are important in your community. MORE HERE

Musikpiraten e.V. is hosting the Free! Music! Contest to find the best Creative Commons–licensed music of the year. Deadline is September 30. MORE HERE

The 2014 InternationalStudent.com Travel Video Contest asks students to send a video about their proposed study abroad. $US 4,000 grand prize is up for grabs. MORE HERE

FUNDING

Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) 2015 now open – USD 150,000 in prizes for continent’s brightest innovators to accelerate Africa’s development. Deadline to submit is October 31, 2014

LEARNING

The Asia Journalism Fellowship seeks mid-career journalists candidates from any medium, though preference is given to journalists working for Asian media organizations. Deadline is October 31, 2014.

[Report] A Detailed Snapshot of Africa’s emerging Internet and social media space – the users and what they are doing.

[Tutorial] How to broadcast live in Airtime by Sourcefabric.

[Online Course] ICANN offers a free course “A Visual Guide to the Internet” to help teach about the start of the Internet all the way through how it's being used right now around the world. Great for beginner Internet users, experts, and everyone in between.

EVENTS

The First Asian Investigative Journalism Conference “Uncovering Asia” is set for November 22-24, 2014 in Manila, Philippines.

JOB OPPORTUNITY

Free Press Unlimited is seeking a StoryMaker Trainers Network Manager & Community Coordinator to manage and build a strong, supporting trainer community through ongoing mentoring and assistance in order to sustain and expand a core group of trainers. Deadline is October 10, 2014. MORE HERE

NOTES

Congratulations to Sopheap Chak from our grantee the Cambodian Center for Human Rights for being recognized for her human rights work by US President Barack Obama at the recent Clinton Global Initiative Meeting in New York City. MORE HERE

by Rising Voices at September 27, 2014 03:14 AM

September 26, 2014

Doc Searls
Lives of the dead

A couple weekends ago I visited the graves of relatives and ancestors on my father’s side at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. All of them died before I was born, but my Grandma Searls and her sisters often visited there, and I thought, Hey, now that I’m in New York a lot, I should visit these dead folks. Grandma would like that. Here she is at at age three, in early 1886:

5220039836_7fef3aa9ed

She was born Ethel Frances Englert, on November 14, 1882, the third of four sisters. Here they are with their dad, Henry Roman Englert, in 1894:

5212424474_60250bb2dc_zGrandma is the foxy one on the lower right.

They lived here, at 742 E. 142nd Street in the South Bronx:

424060093_8e824804f9_z

That row house was razed, along with the rest of the block, to make room for what is now called “Old” Lincoln Hospital. These days an impoundment lot for towed cars reposes atop a hill formed by the imploded remains of the hospital. Amazingly, a lookup of the address on Bing Maps still goes to the same location, a century after these homes disappeared. Here’s how it looks now.

Henry was a son of Christian and Jacobina Englert, immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine, and head of the Steel & Copperplate Engraver’s Union in New York. His first wife, the four girls’ mom, was Catherine “Katie” Trainor, the daughter of Thomas Trainor, who emigrated from Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland at age 15 in 1825, leaving six siblings behind. Thomas married Mary Ann McLaughlin of Boston, settled in New York, and made his living in the carriage trade:

15365102925_1c017f087b_z

He lived and died at 228 East 122nd Street in Harlem. He and his wife Anna (née McLaughlin), married at St. Peter’s in Manhattan produced seven children, of which Katie was the second. The others were Hanna, Ella, Margaret, Mary and Charles, who was killed in the Civil War. Family legend says Chartles ran away as a teenager to fight, and was shot carrying the Union flag. But he didn’t die then. The old man visited the kid in a Washington army hospital, barely recognizing his son through the boy’s thick red beard. On Christmas 1865 the Charles arrived home in a box.

Thomas, Charles and other Trainors are among the early plantings in Old Calvary Cemetery in Queens. At three million corpses strong, Calvary is New York’s largest. I’ve never been there, and I’ll bet almost nobody else has in over a century. (One exception: Aunt Catherine Burns, about which I say more below.)

Katie’s sister Margaret, better known as “Aunt Mag,” or “Maggie,” was a favorite of the Englert girls and a source of gentle but stern family wisdom. A sample: “You’ve got it in your hand. Put it away.” Here she is:

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 3.30.49 PM

Maggie was the only one of the Trainor kids to live a long life, dying in 1944. Katie died at 38.

After Katie’s death, Henry married Tess Atonelle*, who had worked for the family. Here is Tess with Henry’s youngest brother, Andrew Englert:

andrew-tess

Tess and Henry produced a number of additional offspring, of which only one was remembered often by Grandma and her sisters: Harry, who died at age 4 in 1901:

harry-roman-englert

The next year Grandma married George W. Searls, my grandfather, who was 19 years older. George was, among other things, the head carpenter for D.W. Griffith, when Hollywood was still in Fort Leed. Here he is…

3503899717_c271f6610d_z

with his crew.

He built the family house at 2063 Hoyt Avenue, where my father and his two sisters were born and raised, and where my parents were hanging when I was born in 1947. The two upstairs floors were mostly rented out. Among guests and tenants passing through were Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. Grandma preferred Lillian, finding Mary’s language too salty. Another was Edward Pierson Richardson, Sr., M.D., father of Elliot Richardson (who served as Commerce Secretary under Richard Nixon).

Grandma met Grandpa when she was working as cleaning help in a boarding house, where she found Grandpa sleeping. She was so attracted to the rugged carpenter that she bent over and kissed him. He woke up, pulled her down and kissed her back. Natural selection, I guess.

Grandpa died in 1934 at age 70 after catching erysipelas from a nail that scratched his face. If they had penicillin back then he might have lasted a lot longer. I remember his older sister, Eva Quackenbush, well. She was born in 1853, lived almost to 100 (she died in 1953), and told stories about what it was like when Lincoln got shot. She was 12 at the time.

I was lucky to know so many interesting characters born two centuries back, or close: stories of New York when the streets were all dirt and cobble, of the arrival of gas light, electricity, subways and trolleys, bridges and tunnels, cars and phones.

These people were living history books. Grandpa walked with a limp from a wound he got fighting in the Spanish-American War. Among many other achievements, he was foreman of the crew that built the Cyclone at Palisades Park: the scariest roller coaster in world history. Pop worked in that crew and was the first to ride it. Heres a photo he shot from the top:

2687452629_ede4b8fd77_b

Pop was a fearless dude.

Through the Depression Pop worked as a longshoreman in New York, helped build the George Washington Bridge, served in the Coastal Artillery and went to Alaska to build railroads. That’s where he met Mom. Then he re-enlisted to fight in World War II, where his last job was as General Eisenhower’s phone operator in Paris.

All four Englert girls were still going strong the whole time I enjoyed perfect childhood summers at the beaches and in the backwoods of South Jersey. Here they are on the Jersey shore in 1953:

5212836913_d34a32ef94_z

They all spoke Bronx English, so the place where they stood was called ‘Da shaw.” It was also Mantoloking, not Point Pleasant. Just being historically accurate here.

What matters are the memories, which fade in life and disappear in death. I had hoped to bring some up, or to organize them in some way, when I visited Woodlawn.

It was less eerie there than blank: dead in several meanings of the word. Graves not “endowed” were marked by stones sinking into soft and hummocky glacial moraine. Who still remembers or cares about Henry Kremer (1853-1905) and his infant son, whose headstone is a few years away from burying itself? Those who cared enough to buy the stone are surely gone. How about Joseph Harper, who departed in 1897?

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 6.04.34 PM

Bet nobody.

I took those photos while following a map made for me by my cousin, Martin Burns, who shares the same ancestors and relatives, and who had been there before with his mother, Catherine (named after her Irish grandma, Katie), who did much of the genealogical and photo-gathering work from which my research here benefits. She died not long ago in her late 90s. (If accident or disease doesn’t get us, we’ve got a nice portfolio of genes to work with here.)

I walked around for about half an hour. During that whole time, and while driving in and out of the cemetery, I saw nobody else, other than my wife, sleeping in the car. (She said this wasn’t her idea of a fun date.) Verdant and peaceful as it is, Woodlawn is abandoned by nearly all but the dead who reside there.

The Englert inhabitants of Woodlawn are spread across three grave sites. The fourth one on Martin’s map is the Knoebel’s. They’re the family into which Aunt Gene, Grandma’s oldest sister, married. She’s the second sister from the left in the beach shot, above. There are six graves in the Knoebel plot, which is the only one of the four that I found. Thirteen people were buried there. One, Aunt Gene, went in when she died in 1960, and came out a decade later, when she was moved to Fairview Cemetery in New Jersey.

Christian and Jacobina are in an endowed plot, so their headstone stands upright. Here are aunt Catherine and cousin Kevin Burns (brother of Martin), standing behind it a few years back. There are three graves here, containing the bodies of seven people. I’ve listed them in this photo, by Martin. Four died young, and three lived full lives.

The single grave of Andrew and Annie Englert is unmarked, far as I know. (That’s Andrew next to Tess, above.) I didn’t find it. Nor did I find the grave of Henry Roman Englert, the root stock of most of the descendants I knew and heard about growing up. (I hadn’t yet posted the photos I got from Martin, so all I had to go by was a print-out of his map.)

After finding none of the Englert graves, I stood in one quiet spot and sent out a mental message to any ghosts who might be around, asking for a clue. I felt and heard nothing: clear evidence that the departed are truly gone.

Later, when I looked at these two photos, I saw that I was standing exactly on top of the graves of Henry, Katie, Harry, and several others. Here they are, in a photo Martin shot:

15095589240_d1f5ca7970_c

Several more things weirded me out, once I looked at the affidavit Catherine got from Woodlawn (or somewhere), listing the deceased under the grass there.

First was that a fifth Englert sister, Grace, existed. She was the youngest, died at age 2, and was buried here in 1889. Obviously my aunt Grace Apgar was named after this kid. But I never heard about the late baby Grace or forgot it. Either way, it was a surprise to learn she once walked on Earth, and lies in it here.

Second was that little Harry lay beneath both his older sister, who died at 28, and his mom, Tess, who died at 63. That all died young seemed even more tragic to me. (I’m five years older than Tess was when she went. “Young” is always less than one’s own age.)

Third was that old Henry R. got the only headstone, and it was probably not one he bought for himself. I’m sure it was put up after he died, I suppose by his surviving daughters.

Yet the site was visited often, way back when, I was told. Why did nobody ever mark them all? Or those in the other plots? Was it too expensive? And how did they know where to look without a marker of any kind?

I doubt I’ll ever know. Whatever the reason, it became clear to me that cemeteries are for one or two generations of living souls, and that’s it. If the dead remember the dead, they don’t do it here on Earth. Thanks to burial vaults (coffin containers) the dead don’t even serve as fertilizer.

At any moment there are better things for the living to do than dwell on dead people that nobody alive remembers or cares about. I’m probably wasting my time and yours by visiting the subject right now.

Yet I do feel a need to put what little I know about these people in pixels on the Web, rather than just on cemetery stones. I am sure, for example, that some Englert descendants — cousins I don’t know — will some day find this post and appreciate the efforts put into this accounting, mostly by Catherine and Martin.

Harvard, founded in 1636, is likely (I hope) to keep this blog up long after I’m gone; but even Harvard won’t be around forever. Everything dies. Rock under my ass in uptown Manhattan dates was formed about a half billion years ago. In another half billion years, life on Earth will be gone: burned away by a growing Sun.

Kevin Kelly once told me that in a thousand years, evidence of nearly everyone alive today will have disappeared. It’s a good bet.

Life is for the living. So is knowledge. All I’m doing here is contributing a little bit of both to the few people who might care — and acknowledging the love and caring that flows between people within and across all generations, nearly all of which are gone or not yet here.

Since I started with Grandma, I’ll close with her gravestone, in Brookside Cemetery in Englewood, New Jersey:

10848257303_d5752b6d04_z

If we matter enough to be written about, our lives are framed by dates in parentheses. Grandma’s here is (1882 – When?) The answer is 1990, when she was nearly 108 years old. She is buried next to her husband George and her older daughter, Aunt Ethel M. Searls (1905-1969). Grandma’s other two kids were my father, Allen H. Searls (1908-1979), and Aunt Grace Apgar (1912-2013).

Ethel died of horrible medical treatment (including convulsive electroshock) for what was probably just depression. Though beautiful and brilliant, her love life went poorly, and she hit the glass ceiling as a regional office manager for Prudential Insurance Company — the highest position in the company held by a woman at the time.

Pop died of his fifth heart attack, all of which I am sure were caused by decades of heavy smoking. He and Mom are buried together in North Carolina. I visited Pop’s grave three times: 1) when he was planted in it; 2) with Mom on her 90th birthday; and 3) when she died a few months later. I haven’t been back since.

Grace died last December of being done. Until then she lived an active and wonderful life. You can see that in shots of her 100th birthday party, which was a gas. She lived in Maine and her body, like those of husband Archie and son Ron, was cremated, sparing us all the need to avoid visiting remains in gardens of stone where almost nobody goes — except once, when they die.

I’d like my body to be recycled. Just put it in the ground somewhere, to feed living things. These days they call that natural burial. But I’m in no rush. Too busy.

_______________

* Since Google finds approximately no families named Atonelle, and many named Antonelli (and a few named Atonelli), I suspect Atonelle is an error. So I’d welcome a correction.

by Doc Searls at September 26, 2014 10:55 PM

Andrew McAfee
Business Book of the Year? Maybe. Public Talk Next Week? Definitely.

Yesterday we got the good news that The Second Machine Age had been shortlisted for the FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. Erik and I are floored and very flattered, and looking forward to the award dinner in London in November. I’m pretty sure we’ll watch Thomas Piketty another author hoist the trophy, but it’ll be great fun to attend.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 2.27.50 PM

In a nice coincidence, next week Erik and I are also giving our first joint public talk about the book since the initial book tour. It’s in Harvard’s gorgeous Sanders Theater on Wednesday October 1 at 4 pm. The event is sponsored by Harvard’s Institute for Learning in Retirement, and is free and open to the public. Please get a ticket in advance by stopping by HILR or the Harvard box office.

If you’re in the Boston area and interested at all please do come and let us know what questions you have about technological progress and how it’s shaping our businesses, economies, and societies. We hope to see you there…

 

by Andrew McAfee at September 26, 2014 06:40 PM

Doc Searls
Cavalcade of Tabs

Playing with One-Tab, which works on Chrome and Firefox. Sorting them into just two sets, which may overlap:

The World

The Internet

Radio

by Doc Searls at September 26, 2014 05:12 PM

Global Voices
In War-Torn Aleppo, There's No Place Like Home
Photo by Flickr user Vincent Ferron (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo by Flickr user Vincent Ferron (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This post is part of a special series of articles by blogger and activist, Marcell Shehwaro, describing the realities of life in Syria during the ongoing armed conflict between forces loyal to the current regime, and those seeking to oust it.

Very few Syrians have not yet experienced compulsory displacement, the fact of having to move from one place to another, abandoning the tangible present while ruminating on memories over and over again until they’re worn out. And like many Syrians, I too have a story involving houses—“luckily”, I should add, because for hundreds of thousands of people a cold tent is now all they have.

Throughout my past life—“prior to the revolution,” I mean—I lived in a house, a nice family home. My parents moved there when my mother was pregnant with me. A small house in one of Aleppo’s prestigious neighbourhoods where I lived for 28 years, during the majority of which I shared a room with my elder sister.

In our house green predominated. My mother, who was fascinated by this colour, invaded our bedroom with it: summer sheets and winter covers, the kitchen, the bathroom and most of the little decorative ornaments. As for me and my father, we competed for space on the shelves to hold our books all over the house.

Twenty-eight years living in the same house, as a result of which I developed strange habits, like being able to fall asleep even in the noisiest of times because I got used to the noises of the busy street outside.

I left it around two years ago, when I travelled to the UK to study for a Master’s degree. I packed only two large suitcases of clothes, thinking I would come back to get the rest of my things. How mistaken was I.

Shortly after my departure I became one of the hundreds of thousands of activists wanted by various State security branches because of my political activity. State security personnel visited our family house twice, and thank God they found no one there. This, however, made any attempt by me to visit our house an insane risk that could be classified as suicide.

Before my elder sister took off to Turkey—due to the safety threat she faced merely on account of being “my sister”—she packed our lives into boxes. Our pictures, our books, my parents’ pictures (which is all we have left of them), their love letters, their clothes, our clothes, our childhood toys, our house’s green ornaments, the feminine things my mother once bought me when she hoped I would marry one day, my father’s watch which I promised I’d give to the man I would love as much as I loved my father. Even though I finally found this man, I broke the promise: the watch sits there in a box somewhere along with copies of the book that I once published but have not even a single copy of today.

