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.

December 01, 2016

Creative Commons
Open Practices and Policies for Research Data in the Marine Community

In March we hosted the second Institute for Open Leadership. In our summary of the event we mentioned that the Institute fellows would be taking turns to write about their open policy projects. This week’s post is from Alessandro Sarretta from the Institute of Marine Sciences (ISMAR), part of the Italian National Research Council.


2016 has been a great year for me both personally and professionally in understanding, embracing, and disseminating the culture of sharing open knowledge. One thing that really helped was my participation in the second Institute for Open Leadership (IOL), held in March in Cape Town, South Africa. Creative Commons brought together 15 fellows from 14 different countries to learn and discuss about open knowledge, and to propose a specific open policy project to be improved and supported by the contribution of other fellows and mentors.

Centenary Tree Canopy WalkwayCentenary Tree Canopy Walkway by Alessandro Sarretta, CC BY 2.0.

As a researcher in the field(s) of Coastal and Marine Environment and Geospatial Information, I’m constantly dealing with data. Data are the core of science, and research has to be based on sound and reliable data.

Since at least 2002, there’s been a strong movement to allow online research outputs (referring principally to scholarly papers) to be published “free of all restrictions on access (e.g. access tolls) and free of many restrictions on use” (Open Access movement).

When talking about data, things usually get more complicated, and the open access community is still working to find the best way to allow open access to research data. One part of this requires working to convince both researchers and funders that this is the way to support better science.

In the marine community there is already a solid history of common standards for metadata and formats. There are also various portals (e.g EMODnet, Jerico) and projects (e.g. SeaDataNet) that exist for accessing a great variety of research data related to seas and oceans.

However, data policies and licences that regulate access to data are, when available, usually custom-made, requiring the filing of specific forms before use. Oftentimes these custom licenses do not clearly address the reuse of data and information.

The use of common, standard, open licences would help users to understand what they can do with the data. It would also ensure that the data providers would be able to easily share their products, with easy to understand conditions for reuse.

My goal as an IOL fellow is to inform relevant marine communities of the benefits of an open research data policy and, more specifically, to apply these principles to the practices within my institute—the Institute of Marine Sciences (ISMAR), part of the Italian National Research Council.

One of the deliverables for the Italian flagship project RITMARE (Italian research for the Sea), was to clearly define a data policy for the initiative. The document (written in Italian) defines categories of data for which different moratorium periods apply for the release of data; for all data in the project, the document requires that an open license is applied, mentioning Creative Commons licences as one of the standard options, with CC BY as the recommended first choice.

fig 1Fig. 1: Data Policy rules for the RITMARE project (from Paola Carrara et al., Facing data sharing in a heterogeneous research community: lights and shadows in the RITMARE project. https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.4244375.v2)

Another way to help RITMARE researchers share their data—and also ensure they receive recognition for their scientific outputs—is by launching a grant program that will provide funding for researchers who wish to publish data papers. These grants will be provided to support the payment of the article processing fees required by open access data journals. The main requirement of the funding is that researchers must deposit their data in an open access data repository under a CC BY or CC0 license.

We are working on other initiatives that represent a bottom up, collaborative research approach. Among them, two are very well established and almost finalised. First, a repository is being developed that includes digital images of both historical and recent materials belonging to multiple typologies: a historical library, that includes books, photographs, manuscripts, etc. from the end of 16th century; a collection of maps from the 16th century, mostly devoted to the Adriatic Sea and the Lagoon of Venice; an algal collection including an historical section performed during the Second World War containing more than a thousand vouchers, and a modern collection in progress. All these materials will be released under a CC BY license through two main interoperable data portals based on open source infrastructures. Second, the data from six meteo-oceanographic buoys in the Adriatic Sea, has been recently organised in a common database containing time series related to various parameters. This data will be made available as under a CC BY license and will be published an open data in a research data repository.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said in a speech on “Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World” that researchers should be able to rely on free access to research data—and that data needs to be “Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable” (“FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship”). The Institute of Marine Science is embracing these principles by opening its data to the marine community and the wider society. While a comprehensive open data policy for the institute is not adopted, various initiatives are fully supporting this vision. We are making valuable data open and reusable using advances to technical infrastructures, standard formats, interoperable services, and Creative Commons licenses.

The post Open Practices and Policies for Research Data in the Marine Community appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Alessandro Sarretta at December 01, 2016 08:07 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: China's New Cybersecurity Law Hardcodes Surveillance Practices Into Law (And Technology)
Downtown Shanghai. Photos released to public domain.

Downtown Shanghai. Photos released to public domain.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

China's new cybersecurity law will ban Internet users from publishing information that damages “national honor”, “disturbs economic or social order” or is aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system”. It will codify previously scattered Internet regulations and practices of unique government agencies, and elevate the powers held by the country's Cyberspace Administration, the leading government body making and enforcing policy for the Internet.

The law requires Internet companies to verify users’ identities and to store users’ “personal information and other important business data” in China, effectively making anonymity illegal. The legislation has drawn criticism for its infringement on users’ rights to freedom of expression, privacy and anonymity, and for placing stringent requirements on businesses operating in the country.

In what appears to be one example of the cybercrime law in action, security firm Kryptowire recently identified several models of Android mobile devices that have pre-installed permanent software (firmware) that collects sensitive personal data, including text messages, geolocations, contact lists, and call logs and transmits them to a third-party server in Shanghai, creating backdoor access to user data for law enforcement and other authorities.

Without users’ consent, the code can bypass Android's permission model. This could allow anyone interested in a mobile user's data — from government officials to malicious hackers — to execute remote commands with system privileges and even reprogram the devices.

In addition to the surveillance of private data as required by law, Chinese Android phone users regularly download Android apps from unofficial third party app markets since Google left China in 2010. These Android markets are flooded with apps containing malware that can steal and manipulate personal data.

The company that developed the firmware, ADUPS, said the software was designed to help phone manufacturers “identify junk texts” and “improve mobile phone experience”. The devices were sold by the US-based online retailers Amazon and BestBuy, among others.

Meanwhile, reports that Facebook has developed software allowing it to suppress posts from users’ feeds based on their geographic area also drew criticism this week. The company is reportedly developing the tool to hand over to a China-based third party in order to fulfill the necessary requirements to operate in the country. The New York Times said of the reports, “the project illustrates the extent to which Facebook may be willing to compromise one of its core mission statements, ‘to make the world more open and connected,’ to gain access to a market of 1.4 billion Chinese people. The implications of the cybersecurity law for Facebook's existence in China remain to be seen.

The Gambia shuts down Internet for historic election

On the eve of elections, which were preceded by a fierce campaign, authorities have shut down the Internet and some telephone networks, according to a local journalist. Independent candidate Adama Barrow, backed by a coalition of at least seven political parties, along with Mamma Kandeh of the newly formed Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), are challenging Jammeh in what analysts say is the most crucial vote in more than two decades. Kemo Cham, a Gambian journalist living in exile, posted on Facebook about the shutdown:

Clearly he has lost, even before the votes are cast. Yaya jammeh is reported to have declared a state of emergency, shutting down the internet, international calls and even electricity supply, just hours before Gambians vote. He knows he will lose in a free and fair elections.

Human rights advocate and website founder arrested in China

The founder of a Chinese citizen news site was detained after police searched his home. Huang Qi is the third well-known rights defender in China to disappear or be detained in a fortnight, after the disappearances of lawyer Jiang Tianyong and citizen journalist Liu Feiyue, who activists believe to be in police custody.

Police in Sichuan burst into the home of the 64 Tianwang founder, searching it and detaining Huang on Monday night, a local activist told US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA). They had a search warrant, she said.

Tianwang is an independent news site that posts articles and information about human rights incidents in China, including detentions by police, forced demolitions, petitioner activism and demonstrations. It recently received the 2016 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize. Nine citizen journalists who have contributed to the site are currently detained, and five are on bail, according to Tianwang.

Bahraini activist charged with ‘inciting hatred’ over protest tweets

Bahraini human rights defender Hussain Radhi was charged with “inciting hatred against the regime, threatening civil peace and publishing false news” for several tweets and retweets intended to document protests in Bahraini villages and their suppression by police. Radhi has denied the charges brought against him.

Lebanese PM bans political photographer

Photojournalist Hussein Baydoun was recently banned from the home of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, where formal meetings and events frequently take place. Baydoun, who works with The New Arab and as an independent photographer, is well known for  photos  documenting political protests in Lebanon, among them the 2015 ‘you stink’ protests against government corruption were featured in numerous outlets.

Brazilian court rules against ‘Right to Be Forgotten’

Brazil's Superior Court of Justice (STJ) decided unanimously that the “right to be forgotten” cannot be imposed upon Google or other search engines, reasoning that this would give search engines too much responsibility, effectively making them into digital censors. The decision goes against that of the European Court of Justice which decided in 2014 that search engines do bear responsibility for de-indexing search results when an individual could successfully claim a right to have “old or irrelevant” information about them removed from search engine results. The rule has been hotly disputed in the EU and elsewhere, particularly in cases where public figures have sought to have information removed from search results, in what appears to be an effort to improve their public image.

New Research

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

 

Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Oiwan Lam, Weiping Li, Elizabeth Rivera, Taisa Sganzerla and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at December 01, 2016 04:38 PM

DML Central
Exploring 3 Models of Digital Literacy

The New Media Consortium, the group behind the annual Horizon reports on the impact of technology on learning, has produced a short report on digital literacy. The report is based on a survey of 450 educators on their perceptions of digital literacy and how it is being implemented in their fields.

The recommendations in the report don’t cover a whole lot of new ground — students should be thought of as makers, etc. — but, the project is interesting for its attempt to define digital literacy. As the authors of the report — Bryan Alexander, Samantha Adams Becker, and Michele Cummins — note, there are conflicting ideas as to what “digital literacy” entails and how it should be defined. This lack of consensus was represented in the survey results, and they used the range of responses they received to define three different (but interconnecting) models of digital literacy: universal literacy, creative literacy, and literacy across disciplines.

Universal Literacy

In the first model, universal literacy, digital literacy is understood as a set of basic digital skills necessary for engaging with life in a digital society. This conclusion is based on assumptions about the movement of most work to office contexts and the increasing dependence of that work on digital technologies. In this way, the authors see the universal literacy model as being associated with other baseline literacies such as information literacy. Although such skills will often be for consumption, this model focuses on those basic digital skills necessary to allow a person to fully participate, as a worker and citizen, in digital culture.

Creative Literacy

Creative literacy, the second model, goes beyond the universal literacy model to focus on the production of digital content. Where those fluent in a universal digital literacy might produce some digital content, the creative literacy model focuses explicitly on the skills for producing new content, and with it knowledge of related issues like copyright law.

Literacy Across Disciplines

The final model, literacy across disciplines, understands digital literacy as discipline-specific practices. As the report notes, the digital skills associated with sociology, political science, or computer science are different and require discipline-specific instruction. For this reason, it is necessary for disciplines to add to the two other models those specific skills necessary for mastering the discipline in a digital context.

These models, then, provide a means of thinking about digital literacy in education at both a broad level, as a series of skills every student should know, to the specifics of digital skills necessary to particular disciplines. Although they certainly do not exhaust our understanding of what digital literacy is (or can be), they can be a useful tool for designing and implementing digital literacy in educational contexts.

One major caveat applies: The report was sponsored by Adobe, and it contains a number of awkward plugs for Adobe products. In this context, the call for educators to prepare students to use “office productivity software, image manipulation, cloud-based apps and content,” etc. reads suspiciously as if educators should be training students to use Adobe’s cloud-based business model. This does not, in my opinion, completely undercut the usefulness of the three models approach the authors outline, but it is something those who wish to use this report — perhaps to argue for an expanded digital literacy curriculum, for example — should be aware of.

Baner image credit: Juan Cristóbal Cobo

The post Exploring 3 Models of Digital Literacy appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at December 01, 2016 02:00 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Polls Open Amid Communications Blackout in The Gambia
A voter with a t-shirt carrying a political message in the Gambia. Creative Commons photo by Wikipedia user Ikiwaner.

A voter with a t-shirt carrying a political message in the Gambia. Creative Commons photo by Wikipedia user Ikiwaner.

Voting is underway today in the tiny West African nation of The Gambia, where incumbent president Yahya Jammeh is seeking a fifth term. On the eve of elections, which were preceded by a fierce campaign, authorities have shut down the internet and other essential telecommunications. Independent candidate Adama Barrow, backed by a coalition of at least seven political parties, along with Mamma Kandeh of the newly formed Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), are challenging Jammeh in what analysts say is the most crucial vote in more than two decades.

According to the electoral commission, in a country which has a population of about two million, up to 886,578 are registered voters. Polls opened at 7:00 am and will close at 5:00 pm (1700 hrs GMT).

Kemo Cham, a Gambian journalist living in exile, posted on Facebook about the shutdown:

Clearly he has lost, even before the votes are cast. Yaya jammeh is reported to have declared a state of emergency, shutting down the internet, international calls and even electricity supply, just hours before Gambians vote. He knows he will lose in a free and fair elections.

The shutdown started on the evening of Wednesday November 30, 2016, barely hours after a coalition of non-governmental organisations, led by Access Now, issued a letter calling on Gambian authorities not to block internet access.

“We implore you to keep the internet on,” the letter noted, adding that internet has enabled significant advances in health, education and creativity, and is now essential to fully realise human rights — including participation in elections and access to information.

Fatu Camara, a Gambian journalist and former press secretary of president Jammeh, who now hosts the country's most popular television show, tweeted about the shutdown:

Farou Jaw Manneh, a US-based Gambian, wrote:

Allahuakbar @HUBRIS!! Yaya Jammeh the Gambian God has ” closed/ shut down ” the internet & phone lines. Yaya Jammeh You will soon KNOW who the real God is. Hope God twists your treacherous and malicious plans in our favour. Go ahead and EAT the internet and phone lines. Arrogance is so blinding. Ndeysaan. Subhaanalaa.God bless Gambia. It will be OKAY. INSHALLAH. The real GOD the all knowing is in control. Not Jammeh.

In the 2015 “Freedom on the Net” report, Freedom House, a US-based organisation promoting freedom and democracy around the world, scored up to 65 countries on the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by their citizens. The Gambia was ranked the second worst out of 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Jammeh has said that any post-election protests will not be tolerated. He maintains that his leadership has improved the country, and says that the majority of tertiary-level students in The Gambia attend university on government scholarships.

Vote counting is conducted at the polling stations, where all candidates can be represented by at least two agents. Election results will start to trickle in by late this evening, but final counts are expected on Friday December 2, 2016.

Update 29 November 2016: In the end, ECOWAS will not observe the elections in The Gambia. According to local sources, the chairman of the electoral commission said the regional groups application for observation was not received on time.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at December 01, 2016 01:55 PM

Global Voices
Polls Open Amid Communications Blackout in The Gambia
A voter with a t-shirt carrying a political message in the Gambia. Creative Commons photo by Wikipedia user Ikiwaner.

A voter with a t-shirt carrying a political message in the Gambia. Creative Commons photo by Wikipedia user Ikiwaner.

Voting is underway today in the tiny West African nation of The Gambia, where incumbent president Yahya Jammeh is seeking a fifth term. On the eve of elections, which were preceded by a fierce campaign, authorities have shut down the internet and other essential telecommunications. Independent candidate Adama Barrow, backed by a coalition of at least seven political parties, along with Mamma Kandeh of the newly formed Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), are challenging Jammeh in what analysts say is the most crucial vote in more than two decades.

According to the electoral commission, in a country which has a population of about two million, up to 886,578 are registered voters. Polls opened at 7:00 am and will close at 5:00 pm (1700 hrs GMT).

Kemo Cham, a Gambian journalist living in exile, posted on Facebook about the shutdown:

Clearly he has lost, even before the votes are cast. Yaya jammeh is reported to have declared a state of emergency, shutting down the internet, international calls and even electricity supply, just hours before Gambians vote. He knows he will lose in a free and fair elections.

The shutdown started on the evening of Wednesday November 30, 2016, barely hours after a coalition of non-governmental organisations, led by Access Now, issued a letter calling on Gambian authorities not to block internet access.

“We implore you to keep the internet on,” the letter noted, adding that internet has enabled significant advances in health, education and creativity, and is now essential to fully realise human rights — including participation in elections and access to information.

Fatu Camara, a Gambian journalist and former press secretary of president Jammeh, who now hosts the country's most popular television show, tweeted about the shutdown:

Farou Jaw Manneh, a US-based Gambian, wrote:

Allahuakbar @HUBRIS!! Yaya Jammeh the Gambian God has ” closed/ shut down ” the internet & phone lines. Yaya Jammeh You will soon KNOW who the real God is. Hope God twists your treacherous and malicious plans in our favour. Go ahead and EAT the internet and phone lines. Arrogance is so blinding. Ndeysaan. Subhaanalaa.God bless Gambia. It will be OKAY. INSHALLAH. The real GOD the all knowing is in control. Not Jammeh.

In the 2015 “Freedom on the Net” report, Freedom House, a US-based organisation promoting freedom and democracy around the world, scored up to 65 countries on the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by their citizens. The Gambia was ranked the second worst out of 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Jammeh has said that any post-election protests will not be tolerated. He maintains that his leadership has improved the country, and says that the majority of tertiary-level students in The Gambia attend university on government scholarships.

Vote counting is conducted at the polling stations, where all candidates can be represented by at least two agents. Election results will start to trickle in by late this evening, but final counts are expected on Friday December 2, 2016.

by Demba Kandeh at December 01, 2016 01:52 PM

Talking to Hooman Majd, a Bridge Between Iran and the US Mainstream
Hooman Majd has been known to be the "voice of Iran" to the western world. Portrait of Majd by Ken Browar, used with permission.

Hooman Majd has been called the “voice of Iran” to the western world. Portrait of Majd by Ken Browar, used with permission.

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with Iranian journalists and writers who have dedicated their careers to communicating Iran's complexities and contradictions to those outside of the country. Read the full series here.

I started this series of interviews in March 2015, around the time the Iranian nuclear deal was receiving lots of attention in the international media. While the world discussed negotiations and relations between Iran and the rest of the world over its nuclear program, the alternative was often considered to be aggression, if not war, between Iran and western nations such as the United States. In the midst of these geopolitical considerations, I sat down with an assortment of writers and journalists. Some worked for US-funded media outlets such as RFE/RL; others were with independent English-language media such as The Guardian. What these writers all had in common was the fact that — amidst much misrepresentation — they had dedicated their careers to capturing and explaining Iranian culture, politics and society to the rest of the world.

We are now at a turning point in US foreign policy. Weeks away from the end of the Obama presidency, there is a strong possibility that the US is moving away from the defining project of rapprochement with its long-time foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the dawn of the Donald Trump presidency, which is slated to be a peculiar shade of hardline and hawkish Republicanism, I thought it a timely moment to sit down with journalist and author Hooman Majd.

While some critics have come to view Majd as an apologist for the Iranian government's more inhumane aspects, his perspectives on Iran came to the fore during the Bush era, when hawkish rhetoric against the Iranian government became a hallmark of the early 2000s’ foreign policy and media depictions of Iran. Iran was amongst one of the members of Bush's post-9/11 ‘axis of evil‘, despite the country having no ties to the tragic events.

Hooman Majd on Daily Show in 2008, discussing life for Iranians after returning to the U.S. from Iran. Screenshot from Comedy Central Daily Show archives.

Hooman Majd on The Daily Show with host Jon Stewart in 2008. Screenshot from Comedy Central's Daily Show archives.

During an appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2008, Majd would tell Stewart that Americans “don't have [a] clear perception of what Iran and the Iranian people are”. In keeping with the mood of the era, Stewart would jokingly respond, “But we would like to bomb them…how much do we need to get to know a people before we bomb them?”

While often critical of certain Iranian absurdities, such President Ahmadinejad's denials of the Holocaust, Majd cemented a unique role during that period by humanizing the people and culture of Iran. This occurred in an environment prone to ‘regime-change’ paeans that saw Iran as the next battleground in the American ‘war on terror.’

Our series of interviews thus resumes here, with Majd, an Iranian-American darling of mainstream media, in the post-Trump era. He is one of the few Iranian commentators and analysts with bylines in Vanity Fair, and features in GQ magazine. A relative of the former reformist president Mahmoud Khatami, he became renowned as the ‘English-speaking voice‘ of Iranian officials. He was translator and advisor to both President Khatami and Ahmadinejad on their visits to the United Nations in New York — anglophone audiences heard Majd's American accent when both presidents spoke at the UN General Assembly. Majd would later arrange and produce with NBC some of the US media's first interviews with the current moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, after his 2013 election.

The last time I was in Iran was 2013, when I worked with NBC and Ann Curry, and arranged for their interview. Ann and I worked together in 2009 right before the election, for a documentary for Dateline. Rouhani ended up doing two interviews with Ann, [the] second interview in 2014 was when I couldn’t personally go to Iran, so I worked on it from Dubai.

Majd has made a name for himself predominantly as an Iranian. However, he identities as one of the handful of pre-revolution members of the Iranian diaspora.

I am unique in the Iranian diaspora. I'm almost 60 years old. Most Iranians my age emigrated after the revolution with an intimate attachment to the culture of Iran. I grew up in the west prior to the Islamic Revolution. There are only a handful like me –Baha'i who lived abroad as missionaries, some students, and small number of doctors, and that was it. The revolution changed that. My parents were both Iranian, so I had a close taste of Iranian culture, but much of it's alien to me…which makes it difficult for me to live there permanently. I went for my last book, and it was the first time as an adult that I experienced Iran as a place to live day to day. I would like to go back, but not to live.

Majd's position as a ‘bridge’ figure to Iran likely rests on this unique identity that is simultaneously connected to Iran, yet decidedly American in upbringing and experience. Iranian analysts and commentators come from a variety of backgrounds and political persuasions, but none of them have occupied the pop culture space the way Majd has.

My writing career happened after my career in the entertainment and music business. I'm not an academic…the popular culture aspect of my writing is because of my background and also what I tend to be interested in.

When I was in the music business…I was at Island records until 1998. The founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, started a film, audio and visual company, and wasn't able to get financing, so I decided from college onwards to do what I liked to do best, which is write. I was publishing short stories, but I abandoned writing while in the industry. Because of my contacts in the entertainment side of journalism I was able to get published…the Iran thing started when the editors of GQ asked me to write about Iran…and ever since then I was pigeonholed as writing about Iran. 

Given his presence in positions typically held by academics or policy wonks, I asked if his entertainment background ever affected the way he was perceived by Iranians.

That doesn’t really come up. Particularly in the Iranian-American community, if it comes up, it's because they are curious about it. Inside of Iran, the government had this weird assumption, and even among ordinary Iranians in the country, that I’m an academic and I have a PhD, and I have to correct them. People assume that because I’m an analyst and a author. Most Iranians inside Iran haven't read my books, except for the security services, of course. The things anyone in Iran has noticed are op-eds in the New York Times, or articles in Foreign Policy — you know, the drier stuff I wrote on the nuclear negotiations which could have easily been written by an academic.

While Majd has spent the majority of life in the US, he has cultivated his connections to influential people and networks within Iran's elite. It was through these channels that he was warned not to go back to Iran after 2013, for reasons he prefers not to discuss.

His connections are the strongest with Iran's reformists, a political faction that formed during former President Mohamad Khatami's administration. These are the people who believe in the 1979 Revolution and the system of the Islamic Republic, but favour progressive ideals of freedom and democracy within the Islamic system. When asked if, despite his secular American background, he considers himself a reformist, Majd had this to say:

A wide swath of conservatives are opposed to the ‘reform movement’ because they don’t want to move the revolution forward with civil rights and human rights…. Now Rouhani is not part of the reform movement — he's a moderate — but he's adopted those policies, and taken them on his government. And it's natural for someone who doesn’t live in Iran to look to the values of the reformists. Their politics, which I support, tend to be close to what I believe in western democracies, with the understanding that there are many differences in cultural democracy, and western democracy is not possible given Iran's demographics, with adjustments for people who don’t want to be like the west. For me the reformists are people who don’t like the status quo on women’s rights, freedoms, political reforms, and want to make Iran a more transparent political system.

It's often hard to navigate the different political factions within Iran, and placing the current moderate President Rouhani within this matrix can be a difficult task. Majd considers Rouhani as a significant improvement on his predecessor Ahmadinejad, but believes that:

…there’s a long way to go, and I think apart from his words, he's chosen to not battle hardliners, and you can seen how they undermine his presidency through arrests, blocking freedoms in the arts. And he’s chosen not to go head to head on this. He’s up for re-election next spring. If he's successful, which most likely will happen, he will have more room to try to move some of these things ahead, including getting prisoners released. 

Regarding the outcome of the May 2017 presidential elections, Majd says it's too early to make predictions:

…if you look at the history of presidential elections, you have to get really close to know anything. During the last elections, nine months before the date Rouhani wasn’t even a factor. What we do know is that Rouhani will run, and Ahmadinejad won’t. I don’t know at the moment, but it depends on so many factors between now and after Nowruz [the Persian New Year, celebrated on March 21]. If there are brand new Boeing 777's sitting in Imam Khomeini [Tehran's international airport], this will be a huge psychological benefit for how Iranians view Rouhani. New cars, new buses, while they will not affect everyday lives, it will benefit Rouhani's image. It's unlikely there will a candidate on the left or right as popular as this president.

I pressed him on his celebratory tone towards the Rouhani administration, and in particular the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who became a hero of Iran's reformists after concluding the nuclear negotiations.

I do think if there were a peace prize for the nuclear negotiations they would both [Zarif and US Sec. of State John Kerry] be contenders. They both put a lot on the line, their careers, particularly Zarif who has people who want to kill him for being buddy-buddy with Kerry. They were rather tough but friendly with each other, and the deal wouldn’t have happened without them coming together at that time. I would agree with some of the premises of [the] website [Iran Diplomacy], that if there were no deal, eventually it would have come to military action. I don’t think it’s a far-fetched notion. What is the alternative? The alternative was war, the alternative was more sanctions. Iran has suffered through the harshest of sanctions over the last five years. On that basis, sanctions were going to make the country crumble. If you base the peace prize on the promotion of peace over conflict…they should be considered. 

While Majd tends to view the policies and intentions of the current administration in a generally favourable light, when pressed on its poor performance on human rights and support of the brutal Assad government, he has to concede there is still much to be desired:

It is a bit of cop out, potentially a calculation, since [Rouhani is] an absolute insider in the system, and knows people on the right and left. You could almost say it's a Machiavellian calculation — maybe he can go after [human rights] after the election. He probably has an influence on human rights and Syria — potentially. He and Zarif are unified on Syria, there isn’t much of a difference of opinion — in general the Iranian regime, for better or worse, is united on that matter, which is distressing to hear. But there is a logic they apply geopolitically. In terms of human rights, that’s an issue that affects Iranians directly, and I think Zarif has virtually no ability to affect that, not with the brief he has. Domestic human rights he has virtually no control over. Rouhani could probably do more, but the chances of his being successful will be more likely after he's elected for a second term, but that's just speculation.

Asked whether he's been accused of peddling certain ideologies, Majd says that he receives criticism from both ends of the Iranian spectrum:

Very pro-Islamic Republic supporters don’t like my stuff and say I give fodder to anti-Iranians…. Liberals and critics say my writing and opinions are prolonging the Islamic Republic and putting a prettier face on the reality. My opinion is, ‘Sorry if I've offended you…a lot of my writing is observational.’ It's the way I see things, as someone without an agenda…I’m not an activist and I don’t believe it’s my job to be an activist while I'm contributing to NBC news or working as a freelancer. I don’t have a dog in the fight. In the end, I am fond of Iran and it's my heritage. If there are outsiders who can bring change, good for them, but I'm not one of them.

