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.

September 28, 2016

MIT Center for Civic Media
Creating Workshops with Enough Time to Learn

Note to the reader: This post will probably only be interesting for you if you're a facilitator or educator.

One of my driving goals in data literacy workshops I facilitate is to create space to play.  I try to create that space by introducing fun materials, designing creative small group activities, introducing playful datasets, and more.  But a recent workshop by Cédric Lombion from School of Data at the Data Literacy Conference got me wondering: am I leaving enough time to learn?

Cédric prompted those of us in the room to write down in stickies all the activities we do that are intended to improve data literacy.  We then collaboratively grouped them on the wall.  Nothing too surprising there, though I did learn about some cool activities that I should steal from Charles Népote of Fing and Samuel Huron.  However, then we added a time axis, to note which activities were less than a day, which took a few days, and which were longer. The vast majority of activities we all did were less than one day.

img_4559
All the stickies clustered at the top, indicating they were short ones.  Only the few at the bottom were longer than a day.

The question for Cédric, and the rest of us, is whether that means we are doing a disservice to the learners we work with.  Can we have real sustainable impact if we only string together short experiences into longer ones?  Do we need to reconsider how we structure longer learning experiences to create more impact?

Here's the question this left me with - am I leaving enough time to fully flesh out these concepts in my workshops?  Am I cramming too much in to short 3 hours sessions with learners?  What would my activities look like if I left them with space to breathe?  There are numerous pressures that push me to keep activities short in workshops settings:

  • getting professionals to take time off from work for professional development is always hard
  • "once a week" style programs have significant drop-off over time
  • there's tons to cover when learning how to go from data to story, so it's hard to concentrate on just one piece.

So should I change my workshops to be more about going deep into one facet of data literacy? Hard to say.  However Samuel and Pauline's "Let's Get Physical" talk the day before gave me an idea of what that might look like.  Let's take the idea of "data sculptures" as an example.  They have created a day long workshop, with great materials, prompts, and constraints, that lets participants really explore what it means to make data physical.  It is exactly what my 5 minute data sculpture should be when it grows up!  

Of course, I DO have one setting where I create lots of time to learn... the semester-long Data Storytelling Studio class I teach here at MIT. I do these quick activities with my students, but then they get a week to turn them into real projects.

The reflections from this great workshop make me think I should try a workshop for professionals that is focused on one piece of the data puzzle.  I'm curious now - in your teaching are you leaving enough time to learn?

by rahulb at September 28, 2016 08:05 PM

Global Voices
Puerto Rican Unity, a Bright Spot in the Darkness of an Archipelago-Wide Blackout
Workers from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) at the Aguirre power plant near the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico during the blackout which affected all the islands of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 21. Screenshot taken from video.

Workers from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) at the Aguirre power plant near the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico during the blackout which affected all the islands of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 21. Screenshot taken from video.

Things have more or less gone back to normal in Puerto Rico after a power failure on the afternoon of September 21 practically paralyzed the entire archipelago for three days, though for some people electricity was restored much later. Not even the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra could escape the effects of the blackout, or apagón, as it's called in Spanish.

Immediate economic losses for the blackout have been estimated at around US$1 billion. The Department of Education reported that the amount of food that spoiled in the public school meal program due to the power failure is equivalent to at least $103,941. And some of Puerto Rico's reservoirs, like La Plata, have no emergency backup power, which meant that about 250,000 people were also left without water service.

Amid the darkness, Puerto Ricans’ solidarity with fellow neighbors shone brightly.

During the blackout, things ran fairly smoothly, considering the almost complete collapse of basic services. No looting and no violence related to the blackout were reported. Because traffic lights weren't functioning, the roads were tricky (see video below), but no major accidents were reported either. At the busiest intersections, police were dispatched to direct traffic, which helped immensely.

The blackout meant hardship for Puerto Ricans, but it also brought out the best qualities of many. Many people who either had emergency power plants or who had their electricity restored offered friends and neighbors—and sometimes, complete strangers—the chance to either cook some food or recharge their electric fans, radios or smartphones. (Needless to say, the blackout did not prevent people from using social media to communicate and to keep up to date on the power authority's progress on restoring electricity.)

It also did not stop the commemoration of the Grito de Lares (The Cry of Lares) on September 23, which marks the day when the independence movement of the 19th century in Puerto Rico launched a rebellion against the Spanish government in the mountainous town of Lares in 1868. Back then, Puerto Rican freedom fighters were in solidarity with Cubans struggling for their own independence.