My entire past life is stacked in boxes, humble boxes that don’t manifest their grand contents. And just like us, our boxes await the chance for redemption or for burning down by an enemy’s missile, or a friend’s—it doesn’t really matter. Or maybe they’ll be violated just like everything in this country, stolen by a mad man hunkered behind his weapon.

After those 28 years my experience with houses took a sharp detour, for I have already slept in almost 50 houses in the past two years.

On the first Christmas holiday after my initial departure, we knew well that I was wanted by State security, but I took the risk of sneaking back into my city, Aleppo. And to avert security forces I slept in 20 different houses, a new house every day. Secretly meeting my sister at friends’, fortuitously kissing her kids, unable to explain to them my invisibility and the importance of keeping our meetings a secret.

Moving around every day with my suitcase and my laptop “which should not contain any thing that could condemn me at the regime’s check points”. Moving around from one house to the other, followed by the wondering, rather terrified gazes of my friends’ parents, whom I cannot blame.

Eventually, all that wandering was in vain as it did not alleviate the imminent danger from the State security. My nightly visits became a reason for my friends to be called in for investigation. At that point I decided to leave that part of the city, never to return, leaving behind my loved ones to start a new life in the other part, the one liberated by the Free Syrian Army.

A young woman looking for a house to live in by herself, an alien with a different religion and different attire. An unarmed woman among the many armed who might misuse those arms. New fears that I have to face now, as a female activist who chooses to live alone.

It was then that I experienced the first clash with my every belief: in a war society I am a vulnerable female who needs a man’s protection. The idea alone is terrifying and debilitating.

My fellow revolutionists and I decided to look for an apartment in the same building so that they could come quickly to my aid if I needed it. That’s when we briefly shared a living space in Alzibdiya. My house in Alzibdiya was a fourth floor apartment, which alone was a safety hazard due to air strikes. It was an empty space with nothing but an old television which didn’t work most of the time due to electricity cuts, some mattresses on the floor and a badly made bed in the room the guys decided was mine. We also had a small cooker that I managed to convince them to buy, after long arguments about the need to replace the sandwiches they bought every day with home-cooked food.

In that house I learned to cook large amounts of food, enough to feed ten of my male friends. In that house I stayed up late talking politics and sharing intimate stories about our families. I got to know theirs and they got to know mine. Together we shed many tears on the balcony and anxiously waited for our crazy reckless friends. In that busy house, always filled with homeless activists, I learnt how in the time of war one’s privacy completely vanishes.

We had to move out quickly because of the irritated neighbours and ISIS’ arrival in that neighbourhood. Both were paramount reasons to relaunch the hunt for a new home. We managed to find two apartments in the same building, and I moved into a house in Almashhad by myself. My friends’ caring never stopped, demonstrated even in the smallest details, like the grocery list. This house had a yard which I decorated with a jasmine arbor. I bought curtains and cupboards for this house and decided to call it home. Just like any Syrian, I was looking for something more personal and more intimate than a suitcase on the move.

It was into that house that I smuggled a Christmas tree to celebrate with friends, despite ISIS. It was in that house that the cold reduced me to tears, as all the windows were broken and all my attempts to make it warmer failed. And just as I gave in to the illusion that this house would actually become my home, an ISIS patrol stopped me in a nearby street. I escaped miraculously with the help and courage of the friends in the Free Syrian Army. For their safety and mine, we returned to moving between friends’ houses in order to dodge ISIS.

Then I spent some time going back and forth between Aleppo and Ghazi Aintab, bits of clothes here and there. At a certain point I had had bags of clothes in six different houses, a practice that ended up saving my life. And after liberating Aleppo from ISIS completely, we went back to square one, looking for a new house.

I told them I was looking for a house that resembled my family’s. We looked and looked until we finally found it, nice and neat. It was a house of newlyweds who had had to flee to Turkey. I told them they could put all their cherished things in a locked room, and I promised to respect their memories there. And so it was.

I spent two months in that house, until I got arrested by the City of Aleppo brigade for refusing to wear the head scarf. The house was raided on that day too, and friends felt I needed to leave Aleppo, and again—again—I had to leave, never to return.

Today I live in a room that I cannot afford to make any larger, and probably as a token of my nostalgia, I covered it in green, still dreaming, like all Syrians, of going back, to my stacked boxes, to my belongings, to a place in this universe that I safely call “home”, to live there again and return to my roots and to my history.

Marcell Shehwaro blogs at marcellita.com and tweets at @Marcellita, both primarily in Arabic. Read the other posts in the series here.

by Lara AlMalakeh at September 26, 2014 04:31 PM

Jamaica Considers Developing Goat Islands Despite Environmental Protests
Savegoatislands.org screen capture.

Savegoatislands.org screen capture.

Jamaica's environmental activists are leveraging social media as best they can in a struggle against plans to build a seaport on protected land. The proposed development puts Jamaica's government in a difficult position, caught between a civic push to preserve the environment, and large financial gains that would help service recent loans from the IMF.

When the second annual Jamaica Blog Day took place in May, earlier this year, bloggers rallied around a theme of “Environment vs. Development”. The event's organisers explained:

The issue of our environment and development is a live one: from the near yearlong vigorous debate about the use of Goat Islands and the Portland Bight Protected Area for a Logistics Hub, to [...] drought that yet again grips the island. Economists, politicians, environmentalists, businesspeople, the media, and ‘ordinary’ Jamaicans on The Rock or in the Diaspora are all debating how Jamaica…should manage the environment in the quest for development.

Since May, concerns about Goat Islands have not abated. Now, Richard Conniff at The Jamaican Blogs suggests the “secretive deal to let a Chinese company build a mega-freighter seaport in the nation's largest natural protected area” could jeopardise the island's lucrative tourism industry and damage Jamaica's international reputation:

The new port would compromise an area known for extensive sea‐grass beds, coral reefs, wetlands, and Jamaica’s largest mangrove forests. The protected area is also home to the Jamaican iguana, a species believed extinct until its dramatic rediscovery in 1990. Since then, the international conservation community has spent millions of dollars rebuilding the iguana population in a protected forest in the Hellshire Hills, part of the reserve adjacent to the proposed port. Much of that investment hinged on the government’s promise, now apparently discarded, that the Goat Islands would become a permanent home for the iguanas, which are Jamaica’s largest vertebrate species.

Conniff accuses the government of doing an about-face: just last year, Conniff contends, “the same government officials were petitioning UNESCO to designate a Global Biosphere Reserve”, but perhaps “the lure of a $1.5 billion investment” was too tempting to ignore. Economically, Jamaica is not in a strong position, partly because it is shackled to the International Monetary Fund, from which it accepted a $932 million loan in 2013. Just this week, the Jamaica Observer reported that the IMF will release another $68.8 million.

Environmentalists like Diana McCaulay, who heads the Jamaica Environment Trust, along with several other civil society groups, have been raising awareness of the issue through educational outreach and public service announcements, as well as mainstream and social media. There is a website dedicated to saving the islands and an online petition aimed at getting Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller to stop plans to turn the area into a trans-shipment port.

On August 14, McCaulay tweeted:

There is obviously a disconnect between environmentalists, who are considering the long-term benefits to the country, and big business, which is focusing on the bottom line of short-term gains. The question remains—whose voice will sway the Jamaican government?

by Matthew Hunte at September 26, 2014 03:32 PM

‘We Should All Care About Climate Change Because It Will Have a Direct Impact on the State of the World’
The 2014 Climate Change March in Trinidad and Tobago; photo by Dylan Quesnel, courtesy IAMovement, used with permission.

The 2014 Climate Change March in Trinidad and Tobago; photo by Dylan Quesnel, courtesy IAMovement, used with permission.

Caribbean voices were added to the global outcry about climate change when Trinidad and Tobago hosted a march to raise awareness about what many believe to be the single greatest threat to humanity's existence.

In the first installment of this post, Global Voices interviewed Jonathan Barcant, co-founder of the non-profit group IAMovement, and one of the organisers of the local march, which took place in Port of Spain on September 21. Here, we continue the conversation.

Global Voices (GV): Why should people care about climate change, and why do you think some are so sceptical that it's even happening?

Jonathan Barcant (JB): Many people are caught up in living in the moment for the enjoyment of short-lived success, money and immediate pleasures…so much so that something to fly in the face of their lifestyle is simply too contradictory and therefore they may not want to listen, and prefer to take the stance of the sceptic. Any educated and truth-seeking person though, could quickly be convinced by the examination of [scientific] data now easily available [via] documentaries and media. We should all care about climate change because it will have a direct impact on the state of the world. The predicted effects are already being seen and larger effects are expected in just decades. Though we may not be able to imagine it right now, a completely changed world climate, weather patterns, temperatures and ocean conditions in a short space of time spell massive human and economic losses, much of which could be expected to be on the disaster scale. If we think about the type of world our children at home and grandchildren to come will be facing, then we should care about climate change.

GV: What do you think the future world — one that uses clean energy — will look like?

JB: I think that shift to clean energy will also go hand in hand with a shift in consciousness, for the better. People feel good when they know they are doing good and are contributing to something good. It gives a sense of meaning, happiness and empowerment. With this real climate change risk and fear looming, a movement to clean energy will empower mankind in a sense of togetherness, working together to overcome probably the greatest challenge we have ever had to face collectively as a species. A future world that uses clean energy would, for me, look like one with a lot more peace, togetherness, cooperation, innovation and completely renewed faith in humanity. It's not going to happen overnight, that's for sure, but that's what I imagine if we are able to come together and do this.

Participants at the Climate Change March in Trinidad & Tobago. Photo by Dylan Quesnel, used with permission.

Participants at the Climate Change March in Trinidad & Tobago. Photo by Dylan Quesnel, used with permission.

GV: Do you think the global marches have made a difference? What has the one in Trinidad and Tobago accomplished?

JB: I think we will see in the coming days and weeks how much of a difference the global climate marches have made. There is no doubt that they represent an important historic moment as the largest worldwide gathering (in terms of numbers of people and countries to participate), but their timing with the U.N. Summit in New York will hopefully give the leaders the support and pressure they need to realise that this is an issue which can no longer be ignored, and that true emission agreements must be made and adhered to. The local event, small as it was compared to some countries, was very empowering as caring citizens stood together united on an issue which has been on the back burner for too long. All participants were enthusiastic and grateful that the event took place, and the online post-event support has been very good.

GV: What follow-up action do you have planned?

JB: We actually do not have specific follow up action planned, but of course we do have ideas, and a lot may be based on how the post-success of our event here unfolds, as well as the success of the international events. We are [currently] responding to some media requests and follow up, to support awareness of [climate change] as much as possible. IAMovement will also be meeting to discuss the best way forward to keep this topic strong and [be] available to all who wish to learn more or participate in activities to support the cause.

GV: What would be some of the tangible benefits to Trinidad and Tobago if it were to switch to renewable energy sources?

JB: Some of the benefits of such a model would include employment, long-term harvesting of clean energy (25 years+), an improved international reputation for the country in energy sustainability, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in tourism. Clean energy will invest in the future of our country, giving us long-term energy security, as fossil fuel resources are finite. Most importantly, in the short and medium term, this would not be in competition with or threat to the local fossil fuel industry, which we know cannot disappear overnight. It could in fact be mutually beneficial, from the standpoint of our local resources, as the production of renewable energy means reducing the need for fossil fuel consumption locally, which in turn means more available for sale abroad at the international market price, and removal of local subsidy costs.

Barcant, through his own research, carried out a home-work style study on the theoretical cost of making Tobago's (the smaller of the two islands) electrical grid 100% powered by renewable energy. To do this he drew upon the actual costs of wind and solar projects in Canada and Chile, to determine the rough cost for each megawatt of power, and found that the costs for wind and solar were comparable (at about US$2 million per MW). Along with the assumption that the population of Tobago, as compared to the whole nation, is proportionally representative to their power consumption, he estimated the total cost of making Tobago renewable to be approximately US$72 million.

Trinidad and Tobago's local annual fuel and electricity subsidy is about US$1.1 billion, meaning that the cost to outfit Tobago with clean energy would be theoretically less than one-twelfth of the annual national spend on energy subsidy. Barcant maintains that “although this study is rough and will have some margins of error, it can be nonetheless said, with confidence, that this Tobago model would still only cost a fraction of the annual energy subsidy”, a shocking statistic which he believes demonstrates that renewable energy is not only feasible, but within Trinidad and Tobago's reach.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at September 26, 2014 10:30 AM

India's Prime Minister Plans Hi-Tech Makeover For Ancient City of Varanasi
The Ganga riverfront at Varanasi (Wikimedia CC-BY-SA)

The Ganga riverfront at Varanasi (Wikimedia CC-BY-SA)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won his seat in the parliament by getting elected in the ancient city of Varanasi, where he's now set to make good on a campaign promise to transform the city into a blend of ancient culture and modern technology.

Elected in May, Modi didn't waste any time before getting to work on Varanasi's development. By August, he'd drawn up a blueprint to make Varanasi into a modern-day metropolis, complete with a transport system that includes rail and bus services. Simultaneously, Modi has emphasized the need to preserve the city's ancient heritage. Earlier this month, India signed an agreement with Japan to help realize Modi's development plans.

Varanasi is several thousand years old, and is dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. In ancient times, it was known as Kashi. In the Hindu way of life, it is one of the holiest cities on Earth. In fact, the word “Kashi” means “city of light”, and several hundred temples are located within the city's boundaries. The river Ganga, also considered holy by Hindus, flows through Kashi, too. Many ascetics make the city their home, taking a dip in the river every morning, before spending the day engaged in various practices and rituals.

Author Rajiv Malhotra shared his thoughts about Modi’s plans with his Twitter followers, who number more than 105,000:

Malhotra wasn't the only Twitter user who felt this way. Someone else tweeted almost two weeks earlier:

Not everyone supports Modi's plans in Varanasi, however. Ajay Rai (a member of India's Congress Party, which opposes Modi in the parliament) posted a photo of a protest against Varanasi’s chronic electricity shortages.

Opponents of Modi's plans for Varanasi won't have much time to stop him. Earlier this month, the prime minister signed the Kashi-Kyoto protocol on a visit to Kyoto, a place renown for blending modern and ancient aesthetics to create a beautiful cityscape.

On the second day of his trip to Japan, Modi stopped at the Toji temple (a UNESCO world heritage site) and remarked at how well the temple is maintained. “Kyoto has been able to preserve its thousand year legacy and cultural heritage while also staying abreast of all technological advances that is necessary in today's life. We are planning to do something similar in India as well, where we can achieve a similar union between preservation of culture and technological progress,” he told reporters.

The agreement with Tokyo will bring Japanese assistance with transforming Varanasi into a “smart city,” complete with a world-class transport system, botanical gardens, hi-tech cinemas, a classical music center, a waste treatment plant, and other facilities.

Before the pact was even signed, Journalist Minhaz Merchant tweeted that working with Japan will have dual significance for India:

Perhaps the time has come for India, with its millennia-old culture, to move fully into the twenty-first century and embrace its rich past and promising future simultaneously.

by Alka at September 26, 2014 07:39 AM

September 25, 2014

Global Voices
Egypt’s Escalating War on Gays Just Landed 6 Men Behind Bars for 2 Years
Egyptian gay activist protesting against the arrest of young men who appeared in the alleged gay marriage video, tweets @TheBigPharaoh

Egyptian gay activist protesting against the arrest of young men who appeared in the alleged gay marriage video, tweets @TheBigPharaoh

Six men accused of “committing debauchery” have been sentenced to two years in prison by an Egyptian court today. The men, who included a Moroccan national, were accused of using their apartment for homosexual activities, promoted through Facebook, reported AhramOnline.

The six were among eight men arrested last month after a video featuring what looked like a gay wedding went viral. While Egypt doesn't have a specific law to prosecute same-sex relationships, the government has been vicious in its crackdown on gays under vague laws such as committing “indecency” and “debauchery.”

According to Human Rights First, Egyptian police have arrested more than than 80 people for the “crime” of being gay/transgender since October 2013.

Many Egyptians took to social media to express their anger at the targeting of gay people and this most recent sentence. Under the the hashtag #stopjailinggays and its Arabic translation #ضد_حبس_المثليين, hundreds of people expressed their anger as part of a two-day Twitter and blogging storm to protest “the massive wave of brutal repression of LGBT people.”