On whether misconceptions on Iran have lessened in recent years, Majd sounds hopeful:

Ahmadinejad was the first to make himself available to the media, which is the source of a lot of the negativity. But Iranian-Americans and Iranian-Europeans have written a lot about the culture in the recent years, and there's a lot more travel between Iran and the US, among both Iranian-Americans and Iranians themselves. They are understanding it a little bit better and there have been a number of books. Iran is not uniquely paradoxical: what's unique is that most people don’t know about Iran. 

by Mahsa Alimardani at December 01, 2016 01:08 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Award-Winning Chinese Citizen News Site Founder Detained Amid Crackdown on Human Right Defenders
Huang Qi. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

Huang Qi. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

This post was written by Catherine Lai and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on November 30, 2016. The version below is published on Global Voices under a partnership agreement.

The founder of a Chinese citizen news site has been detained after police searched his home. Huang Qi is the third well-known rights defence figure in China to disappear or be detained in a fortnight, after the disappearances of lawyer Jiang Tianyong and citizen journalist Liu Feiyue, who activists believe to be in police custody.

Police in Sichuan burst into the home of the 64 Tianwang founder, searching it and detaining Huang on Monday night, a local activist told US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA). They had a search warrant, she said.

News of his disappearance was posted on Twitter by Pu Fei, a volunteer at the 64 Tianwang site, but the tweet was deleted and Pu has been unable to be contacted since then, according to information posted by Hong Kong-based rights watch website Weiquanwang. A call made to Pu appeared to suggest that his phone was turned off.

Huang’s mother told RFA that the police took photos and looked through Huang’s possessions.

According to the two witnesses, officers from Mianyang and Neijiang — areas hit by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake — were present. Huang was jailed in November 2011 after he investigated allegations that poor construction contributed to the deaths of schoolchildren in the disaster.

Huang was recently detained during a major meeting of Communist Party elite in October. Photos showed that his home had been searched, with items scattered on the floor. His computer was also taken by authorities.

HKFP’s calls to Huang Qi’s mobile phone went unanswered.

Tianwang is an independent news site that posts articles and information about human rights incidents in China, including detentions by police, forced demolitions, petitioner activism and demonstrations. It recently received the 2016 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize. Nine citizen journalists who have contributed to the site are currently detained, and five are on bail, according to Tianwang.

On Wednesday, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a network of Chinese and international human rights NGOs, released a statement urging the Chinese government to release Huang, lawyer Jiang Tianyong and citizen journalist Liu Feiyue.

Jiang Tianyong and Liu Feiyue. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

Jiang Tianyong and Liu Feiyue. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

Jiang Tianyong is a disbarred lawyer who recently worked to publicize China’s crackdown on lawyers. He has not been heard from since last Monday. Liu Feiyue, the founder of a rights watch website, was reportedly taken by police last Thursday. A family member said he was being criminally detained for inciting subversion of state power, but the family has not received any formal notification from police.

CHRD said:

From information CHRD has received, police are believed to be holding the men in unknown locations, raising fears that they are at risk of torture […] The detention and disappearance in quick succession of these well-known leading figures of China’s rights defense movement further signal the escalation of President Xi Jinping’s relentless crackdown on civil society.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at December 01, 2016 12:47 PM

Global Voices
Award-Winning Chinese Citizen News Site Founder Detained Amid Crackdown on Human Right Defenders
Huang Qi. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

Huang Qi. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

This post was written by Catherine Lai and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on November 30, 2016. The version below is published on Global Voices under a partnership agreement.

The founder of a Chinese citizen news site has been detained after police searched his home. Huang Qi is the third well-known rights defence figure in China to disappear or be detained in a fortnight, after the disappearances of lawyer Jiang Tianyong and citizen journalist Liu Feiyue, who activists believe to be in police custody.

Police in Sichuan burst into the home of the 64 Tianwang founder, searching it and detaining Huang on Monday night, a local activist told US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA). They had a search warrant, she said.

News of his disappearance was posted on Twitter by Pu Fei, a volunteer at the 64 Tianwang site, but the tweet was deleted and Pu has been unable to be contacted since then, according to information posted by Hong Kong-based rights watch website Weiquanwang. A call made to Pu appeared to suggest that his phone was turned off.

Huang’s mother told RFA that the police took photos and looked through Huang’s possessions.

According to the two witnesses, officers from Mianyang and Neijiang — areas hit by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake — were present. Huang was jailed in November 2011 after he investigated allegations that poor construction contributed to the deaths of schoolchildren in the disaster.

Huang was recently detained during a major meeting of Communist Party elite in October. Photos showed that his home had been searched, with items scattered on the floor. His computer was also taken by authorities.

HKFP’s calls to Huang Qi’s mobile phone went unanswered.

Tianwang is an independent news site that posts articles and information about human rights incidents in China, including detentions by police, forced demolitions, petitioner activism and demonstrations. It recently received the 2016 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize. Nine citizen journalists who have contributed to the site are currently detained, and five are on bail, according to Tianwang.

On Wednesday, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a network of Chinese and international human rights NGOs, released a statement urging the Chinese government to release Huang, lawyer Jiang Tianyong and citizen journalist Liu Feiyue.

Jiang Tianyong and Liu Feiyue. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

Jiang Tianyong and Liu Feiyue. Photo via Radio Free Asia.

Jiang Tianyong is a disbarred lawyer who recently worked to publicize China’s crackdown on lawyers. He has not been heard from since last Monday. Liu Feiyue, the founder of a rights watch website, was reportedly taken by police last Thursday. A family member said he was being criminally detained for inciting subversion of state power, but the family has not received any formal notification from police.

CHRD said:

From information CHRD has received, police are believed to be holding the men in unknown locations, raising fears that they are at risk of torture […] The detention and disappearance in quick succession of these well-known leading figures of China’s rights defense movement further signal the escalation of President Xi Jinping’s relentless crackdown on civil society.

by Hong Kong Free Press at December 01, 2016 12:43 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Thursday, December 1, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about a new Netflix option that'll allow subscribers to download some shows and movies; the meaning of the word "cyborg" and why a quarter of us may be cyborgs without even realizing it; and ways that you can incorporate tech in your Christmas decorating.

by Marketplace at December 01, 2016 05:00 AM

November 30, 2016

Joi Ito
Conversation with Peter Seligmann, the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Conservation International


I met Peter in Marrakech at a private meeting that he and others had organized during COP22. Peter is Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Co-founder of Conservation International, one of the most effective conservation efforts I know of. I caught up with him on Thanksgiving after we were both back in the US.

We talked about biodiversity, COP22, sustainability, conservation, indigenous people, climate change, complex systems and the theory of change.

The audio is available on SoundCloud and iTunes.

by Joi at November 30, 2016 10:07 PM

Hundreds of MIT Faculty Members Sign Statement Upholding the Value of Science and Diversity

Over 300 400 members of the MIT faculty, including myself, have signed the statement below. (You can see all the signers on the mitvalues.org page.) My quote included in a press release issued this afternoon was:

"Academic institutions have historically been havens to protect diversity of opinions and the freedom to express those opinions when the political climate has impinged on this freedom. It appears that we are entering a period where the political climate requires us to assert our leadership to protect and foster diversity and scientific inquiry itself."

The President-elect has appointed individuals to positions of power who have endorsed racism, misogyny and religious bigotry, and denied the widespread scientific consensus on climate change. Regardless of our political views, these endorsements violate principles at the core of MIT's mission. At this time, it is important to reaffirm the values we hold in common.

We, the undersigned faculty at MIT, thus affirm the following principles:

  • We unconditionally reject every form of bigotry, discrimination, hateful rhetoric, and hateful action, whether directed towards one's race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, citizenship, political views, socioeconomic status, veteran status, or immigration status.

  • We endorse MIT's values of open, respectful discourse and exchange of ideas from the widest variety of intellectual, religious, class, cultural, and political perspectives.

  • We uphold the principles of the scientific method, of fact- and reason-based objective inquiry. Science is not a special interest; it is not optional. Science is a foundational ingredient in how we as a society analyze, understand, and solve the most difficult challenges that we face.

For any member of our community who may feel fear or oppression, our doors are open and we are ready to help. We pledge to work with all members of the community - students, faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers, and administrators - to defend these principles today and in the times ahead.

by Joi at November 30, 2016 10:00 PM

Creative Commons
How fast is your internet? How MLab uses CC0 data for the public interest

Though internet as infrastructure may have seemed radical only a short while ago, many technologists are now taking a different tack: as a vital part of modern life, access to reliable internet is essential to the development of a just and equitable society. Built in response to proprietary measurement datasets, M Lab has assembled the world’s largest collection of open internet measurement data, all under a CC0 license.

A collaborative project from New America’s Open Technology Institute, Google Open Source Research, Princeton University’s Planet Lab, and many others, M Lab’s success stems from their insistence on open data and an open web, maintaining the tests that keep the web free and open. From researchers to consumers, MLab’s data is the backbone of the internet, an example of open collaboration that benefits consumers, researchers, and the future of the web. 

To read MLab’s reports and try their tools, visit the website.  Thanks to Chris Ritzo, Georgia Bullen, Alison Yost, Collin Anderson, and Stephen Stuart for their time in answering these questions.

Why does Internet measurement matter? What is the ultimate goal of this project?

Measurement Lab’s goal is to provide an open, publicly available dataset and the platform on which to gather it. There have always been proprietary data sources about the quality of consumer broadband connections, but those were and are the intellectual property of companies like Ookla, Akamai, Google, and network operators themselves. New America’s Open Technology Institute, Google, and Princeton University’s Planet Lab formed a consortium to build a data collection platform that could host a common base of internet measurement experiments developed and vetted by the academic research community, be deployed globally, and over time provide what is now the largest open, publicly available internet measurement dataset in the world. Today we run over 100 measurement points around the world and collect an average of over 9 million tests per month worldwide.

From a consumer perspective, are you getting the speed and quality of service you purchased from an ISP? Using a speed test or internet health test provides data to help answer that question. For regulatory agencies, measurement is a means of keeping state on broadband speeds, health, consumer protections, anti-competitive practices and more. For network operators, measurement is paramount to understanding how to provision infrastructure and services. For civil society groups and human rights advocates, it is a means of assessing disparities in accessing the internet, in the quality of available internet services, whether internet traffic is surveilled by state actors or others, and whether and where the internet is censored or blocked. The research community is also keenly interested in openly available internet measurement data, in order to understand and answer many of these issues, and in many cases how they might devise ways to make the internet function better.

How did you make the decision to use CC0 data? How does your organization support the commons?

M-Lab uses a CC0 license on the data for experiments that we maintain or contribute to: NDT, Paris Traceroute and Sidestream. We don’t require researchers hosting other experiments to use the same license, but we do require data to be provided openly. In some cases M-Lab will agree to embargo data for an agreed upon period of time such that the researcher can be the first to publish on the data their test collects. But the most popular tests we maintain on our platform are licensed with CC0 because we think that this data should be in the public domain, and using a CC0 license allows anyone to freely use it without restriction, particularly those in the academic community.

The choice to use a CC0 license goes back to our beginning. The academic community interested in researching the internet needed a data source and couldn’t get that from private companies. Providing that data would have violated companies’ terms of service with their users, and even if it was legally possible, anonymizing it had been proven questionable, if not ineffective. Initiatives like Planet Lab at Princeton University had made some progress toward the idea of a research platform that could be used to collect such data, but didn’t necessarily measure at the scale of the consumer internet. Instead the M-Lab core team engaged with academics, company reps and others to map out what an internet measurement platform might look like to support the work of the research community, that would situate infrastructure to measure the consumer internet, and would provide open data in the service of the public interest. This was the genesis of M-Lab. So from the very beginning we’ve always supported the commons.

The M-Lab core team engaged with academics, company reps and others to map out what an internet measurement platform might look like to support the work of the research community, that would situate infrastructure to measure the consumer internet, and would provide open data in the service of the public interest. This was the genesis of M-Lab. So from the very beginning we’ve always supported the commons.

On your “About” page, you write that “transparency and review are key to good science.” Can you elaborate on that? How do you feel that your project participates in the scientific process to make the Web better for everyone?

M-Lab was created as a platform to produce open data about the health of consumer internet connections. Everything from the submission of proposed tests to the hosting of resulting data mirrors the process of submitting a paper to an academic journal. M-Lab defines the parameters that an experiment must adhere to, and academic or regulatory researchers apply to host their tests with us. Applications are reviewed by an experiment review committee to confirm that the researcher has ethical approval from their Institutional Review Board, that the test they propose conforms to M-Lab’s data privacy policy, determines whether the test has overlap with existing tests, and assesses capacity of the researcher for long term support of the test. M-Lab wants to encourage ongoing longitudinal research, not one-off projects, and make the data available openly for broad analysis and research.

We regularly support researchers interested in secondary data analysis with documentation, sample queries and tools to access, visualize and use M-Lab data, and where possible we produce our own analysis and research. This support varies from individual researchers and graduate students, to civil society and research organizations, to national regulatory agencies. In the United States, the FCC’s contractor, SamKnows, uses the M-Lab platform to host a portion of the tests for the annual Measuring Broadband America program. In Canada, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) hosts three M-Lab sites throughout Canada and has built their own national data portal using M-Lab’s data which also integrates our test.

Additionally, because our tests are open source, we support their integration into other websites, software, or other platforms. These developer integrations are key to our expansion and impact in new areas of the world and by new audiences. Most recently, Google’s Search team integrated Internet 2’s Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) as a top level answer in their Search product. When you search for “how fast is my internet” or similar, the Google version of our test can be run immediately in your browser.

What kinds of results have you seen that are particularly exciting, surprising, or troubling from this project? What steps can people take to improve the Web? How can they use your project to do so?

M-Lab initially focused on providing the platform and data, leaving analysis to the research or regulatory community. As we’ve grown in size and interest, we have focused on building more accessible tools to run tests, visualize and download our data as well as support individuals and groups interested in using our data in their work.

The M-Lab team is also now working on our own research as well as supporting new inquiries into our data. In October 2014 the M-Lab research and operations team published a technical research report: ISP Interconnection and its Impact on Consumer Internet Performance. The data in this report helped to inform the FCC and supported its historic ruling in favor of Net Neutrality in 2015. Our data and analysis showed clear indicators of congestion and bad performance at the Interconnection points between consumer ISPs and Transit providers. We’ve since presented it to the FCC, NANOG, and at numerous international network operator gatherings. Before the M-Lab report, interconnection wasn’t even on the FCC’s radar. We’ve also supported individual researchers interested in using M-Lab data, through our support email, but also directly. In 2015, M-Lab hosted two research fellows who examined our network performance data in new ways. One fellow examined the economic geography of access by using M-Lab data and US Census data. Another worked on a machine learning algorithm that identifies anomalies in normalized M-Lab data, attempting to identify patterns in our data where known internet shutdowns had occurred.

Anyone can use M-Lab’s public data, tools and open visualizations for free.

M-Lab operates in the public interest- providing open data, open source tools, visualizations and documentation to support our own research, and yours.

People can test the speed and latency of their connection using our site: https://speed.measurementlab.net/. We also have an extension for Google’s Chrome browser, M-Lab Measure, that allows you to schedule tests to be run regularly.

Because M-Lab data is open and all of our tests are open source, developers can integrate our data or our tests into their own applications, services, web-mashups and more. We provide source code, documentation, and implementation examples to enable you to leverage our data, tests and infrastructure.  learn more about the project and how to get involved in the project on our website, and contact us for more information.

The post How fast is your internet? How MLab uses CC0 data for the public interest appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Jennie Rose Halperin at November 30, 2016 09:46 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
pockets of people

we hosted a bunch of amazing visitors earlier this week (knight prototype workshop!) and we were fortunate enough to gather everyone for dinner. after drinks were served, i used my phone’s camera and swooped into each booth aka pocket of people.

swooping into these pockets of people is surprisingly meaningful and rich — i very much get a distinct sense for the vibe/mood/energy at each table. this swoop in and pan pattern is deep.

what should i do with these clips? feels like there’s some coolness here but i can’t seem to grab it. ideas?

by Matt Phillips at November 30, 2016 09:23 PM

DML Central
Watchworthy Wednesday: Virtual Field Trip Delves into Museum Science

With a camera that sees infrared light pointed at a centuries-old painting by artist Jan Provost, the original sketch underneath appears. The x-rayed image shows how different the original drawing was from what was ultimately painted. To analyze the minerals in the paint used, scientists use XRF (X-ray fluorescence), a non-destructive analytical technique that determines the elemental composition of materials. Such science and technology can be used to answer all sorts of art history and scientific questions.

That was the point of a virtual field trip today behind the scenes at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The free event, sponsored by Detroit Public Television (DPTV), took 7,000 students and teachers from all over the country into the restricted conservation area of the DIA to help them explore new ideas and dig deep under the surface of art and science through a video that allowed real-time chats. Lessons touched on chemistry, physics, biology and geology.

painting by Jan ProvostIn the video, research scientist Cathy Selvius De Roo analyzes one of the minerals, azurite, in Jan Provost’s 1525 painting, “The Last Judgment.” She notes that the mineral, depending on how finely it was ground, made up the different shades of blue that Provost used. Such material was used 500 years ago and would be consistent with the paints of that era.

Most people are surprised by the science, technology and engineering used in art conservation, De Roo said.

“All the sciences influence conservation science,” she said. “It helps to have a ferocious curiosity.”

As part of the field trip, lesson plans and digital badges are offered. For those who missed the tour, it is available on demand online and a self-guided tour also is available. The program, part of DPTV’s “Digital Adventure! Connected Learning for All Ages,” was produced through to a partnership with the DIA, Wayne State University, ISD leadership in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb and the State of Michigan.

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting DML resources and appear in DML Central every Wednesday. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to mcruz@hri.uci.edu.

The post Watchworthy Wednesday: Virtual Field Trip Delves into Museum Science appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at November 30, 2016 07:32 PM

Joi Ito
My first visit to Kuwait to receive award for MIT

I visited Kuwait November 20 and 21 to accept an award from the Emir of the State of Kuwait on behalf of MIT. The award was for "the extraordinary role of the Media Lab in creativity and innovation of science and technology." Last year, Bill Gates won the award.
2016-11-21 15.49.49.jpg
This is the inscription on the award: "H.H. Sheikh Salem Al-Ali Al-Sabah Informatics Award has named Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) -USA- the recipient of the Informatics Badge of Honor for the extraordinary role of the Media Lab in creativity and innovation of science and technology during its 16th annual awarding ceremony under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah Emir of the State of Kuwait and the humanitarian leader."

The hosts were amazingly gracious and I really enjoyed meeting everyone. Thank you so much for the honor as well as for the hospitality and the engaging conversations. Very excited to visit again.

IMG_0096.jpg
On November 30, 2016, last night, I presented the award to the MIT Corporation Chairman, Robert Millard, and congratulated him and MIT.

by Joi at November 30, 2016 06:54 PM

Global Voices
The Botched Affair of India's Demonetization Drive Against Black Money
Image from Flickr by SS & SS. From public domain.

Image from Flickr by SS & SS. From public domain.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rose to power in 2014 with a promise he would ‘battle against black money’, has made good of his word — or so it seemed on the surface. On November 8, India withdrew 500 (US $7.50) and 1,000 (US $15.00) Indian rupee banknotes from circulation to stop the flow of black money and wipe out counterfeit currency from the system.

When we dig deeper into the consequences of this move, however, we find upsetting stories. People have been forced to stand in huge serpentine queues outside banks in India's metropolitan areas and villages in a bid to exchange their money, and numerous people have supposedly died while waiting in line or when health services refused to accept the old notes.

The lack of systematic implementation has created a wider network of chaos, especially in a country that is extremely cash reliant.

Modi's strategy is a part of various other steps he's undertaken to curb the black money menace in India, including the impending Goods and Services (GST) tax roll-out next year and a tax window and new amnesty schemes for tax evaders.

Let's try to dissect the politics and problems and understand the positives and negatives of the black money issue and India's demonetization drive that has left many poor Indians in a lurch with no access to medicines and daily essentials.

Demonetization: Good intentions, faulty implementation

Nearly 86 percent of India's cash reserve was in the form of recently banned denominations — Rs 500 ($7.5) and Rs 1000 ($15) notes. This left the Indian economy hurting for cash as traders, workers, and lower strata of society heavily relies on cash transactions. The number of unbanked in India is at a staggering 233 million (around 20% of the population), according to a 2015 PeW research report. So, even if India's right-wing government wanted to clear the system of black money and get India to go cashless, analysts claim there was lack of pre-planning that created problems for citizens.

For example, Indians stood in huge queues to withdraw their money, but the Automated Teller Machines (ATM) lacked calibration in the early days of demonetization to dispense the latest currency notes because of differences in the dimensions of old and new currencies.

Targeting counterfeit money, terrorism and corruption, but ordinary Indians suffer

According to reports, more than 33 Indians have died either standing in long queues, facing shock or because of a lack of cash for emergency purposes including hospitalization and transport.

One heartbreaking example is that of a sick newborn who was refused treatment in India's financial capital, Mumbai, after parents couldn't provide money in new currency bills. The infant later died.

Meanwhile, Modi had said concessions would be allowed for use of the notes in government-run and private hospitals, chemists and petrol pumps until 11 November. This was then extended to 24 November, but numerous deaths were reported in the same period as people thronged to banks, post offices and ATM's to withdraw cash in long queues.

Prime minister targets his own ministers 

Prime Minister Modi, in a bid to come clean on various allegations that his party members were tipped off about the currency ban, asked top ministers from his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to submit details of bank account transactions between November to December 2016 by January 1, 2017.

Why was it done?

Modi has made promises about bringing back black money stashed by corrupt Indians in Swiss banks. While this has not materialized, a slew of measures undertaken by the government has tried unearthing the menace of black money that plagues India's highly complex economy. The government hopes to crack down on illicit funds earned from corruption or tax evasion in the form of cash and also to tackle fake currency.

Meanwhile, only 2 to 3 percent of Indians actually pay taxes and India loses hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid taxes every year, and nearly 90 percent of transactions in India are conducted in cash.

Some supportive, many others not so

Many Indians on social media and economists too are critical of demonetization, claiming it could block India's fast-rising gross domestic product (GDP) figures and slow down manufacturing in Asia's second-largest economy.

Meanwhile, a 19-year-old student and a self-claimed Right to Information Act activist named Abhishek Mishra was arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police for his social media posts, which attacked Modi and other politicians on the subject of demonetization.

India's former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week called demonetization a monumental mismanagement that might dent India's GDP by 2 percent. He said the deaths of people and distress among the poor, farmers and small traders had convinced him that demonetization had led to organised loot and legalized plunder by the government.

Indian civil rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad wrote on alternet.org:

Demand and supply is the basics of any system, legal or illegal, and unless the government seriously tackles the supply side of black money corruption, the unofficial economy will continue to flourish. This corruption can only double with the newly introduced Rs 2,000 crore notes.

India's former Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan commented on Huffington Post India that focusing on widening the tax regime is the way to go:

There is no reason why everybody who should pay taxes is not paying taxes. I would focus more on tracking data and better tax administration to get at where money is not being declared. I think it is very hard in this modern economy to hide your money that easily.

Demonetization has also opened up debates about nationalism in India with critics being panned as anti-nationals. A senior army officer was criticized for his Facebook post condemning the currency ban while awaiting his turn in an ATM line.

The actual verdict on the demonetisation will be out only after December ends as aptly put forth by political analyst Devdan Chaudhuri:

The fall-out of the policy is unfolding now. So the next month will be critical to determine what people finally think of this move.

by Vishal at November 30, 2016 05:46 PM

Law Professor Says Trinidad and Tobago’s Education Failures Are an Abuse of Human Rights
Photo: dcJohn / Flickr / CC 2.0

Photo: dcJohn / Flickr / CC 2.0

Trinidad and Tobago boasts of having free universal education for its citizens, despite the stopgap measure of an entrance examination to secondary school that results in children as young as 11 competing for limited places in the better-equipped public schools, known as “prestige” schools.

The reality is that education in Trinidad and Tobago is neither free (while subsidised, there are still costs attached) nor universal (many of the government schools are poorly equipped and inadequately staffed). Now, one educator, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, the dean at The University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Law, is calling on the state to live up to its responsibilities.

In a guest post at the hard-sitting news site Wired868, Belle Antoine argued that things like education and healthcare are human rights; “rights, not privileges, or handouts”.

Antoine was also careful to make a distinction between the government and the state, which she called “a neutralised concept that goes beyond particular administrations and political timeframes”:

Human Rights have long gone past the limitation that the subject of rights only involves what we call civil and political rights—that is, the right to life, to expression, movement, etc. Rather, the more recent understanding of rights is that they also involve what we call economic, social and cultural rights; namely, the rights to education, to health, to work, the environment and to culture.

Significantly, we have moved away from the self-imposed limitation that economic, social and cultural rights are merely unenforceable ideals. Rather, the international community now accepts that these kinds of bread and butter rights are just as vital, and in some ways more directly important, to the central dignity and equality of mankind.

Accordingly, international conventions and protocols have been signed and developed to ensure that they have tangible and concrete meaning. Ultimately, what this means, is that States now have direct legal obligations to promote and protect such rights.

Referring to the 1999 San Salvador Protocol, which raised the bar for human rights by protecting economic, social, and cultural freedoms, Antoine noted, “The bottom line is that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the State’s duties to promote, provide and protect rights to education, to health, to work, to culture and to the environment. Notably, this jurisprudence calls on States to ‘progressively realise’ these rights. What this also means is that a State cannot regress or go backward in their provision”.

Her point — supported by examples of inadequate pay and lousy working conditions, as well as the recent denial of access to government-subsidised tertiary education for people over the age of 50 — is that Trinidad and Tobago has slipped backwards.

Referring to a news story in which parents were seen petitioning for government intervention to upgrade one particular primary school, Belle Antoine concluded:

We have become so [de]sensitised to suffering, so unaware of and cynical about our place in the world that, on the night that the story of the kneeling parents was aired, the people-meter question was whether it was ‘politically motivated’.

Wondering if the race of the protesters might have had anything to do with the way in which the media house framed the question, she added:

Race and ethnicity should not make any difference to our entitlements and rights as citizens of this nation that we say that we want to build.

Race does not typically factor in to students’ admission to desirable secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago, where — regardless of economic reach — citizens are intended to have access to an education. In fact, says Patrice Cox-Neaves, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, the original concept of universal education was one in which the child was at the centre, supported by the ministry of education, school administration and teachers on one hand, and parents on the other. Just as importantly, because schools across the country were supposed to be of the same high standard, children would attend schools in their catchment area. “The idea was to be able to deal with everybody,” she explains. “It was about equity.”

by Janine Mendes-Franco at November 30, 2016 03:52 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Alipay’s New App Abuses Personal Data and Reinforces China's Class Divisions, Critics Say
Screen capture of "White Collar Diary" circle via Twitter.

Screen capture of “White Collar Diary” circle via Twitter.

Alipay, China’s biggest online payment system, launched a social networking feature last week on November 24, called “Circles”. In distinction from other social media platforms, the new app is built around the users’ real identity, social status and online payment record, which is assessed by Sesame Credit – an app tracking users’ online activities.