The cause of the blackout remains unclear as of this writing. A fire at the Aguirre plant located near the southeastern coast of the main island of Puerto Rico is what provoked the collapse of the entire system, but it is not yet known what caused the fire, pictured in the video below:

Puerto Rico's electrical needs are provided solely by the Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (AEE) or Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) in English, a public corporation which has been in the news for the past few years due to the approximately $9 billion debt it is trying to renegotiate. Unsurprisingly, after the government has already spent $43 million hiring debt restructuring experts for the public corporation, some are calling for the privatization of PREPA, ignoring the implications that privatization would have on a country where over 40% of the population is considered to live below the poverty line.

Renewable energy has long been mentioned as the way to go for PREPA. Indeed, Puerto Rico has no shortage of options when it comes to alternative forms of energy. Because of its geographic location in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico could easily harness the power of the sun, wind and sea to satisfy its energy needs. But historically, the government has only halfheartedly, at best, pursued these options, opting instead to rely on fossil fuels to meet its energy demand.

The blackout also hit when Puerto Rico, a US territory with limited rights of citizenship, was already smarting from recent decisions taken by the US government that diminish its autonomy. The greater significance of the apagón was probably best expressed by Maritza Stanchich, a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, who wrote for the Huffington Post a rather poignant observation:

The blackout spells the collapse of the Free Associated State—or “Commonwealth” as Puerto Rico has been called euphemistically—in even more tangible terms than all the seismic events of the past year, including two U.S. Supreme Court rulings that annulled Puerto Rico’s Constitution and sovereignty—or exposed it as the apparent lie it always was.

The blackout also portends the coming storm of the federally-imposed fiscal control board, instituted as part of PROMESA, the Orwellian-sounding law named for its acronym, Spanish for “promise.” President Obama’s recently announced appointees to the fiscal control board promise neoliberal economic austerity to do the bidding of vulture hedge funds, as well as social unrest.

With such distressing political and economic context, Puerto Ricans’ kindness and cooperation with their neighbors during the blackout was indeed a bright spot.

by Ángel Carrión at September 28, 2016 05:17 PM

‘When Your Palms Itch, You Will Receive Money’, and Other African Myths
Three legged pots commonly used in Botswana. If a young woman eats out of them, she will not get married. Creative Commons image by Rach151.

Three-legged pots commonly used in Botswana. If a young woman eats out of a pot, she supposedly will not get married. Creative Commons image by Rach151.

Africans, like people elsewhere in the world, use Twitter in many ways. Sometimes it's to have a laugh at themselves. Sometimes it's to find common ground across countries and cultures. Sometimes it's both.

For example, @IGtiz, a Kenyan student, has started the #100AfricanMyths hashtag to share myths that are passed on from generation to generation in African countries, mostly orally.

Myths in Africa serve different socio-cultural needs. Parents, for instance, use myths to keep their young ones in check.

Here is a sample of some of the more hilarious African myths.

Faith Mulungi, a Ugandan radio presenter, tweeted:

@PatohShanqueels explained a common myth that went around schools where caning took place:

Do not cut your nails at night, according to @xolelwandengane in South Africa:

Flo Letoaba, a South African radio talk host, added this one to the mix:

Whistling at night can be very dangerous — supposedly:

Children were taught not to laugh at the disabled, according to @NaughtyMilz in Uganda:

An owl is a messenger of death, says @iGitz_:

Do not sweep away luck from your house, Vinnie from Kenya warned:

Myths were also used to getting children to concentrate in class:

Although the myths were from various parts of Africa, Dickens Jnr, an African American in the US state of Michigan, said that he had heard all them:

by Prudence Nyamishana at September 28, 2016 04:32 PM

A Bangladeshi Man Who Knows Hunger All Too Well Provides Affordable Meals for Children in Need
Bidyananda students enjoying their one taka meal. Photo via 1 Taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

Bidyanondo students enjoying their one-taka meal. Photo via 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

Lunch is served. For just one buck. Surprised? Have we gone back to the days of when a horse cost as much as a piece of bread does today? No, we’re still talking about the present.

A Bangladeshi organization named Bidyanondo has launched an initiative that seeks to distribute food to the underprivileged children of Dhaka and other areas for just one Bangladeshi taka (0.013 US dollars). The initiative began six months ago in May, and it is taking place in five districts including Dhaka. The organisation says that 121,000 children and elderly people have been fed as of September 22, 2016, and the plan is to distribute food to at least 300 underprivileged children a night.