The event's Facebook page states:

Since the Egyptian government is recently focusing its efforts on monitoring people's private lives whether in the bedroom or on their facebook accounts, and since the police instead of chasing terrorists are going after people for their sexual orientation and gender identity. From October 2013 until now, the police has arrested more than 80 people for the “crime” of being gay or transgender. Some of these people receive humiliating treatment including physical violence and rape threats inside detention.

The forensic medicine authority conducts anal examinations on these people which is considered sexual assault and a violation of human rights and medical ethics.

They are sentenced for up to 10 years with charges of debauchery which is a vague word.

Because the media has been waging a sensational campaign against LGBT people in Egypt and violate people's privacy by publishing their names and photos.

because of all of this, on September 24 and 25 we will be tweeting and blogging using the hashtag
#ضد_حبس_المثليين which means Against the Jailing of Gays

On that Facebook page, Tamer Adel explains the social stigma of being gay in Egypt. He writes:

كان نفسي أكتب البوست ده من اﻷكونت التاني بتاعي
اللي عليه أهلي وأصحابي .. بس عشان زيي زي باقي المصريين بخاف هكتبه من اﻷكونت ده
بخاف ؟ اه بخاف … بخاف على أمي اللي ممكن تروح فيها لما تعرف انها مش هتشوف ابن ليا زي باقي اخواتي
بخاف على أختى عشان مكسفاش وسط أهل جوزها واختى اللي لسة صغير عشان حد يرضى يتقدملها
بخاف على أخويا اللي هيعتبرها فضيحة ليه .. وبخاف على صحابي اللي هنزل من نظرهم
وسط كل البؤس ده مش فاكر اني في كلية هندسة .. واني ليا ترتيب على دفعتي
مش فاكر اني قدمت مشروع للحكومة لتطوير شئ معين هيوفر وقت ومجهود وهيجيب ربح
مش فاكر اني كنت متقدم ﻹختبار منحة من جامعة كندية ورفضت اسافر ﻷسباب احتكار أفكاري للبلد دي
مش فاكر اني بتوصف بمساعدة الناس والعبقرية
مش فاكر اني كان ليا موقف اني صححت معلومات لمعيد ودكتور عندي في الجامعة
..اللي عاوز أقوله ان كل الناس اللي تعرفني كلهم بشهادتهم بيعتبروني قدوة ومثل اعلى
لكن لو تخيلنا انهم عرفوا اني مثلي اكيد هتتغير نظرتهم ليا تماما
انا هو هو نفس الشخص على فكرة … ياريت تبصوا على اﻹختلاف ده زي اتنين بيشجعوا فريقين مختلفين
احنا مش فاسدين ولا منحلين أخلاقيا
احنا أعضاء فعالين جدا في المجتمع ومؤثرين
احنا مختارناش نكون فئة منبوذة ومطاردة وبيترصدوا لينا بدرجات توصل للمطالبة بالقتل
ولو يا سيدي عندك علاج ليا اكتبهولي دلوقتي وانا انزل اصرفه من الصيدلية حالا
‫#‏ضد_حبس_المثليين‬

I had wanted to write this post on my other account, the one which has my family and friends, but just like other Egyptians I am afraid of doing that and will post it here instead.
Afraid? Yes. I am afraid for my mother who could die if she knew that she will not see my children, like my other siblings.
I am afraid of embarrassing my sister in front of her in-laws, and my younger sister, who may not find anyone to marry her
I am afraid for my brother, who will consider it a scandal. And afraid for my friends, who will look down at me.
In the midst of all this misery, I don't remember that I am at the College of Engineering. I don't remember being a successful student. I don't remember submitting a project to the government to develop something which would save time and effort and generate a profit.
I don't remember being accepted for a scholarship in a Canadian University, which I turned down, so that I can remain home and serve my country.
I don't remember that people describe me as helpful and a genius.
I don't remember that I correct mistakes my professors and teachers make.
What I am trying to say is that all those people consider me a role-model but if we imagined that they knew that I am gay, their view will definitely change.
I am the same person. I hope you would view this difference like two people cheering for two different football teams.
We are not corrupt or morally decayed.
We are effective people in our society.
We did not choose to become an unwanted and persecuted segment of society, with people calling for us to be killed.
If you have a treatment for me, write me a prescription, and I am willing to go to the pharmacy immediately to get it

On Twitter, Sara Labib lashes out at the government, which should scrutinise it's own shortcomings instead:

Sherif El Ramly notes:

And The Big Pharaoh shares this photograph of a gay activist who carries a placard stating his name and position against the jailing of the young men.

The placard [ar] reads:

I am Asem El-Tawodi. I am not a criminal or ill. I am gay. I am an Egyptian citizen. [I am] someone normal in society. Just like you.

Such open support for gays in conservative Arab societies is new.

by Amira Al Hussaini at September 25, 2014 10:52 PM

This Organization Is Fighting the Long Battle Against Poverty in Mexico
Image credit: Monica Godefroy, TECHO. Used with permission.

Image credit: Monica Godefroy, TECHO. Used with permission.

Mexico is home to more than 119.5 million people, according to data released by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography. According to the Mexican government's own statistics, almost half the population lived in poverty in 2012, when 13 percent of the country also endured extreme poverty.

These are unattractive figures for a nation that aims to expand free trade with countries like neighboring United States and Canada. Poverty also complicates Mexico's hopes to become a regional leader on development issues in Latin America. The country's current poverty, of course, denotes that people lack many things, which only adds to the significance of work by international organizations like TECHO (which means “roof” in Spanish). TECHO is an anti-poverty group that promotes community development in Latin America and the Caribbean, building homes and offering free vocational training.

Even in the country's capital, Mexican poverty can be severe. Earlier this month, one of TECHO's staff members named Luz, described what she witnessed working in the area of Xochimilco, where there is a shortage of many basic necessities:

“Las Cruces” es un caso particular -pero no aislado- por ser una comunidad vieja que se formó hace aproximadamente 80 años en Xochimilco y al día de hoy cuenta con aproximadamente 500 familias, pero que tenga tanto tiempo no significa que esté consolidada o cuente con una buena infraestructura. Desde que sus habitantes llegaron a la zona comenzaron a organizarse para llevar servicios básicos a la comunidad y al día de hoy al menos un 15% siguen acarreando agua, no tienen electricidad y sólo 70% tienen drenaje.

Muchos de los barrios o colonias de la Ciudad de México tienen la misma antigüedad y cuentan con todos los servicios.

“Las Cruces” [The Crosses] is a particular, though not isolated, case. This is an old community established about 80 years ago in Xochimilco, and today it has approximately 500 families. But having existed all this time doesn't mean it's consolidated or built up a good infrastructure. Since its residents arrived in the area, they started organizing themselves to bring basic services to the community, and today at least 15 percent still hauling their own water. There is no electricity and only 70 percent have drains.

Many neighborhoods or colonias [communities] in Mexico City are just as old and have all these amenities.

Luz also shares some alarming numbers:

El 28.4% de los habitantes de Xochimilco viven en extrema pobreza. Eso es una tercera parte de su población y me parece gravísimo. Quizás eso no suena tan alarmante, aunque no veo cómo no habría de serlo, pero para que te des una mejor idea: 16 millones de personas en México habitan en viviendas precarias, eso equivale a la población estimada de los Países Bajos, Chile o Ecuador. ¡Es la población de un país entero! y además, 7 de cada 10 personas pobres viven en las ciudades.

Twenty-eight percent of the residents of Xochimilco live in extreme poverty. That's a third of the population and it seems quite serious to me. This might not seem so alarming, although I don't see how it couldn't be. For you to have a better idea, remember that 16 million people in Mexico live in substandard housing. That equals the estimated population of the Netherlands, Chile, or Ecuador. It's the population of a whole country! Besides that, 7 out of 10 poor people live in the cities.

TECHO focuses on the most precarious settlements, organizing locals into “joint action” projects, which receive TECHO's help to generate solutions for overcoming poverty.

What are some examples of solutions? In Mexico, TECHO has helped families and volunteers build more than 3,000 emergency homes. The organization has also trained locals in various trades, and established schools for children in certain settlements where families endure especially dangerous conditions and the absence of at least one basic amenity. 

Image credit: Monica Godefroy, TECHO. Used with permission.

Image credit: Monica Godefroy, TECHO. Used with permission.

In 2012, thanks to these actions, Margarita Zavala, then Mexico's first lady, recognized TECHO by giving it an honorable mention in the ceremony for that year's National Award for Volunteer Action and Solidarity. And that isn't the only award TECHO has received.

As Global Voices has reported in the past, Mexico is a country that not only faces poverty, but also social discrimination. Indeed, conspicuous “glamour and excess” are not uncommon among Mexico's richest citizens.

With so many challenges, TECHO's work is a rare source of good news in Mexico's fight to eradicate poverty.

by Gabriela García Calderón at September 25, 2014 10:25 PM

Joi Ito
Gurus, goals and mindfulness

I remember my 24th birthday very clearly. It was 1990. I had just finished working as the associate to the executive producer on the film The Indian Runner. I was running a nightclub in the Roppongi district of Tokyo at the time together with my team fromThe Smart Bar in Chicago. Madonna had just released "Vogue," Chicago House music had evolved into Acid House and the rave scene was going strong. It was a fun and tumultuous time in the world and in my life.

I met Timothy Leary for the first time through a mutual friend, David Kubiak, the editor of The Kyoto Journal at the time. I remember being very excited about meeting Tim because the rave scene had caused a revival of many 1960s themes. I had been reading books about consciousness and the mind - trying to chart my own journey along a path where Timothy often appeared as a central figure. Most recently, I had read a book by Robert Anton Wilson called Cosmic Trigger in which the author first tells the reader that everything in the book is a lie, and then proceeds to weave a story about one of the most wonderfully elaborate conspiracy theories every described. In the book, Wilson explains that "23" is a magic number and also explains that Timothy Leary had received "transmissions" from aliens. I wasn't sure what to believe, if anything, but at the time, I was convinced that the world was full of secrets and I wanted in on them.

I remember standing with Tim at the main Roppongi crossing called "Almond's" at the time named after the venerable coffee shop on that corner where everyone met up on their way into town at night. As we stood there talking about the budding Cyberpunk scene and how it was unfolding in Japan, I remember explaining to Timothy that I had just turned 24 and that I had hoped something magical would happen when I was 23 since it was the "magic number." I also asked him about the "Starseed transmissions" described in Cosmic Trigger. I remember Timothy's laugh vividly, as he told me that the whole thing was a joke. He said that everything in that book as well as most of the stuff that those guys talked about was one big joke and that I shouldn't believe any of it. In one instant, Timothy, the guru of the particular shrine that I was worshiping, knocked me whirling off my path.

Later, Timothy told me another joke.

A bunch of hippies go to India looking for the meaning of life. They travel for years climbing mountains and looking everywhere for the guru who knew the answer. They finally find the guru who was said to know the meaning of life. They ask the guru, "What is the meaning of life?" The guru says, "Wet birds don't fly at night." The hippies say, "They don't?" The guru says, "Do they?"

This was one of the most important spiritual lessons that I ever learned. That evening, I took Timothy on a whirlwind tour of the Tokyo nightlife scene introducing him to the Japanese kids who he later called "The New Breed" - a new youth culture that was technically and culturally savvy and wanted to take over instead of drop out. Tim modified his "Tune in, Turn on, Drop Out" slogan to "Tune in, Turn on, Take Over." He recruited me as his God Son explaining to me that the role of a God Son was to teach the Godfather. We started writing a book together and did public events around this theme.

Timothy always told everyone to "Question authority and think for yourself." I remember after an event where he and I spoke, a bunch of kids came up to Tim and said, "so what should we do?!?!" and Tim shouted at them, "Think for yourself!!" What I realized as I spent time with Tim was that people wanted gurus and that the more you tried to explain that you weren't a guru, the more many people became convinced that you were in fact a guru and that they wanted in on the secret. People wanted "answers" and wanted to get to some kind of goal. The thing is, there is no answer and there is no goal. You don't "win."

Ever since being knocked off of my original "path to enlightenment" by Timothy Leary, I've dabbled in various spiritual and mindfulness investigations and pursuits with a curious but skeptical stance. In retrospect, I think that Timothy probably believed that there was a spiritual path, but that the particular version of the path that I was on and the naive way that I was thinking about it was best completely destroyed so that I could start again with a more questioning mind.

I've tried very hard to avoid the pull of gurus or being mistaken for some kind of guru myself. I've had many teachers and have tried a variety of meditation and mindfulness techniques, but I still consider myself a novice. I am very happy with my journey and with relative consistency, each year of my life brings more happiness and becomes more interesting and I thank Timothy for the trajectory correction at a key point in my life.

Last year, in an email exchange, Pierre Omidyar, an old friend from my short stint at Tufts University, mentioned that I should look up Tenzin Priyadarshi. Tenzin runs the Dalai Lama Center at MIT and when we met, we decided we should teach a class together. Remembering the adage that the best way to learn is to teach, I jumped on the opportunity to teach a class where I could learn more about mindfulness and work on my practice.

Tenzin and I decided to call the class "Principles of Awareness".

What is awareness? Is self-awareness a "default" state or is it cultivated? Can it improve performance and wellbeing? What role does technology play in promoting or hindering awareness? Is there an ethical framework for our capacity to be aware? Can self-awareness be linked to happiness? The course will be set in an experiential learning environment where students/ participants will explore various theories and methodologies around awareness. Students will be required to keep an open lab book documenting methods and evaluations. Students will present their findings and observations regularly during class sessions. The final project will consist of evaluating various tools, techniques, and interfaces around awareness targeted towards "performance" and "wellbeing."

Class meetings (virtual and real) will consist of practice, lectures, and discussions with invited speakers/experts. Some of the talks will be open to the public. And the practice will range from meditation to hacking.

The first class last Wednesday was fascinating. We had a wide range of students, some students had never meditated, some engaged in regular prayer (a form of meditation) and others were experienced in many forms of mindfulness practice. In the conversation about awareness, Tenzin and I talked a lot about meditation. One of the students asked me, "so what's the 'there' you keep referring to?" I realized that I used "there" to refer to the "place" that you get to when you meditate - the place where you connect to true nature and depending on your skill and style of meditation, "there" can be a place of bliss. "There" can also be "enlightenment". Tenzin quickly jumped in and explained that we should not focus on getting "there" because everyone will want to get "there" and that wasn't the point.

I totally agree. One of the best comments I've heard about Qi Gong, a form of Chinese energy movement and meditation is that you shouldn't be goal oriented. You can't "win" at Qi Gong. The purpose wasn't to get better, although you will, but that the purpose was just the practice. I find the exact same thing about meditation. The point is not to "win" against yourself or anyone else. I find that even writing this blog post smacks of boastfulness and "know-it-all-ness" which is so not the point of the exercise. One will get better at any form of practice the more you do it and feeling good about progress isn't a bad thing, but the whole point of mindfulness and meditation is being present in the "Now" and NOT being goal oriented, egotistical or focused on the future or the past.

I find it off-putting to hear people boast about their meditation practice and in the past, I've mostly only talked about meditation and mindfulness with small groups of people where we were sharing our own experiences. However, now that I'm "teaching" a class about awareness where I'm asking my students to share all of their experiences as well as keeping an open log of their experiences, I thought I should share as well.

I hope to be posting more updates in the coming weeks about some of my experimentation and observations.

by Joi at September 25, 2014 07:07 PM

Creative Commons
Obama highlights open education in U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan

Yesterday at the United Nations, President Barack Obama marked the Open Government Partnership‘s (OGP) third anniversary by announcing that in addition to the commitments outlined in the current U.S. OGP National Action Plan, “The United States will take additional steps to make our government more open, transparent, and accessible for all Americans.”

Among the multiple new commitments: “Promote open educational resources, to help teachers and students everywhere.”