Alipay, which operates under the Ant Financial Services Group affiliated with e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, has 450 million registered users. The newly launched social networking app has about 100 circles. These circles are groupings of people with specific interest, consumption behaviors and educational and professional background.

For example, a software programmer who buys pet food and financial investment products online and frequently plays a specific online game will be invited to the circles of IT experts, pet lovers, financial investors and online gamers as long as the user has a real name registration and personal details filled out on Alibaba-related apps.

Each circle has different membership rules, forging effective barriers to entry for non-elite users that have been slammed by both state-affiliated media and ordinary netizens. In some cases, the app seems to celebrate social inequality in the most crude manner.

The two most controversial circles are “Campus Diary” and “White Collar Diary”, which were both taken down on November 29 after state-media outlets rolled their eyes at them.

The membership rules of the two circles are:

A typical post on White Collar Diary with a suggestive message that said: See who can comment on me :) :). Image via Twitterer @kerotto.

A typical post on White Collar Diary with a suggestive message that said: See who can comment on me :) :). Image via Twitterer @kerotto.

1. Only women can post on the circles’ walls
2. Most men can only read, like and pay tips [in cash via alipay]
3. Men with more than 750 Sesame credit score, can also comment on posts.

Below is the welcoming message for the “White Collar Diary” circle that appears to encourage male voyeurism:

歡迎各位來到「白領日記」!
本圈子只有白領女士才可以發佈動態哦!你可以在這裡聊聊你的職場經歷,也可以記錄每天的生活瞬間。
不能發佈動態的小伙伴,你可以盡情的點贊、打賞。用你的雙眼發現美!

Welcome to the “White Collar Diary”!
Only white collar ladies can post on this circle. You can talk about your work and take snap-shots of your daily life here.
For guys who can’t post on the circle, you can like and tip. Use your eyes to discover beauty!

In order to get tips from male users, the female members of the circles started posting seductive and sexy photos on the walls, with messages declaring their interest in finding boyfriends.

The two social circles quickly and unsurprisingly devolved into hook-up services, leading Chinese netizens to brand the new app Alipimp (支付鸨) as the high Sesame score tipping rule for men laid bare the economic and power disparity between the male elite and ordinary women in modern China.

As pointed out by Twitterer @straightea

支付宝圈子当然不是一个好产品,它内核都烂成渣了,这有什么好辩驳的?产品基石就是消费阶层、物化女性,运营自导自演出了问题再嫁祸给用户。即使是要寻求社交转型,就真的没有更好方式了吗?脸都不要。

Alipay’s Circle is a bad product with a rotten core. There is no question about that. It is built upon the consumption [manifestation] of one’s class / social status, reification of women, [traits which are] then blamed on users. Even if the company needs to expand its business into social media, it should use a better means rather than being so shameless.

State-run TV channel CCTV, was quick to slam the concept. In a November 28 commentary, the outlet said the two circles’ membership rules were vulgar and violated moral norms.

On the same day, a spokesperson of Ant Financial Service Group issued an apology to the public and said that the app admin would delete posts and users that violated community rules. The two circles were then taken offline completely on November 29.

Questions about personal data

Removing the the two circles does not solve the problem of the potential abuses of big data relating to netizens’ online consumption and financial footprint inherent in the new social networking app, however. The app has a function for instance that shares what you have bought online through Alipay. This has prompted concerns that users’ privacy will be violated while a culture of showing off wealth thrives, endorsing China's widening class divide.

As reflected on the comment thread of Alipay’s apology letter on Weibo, many are resentful towards the tie between the users’ financial status and their social circle:

做好钱包功能,不要捆绑社交。

Just improve the wallet function [referring to online payment function] and don’t tie it with social networking function.

我存钱的东西和我的钱包不需要跟别人社交,只认识我一个人就行了。

My deposit and my wallet do not need to socialize with others. People just need to know me as me.

圈子可以搞,但拜托再新建一个app,不要和钱包挂钩。不要共用账号。

It is ok to develop a social circle function, but pls develop a separate app. Do not tie the new app with my wallet, do not use a shared account.

掌握点客户信息就想搞社交大数据?那银行不无敌了?想清楚自己是干嘛的,一个钱包就别搞社交。

Now that you control your clients’ data you want to use it for social networking and generate more data. Should the banks take the lead in social networking then? Know your own business and be a good wallet. Drop this social networking arm.

别再搞社交了!钱花在哪了本来就很隐私的事,我现在就害怕一个不小心就把花钱的动态分享出去了,整天付个钱担惊受怕的。

Drop the social networking app. How people spend their money is very private. Now I am so scared that I would accidentally share what I bought to others on the new apps [when doing transaction online with Alipay].

by Oiwan Lam at November 30, 2016 03:28 PM

Experts Cast Doubt on Tunisia’s Biometric Identification Bill
Thumbprint image via Pixabay. CC0 public domain.

Thumbprint image via Pixabay. CC0 public domain.

Civil society advocates and government experts are raising concern about a new bill that would require all Tunisian citizens to carry a national ID card encoded with a rich combination of personal biometric data including one’s photograph, digitized fingerprint, social security number, and home address.

Under the proposed legislation, the ID card will have a public key system according to international standards hence the necessity for change. Although the bill includes no details on the matter, experts suspect that this information will be aggregated under one unique identifier [a multi-functional card that serves as identifier for national ID, health insurance and social security numbers].

The bill would amend a 1993 ID law, passed during the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, under which identification cards listed the occupation of the card holder, and cards belonging to married and widowed women were required to include the name of their husband.

The current bill would eliminate these two requirements, and update language concerning the technical sophistication of the system. It would also lower the age at which citizens are required to carry these IDs, from 18 to just 15 years old, and introduces a 15-day prison sentence against those refusing to show their ID card upon police control.

The Tunisian government's plan to introduce biometric IDs has been met with resistance from experts and civil society.

Several human rights organizations including the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the Tunisian Forum on Social and Economic Rights signed a statement by Access Now urging the Tunisian parliament to reject a new ID bill [AR] (62/2016), set to amend Law No. 27 of 1993 on the national identity card.

Tunisian netizens have also followed it closely, and warily, for years. Tunisian net freedom advocate Dhouha Ben Youssef tweeted about the topic in October 2014:

Smile, you are under surveillance! New measures for the development of the information and communication system

Even the new ID card will be biometric, video surveillance etc…let's forget about privacy for the sake of security.

Government agencies in Tunisia are not required to obtain court approval before accessing citizens’ data.

Post-revolution governments in Tunisia have continuously assured the public that they will only seek private information following judicial orders (p 248). That being said, the now-obsolete Tunisian criminal law does not have modified provisions for Information and Communication Technology crimes committed by the government or otherwise.

This makes the bill more worrisome for activists, and even for the data protection authority. The National Authority For the Protection of Personal Data (known by its French acronym, the INPDP) expressed skepticism about the bill at a November 3 press conference in Tunis. INPDP President Chawki Gaddes emphasized the lack of clarity in the bill regarding who would have access to citizens’ data obtained through the system, and how this access would be granted.

He also called for the deletion of the address component from ID cards since this information does not pertain to someone's identity. In the past, address information has been used by police who appear to have targeted youth from poor neighborhoods commuting in other parts of the city or the country.

Tunisa's Assembly of the Representatives of the People. Photo Credit: © European Union 2016 - European Parliament.

Tunisia's Assembly of the Representatives of the People. Photo Credit: © European Union 2016 – European Parliament.

In a statement published on 1 November, the data protection authority denounced the fact that the government did not consult with them when drafting the bill. Under Article 76 of the personal data protection law of 2004, the authority is entitled to give its supervisory opinion on matters related to personal data protection, including draft laws.

Established under the ancien regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the INPDP is a commission within the Ministry of Justice. It regulates the use of private information according to Article 7 of Law n°63 of 2004:

Article 7 – Toutes opérations de traitement de données à caractère personnel est soumis à une déclaration préalable au siège de l'instance nationale de protection des données à caractère personnel contre récépissé ou notifiée par leur recommendée avec accusé de réception ou par tout autre moyen laissant une trace écrite.

Article 7 – Any processing of personal data shall be subject to a prior declaration [PDF] from the seat of the national body for the protection of personal data against receipt or notification by their authorized representative with acknowledgment of receipt or by any other means leaving a Written trace.

The same decree includes a punishment of one year in prison and a fine 5,000 Tunisian Dinars ($2,173) for unauthorized processing of personal data by the private sector in Article 90.

But the authority remains powerless when it comes to supervising public authorities’ collection and processing of personal data. In fact, state companies and government agencies are not subject to prior authorization from the national authority. Under the same law, public institutions are not required to obtain verbal and written consent from data subjects when collecting and processing data. Data subjects are also barred from accessing information held about them by public authorities.

Advocates want greater guarantees of transparency and due process.

The Tunisian Pirate Party released a statement (in Arabic) on 19 October warning of the risks of storing massive amounts of citizen data in a centralized database. The statement argues that the bill does not provide sufficient detail regarding the security of citizens’ data, which once collected could be vulnerable to cyberattacks or breaches. They also raised concern about the bill lacking information about how the cards will be used and what rights, if any, citizens will have to access their own data within the system.

كما يستنكر حزب القراصنة كل ما ورد في نص القانون من عقوبات جزرية بالسجن و يعتبرها نصوص قسرية لا تتماشى مع مناخ الحريات و تكريس لعودة الاستبداد و تناقض مع حق النفاذ الى المعلومة، و يحذر حزب القراصنة من عودة الهرسلة البوليسية من خلال ءاجراء مطابقة البصمة لبيانات الشريحة بواسطة قارءات البصمات الالكترونيّة الجوالة.

The Pirate Party denounces the jail sentences in the bill and consider such verdicts restrictive and unmatching with the new era of liberties as a well a prime precedent for the return of dictatorship and a contradiction to the right to access information. The Pirate Party warns against renewed police harassment through the procedure of verifying fingerprints with data on [biometric ID] chips through electronic mobile ID card readers.

The Pirate Party expressed concern that the bill would make it illegal to decrypt one’s card encryption.The current language of the bill does not explicitly address this issue. However, a proposed provision makes it illegal to “forge” data stored on the card and the ID's electronic chip in accordance with Article 193 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “fraudulently altering” identification documents with five years’ jail time.

Tunisian human rights activists are not particularly opposed to the biometric ID card in principle; rather, they are concerned about the lack of clarity from the government concerning which data they wish to collect, and the lack of independent supervision of such collection.

Poll conducted on Tunisians’ attitudes toward privacy

77.5% of respondents approve of the government’s plan to introduce biometric IDs

60% do not believe that the use of biometric IDs restricts freedoms

88.7 said they would allow the government to collect more personal information on them to fight terrorism

Source: the Tunisian Data Protection Authority, May 2016

The bill forms part of a 2014 national strategic plan for a “Digital Tunisia“, a partnership program between the government and private sector that aims to digitize numerous pubic services that will cater to citizens’ needs with just a few clicks, and to create 80,000 new jobs in the ICT sector by 2018. While novel for Tunisia, national identification and biometric databases are nothing new — more than 100 countries in the world now issue biometric ID documents to its citizens. Publicly posted invoices indicate that the program will cost a total of 5,200 million dinars. The new law will also cost taxpayers unnecessary expenditures during a third year of economic recession.

The parliamentary Commission on Rights, Liberties and External Relations is currently reviewing the bill — if it receives the Commission’s approval, it will advance to an assembly vote.

Almost three years after the adoption of a constitution that guarantees privacy rights, Tunisia remains without a strong data protection authority that could ensure protection to these rights. The Tunisian constitution protects private life and private data in its 24 article.

Article 24 of the Tunisian Constitution: The state protects the right to privacy and the inviolability of the home, and the confidentiality of correspondence, communications, and personal information.

Draft amendments to Law n°63 of 2004 on personal data protection, expected to consolidate the authority's independence and reinforce its supervisory role over government authorities’ handling of personal data are yet to be submitted to the parliament.

If approved by the parliament, a provisional commission established by the constitution to review the constitutionality of draft laws (until the future constitutional court is put in place) may find the new ID law to be unconstitutional. However, this can only happen if the president, the prime minister or at least 30 MPs, challenge the law within seven days of its adoption.

In the meantime, the question remains whether Tunisian netizens and civil society will step up their advocacy strategies in opposition to the bill, in a country where awareness about risks to privacy are lacking.

by Ahmed Medien at November 30, 2016 02:47 PM

Global Voices
Experts Cast Doubt on Tunisia’s Biometric Identification Bill
Thumbprint image via Pixabay. CC0 public domain.

Thumbprint image via Pixabay. CC0 public domain.

Civil society advocates and government experts are raising concern about a new bill that would require all Tunisian citizens to carry a national ID card encoded with a rich combination of personal biometric data including one’s photograph, digitized fingerprint, social security number, and home address.

Under the proposed legislation, the ID card will have a public key system according to international standards hence the necessity for change. Although the bill includes no details on the matter, experts suspect that this information will be aggregated under one unique identifier [a multi-functional card that serves as identifier for national ID, health insurance and social security numbers].

The bill would amend a 1993 ID law, passed during the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, under which identification cards listed the occupation of the card holder, and cards belonging to married and widowed women were required to include the name of their husband.

The current bill would eliminate these two requirements, and update language concerning the technical sophistication of the system. It would also lower the age at which citizens are required to carry these IDs, from 18 to just 15 years old, and introduces a 15-day prison sentence against those refusing to show their ID card upon police control.

The Tunisian government's plan to introduce biometric IDs has been met with resistance from experts and civil society.

Several human rights organizations including the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the Tunisian Forum on Social and Economic Rights signed a statement by Access Now urging the Tunisian parliament to reject a new ID bill [AR] (62/2016), set to amend Law No. 27 of 1993 on the national identity card.

Tunisian netizens have also followed it closely, and warily, for years. Tunisian net freedom advocate Dhouha Ben Youssef tweeted about the topic in October 2014:

Smile, you are under surveillance! New measures for the development of the information and communication system

Even the new ID card will be biometric, video surveillance etc…let's forget about privacy for the sake of security.

Government agencies in Tunisia are not required to obtain court approval before accessing citizens’ data.

Post-revolution governments in Tunisia have continuously assured the public that they will only seek private information following judicial orders (p 248). That being said, the now-obsolete Tunisian criminal law does not have modified provisions for Information and Communication Technology crimes committed by the government or otherwise.

This makes the bill more worrisome for activists, and even for the data protection authority. The National Authority For the Protection of Personal Data (known by its French acronym, the INPDP) expressed skepticism about the bill at a November 3 press conference in Tunis. INPDP President Chawki Gaddes emphasized the lack of clarity in the bill regarding who would have access to citizens’ data obtained through the system, and how this access would be granted.

He also called for the deletion of the address component from ID cards since this information does not pertain to someone's identity. In the past, address information has been used by police who appear to have targeted youth from poor neighborhoods commuting in other parts of the city or the country.

Tunisa's Assembly of the Representatives of the People. Photo Credit: © European Union 2016 - European Parliament.

Tunisia's Assembly of the Representatives of the People. Photo Credit: © European Union 2016 – European Parliament.

In a statement published on 1 November, the data protection authority denounced the fact that the government did not consult with them when drafting the bill. Under Article 76 of the personal data protection law of 2004, the authority is entitled to give its supervisory opinion on matters related to personal data protection, including draft laws.

Established under the ancien regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the INPDP is a commission within the Ministry of Justice. It regulates the use of private information according to Article 7 of Law n°63 of 2004:

Article 7 – Toutes opérations de traitement de données à caractère personnel est soumis à une déclaration préalable au siège de l'instance nationale de protection des données à caractère personnel contre récépissé ou notifiée par leur recommendée avec accusé de réception ou par tout autre moyen laissant une trace écrite.

Article 7 – Any processing of personal data shall be subject to a prior declaration [PDF] from the seat of the national body for the protection of personal data against receipt or notification by their authorized representative with acknowledgment of receipt or by any other means leaving a Written trace.

The same decree includes a punishment of one year in prison and a fine 5,000 Tunisian Dinars ($2,173) for unauthorized processing of personal data by the private sector in Article 90.

But the authority remains powerless when it comes to supervising public authorities’ collection and processing of personal data. In fact, state companies and government agencies are not subject to prior authorization from the national authority. Under the same law, public institutions are not required to obtain verbal and written consent from data subjects when collecting and processing data. Data subjects are also barred from accessing information held about them by public authorities.

Advocates want greater guarantees of transparency and due process.

The Tunisian Pirate Party released a statement (in Arabic) on 19 October warning of the risks of storing massive amounts of citizen data in a centralized database. The statement argues that the bill does not provide sufficient detail regarding the security of citizens’ data, which once collected could be vulnerable to cyberattacks or breaches. They also raised concern about the bill lacking information about how the cards will be used and what rights, if any, citizens will have to access their own data within the system.

كما يستنكر حزب القراصنة كل ما ورد في نص القانون من عقوبات جزرية بالسجن و يعتبرها نصوص قسرية لا تتماشى مع مناخ الحريات و تكريس لعودة الاستبداد و تناقض مع حق النفاذ الى المعلومة، و يحذر حزب القراصنة من عودة الهرسلة البوليسية من خلال ءاجراء مطابقة البصمة لبيانات الشريحة بواسطة قارءات البصمات الالكترونيّة الجوالة.

The Pirate Party denounces the jail sentences in the bill and consider such verdicts restrictive and unmatching with the new era of liberties as a well a prime precedent for the return of dictatorship and a contradiction to the right to access information. The Pirate Party warns against renewed police harassment through the procedure of verifying fingerprints with data on [biometric ID] chips through electronic mobile ID card readers.

The Pirate Party expressed concern that the bill would make it illegal to decrypt one’s card encryption.The current language of the bill does not explicitly address this issue. However, a proposed provision makes it illegal to “forge” data stored on the card and the ID's electronic chip in accordance with Article 193 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “fraudulently altering” identification documents with five years’ jail time.

Tunisian human rights activists are not particularly opposed to the biometric ID card in principle; rather, they are concerned about the lack of clarity from the government concerning which data they wish to collect, and the lack of independent supervision of such collection.

Poll conducted on Tunisians’ attitudes toward privacy

77.5% of respondents approve of the government’s plan to introduce biometric IDs

60% do not believe that the use of biometric IDs restricts freedoms

88.7 said they would allow the government to collect more personal information on them to fight terrorism

Source: the Tunisian Data Protection Authority, May 2016

The bill forms part of a 2014 national strategic plan for a “Digital Tunisia“, a partnership program between the government and private sector that aims to digitize numerous pubic services that will cater to citizens’ needs with just a few clicks, and to create 80,000 new jobs in the ICT sector by 2018. While novel for Tunisia, national identification and biometric databases are nothing new — more than 100 countries in the world now issue biometric ID documents to its citizens. Publicly posted invoices indicate that the program will cost a total of 5,200 million dinars. The new law will also cost taxpayers unnecessary expenditures during a third year of economic recession.

The parliamentary Commission on Rights, Liberties and External Relations is currently reviewing the bill — if it receives the Commission’s approval, it will advance to an assembly vote.

Almost three years after the adoption of a constitution that guarantees privacy rights, Tunisia remains without a strong data protection authority that could ensure protection to these rights. The Tunisian constitution protects private life and private data in its 24 article.

Article 24 of the Tunisian Constitution: The state protects the right to privacy and the inviolability of the home, and the confidentiality of correspondence, communications, and personal information.

Draft amendments to Law n°63 of 2004 on personal data protection, expected to consolidate the authority's independence and reinforce its supervisory role over government authorities’ handling of personal data are yet to be submitted to the parliament.

If approved by the parliament, a provisional commission established by the constitution to review the constitutionality of draft laws (until the future constitutional court is put in place) may find the new ID law to be unconstitutional. However, this can only happen if the president, the prime minister or at least 30 MPs, challenge the law within seven days of its adoption.

In the meantime, the question remains whether Tunisian netizens and civil society will step up their advocacy strategies in opposition to the bill, in a country where awareness about risks to privacy are lacking.

by Ahmed Medien at November 30, 2016 02:24 PM

These East African Countries Show How Teamwork and Technology Can Thwart Illegal Fishing
Photo courtesy of FISH-i Africa — an endeavor working to halt large-scale illegal fishing.

Photo courtesy of FISH-i Africa — an endeavor working to halt large-scale illegal fishing.

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

Early in December 2012, a South Korean vessel called the Premier entered the Indian Ocean to fish. In West Africa, authorities knew that the boat had been fishing illegally in Liberian waters before it made its way to Africa’s other coast. That raised the ire of East African countries, which weren’t keen to welcome a lawbreaker into their seas. Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, the Comoros, Mozambique, and the Seychelles rapidly mobilized against the vessel, shutting it out of their ports and refusing to grant it a fishing license.

“All of a sudden, the Premier was surrounded by countries that were saying no to everything,” recalls Benedict Kiilu, a Kenyan principal fisheries officer who was part of the team that tracked the vessel at the time. In 2013, unable to land its catch, the disgraced ship was finally driven out of the region. Ultimately, it was forced to pay US$2 million to Liberia for plundering its fish.

The beating heart of this crime-busting, resource-conserving effort was FISH-i Africa, a network of countries committed to sharing fisheries intelligence that was established in 2012 by the not-for-profit Stop Illegal Fishing. Composed of the six countries that drove out the Premier, along with Madagascar and Somalia, FISH-i Africa seeks to form a united front against illegal — or “pirate” — fishing.

“It’s eight like-minded countries working together to share information and stand shoulder to shoulder where illegal fishing is concerned,” says Tony Long, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ending Illegal Fishing Project, which provides technical support to aid FISH-i’s efforts.

Because illegal fishing is unregulated — meaning catch is concealed and almost impossible to trace — it has become a major driver of overfishing. By flouting the rules designed to protect certain habitats and species, it can also undermine vulnerable ecosystems and threaten marine species. But, where attempts to fight it were once hampered by bureaucracy and snail’s-pace information sharing between countries, now they’re happening in real-time on FISH-i’s digital communications platform. Here, member countries exchange vessel license lists, news about suspect activities and details obtained during port inspections to build up a record of the vessels entering their waters.

FISH-i also closely tracks vessels’ activities on the high seas using satellite data and shares that information via the platform. This helps authorities flag vessels that may be fishing in off-limits areas, or those that betray unusual travel patterns that suggest they’re transferring fish illegally between boats.

Ideally, these investigations can reveal whether vessels have appropriate licenses, where they’ve been fishing and perhaps if they have a criminal record. Countries that wise up to illegal fishers’ transgressions then have grounds to shut their ports to these vessels so they can’t sell their catch or even to force them to pay fines, as in the case of the Premier.

“It’s a real financial loss to the [vessel’s] owner, which means illegal fishing isn’t profitable anymore. That’s really what we want to achieve,” says Per Erik Bergh, managing director of NFDS Africa, a consultancy that works to combat illegal fishing in Africa and provides support to FISH-i.

United Front

The platform was created to reclaim the estimated US$200 million in revenue that the eight FISH-i countries lose annually to illegal fishers invading East African waters. Home to the world’s second-most productive tuna fishery, this region attracts commercial fishing vessels from around the world, including illegal fishers — whose activities range from using false flags, fake licenses and fictitious names to fishing prohibited species and fishing in protected waters.

They’ll exploit the lack of international collaboration and take advantage of a patchy system,” says Long. “In the past a vessel might be fishing illegally, and one country might say, ‘You can’t come to my port,’ whereas the next country would say, ‘Come to mine.’” This loophole is exactly what FISH-i is now trying to close.

So far, the united front is working. Since it was founded, FISH-i has been involved in more than 30 investigations of suspect ships. It has identified criminal networks distributing fake fishing licenses in Tanzania, exposed vessels using multiple fraudulent identities and tracked down fugitive ships. Its relationship with INTERPOL, the international crime investigation agency, also enables FISH-i to widely share and receive information about pirate fishing.

“Some of the investigations we are doing are going into quite substantial organized crime networks,” says Bergh.

Trygg Mat Tracking analyst Duncan Copeland is building a system to help FISH-i more precisely pinpoint suspect boats. Photo courtesy of FISH-i Africa.

Trygg Mat Tracking analyst Duncan Copeland is building a system to help FISH-i more precisely pinpoint suspect boats. Photo courtesy of FISH-i Africa.

FISH-i’s evolving satellite detection system is also helping it get around the hurdle of illegal vessels that try to avoid discovery.

“There are very sophisticated structures illegal fishers are using to hide their operations and their locations, which is what we’re trying to deconstruct,” says Duncan Copeland, chief analyst of Trygg Mat Tracking, a not-for-profit fisheries intelligence resource that provides technical support to FISH-i. Some ships turn off their automatic identification systems, for instance, which makes them impervious to satellite tracking. Copeland is helping to build a system that combines multiple layers of information to help FISH-i pinpoint criminal ships with greater precision.

Model Program

But can FISH-i’s team of African nations have an impact on the decidedly global problem of illegal fishing? John Amos, president of the nonprofit SkyTruth, thinks so. Recently SkyTruth, Google and the marine advocacy group Oceana launched Global Fishing Watch, an open-access satellite platform that reveals the location of any trackable ship in the world.

“Teaming up with your neighbors to get a better operating picture of who’s doing what, where, just makes sense,” he says. “This is an opportunity for countries to get together and pool their intelligence resources, and we should be doing that at a global scale.” (The Pew Charitable Trusts has a similar global vessel-tracking project, called Eyes on the Seas, that plans to start assisting FISH-i by spring 2017.)

In addition to earmarking criminals, there’s evidence that FISH-i’s activities deter crime, too. Whereas vessels used to fish without a license and face few consequences, now they know they’re being watched. According to Kiilu, some FISH-i countries have seen a 33 percent rise in fishing revenue as vessels purchase more licenses.

After FISH-i helped Somalia home in on the Greko 1, inspectors found banned trawl nets on board. Photo courtesy of FISH-i Africa.

After FISH-i helped Somalia home in on the Greko 1, inspectors found banned trawl nets on board. Photo courtesy of FISH-i Africa.

Other countries are taking note of this success. “The impact is so great that other parts of Africa are copying what we do,” says Kiilu. “We’re a specimen for study.” In West Africa, where illegal fishing usurps several hundred million dollars a year, the West Africa Task Force was formed in 2015 by six nations to combat illegal fishing — and it’s based entirely on FISH-i’s model. “There is certainly the goal to eventually see more of these task force type structures set up in other regions,” Copeland says.

Recently, FISH-i’s newest member, Somalia, had its first major triumph when in October it cornered the Greko 1 — a fake-flagged vessel that not only was fishing without a license using banned trawl nets, but also had invaded an off-limits area reserved for Somali fishers. “By taking action against the Greko 1, [Somalis] are sending a strong signal that they will act against illegal fishing,” says Bergh.

For FISH-i, it’s yet another sign of its success — proof that its unique, collaborative approach really works to protect the ocean’s natural resources across its range.

Emma Bryce is a freelance journalist based in London, where she writes about the environment, technology and food. Her work has appeared in Wired Magazine, TED Education, the New York Times, and in the Guardian, where she writes about food and the environment.

by Ensia at November 30, 2016 10:00 AM

Joi Ito
Conversation with Robleh Ali, former head of the Digital Currencies team at the Bank of England


A conversation with Robleh Ali, the former head of the the Digital Currencies team at the Bank of England. It was a wide ranging conversation about Bitcoin, economics and the role of central banks and regulators.