Bidyanondo is mainly a volunteer educational institute for the underprivileged. The institute has five branches all over the country with more than 750 underprivileged children studying at its schools. The principal mind behind the one-taka meal venture is Kishor Kumar Das, who currently lives in Peru’s capital Lima. When asked about the initiative, he explained to Global Voices that it was personal:

নিজেই ছিলাম মন্দিরের সামনে ক্ষুধার লাইনে। তখন চিন্তা ছিলো, আমিও একদিন ফিরিয়ে দিবো এই খাবার। সেই চিন্তা থেকে করা। আমাদের ৫টা স্কুলে প্রতিবছর দরিদ্র ছাত্রছাত্রী ঝড়ে পড়ে, তাঁদের আটকানো একটা কারণ ছিলো। আরেকটা কারণ ছিলো খুবই দরিদ্র শিশুদের স্কুলে টানার জন্য।

There was a time when I used to wait in the long lines in front of the temple for a little food. I decided back then that if I ever get the opportunity, I will return the same kindness to those who needed it. Impoverished children drop out of our schools every year. Keeping them in school was one reason for the initiative. Another was attracting other children to join our schools.

Although the Bangladeshi constitution states that food is a basic right for all, many people still go to sleep without a meal almost every night. Children are especially vulnerable.

There are around 400,000 underprivileged children in Bangladesh. Most of them spend their nights on the street or in bus and rail stations. They have little to eat and no money to buy more food. It for them that Bidyanondo began their project.

"We were providing vegetable rice for the kids that day at the railway station. One guy came and told them "why eat these cheap food? Come with me - I will give you Biriyani (fried rice with meat)". A 10 year old kid replied- "these sisters bring food for us from afar and we should not turn them away. And you will not come everyday for us". - Bidyanondo

“We were providing vegetable rice for the kids that day at the railway station. One guy came and told them, “Why eat this cheap food? Come with me, I will give you biriyani (fried rice with meat).” A 10-year-old kid replied, “These sisters bring food for us from afar and we should not turn them away. And you will not come every day for us.” From Bidyanondo's Facebook page. Used with permission.

‘I want to feed at least two hundred little flowers’

Bidyanondo had started the initiative with their leftover food budget and financial backing from founder Kishor Kumar Das. But many others have enthusiastically joined the project since then. Some have donated the money they had saved up for their birthday party. Some have given away their Eid bonus, while others have contributed to the project with their hard-earned tuition money.

Not only individuals, but an organization named Serverghost Foundation has also joined in. They donated all the money they received as an award from Google to Bidyanondo’s project.

Food being distributed among underprivileged children. Photo courtesy 1 taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

Food being distributed among underprivileged children. Photo courtesy 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

One of the individuals who have helped the cause become a success posted this on Bidyanondo’s Facebook page:

আমি খুব ছোট একটা চাকরি করি, সম্বল খুব নেই। তবে ঈদে যে বোনাস পাইছি তা দিয়ে ২০০টা কচি ফুলকে অন্তত এক বেলা খাওয়াতে চাই।

I have a very small job, and my savings are little. But I want to feed at least two hundred little flowers (kids) with my Eid bonus.

The page later announced that 203 children were fed with that person’s contribution.

One taka being collected from each child. Photo via 1 taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

One taka being collected from each child. Photo via 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

‘I wanted to eliminate the word “alms” from the children’s dictionary’

When asked why the meals are priced at one taka, Kishor Kumar Das had this to say:

বিষয়টিকে যেন ভিক্ষা হিসেবে না দেখা হয় সেজন্য শিশুদেরকে এক টাকা দিয়ে খাবার কিনতে হয়। শুরুতে বিষয়টি নিয়ে অনেকে হাসাহাসি করেছে, কিন্তু এখন শিশুগুলোর মধ্যে অহংবোধ এসেছে। অনেকে আজ বাকিতে খাবার নিলেও কাল এসে টাকাটা দিয়ে যাচ্ছে। আমি এ জায়গাটাই বদলাতে চেয়েছিলাম, শিশুদের ভেতর ‘ভিক্ষা’ এবং দাতাদের মধ্যে ‘দান’ শব্দটি মোছার জন্য।

We don’t want this initiative to appear as charity or pity. There was a lot of ridicule about this at first, but the children have a certain degree of pride now. Even if some of them can’t pay for the food right away, they’ll give us the money next day. I wanted to eliminate the word ‘alms’ from the children’s dictionary, and the word ‘donation’ from the givers’.