The multi-pronged commitment to promote OER is described as the first item in the updated National Action Plan Commitments document (638 KB PDF):

Promote Open Education to Increase Awareness and Engagement

  • Open education is the open sharing of digital learning materials, tools, and practices that ensures free access to and legal adoption of learning resources. There is a growing body of evidence that the use of open education resources improves the quality of teaching and learning, including by accelerating student comprehension and by fostering more opportunities for affordable cross-border and cross-cultural educational experiences. The United States is committed to open education and will:
    • Raise open education awareness and identify new partnerships. The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will jointly host a workshop on challenges and opportunities in open education internationally with stakeholders from academia, industry, and government. The session will foster collaboration among OGP members and other interested governments and will produce best practices to inform good policies in open education.
    • Pilot new models for using open educational resources to support learning. The State Department will conduct three pilots overseas by December 2015 that use open educational resources to support learning in formal and informal learning contexts. The pilots’ results, including best practices, will be made publicly available for interested educators.
    • Launch an online skills academy. The Department of Labor (DOL), with cooperation from the Department of Education, will award $25 million through competitive grants to launch an online skills academy in 2015 that will offer open online courses of study, using technology to create high-quality, free, or low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials. This academy will help students prepare for in-demand careers. Courses will be free for all to access on an open learning platform, although limited costs may be incurred for students seeking college credit that can be counted toward a degree. Leveraging emerging public and private models, the investments will help students earn credentials online through participating accredited institutions, and expand the open access to curriculum designed to speed the time to credit and completion. The online skills academy will also leverage the burgeoning marketplace of free and open-licensed learning resources, including content developed through DOL’s community college grant program, to ensure that workers can get the education and training they need to advance their careers, particularly in key areas of the economy.

 

Creative Commons licenses put the “open” in OER and we stand ready to work with governments everywhere who wish to update their OGP National Action Plans with commitments to support Open Educational Resources, Open Access, Open Data and Open Policies that require publicly funded resources be openly licensed.

Well done, President Obama!

by Cable Green at September 25, 2014 04:34 PM

Global Voices
‘The Right Moment Has Come for People to Rise Up and Say No More’ to Fossil Fuels
Participants of the climate change march in Trinidad and Tobago form the shape of a heart in the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain. Photo by Nico Kersting, courtesy IAMovement, used with permission.

Participants of the climate change march in Trinidad and Tobago form the shape of a heart in the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain. Photo by Nico Kersting, courtesy IAMovement, used with permission.

A lot of talk has followed the Climate Summit, which took place on September 23 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, about the magnitude of the occasion. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the 120 people or more gathered (from heads of state and government officials to members of civil society) were there “not to talk, but to make history.” American actor Leonardo diCaprio, who gave an address, told the attendees that they would either “make history or be vilified by it.”

Some Caribbean territories have been paying attention and made history themselves two days before the summit by participating in a global calendar of events that turned out to be the most well-attended climate change marches in history. At the summit, Trinidad and Tobago promised that “100% of the country's electricity will come from natural gas, supporting net-zero global emissions goal before end of the century”.

Climate change is an urgent global issue that many feel has been ignored for far too long by world leaders and change makers, who, primarily for economic reasons, have failed to take action on a problem that could threaten the very existence of humanity. The summit was one step in the process of moving towards a worldwide agreement on climate change by next year, under the Framework Convention the UN has provided.

In Trinidad and Tobago, a small group of young activists and environmentalists organised a climate change march to show solidarity with the global cause and make a statement alongside other marches that were going on in major cities around the world. In this part one of a two-part post, Global Voices interviewed Jonathan Barcant, one of the co-founders of the non-governmental organisation IAMovement, which aims to effect positive change in education, community building and environmental awareness. Barcant spoke about the march, climate change, and Trinidad and Tobago's role in helping to create a more sustainable world.

Jonathan Barcant, co-founder of the non-profit IAMovement and one of the organisers of the Climate Change March in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo used with permission.

Jonathan Barcant, co-founder of the non-profit IAMovement and one of the organisers of the Climate Change March in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo used with permission.

Global Voices (GV): Why was it important for Trinidad and Tobago to have a climate change march?

Jonathan Barcant (JB): Trinidad and Tobago is the second highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world per capita, according to a University of Trinidad and Tobago statistics report. We are a massive fossil fuel producing and consuming nation, and therefore the general opinion of citizens on the subject of climate change has been dismissal and disregard, due to the feeling that we simply have no place talking about this issue when we are one of the biggest perpetrators. Helpless feelings on the part of citizens has, however, been to the advantage of the politicians, who feel no local pressure against climate pollution and therefore have free reign. We thought it important for this event to happen to stand with [other global marches] but also to create feelings of solidarity locally, by showing [people] that they are not alone, and there are in fact a strong group of citizens willing to stand up for one of the most important issues of our day.

GV: What do you expect to come out of the summit and what role will Trinidad and Tobago have to play?

JB: We hope that [the marches] will send a strong message to those at the U.N. Summit that we as citizens of the world do care, and that we are no longer willing to sit by and watch leaders fail to make tough but critical decisions. As a major player in the fossil fuel economy, Trinidad and Tobago ought to play a leading role in climate summit talks. We hope that our event will also send the message to our leaders that citizens of Trinidad and Tobago do care about the future of our country and our world.

GV: What was the local response to the march like?

JB: We had over 500 online Avaaz petition signers, and 165 participants who showed up to the event. We see this as a great success as it was the first event of its kind here. There was a real sense of achievement, empowerment and unity, and we hope that this serves as a cornerstone for future work and discussion on this issue, and may start the ball rolling on this topic locally sooner rather than later.

GV: The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris is 15 months away, when it is expected that a global agreement will emerge. The Rockefellers have already announced that its philanthropic arm will be selling off all investments they have in fossil fuels and reinvesting in clean energy. What should Trinidad and Tobago's national commitment be to this global deal?

JB: Some studies suggest that Trinidad and Tobago may have as little as 15 years of oil and natural gas reserves remaining. Climate change aside, while a tremendously important issue, the country should be thinking about the future of its children and grandchildren, who will be adults when our fossil fuel reserves have been depleted. Our nation currently runs on the income from fossil fuels. If (and when) that were to run out, the [economic] situation would change drastically, and could, quite frankly, be nightmarish. We have become a society used to comfort and quick money, and if that were to disappear, it's quite natural that problems such as violence and crime would ensue. This however, is still entirely avoidable. It is in the best interest of the nation to reinvest without delay in renewable energies such as wind and solar [power]. By doing so, we would reap both short and long term benefits by providing good employment for many in green industry – from laborers to designers to business managers – boosting our world reputation as a clean, green and renewable-moving nation. This, in turn, would likely encourage tourism and, most importantly, gradually remove our dependence on fossil fuels, so that by the time our resources are depleted, we are sustainable.

GV: Why do you think it has taken climate change so long to be taken seriously by world leaders and what do you think has been the impetus for citizens to make their voices heard?

JB: The fossil fuel industry [has] had a strong hand for a very long time in lobbying world leaders to support continued fossil fuel extraction, for their continued profit. This, and the fact that climate change is a slow occurring phenomenon – over decades – and is largely invisible (apart from scientific data and more recently, weather events), means that 99% of the population, the common man, have had little grasp on what has really been happening and how they could possibly do something about it. Leaders, who have mostly had only the whispers and manipulating hands of lobbyists to determine their moves, have been too fearful [...] to make key climate emission agreements. The powerful movement of scientists and activists [...] has resulted in some incredible information sharing through documentary and human mobilization efforts. The climate change issue [has been] simmering in the back of people's minds for too long, while the frustration has built at each failed climate summit. The right moment has come for people to rise up and say ‘No More'.

Look out for the second installment of this post, in which Jonathan Barcant talks about why people should care about climate change, what the a world running on clean energy might look like, and whether the climate change marches have actually made a difference.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at September 25, 2014 04:00 PM

DML Central
Recasting the Bullying Narrative
Recasting the Bullying Narrative Blog Image

Youth media production is often seen as an admirable way to help underserved K-12 students find voices in their communities. With the advent of more accessible multimedia technologies and the means for sharing production practices on social media, traditional after-school programs with computer labs are changing — sometimes in response to the wishes and needs of young clients and sometimes in response to the agendas of donors. 

A unique research partnership at the University of Washington Bothell in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences division is examining how certain kinds of public messaging may be promoting particular generational narratives that can become counterproductive when young people aren’t the source of the ideas. Professors Lauren Berliner (Media & Communication and Cultural Studies) and Lauren Lichty (Community Psychology) sat down with DML Central to discuss best practices for running successful youth media production programs.

Berliner has directed two programs for teen video producers: Girls Empowered to Make Movies (also known by the acronym GEMM), which was sponsored by The Girl Scouts, and Changing Reels, a media workshop for San Diego’s LGBT youth. Berliner is also a co-curator of Los Angeles Filmforum’s Festival of (In)Appropriation — which highlights experimental movies with found footage. She trained as a filmmaker while earning a Ph.D. in Communication. Lichty has a history utilizing Photovoice as both a pedagogical tool and a platform for digital storytelling. She brings her background in community psychology, program evaluation, and seven years experience researching a number of youth programs.

As Berliner explains, their critique focuses on the administration and policy issues involved in program development and implementation and how community centers must “learn the language of evaluation” in new ways to “speak back and alongside funding institutions . . . and bring youth to the table.” She also observes that too many funders rely on the assumption “that youth are inherently empowered through media production,” which can be a problem for unrepresented youth when there is “reflection and catharsis involved” in which the most important work is involved with something other than “finished product that is marketable.” 

The GEMM program had a specific set of directives dictated by a specific media literacy that needed to be more flexible to serve its population. Berliner noted that it was founded in the spirit of progressive feminist documentaries spanning from “Killing Us Softly” (1979-2010) to “Miss Representation” (2011) and in step with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. Participating girls were encouraged to make public service announcements about issues that related to them during a local summer day camp that was later expanded to a national ten-day overnight program that benefitted from funding from the Annenberg Foundation and other philanthropic and trade organizations.  

“The piece missing is the fact that girls are making media all the time,” Berliner pointed out, although young people “are not necessarily inherently skilled at the kinds of technologies that we assume they are.” However, because participants were coming in “with different experiences of technology, the process ignited a kind of sociality and intersubjectivity.” Ultimately, she discovered that “it was not about what it means to be girls — which was what was being told to them — but to come up with ideas, to be creative together, to be playful, to collaborate.”  

Over time, Berliner “was empowered to play with the agenda so that we were involving ourselves more with activities that were process-oriented rather than product-oriented and making movies that were not topic or issue driven.”

For many years, Lichty has been concerned about what she calls “adultist language” that is foisted upon youth participants by well-meaning administrators striving for particular outcomes to please funders. She argues that media production programs aimed at underserved youth need to be doing formative assessment that inclues “attending to position and one’s own goals and values.” Rather than rely on metrics such as YouTube hits, Lichty argues for “creative ways to gather data” in which “empowerment is not predefined.”

Berliner had found the genre of the public service announcement problematic, particularly in defining what “issues” are worth making movies about. Topics such as “animal rights and the environment are safe and in purview of girlhood and safe to share with adults.” But, what about issues that are deeper, more personal, and less scripted? She described how two Katrina refugees in the program made a PSA about weight loss and pressures about body image while they were “living in someone’s house they didn’t know and living out of bags.”

Berliner observed that she saw something similar happen when she started the program with queer youth, which was a weekly media workshop that was loosely structured. It was a bare bones operation with donated textbooks and technology with ties to the Collective Voices Foundation dedicated to “the kind of media that the youth there wanted to make,” even if it adopted “a much more casual way” of articulating social justice concerns than formal funders might have desired. Like most cash-strapped organizations, Changing Reels was glad when AT&T swooped in with an anti-bullying grant, but she was worried about “expectations that groups would be empowered” and the fact that “the word bullying had not come up once beforehand.” 

Because promises had been made, Berliner elected to go ahead, despite her reservations. Although she was “skeptical about the PSA genre as a critical mode of reflection and engagement,” she thought it might be interesting to provide mentorship and encourage LGBT youth to pursue what they wanted to do with it as they made “their own interventions.” Berliner marveled at how “there was lots of professionalizing discourse” with “youth concerned about funders and who the audience was.”

In the process of conducting interviews and synthesizing the material into a finished product, Berliner noticed a pattern in which participants tended to “edit out youth who were the most vulnerable,” because they showed substance abuse, homelessness, and life outside of the K-12 context that wasn’t about “articulating in sound bites.”

In this process, Berliner also saw the young participants assuming considerable agency in “making decisions about music” and reflecting “what their lives were really like” to “strengthen ties and experiences” that reach engaging with systemic rather than conversational issues. “They drew out emotions and discussion from youth who didn’t ever actually pick up a camera or get in front of the camera. They were just around the media technology in space.”

Banner image credit: Changing Reels

by mcruz at September 25, 2014 03:43 PM

Global Voices
How Climate-Smart Villages in Bangladesh, India and Nepal Are Preparing Farmers for the Future
56 years old Kamla Devi listens to messages of weather and best climate friendly crop practices on her mobile phone while working in the cowshed at her home in Anjanthalli. Image by Prashanth Vishwanathan. Used with permission.

56-year-old Kamla Devi listens to messages about the weather and best climate-friendly crop practices on her mobile phone while working in the cowshed at her home in Anjanthalli village. Image by Prashanth Vishwanathan. Used with permission.

One of the initiatives to come out of the United Nations’ summit on climate change on September 23 was the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, a group of 16 countries and 37 organizations that aim to enable 500 million farmers around the world to practice climate-smart agriculture by 2030.

What is climate-smart agriculture? It's the idea of helping farmers adapt to changing climates while weaning them off techniques and technologies that produce greenhouse gases. In a number of countries in Africa and Asia, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global consortium dedicated to agriculture research, has already set up “climate-smart villages” to put the idea into practice (the CGIAR is a founding member of the UN alliance).

Farmers in northern India have grown used to a wide range of weather, and work their fields around monsoon seasons that regularly bring them torrential rains. But as climate change begins to change the weather, scientists predict that growing conditions in the country are likely to become even more challenging and could alternate abruptly between periods of severe rainstorms and drought, according to the group.

In response to the farming challenges brought on by climate change, the CGIAR's research program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security, together with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and partner organizations are introducing a portfolio of climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies in their climate-smart villages.

Paramjeet Singh uses the “Green Seeker” to check the nutrient levels of his paddy fields in Uncha Samana. The device helps him decide the most appropriate dosage of nitrogen fertilizers (Urea) for his crops.

Paramjeet Singh uses the “Green Seeker” to check the nutrient levels of his paddy fields in Uncha Samana. The device helps him decide the most appropriate dosage of nitrogen fertilizers (Urea) for his crops. Image by Prashanth Vishwanathan. Used with permission.

Researchers, farmers’ cooperatives, government bodies and private sector partners are working together at these villages to identify which agriculture practices and technologies can improve productivity and incomes and build resilience to climate risks. “Climate-smart” agriculture is highly localized; interventions that work in one place will not necessarily be suitable for another.

In India the project is undertaken currently in Haryana, Bihar and Punjab. The same model also operates in Khulna, Bangladesh and Rupandehi in Nepal. This video explains the idea behind the villages:

In the climate smart villages in India, farmers have begun to alter their use of mobile phones, the Internet, and basic measurement devices to adapt to the changes initiated by climate change, according to CGIAR. An interesting aspect is that farmers are actually not talking much about climate change, but rather are engaging themselves in alternative and innovative practices. The money that they are saving by doing things like using new planting methods for rice that reduces the amount of labor and water needed are resulting in a significant cost savings, CGIAR says.

Harpreet Singh checks the water level through a Tensiometer in his paddy fields in Birnaryna as a part of the Climate Smart Village (CSV) programme.  Image by Prasanth Viswanathan. Used with permission

Harpreet Singh checks the water level through a Tensiometer in his paddy fields in Birnaryna as a part of the Climate Smart Village (CSV) programme. Image by Prasanth Viswanathan. Used with permission

Under the project, voice and text messages are sent to farmers twice a week in Hindi or in other local language. The text messages include information on weather forecasts and suggestions for farmers, information on pests and remedies, etc. Last year messages were sent to 1,400 farmers in 50 villages in Karnal and Bihar and 10 villages in Punjab, according to the group.

Farmers are being encouraged to improve their nutrient management, for example through the use of a leaf color chart:

27 year old Vinod Kumar (L) uses the Nutrient Expert computer programme to ascertain his farms nutrient needs being part of the Climate Smart Village programme in Anjanthalli. Image by Prashanth Vishwanathan. Used with permission.

27-year-old Vinod Kumar (L) uses the Nutrient Expert computer programme to ascertain his farms nutrient needs being part of the Climate-Smart Village programme in Anjanthalli. Image by Prashanth Vishwanathan. Used with permission.

The CCAFS South Asia Program has also successfully implemented a climate insurance program as part of their climate-smart village model to save farmers from losses due to failed crops as a result of natural calamities.

The success of the models in India has prompted replication of the initiative under climate smart village in various South Asian and African countries. The CGIAR's blog narrates a lot of initiatives and challenges that the climate-smart villages face.

by Rezwan at September 25, 2014 03:31 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
China Sentences Peaceful Uyghur Scholar Ilham Tohti to Life in Prison
Photo taken by Wang Lixiong.