Audio of the conversation is available on SoundCloud and iTunes.

by Joi at November 30, 2016 08:50 AM

Global Voices
Alipay’s New App Abuses Personal Data and Reinforces China's Class Divisions, Critics Say
Screen capture of "White Collar Diary" circle via Twitter.

Screen capture of “White Collar Diary” circle via Twitter.

Alipay, China’s biggest online payment system, launched a social networking feature last week on November 24, called “Circles”. In distinction from other social media platforms, the new app is built around the users’ real identity, social status and online payment record, which is assessed by Sesame Credit – an app tracking users’ online activities.

Alipay, which operates under the Ant Financial Services Group affiliated with e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, has 450 million registered users. The newly launched social networking app has about 100 circles. These circles are groupings of people with specific interest, consumption behaviors and educational and professional background.

For example, a software programmer who buys pet food and financial investment products online and frequently plays a specific online game will be invited to the circles of IT experts, pet lovers, financial investors and online gamers as long as the user has a real name registration and personal details filled out on Alibaba-related apps.

Each circle has different membership rules, forging effective barriers to entry for non-elite users that have been slammed by both state-affiliated media and ordinary netizens. In some cases, the app seems to celebrate social inequality in the most crude manner.

The two most controversial circles are “Campus Diary” and “White Collar Diary”, which were both taken down on November 29 after state-media outlets rolled their eyes at them.

The membership rules of the two circles are:

A typical post on White Collar Diary with a suggestive message that said: See who can comment on me :) :). Image via Twitterer @kerotto.

A typical post on White Collar Diary with a suggestive message that said: See who can comment on me :) :). Image via Twitterer @kerotto.

1. Only women can post on the circles’ walls
2. Most men can only read, like and pay tips [in cash via alipay]
3. Men with more than 750 Sesame credit score, can also comment on posts.

Below is the welcoming message for the “White Collar Diary” circle that appears to encourage male voyeurism:

歡迎各位來到「白領日記」!
本圈子只有白領女士才可以發佈動態哦!你可以在這裡聊聊你的職場經歷,也可以記錄每天的生活瞬間。
不能發佈動態的小伙伴,你可以盡情的點贊、打賞。用你的雙眼發現美!

Welcome to the “White Collar Diary”!
Only white collar ladies can post on this circle. You can talk about your work and take snap-shots of your daily life here.
For guys who can’t post on the circle, you can like and tip. Use your eyes to discover beauty!

In order to get tips from male users, the female members of the circles started posting seductive and sexy photos on the walls, with messages declaring their interest in finding boyfriends.

The two social circles quickly and unsurprisingly devolved into hook-up services, leading Chinese netizens to brand the new app Alipimp (支付鸨) as the high Sesame score tipping rule for men laid bare the economic and power disparity between the male elite and ordinary women in modern China.

As pointed out by Twitterer @straightea

支付宝圈子当然不是一个好产品,它内核都烂成渣了,这有什么好辩驳的?产品基石就是消费阶层、物化女性,运营自导自演出了问题再嫁祸给用户。即使是要寻求社交转型,就真的没有更好方式了吗?脸都不要。

Alipay’s Circle is a bad product with a rotten core. There is no question about that. It is built upon the consumption [manifestation] of one’s class / social status, reification of women, [traits which are] then blamed on users. Even if the company needs to expand its business into social media, it should use a better means rather than being so shameless.

State-run TV channel CCTV, was quick to slam the concept. In a November 28 commentary, the outlet said the two circles’ membership rules were vulgar and violated moral norms.

On the same day, a spokesperson of Ant Financial Service Group issued an apology to the public and said that the app admin would delete posts and users that violated community rules. The two circles were then taken offline completely on November 29.

Questions about personal data

Removing the the two circles does not solve the problem of the potential abuses of big data relating to netizens’ online consumption and financial footprint inherent in the new social networking app, however. The app has a function for instance that shares what you have bought online through Alipay. This has prompted concerns that users’ privacy will be violated while a culture of showing off wealth thrives, endorsing China's widening class divide.

As reflected on the comment thread of Alipay’s apology letter on Weibo, many are resentful towards the tie between the users’ financial status and their social circle:

做好钱包功能,不要捆绑社交。

Just improve the wallet function [referring to online payment function] and don’t tie it with social networking function.

我存钱的东西和我的钱包不需要跟别人社交,只认识我一个人就行了。

My deposit and my wallet do not need to socialize with others. People just need to know me as me.

圈子可以搞,但拜托再新建一个app,不要和钱包挂钩。不要共用账号。

It is ok to develop a social circle function, but pls develop a separate app. Do not tie the new app with my wallet, do not use a shared account.

掌握点客户信息就想搞社交大数据?那银行不无敌了?想清楚自己是干嘛的,一个钱包就别搞社交。

Now that you control your clients’ data you want to use it for social networking and generate more data. Should the banks take the lead in social networking then? Know your own business and be a good wallet. Drop this social networking arm.

别再搞社交了!钱花在哪了本来就很隐私的事,我现在就害怕一个不小心就把花钱的动态分享出去了,整天付个钱担惊受怕的。

Drop the social networking app. How people spend their money is very private. Now I am so scared that I would accidentally share what I bought to others on the new apps [when doing transaction online with Alipay].

by Oiwan Lam at November 30, 2016 05:57 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Wednesday, November 30, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about this week's nationwide protests to raise the minimum wage to $15; look at Quartz's plan to build a bot studio; and preview the latest episode of our "Codebreaker" podcast, which explores how we're changing our bodies with technology.

by Marketplace at November 30, 2016 05:00 AM

Global Voices
Mexican Governors on the Run From Embezzlement Scandals
"La justicia danza" Caricatura de EDO Ilustrado. Usada con permiso del autor.

“Justice dances.” Illustration by EDO Ilustrado. Used with the artist's permission.

Recent news headlines in Mexico have been dominated by corruption scandals involving governors and ex-governors — or góbers as they are popularly called — from various political parties who looted government coffers.

Over the past few months, Global Voices has covered corruption in Mexico and the efforts to confront it. The most well-known case is that of Javier Duarte from Veracruz, a former member of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Duarte was suspended from office and subsequently expelled from the party.

In May 2016, the website Animal Político published an investigation revealing how the Duarte administration laundered millions in public funds through the use of fake companies. Months later in October, Duarte appeared on the country's highest-rated morning newscast and announced that he would step down and face the charges against him, then he fled — using a government helicopter according to some sources.

Duarte's escape fueled rage on social media, and Mexicans responded predictably with mocking contempt:

Tweet: #Duarte escaped

Image: “Find Duarte”

Twitter: Runaway #Duarte by Helguera

Image: “Oh! So that's why he was on a weight-loss diet.”

Meanwhile, opting for a more serious tone, journalist and blogger Gilberto Perez said political parties should be responsible for the actions of their members:

The parties should respond to the fortune of the thieving rulers they represent.

Another Mexican góber facing criminal charges is Guillermo Padrés from Sonora, a member of the National Action Party (PAN), a right-wing opposition party to the PRI. Padrés is being investigated for money laundering, tax evasion, and organized crime, among others. Like Duarte, he also created a media circus by appearing on a morning newscast, where he announced that he would turn himself over to police. Six days later, on November 16, a court ordered him to remain in jail for the duration of his trial for defrauding the treasury, to avoid another fugitive góber.

Padrés’ attorney is Antonio Lozano Gracia, a roguish old-timer of Mexico's political class. Lozano served as Attorney General of the Republic during an era tainted by shady investigations into the most notorious killings of the 1990s. His cases lost all credibility when it emerged that the institution he lead relied on the services of a clairvoyant known as “La Paca” to assist them. Now Lozano is defending Padrés and — according to some journalists — Javier Duarte, as well.

Two reputed members of the PAN, Lozano Gracia and Diego Fernandez de Ceballos, are the lawyers of the corrupt Padrés and Duarte.

Twitter user Eugenia Domínguez suggested that Lozano himself should be investigated due to his shady history as a public servant:

Seriously Antonio Lozano is Guillermo Padrés and Javier Duarte's attorney??? I think he should be investigated too!!

Of course, Lozano claims that Padrés is innocent:

Antonio Lozano, attorney for @guillermopadres, is confident his client will be declared innocent.

Roberto Borge Angulo is another góber who left his state government virtually bankrupt. Before Borge stepped down, an investigative report titled “Borge's Pirates” exposed corruption in his administration, including how Borge owned an airline and used it to transport the governor, his family and friends in private jets at the state's expense.

Tweet by Carlos Cantón Zetina: CITIZENS PROTEST IN CONGRESS AGAINST BORGE'S PROTECTION

Tweet by Ignacio Dector: Do not let the toad Borge escape and let's make him return everything that was stolen, appropriated, stripped!!! And also make him pay for Tajamar ecocide!

The cases of corrupt Mexican góbers keep piling up; however, sentences against them are non-existent. To date no one at this level has been sentenced by a judge, paid restitution or been imprisoned.

The lack of convictions has not gone unnoticed by civil society. María Amparo Casar stated in regards to Javier Duarte:

Lo que pasó en Veracruz fue un desastre político perfectamente evitable y tiene responsables: unos directos y otros indirectos. Todos con nombre y apellido. Algunos conocidos, otros no. Todos merecen un juicio. De ser culpables, la sanción que dicta la ley.

El primer responsable, jefe de la banda de los presuntos saqueadores, es el gobernador en fuga: Javier Duarte.

What happened in Veracruz was a completely avoidable political disaster and there are responsible parties: some directly responsible and others indirectly. All of them have first and last names. Some are known, and others are not. All deserve a trial. If they are found guilty, the law hands down the penalty.

The primary responsible party, the ringleader of the alleged looters, is the fugitive governor, Javier Duarte.

In this political landscape marred by corruption, the fundamental role of the political class, especially those responsible for the administration of justice, remains to be seen. Will they rise to the occasion or will they be unable to bring the góbers to justice and repair the damage they have caused?

by Erin Gallagher at November 30, 2016 01:50 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
S02-3: The Augmented Self
The man who collected too much data, cyborgs who want to make their body-hardware mainstream, robots that rebuild your hairline and a conversation with Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge aka LeVar Burton. Listen, decode, and decide: Can the augmented self save us? Stay updated on all things Codebreaker.

by Marketplace at November 30, 2016 01:09 AM

November 29, 2016

Global Voices
Through Hardships to the Stars: These Latin American Children Won’t Let Garbage Stand in the Way of Music
La orquesta de instrumentos reciclados de Cateura, Paraguay, durante un concierto en Washington DC. Foto tomada de la cuenta en Flickr de la OEA bajo licencia Creative Commons.

Recycled instruments orchestra from Cateura, Paraguay, during a concert in Washington DC. Image on Flickr by user OEA-OAS (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

What do a Mexican music school from the Vicente Guerrero community in the state of Oaxaca and children from the Paraguayan city of Cateura have in common?

That the music being played in both places has not only changed the kids’ lives, but has a deep connection to…garbage.

Music that lives alongside garbage

Vicente Guerrero is located on the edge of a large landfill, just 16 kilometers south of Oaxaca — an old colonial city that's popular with tourists — but a world away from the nearby pre-Columbian ruins and its world famous cuisine. For some years now, La banda de música (The music band) has played in the community. It's a project that has evolved into a symphony orchestra made up of children and adolescents, who have found a way to overcome the poverty surrounding them with their musical instruments:

A music school with 100 students has become a focal point for the community of Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca.

The British newspaper The Guardian wrote about the project:

The community, in one of Mexico’s poorest states, has a reputation for drug abuse and gang violence. But it is undergoing a transformation after a fortuitous encounter with a French pilot helped launch a musical venture offering rare hope to its youth.

The young band members take their commitment to the musical group very seriously, according to local media outlet Noticias Oaxaca NVI:

Ni bien salen de la escuela, llegan casi corriendo a sus casas, ni bien comen y se encaminan por las polvorientas calles para encontrarse con su gran pasión. Siempre llegan sonriendo, con los ojos vivaces y jugueteando, entre un gran bullicio. […] aprenden día a día a tocar con destreza la trompeta, el trombón, el flautín, el clarinete, el oboe, la flauta, la trompa, los timbales, los bongoes y las congas.

As soon as they get out of school, they almost run back to their homes; and as soon as they have lunch, they head through dusty roads to take up their grand passion. They always arrive smiling, with lively eyes, playing around, amidst hustle and bustle. […] They learn day by day to skilfully play the trumpet, the trombone, the piccolo, the clarinet, the oboe, the flute, the French horn, the kettleddrum, the bongos and the conga.

Garbage made into music

More than 7,000 kilometers south from Vicente Guerrero, the children of Cateura — a village practically located on top of the main landfill of Asunción, Paraguay's capital — play instruments made out of recycled materials:

[Interpretan] obras musicales con instrumentos reciclados, fabricados a partir de residuos sólidos domiciliarios, en el taller de lutería que posee el grupo en Cateura, donde recicladores, asesorados por Favio Chávez […], han comenzado a utilizar restos de “basura” para elaborar instrumentos que emitieran sonidos musicales. Los instrumentos […] imitan a violines, violas, cellos, contrabajos, guitarras, flautas, saxofones, trompetas, trombones e instrumentos de percusión, pero construidos con basura. Entre su repertorio ejecutan música clásica, música folklórica, música paraguaya, música latinoamericana, música de los Beatles, de Frank Sinatra, entre otros.

[They perform] musical pieces with recycled instruments, made from domestic solid waste, at the musical instrument workshop the group has in Cateura, where recyclers under the guidance of Favio Chávez […] have started to use “garbage” parts to fashion instruments that make musical sounds. The instruments […] imitate violins, violas, cellos, double basses, guitars, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, trombones and percussion instruments, all made out of garbage. Their repertoire includes classical music, folk music, Paraguayan and Latin American music, music by The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, among others.

In an article by US newspaper the Los Angeles Times, Favio Chávez, a local ecologist and musician who is teaching the children of Cateura to play, remembers their early days:

At first it was very difficult because we had no place to rehearse and we had to teach in the same place where the parents were working in the trash […]. The children knew nothing about music and it was very difficult to contact parents because many of them do not live with their children.

That all changed when Favio was shown something he had never seen before: a violin made out of garbage. Today, there is a whole orchestra of assembled instruments, called The Recycled Orchestra. A documentary called “Landfill Harmonic” chronicled the musical effort:

The world generates about a billion tons of garbage a year. Those who live with it and from it are the poor – like the people of Cateura, Paraguay. And here they are transforming it into beauty. Landfill Harmonic follows the orchestra as it takes its inspiring spectacle of trash-into-music around the world.

The orchestra has even performed its music for Pope Francis:

These two groups, as well as some others, show that with music, the possibilities are endless.

by Gabriela García Calderón at November 29, 2016 10:23 PM

Creative Commons
FRANCOCAR: An Awesome Fund Project in West Africa

img-20160929-wa0028

The Creative Commons Awesome Fund, a series of mini-grants intended to support our global communities, supported FRANCOCAR this year. FRANCOCAR is a range of events and activities in West Africa (Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Senegal) to promote open source software, digitization, and Creative Commons licenses.

Follow #francocar if you want to stay in the loop on future activities or check the blog.

All photos from Mawusee Komla Foli-Awli, CC BY


FRANCOCAR est un projet :

– de sensibilisation sur l’importance du contenu numérique
– d’information et de formation sur les outils liés à la création de contenu
– de promotion des licences Creative Commons qui facilitent la publication du contenu dans un cadre légal

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-11-54-39-am

Il a été initié dans la cadre de l’appel à proposition de projets –Awesome Fund 2016- de Creative Commons.
Il a été lancé en Octobre 2016 – Rencontres Nationales des Logiciels Libres à Cotonou (Benin).
Il va d’Octobre à Décembre 2016 mais les activités pourraient aller au delà de cette période.

atelier-jerry

Les pays ciblés pour cette phase sont le Togo, le Benin, le Burkina Faso et éventuellement la Côte d’Ivoire et le Sénégal.

Les activités organisées dans le cadre du projet sont :

– le lancement Rencontres Nationales des Logiciels Libres 2016 à Cotonou (Octobre)
– la première édition de “Sous Arbre à Contenu” à Lomé (contribution sur Wikipedia) (Octobre)
– la participation à la Semaine des Cultures numériques à l’Institut Français du Togo (Novembre)
– la première édition de “Sous Arbre à Contenu” à Cotonou (contribution sur Wikipedia) (Novembre)

Merci à Creative Commons pour l’initiative et aux apports des uns et des autres (LMP LE LOGOS, SOGESTI, BLOLAB, ECOHUB, Institut Français du Togo).

Nous sommes ouverts à toute collaboration pour des activités allant de le sens des objectifs du projet.
Vous pouvez lire les détails des activités sur http://afrozen.wordpress.com.

#Francocar
Francocar site
Facebook
Email

african_participants

The post FRANCOCAR: An Awesome Fund Project in West Africa appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Mawusee Komla Foli-Awli at November 29, 2016 07:45 PM

Global Voices
Meet South Africa's Prophet of Doom…Literally
Image shared widely on social media. This one was shared by @Mission316Show.

Image shared widely on social media. This one was shared by @Mission316Show.

A self-proclaimed prophet, Lethebo Rabalago, has shocked many South Africans after news broke out that he uses Doom, a popular insecticide in the country, to heal. He sprays the deadly chemical on different parts of the body of his church members including faces.

Announcing the “healing” powers of Doom, Rabalago wrote on his Facebook page:

By my name, you shall drive out demons.
By my name, you shall pick up snakes. Anything you touch, recieves favour because of the annointing upon you. Doom is just a name, but when you speak to it to become a healing product, it does. People get healed and delivered through doom. Its not by might nor by power, but by the HolySpirit. We give God the glory!!

The company behind the insecticide has condemned Rabalago and says it is in the process of contacting him to warn him about dangers of using Doom insect poison onto people's faces.

The Internet has reacted with anger, shock and funny memes using the hashtag #ProphetOfDoom.

A Twitter user using the name ‘Sound Surgeon’ joked:

Iloveza shared this picture showing empty shelves of Doom in a supermarket:

Mphuma mentioned other strange acts performed by a growing number of self-proclaimed prophets in South Africa:

Bizzare “prophetic” acts by South African preachers in recent years have included eating grass, snakes and drinking petrol, which supposedly becomes pineapple juice after prayer.

Considering the latest “miracle”, Ditjhaba said South Africa needs a timeout:

@shandu009 tweeted a photo of a man trying to increase his wealth at an ATM machine following the preacher's advice:

Another Twitter user said:

Vhoni joked:

A Zimbabwean man posted the following photo suggesting that Zimbabwean president needs the special “Doom healing”:

Qamatha posted a photo of a mini bus with a Doom advert suggesting that it belongs to the church :

The video below shows the prophet in action:

South African Internet entrepreneur Peter Mansfield suggested:

Another Twitter user rephrased the Bible verse in the book of John 3:16. The verse reads: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”:

Celeste thought the spraying of the harmful chemical on congregants amounted to attempted murder:

Using the photo of the Ghanaian Internet sensation, Jake Amo, Barry Roux wrote:

TB Joshua is a popular Nigeria preacher who is known for controversial prophecies. During the US elections he predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the election.

Kalabash Media posted this photo:

Rabalago has claimed that with his spiritual powers it is possible to make a phone call without a sim card or drive a car without fuel.

Finally, need a bottle of healing Doom?:

by Ndesanjo Macha at November 29, 2016 03:59 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Internet Freedom Declines in Russia and Ukraine, Improves in Belarus
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Freedom House’s annual “Freedom on the Net” report, released this month, paints a worrying picture of declining internet freedom in Russian-speaking parts of the world. Russia, Belarus and Central Asian states including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were rated as “not free” in the report, while Ukraine was rated “partially free.” With the exception of Belarus, all of these countries have fallen in the report’s ratings since last year.

The report uses a scoring process that measures barriers to accessing data, limits on internet content, and recorded violations of user rights as they are articulated by international human rights doctrine, as well as methodological criteria developed by the organization itself. Freedom House is based in the United States and is funded primarily by US government aid agencies.

Russia’s ranking fell as a result of the introduction of new legal restrictions on internet users, including a legislative package know as the “Yarovaya Law,” which circumscribes internet freedoms ostensibly to fight terrorism. The Yarovaya Law requires telecommunications developers to provide backdoor access to authorities and introduces restrictions on the religious activities of certain denominations. By increasing the maximum penalty for “justifying” terrorism online, the law also sets a precedent for more aggressive legal action against social media users. Freedom House also notes that online activists have been increasingly subjected to cyberattacks and physical violence.

While Russia does have a high degree of internet penetration, Freedom House and other observers have voiced concerns over the prominence of state-owned internet service provider Rostelecom in the telecommunications industry. But state control over the internet is not necessarily seen as a bad thing in Russia: According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Moscow-based Levada Center earlier this year, 60 percent of respondents said that internet censorship is needed in Russia.

Ukraine's falling Freedom of the Net rating is tied to events surrounding the War in Donbas. As in Russia, Ukrainian authorities have cracked down on “extremist” expression online, which is usually linked to criticism of Kyiv’s role in the war or support for Russian-backed separatists in the east. Authorities in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine have engaged in reciprocal efforts, seeking to block content that is related to Ukrainian cultural identity or is supportive of Kyiv’s war effort.

Some efforts have been driven by non-state actors: earlier this year, Ukrainian nationalists released the personal information of thousands of journalists covering the conflict in the east.

More positively, activists have made use of the web as a platform to combat Kremlin-propagated misinformation, and to coordinate civil society initiatives.

Internet freedoms have increased in Belarus, though the country is still rated as “not free.” Internet penetration and speed have increased in the country, improving the availability of online media and social media coverage of political events.

Still, repressive policies continue to hinder free expression on the web in Belarus. Journalists, bloggers, and average internet users continue to be targeted by authorities. The recent introduction of new legal initiatives and technical measures has enhanced the Belarusian government’s ability to monitor and prosecute users: internet service providers are required to retain information on users’ browsing history for one year, and deep packet inspection (DPI) technology has been used since 2011 to filter content. Like in Russia, the government employs spyware and malware to surveil its population online.

by Advox at November 29, 2016 02:34 PM

Doc Searls
A few words about trust

cropped-wst-logo-mainSo i was on a panel at WebScience@10 in London (@WebScienceTrust, #WebSci10), where the first question asked was, “What are two aspects of ‘trust and the Web’ that you think are most relevant/important at the moment?” My answer went something like this::::

1) The Net is young, and the Web with it.

Both were born in their current forms on 30 April 1995, when the NSFnet backed off on its forbidding commercial traffic on its pipes. This opened the whole Net to absolutely everything, exactly when the graphical Web browser became fully useful.

Twenty-one years in the history of a world is nothing. We’re still just getting started here.

2) The Internet, like nature, did not come with privacy. And privacy is personal. We need to start there.

We arrived naked in this new world, and — like Adam and Eve — still don’t have clothing and shelter.

The browser should have been a private tool in the first place, but it wasn’t; and it won’t be, so long as we leave improving it mostly up to companies with more interest in violating our privacy than providing it.

Just 21 years into this new world, we still need our own clothing, shelter, vehicles and private spaces. Browsers included. We will only get privacy if our tools provide it as a simple fact.

We also need to be the first parties, rather than the second ones, in our social and business agreements. In other words, others need to accept our terms, rather than vice versa. As first parties, we are independent. As second parties, we are dependent. Simple as that. Without independence, without agency, without the ability to initiate, without the ability to obtain agreement on our own terms, it’s all just more of the same old industrial model.

In the physical world, our independence earns respect, and that’s what we give to others as a matter of course. Without that respect, we don’t have civilization. This is why the Web we have today is still largely uncivilized.

We can only civilize the Net and the Web by inventing digital clothing and doors for people, and by providing standard agreements private individuals can assert in their dealings with others.

Inventing yet another wannabe unicorn to provide “privacy as a service” won’t do it. Nor will regulating the likes of Facebook and Google, or expecting them to become interested in building protections, when their businesses depend on the absence of those protections.

Fortunately, work has begun on personal privacy tools, and agreements we can each assert. And we can talk about those.

Save

by Doc Searls at November 29, 2016 02:13 PM

Global Voices
Today is #GivingTuesday—Donate to Global Voices

GV_GivingTuesday2

Today is #GivingTuesday, a day dedicated to global generosity of all kinds, and we're hoping that Global Voices is one of the organizations whose work you'll support by making a donation.

The changes that have taken place across the world this year have offered a powerful reminder that the work of building bridges of understanding between people and communities, and of safeguarding basic rights, is never done.

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by Georgia Popplewell at November 29, 2016 08:00 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Tuesday, November 29, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about the rise of mobile shopping; CNN's purchase of the social media video app Beme, launched by YouTube star Casey Neistat; and a ransomware attack on San Francisco's light rail system, the MUNI.

by Marketplace at November 29, 2016 05:00 AM

Global Voices
News Commentators Decry the Errand Economy as ‘Ruining’ Friendship on Chinese University Campuses
Students lining up to pick up their package. Photo from state-owned Xinhua Net.

Students lining up to pick up their package. Photo from state-owned Xinhua Net.

The popularity of online payment systems has given rise to a new errand service among university students in China. An errand can vary from delivery delivering mail, packages, food, groceries and hot water to signing in class attendance, doing presentations, writing term papers and taking examinations for fellow students, and the existence of such errand service has raise some heated debate online.

Most university campuses in China are huge and not open to public. The setting creates a distinctive campus-based market. For example, on a cold winter's day, many students do not want to go outdoors for meals, mail or groceries and prefer someone else to run their errands.

In the past, they would ask their fellow students to do them a favor and return the service later on. However, as online payments have entered their lives, many now prefer to hire someone to run their errands instead.

Among the 700 million internet users in China, approximately 60 percent actively used e-commerce and online payments in 2015, with a gross merchandise volume up to 11.8 trillion yuan, or approximately US$1.7 trillion.

University students are the most active user group. In 2015, 6% of the nation’s package deliveries had university campuses as their final destination.

New mobile applications, like “campus delivery” (校內達), are specifically designed to provide a platform for students to look up other fellow students to run errands for them for a small payment between three to five yuan per service. Reportedly, some students have managed to earn 3,000 yuan a month running errands for other fellow students.

Apart from mobile apps, some students also use chat rooms, such as Tencent’s QQ groups, to provide more controversial services, like signing in class attendance, taking the place of other students in class discussions or presentations, or even taking exams for them.

One survey shows that about half of university students have either hired others to take their place in class or seen others do it. The price varies from 20 to 50 yuan.

News commentators for official media outlets in China have been critical towards this new campus economy in their writings, saying it is the result of students being spoiled and lazy. Some, including news commenter Zu Yuanyuan from the Chinese Communist Youth League-affiliated Youth.cn, have taken a nostalgic view of campus life:

本来取快递可以寝室几人结伴而行,或者是由舍友代拿,本来买水果也可以成为同学间逛街交流的借口,本来打热水亦或成为你打我用的友好共用形式,然而“跑腿经济”这一利益化产业的兴起,打破了原本纯洁友好的校园,让舍友代拿快递就会顾虑舍友代拿是否需要付费?让朋友代买水果也要考虑不付费的代买是否合适?“跑腿经济”已经渐渐成为阻隔校园内人情的一道屏障,让原本充满亲情的校园变得有着些许的冷漠,一切能代办的全部用金钱来衡量,殊不知这本该是校友间、朋友间顺便代办的区区小事。“金钱至上”的利益经济已经在悄然侵蚀着本该纯净的校园,难道这不令我们担忧吗?