The meal usually consists of rice and vegetable curries. But when there are enough funds, the children sometimes enjoy much-beloved dishes like pilaf and chicken curries. The food is prepared by the volunteers of Bidyanondo.

Here is a video report on this initiative uploaded to YouTube by user Video Vubon:

A lot of volunteer initiatives in Bangladesh usually cannot linger after a promising start for a variety of reasons. When asked whether the one-taka meal project will remain active in the long run, Das said:

বেশীরভাগ প্রতিষ্ঠান শুরু হয় আবেগি মাথায়, অনভিজ্ঞ হাতে, বাস্তবতার সাথে যুদ্ধ করতে গিয়ে দুর্বল হয়ে হারিয়ে যায়, বিশেষ করে পেশা আর সংসার শুরু করে। আমরা শুরু করছি এসব স্টেজ পার করার পর। আরেকটি ব্যাপার হলো, অর্থের সংস্থান। উদ্যোক্তাকে নিজেই স্বাবলম্বী হতে হবে প্রতিষ্ঠান চালাতে, বিনা অনুদানে প্রতিষ্ঠান কয়েক বছর চালানোর সক্ষমতা জরুরি। দীর্ঘমেয়াদী চালাতে আমি নিজের ব্যবসার মালিকানা এই বিদ্যানন্দকে দিয়ে দিয়েছি, এটা দিয়ে এর খরচের অনেকটা পূরণ করা যাবে।

Most similar initiatives are started by the inexperienced and run with more heart than brain. When faced with reality, these initiatives sometimes buckle. Especially when you have to find time for a family and a job, charity work becomes increasingly unmanageable. We’ve started after finishing these stages. Another thing is the financing. The people in charge of the initiative should be able to run the organization through their own means. It is important to operate the organization without donations or outside help for a few years. I’ve transferred the ownership of my local business to Bidyanondo, to secure finances in the long-term.

Food delivery vans have been incorporated into the project to better manage the distribution process. The volunteers take these food-filled vans to railway stations and give them out to underprivileged kids. The project leaders dream of a day when this type of food vans or shops will be found all over the country, selling their wares for one taka to those in need.

Guests at the hotel helping to cook for underprivileged children. Photo courtesy 1 taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

Guests at Das's hotel helping to cook for underprivileged children in Lima. Photo via 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

Crossing borders

A similar initiative has begun in Peru’s capital Lima. Food is distributed among the slum children of Lima every week. Kishor Kumar Das runs a hotel business in Lima. The profits from that business are used to pay for this endeavor. The food is cooked in the hotel’s kitchen. The cooking is a team affair, with hotel guests and tourists participating.

Das dreams of the day when this project of his will spread throughout the world. No child will have to suffer hunger anymore. Because he remembers his time standing in line in front of the temple. Because he understands the pain of hunger, of the hungry. That is why he wants to help underprivileged children.

by Pantha Rahman Reza at September 28, 2016 03:58 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
Ars Electronica Highlights 2

I’m sharing more highlights from this year’s Ars Electronica Festival. See part one for more highlights.

 

Animated restroom sign – The men’s bathroom had the best sign ever! I’ve never been so delighted by a bathroom sign. Playful and fun use of a projector and an animation.

 

Interface I by Ralf Baecker – A red horizontal line is adjusted up and down the vertical axis to make a fluid line graph irl. The horizontal line seems to be controlled by hundreds of little motors moving thin clear cable up and down. Gorgeously lit and placed in a large dark room.

 

Single Stroke Structures by Takahiro Hasegawa and Yasuaki Kakehi – make temporary structures (maybe even phone booths!?!) out of strategically crimped, inflated plastic tubing. How amazing would it be to keep a shed in your backpack?

 


img_6718

 

img_6717

Highlight by Jussi Ängeslavä, Michael Burk, Iohanna Nicenboim – direct light using a lampshade. 3D printing allows for the matching of shade with the room – direct light where you want it.

 

i

 

jPhotosynth printing – print on plants. Mask the leaf and expose the rest to light that causes alters the photosynth process.

by Matt Phillips at September 28, 2016 03:50 PM

Doc Searls
@Staples, you can Un faster than that.

I just unsubscribed from Staples mailings, and got this:

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-3-08-35-pm

WTF? Is the request traveling by boat somewhere? Does it need to be aged before it works?

We have computers now. We’re on the Internet. There is no reason why unsubscribing from anything should take longer than now.