Photo taken by Wang Lixiong and shared on Twitter.

Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur Muslim minority scholar in China, was found guilty of separatism charges and sentenced to life in prison by a Chinese court on September 23. The verdict of the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court was the harshest sentence imposed on a political dissident in recent years in the country.

Ilham, who advocates for peaceful ethnic reconciliation between the Uyghur Muslims and the Han Chinese, was arrested in January. Ethnic tensions between the two groups have simmered for years and at times boiled over in deadly clashes between Uyghur activists and authorities. 

The state accused Ilham of having ties to the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas group labelled an extreme separatist group by the Chinese Communist Party, and spreading dissent through the the website that he founded, Uyghur Online, which covered social issues from a Uyghur perspective. 

Ilham has denied the accusations, and in court rejected the sentence and protested before the bailiffs led him out of the room. His lawyer Li Fangping has filed for appeal and helped Ilham publicize his view on the sentence (via Wei Quan Wang, a website on Chinese human right):

“1、我是为我们的民族呐喊,更是为中国未来呐喊。”

“2、进来前我一直担心自己承受不了严酷的环境。我担心自己会出卖我的良心、事业、朋友和家人。我挺过去了。”

“3、未来的监狱生活我没有经历过,但这将就是我们的生活、我的经历。我不知道自己的人生能持续多久,我是勇敢的,我不会那么脆弱,如果传出自残、自杀,肯定是虚假的。

“4、看到判决书的内容,我反而认为自己应该肩负更大的责任。”

“5、我虽已离去,但我依然期待阳光、期待未来。我坚信中国会更好、维吾尔人的宪法权利必将得到尊重。”

“6、和平是上天赠送给维汉人民礼物,唯有和平、善意才能创造彼此的共同利益。”

“7、我24小时戴着脚镣、8个月只有三小时放风、有6个汉族已决犯陪监。境况不能说不严酷,但相对我的学生,还有很多被控分裂国家的同族被告们,无疑我又是幸运的,我有自己委托的汉族律师出庭辩护、家属可以旁听、我说出了我想说的话。我希望通过我的案件推动新疆法治化,哪怕是一点点。”

“8、我昨晚睡了一个8个多月来最好的觉。我从来没有发现自己内心居然这么强大。只是老母亲不能告诉她,你叫家里说判了五年就行了。昨晚旁边监室帕哈提(学生)在撞门、大声悲叹,我也听到有不断提押的脚镣声,或许他们也判了。”

“9、(与妻书)我的爱人:为了我们的孩子,你要坚强,不要哭泣!不久的将来,我们还会拥抱在一起。你保重!爱你的哈木。”

1. I scream for our ethnic group, but I scream louder for China.

2. Before I was jailed, I worried that I could not withstand the torture. I was worried that I would betray my conscience, career, friends and family. But I got through this.

3. I was never in jail before, but the jail will become part of our life and my experience. I don't know how long I can carry on with this. I believe I have the courage and I am not weak. If anyone said I hurt myself or committed suicide, it would be a lie.

4. Upon reading the verdict, I feel that I bare a much larger responsibility.

5. I have left but I still expect the sun to shine and the future to come. I believe China will become better and the constitutional right of Uyghurs will be respected.

6. Peace is a gift to Uyghurs. Only peace and goodwill can build our common interest.

7. I was in foot chains 24 hours a day, only enjoyed three hours outside of jail cell during the eight-month detention. There were six other Chinese prisoners in the same cell. The situation is tough, but when compared with my students [some of whom were also prosecuted], and other Uyghurs who are charged with separatism, I should consider myself lucky. I could hire my own lawyers to defend for me, my family could attend my hearing, I could speak in court. I wish that my case helps the development of the rule of law in Xinjiang [where Uyghur people mainly live].

8. Last night I slept deeper than I have in these eight months. I never knew that my heart could be that strong. But I could not tell my mother. Please told her that they sentenced me to five years. Last night, I heard one of my students banging on the door and crying loudly, as well as some sounds of a foot chain. Did they receive their sentence as well?

9. (To my wife) My lover: For the sake of our children, please be strong, don't cry. In the near future, we will embrace each other. Please take care. Love you, Ilham.

The US and European Union have condemned the verdict. The EU criticized the Urumqi court for not respecting the due process of law as it deprived Ilham of his right to a proper defense. It also called for his immediate and unconditional release. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, criticized China for silencing moderate Uyghur voices and advised the government to differentiate between peaceful dissent and violent extremism, as it is vital to counterterrorism efforts.

Mainland Chinese dissidents published their heartbroken messages on Twitter over the Chinese Communist Party's extreme measure against a peaceful negotiator. @Zengjinyan re-posted a video interview of Ilham by Tibetan writer Woeser from November 2009 after the July 5 Urumqi riots, which left nearly 200 people dead and hundreds injured. In the video, he also mentioned that he anticipated 10 or 20 years in jail, a prediction he made even before his arrest on the most recent charges:

News and analysis website China Digital Times highlighted the part in the video that on the sacrifices Ilham made for his advocacy:

Woeser: A few years ago you were one of the wealthiest Uyghurs in Beijing, but now it’s said you’re one of the poorest. That’s such a dramatic rise and fall for a person to go through, both financially, but also politically and in terms of your safety. Now that you’re in such a precarious situation, what do you make of it all?

Ilham Tohti: I think these problems just need to be faced. As you well know, if you’re that sort of person, with ideals like that, you can easily imagine … [the consequences]. But initially, I didn’t give so much thought to it. I knew at the outset I’d face certain setbacks, maybe even being put in jail for 10 or 20 years. I thought, I can handle that, I’ve always been prepared for that.

[…] Whatever the government decides to do, I’m ready. We already lost our money when they froze our accounts. […]

[…] I think for a nationality there comes a point, and in this country with the way things are, where you can go to jail for what you say, for running a website, for just speaking the truth … which for me would be an honor. As I’ve said before, to trade my humble life to call for freedom … gladly, I’d be proud to do it.

Before the trial and shortly after his arrest in January 2014 he entrusted his close friend Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer, to release excerpts of his personal statements, in which he says he will not leave China in any circumstance:

I am not going anywhere. The issues facing the Uighur are in China, and the resolution of these issues is also in China. If I have to be imprisoned, then I will remain in a Chinese prison. After my release from prison, I will still be in China seeking a future for the Uighurs. If I die, I have only one desire: to be buried in my hometown. It would be enough of a solace for me.

When compared with the Chinese authorities attitude to Ilham in 2009 after the Urumqi riots and the current situation, Jiang Tianyong believed that the central government's attitude has changed:

Some Chinese are still trapped in the Chinese dream and are hopeful for President Xi Jinping. Back in 2009, the atmosphere during the July 5 Urumqi riots was so tense, the security police from Xinjiang went to Beijing to arrest Ilham, but Beijing security police disagreed because the higher-up authorities disagreed. On the contrary, in 2013, Xinjiang authorities finally went to Beijing and successfully took away Ilham because Xi is now the leader.

Political cartoonist Biatailajiao compared the life sentence of Ilham to the killing of peace — with a dove with olive leaves.

Political cartoon by Biatailajiao on Ilham Tohti's life sentence.

Political cartoon by Biatailajiao on Ilham Tohti's life sentence.

Wang Lixiong, a scholar on Tibet society and Ilham's friend, reposted a photo he took a few days before Ilham's arrest:

I took this photo for Ilham on January 8, 2014. I never imagined that this was our last meeting. A few days later on January 15, he was arrested from his home in Beijing and today he was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, I don't believe that from now on I will only see him in photos because belated justice will still arrive.

Su Yutong, a former reporter from Deutsche Welle who interviewed Ilham many times in the past, urged other reporters to do something for the imprisoned scholar:

#FreeIlham As a former reporter from Deutsche Welle, I had interviewed Ilham on many occasions. I reported his moderate stances and perspectives in my reports. Did these reports become evidence of his crime? For those reporters who had quoted him talking about his love for his nation, his insistence on peace, shouldn't we do something for him!!!

by Oiwan Lam at September 25, 2014 01:09 PM

Global Voices
China Sentences Peaceful Uyghur Scholar Ilham Tohti to Life in Prison
Photo taken by Wang Lixiong.

Photo taken by Wang Lixiong and shared on Twitter.

Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur Muslim minority scholar in China, was found guilty of separatism charges and sentenced to life in prison by a Chinese court on September 23. The verdict of the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court was the harshest sentence imposed on a political dissident in recent years in the country.

Ilham, who advocates for peaceful ethnic reconciliation between the Uyghur Muslims and the Han Chinese, was arrested in January. Ethnic tensions between the two groups have simmered for years and at times boiled over in deadly clashes between Uyghur activists and authorities. 

The state accused Ilham of having ties to the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas group labelled an extreme separatist group by the Chinese Communist Party, and spreading dissent through the the website that he founded, Uyghur Online, which covered social issues from a Uyghur perspective. 

Ilham has denied the accusations, and in court rejected the sentence and protested before the bailiffs led him out of the room. His lawyer Li Fangping has filed for appeal and helped Ilham publicize his view on the sentence (via Wei Quan Wang, a website on Chinese human right):

“1、我是为我们的民族呐喊,更是为中国未来呐喊。”

“2、进来前我一直担心自己承受不了严酷的环境。我担心自己会出卖我的良心、事业、朋友和家人。我挺过去了。”

“3、未来的监狱生活我没有经历过,但这将就是我们的生活、我的经历。我不知道自己的人生能持续多久,我是勇敢的,我不会那么脆弱,如果传出自残、自杀,肯定是虚假的。

“4、看到判决书的内容,我反而认为自己应该肩负更大的责任。”

“5、我虽已离去,但我依然期待阳光、期待未来。我坚信中国会更好、维吾尔人的宪法权利必将得到尊重。”

“6、和平是上天赠送给维汉人民礼物,唯有和平、善意才能创造彼此的共同利益。”

“7、我24小时戴着脚镣、8个月只有三小时放风、有6个汉族已决犯陪监。境况不能说不严酷,但相对我的学生,还有很多被控分裂国家的同族被告们,无疑我又是幸运的,我有自己委托的汉族律师出庭辩护、家属可以旁听、我说出了我想说的话。我希望通过我的案件推动新疆法治化,哪怕是一点点。”

“8、我昨晚睡了一个8个多月来最好的觉。我从来没有发现自己内心居然这么强大。只是老母亲不能告诉她,你叫家里说判了五年就行了。昨晚旁边监室帕哈提(学生)在撞门、大声悲叹,我也听到有不断提押的脚镣声,或许他们也判了。”

“9、(与妻书)我的爱人:为了我们的孩子,你要坚强,不要哭泣!不久的将来,我们还会拥抱在一起。你保重!爱你的哈木。”

1. I scream for our ethnic group, but I scream louder for China.

2. Before I was jailed, I worried that I could not withstand the torture. I was worried that I would betray my conscience, career, friends and family. But I got through this.

3. I was never in jail before, but the jail will become part of our life and my experience. I don't know how long I can carry on with this. I believe I have the courage and I am not weak. If anyone said I hurt myself or committed suicide, it would be a lie.

4. Upon reading the verdict, I feel that I bare a much larger responsibility.

5. I have left but I still expect the sun to shine and the future to come. I believe China will become better and the constitutional right of Uyghurs will be respected.

6. Peace is a gift to Uyghurs. Only peace and goodwill can build our common interest.

7. I was in foot chains 24 hours a day, only enjoyed three hours outside of jail cell during the eight-month detention. There were six other Chinese prisoners in the same cell. The situation is tough, but when compared with my students [some of whom were also prosecuted], and other Uyghurs who are charged with separatism, I should consider myself lucky. I could hire my own lawyers to defend for me, my family could attend my hearing, I could speak in court. I wish that my case helps the development of the rule of law in Xinjiang [where Uyghur people mainly live].

8. Last night I slept deeper than I have in these eight months. I never knew that my heart could be that strong. But I could not tell my mother. Please told her that they sentenced me to five years. Last night, I heard one of my students banging on the door and crying loudly, as well as some sounds of a foot chain. Did they receive their sentence as well?

9. (To my wife) My lover: For the sake of our children, please be strong, don't cry. In the near future, we will embrace each other. Please take care. Love you, Ilham.

The US and European Union have condemned the verdict. The EU criticized the Urumqi court for not respecting the due process of law as it deprived Ilham of his right to a proper defense. It also called for his immediate and unconditional release. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, criticized China for silencing moderate Uyghur voices and advised the government to differentiate between peaceful dissent and violent extremism, as it is vital to counterterrorism efforts.

Mainland Chinese dissidents published their heartbroken messages on Twitter over the Chinese Communist Party's extreme measure against a peaceful negotiator. @Zengjinyan re-posted a video interview of Ilham by Tibetan writer Woeser from November 2009 after the July 5 Urumqi riots, which left nearly 200 people dead and hundreds injured. In the video, he also mentioned that he anticipated 10 or 20 years in jail, a prediction he made even before his arrest on the most recent charges:

News and analysis website China Digital Times highlighted the part in the video that on the sacrifices Ilham made for his advocacy:

Woeser: A few years ago you were one of the wealthiest Uyghurs in Beijing, but now it’s said you’re one of the poorest. That’s such a dramatic rise and fall for a person to go through, both financially, but also politically and in terms of your safety. Now that you’re in such a precarious situation, what do you make of it all?

Ilham Tohti: I think these problems just need to be faced. As you well know, if you’re that sort of person, with ideals like that, you can easily imagine … [the consequences]. But initially, I didn’t give so much thought to it. I knew at the outset I’d face certain setbacks, maybe even being put in jail for 10 or 20 years. I thought, I can handle that, I’ve always been prepared for that.

[…] Whatever the government decides to do, I’m ready. We already lost our money when they froze our accounts. […]

[…] I think for a nationality there comes a point, and in this country with the way things are, where you can go to jail for what you say, for running a website, for just speaking the truth … which for me would be an honor. As I’ve said before, to trade my humble life to call for freedom … gladly, I’d be proud to do it.

Before the trial and shortly after his arrest in January 2014 he entrusted his close friend Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer, to release excerpts of his personal statements, in which he says he will not leave China in any circumstance:

I am not going anywhere. The issues facing the Uighur are in China, and the resolution of these issues is also in China. If I have to be imprisoned, then I will remain in a Chinese prison. After my release from prison, I will still be in China seeking a future for the Uighurs. If I die, I have only one desire: to be buried in my hometown. It would be enough of a solace for me.

When compared with the Chinese authorities attitude to Ilham in 2009 after the Urumqi riots and the current situation, Jiang Tianyong believed that the central government's attitude has changed:

Some Chinese are still trapped in the Chinese dream and are hopeful for President Xi Jinping. Back in 2009, the atmosphere during the July 5 Urumqi riots was so tense, the security police from Xinjiang went to Beijing to arrest Ilham, but Beijing security police disagreed because the higher-up authorities disagreed. On the contrary, in 2013, Xinjiang authorities finally went to Beijing and successfully took away Ilham because Xi is now the leader.

Political cartoonist Biatailajiao compared the life sentence of Ilham to the killing of peace — with a dove with olive leaves.

Political cartoon by Biatailajiao on Ilham Tohti's life sentence.

Political cartoon by Biatailajiao on Ilham Tohti's life sentence.

Wang Lixiong, a scholar on Tibet society and Ilham's friend, reposted a photo he took a few days before Ilham's arrest:

I took this photo for Ilham on January 8, 2014. I never imagined that this was our last meeting. A few days later on January 15, he was arrested from his home in Beijing and today he was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, I don't believe that from now on I will only see him in photos because belated justice will still arrive.

Su Yutong, a former reporter from Deutsche Welle who interviewed Ilham many times in the past, urged other reporters to do something for the imprisoned scholar:

#FreeIlham As a former reporter from Deutsche Welle, I had interviewed Ilham on many occasions. I reported his moderate stances and perspectives in my reports. Did these reports become evidence of his crime? For those reporters who had quoted him talking about his love for his nation, his insistence on peace, shouldn't we do something for him!!!

by Oiwan Lam at September 25, 2014 01:34 AM

September 24, 2014

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Activist Repression and Electronic Witch Hunts in Bahrain

Protests in Bahrain, 2011. Photo by Bahraini activist via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.)

Protests in Bahrain, 2011. Photo by Bahraini activist via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.)