Roommates could walk to the package delivery station together, or ask a friend to do a favor. Buying fruit with fellow students should be an excellent opportunity to share thoughts. Getting hot water for one another is good for building friendship. Yet with the rise of the errand economy, friendship on campus has been ruined by a profitable business — whenever you ask your roommate to pick up a package or buy some fruit for you, you would start to wonder if you should pay for the errand. The errand economy has blocked students from developing friendship on campus and changed the warm campus into a cool campus where everything is evaluated in monetary terms. The errands should be small favors that friends give to one another. Shouldn’t we be worried that our campus is slowly being eroded by monetary value?

On the other side, some netizens see the errand service as a creative business. Here are a few of the comments on one of the news threads on popular social media platform Weibo:

挺好啊 时间也是金钱啊 每个人价值观不一样 对待金钱的态度也不一样 爹妈有钱爹妈爱给孩子花 这有什么好批判的 多半是眼红吧 人家爹妈赚一辈子钱了就希望孩子活的轻松 凭什么非要道德绑架 非要看不得别人过得舒服和你一样苦哈哈才爽?

This is good. Time is money. Every one has a different set of values and hold different attitudes towards money. Why should we criticize those kids with rich parents who allow them to spend money? Most of the criticisms are out of envy. Their parents work so hard to make their kids’ lives easy, why judge them? Do you want to see everyone equally poor?

多亏了代课跑腿什么的让我度过了没有生活费的日子

I have to thank those who demand the service of running errands and taking students’ place in class or I could not have survived without a basic income for living.

懒是促进科技进步的核心啊。要不是因为懒得洗衣服,洗衣机怎么会发明出来,要不是懒得走路,自行车又是怎么来的

Laziness is the driving force of scientific progress. Washing machines were invented because people were too lazy to wash their clothes. Bicycles were invented because people were too lazy to walk.

by Oiwan Lam at November 29, 2016 02:15 AM

Political Satire Returns to Russian TV, Neutered As Ever
Image: Dmitry Smirnov / Twitter

Image: Dmitry Smirnov / Twitter

Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, whose regime is widely accused of human rights crimes, is a comedy star on Russian television this week. Or rather, comedian Mikhail Galustyan’s impression of Kadyrov has surprised and entertained the millions who tuned in this weekend to watch the 55th anniversary of Russia’s “KVN” comedy club.

Political parody is a perilous thing in Russia, where the last unbridled satire to grace the small screen is widely considered to be the TV show “Kukly” (Puppets), which was taken off the air more than 14 years ago, when the Kremlin allegedly lost its patience for being mocked so openly.

Kukly is often likened to “The Daily Show” in the United States — a comparison that captures the fact that both shows lampoon public figures, but fails to prepare you for the garish puppets that starred in Kukly, and the stilted, unsubtle sketch comedy the show’s writers used to ridicule Boris Yeltsin and later Vladimir Putin.

Years after Kukly bit the dust, Russian political parody seemed to be making a feeble comeback. In the early 2010s, before Dmitry Medvedev announced that he would step down from the presidency to allow Vladimir Putin to return, the atmosphere felt like it might be changing, Ellen Barry wrote at the time. To the surprise of many, the state-funded national TV network Channel One aired a special musical segment lampooning President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin on New Year’s Day in 2010.

The parody was light-hearted, to say the least. Little cartoon versions of Medvedev and Putin danced in Red Square, playing instruments and shaking their butts, while singing playful barbs aimed at Kremlin adversaries, like the White House, the Viktor Yushchenko presidency in Ukraine, and others. The duo even returned the following year for an encore performance, having established itself as a regular, if somewhat dull, presence on a Russian television show that practiced similarly “safe” humor ridiculing Moscow’s geopolitical foes.

The cartoon show that gave us the dancing, singing Kremlin tandem, along with another popular television program called “Prozhektorperiskhilton,” which was also built on joking about current events, didn’t last beyond 2013 — the year after Putin’s return as commander in chief.

Throughout Putin’s third term as president, Russia has witnessed incredible transformations domestically and abroad. The relative thaw under Medvedev gave way to a political crackdown at home, and Moscow’s new willingness to sustain military interventions beyond its borders has changed the way many look at the world map.

With Russia’s September parliamentary elections over and done, the country’s political talk now turns to 2018, when Vladimir Putin is expected to run for a fourth term in office, paving the way to another six years in power — extending his lease on the presidency to 2024, when Putin will turn 72.

Facing the prospect of a 25-year reign by one, increasingly reactionary politician, Russians were understandably surprised this weekend to see comedian Mikhail Galustyan on television impersonating Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal dictator of Chechnya. Dressed like Kadyrov, mumbling in a Chechen accent, and strutting about on stage, Galustyan did a remarkably good job pretending to be the ruler of Chechnya.

And, by the way, President Vladimir Putin was in the audience, laughing politely.

“I said straight off that Trump would win.” Putin and “Kadyrov” at KVN's anniversary celebration. ~Dmitry Smirnov

Like the parodies that have appeared on Russian television since the Kremlin purged the medium of genuine satire in the early 2000s, Galustyan’s impression was largely anodyne.

The edgiest moment in the performance was probably when Galustyan’s Kadyrov, in an uncouth gesture, wiped his hand on his pant leg, before extending a greeting to the show’s host. The joke was likely meant to be that Kadyrov is a relatively unrefined man, whose hands are liable to be dirty from work at any moment. Interpreted another way, however, the bit could have hinted that Kadyrov’s hands are dirty in a more symbolic sense. (Columnist Oleg Kashin seemed to relish this possibility, at least.)

The story didn’t end with the TV broadcast, however. A day after Galustyan’s parody aired, Ramzan Kadyrov himself claimed on social media that he’d helped the comedian prepare the schtick, apparently rehearsing it with him twice, and providing Galustyan with the very clothes he wore on stage. “Everything was good with the accent,” Kadyrov explained on Vkontakte. “He’s the master at this. I told him not to make it too hard for viewers to guess who he was parodying!”

After Channel One aired the footage of Galustyan’s Kadyrov impression, some social-media users wrote that they worried for the comedian’s personal safety, implying that Chechnya’s ruler might seek revenge for perceived slights.

Galustyan seems to be fine, however. And Ramzan Kadyrov is happy as a clam.

by Kevin Rothrock at November 29, 2016 01:44 AM

A Bollywood Actress Inspires Hilarious Book Misinterpretations With Her ‘Animal Farm’ Gaffe
Collage from Flickr image by Celebrityabc. CC BY 2.0

Collage from Flickr image of Shilpa Shetty by Celebrityabc. CC BY 2.0

You might be seeing the hashtag #ShilpaShettyReviews in many tweets by Indians today. It refers to a blunder made by Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in an interview, which quickly became viral.

The Twitter trend all began a few days ago when the new curriculum for the Indian School Certificate Examination was released in Lucknow at the 59th annual conference of the Association of Schools for the Indian School Certificate. It was announced at the conference that the syllabus for students of Class 3 to Class 8 will now include graphic novels “Asterix and Tintin”, JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, Agatha Christie’s “Hercule Poirot” series, J. R. R. Tolkien's “The Hobbit”, Satyajit Ray's “Feluda” and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories, among other books. Biographies of APJ Abdul Kalam, Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai will also be on the reading list.

In an interview to English-language daily Times of India, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty wholeheartedly supported the move and said:

Books like Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) and Harry Potter as part of the syllabus is a great move because it cultivates imagination and creativity at a young age. They should include books like Little Women, as it encourages respect towards women at a young age. Even a book like Animal Farm can teach the little ones to love and care for animals.

She obviously mistook that Animal Farm, an allegorical political commentary on the Soviet Union by George Orwell set in a dystopian society, was something good for animals.

The internet broke loose prompting one-liner reviews like the following, all bearing the hashtag #ShilpaShettyReviews, which quickly became a top trending topic:

And people had more fun reading the innovative tweets:

There were also tweets supporting Shetty:

And Sabit Aziz thanked Shilpa Shetty:

by Rezwan at November 29, 2016 12:55 AM

November 28, 2016

Global Voices
The Hotly Contested Gambian Presidential Race Enters Its Final Stretch
President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh who has been in power since 1994 has said he believes only God can remove him from office. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Presidential candidates are canvassing on the final days of campaigning for the crucial 1 December election in the Gambia. Incumbent President Yahya Jammeh is facing two challengers: Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), and Adama Barrow, an independent candidate backed by a coalition of up to seven political parties.

Jammeh, who is seeking his fifth term, is running on a platform for continued socio-economic development, peace and stability. He promises to expand and improve healthcare, education, including free university education. Jammeh has emphasised the importance of peaceful and orderly campaign and election. He has urged people to go about the election in a peaceful manner.

Opposition candidates on the other hand have accused Jammeh of ruining the economy and having the worst human rights records in Africa. They promise to deliver a fairer and more inclusive government if elected.

Campaigning ends on Tuesday, 2 November, with Wednesday considered a “cooling off” day.

The forthcoming December election promises to be one of the most closely contested election since the 1994 coup that brought Jammeh to power. The European Union has said that Gambian authorities have denied their request to observe the elections, but regional grouping such as the African Union and ECOWAS said they will monitor the election. In last presidential election, ECOWAS refused to send observers arguing that the elections will not be free and fair.

(Update 29 November 2016: In the end, ECOWAS will not observe the elections in The Gambia. According to local sources the chairman of the electoral commission said the regional groups application for observation was not received on time.)

In the run-up to the elections, there have been anti-government political protests, mostly in the Greater Banjul Area. The protests were part of a movement calling for electoral reforms and the resignation of President Jammeh. Protesters were met with live ammunition from security forces.

Ousainou Darboe, leader of the main opposition party, will not be able to take part in the election as he has been convicted for his participation in the protests alongside up to 18 other heavyweights of his party.

Protestors in Banjul in the Gambia. Photo taken from the main opposition party (UDP) Facebook page.

Opposition leaders and their supporters demonstrating in Gambia's capital Banjul. Photo taken from the main opposition party (UDP) Facebook page.

Early this month, Human Rights Watch released a report, “More Fear Than Fair: Gambia’s 2016 Presidential Election,” describing government’s repression of the political opposition in the months the election.

The report shows how President Jammeh has used a crackdown on the opposition, domination of state media, and state resources for campaigning. It states that more than 90 opposition activists have been arrested for participating in peaceful protests, with 30 sentenced to three-year prison terms while two opposition activists have died in custody.

In its 2014 submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Gambia, human rights organisation Amnesty International said: “Since Gambia’s first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010, the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated. The government continues to stifle freedom of expression and commit other human rights violations with impunity.”

Concerns about the integrity of the election aside, the candidates and their supporters have making a push on social media to win votes. First Lady Zainab Jammeh, who is campaigning alongside her husband, posted the video below on her Facebook page with the following message:

Gambians hail the efforts of His Excellency The President and APRC [Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction] Party candidate with a rapturous welcome after a week long tour of rural Gambia as part of the ongoing 2016 Presidential campaign.

The enthusiastic demonstration of support and renewed determination for President Jammeh’s continued leadership is unrelenting for Gambians have shown it all.

The masses have clearly spoken “Vote President Jammeh for continuous development and Prosperity”.

While Bakary Badjie, a supporter of the opposition coalition, wrote on Facebook:

Because Jammeh didn't wait for Allah to come hold his hand to presidency, Gambians too shouldn't fall for those unfounded fatalist talk “Allah put him there and will remove him when his time is up”.. Go Vote Coalition because this is that time. You the Voters can make it happened cuz Allah works through people..

Several people on the group confirm the coalition's caravan and people welcoming them was unprecedented. Now Gambia translate this into #Votefor #AdamaBarrow#1Demberr

President Jammeh said recently that only God (Allah) can remove him from power because he is the one who put him there. President Jammeh opposes presidential term limits. He believes God decides term limits and if God is willing, he may rule The Gambia for “one billion years.” The Gambia is one of two countries in West Africa without presidential term limits.

The opposition GDC posted this video of their candidate arriving at Sintet village in the West Coast region:

by Demba Kandeh at November 28, 2016 08:54 PM

Creative Commons
Making Creative Commons Licensing Work In Indonesia

Below is an update from Creative Commons Indonesia, who recently worked with their national copyright office on proposed changes to law that will secure the ability of creators to use CC and other open licenses there.


copyrightwrench

In late 2014, Indonesia amended its copyright law to add several new provisions, including changes having to do with database rights, addressing copyright as an object in a collateral agreement, and making license recordation mandatory. The latter is something that could potentially be an issue with regard to the operation of Creative Commons licenses, as well as other open license in Indonesia.

“License recordation” means that licensors (even those publishing their works under Creative Commons) must report their licenses with the Indonesian Copyright Office. If a licensor does not comply with the requirement, the license that they applied on their work will not have any legal effect, and will not be enforceable against third parties. This provision is stated in Article 83 of Law Number 28 year 2014:

  1. Every license agreements has to be recorded by the Ministry in the general list of Copyright License Agreement with payable fees;
  2. License agreements which are not in compliance with the license agreement criteria according to Article 82 cannot be included in the general list of Copyright License Agreement;
  3. If a license agreement is not recorded in the general list of Copyright License Agreement, such unrecorded license agreement will not have any legal effects, and thus not enforceable against third parties;
  4. More detailed provisions on license agreement recordal will be regulated under a Government Regulation.

The Creative Commons Indonesia team realized that this provision could possibly complicate the applicability of open licenses under the copyright law. We know that creators publishing under CC do it because the licenses provide an easy and standard way to share creativity with the public, while at least retaining the right to be attributed as the author of the work. The updated Indonesian law would create an artificial barrier to sharing under CC, because it would require licensors to take an additional step in letting the Copyright Office know which of their works are under an open license.

We began to explore the possibility of requesting an exception to the rule for Creative Commons’ licensed works. When we found out that the discussion regarding the regulation had started, we visited the Indonesian Copyright Office. Our aim was to exclude open licenses from the license recordal mandate, ensuring the operation of Creative Commons and other open licenses as they are intended.

On May 23, 2016, we met with the Indonesian Copyright Office, where we were informed that there has been a discussion on the license recordal mandate by the drafting committee, and that open licenses would not be excluded from the license recordal obligation. On September 21, we had another meeting with the Office, where we were asked to provide a written explanation of the operation of open licensing, along with examples of CC licensed materials.

We returned a week later with a draft of our explanation and asked the Copyright Office for feedback and questions. The next day we filed the written request with the Office, and also gathered support from other Creative Commons affiliates by drafting a letter, in case our petition was rejected.. We planned to send out the letter of support from CC affiliates to the drafting committee as our backup plan..

However, on November 1, the Copyright Office informed us that Creative Commons licenses and other open licenses in use in Indonesia will be excluded from the license recordal mandate. The drafting committee agreed to exclude those from the regulation because they understand that open licenses are often used in for non-profit purposes. This decision will be included in the preamble of the government regulation, which is still in the drafting process, but will be finally enacted in December 2016 or January 2017.


Screwdriver And Wrench by To Uyen, CC BY 3.0 US
Copyright by Marek PolakovicCC BY 3.0 US

The post Making Creative Commons Licensing Work In Indonesia appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Alifia Qonita Sudharto at November 28, 2016 05:48 PM

Global Voices
Myanmar’s Refugee Returnees Struggle to Build New Lives
The warehouse of the Relief and Resettlement Department’s Rangoon office in Mayangone Township, where 17 returnees are being provided temporary shelter. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

The warehouse of the Relief and Resettlement Department’s Rangoon office in Mayangone Township, where 17 returnees are being provided temporary shelter. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

This edited article by Tin Htet Paing is from The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The story tackles the situation of some refugee returnees who are struggling to rebuild their lives back in Myanmar. A military dictatorship has ruled the country from 1962 until 2010, but it was only this year when the military lost total control of the government after its party lost in the elections. During the reign of the junta, a civil war involving state forces and ethnic armed groups intensified across the country, displacing residents and forcing thousands to seek refuge in nearby countries.

The only reason 46-year-old former refugee U Aye Lwin returned to Myanmar was so that his six children could receive a formal education in his home country—the country he left eight years ago due to political turmoil.

After having taken refuge in a camp on the Thai-Myanmar border since 2008, he decided to repatriate once the National League for Democracy-led government took office in April 2016 and welcomed the return of refugees.

U Aye Lwin is one of 17 former refugees who recently returned to Yangon (the country’s biggest city) from the Nu Po camp located on the Thai-Myanmar border, which was established according to an official arrangement by the governments of Thailand and Myanmar, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The first batch of 65 returnees was repatriated to Myanmar via the Myawaddy-Mae Sot Friendship Bridge in late October. Seventeen of them asked to be sent to their homes in Yangon.

U Aye Lwin made up his mind to earn money by doing any kind of job available so that his kids—from his 4-year-old son to his 18-year-old daughter—could go to school.

But his homecoming hasn’t played out how he thought it would.

Since arriving in Yangon in October, the 17 returnees—four families—have only been provided temporary shelter at a warehouse run by the Relief and Resettlement Department’s Yangon office in Mayangone Township, waiting for the regional government to arrange long-term accommodation.

The department, operating under the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement, provides 3,000 kyats (US$2.33) to each returnee for daily living expenses. In addition, each family has received 300,000 kyats (US$230) from the Union government, and the Thai government has offered 8,300 baht (US$230) per adult and 6,500 baht (US$180) per child before leaving Thailand.

Daw Khin San Yee, 59, is a former political prisoner and, along with her husband, was a refugee at the Nu Po camp in 2009. Though she was a refugee, she followed news about Myanmar’s democratic transition on the radio and television—the only available news sources in the camp.

I’ve been willing to return to Myanmar since its government transition [last year]. UNHCR and officials from the Myanmar government came to the camp and told us that we could officially register to return home—in dignity.

Daw Khin San Yee, 59, is a former political prisoner and was a refugee, along with her husband, at the Nu Po camp in 2009. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

Daw Khin San Yee, 59, is a former political prisoner and was a refugee, along with her husband, at the Nu Po camp in 2009. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

All four families that The Irrawaddy spoke to last week said that their voluntary returns were driven by the fact that the NLD is in power.

The Yangon regional government provided low-cost housing worth 9.8 million kyats (US$7,400) in the Shwe Linn Ban Industrial Zone in Hlaing Tharyar Township for the former refugees, but asked them to pay for it in installments, paying 30 percent upfront and the rest over eight years.

Still, the families refused to buy the apartments, saying that they couldn’t afford them. The commercial capital’s rental prices for housing have increased nearly three-fold in less than 10 years. Asked if they owned any places in Yangon before they left Myanmar, Daw Khin San Yee and U Aye Lwin told The Irrawaddy that they have never been able to afford to buy apartments and that they previously had to rent places. Daw Khin San Yee explained:

We returned from a refugee camp. We didn’t come back bringing heaps of money. How are we supposed to pay 3 million kyats [US$2,200]?

U Thant Zin Maung, 47, returned home to get traditional medical treatment for his wife, who is unable to walk due to muscle atrophy in her legs. He said he would do any kind of work to afford hospitalizing his wife and sending his two children to school once he gets long-term accommodation for his family.

U Win Shwe, a director at the relief and resettlement department in Yangon, told The Irrawaddy that his department has reported to Yangon’s regional government about the current situation and is waiting to hear back about a possible solution, potentially this week. He said that the government is still struggling to provide affordable housing to illegal squatters in the city.

We can’t provide [free] accommodation to everyone who returns. It’s impossible to do that given that there are also people who are in worse trouble. Myanmar is not rich enough that it can give housing for free. There are also hundreds of thousands of refugees living in border camps, hoping to come back. If Yangon’s government were to provide free housing to returnees, others in the future would also look to return to Yangon, and the situation would get out of hand. They have returned to Burma [as Myanmar is also known] and are no longer refugees. They shouldn’t be given privileges under the title ‘refugee’.

The official also said that each regional government provides for returnees support and rights afforded to every citizen.

Mg Aung San Suu Kyaw, 14, Mg Kaung Myat Kyaw, 10), and Mg Zin Ko Win, 4, are seen at the warehouse of the Relief and Resettlement Department’s Yangon office in Mayangone Township. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

Mg Aung San Suu Kyaw, 14, Mg Kaung Myat Kyaw, 10), and Mg Zin Ko Win, 4, are seen at the warehouse of the Relief and Resettlement Department’s Yangon office in Mayangone Township. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

U Soe Aung, permanent secretary and spokesperson of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, told The Irrawaddy that the government is doing as much as it can to support returnees and to find job opportunities for them.

Yangon’s regional minister for social welfare U Naing Ngan Linn visited the temporary shelter after returnees’ arrival in Yangon and told reporters afterward that the government was “responsible” for arranging long-term accommodation for the new arrivals.

Daw Khin San Yee said that returnees are not asking to have the Shwe Linn Ban housing for free, but rather just a place where they can afford start their lives again. Other returnees echoed these words, saying that they don’t want to depend only on donations, that they are ready to work.

U Thant Zin Maung said they now realize situation is very different from their expectations.

Ma Thiri Suu Kyi, 16, is seen together with her little brother Mg Zin Ko Win. She decided not to continue going to school in Yangon because she’s embarrassed to be in the 7th grade with students much younger than her. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

Ma Thiri Suu Kyi, 16, is seen together with her little brother Mg Zin Ko Win. She decided not to continue going to school in Yangon because she’s embarrassed to be in the 7th grade with students much younger than her. Photo and caption by Hein Htet/The Irrawaddy.

Sixteen-year-old Ma Thiri Suu Kyi was fidgeting with her hands, not making eye contact. Sitting in front of a warehouse in Rangoon, she talked about how she used to hang out with her friends in a refugee camp in Thailand.

“I didn’t want to come back to Burma,” she said, adding that she doesn’t know what to do next with her life.

She was 8 years old when she and her father U Aye Lwin left for Thailand in 2008 and barely remembers what Myanmar looked like back then. She was in the 7th grade in the Nu Po camp and thought that she could continue school when she returned to Myanmar. But not anymore.

“It’s not suitable for someone my age to be in 7th grade,” she said. “I have to learn with these small kids, so I don’t want to continue school here,” she continued, pointing to her 10-year-old child brother.

by The Irrawaddy at November 28, 2016 04:09 PM

Bold Film About an Indian Woman's Sexual Awakening Accused of Pardoning Pedophilia

Independent director Shailaja Padindala's short film “Memories of a Machine,” which is available on YouTube, is making waves in India.

In the 10-minute movie, a woman, played by Malayalam actress Kani Kusruti, talks about her first sexual experience — with an adult at her school — when she was only eight. “Memories of a Machine” has received positive reviews from Seattle South Asian Film Festival (SSAFF), Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) 2016, and other film festivals.

However, a section of Indians think that YouTube should take down the movie because in their opinion it doesn't condemn pedophilia.

“Memories of a Machine” was filmed in one continuous shot, where lead actress Kani narrates on camera her character's experiences of discovering herself as a sexually curious young girl as well as being shamed by a boyfriend when she is older for wanting to be sexually intimate with him.

Of what happened when she was eight, the character says in the film:

I don't know if it was right or wrong. At that point it was sexual exploration for me. I liked the way he touched me and he stopped when I did not want it. I'm not concluding that it's right or even wrong for that matter. I don't think it is wrong. That's all.

Published on YouTube on November 20, 2016, the film has already been viewed more than half a million times in a week.

Although India is the birthplace of the Kama Sutra, in conservative Indian societies sexuality has been considered something to be discussed in muffled voices and discovered behind closed doors. In Indian culture, talking about sex is deemed a taboo, having sex before marriage is unacceptable and educating youngsters about sex is something many adults don't do. But there are a number of people in India who want to change this.

Filmmaker Shailaja Padindala is a graduate of LV Prasad Film and TV Academy. She denied that she supports child abuse or rape as alleged by many reviewers of her movie. In an interview with the Daily Thanthi Next, she described the film:

The movie is a culmination of several personal experiences and stories of women we come across on a daily basis. I’ve attempted to explore the complexity surrounding sex and sexuality and how the society views it. […]

I didn’t want to moralise or demoralise the issue. I wanted the audience to form their own perspective and which is also why I’ve named it Memories of a Machine.

However, some think otherwise. Here is one response shared by the actress Kani Kusruti herself on Facebook made by her friend:

While it’s true that when kids start exploring sex, they are often attracted to adults. This is quite a natural thing and happens to pretty much everyone. But an adult wanting to enter into a sexual act with a kid cannot be regarded as a natural thing. It is clearly an act of aggression. But the movie tries to place both these individuals as equals in the story. Which they certainly aren’t.

The movie also tries to normalize a pedophilic act by saying that the girl child liked it. It also tries to humanize the pedophile by saying how he was ‘gentle’ and took a ‘no’. In a country where women and kids are often subjected to violent crimes, this normalization of an aggressive act becomes even more problematic.

Sourabha Rao commented on the above:

Yes; the movie is a little too soft on the pedophile there, but I guess we shouldn't generalise that “some girls might ‘like it’ by listening to just one girl who might actually have. She was too young to even judge this on any intellectual or societal level; she was just a biological being exploring her body's reaction to something.

Some also took it to the extreme:

And entrepreneur Sam Eapen thought that “diverse view and different perspective on same issue may help one to have a better understanding on a subject”.

Director Shailaja Padindala defended the film as encouraging important conversations about sex and sexuality:

Conversations about these subjects must be encouraged and brought out of closed walls. When an individual is able to speak about it without feeling awkward or uncomfortable, it paves for a better understanding of it and thereby creating a healthy environment. The more you forbid something, more negative will be the repercussions.

She even posted a note on YouTube to explain her position:

by Rezwan at November 28, 2016 03:59 PM

DML Central
IBM, Pearson and the Cognitive Infrastructure of Education

The world’s largest edu-business, Pearson, partnered with one of the world’s largest computing companies, IBM, at the end of October 2016 to develop new approaches to education in the “cognitive era.” Their partnership was anticipated earlier in the year when both organizations produced reports about the future trajectories of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence for personalizing learning. I wrote a piece highlighting the key claims of both at the time, and have previously published some articles tracing both Pearson’s interests in big data and IBM’s development of cognitive systems for learning. The announcement of their partnership is the next step in their efforts to install new machine intelligences and cognitive systems into educational institutions and processes.

At first sight, it might seem surprising that IBM and Pearson have partnered together. Their reports would suggest they were competing to produce a new educational market for artificially intelligent or cognitive systems applications. Pearson, however, has had a bad couple of years, with falling revenue and a major organizational restructure in 2016, which appears to have resulted in the closure of its own in-house Center for Digital Data, Analytics and Adaptive Learning. IBM, meanwhile, has been marketing its cognitive computing systems furiously for use in business, government, healthcare, education, and other sectors. The key to the partnership is that, despite its business troubles, Pearson retains massive penetration into schools and colleges through its digital courseware, while IBM has spent years developing and refining its cognitive systems.

The Pearson-IBM partnership also taps into current enthusiasm and interest in new forms of machine-based intelligence. This is reflected in the new Leverhulme Centre for Future Intelligences at the University of Cambridge, a White House report on preparing the future of artificial intelligence, and a Partnership on AI established by Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft.

Together, these developments point to a growing concern with forms of machine intelligence that are sometimes described as “weak” or “narrow” forms of AI. Weak or narrow AI includes techniques such as cognitive computing, deep learning, genetic algorithms, machine learning, and other automated, algorithmic processes, rather than “strong” or “general” models of AI which assume computers might become autonomous super intelligences.