Daniel Alan Kennedy, Bojan Perkov, Sarah Myers West, and Ellery Roberts Biddle 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 Bahrain, where human rights activist Maryam Al Khawaja awaits trial for allegedly attacking a police officer. The 27-year-old co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights was arrested at the end of August upon arriving in Bahrain to visit her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawaja who has been in prison since 2011. 

Both activists played key roles in organizing mass demonstrations of the February 14 movement that shook the island nation in that same year. As in Tunisia and Egypt, online activists and social media users played a key role in mobilizing protests and were thus a primary target for authorities seeking to quell the unrest. 

Surveillance of online platforms of mobile messaging apps has become a hallmark of the Bahraini government’s repressive measures against pro-democracy activists like the Al Khawajas. Researchers at NGO Bahrain Watch have uncovered the government’s use of malicious spyware to track activists on social media, a practice that has led to numerous arrests over the last two years. Several weeks before Al Khawaja’s detention, prominent Twitter activist @Takrooz was arrested upon arrival in the country and accused of using social media to “incite hatred against the regime.”

Although free from prison, Maryam now awaits trial, expected to begin October 1. In the meantime, the activist, who resides in Denmark, has been banned from travel. 

Free Expression: EU attempts to bust popular “myths” about the Right to be Forgotten

The communications office of the EU Court of Justice released a rambling “myth-busting” document in an attempt to refute criticism from free expression advocates and civil society groups over the controversial “Right to be Forgotten.” Among other things, the communique suggests that the ruling does not “contradict” freedom of expression, an assertion with which many human rights groups plainly disagree.

The ECJ ruling allows individuals to request that search engines remove certain links from results that appear when their names are queried. The ruling places the responsibility for deciding whose content gets removed on companies like Google and Microsoft, rather than with a relevant body within the judiciary. While still imperfect, digital rights groups around the world agree that such decisions are best left to the discretion of a judge, not a corporate platform whose bottom line could be harmed if they should decide the wrong way. Global Voices Advocacy is running a series of posts and commentary on the issue.

Thuggery: Crimean blogger pays hefty price for anti-Russian writings

Russian security forces raided the home of Ukrainian blogger Liza Bogutskaya, a vocal opponent of Russian military actions in Crimea, where she resides. Wearing masks and carrying machine guns, the officers interrogated Bogutskaya and confiscated computers, mobile phones, and USB drives. Bogutskaya believes the search may have been triggered by local elections that took place in Crimea on September 14 and her willingness to write about the plight of Crimean Tatars, whose homes and mosques have undergone raids in recent weeks.

Authorities in Iran arrested 11 individuals for allegedly having sent SMS messages criticizing Islamic republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Shortly after the arrests, Iran’s judiciary issued an order compelling the government to block popular messaging services Viber, WhatsApp, and TangoMe within a month’s time.

Surveillance: Is Singapore FinSpying on citizens?

When Wikileaks released several copies of invoices and support tickets from surveillance software company FinFisher, it revealed that PCS Security, company linked to the Singapore government, was among the firm’s clients. PCS, which was recently awarded a tender for the supply of IT security and audit services for a range of Singapore government ministries and organizations, bought 19 licenses for FinFisher products including FinSpy, a program that allows users to remotely control and access computers.

Internet Governance: Putin dreams of a kill switch

The Russian government announced plans to more strictly control the country’s Internet in an effort to “defend [them]selves from the US and Europe,” according to Dmitry Peskov, a spokes person for Russian President Vladimir Putin. It seems somewhat unclear whether this would entail completely cutting Russia off from the global Internet. Peskov says that is “in no way possible,” but bloggers have argued that it will be a key item on an upcoming Security Council meeting. Regardless, this marks a further escalation of controls over the RuNet in recent years by the government, which recently imposed a series of stringent regulations including an Internet blacklist and requirements for real-name registration by bloggers.  

Netizen Activism: Canada spies, too

Digital rights group OpenMedia.ca is leading a large, nonpartisan, coalition of local organizations calling for effective legal measures to safeguard Canadians from government spying. If you’re curious about the campaign but short on time, watch their snappy video on the issue. 

Global Voices joins prominent journalists like Christiane Amanpour, Arianna Huffington, Xiao Qiang, Ahmed Rashid, and more than 60 media and press freedom organizations (including Slate) to support the Committee to Protect Journalists’ campaign for the Right to Report in the Digital Agealists. The campaign calls on the Obama administration to protect journalists’ rights in light of recent revelations of surveillance, intimidation and exploitation of the press.  

New Research

• “Decoding the Chinese Internet”—China Digital Times

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

by Netizen Report Team at September 24, 2014 08:29 PM

Jessica Valenti
"University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee police are currently investigating a fraternity after several...
"University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee police are currently investigating a fraternity after several...

September 24, 2014 08:18 PM

Global Voices
#WithSyria Wants to End the Indiscriminate Bombing of Syrian Civilians
How can one feel safe here? Act now to end the bombing of schools, hospitals and homes. Source: withSyria.com

How can one feel safe here? Act now to end the bombing of schools, hospitals and homes. Source: withSyria.com

“In Syria there are daily attacks, from groups on all sides, hitting schools, hospitals and other residential areas. In February, the UN Security Council demanded that indiscriminate attacks in Syria stop. It promised to take further steps if these attacks continued. As the violence gets worse, please use your power to hold the UN Security Council to its word.”

This is the message of withSyria, a movement of over 130 organisations, Syrian diaspora groups and people around the world not taking sides, but standing in solidarity with those caught in the conflict, now in its fourth year.

#withSyria wants the world leaders to hear and act through the public during the 69th UN General Assembly, which opened in New York today (September 24, 2014). This is the same organization whose Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, defined Syria as “One of the Most Dangerous Places to be a Child.” It has also classified Syria as one of the most dangerous places to live today where in a Syrian neighborhood rocket fire becomes the new normal:

The most dangerous places in Syria for civilians are the markets, hospitals and schools that continue to operate in desperate conditions and amid constant threat of attack. 

Not To Forget

Despite the UN Security Council's demand in February 2014 that indiscriminate attacks should stop, barrel bombs in Syria continue to bring death from above on a daily basis, killing innocent Syrians on all sides of the conflict. The #withSyria Campaign posted a film called “In Reverse” on Youtube showing a playback story of innocent Syrians children were playing football hit by a random bombing in Syria. [Warning Graphic footage.]

The video ends with a link to a petition which urges world leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York to ask the UN Security Council to take concrete steps to end indiscriminate bombings in Syria. The target is 100K. However, campaign organisers say the more the signatures, the more pressure on world leaders and therefore the UN Security Council.

#WithSyria took the lead on both Twitter and Facebook trends earlier this week to argue the world leaders to not miss this chance to act on their pledge.

What to do next?

Cristiano Ronaldo supports #withSyria

If you have made it this far down the article, then THANKS IN ADVANCE on behalf of all Syrians, on behalf of a Syrian who was forced to be a refugee outside his home, watching his country being destroyed, his people being killed, and it's future generations lost between the camps, bombed schools and displaced families. Just because it isn't happening near you, doesn't mean it isn't happening.

By taking action, you are not showing your concerns only, but you join thousands of activists around the world to save Syrian civilians lives. Here are the ways you can help:

  1. Join the campaign with other 130 NGOs by tweeting the Hash-tag #WithSyria
  2. Watch the video and a sign the petition.
  3. Share the video.
  4. Email your followers, your supporters, and your fans to share the petition as widely as possible.
  5. You can use one of the images from here to enrich your tweets. They were especially created for this stage of the campaign.

by Rami Alhames at September 24, 2014 06:55 PM

The Heartbreaking Story of Palestinian Football Comes Into Focus, as Israel's Bid for UEFA 2020 Fails
A tribute by Israeli artist Amir Schiby to the 4 children killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli air strike while playing football

A tribute by Israeli artist Amir Schiby to the four Palestinian children killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli air strike while playing football

In its latest move, the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement aimed to financially penalize Israel for its ongoing occupation of Palestinian land by targeting Israel's bid to host the 2020 Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)‘s Championships.

The bid has since been rejected. It remains unclear whether the BDS movement had a hand in this decision, but it has succeeded at highlighting the plight of Palestinian football which, alongside Palestinian sport in general, has repeatedly suffered from Israeli restrictions.

Using football imagery under the ’Red Card Israeli Racism‘ campaign, supporters of the BDS movement urged UEFA to reject the bid on account of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian football. Red Card israeli Racism had over 17,000 supporters on its Change.org page.

Activists Rachel Michelé Green and Nalan Al Sarraj joined the so-called ‘Twitter storm', tweeting to their respective 9,000+ and 22,000+ followers:

The incident described by Al-Sarraj is the most recent, and perhaps the most notorious, example of the tragedy associated with Palestinian football since it involved the killing of four children of the Bakr family in Gaza on 16 July 2014.

The four Bakr children were playing football on a beach near a row of hotels hosting numerous foreign reporters when two Israeli air strikes hit them. The first blast killed 9-year-old Ismail Bakr as he ran to retrieve a ball and the second killed Ahed, 10, Zakariya, 10 and Muhammad, 11.

Ayman Mohyeldin of NBC recalled the incident:

Almost a month later, friends and family of the four children commemorated the beach massacre with a symbolic football match.

When UEFA announced that the Israeli bid was rejected, the move was taken as a victory by the BDS movement:

Palestinian Football

Due to the physical separation between a blockaded Gaza Strip on the one hand and an occupied West Bank on the other, the Palestine national football team often finds it hard to have all of its players training in one location. This difficulty is further exacerbated by the fact that, due to Israeli-imposed visa restrictions, the Palestine national team has had to include players of the Palestinian diaspora from as far as Chile and the United States.

Denied access, maimed or even killed, Palestinian football players have lived through it all. To name but a few:

Ziyad Al-Kord, striker for the national team between 1998 and 2006, was banned from traveling and had his house destroyed. Mahmoud Sarsak was imprisoned for three years before entering a hunger strike which led to international pressure against Israel and his subsequent release.

Others were not as lucky as Al-Kord or Sarsak. Tariq al Quto was killed by the Israel Defence Forces. During the 2008-2009 Gaza War, three Palestinian footballers, Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe, were also killed.

Being denied exit visa is also a common practice. For example, in October 2007 the Palestine National Team was disqualified during the 2010 World Cup qualifier simply because they were not allowed to attend the match against Singapore.

The list of abuses goes on. In response, FIFA president Sepp Blatter established a task force in July 2013 to address Palestinian concerns. On June 11, 2014, the FIFA Congress decided to form a committee to monitor Israeli violations against Palestinian sports, without actually sanctioning Israel yet.

by Joey Ayoub at September 24, 2014 06:37 PM

A Japanese Man Pops the Question With the Help of a Dancing Flash Mob in Osaka
Screenshot of a viral flash mob marriage proposal in Japan.

Screenshot of a viral flash mob marriage proposal in Japan.

This viral flash mob marriage proposal in Osaka Station will leave you blinking back tears, and wondering if she'll “yes.”

The translated title of the video is “Flash Mob Surprise Proposal at JR Osaka Station.” The video has racked up nearly a million views since being posted on YouTube.

The video starts out with a couple sitting at a table on a plaza at Osaka radio station. A crowd of people are passing by as the couple chats quietly. Suddenly, passers-by start to freeze in place, catching the attention of everyone in the square.

Soon, a crowd of people is dancing to the tune of Louder by Philippine pop star Charice.

When the man sitting at the table joins in, his female companion is mystified, until she herself is pulled up onto the read carpet. 

The man proposes and the woman (spoiler warning!) accepts, with much weeping among the onlookers, whether they are part of the pre-organized flash mob or not.

The innovative approach to marriage proposals is the brainchild of Osaka events and promotion company Emotion Rise, which has so far organized more than 300 flash mobs.

A lot of the flash mob proposal and events organized by Emotion Rise can be viewed on their YouTube channel.

Thanks to reader @FromNazWithLove for pointing out Charice is from the Philippines, and not Japan!

by Nevin Thompson at September 24, 2014 05:03 PM

Creative Commons
CC Colombia and School of Open celebrate the Web We Want

webwewantcolombia
It’s time to celebrate the Web We Want / CC Colombia / CC BY-SA

This Friday, School of Open and Creative Commons affiliates in Colombia are throwing a celebration of the Web We Want that will highlight open licensing, copyright reform, and free culture. The event takes place as part of the Creative Commons Film Festival in Bogotá. Its purpose is three-fold:

      1) To launch a campaign to promote fair use in copyright reform that is pending Colombia. This campaign is named, Liberen la cultura or Let’s set culture free.

      2) To support the Colombian biologist Diego Gómez, who is facing a criminal case against him for copyright infringement. This campaign is named #CompartirNoEsDelito or #sharingisnotacrime.

      3) To promote live music, books, magazines and films under CC licenses.

As part of both campaigns, affiliates will hold a Licenciatón, a day of awareness, learning and practice for open licensing and its relationship to free culture. This activity incorporates portions of the School of Open course, ABC del derecho de autor para bibliotecarios de América Latina (ABC of Copyright for Librarians in Latin America). Promotional material about the course will also be shared.

Colombian volunteer Maria Juliana says,

We are pleased to announce that as part of the Creative Commons Film Festival, the program will include a Celebration of the Internet, a space that seeks to unite all of us who are interested in an open web where we can contribute and share content freely — a space to celebrate the Web We Want!

We will be celebrating with our friends “Radio Pachone” and our special guests will be: “La Real Academia del Sonido” and “Radio Mixticius”.

The celebration takes place thanks to “A Year of Action” campaign of Web We Want, this campaign convocated organizations around the world to generate actions to celebrate 25 years of the web; we are one of the organizations which benefited.

Event details

Date: Friday, September 26, 2014
Time: 4pm-11pm (Bogotá, Colombia time)
Location: The Raid (Calle 17 No. 2-51 La Candelaria, Bogotá.) Free entrance.

Learn more about the event and its partners at http://karisma.org.co/?p=4609.

About the School of Open

SOO-logo-100x100

The School of Open is a global community of volunteers focused on providing free education opportunities on the meaning, application, and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, and research. Volunteers develop and run courses, workshops, and real world training programs on topics such as Creative Commons licenses, open educational resources, and sharing creative works. The School of Open is coordinated by Creative Commons and P2PU.

by Jane Park at September 24, 2014 05:00 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
Global Voices Advocacy
How Not to Understand the Kremlin's Internet ‘Kill Switch’
How far will the Kremlin go with its efforts to dominate the Russian Internet? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

How far will the Kremlin go with its efforts to dominate the Russian Internet? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The Kremlin is worried the West might try to shut off Russia’s access to the global Internet. According to a report by Russian newspaper Vedomosti on Sept 19, the Kremlin might soon deploy a new set of tactics in an effort to defend the country’s “digital sovereignty.”

Vedomosti’s anonymous sources say the Kremlin may require Russian Internet service providers to install “equipment that would make it possible to sever Russia’s access to the global Internet, in the event of an emergency.” According to the newspaper, Russian ISPs might be ordered to kill access to websites hosted in outside of Russia during “military actions” or “serious domestic protests.”

Moscow’s fears of a foreign-engineered RuNet shutdown are in part a response to Edward Snowden’s claim last month that the NSA accidentally caused a national Internet outage in Syria in 2012. In an interview with James Bamford, Snowden told Wired magazine that NSA hackers unintentionally crashed the Syrian Web while trying to install remotely “an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider.”

Anastasia Golitsyna, the reporter who broke the September 19 story in Vedomosti, told RuNet Echo that some officials in Moscow might worry about American Internet hegemony the way they fear Russian aviation’s reliance on America’s space-based positioning system, GPS. Just last month, for example, 12 planes flying over Moscow reported a sudden GPS outage, leading to some confusion in the air. There were no accidents or injuries, but some of Russia’s more hawkish elements speculated that the United States cut GPS service over Moscow on purpose, to convey to the Kremlin the might of American technology.

Claiming domains for the Motherland

Moscow also plans to push for control over the distribution system that connects domain names in Russia’s ccTLDs (Country Code Top-Level Domains)—.ru, .рф, and the discontinued .su—to the DNS (Domain Name System) of the global Internet, which forms the basis for Latin-alphabet Web addresses instead of forgettable IP addresses. In other words, Web users can visit “www.runetecho.org” instead of the far less memorable “69.163.200.55.”

The impetus behind Moscow’s effort to wrest from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) greater control over DNS operations is nebulous. Russian officials have justified the move by demonizing ICANN as an American-controlled outfit, despite the organization’s decentralized leadership structure and the US government's plans to dial down its influence in the organization. Key functions of ICANN have fallen under the power of the US Commerce Department since the administration of Bill Clinton established the entity in the mid-1990s.