So, what is education likely to look like if the glossy imaginary projected by Pearson and IBM of learning in the cognitive era materializes in the future?

Learning Machines

The key technology underpinning their ambitions is Watson, IBM’s highly-publicized cognitive supercomputing system. The IBM webpages describe Watson as “a cognitive technology that can think like a human.” Watson is able to analyze and interpret data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video. It can “reason” and “provide personalized recommendations by understanding a user’s personality, tone, and emotion.” Watson can also “learn,” utilizing machine learning to “grow subject matter expertise,” and “interact” through “chat bots that can engage in dialog.”

Though IBM has been promoting cognitive computing in education for a few years — in 2013, it produced a glossy visualization of the classroom in five years time, a “classroom that will learn you” — it is now firmly seeking to establish Watson in the educational landscape. IBM Watson Education “is bringing education into the cognitive era” through “personalization”:

Cognitive solutions that understand, reason and learn help educators gain insights into learning styles, preferences, and aptitude of every student. The results are holistic learning paths, for every learner, through their lifelong learning journey.

One of the key applications IBM has developed is a data-based performance tracking tool, IBM Watson Element for Educators:

Watson Element is designed to transform the classroom by providing critical insights about each student — demographics, strengths, challenges, optimal learning styles, and more — which the educator can use to create targeted instructional plans, in real-time.

Designed for use on an iPad so it can be employed directly in the classroom, Element can capture conventional performance information and student interests and other contextual information, which it can feed into detailed student profiles. It can also track whole classes, and automatically generates alerts and notifications if any students are off-track and need further intervention.

Another complementary application is IBM Watson Enlight for Educators, designed to:

support teachers with curated, personalized learning content and activities aligned with each student’s needs. … Teachers can optimize their time and impact throughout the year using actionable, on-demand insights about their students … [and] craft targeted learning experiences on-the-fly from content they trust.

The partnership with Pearson will allow Watson to penetrate into educational institutions at huge scale, thanks to the massive reach of Pearson’s courseware products. Pearson’s press release stated it would “make Watson’s cognitive capabilities available to millions of college students and professors”:

Pearson and IBM are innovating with Watson APIs, education-specific diagnostics and remediation capabilities. Watson will be able to search through an expanded set of education resources to retrieve relevant information to answer student questions, show how the new knowledge they gain relates to their own existing knowledge and, finally, ask them questions to check their understanding.

Strikingly, it proposes that Watson will act as a:

flexible virtual tutor that college students can access when they need it. With the combination of Watson and Pearson, students will be able to get the specific help they need in real time, ask questions and be able to recognize areas in which they still need help from an instructor.

The IBM press release added that Watson would be “embedded in the Pearson courseware”:

Watson has already read the Pearson courseware content and is ready to spot patterns and generate insights.  Serving as a digital resource, Watson will assess the student’s responses to guide them with hints, feedback, explanations and help identify common misconceptions, working with the student at their pace to help them master the topic.

What Watson will do, then, is commit the entirety of Pearson’s content to its computer memory, and then, by constantly monitoring each individual student, cognitively calculate the precise content or structure of a learning experience that would best suit or support that individual.

The partnership is ultimately the material operationalization of a shared imaginary of machine intelligences in education that both IBM and Pearson have been projecting for some time. But, this imaginary is slowly moving out of the institutional enclosures of these organizations to become more widely perceived as desirable and attainable in the future.

Cognitive Enhancement Technologies

Caution is clearly required about the extent to which the technology will live up to its futuristic hype. As educational technology critic Audrey Watters has argued, “the best way to predict the future is to issue a press release.” IBM and Pearson are both marketing their vision of the cognitive future of education because their businesses depend on it. For them, it’s necessary to suggest that people today are at a cognitive deficit when faced with the complexities of the technologized era, so they can sell products offering cognitive enhancement.

The promise of cognitive computing for IBM, as stated in its white paper “Computing, cognition and the future of knowing,” is a fundamental reimagining of the “next generation of human cognition, in which we think and reason in new and powerful ways”:

It’s true that cognitive systems are machines that are inspired by the human brain. But it’s also true that these machines will inspire the human brain, increase our capacity for reason and rewire the ways in which we learn.

These extraordinary claims put companies like IBM and Pearson in the cognitive enhancement business. They have positioned themselves at the vanguard of the generation of hybrid “more-than- human” cognition, learning and thinking.

Clearly there may be consequences of the development of cognitive enhancement technologies and machine intelligences in education. They could ultimately become responsible for establishing the educational pathways and progress of millions of students. They could “learn” some bad habits, like Microsoft’s infamous AI chatbot. They could be found to discriminate against certain groups of students, and reinforce and reproduce existing social inequalities. Privacy and data protection is an obvious issue as all the intimate details of individual students are ingested and stored on the IBM cloud.

Access to these technologies won’t be cheap for institutions either. This could lead to competitive cognitive advantage as new forms of hybrid cognitive capital become available for students at institutions that invest in these cognitive systems. Given that Pearson’s own global databank of country performance, the Learning Curve, compares education systems according to students’ “cognitive skills,” measuring national cognitive capital as a comparative advantage in the “global race” could also become attractive to government agencies.

In this final sense, IBM and Pearson also anticipate the development of real-time adaptive forms of governance in education. Both Pearson and IBM are trying to bypass the cumbersome bureaucratic systems of testing and assessment by creating real-time analytics that perform constant diagnostics and adaptive, personalized intervention on the individual. Pearson’s previous report on AI in education spells this out clearly:

Once we put the tools of AIEd in place … we will have new and powerful ways to measure system level achievement. … AIEd will be able to provide analysis about teaching and learning at every level, whether that is a particular subject, class, college, district, or country. This will mean that evidence about country performance will be available from AIEd analysis, calling into question the need for international testing.

Although the current partnership with IBM may be focused on college students, this is just part of a serious aspiration to govern the entire infrastructure of education systems through real-time analytics and machine intelligences, rather than through the infrastructure of test-based accountability that currently dominates. As Adrian Mackenzie argues, “cognitive infrastructures” such as Watson “present problems of seeing, hearing, checking and comparing as no longer the province of human operators, experts, professionals or workers … but as challenges set for an often almost Cyclopean cognition to reorganise and optimise.” IBM and Pearson are seeking to sink a cognitive infrastructure of accountability into the background of education — an automated, data-driven, decision-making system which is intended to measure, compare, reorganize and optimize whole systems, institutions and individuals alike.

Banner image credit: Atomic Taco

The post IBM, Pearson and the Cognitive Infrastructure of Education appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at November 28, 2016 02:00 PM

Global Voices
Why You Shouldn’t Stick Your Chopsticks in Your Rice Bowl and Other Vietnamese Superstitions
Vietnamese elders will react in horror if you ever stick your chopsticks upright into your rice bowl. Photo from the Flickr page of Quinn Dombrowski, CC License.

Vietnamese elders will react in horror if you ever stick your chopsticks upright into your rice bowl. Photo from the Flickr page of Quinn Dombrowski, CC License.

This article by Vinh Trần is from Loa, an independent news website and podcast that broadcasts stories about Vietnam, and is republished by Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Ever gotten a slap on the hand when you stick your chopsticks upright into your rice bowl in Vietnam? What’s up with that? Let’s explore this and other popular Vietnamese superstitions.

1. The Black Cat

Black cats are a bad omen in many parts of the world, but for the Vietnamese, the bad luck happens when the cat comes into your house.

We got the lowdown from Professor Hoàng Mai Nguyễn.

Professor Nguyễn says that this superstition is rooted in the belief that when someone passes away and a cat enters the home and jumps over the coffin, the deceased person might sit right up. Apparently, this came from a story passed down through the generations without scientific evidence. But since no one wants that to happen, people will do everything to prevent this situation from happening.

2. No Odd-Numbered Groups in Photos

Ever been to a Vietnamese wedding and notice that if there’s an odd number of people gathering to pose for a photo, another person will jump into the mix? Well, here’s the “logic” behind that.

According to Vietnamese superstition, the person in the middle of an odd-numbered group photo will be the first to die. Specifically, when there are only three people in the picture, the person in the middle could be the first one to die, and if he or she does not die, then all three people will receive bad luck.

Again, no scientific evidence, but… who wants to risk it?

3. Chopsticks Upright in the Rice Bowl

Vietnamese elders will react in horror if you ever stick your chopsticks upright into your rice bowl. What gives?

Some say it’s because it resembles an incense bowl (with the chopsticks as the incense).

Professor Nguyễn says it’s not so much that an incense bowl is bad luck, but because it is so often used during ceremonies commemorating the deceased, it is often associated with a death in the family. She says there’s no proof of bad luck occurring because of this, but a student named Lan Bùi says she avoids positioning her chopsticks this way out of respect.

I don’t personally know if the superstition can bring misfortune but I still avoid it because I consider it as bad manners. It’s a kind of a form of respect for me.

You now have a brief breakdown of three popular Vietnamese superstitions. Whether it’s out of respect or to avoid risking bad luck, perhaps you can now make a slightly more informed choice on whether or not to adhere to the superstitions.

Learn more about Vietnamese superstitions by listening to this podcast:

by Loa at November 28, 2016 01:20 PM

Facebook’s Controversial ‘Free Basics’ Project Spreads to 47 Countries
Capture d'écran de la vidéo présentant Free Basics sur YouTube. Via internet.org

Screenshot of a video introducing Free Basics on YouTube. Via internet.org

Responding to the fact that a majority of the world's population lives areas where mobile Internet access is unaffordable, Facebook launched its “Free Basics” program, in collaboration with local mobile phone operators and telecommunications companies around the world. The project allows users to access select websites and services, if they're using a SIM card from a participating mobile-phone operator.

Launched in August 2013, Free Basics is the result of a collaboration between Facebook and the mobile-technology companies Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia, and Qualcomm, along with local telecommunications providers in areas where the service is provided.

Originally named “Internet.org”, the social media giant changed the name to “Free Basics” after critics complained that the name could lead users to believe that the app gives unbridled access to the Internet, which it does not.

But the app does offer access to useful resources. Facebook allows any web developer to submit their apps for review. If approved, based on technical and other substantive criteria, apps can be included in the package. Olivier Ntanama is a blogger from Bukavu, where he studies in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He is also the founder of the Tech in Congo blog, where he lists the “Top 80 Free Websites with Facebook's Free Basics,” a helpful resource for those interested in learning more about the app's offerings.

Thierry Barbaut, an African technology specialist, described the project's impact to Afrique Technologie as a useful educational effort:

Ce programme a un véritable impact sur les vies humaines en fournissant un accès gratuit à la santé, à l’éducation, et aux informations économiques. SmartBusiness, par exemple, est un site qui apprend aux gens à lancer et à gérer une entreprise, avec désormais 5 services de recherche de plus par jour depuis son lancement en Afrique du Sud au mois de juillet, ce qui signifie qu’un plus grand nombre peut accéder aux informations économiques importantes.

BabyCenter et MAMA atteignent des millions de personnes dans le monde en proposant des informations de santé primordiales pour la grossesse et l’art d’être parent et, rien qu’à travers les services Free Basics Internet.org, 3,4 millions de personnes sont informées.

This program has a true impact upon human lives through providing free access to health, education, and economic information. SmartBusiness, for example, is a site that teaches its users how to launch and manage a business. It now has five more search services per day, since its launch in South Africa in July. This means that a greater number of people can now access important economic information.

BabyCenter and MAMA reach millions of people worldwide by offering pregnant woman essential health information and providing information on parenting and raising children. Through the medium of Free Basics Internet.org alone, 3.4 million people are receiving information on these topics.

In a post titled “Free Basics in Madagascar: Facebook's Free Internet at What Price?” Malagasy blogger  looked at the advantages of the app in her country. During a Facebook mission team's visit to Madagascar, she wrote:

Le nombre d’utilisateurs de Facebook sur la grande île a augmenté considérablement ces dernières années. Chacun y trouve son compte : du petit vendeur de téléphone seconde main au leader de parti politique en passant par l’étudiant. Bon nombre de discussions transitent sur les groupes créés sur le réseau social, allant des plus enrichissantes aux plus futiles. Facebook est devenu un outil de communication incontournable, autant sur le plan personnel que professionnel. Free Basics pourrait aussi aider à créer des emplois et à combattre la pauvreté, grâce à la mise à disposition d’informations utiles à la population.

A Madagascar, l’Autorité de Régulation des Technologies de Communication (ARTEC) ne s’était pas encore prononcée publiquement sur le sujet. Quant au ministre des postes, des télécommunications et du développement numérique, il a honoré de sa présence le lancement de BIP, le 2 Juin dernier. Il a été clair lors de son discours en qualifiant le partenariat entre l’opérateur et Facebook comme une « étape cruciale vers une société malgache où la connectivité a toujours été une réalité ».

The number of Facebook users on the big island has risen considerably during the recent years. There is something for everyone: from the small-scale seller of second-hand phones to leaders of a political parties to students. A good number of discussions take place in groups created on the social network, from the more enriching discussions to the very futile. Facebook has become an unavoidable communication tool, on both a personal and professional level in equal measures.

Free Basics could also help to create jobs and to fight poverty, thanks to its provision of useful information to the public. In Madagascar, the Authority of Regulation of Communication Technologies (ARTEC) has not publicly declared its stance on the subject. The Minister of Post, Telecommunications and Digital Development attended the launch of the new Madagascan mobile phone operator, Bip. He was clear in his speech that the partnership between the operator and Facebook was a “crucial stage towards a Madagascan society in which connectivity has always been a reality”.

In May 2015, Free Basics was accessible in 47 countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. In Africa, 22 mobile-phone operators were offering the service in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Zambia, Rwanda, and Guinea among others.

According to The Guardian, Facebook has been in talks with U.S. government officials and mobile-phone operators to develop a U.S. version of Free Basics. As in other countries, this version would be adapted for low-income groups and rural areas that are not able to afford either broadband Internet access or Internet access via smartphones.

Despite many users’ appreciation of the service and the fact that it is free to use, there is resistance to Free Basics, which led to the program's closure in India and Egypt.

In May 2015, NGOs working to defend online rights published an open letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, denouncing the program for violating the principles of net neutrality, and thereby threatening freedom of expression and equality of opportunity, security, privacy, and innovation. The NGOs accuse Zuckerberg of building a “walled garden,” in which the world's poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services. The petition has received thousands of signatures from around the world.

Organizations endorsing the petition include several African groups, such as Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Right 2 Know Campaign (South Africa), Unwanted Witness (Uganda), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Centre Africain D'Echange Culturel (CAFEC- Democratic Republic of the Congo), i freedom (Uganda), KICTANet (Kenya), and Just Associates (South Africa). Global Voices Advox was also signatory to the letter.

by Joanna Bilcliffe at November 28, 2016 06:00 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Monday, November 28, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about the growing number of ways to combine charity with shopping; interview New York Times columnist Tom Friedman about his new work, "Thank You For Being Late"; and look at Google's Neural Machine Translation system, an invention that's created its own internal language.

by Marketplace at November 28, 2016 05:00 AM

November 27, 2016

Global Voices
White Ribbon Campaign Enjoins Singaporean Men to Reject Gender Violence
White Ribbon campaign image from the Facebook page of AWARE

White Ribbon campaign image from the Facebook page of AWARE

A gender equality advocacy group in Singapore is supporting the White Ribbon Campaign, a global movement of men and boys working to end violence against women.

The Association of Women for Action and Research or AWARE launched the campaign in Singapore last November 25, which coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

To encourage greater public participation, the campaign urged Internet users to upload a white ribbon onto their profile pages in support of the call to end gender violence. One of the early advocates of the campaign was swimmer Joseph Isaac Schooling, Singapore’s first Olympic gold medalist. Schooling won the gold in Rio this year by beating legendary American swimmer Michael Phelps.

Writing on his Facebook page, Schooling reminded the public that “strength does not mean dominance and aggression.”

Now more than ever, men should proudly wear their commitment to end violence against women. Powerful men boasting about sexual assault should not be brushed off as ‘locker room talk’. We need a culture of equality, not disrespect. As an athlete, I want everyone to know that strength does not mean dominance and aggression.

Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling supports the White Ribbon campaign. Source: Facebook

Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling supports the White Ribbon campaign. Source: Facebook

The White Ribbon campaign also featured the letters of some Singaporean male leaders and AWARE partners which were written “to provide guidance and mentorship to boys and for young people to realize that men should speak up against gender violence.”

One of the letters was written by health practitioner Poh Kiang. His letter to his two nephews emphasized the value of determining the real meaning of strength:

Like you, two of the most important persons in my life are women – my Ah Ma (paternal grandma) and my Mom. Much of who I am and the leader that I have become is due to their loving influence. I learn from a young age that strength and ability are not gender related. In fact, in these women I discovered that strength is not merely muscular, it is steely resolve when facing fear, quiet endurance when suffering pain and loss as well as dogged resourcefulness when facing deprivation.

Another letter was penned by Adrian Pang, an artistic director at a theatre, who wrote to his children:

A STRONG man is one who is not afraid to be vulnerable and to admit to being afraid, who always tries to exercise compassion and sensitivity, who is always respectful and active in creating a world that embraces equality for EVERYONE.

Hopefully, initiatives like the White Ribbon campaign can help address gender violence, especially in a society like Singapore where about 70 percent of sexual harassment cases are not reported to the police. According to some surveys, 6 in 10 victims of sexual violence in Singapore suffer repeated victimization.

by Mong Palatino at November 27, 2016 11:27 PM

One Year on, Belo Monte Dam Is a Nightmare for Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
raimunda

Raimunda Gomes da Silva, who lived in one of the fluvial islands in the Xingu, flooded by the new reservoir. Photo: Isabel Harari/ISA

This story by Isabel Harari, originally published on Instituto Socioambiental, is abridged and republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

A year ago, officials closed the gates of the Belo Monte Dam, the second largest hydropower plant in Brazil and fourth largest of the world in installed capacity. From that moment on, the dam's reservoir in the Amazon began to fill, and the lives of the indigenous and riverlands populations who surround it were forever transformed.

Thanks to the dam, locals say sailing parts of the river has become more difficult, fishing grounds have disappeared, and pests and fish deaths are on the rise.

“It's impossible to live in the Xingu River today. I don't stand a chance. People use to live well. Now they survive. It's not a dignified life,” says Raimunda Gomes da Silva while sailing by the Pedrais da Volta Grande, a section of the Xingu River severely affected by the Belo Monte Dam.

Raimunda used to live with her husband, João, in one of the fluvial islands of the Xingu that were flooded by the dam's reservoir. They both lived off fishing and farming. Today, she lives in the suburbs of Altamira, a city of 100,000 people — the largest population center near the dam.

The Volta Grande is a 100-kilometer section of the Xingu river that runs through two indigenous reserves, the Arara da Volta Grande and Paquiçamba. Since the dam’s gates were closed, about 80% of the volume of the Volta Grande’s water has been diverted from its natural bed through an artificial canal to a reservoir

belomonte

Deforested and burned islands were partially submersed by the artificial lake. Photo: Isabel Harari / ISA

“The biggest problem is the lack of water. Downstream there's too little and upstream it overflows. It overflows with bad water and the downstream shortages are killing things off. There's too much water upstream, but it's all compromised, with problems, residues, dead fish, dead trees that have been submerged. And downstream we need more water —there's a little left, but not enough,” says Raimunda.

Today, she makes plans for her new house, which she calls “the promised land”: a piece of land, located 350 meters from the river, purchased with reparations she received from Norte Energia (North Energy), the private contractor responsible for building and running the plant. “I will be there in front of it, looking… I won't see it smiling and running free. I will see it in pain, but I want it to see that I haven't forgotten it.”

No river and no fish

Between February and April this year, Ibama, Brazil's environmental regulation agency, fined Norte Energia in R$ 35.3 milhões (10.5 million USD) for the death of 16.2 tons of fish during the filling up of the reservoir, which took three months.

peixe

Acari, a common fish in the region, blind and diseased. Photo: Torkjell Leira/ISA

But dead fish weren't the only problem that confronted people living along the Xingu. The construction sites’ artificial lighting and use of explosives also ruined vital fishing grounds used by the indigenous peoples of Volta Grande.

With the permanent damming of the Xingu and the reduction of its flow, damage to local communities’ fishing got only worse. “It used to take an hour to get to the fishing grounds. Now it takes twice as long. Some places are inaccessible because the water level is too low and we can't pass [in our boats],” says Natanael Juruna, a member of the indigenous community.

Fishing is the main subsistence activity of the Juruna, according to the the Atlas of the Impacts of the Belo Monte Dam on Fishing, produced by the Instituto Socioambiental. According to data collected by independent monitors at the Instituto Socioambiental and the Federal University of Pará, the annual production of fish of the Juruna is of 4,469 kilograms — 98 percent of which is consumed and 2 percent of which is sold commercially. Fish represent 55 percent of local communities’ meals.

belomonte2

Sailing has become difficult in parts of the river because of the reduced water flow. Photo: Isabel Harari/ISA

Fishing is intimately connected to the river's “flow cycles.” For example, the pacu and the matrinxã, two types of fish that inhabit the Amazon basin, feed themselves from fruits that wash in from flooded areas — environments that will cease to exist with the alteration of the river's flow.

“Without fish we won't survive,” says Gillard Juruna, chief of the Miratu village, located in the Paquiçamba Indigenous Reserve. “Our people have always lived off the fish in this region. I am sad when I hear that the fish will end. We live off the fish, the river, and that's why we are the Yudja [another name for Juruna], which means ‘the lords of the river,’ and we have always survived in the river, which is everything to us. While the Xingu exists, we will keep fighting. We are going until the end. When it dies, we die together with it.”

Pests

Riverlands people and indigenous groups report that mosquito populations have increased considerably since the installation of the dam, making fishing, foraging, and farming more difficult.

To Bel Juruna, another indigenous leader at the Miratu village, communities have responded by using insect repellent at alarming rates: “Now we have to live walking with those poison bombs, having to breath poison, but it's the only way we can live a little free of the insects — even inside our own homes. It could intoxicate the children and the people. And the problems with these poisons aren't immediately apparent.”

A lack of dialogue

A whole year before the company built the dam, Belo Monte's installation license required Norte Energia to discuss proposals to monitor and mitigate the project's environmental impact with both indigenous and traditional riverlands peoples — adversely affected. So far, according to locals, Norte Energia only presented this information to Ibama, the licensing body.

Norte Energia reportedly outsourced its water-quality monitoring responsibilities, and some local indigenous people say they've participated in efforts to collect water samples, but they've yet to gain access to the test results.

Canoada

canoada2

One of the five canoes that crossed the Volta Grande do Xingu during the canoada. Foto: Marcelo Salazar/ISA

The Canoada Bye Bye Xingu — a canoe excursion organized by the Indigenous Association Yudja Miratu da Volta Grande do Xingu (Aymix) and by the Instituto Socialambiental — aims to draw attention to the problems that the peoples and communities of the Xingu have been facing since the beginning of the Belo Monte dam's construction.

The third Canoada excursion, which took place between September 3 and 9, was the first after the Belo Monte's gates were closed. The changes in the scenery are visible. With the river's drought, the 112-kilometer journey was even more difficult and the breathtaking landscape of the Amazon now featured flooded and deforested islands and sick fish.

“It's a whole experience to feel with the indigenous and the riverlands peoples: the consequences of the installation of the plant, the beauties and the pains of the region. Whoever takes part in the canoada and listens to the affected populations, feels the bites of carapanãs (mosquitoes), sees the dying fishes and trees, returns convinced that the model of development for the country cannot be the construction of dams such as Belo Monte,” says Instituto Socialambiental's Marcelo Salazar.

The canoada also helps indigenous groups think of socio-economic alternatives to communities that depend on the commercialization of fish. Indigenous and riverlands groups could generate income with this kind of activity, working as guides, renting out canoes, or selling their arts and food products.

“A morbid laboratory”

Over the next few years, Norte Energia will conduct a series of tests to determine what water levels are necessary to generate the necessary electricity levels, and how much will flow to the Volta Grande. But until 2019, when the dam begins operating at full power, the company will “open and close” the dam, following the regulations of the National Water Agency (ANA) and Ibama.

belomonte3

Participants of the canoada followed closely the changes in the river and the population that lives on its banks. Photo: Roberta Simonetti/ISA

“What's being tested is the minimum water flow to maintain life in this region, and what kind of life this minimum flow can sustain. It's a great human and natural experiment, to test the life of nature and the lives of people who live in that place — to see if it will work. It's a morbid laboratory, what's being done to the people of this region,” says Marcelo Salazar.

This story by Isabel Harari, originally published on Instituto Socioambiental, is abridged and republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

by Taisa Sganzerla at November 27, 2016 04:29 PM

How to Use the Internet to Protect and Pass on Traditions to Malian Youth
Photo by the author Boukary Konaté with permission

Photo of Dogon Masks in Sangha, Mali  by the author Boukary Konaté with permission

The culture of Malian villages holds the key to the wealth in the West African country's national identity: village traditions, tales, griots, proverbs and historical figures. Today, a strategic alliance with new technologies (photos, recordings, films) contributes to the preservation of this wealth as this culture is disappearing quickly amid urbanization and persistent political crises.

This is where the ‘Quand le village se réveille’ (When the Village Wakes Up) project comes in. The Quand le village se réveille project is a grantee of Rising Voices, a project of Global Voices.

A video report by Les Observateurs at France 24 summarizes the birth of project and its goals:

The website is a treasure trove of anecdotes and traditional stories to help better soak up this ancient culture, but the project also explains how information technology is essential in the effort to preserve Mali’s history. One central activity of the project is bringing writings from the project into classrooms to allow young people to learn about social organization during the time of older and bygone generations.

To make the project accessible to all and especially to mobile phone users, the project developed an Android app.

Boukary Konaté, project creator. Photo by the author

Boukary Konaté, project creator. Photo by the author

Tech Africa's Samir Abdelkrim told Global Voices more about how the project came into being:

Le premier déclic a été le fait qu’à mon arrivée dans les localités dogons, des localités que j’aime beaucoup à cause de son patrimoine, j’ai fait le constat que les jeunes, au lieu de construire leurs maisons sur des collines comme l’ont fait les vieilles personnes, ont commencé à construire sur des terrains plats. Je me suis dit q’un jour, disparaîtront probablement, ces belles architectures culturales avec toutes leurs composantes du passé de cette ethnie qui a su bien conserver le passé des ancêtres jusqu’à nos jours.

L’idée m’est venue en tête suite aux constats des dangers de la disparition des pratiques traditionnelles et culturelles, surtout dans nos villages. Il m’est venu en tête alors de chercher un moyen de sauvegarder et de promouvoir le riche patrimoine culturel de mon pays sinon de l’Afrique, afin de mettre virtuellement en place, une base de données culturelles en faveur des futures générations qui n’auraient pas la chance de les apprendre auprès des vieilles personnes comme l’ont fait nos parents.

Il s’agit d’aller de villages en villages à travers le pays pour faire la photo des objets traditionnels et culturels en disparition, décrire leurs rôles dans la société; interviewer les vieilles personnes sur les pratiques culturelles anciennes et leurs avantages pour le monde d’aujourd’hui, surtout en faveur de la paix et de la cohésion sociale; produire des articles de blog et de vidéos sur des cérémonies traditionnelles et culturelles

The catalyst was the fact that when I arrived in Dogon villages, spaces that I deeply love because of their heritage, I noted that young people, instead of building their houses on hills as the elders did, began to build on the flat land. I said that the day will come when this would disappear: this beautiful cultural architecture with components of the past of this ethnic group that had been able to preserve the ancestors’ past ways to this very day. So, the idea came to mind upon noting the danger of loss of traditional and cultural practices, especially in our villages. It came to mind when looking for a way to safeguard and promote the rich cultural heritage of my country, if not of Africa, by developing virtually a cultural database for future generations who won't have the opportunity to learn from old people as our parents did. The plan is to travel from village to village across the country to photograph disappearing traditional and cultural objects, describe their function in society; interview elders on traditional cultural practices and their benefits to the world today, especially in support of peace and social cohesion; create blog posts and videos on traditional and cultural ceremonies.

There are plenty of examples of noteworthy website content, as this video where we discover how fisherman in the Dogon region of Mali crossed rivers accompanied by donkeys and horses:

Or this traditional ceremonial dance accompanied by a flute:

As WHO EXPLAINS? the flute has a special prominence in Malian culture:

La flûte constitue un instrument traditionnel très populaire en milieu peul. Elle est accompagnée par d'autres instruments musicaux comme les calebasses pour assurer les manifestations culturelles: mariages, baptêmes, cérémonies annuelles…

The flute is a very popular instrument among traditional Fulani people [Fulani people is one of the main ethnic group in Mali with 2.8 million people which makes 17% of the total Malian population]. Along with other musical instruments such as gourds it is a cornerstone of cultural events: weddings, baptisms, annual ceremonies…

The project is a long-term commitment, and one not without obstacles, but the efforts are starting to bare fruits:

Le premier obstacle concerne le déplacement sur le terrain: rais de déplacement, d’hébergement et de restauration des agents sur le terrain à la quête du patrimoine culturel.

Un autre obstacle pouvait se situer au niveau du contact avec les vieilles personnes dans les villages. Vous savez, en matière de transmission de savoirs traditionnels et culturels, les vieilles personnes s’ouvrent difficilement aux jeunes et ils sont surtout beaucoup plus méfiants quand ils ne connaissent pas avec qui ils ont à faire. Nous connaissons ces notions et savons les mettre en pratique auprès des sages pour les rassurer et les mettre en confiance. Cette notion du respect des règles d’obtention du savoir avec les sages a beaucoup facilité le contact avec les détenteurs des traditions africaines.

The first obstacle is field work: travel costs, accommodation and meals for officers doing field work in search of cultural heritage. Another potential obstacle is reaching village elders. You know, when it comes to transmitting traditional and cultural knowledge, elders are slow to opening up to young people and they are that much more suspicious when they do not know who they're dealing with. We know these issues and know how to work around them to reassure elders and build trust. These notions around the rules for obtaining knowledge with elders greatly facilitated contact with the keepers of the African traditions.

by Nadine Mondestin at November 27, 2016 03:56 PM

Many Africans (But Not All) Recall Fidel Castro as a True Friend of the Continent
Fidel Castro with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. Photo shared by Yoweri Museveni on Twitter.

Fidel Castro with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. Photo shared by Yoweri Museveni on Twitter.

Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who died on Friday November 25 at the age of 90, is arguably one of the most beloved world leaders in Africa.

This is mainly due to Cuba's contribution during anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles in African countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. In addition, Cuba trained many African doctors and sent its own doctors into African countries. The most recent example of Cuban doctors helping out in Africa was during the Ebola crisis when the country sent about 300 doctors.

Immediately after the official announcement of his death, African leaders and ordinary citizens took to Twitter to pay tribute to the communist icon.

Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari wrote:

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta noted:

Tanzanian professor of law Issa Shivji tweeted, referring to Castro's own pledge that “history will absolve me“:

Prince Maphosa took note of the fact that he died on a Black Friday, which marks the beginning of Christmas shopping season.

Luka was surprised that he was still alive:

Siame shared a popular lament:

In a tweet that seems to be making reference to the surprise election of Donald Trump as the next US president, Ory Okolloh Mwangi, the co-founder of Ushahidi, remarked:

Mohamed Harith in Kenya explained what Castro taught him:

Betty Waitherero, a Kenyan researcher, offered the following advice to Africans:

Dr. Majak D'Agoot, South Sudan's former deputy defense minister, tweeted:

Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, wrote:

A South Africa tweep observed:

Ghanaian rapper Ko-Jo Cue sent the following message to Castro:

Acknowledging Castro's faults, Nii Sarpei Hornsby, a Ghanaian lecturer, said:

Miss Hamalwa wrote:

However, not all Africans who took to Twitter showered Castro with praises. For example, Yasmin Yonis wrote:

Yonis is from Somalia, a country where Cuba sent troops to help to fight alongside the Ethiopian army during the Ethio-Somali War over the disputed Ethiopian region of Ogaden from July 1977 to March 1978.

Oluwasenyi Karimu drew a comparison between Castro and the 92-year old Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe:

While Peter Kamalingin called the death of Castro the “end of an error”:

by Ndesanjo Macha at November 27, 2016 03:25 PM

Exit Castro: The Caribbean Says Goodbye to the Force Behind the Cuban Revolution
A mural of Fidel Castro at Jose Marti Technical High School in Twickenham Park, St. Catherine, Jamaica. The school was built by the Cubans in 1977. Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

A mural of Fidel Castro at Jose Marti Technical High School in Twickenham Park, St. Catherine, Jamaica. The school was built by the Cubans in 1977. Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

Fidel Castro, the revolutionary who presided over Cuba's political, economic and social path for close to 60 years, died aged 90 on November 25, 2016.

Castro was a behemoth in the regional political landscape, commanding respect from and enjoying good relations with Caribbean leaders over decades, perhaps most notably Grenada's Maurice Bishop, whose left-wing government had been close to Cuba.

Trinidadian activist Tillah Willah paid her respects by posting a photograph of the two leaders:

Image of Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro shared by Facebook user Tillah Willah.

Image of Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro shared by Facebook user Tillah Willah.

For many social media users across the Caribbean archipelago, Castro was the ultimate maximum leader; a compelling and romantic figure, greatly admired for his stance against the intimidation tactics of the United States (which caused the region to feature quite prominently in the Cold War), his charisma and his electrifying oratory.

In the eyes of much of the region, Castro was also synonymous with standing up against colonialism; Cuba supported the Angolan War of Independence, helped the African National Congress’ struggle against apartheid in South Africa and sent ground troops to battle in the 1983 US-led invasion of Grenada.

The importance of this theme to the territories of the region was not lost on one Jamaican graduate of The University of the West Indies, who tweeted:

Other reactions to his death soon began to flood social media. Columnist and blogger Gordon Robinson noted:

On Facebook, social activist and University of the West Indies lecturer, Gab Souldeya Hosein, summed up the emotions many were feeling:

I can't lie. History weighing heavy on my heart this morning. I mourning the end of an defining era of fierce collective Caribbean hope. I know the work is in our hands. But right now we've lost the strength in our stride and it feels as if every gain in the region is under threat. There must be commitment, courage and struggle, but first there is loss. My generation of activists stays away from the state instead of seizing it for our national sovereignty. We stay the course, but must risk more to go further and build movements that press our mandate forward. We must create the Bishops and the Fidels of our future. We must make ourselves new symbols of autonomy and self determination. But first, before we rise as giants, this is a time for remembering and tears.

Trinidadian actor Michael Cherrie remembered Castro as the “last of the great revolutionaries…defiant survivor in spite of it all”.

On that note, Jamaican youth representative Godiva Golding admitted:

While some Facebook users wished they could be in Cuba to witness this defining moment, others wondered if his death would change much:

Watching Florida news…
A 24 year old American of Cuban descent says he's been waiting his whole life for Castro's death😑
The man was 90 and out of leadership for years.
What impact will his death have on the current global political dynamic?
Time will continue to expose his leadership qualities/demerits.

Jamaican Tanya Stephens shared her perspective:

He was good or bad depending on who you speak to. I fell in love with the romantic portrayal of the Cuban revolution in high school History class. I couldn't express that at home. I later took more details into consideration and lost some of my love for the man while exercising empathy for the many refugees who fled the country to seek more favorable socioeconomic conditions elsewhere. Then I went to Cuba and my love was renewed. There's no human on this planet who gets a perfect score from every other human. What I saw was an education system which works. Healthcare which works. National security which works. We stayed in a rooming house in a ‘ghetto’ in Havana although we could have easily afforded a room in the best hotel, but we wanted to be among the people. I went walking in this ‘ghetto’ after midnight, and the only interactions from locals we attracted were offers to (literally) break bread with us and invitations to come into homes and hang out with them. I dream of a Jamaica close to this. I could also see that it was a synthetic kind of safety born of fear, but I would pick someone being afraid of the repercussions from committing a crime over everyone being afraid of criminals ANY day.
To all the people whose lives he touched negatively, I hope they and their descendants can somehow find the peace he is now incapable of giving them. […]

To all the other Caribbean Government heads, please take a page from his book. One of the good pages. Craft our education and health systems like you ACTUALLY have our interest somewhere in your corrupt hearts. […]
To Fidel, hope you finally find real peace!

Remembering Fidel Castro and speaking about his legacy is no doubt a complicated affair. To much of the English-speaking Caribbean, he was a flawed hero — as one social media user put it, the perfect example of how revolutionaries can morph into the very thing they hate. Castro rose to power in Cuba by challenging the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista; after nearly 60 years of leadership — totalitarianism, some would say — the Cuban diaspora had no trouble calling Castro a dictator himself.

Writing from the United States, Johennys Leiva posted:

Please don't pretend to understand what happened on that island. […]

Castro didn't storm in on one side of the island and with a swooping coup d'etat seat himself at a coronation.
It was gradual.
He appealed to the young, poor and uneducated first. With talk of ‘sharing the wealth’ of how ‘the rich didn't need so much’ of how he would make sure everyone was truly equal’. Countryfolk that didn't read or write fell head first for the hype.
He grew his crowds momentum.
Those that opposed were executed, curbside.
When he finally took over, weapons were all removed. His indoctrination or brainwashing literally divided families. He had quiet watchers to see if anyone had too many ‘guests’ and if they called the authorities, on suspicion alone you we're [sic] thrown in jail. […]

We didn't have another uprising because it wasn't just go in and fight. You didn't know exactly who your enemy was. […] He was heavily guarded, heavily protected and although we hate him for the vile things he did – we respected the tenacity. We knew he didn't care who he killed to stay there. We understood there was no benevolence or weakness to attack.

Independent Caribbean journalist Wesley Gibbings, however, was more measured:

Nobody is my ‘comandante’, whatever my philosophical position on social justice and rights. The caudillismo culture will always remain subject to rejection.
Honouring social and cultural rights does not mean diminishing civil and political rights. It is not a matter of either/or. These things are not binary equations.
Also, not loving someone does not necessarily mean you have to hate them.

In keeping with the culture in the Caribbean, there were some social media users who injected a dash of wit into their commentary. Facebook user Laura Dowrich-Phillips, who was crushed over the deaths of so many international — and regionalicons this year, quipped: “One more month to go 2016, calm yuhself.”

The banter continued, with Justin Phelps adding, “Fidel declares victory and dies of ‘natural causes’.” Other netizens were widely sharing memes and cartoons that summed up Castro's astuteness and longevity:

A cartoon by Mike Peters, widely shared on Facebook.

A cartoon by Mike Peters for the Dayton Daily News, widely shared on Facebook.

Castro meme that uses a photo by Corbis; widely shared on Facebook.

Castro meme that uses a photo by Corbis; widely shared on Facebook.

But mostly, it was a time for reflection. Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul described Castro's passing as if “a mountain has died and words are inadequate to describe the loss, the Fidel-shaped hole in the universe we must live with now”; while Jamaican entrepreneur and publisher Latoya West-Blackwood tweeted:

by Janine Mendes-Franco at November 27, 2016 01:57 PM

November 26, 2016

Global Voices
‘History Will Absolve Me': Fidel Castro Dies at 90
Fidel Castro meets cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Havana in 1961. Creative Commons.

Fidel Castro meets cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Havana in 1961. Creative Commons.

The founder of the Cuban Revolution and president of Cuba for almost 50 years, Fidel Castro, died on the night of Friday, November 25, in Havana. He was 90 years old.

After Castro and the guerrilla movement he began forming in 1952 made several  attempts at destabilizing the increasingly repressive Cuban government, “El Comandante” (The Commander), as he was called by many, stormed the presidential palace on New Year's Day in 1959, defeating longtime US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

He ruled Cuba under a one-party system until he stepped away from power in 2008 allowing brother Raul Castro to succeed him as President of the Republic.

In Latin America and beyond, Fidel has held an almost mythical status for leftist revolutionary movements for over half a century. Since his 1959 inaugural speech in which a white dove perched upon his shoulder, parallels between Fidel and religious leaders have inspired believers and historians alike. He has become a figure of legend, arguably as much for those who revere him as for those who reject his legitimacy as a leader.

Billboard in Cuba. Photo by Jim Snapper. (CC BY 2.0)

Billboard in Cuba: “TO FIGHT AGAINST THE IMPOSSIBLE AND WIN.” Photo by Jim Snapper. (CC BY 2.0)

Under Fidel's rule, Cuba became the first country in post-colonial Latin America to refuse economic aid from the United States and unequivocally defy its political agenda in the region. In the 1960s and '70s, Cuba became a leader in universal education and healthcare systems, women's rights, and in providing medical relief in the aftermaths of natural disasters in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Under Fidel's command, Cuba also provided significant military support for anti-colonial and socialist uprisings in countries including Angola, Nicaragua and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Simultaneous to the radical innovations of the Cuban revolution, the Castro government's endemic state censorship, jailing and persecution of dissidents, anti-LGBT policies and hypercentralized economic model were equally prominent features of his rule.

Castro was also known for his fiery, passionate and very long speeches. In one of his most famous addresses, he challenged his critics: “Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me.”

Cuba suffered the consequences of a punitive and controversial US-imposed economic embargo from the 1960s, a policy that became a prominent weapon in the political and ideological arsenals of both the US and Cuban governments. For decades, Cuban government and intelligence agencies have routinely thwarted US government efforts to infiltrate or overthrow the Castro government.

After the fall of Soviet Union in 1989 the island entered what was called “The Special Period in Times of Peace,” in which the sudden lack of support from the USSR brought severe economic hardship to the country. Economic reforms of the 1990s generated more opportunity for industries such as tourism to take hold. For some Cubans this represented a breach of the socialist contract of the Revolution; for others, it was a necessary step to preventing the country from going into a complete economic meltdown.

US President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro normalized diplomatic relations in 2014, but the embargo can only be officially ended by the US Congress where the Republican party controls a majority of seats.

The Cuban government has announced nine days of national mourning and a series of tributes.

Revered and despised in perhaps equal measure, what few would contest is Fidel Castro's status as a towering figure in modern world history.

by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle at November 26, 2016 05:51 PM

Joi Ito
Conversations with Christopher Filardi


I met Christopher Filardi in Marrakech at a conference running along side of COP22. He's an evolutionary biologist and a conservation activist. I was fascinated with his description of the role of indigenous people in conservation. I recorded a short conversation that I had with him over Skype when I was in a lounge in Dubai Airport and he was at his home in Montana. Apologies for the poor quality of the video and audio.

The audio is available on iTunes.

by Joi at November 26, 2016 12:26 PM

Jamila and Alia from The Albert Einstein Institution

Tenzin and sat down with Jamila and Alia from the Albert Einstein Institute to have a conversation about nonviolent action.

You can find the audio on SoundCloud as well as on iTunes.

by Joi at November 26, 2016 12:08 PM

Global Voices
Refugee-Run Grocery Stores Help Bring Healthy Fare to a Food Desert in the US State of Pennyslvania
Pradip Upreti, center, stocks shelves in his Erie, Pennsylvania store, UK Supermarket. Credit: Erika Beras

Pradip Upreti, center, stocks shelves in his Erie, Pennsylvania store, UK Supermarket. Credit: Erika Beras

This story by Erika Beras originally appeared on PRI.org on November 24, 2016. It is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Much of Erie, Pennsylvania is a food desert — people don’t have easy access to fresh or nutritious food. But in one stretch of Erie, on and around Parade Street on the city’s east side, stores run by refugees are popping up and making a big difference.

At UK Supermarket, Samantha Dhungel pulls bags of vegetables out of the freezer. In her cart are onions and eggplant, but she pulls out a vegetable she only knows by its Nepali name. It's a leafy green that her Nepalese husband uses in his cooking.

“This helps a lot because you can’t find stuff like this in Walmart or K-Mart or wherever people shop,” she says.

Listen to this story on PRI.org »

And you can’t find stuff like it in much of the city. Before this store opened two years ago, there were a couple convenience stores and a few fast food spots around. All of them sold food that wasn’t nutritious, says Alex Iorio. She’s the public health educator for the Erie Department of Health. She says this place is different.

“This store has tons of whole-grain rice, whole-grain meals, flours, things like that,” she says, “lots of dry beans and peas, which are high in protein. So all those are considered healthy, and our store owners like carrying items like that because they have a longer shelf life.”

The stretch of parade stretch where UK Supermarket is isn't a food desert anymore. It's one of about 20 grocery stores that have popped up in Erie in the last decade, run by former refugees.

Most of the stores carry fresh foods and whole-grain items. Before, if people in the neighborhood wanted fresh vegetables, cornmeal or nuts, they’d have to drive across town or to the suburbs.

Then two years ago, Pradip Upreti, a Nepalese refugee, opened UK Supermarket.

“I looked in the community and found that there really is a need for Asian-based stores in Erie, which we really don’t have too many,” he says.

He wasn’t trying to solve the food desert problem — none of the store owners were. They just wanted refugees in Erie, who make up 10 percent of the city, to have access to specific foods.

People would drive distances and buy up items like jackfruit and halal pizza. Then they’d resell those items to people in their community. Upreti saw a business opening there.

“I wanted to do more, like a lot of people having to travel to Pittsburgh or Cleveland just to get groceries didn’t sound too good to me,” he said.

Upreti’s store carries mostly South Asian foods. Across the street is an Iraqi owned store that carries lots of spices. Around the corner, another Iraqi store specializes in fish and meats like lamb and goat. And there are well over a dozen more stores like them.

Upreti says he gets customers from everywhere, and the majority of customers are longtime residents of the area.

“Indian and Nepalese are the biggest two ethnic groups, along with African, Arabic Americans and some Vietnamese and some Burmese,” he says.

Iorio from the health department knows this spot because she runs Erie’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which helps Pennsylvania cities that have food deserts.

She visits the stores to ensure they have healthy foods on their narrow, packed shelves. If they do, they get rewarded — $100 a year, new shopping carts or vegetable display cases. She doesn’t know where people got their groceries before these stores started popping up.

“There were always some corner stores,” she said. “But we think people are going to buy what they have access to and what they’re used to.”

Having these stores here isn’t a full-on solution. As stocked as they may be with whole-grain rice and vegetables, people still pick up other things. Like Swapna Sibarim, whose shopping cart is full.

And as she pays for her vegetables, rice and yogurt, there are a few other things — like ingredients for some sweet desserts.

by Public Radio International at November 26, 2016 11:00 AM

November 25, 2016

Global Voices
One Way to Interpret Nicaragua's Presidential Election: A ‘Democracy Without Consensus’
Daniel Ortega, presidente electo de Nicaragua por tercera vez consecutiva. Fotografía tomada de Wikimedia Commons.

Daniel Ortega, president-elect of Nicaragua for a third consecutive term. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

President Daniel Ortega‘s victory in the 2016 Nicaraguan elections at the beginning of November came as no great surprise to both onlookers and Nicaraguans. The elections, which have provoked little reaction from citizens, have allowed Ortega a third consecutive term in office in this Central American country.

Daniel Ortega's long career in Nicaraguan politics is primarily rooted in his leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a leftist political party which has played an important role over the past few decades in Nicaragua. The foundations for the FSLN were laid during the Nicaraguan Revolution and the fall of Atanasio Somoza‘s dictatorial government. This was followed by a long battle to retain power against the Nicaraguan Contras — or the counter-revolution — which were propped up by the United States government.

Ortega's government and its years in power have continually elicited criticism, most notably in reference to the country's democratic process. One of the most controversial aspects of this last election was the nomination of Ortega's wife — now the vice president-elect — as running mate.

On the Latin American news blog Con Distintos Acentos (With Different Accents), researcher Renée Salmerón explores how best to understand the election results, as well as the complexities of the Nicaraguan government and the country's prospects for the coming years. The article interprets the statistics and points to specific data, but more importantly examines the way in which Nicaraguan democracy, for all intents and purposes, does not appear to unite its citizens around a common purpose:

[En] el país continúa vigente lo que refería [el profesor e investigador Andrés] Pérez Baltodano, para quien en el país lo que se vive es una «democracia electoral sin consenso social». El martes pasado, La Prensa recordaba que hace diez años se celebró el último debate entre candidatos a la presidencia. A aquel debate no acudió el recién reelecto presidente, quien además desde el año 2008 no comparece ante la asamblea nacional.

Andrés Pérez Baltodano, a professor and investigator, refers to a prevailing notion in this country whereby there exists an “electoral democracy without social consensus”. Last Tuesday, La Prensa recalled that it has been ten years since the last debate between presidential candidates. The recently re-elected president did not attend this debate and, furthermore, has not appeared before the National Assembly since 2008.

Salmerón also highlights how the political discourse, which draws references from Nicaragua's recent past, is not managing to connect with the population, and is not resulting in greater participation:

La oposición y el gobierno yerran. En el entorno político se ha manifestado cierta tendencia en el discurso de la oposición y algunos analistas sobre la valoración al gobierno. Dicha tendencia tiene que ver con los siguientes factores: El primero, es el que relaciona el contexto político electoral de los 90's con el actual. El segundo, compara al presidente Ortega con el dictador Anastasio Somoza […] El tercero, afirma que existen civiles armados en el norte del país (rebeldes). Y finalmente, un cuarto, es el que asocia la Nica Act (Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act) con la política de Estados Unidos en el contexto de la guerra fría. Todo es una reminiscencia del pasado.

Ese discurso no abona el diálogo, y no ha surtido efectos movilizadores en el comportamiento de los ciudadanos.

The opposition and the government are mistaken. In this political climate, we have seen certain trends within the narrative of the opposition and a few analysts in their assessment of the government. These trends relate to the following factors: firstly, they link the political electoral context of the 1990s with the current one. Secondly, they compare President Ortega to dictator Anastasio Somoza […]. Thirdly, they affirm that there are armed civilians in the north of the country (rebels). Fourthly, and finally, they associate the Nica Act (Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act) with American politics within the context of the Cold War. These all allude to the past.

This discourse does not lead to dialogue, and it has not had a mobilising effect on citizens’ behaviour.

She continues:

Por su parte, el gobierno no ha sabido gobernar para todos, simpatizantes y no simpatizantes. Los ciudadanos incluidos en sus programas sociales, y que integran los gabinetes de poder ciudadano son simpatizantes del FSLN […] en su mayoría. Ello ignora el clivaje histórico sandinismo-antisandinismo […] que existe en el seno de la sociedad y que en la elección se ha manifestado a través de progobierno vs abstención.

As far as the government is concerned, it has not known how to govern across the board, for both supporters and non-supporters. Citizens who benefit from social programmes and who join the Citizen Power Cabinets [local forms of government made generally by volunteer citizens] are mostly supporters of the FSLN. It has overlooked the historical sandinismo-anti-sandinismo schism which prevails at the heart of society, and which became apparent during the elections via the pro-government supporters vs. the abstainers.

Elections that do not build democracies

One of the areas of analysis pertains to a critical review of the elections. For Salmerón and her associates, there is more involved with building a democracy than merely holding elections. There are many variables, and representation remains limited; furthermore, if deliberation and discussion panels are not involved with the debates, there is the real risk that elections are merely a symbolic event with little real significance:

Empero, no solo los candidatos son responsables por no debatir. Ni los medios, ni las universidades reunieron a los candidatos para discutir sobre sus programas de gobierno. No basta con las elecciones. Como sugirió McConnell (2009: 310) se debe reflexionar hasta qué punto la simple celebración «exitosa y regular» de elecciones es suficiente para consolidar una democracia liberal representativa. Todo parece indicar que no es suficiente. Por qué si desde hace meses se habla de una alta aprobación, y ahora el gobierno gana con una mayoría absoluta, continúa la crítica a un maquillaje de las encuestas o una farsa electoral.

Nonetheless, the responsibility for not participating in the debates does not lie solely with the candidates. Neither the media nor universities have brought the candidates together to discuss government policies. And this is not good enough for elections. As McConnell (2009:310) suggests, we must consider to what extent holding “successful and regular” elections will be useful in forming a representative liberal democracy. Everything appears to point to the fact that this is not enough. If we have been talking about high approval ratings for months, and now the government has won with an absolute majority, why is it that we are still hearing criticism about skewed polling or farcical elections.

A government in times of peace, a shakeup of friends and enemies

Foreign intervention and armed conflict have not disappeared from the news. However, times have changed and today's greatest challenges relate more to internal disputes than external influences. For Salmarón, the challenge continues to be how to unite Nicaragua around a common purpose and how to overcome the limitations brought about by the lack of support from certain strategic allies:

El voto duro del FSLN ya ha tenido lo que ha querido: Este partido gobierna en tiempo de paz. No puede alegar más las ideas del “imperialismo” o “el capitalismo salvaje”. No puede evocarse más a los enemigos. Pero además, esta vez no puede citar a los amigos. Hay que decirlo. Dejémonos de tonterías, se acabaron los beneficios producto de la relación con el expresidente Hugo Chávez. El país no es productivo como potencialmente debiera.

La polarización no ha desaparecido. Hay un sector que tiene su espacio en la sociedad. Ello es innegable. Es un reto para el gobierno reivindicarse, corregir los vicios, decir sí a la transparencia, a la inclusión y al verdadero cambio económico social.

The FSLN's partisan voters have achieved what they wanted: a party that governs in times of peace. It can no longer declare ideas of “imperialism” or “fierce capitalism”. It can no longer talk about its enemies. However what's more, it can no longer list its friends. It needs to be said. Let's stop messing around, the benefits derived from the relationship with ex-President Hugo Chávez have stopped. The country is not as productive as it has the potential to be.

Political polarisation has not disappeared. There is a sector which has its place in society. This is undeniable. The government faces many challenges, such as defending itself, tackling corruption and enabling transparency, inclusion and real socio-economic change.

by Jenny Benyon at November 25, 2016 06:18 PM

From Tehran to Manhattan, One Fashion Shoot at a Time

Iranian photographer Kourosh Sotoodeh with fashion models Allegra Dewi Carpenter and Eszter Boldov during a shoot on a New York City rooftop. Photo shared by Koroush Sotoodeh and used with permission.

Had fashion photographer Kourosh Sotoodeh pursued his dream profession in his home country of Iran, he probably would have been arrested one day during a crackdown on the growing fashion industry by the country’s security apparatus—a crackdown which, over the past year, has prompted the authorities to label people like Kourosh “itinerant photographers who lure girls.” Since last January fashion photographers have been arrested in droves, along with fashion models and those involved in modelling agencies.

Since leaving the Islamic Republic to work for a Dubai-based agency in 2009—the year the Iranian government came down hard on protesters disputing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election as president—he hasn’t looked back. Kourosh has since relocated to New York City, where freedom of expression is as much a reality as rampant competition. “The subjects in my photography are people, therefore it is natural for me to want to go somewhere where people have more freedom with their clothes, conduct, and social acts,” Kourosh tells me during a shoot at a Manhattan-based studio. In Iran, Kourosh would have risked imprisonment or worse if he were to publish the photographs he took—of a partially-clothed female model—the day I interviewed him.