More involvement in the Web’s domain operations would grant the Kremlin some additional capacity to disrupt how the RuNet functions, but the shift would not “surrender control of the Internet to Russia,” claims ICANN President Fadi Chehadé. Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain agrees, saying the Internet works on a “consensus,” of which “numbering and naming” is only a “tiny part.”

Even as the US disengages from its role in Internet domain administration, there are obstacles to putting the RuNet's DNS in the hands of the Kremlin. According to a report today by Kommersant newspaper, ICANN won't surrender control of the older and more popular .ru domain without broad agreement among Russia's Internet society and human rights authorities. Transferring .ru DNS maintenance to the Russian federal government would require “consensus across all [Russian] Internet society,” an anonymous ICANN source told Kommersant.

Does it make sense to build an Internet ‘kill switch’?

If we dismiss Russia’s talk about DNS sovereignty as patriotic bluster, we’re left with the Security Council’s plan to install special equipment at the ISP level, creating the so-called “Internet kill switch.” Ostensibly, this tool would protect the RuNet from malicious attacks like the one that Edward Snowden asserts brought down Syria’s Internet two years ago. A RuNet ready for total autonomy would also be better protected against theoretical “Internet sanctions” against Russia, which Putin’s press secretary has intimated are a possibility, given the West’s sudden “unpredictability.” (Indeed, one of the catalysts for next week’s Security Council discussion is apparently a series of “exercises” by the Communications Ministry, Defense Ministry, and Federal Security Service, which discovered certain vulnerabilities in Russia’s Internet infrastructure.)

The idea that America would disconnect Russia from the Internet, however, is antithetical to Moscow's own apparent understanding of US foreign policy. Indeed, Russian officials themselves have accused the West of using the Internet to orchestrate the Arab Spring. (In February 2011, for instance, Igor Sechin—perhaps the most powerful man in Russia after Putin—accused Google of “manipulating the energies of the [Egyptian] people.”) Even in Syria, if Snowden is telling the truth, crashing the Web was unintentional—an “oh shit” moment, as he put it.

The justifications for preparing a “self-sufficient RuNet” are weak. The tools necessary for such a feat, moreover, would empower the Russian government to restrict the country’s most vital communication network in an instant, presumably to interfere with mass protests, like the kind that swept Moscow in 2011 and 2012, or the demonstrations that recently brought about regime change in Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Africa. Yesterday, Russia’s Security Council was supposed to discuss the prospect of a RuNet shutdown “from the outside,” but the Putin Administration postponed the debate until at least October 1. Given the crackdown on Internet openness and online speech in Russia over the past two years, putting an “Internet kill switch” in the hands of the Kremlin should give RuNet users plenty to worry about.

by Kevin Rothrock at September 24, 2014 01:35 PM

Global Voices
It's National Day in Chile, Which Means Chileans’ Ingenious Naming Games Are Back
Imagen en Flickr del usaurio  Gonzalo Baeza H (CC BY 2.0)..

The Chilean flag made of Converse brand shoes. Image from Flickr user Gonzalo Baeza H (CC BY 2.0).

The Chilean National Holidays, popularly known as “el Dieciocho” (The Eighteenth), take place every year on September 18 and 19. In this land of poets, one of the most amusing and deeply rooted traditions is the use of double entendre when naming diners known as fondas, improvised eateries, and dance halls that pop up during the “fiestas patrias” (national holidays).

Loaded phrases that allude to political contingencies, local humor, celebrity names, or sexual innuendo are all part of the mix. These names are widely discussed and shared on the Internet much to the delight of everyone. Each year there is a healthy competition to see who can come up with the most innovative and creative name. Some even become so famous that they stand the test of time. One example is the dance hall “Yein Fonda” (the hispanicized pronunciation of the actress Jane Fonda's name), which the renowned music group Los Tres founded in 1996.

Below are some of the most popular names for the this year's el Dieciocho:

“El terremoto” (The earthquake) is a traditional Chilean cocktail that was invented after the earthquake of 1985 (hence the name) and is made up primarily of Chilean table wine, pineapple ice cream, and splashes of Fernet, Grenadine, or bitter liquor. The “michelada”—another cocktail made up of beer and lemon—combines Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's name with the word “hada,” which means “fairy” in Spanish, thus becoming Michel-hada.

[In the photo: Lavin's diner: Where the poor eat like a pig... without eating pig. Well-known, tasty options: Kebabs made from the cat from that place next store (or alternatively, dog); fried rats from the Zanjón de la Aguada channel; toasted bread turnovers, with margarine; "pig" roast (made of Viennese sausages); option for the destitute: roast "beef" (literal). Drinks: wine (grape-flavored powdered drink + denatured alcohol); delicious tap water.]

“Lavin's diner”, anything for 2 bucks!

The name “Lavín's diner” plays on the name of a well known political figure. In 2013, former Minister of Social Development Joaquín Lavín launched a cookbook to help poor families prepare meals for $2,000 Chilean pesos (approximately $4 USD). A 1,000 pesos note is colloquially called “luca,” hence the name lucrecia.

“El Palo de Pinilla” (Pinilla's Post) references the Chilean national footballer Mauricio Pinilla. During a World Cup match against Brazil he missed a goal that bounced off the post, leaving Chile eliminated from the tournament.

by Danielle Martineau at September 24, 2014 06:00 AM

Singapore Bans Film Featuring Political Exiles Saying it ‘Undermines National Security’
Photo from official website of the film.

Photo from official website of the film.

Singapore's top media regulator has forbidden the public screening of the documentary ‘To Singapore, With Love’, claiming ”the contents of the film undermine national security.” The 70-minute documentary by independent filmmaker Tan Pin Pin featured interviews with political exiles, most of whom have not returned to Singapore in 35 to 50 years. 

To Singapore, With Love has been screened in other countries and has received positive reviews at several film festivals.

Some of the exiles featured in the film were activists, opposition leaders, and communists who challenged the leadership of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in the 1960s and 1970s. The PAP has continued to be in power since then, for about 50 years. According to PAP, Singapore became a prosperous city state by surviving and defeating a communist plot to overthrow the government in the 1960s.

Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA) explained in a press release that it classified the film as “Not Allowed for All Ratings” because it distorted the truth about a period in Singapore history:

The individuals featured in the film gave the impression that they are being unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore. They were not forced to leave Singapore, nor are they being prevented from returning. The Government has made it clear that it would allow former CPM [Communist Party of Malaya] members to return to Singapore if they agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past activities to resolve their cases. Criminal offences will have to be accounted for in accordance with the law.

Director Tan Pin Pin was disappointed with the decision of the government. She said the film was meant to stir conversations about Singapore’s rise as an independent nation:

I made this film because I myself wanted to better understand Singapore. I wanted to understand how we became who we are by addressing what was banished and unspoken for. Perhaps what remains could be the essence of us today. I was also hoping that the film would open up a national conversation to allow us to understand ourselves as a nation better too.

We need to be trusted to be able to find the answers to questions about ourselves, for ourselves.

Singapore’s art community protested the ban and signatures are being gathered to appeal the film rating given by the MDA:

We would like to suggest that rather than banning the documentary, authorities release their version of the events in question, so that viewers can make up their own minds.

…we would like to emphasize that censorship does nothing to promote a vibrant, informed society.

Tan Wah Piow, one of the exiles interviewed in the film, accused the government of preventing the people from learning an alternative version of history:

The plain answer is that the powers that be can tolerate only one narrative for the history of Singapore – the PAP story. The film sets out to present the lesser known aspect of the Singapore political fabric, and in the process, inadvertently presents an alternative version of history.

Activist writer Kirsten Han called the ban a blatant act of censorship:

…how can the reminiscing of exiled Singaporeans cause any credible threat to the country’s safety and stability?

What is happening here is just a blatant act of censorship, pure and simple.

After watching the film, historian Pingtjin Thum disagreed with the censors that the film poses a threat to national security:

Having seen this film last week, the one thing that all the interviewees have in common is a deep, abiding love for Singapore. This movie reinforces national security by demonstrating the deep loyalty and commitment of Singaporeans to Singapore, even those forced unjustly into exile.

Media Asia urged the government to be more tolerant instead of doing a “commie-style censorship”:

We would honour those who defended Singapore against communist overthrow by living up to their faith in the young nation’s capacity to deal with ideological differences through open competition – not by grasping at commie-style censorship.

Writing for The Independent, Ethan Guo said the ban would make the film even more popular among the public:

MDA has unintentionally diverted attention to a film that would otherwise be largely ignored by most Singaporeans. Now more people than ever will attempt to download and circulate it, yearning for this forbidden fruit of “hidden truth”.

This fiasco should never have happened; a silly move leading to more distrust between government and the artistic community.

Since Singapore will soon celebrate its 50 years as a free nation, the Singapore-based blogger who runs Everything Also Complain thinks it’s time for the government to promote reconciliation:

…maybe it’s the perfect opportunity for the government to exercise some graciousness and compassion by reconciling and engaging our political exiles and bringing them home, absolve them of alleged crimes, let them spend some time with their loved ones rather than whitewashing them off our history books as cowardly fugitives instead of the ‘pioneers’ that they deserve to be.

Some Singaporeans can still watch the film by going to Johor Baru in Malaysia where the film will be presented this week.

by Mong Palatino at September 24, 2014 04:47 AM

September 23, 2014

Creative Commons
Hewlett Foundation extends CC BY policy to all grantees

Last week the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced that it is extending its open licensing policy to require that all content (such as reports, videos, white papers) resulting from project grant funds be licensed under the most recent Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. From the Foundation’s blog post: “We’re making this change because we believe that this kind of broad, open, and free sharing of ideas benefits not just the Hewlett Foundation, but also our grantees, and most important, the people their work is intended to help.” The change is explained in more detail on the foundation’s website.

The foundation had a long-standing policy requiring that recipients of its Open Educational Resources grants license the outputs of those grants; this was instrumental in the creation and growth of the OER field, which continues to flourish and spread. Earlier this year, the license requirement was extended to all Education Program grants, and as restated, the policy will now be rolled out to all project-based grants under any foundation program. The policy is straightforward: it requires that content produced pursuant to a grant be made easily available to the public, on the grantee’s website or otherwise, under the CC BY 4.0 license — unless there is some good reason to use a different license.

“When we began thinking about extending the policy from OER grants to the foundation as a whole, we wanted to be sure we would not be creating unforeseen problems,” said Elizabeth Peters, the general counsel of the Hewlett Foundation. “So we first broadened it to cover education grants that were not for OER — and have been pleased to find that there were very few issues, and those few easily resolved. CC BY for all grant-funded works will now be the default, but we are willing to accommodate grantees who have a persuasive reason to take a different path. The ultimate goal of this policy is to make the content we fund more openly available to everyone. We’re only just beginning to implement this change, and will continue to monitor how it’s working, but so far we have found most grantees are ready and willing to apply the license that makes their works fully open for re-use of all kinds.”

In practice, the new policy means that nearly all of the extensive content produced with Hewlett project-based grant funds–not only works specifically commissioned as Open Educational Resources, but scholarly research, multimedia materials, videos, white papers, and more, created by grantees on subjects of critical importance–will be widely available for downstream re-use with only the condition that the creator is attributed. Text will be openly available for translation into foreign languages, and high-quality photographs and videos will be able to be re-used on platforms such as Wikipedia. Releasing grant funded content under permissive open licenses like CC BY means that these materials can be more easily shared and re-used by the public. And they can be combined with other resources that are also published under an open license: this collection grows larger every day as governments and other publicly-facing institutions adopt open policies. Promoting this type of sharing can benefit both the original creator and the foundation, as it enables novel uses in situations not intended by the original grant funding.

For a long time Creative Commons has been interested in promoting open licensing policies within philanthropic grantmaking. We received a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to survey the licensing policies of private foundations, and to work toward increasing the free availability of foundation-supported works. We wrote about the progress of the project in March, and we’ve been maintaining a list of foundation IP policies, and a model IP policy.

We urge other foundations and funding bodies to emulate the outstanding leadership demonstrated by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and commit to making open licensing an essential component of their grantmaking strategy.

by Timothy Vollmer at September 23, 2014 11:05 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Citizens Rising - Liveblog

Live notes from the Citizens Rising event at MIT on Friday, Sept 19, 2014.

Introduction

Daniel Miller opens. Next, Daniel Wong speaks. He worked as a designer in 2009. Bad news about the economy and the government weighed on him. His sister introduced him to Lessig's work and he got involved with Rootstrikers, attended meetings, led meetings. But then he got a new job, and activism fell by the wayside, until he came across an article on Gilens's work suggesting that the US government operates as an oligarchy. He introduces Martin Gilens.

Martin Gilens

Gilens opens by showing us "the most unsettling line in American politics." He continues to explain that the near-horizontal slope of the line is the significant part. It represents the probability of a policy to be adopted as a function of how popular it is with the American people. The most popular policies are virtually no more likely than the least popular. His results suggest that the views of Americans have very little influence on US policy.

Over 3 decades, he collected survey responses from Americans on their favored policies. He divided them by income, and alignment with political groups. He used this data to construct a statistical model of how US policy is influenced by the views of various groups: average citizens, economic elites, and interest groups. The horizontal line he started with, was the result for the average citizen group.

Moving on to economic elites and interest groups, he shows that they have a very clear influence on US policy. But he points out an asymmetry. Unpopular policies have nearly zero probability of passing, while the most popular still only have a one-in-two chance. There is a strong tendency towards the status quo.

Gilens singles out NAFTA, the Bush tax cuts, and the repeal of Glass-Steagall as three of the most significant policy changes in recent US history. These three policies have in common a benefit for well-off Americans. Throughout his surveys, Gilens saw three areas where well-off Americans differed from the rest: redistributive policies, regulation vs. "free market," and moral/religious issues. He notes that well-off Americans tend to be more liberal on moral/religious issues.

One of the questions he asked, was what the greatest problem facing the government was. A substantial minority of wealthy Americans believed that the government needed to provide food and shelter to those in need, to ensure that all families were above the poverty line, or that everyone could find a job, but these concerns were about twice as common among the general public.

He asks why the general public doesn't use democracy to get their concerns addressed. Campaigns take money. Obama's presidential campaign cost one billion dollars. Campaigns are funded by contributions from the wealthiest 0.01% of Americans. Although more of this money goes to the Republican party, the Democrats are also largely funded by these contributions.

Between 2008 and 2012, the amount of "dark money" contributed by super PACs tripled. In 2012, 93% of all super PAC money came from 3,318 people. 59% came from only 159 people, who all donated over a million dollars.

Moving forward, Gilens calls for campaign finance reform: public financing with voluntary limits, full disclosure. He also calls to reform lobbying by stopping the "revolving" door between government and lobbying firms. He suggests electoral reforms like resisting voter ID laws, and allowing weekend voting. Finally, he stresses the important of civic engagement through unions, and other community organizations.

Lawrence Lessig

Jonah Han, a Harvard sophomore, opens with a story about his first time voting, in the 2012 election. He celebrates that his voice mattered just as much as Bill Gates or anyone else in that moment. But, he expresses frustration at watching gun control legislation flounder after the Sandy Hook shooting just a few weeks later. He introduces Lawrence Lessig as someone working on bridging that gap.

Lessig opens with the story of Hong Kong deciding in 2007 that it would hold general elections by 2017. The changes went into effect, but the general public could only vote for nominees selected by a committee of 1200. He draws parallels to the electoral systems in Russia and Iran. He calls these "Boss Tweed Democracies." Tweed said "I don't care who does the electing, as long as I get to do the nominating."

Moving onto the US, Lessig describes the explicitly all-white primaries of Texas 95 years after the 15th amendment removed racial restrictions on voting. In the present day, politicians spend as much as 80% of their time campaigning. He compares politicians to pigeons in a Skinner box, learning how they need to act to get the money they need. Citizens are excluded from the all-important nomination stage of elections.

Francis Fukuyama described US government as a vetocracy. Lessig compares the US representative democracy to a Swiss watch with intricate mechanisms intended to provide checks and balances against sways in public opinion. He compares the current dependence of elections on money to pouring honey into this mechanism. It's easy to block change. We've come to believe that we can only make change by amending the Constitution. Lessig calls this "bullshit." He points out that a simple statute like the American Anti-Corruption Act could make real change with a simple majority in Congress.