Trying to make it in the world’s most competitive fashion locale isn’t easy for anyone. Still, the 38-year-old has landed gigs with inCOVER magazine and Harper's Bazaar, and seems completely at home. “As one of my favorite New Yorkers, [comedian] Louis C. K., said, I constantly throw away my best works and start all over again to create better works,” he tells me as he changes a lens. “I believe in that.”

As I caught up with Kourosh during one of his shoots, we delved into the problems and opportunities in Iran's fashion industry, and how his career has taken off in the world's fashion capital of New York City.

Omid Memarian (OM): When did you start your photography career? When did you leave Iran and why?

Kourosh Sotoudeh (KS): I was interested in illustration from a very young age, but I started professional photography in March 1999. I was studying industrial design and naturally I spent most of my time at the Arts University where I learned more about photography and could see, enjoy and practice it. By “professional photography,” I mean the time I started earning a living through photography. It’s quite clear that back then I had a totally different concept and understanding of photography, compared to what I know now. Both my customers and I understood so little about it, so we thought we were doing fashion photography, but maybe it would be more accurate to say that I was engaged in some type of unusual portrait photography of subjects who liked to see themselves through my lens. Gradually, I gathered more experience and knowledge about the profession. After a modeling agency offered me a job in the field of fashion photography in 2009, I swiftly accepted the job and moved to Dubai.

Koroush

Kouroush photographing model Eszter Boldov. Photo shared by Kouroush Sootodeh used with permission.

OM: What problems did you face as a fashion photographer in Iran?

KS: There are many competent and creative fashion designers and photographers in Iran, some of whom will go far in gaining widespread recognition. There is also a large group of Iranian youth who are interested in modeling and have the internationally accepted physical features needed for this profession. But for many reasons, including the Iranian laws and the Iranian market’s lack of contact with the international fashion scene, many of these talented people will have to be terribly lucky to find a chance to prosper in this field.

I can’t say whether fashion photography is allowed in Iran or not, because the law is silent on many different issues, and this leaves a lot of room for subjective interpretations. But I can say with certainty that there are no laws against taking photographs of people who are wearing beautiful clothes, therefore there shouldn’t be any problems. Or if there is a problem, I never saw any rules developed to tell me as a photographer what to do and what not to do in order to stay away from trouble. The silence of the law enables different organizations to act according to their own taste. Just like all the other artists in Iran who choose people as subjects, I had problems too, but my biggest problem was an occasional security threat to a profession based on arts and aesthetics—something I could never understand.

OM: What areas of fashion photography face the biggest problems in Iran? Have these problems led to some photographers giving up on their field?

KS: Generally, when men are subjects of fashion photography, there are fewer limitations, although we can’t say this is always the case. There are a lot of limitations for photographing women, some of which are based on laws, but laws do not set many of these limitations. I’m not talking about nude photography, which of course everyone knows is not allowed in Iran! But there is a lot of subjective interpretation and enforcement of limitations. These limitations are increased or decreased based on the views of the officials in charge of arts and culture. As a photographer, you never know which rules you have to follow in order to build a long-term plan of action for your professional development. It is natural to be fed up and to give up the profession altogether after a while.

OM: Do you know photographers or models in Iran who were forced to do other work because of the pressure the government exerted over them?

KS: Yes, I do. I know a lot of people who were very talented in their work, and after they were unable to pursue their field in Iran, they decided to emigrate, but the immigration wasn’t always a good decision for them. Sometimes they were unable to compete in the job market and ended up doing work other than photography. Their inability to compete was not necessarily a result of their lack of expertise, but due to the different language, their inability to relate to the new society’s social conditions, and the absence of any support. But the hardships of a life in diaspora should not cause disappointment and defeat.

Iranian models arrested in recent crackdowns.

Some of the Iranian models arrested in recent crackdowns. Photo from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, used with permission.

OM: Why do you think the Iranian authorities are monitoring Iranian models and photographers and trying to prevent their work?

KS: I don’t believe there is total agreement between the government decision-makers in this or in similar areas. When the entire path of a profession is limited by subjective decisions, the atmosphere for growth in that profession shrinks, and as a photographer working in such an environment, you would feel at best just tolerated. If fashion photography in Iran were to move towards nude and erotic photography, it would have seriously violated the law and a crackdown would be expected, but I believe that even nudity has not been properly defined and there are no clear boundaries.

Are there any written procedures on how much of a woman’s hair can be shown in a photograph? Is it written anywhere that if a woman has plump red lips, she should not be the subject of a close-up shot? If I don’t know these boundaries, my job becomes very difficult. I believe even the authorities differently define these boundaries and they each have their own ideas about them. Ultimately, their biggest concern is if these activities violate Islamic culture. But the truth is that even in defining the boundaries of Islamic culture, there is no unified voice or understanding.

OM: Do you think the continuous crackdowns on Iranian models and photographers will keep them from pursuing their work there? Will they be pushed underground?

KS: No. The industry will never stop. Clothes are one of the basic needs of human beings, no matter where people live. The fashion and clothing industry is very active in Iran and is naturally in need of promotion and marketing. Therefore, fashion photography, with all its limitations, will continue to exist, because the thinking behind this creativity is unstoppable. The thought process cannot be stopped and it will eventually find a way to be expressed. I think this situation is temporary and when something truly exists, it will have to be accepted. I hope laws are developed to define the boundaries, so everyone knows what is legal and what is illegal. The fact is that so much has been pushed underground, that there is now a huge underground world, bigger than the world above ground! This is why I think the ban needs to be re-thought. Can a world that is so extensive be marginalized?

OM: What do you think would happen if security agents realized a photographer is doing nude photography?

KS: Again, this is where the outcome could be different due to the subjective nature of handling the issue. Like many other things that are considered a crime in Iran, you never know exactly what would happen if you pass this red light! Would you be fined $200, would you be imprisoned, or would you be deprived of your civil rights? I have no doubt that this type of photography is considered a crime, and all I can say is that you would have to be very fortunate to end the issue with a cash fine. When there are different types of pressure on ordinary photographers, I don’t even want to think about what would happen to someone who does erotic photography in Iran!

OM: Is it possible to earn a living as a full-time professional fashion photographer in Iran?

KS: If by “professional” you mean someone who makes a living this way, the answer is yes. If you go to Instagram right now and search for a few simple keywords, you would be able to find a lot of Iranian photographers and models in this field. As I said before, this chain certainly exists and is economically viable. But if the question is whether they have world-class quality or not, the answer is dependent on a lot of other factors. It depends, for example, on how well the artist can promote himself or herself. When everyone is trying to toe the line, so as not to cross the government red lines, they would undoubtedly have less publicity and this could lead to lower work quality and revenue for them.

Iranian model Elnaz Golrokh (now based in Dubai) maintains a popular fashion and modelling Instagram page with over 800K followers.

Iranian model Elnaz Golrokh (now based in Dubai) maintains a popular fashion and modelling Instagram page with over 800,000 followers.

OM: With the emergence and widespread popularity of Instagram, many photographers and models have started showing their work on social media networks and some have a million followers. How instrumental do you think social media has been in the popularity of this type of photography?

KS: Social media, and especially Instagram have been absolutely instrumental! I think that’s because Instagram communicates with image-seeking audiences and this brings people closer. Because social media is far-reaching, everyone has access to it and when a photographer uses this tool, through peer influence other colleagues and competitors also move to use that tool, and this is why a large group of Iranian photographers moved to Instagram, for example. Organizations that oversee internet access in Iran then scramble to find mechanisms for controlling these artists. But I believe that social media has catapulted people forward, and even if the censorship organizations are successful in pulling people back, the art of photography has been able to take a few steps forward in gaining new audiences.

Kouroush photographs a model on a New York rooftop. Photo by author.

OM: Did you or other Iranian photographers ever try to sell your photos to publications outside Iran? Or were you only thinking about the domestic market?

KS: I think if you have professional ambitions, no matter what the profession, you always think about finding the best market and environment for your work. If you were a programmer in South Asia, you would for sure dream about working in Silicon Valley someday. If you were an Iranian soccer player, it is natural that your big dream would be to play in Spain’s La Liga. For me, the dream was to go wherever I could become a better and more experienced photographer. This is why I went to Dubai and now I am in the La Liga of photography in New York! As a photographer inside Iran, you may be able to send your photographs abroad, but the photos would have to be wildlife photography or social photography. The areas in which I was active hardly allowed me to be connected to the professional life outside Iran. This is why I had to move, so that I could strengthen my professional relationship with the international market. The subjects in my photography are people; therefore it is natural for me to want to go somewhere where people have more freedom with their clothes, conduct, and social acts.

Kouroush's editorial from inCOVER. Used with permission.

inCOVER cover photo by Kouroush. Used with permission.

OM: What kind of things can you do in New York that are not possible in Iran?

KS: I always considered myself a citizen of the world, not of a particular country. I believe that I have to live where the general public’s values are closer to mine. This does not necessarily mean that where I am is better or worse; it just suits me more. When a large part of my identity is comprised of being a photographer and my desire to illustrate, it’s not at all strange that I would feel more comfortable here professionally and personally. The most important thing for me is that this city’s tempo and dynamics totally match my energy level and every morning when I wake up, I’m in a race with my city, and I love this feeling a lot. Before I forget, of course, I should add that in New York no one investigates and measures the hair and figures of my models with a ruler and a magnifying glass!

OM: What would you like to accomplish in New York?

KS: I definitely have some big dreams. I would like to be known as a New York photographer whose work has its own character and signature, and to show my view behind the camera to those in the fashion industry here. I hope next time we meet, my pictures do all the talking!

by Omid Memarian at November 25, 2016 05:51 PM

Kyrgyzstan's President and the Little Personality Cult that Couldn't
Soviet leader Josef Stalin, created the benchmark for personality cults in the modern era. Soviet poster widely distributed.

Soviet leader Josef Stalin created the benchmark for Eurasian personality cults in the modern era. Soviet era poster widely distributed.

Earlier this month, Kazakhstan's national bank announced that long-ruling President Nursultan Nazarbayev's face would appear on a new-issue banknote worth approximately $30 in local currency. Approximately a week later, legislators in the Central Asian country demanded that the capital presently called Astana be renamed in his honour. While he has so far refused to accept their demand, anyone with even half an eye on Kazakhstan would surely concur that the 77-year-old leader's cult of personality is ticking along quite superbly.

Nazarbayev's neighbour and colleague in Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is doing almost as well. Unlike Nazarbayev, he does not have a fancy title like “Father of the Nation”, but that is only because his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov had already bagged a similar moniker — Turkmenbashy, or “Father of the Turkmen” — before he died of a heart attack in 2006.

Informally known as the ‘protector’ Berdymukhamedov has gone to great pains to ensure Niyazov is not missed, erecting a golden statue of himself on horseback to match those of Niyazov already in place. According to reports, Berdymukhamedov is also preparing to publish a book of national folk wisdom that sounds like a replacement for Niyazov's Ruhnama (‘Book of the Soul’) that was once mandatory reading for all schoolchildren.

Golden statue in the capital Ashgabat of Turkmenistan's first President Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled from the late Soviet period until his death in December 2006. Creative commons.

Golden statue in the capital Ashgabat of Turkmenistan's first President Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled from the late Soviet period until his death in December 2006. Creative commons.

Then there is Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmon. His cult of personality had been slow-burning but has progressed very rapidly in the last two years or so, at the same time as everything else from the economy to human rights has hurtled backwards.

Not content with a short, punchy title like his colleagues in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Rakhmon is Tajikistan's “Founder of Peace and Stability, Leader of the Nation”, a status that enables him to run for re-election an unlimited number of times.

He also has his own President's Day, that was celebrated earlier this month for the first time, and there is still the very real possibility that the tallest hydroelectric dam in the world will be named after him, if it is ever built, that is.

But there is one Central Asian leader for whom even modest (by regional standards) attempts at self-promotion result in stern rebukes and no shortage of ridicule. This is Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev, who unlike his colleagues in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan is constitutionally bound to a single six-year term in office and must contend with a critical press and civil society that views any attempt to expand his authority with deep suspicion.

Here are three examples where brand Atambayev has faced difficulties in recent times.

1. Textbook appearance fail

Photograph of Kyrgyz language textbook in which Atambayev features alongside schoolchildren. Kloop.kg, creative commons.

Photograph of Kyrgyz language textbook in which Atambayev features alongside schoolchildren. Kloop.kg, creative commons.

A number of parents of schoolchildren in Kyrgyzstan expressed indignation on social media at the beginning of the school year this year after Atambayev's face and name found its way into a Kyrgyz language textbook for use by fifth graders.

According to Zanoza.kg, the parents were angered mostly by the potential cost to the state budget connected with changing the textbooks for every new president. But Atambayev's political opponents were more worried that the textbook appearance was an indicator of a future cult.

The Insanat publishing house that published the textbook admitted including Atambayev in its product (while not explaing why) and said it could not have done so without the education ministry's permission.

The education ministry, in turn, released a stiff statement that suggested the publishing house had not been open about Atambayev's cameo from the outset:

In signing off on the issue the [ministry] commission discovered the inclusion of a drawing depicting Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, which, according to commission members, was not in the preliminary draft. Since the withdrawal of this page in the textbook would have led to the destruction of the integrity of the book issue as a whole, the commission was forced to approve the issue.

Where the original suggestion to include Atambayev into the textbooks came from is still unknown.

2. Songs of self praise?

By far Atambayev's best results on the PR-front have come through his music. The 60-year-old president and literature fanatic released this year a series of songs he claims to have written and composed. The thoughtful acoustic numbers with titles like “In Spite of Fate” and “I'm Not Afraid to Die” have been generally well received by the public and are a far cry from the crass, pomp-filled state anthem Forward Only Forward my Dear Turkmenistan reportedly penned by Berdymukhamedov.

Atambayev's fourth song ‘Ridiculous Words’ is below.

But taken as biographical insights the songs add to the general picture of Atambayev as a melancholy and restless leader upon whom political office has weighed particularly heavily, and who critics argue was never up to the task of leading a country that has suffered two revolutions and other political unrest.

On her deathbed at the height of his purges in 1937, Stalin's mother reportedly said she wished her son had continued his religious education and gone on to work as a priest. Atambayev is perhaps another leader that missed his true calling.

3. Father of the what?

While Atambayev has pledged not to hold political office after 2017, there are plenty of signs that he wishes to maintain influence over the country's domestic politics, chiefly through constitutional changes that would empower the present government headed by loyalist Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov and his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan. The changes will be put to a vote December 11.

As the country prepares for the constitutional referendum, there has been plenty of mudslinging, with several opponents of the changes being reported as under investigation by anti-corruption authorities answerable to Atambayev.

With battles in the parliament heating up, one opposition leader has even called for the president to be impeached on the grounds that he is operating above and beyond his constitutional mandate.

Atambayev's friend and political ally Isa Omurkulov, however, launched a staunch defence of the president in which he shocked journalists and social commentators by referring to Atambayev as the “guarantor of the constitution” that he is trying to change, and, more importantly “the father of the people.”

The proximity to the titles acquired by lifelong rulers in other Central Asian countries was not lost on Twitter users, who derided Omurkulov.

Atambayev is not the Father of the Nation, but rather its drunken and distant relative.

Atambayev, father of the nation? No, he's some kind of surrogate.

As Atambayev enters the final year of his presidency (elections are likely to take place in October or November next year) it is likely there will be more initiatives coming from the government to ensure his page in future educational textbooks is guaranteed.

by Akhal-Tech Collective at November 25, 2016 04:53 PM

Yet Another Report on Extrajudicial Killings Backs Up Jamaican Human Rights Defenders’ Calls for Police Reform
An art installation by Camille Chedda showing the faces of young men killed by the police in Jamaica. The piece was exhibited at an event hosted by the lobby group, Jamaicans for Justice, on November 23, 2016. Photo by the author, used with permission.

An art installation by Camille Chedda showing the faces of young men killed by the police in Jamaica. The piece was exhibited at an event hosted by the lobby group, Jamaicans for Justice, on November 23, 2016. Photo by the author, used with permission.

It's really nothing new. Extrajudicial killings by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force have been a persistent human rights concern over decades, highlighted in numerous local and international reports, including the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report.

Now, add Amnesty International to that list. At a press conference in Kingston on November 23, 2016, Amnesty International unveiled its latest report on Jamaica: “Waiting in Vain: Unlawful Police Killings and Relatives’ Long Struggle for Justice”. Amnesty's Americas Director, Erika Guevara-Rosas, noted in a press release:

If authorities in Jamaica are serious about tackling the country’s shocking levels of police killings and violence they must urgently promote a deep police and justice reform to address not only the number of police murders but the root causes of the problem.

The report goes beyond the basic, egregious injustice of the deprivation of citizens’ right to life by agents of the state; it also explores what Rodje Malcolm, advocacy manager with the human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), called a “web of human rights abuses” associated with the killings themselves that affect the victims’ families, friends and the wider community. These include various forms of harassment, threats and intimidation — at home, at funerals and wakes, at hospitals and even in court.

Malcolm was speaking at a small, informal evening event with family members and the human rights community following Amnesty International's press conference. The gathering also put on an art exhibition and film screenings to highlight the problem.

Malcolm pointed to a “culture of fear” that pervades impoverished neighborhoods and “does not even have a perpetrator”. The culture of “informer fi dead”, which dancehall deejay Buju Banton sang about back in 1991, means that citizens refuse to report crimes or come forward as witnesses, for fear of either criminal gangs or the police — or both. This atmosphere persists, paralyzing communities and making the quest for justice even harder.

One example is the case of Matthew Lee, who was shot dead by the police along with two other young men in the uptown Kingston area of Arcadia in January 2013. No witnesses have come forward and the case has therefore been stalled.

Shackelia Jackson (left) and Simone Grant at a community meeting following the release of Amnesty International's report on extrajudicial killings in Jamaica. Jackson's brother Nakeia was cooking in his kitchen on Orange Street, Kingston in January 2014, when he was killed by police; Grant's brother, Matthew Lee, and two other young men were shot dead by the police while driving in Arcadia, Kingston, in January 2013. Photo by the author, used with permission.

Shackelia Jackson (left) and Simone Grant at a community meeting following the release of Amnesty International's report on extrajudicial killings in Jamaica. Jackson's brother Nakeia was cooking in his kitchen on Orange Street, Kingston in January 2014, when he was killed by police; Grant's brother, Matthew Lee, and two other young men were shot dead by the police while driving in Arcadia, Kingston, in January 2013. Photo by the author, used with permission.

Shackelia Jackson, the courageous and outspoken sister of cookshop operator Nakeia Jackson, who was shot dead by police in January 2014, said Jamaica's justice system has caused great suffering to families like hers, noting that periods of harassment by the police always coincided with court dates. Her brother's case was dismissed in July of this year; since then, the harassment has stopped. Jackson asked at the meeting, “Who is authorizing all this?” and activist Glenroy Murray shared her forthright statements:

His colleague, Jaevion Nelson, mused on Twitter:

One Jamaican expressed support for the victim's family:

While blogger Susan Goffe observed:

Even members of the Jamaican diaspora expressed anxiety over the issue:

However, some took a harder line, suggesting that victims of police killings got what they deserved:

Nevertheless, there is hope. The establishment of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), set up in 2010 to look into cases of police abuse, has been credited for greatly reducing the number of police killings, which fell from 258 in 2013 to 129 in 2014 — and dropped even further, to 98 in 2015 — a 16-year low.

However, Jamaica's murder rate has been inching up this year. Broadcast journalist Abka Fitz-Henley tweeted:

JFC stands for Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Security and human rights — and the country's snail's pace justice system — are never far from the agenda in Jamaica. The release of the Amnesty report highlights the need for the Jamaican government to begin to seriously tackle the issue of police reform — an issue that was raised in the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the 2010 incursion by security forces in Tivoli Gardens.

The need for “broad institutional reform” in the police force was also included in the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) new Stand-by Arrangement for Jamaica earlier this month. As a step in this direction, Prime Minister Andrew Holness committed himself to a complete overhaul of colonial-era legislation related to the Jamaica Constabulary Force by October 2017.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who met with the Amnesty and Jamaicans for Justice representatives this week, appears to be fully aware of the “justice delayed is justice denied” aspect of the problem, which allows more human rights abuses to take place as cases drag through the courts. This week, the minister declared that documents for court cases must be ready within three months. Whether this is achievable remains to be seen.

On a positive note, there was welcome support for Jamaican families from women elsewhere in the hemisphere. Amnesty's Caribbean campaigner Robin Guittard shared:

While human rights, crime and violence remain thorny issues, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for Jamaica, once good intentions are translated into action.

by Emma Lewis at November 25, 2016 03:33 PM

Independent Report Offers Troubling Findings on Digital Rights in Ecuador
Imagen tomada de Pixabaym publicada bajo licencia CC0, perteneciente al Dominio Público.

Image taken from Pikabaym and published under CC0 license as part of public domain.

There are many well-known figures in Ecuadorian politics. One of the best known is Martha Roldós, a former member of parliament from Guayaquil famous for her fierce opposition to the government of President Rafael Correa. In 2014, Roldós told the media that her email account had been “invaded”, saying a letter sent to her private email account had been stolen and published “word-for-word in the state-run newspaper El Telégrafo”.

The email was written by Adam Isacson (a member of the program on Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office on Latin America) and addressed to David Holiday of the Open Society Foundations. (Note to readers: Global Voices receives some of its funding from OSF.) Roldós was copied in the correspondence.

Publishing the letter, El Telégrafo also reported that Roldós and others were planning to develop a “media project” in Ecuador. Roldós’ project, Fundación Mil Hojas (One Thousand Pages Foundation), had already existed for a year, as it happens. It focuses on investigative journalism, particularly reporting on transparency and corruption — issues that have frequently occupied the national media's attention.

Until Roldós’ case, this type of cyberattack and publication of personal information in Ecuador was something you found only in the movies.

This year, Roldós’ group — together with another Ecuadorean organisation called Usuarios Digitales (Digital Users) — published an alternative report for the UN Human Rights Council, ahead of Ecuador's periodic human-rights review in May 2017. The report's focus is the country's situation with digital privacy rights and information access.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the Human Rights Council for improving the human-rights situation in the territories of the 193 UN member states. Ecuador's last UPR was in 2012. Slovakia, Canada, Norway, Latvia, Belgium, France, and Costa Rica, among others, submitted observations on Ecuador about the state of freedom of expression and association, the decriminalisation of defamation, and media independence, among other points.

We spoke to Alfredo Velazco, a member of Usuarios Digitales, who said that the report assesses how various actors are currently working to suppress content (primarily content critical of those in power) in a manner inconsistent with international standards. The report is divided into five sections, which we will examine accordingly.

Privacy and surveillance

The document asserts that Ecuador has witnessed violations of the right to personal privacy being used to obtain information that is then later used by state officials on national television and in President Correa's Saturday broadcasts.

The report takes up the issue of cybersecurity and state surveillance. Similarly, various reports have highlighted the alleged contracting in 2013 of the Italian firm “Hacking Team” by the Ecuadorean government's National Intelligence Secretariat.

According to the report, “Hacking Team: Spyware in Latin America“, the Italian firm offered its services to the Interior Ministry in mid-June 2015. The latter indicated a need for a “National Monitoring Center at country level” that could begin functioning by October 2016. This report, based on information published by the Associated Press, says that “from the leaked emails emerges proof that the government of Rafael Correa used Hacking Team's malware to spy on Carlos Figueroa, a media and political activist who was sentenced to six months in prison for ‘insulting the president'”.

Anonymity: Attack of the trolls

Usuarios Digitales reports that it has made note of various fake social network accounts, and even some official accounts, that have been used to disseminate threats against those who express an opinion different from the views of the Correa government. In addition, the group analyzes the ways in which cyber-harassment has been expressed. For instance, state officials have publicised the names and personal information of active social-media users. The case that's maybe resonated most with the public is the story of “Crudo Ecuador”, wherein President Correa bullied online satirist Gabriel González into quitting the Internet.

This is where Martha Roldós, the president's fierce opponent in Guayaquil, comes in. In 2014, she filed a motion for discovery with the Guayaquil prosecutor's office directed against El Telégrafo Editor Orlando Pérez. The motion's aim was to find out the source of the information El Telégrafo published, which revealed that Roldós was looking for external funding to create a news agency. The case did not move forward, however.

Internet blocking and cyber-harassment against journalism platforms

And finally there's Ecuador's digital blackout in 2014, which the report says hindered access to sites such as YouTube and Google on March 28, 2014, between 19:20 and 19:53. This occurred days after the publication of personal emails that were said to belong to Rommy Vallejo, head of the National Intelligence Secretariat on the Google platform Blogger through a blog named “Anonymous Ecuador”.

The report also says that Fundación Mil Hojas, Plan V, and Focus Ecuador reported “cyber-attacks” in May 2016 that affected their webpages. Days before, these sites had published information about oil contracts and the participation of the main representative of Petroecuador and the country's former oil minister.

Additionally, the report talks about the trolls who intimidate opposition politicians, journalists, and citizens opposed to the regime.

The report also illustrates how Ecuador's civil society is fighting back to maintain its digital rights. For Alfredo Velazaco, “there is a big lack of knowledge on this issue and a lack of spaces that could enrich the debate. Due to the conditions in the country, digital rights and the flow of information have been relegated to a second tier. Those in power are taking advantage of this lack of knowledge to prevent unwanted information from being published or shared”.

by Scott Griffen at November 25, 2016 02:01 PM

Call for Sugar Tax on Beverages Ignites Nanny State Debate Down Under
Sugar Tax report

Sugar Tax report – Image courtesy Grattan Institute (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Australians are divided over a proposal by the Grattan Institute to levy a so-called sugar tax on beverages to help tackle obesity. The independent think tank has released a report, ‘A sugary drinks tax – Recovering the community costs of obesity’, recommending that:

Australia should introduce a tax on sugary drinks to recoup some of the costs of obesity to the community.

The best option is an excise tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar, on all non-alcoholic, water-based drinks that contain added sugar.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce immediately rejected the idea, calling it “bonkers mad” — a tautology or saying the same things twice, as bonkers means mad. This didn't please dietitian Miranda Blake:

Joyce is a member of parliament for the Nationals, a party with close ties to the agricultural sector.

To use a football metaphor, some in the media could be accused of ‘playing the man not the ball’ (a personal attack):

There have been the inevitable accusations of hypocrisy over high taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. In response to Joyce's tweet saying the Australian Taxation Office “will not solve your weight problem”, Christian Peterson countered:

The target of Adam Cleave, who works in corporate affairs for Imperial Tobacco, was an old enemy:

Aaron Lane linked to his research for free market think tank The Institute of Public Affairs (@TheIPA), traditional supporters of small government and opponents of the so-called ‘nanny state':

Plenty of Twitter users were cynical about the motivation behind the proposal:

Others like Caitlin Syrett rejected the notion of relying on individual responsibility:

Dental public health expert Matthew Hopcraft had teeth in mind as you would expect:

The economics editor for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper had a strong view about the tax:

Meanwhile, some others have been thinking outside the box:

So, what exactly are the costs of the obesity crisis, and how would a sugar tax make a difference?

The report's co-author, Stephen Duckett, has addressed the issue in this podcast. It is included courtesy of their Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0):

by Kevin Rennie at November 25, 2016 01:52 PM

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