So, he sees a path forward by winning a Congressional majority dedicated to campaign finance reform. That is why he created Mayday PAC. Mayday has raised and matched $1m, and then $5m, which Lessig is working to get matched. 2014 is a pilot for Mayday, part of a longer plan, including the 2016 election and beyond.

He's launching a "Politics in 30 Seconds" campaign to allow anyone to upload video about the importance of campaign finance reform. Lessig sees this as an issue of "many." It will require many groups, with different ideologies, to come together to achieve reform.

Eight years ago, Lessig announced he would switch his focus from copyright reform to anti-corruption work. He was visited by Aaron Swartz, who asked how he could ever solve copyright problems when we have corruption in the government. It wasn't Lessig's field as an academic, but Aaron asked whether it was "as a citizen." Lessig, Swartz, and Josh Silver started Change Congress. When Obama came into office, Swartz moved onto Demand Progress with a focus on helping Obama achieve reform.

Lessig always hoped to work with Swartz again, but he didn't. After connecting to MIT's open network to download a large number of articles from JStor, he was charged with 13 felonies and up to 35 years in jail. After two years defending himself, Swartz took his own life. Lessig says this tore up his life, and since then he has been.

He says that what MIT did was not to kill Aaron, but simply to do nothing. He says we're guilty of the same when we see corruption and do nothing. He ends with a question: "Can we reclaim our democracy?"

Questions and Discussion

Miller introduces Nadeem Mazen. Nadeem, an MIT mechanical engineering graduate, cofounded the Danger!Awesome hackerspace after graduating so that he, and everyone, could have access to laser cutters after he graduated. He's currently a member on the Cambridge City Council. He doesn't believe politicians, from Congress to city councils, are really listening to the general public. He's pledged to voluntarily limit his number of terms, not the norm in Cambridge, so he can focus on getting things done. He wants to find and train leaders to replace him. He says this is working, and it's sustainable. He calls Lessig and Gilens back up.

Q: If we have a voucher system, where all candidates have a voucher for campaign funds, don't media companies still have the ability to skew public perception?

Lessig: There is a whole series of problems with American democracy. Problems with the way politicians raise money and how it gets spent are important, but distinct problems. Solving the raising problem first makes it easier to solve the other. If you have to raise your money in $50 chunks, you need to appeal to a much wider audience.

Gilens: The more money a politician raises, the better they'll do. But, it's not always the best funded campaign that wins. The problem is not having less money, it's having no money. He hopes to make more candidates viable.

Online Q: How do you solve the problem of voter turnout?

Lessig: People are critical of low voter turnout, but if you look at the data, why should they? The system is not responding to the average voter. We need to make the system more responsive.

Q: How can we have legitimate elections when voting is unobservable?

Lessig: Only about 15% of Congressional seats are really contested. Usually, who's voting for whom doesn't usually matter, but all politicians need to raise money. He stresses that the money problem makes sense to solve first in the sequence.

Q: With global climate change, isn't saving civilization more important than saving democracy?

Lessig: Agrees that the way we use oil and its effects on the environment is one of the most important issues today. Oil companies make a $100 billion/year profit, it only makes sense to solve the money problem first.

Q: A strong economy has made the US powerful. Isn't it necessary that companies advocate for their needs?

Gilens: When they're in line with the needs of common citizens, yes. But when those interests diverge, absolutely not.

Lessig: Twitter answer: "no."

Q: What about reforms to electoral college, winner-takes-all, and districting?

Gilens: These reforms are being tested on a small scale, and we should continue to do so.

Lessig: Again, stresses sequence. Many of these reforms make campaigns more expensive, so we need to fix the way campaigns are funded first.

Q: Can we reform the consumption side of the process? With approval voting, each candidate would run on their own, and would have no incentive to tarnish others.

Lessig: Would love to see this tried. The current system is the sickest imaginable, a system of non-consensual communication, and he'd love to see innovation. The communication happens in 30 second chunks. He calls this the pornography of ideas, an absurd way to communicate, in which it's impossible to discuss anything meaningful.

Nadeem: We have rank voting in Cambridge, and it resulted in a more congenial election.

Q: What can we do to solve the problem, right now? Where do we start?

Lessig: How can we flip the non-consensual communication to consensual communication? Can we get a more meaningful connection to voters at a lower cost.

Gilens: We need not one organizations, but a multitude of organizations.

Q: Do you envision a pathway to the courts changing their perspecitve in a fundamental way?

Lessig: Yes. And this is an important point to keep in the center of the progressive movement. The Supreme Court is way off from the views of average Americans, and they are not insensitive to that. How do they get back? (Wearing law-geek hat) Lessig says corporations are discovering the high cost of free speech through unlimited spending, which is what was allowed by Citizens United. Unlimited contributions to super PACs, the real problem, was created by a lower court and could be overturned.

Q: Is Tweedism necessarily a bad thing? The average citizen isn't necessarily informed.

Lessig: We need to figure out which filters are good and which are bad. If the filters were truly representative, he might not have a problem with that. The real question is the reasoning of why we're excluding people. We've built a filtering system that excludes the poor, and most people. It's not justifiable. Income was one dimension of equality that was explicitly stressed by Madison in the Federalist Papers.

Nadeem ends with a prompt for the audience: What is this movement's ice bucket challenge?

by elplatt at September 23, 2014 06:50 PM

Global Voices
Why Militant Maoists Are Attacking Mobile Phone Towers in India
Photo courtesy of Kadir Aksoy

Photo courtesy of Kadir Aksoy, used with permission

Early in the morning on September 19, radical Maoists allegedly set fire to three telephone towers and a bus in rural Bihar, India, continuing a trend of targeting mobile towers. From 2008 to 2013, 245 similar attacks were recorded.

Daily newspaper The Telegraph India reports that 20 to 25 Naxalites, as the far-left Maoist guerrillas are also called, raided Goda and Vitiya village in Bihar. They allegedly fired shots close to a local market in response to the fact that shops had stayed open despite a 24-hour strike the day before. The strike (or bandh) was initiated after an altercation on September 13 in which three Naxalites were killed. 

The Naxalite or Maoist insurgency, which leaves hundreds of civilians dead each year, is a complex issue dating back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Naxalite movement began in the town of Naxalbari, West Bengal, in which farmers rose up against oppressive land owners. According to an analysis in newspaper DNA India, “While the Naxalite movement thrives on the original spirit of Naxalbari; the Maoist struggle is an outcome of the 1967 uprising.”

In the last 15 years, the Maoists have advocated for a mass revolution by the people. This has mainly focused on farmers, tribals and indigenous people (adivasis). The aim of the Maoists is to “seize political power through Protracted People’s War (PPW) – armed insurrection,” as V. Balasubramaniyan describes in an article for Canadian geopolitical consultancy GeoPolitical Monitor

According to a Human Rights Watch report, Maoists said they are defending the rights of the poor and marginalized:
 

They [Maoists] call for a revolution, demanding a radical restructuring of the social, political, and economic order. The Maoists believe the only way marginalized communities can win respect for their rights is to overthrow the existing structure by violent attacks on the state.

The burning of mobile phone towers has been a continuous tactic for Maoists since 2008. They have targeted phone towers on several occasions and in the last four years, Maoists have “blown up” over 200 mobile towers in nine states, according to D. M. Mitra, a former official in the Ministry of Home Affairs and an expert on Indian left-wing extremism. Mitra writes that Maoists alleged that security forces were able to track the location of Maoists with mobile phones.

In an article for Global ECCO (a network for alumni of the U.S. Defense Department's Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program, which funds anti-terrorism training for military officers from other countries) called “The Relevance of Technology in the fight against India’s Maoist Insurgency,” he discusses Maoists use of mobile phones (or lack thereof) in their operational areas. He writes:

They may even kill people they find using mobile phones, on the suspicion that they are police informers. 

In 2013, India introduced the Central Monitoring System (CMS), which is meant to allow authorities to access phone calls and communication for the purpose of national security. The CMS offers the government a way to “lawfully” intercept calls, texts and emails; it is considered to be one way the government has responded to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, during which armed attackers left more than 150 people dead.

Also last year, in a report compiled by the Indian Social Institute, a centre for socio-economic development and human rights, the government states the goal of building mobile towers in “remote and inaccessible Maoist strongholds,” with the aim to bring mobile connections to 987 villages of Jharkhand, with a total of 2,200 mobile towers by the end of the 2013.

According the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA):

Maoists recognize the threat that an efficient – or even minimally working – cellular network constitutes to their own security and survival, and have systematically attacked isolated mobile towers wherever possible. 

Responses and commentary within social media have been sparse, but the “Naxal Movement in India” does have a community page on Facebook and Twitter responses have included:

Other responses have referenced the violence in response to International Day of Peace on September 21. Writer and disarmament activist Binalakshmi Nepram wrote:

In response to the most recent torching of mobile phone towers in Bihar, police raids are being conducted with patrols in place to find the people responsible. 

An earlier version of this post incorrectly featured a photo of a Nepali Maoist.

by Lakshmi Sarah at September 23, 2014 06:06 PM

Info/Law
ACLU Challenges Arizona Revenge Porn Law

The ACLU, ably assisted by Dentons US LLP, has filed a challenge to Arizona’s revenge porn law in federal district court (complaint, ACLU blog, WIRED story). This is great news for Arizonans: the bill was terribly drafted and unconstitutional from the moment it was signed into law. Fighting revenge porn is important, but as Arizona is about to learn, you don’t get to trample the Constitution even in the service of a good cause. (Here’s my earlier post on the law.)

by Derek Bambauer at September 23, 2014 05:12 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
In Crimea, No Room for Blogger Liza Bogutskaya And Her Pro-Ukrainian Views
Blogger Liza Bogutskaya braves the roads in Crimea in a car decorated with Ukrainian embroidery patterns and dresses in Ukrainian colors. Image from Facebook.

Blogger Liza Bogutskaya braves the roads in Crimea in a car decorated with Ukrainian embroidery patterns and dresses in Ukrainian colors. Image from Facebook.

This article is part of an extensive RuNet Echo study of Russian-language blogosphere in Eastern UkraineExplore the complete interview series on the Eastern Ukraine Unfiltered page.

Liza Bogutskaya's Facebook profile has over 20,000 followers. Although the Simferopol native's page was originally primarily a social outlet that she didn't use for political discussions, her outspokenness against what she sees as Russia's illegal occupation of her native Crimea has made her a favorite of pro-Ukrainians online. It has also made her an enemy of the Russian state that now administers Crimea. 

On Monday, September 8, Bogutskaya was awoken early in the morning by strange voices outside her door, followed by gunshots.

Когда я еще спала, я услышала голоса у себя во дворе. У меня частный дом, и приватный дом. Моя собака отреагировала. И ествественно выскочила на улицу. Я тогда услышала выстрелы. Стреляли в мою собаку. Они не убили собаку, но они прострелили щеку моей собаке.

While I was still sleeping I heard voices outside my house. I have a detached house, not an apartment. My dog reacted. Naturally she launched herself towards the street. I then heard shots. They were shooting at my dog. They didn't kill my dog, but they grazed her cheek.

It soon turned out that the strangers outside Bogutskaya's home were Russian government officials who came there to search her property.

Моя дочь успела схватить мой телефон и убежала быстро в другую комнату. Зашла в телефоне на мою страничку Фейсбука и написала что у нас дома обыск.

My daughter managed to grab my phone and ran quickly into another room. She went onto my Facebook page on my phone and wrote that our home was being searched.

The men searching Bogutskaya's home claimed they were searching for weapons, drugs or “forbidden literature.” Bogutskaya described the investigators as

Четыре человека в масках… автоматчики крупного телосложения такого… человек в штатском… и два свидетеля, которых они привезли со собой… Это их лица, это не независимые лица.

Four people in masks… men armed with machine guns, with big bulky builds… a person in civilian clothing, and two “witnesses” who they brought with them… These were their people, they weren't impartial individuals.

Though the investigators “neither found, nor planted” any illegal material in Bogutskaya's house, they did confiscate her electronic equipment.

Они изъяли у меня компьютеры. Изъяли другие носители информаций, флеш-карты изъяли… и естественно все телефоны изъяли.

They confiscated my computers. Confiscated other information devices, confiscated USB-sticks and naturally they confiscated all the phones.

When asked by RuNet Echo if she thought the search of her property was related to what she wrote online, Bogutskaya was unequivocable. “It's undoubtedly related,” she said.

After her house was searched, Liza Bogutskaya was detained and questioned for hours. Image from Shevket Namatullaev on Facebook.

After her house was searched, Liza Bogutskaya was detained and questioned for hours. Image from Shevket Namatullaev on Facebook.

Bogutskaya believes the search was also related to the local elections that took place in Crimea on Sunday, September 14 and her willingness to write about the plight of Crimean Tatars, whose homes and mosques have undergone raids in recent weeks and whose leaders have been banned from Crimea. Bogutskaya also thinks the search was linked to her high visibility in Sevastopol (she drives a car with traditional Ukrainian folk patterns and often wears blue and yellow clothing). 

Ну естественно это я все пишу, об этом я говорю… и всегда говорила достаточно смело и достаточно жестко. И разумеется что нынешним властям не нравится мое поведение и не нравится то, что я пишу обо всем и очень свободно передвигаюсь по городам, очень свободно себя чувствую.

Well naturally I write everything. I speak about [their plight]… and have always spoken quite bravely and quite harshly. And it stands to reason that the current authorities didn't like my behaviour and didn't like that I wrote about everything, traveled around the cities quite freely, feeling myself to be very much at liberty.

After being questioned as a “witness” for several hours, Bogutskaya was released. No longer feeling that she could write freely and talk about what was going on in Crimea, she has left the territory and is now in Kyiv. It had become clear to her that

Нужно уехать, потому, что мне не дадут возможность больше писать там. Я уеду. Смогу дальше писать. Смогу дальше говорить и я смогу доносить свои мысли до моих читателей.

I had to leave because I wouldn't have been given the possibility to keep writing there. I left. I will be able to write more. I will be able to say more and I will be able to get my thoughts across to my readers.

Bogutskaya believes her Facebook updates, which often receive thousands of likes, mainly appeal to her readers because of their emotional resonance, as compared to rather dry traditional reporting or analysis.

Я пишу свои статьи сердцем. Я стараюсь повлиять на эмоции людей, я стараюсь взывать к их эмоциям. Надо действовать так, чтобы люди могли оценить все, что происходит… Я думаю что, из-за того что я пишу сердцем… очень много рассказываю о своей семье, очень много рассказываю о своем прошлом, люди мне сочувствуют и понимают, что я не абстракт.

I write with my heart. I try to affect people's emotions. I try to appeal to people's emotions. You need to act this way, so that people can evaluate what's happening… I think that because I write from the heart… I talk a lot about my family, I talk a lot about my past, people sympathise with me and understand that I'm not an abstraction.

Bogutskaya is defiant, but her case clearly shows that the Russian and Crimean authorities are not going to tolerate such open dissent anymore. While Russia has introduced a plethora of laws targeted at bringing the blogosphere under control, Bogutskaya's case shows that, while laws forcing bloggers to register or proposed internet kill switches may be cause for concern, at the end of the day, old school intimidation can be just as effective.

by Daniel Alan Kennedy at September 23, 2014 03:14 PM

Global Voices
Ukrainian Band Blows Up YouTube with Wild Apple-Inspired Music Video
The "Knock Knock" video was shot in one take and uses 14 different screens to tell its story. Image from YouTube.

The “Knock Knock” video was shot in one take and uses 14 different screens to tell its story. Image from YouTube.

A little-known Ukrainian indie rock collective has captured the hearts of YouTube users—and Apple fans—with a cleverly shot music video that now has over half a million views.

Brunettes Shoot Blondes, an indie-rock band from Kryvyi Rih, an industrial town in Central-Eastern Ukraine, decided to take an unconventional approach to shooting their music video for the track “Knock Knock.” The 2.5-minute video tells its story using the screens of 14 different Apple devices: smartphones, tablets and laptops. The story's characters jump between screens as if by magic, moving from one device to another.

The video must have taken a lot of preparation, since the authors say it was shot in real time, in one take, using only one camera, and did not involve any post-editing. The result is an endearing love story set to an equally romantic soundtrack. What it conceals, most likely, is hours of design and animation work, as well as careful choreographing of the gadgets on the table. And, well, perfect timing.

As users continue to share the Ukrainian band's video masterpiece on the Web, some are jokingly speculating the video might secretly be an Apple promotion, since the devices play such a prominent part. We wonder if Apple might take note: the song—and the video—would make a for great Apple advert.

by Tetyana Lokot at September 23, 2014 11:00 AM

Feeds In This Planet