Staples is not alone at this, by the way.. Many unsubscriptions are followed by promises to complete over some number of days. I don’t know why companies do that, but it smacks of marketing BS.

If you’re listening, Staples, give me a good reason. I am curious.

For what it’s worth, I unsubscribed because approximately all the mailings I get from Staples (and everybody else) are uninteresting to me. Un-cluttering my mailbox is far more valuable than getting bargains (e.g. “$220 off select laptops and desktops” and “UNBEATABLE Ink & Toner Prices”) I’ll never bother with.

Save

by Doc Searls at September 28, 2016 02:23 PM

DML Central
Watchworthy Wednesday: iPadpalooza Pizzazz

During the mini-keynotes at iPadpalooza over the summer, George Couros, author of “The Innovator’s Mindset,” talked about a kid who made a YouTube video, hoping somebody would see it. When he gets one “like,” he makes another video in gratitude and ends up going viral.

“So, this kid totally reminds me of me when I was a kid,” Couros said. “A little bit awkward, a little bit chubby and just hoping he connects to somebody…. He makes a six-minute video to thank people all around the world for his one like. So, he goes on and on. He starts doing musical impressions. You just never know the impact you can have. Something very simple can make someone’s day.”

The point of Couros’ talk: When connecting with people online, “always err on the side of positive. You never know the impact you’ll have on other people, so make it a good one.”

Another mini-keynote speaker, educator Amy Burvall, talked punk ed. “Passion over skill” was her point.

“The Sex Pistols didn’t even know how to play their instruments when they started in the band. They learned as they went. And, isn’t that just like us, sort of building the plane as we fly it with technology,” she said, adding that failing “is a reminder for us to find the why of our teaching and to help students find the why of their learning.”

I missed iPadpalooza, an ed tech conference held in Austin in June, but all the mini-keynotes are online. Each is about three minutes long and features learning and teaching using ed tech. All 12 are worth watching. The following are three. Find the rest on YouTube.

Banner image: YouTube screenshot of George Couros at iPadpalooza 2016

The post Watchworthy Wednesday: iPadpalooza Pizzazz appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at September 28, 2016 12:47 PM

Global Voices
Fidencio Sanchez’s Inspiring Story Highlights the Best of Social Media—and the Plight of Latino Immigrants
Fidencio Sanchez, 89, pushes his popsicle pushcart through Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. He recently attempted to retire but had to return to work to make ends meet after the death of his daughter. (Photo: Joel Cervantes Macias / GoFundMe)

Fidencio Sanchez, 89, pushes his popsicle cart through Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. He recently attempted to retire but had to return to work to make ends meet after the death of his daughter. (Photo Joel Cervantes Macias / GoFundMe)

Chicago-born Joel Cervantes Macias was driving in the windy city (the name given to the US city of Chicago), when he spotted a 89-year-old Mexican paletero man called Fidencio Sanchez. In Mexico, a paletero man is a street seller of popsicles and ice-cream, which are sold from a pushcart called a paletería. Fidencio migrated to the United States from Mexico decades ago. Cervantes was so impressed by the effort the man was putting in pushing such a heavy cart around the city that he took a picture of the vendor. He posted it to his Facebook, and commented: “I respect this man to the fullest.”

After Cervantes took the picture and bought some popsicles, he had a long conversation with Fidencio. The paletero told him that his daughter passed away recently, leaving him in charge of her two children. Fidencio had to work every day to make enough money to support his grandchildren and wife. Cervantes was shocked. He knew he needed to do something. One his friends, Joe Loera, had the idea to start an online campaign to raise funds for “a community retirement” for this hard-working man.

Mr. Fedencio Sanchez and his wife recently lost their only daughter and are still heartbroken about the situation. His elderly wife was selling paletas also to help pay bills, but she fell ill and can't work anymore. We're trying to raise money to help him with whatever we can. Anything helps. Let's all pitch in and help make life a little easier and brighten both of their day.

The initial goal of the GoFundMe campaign was set at $3,000 USD. Surprisingly, it reached $13,000 USD in the first four hours. During the campaign, 17,000 people participated, and the campaign raised more than $380,000 USD.

Twitter users in the United States and in Mexico made many uplifting and positive comments about the aid the paletero received, using various hashtags such as #FidencioSanchez and #JoelCervantesMacias:

Most social media users left positive comments. However, other bloggers and journalists reflected on deeper problems related to Mexican and other Latino migrants in the United States. For example, a correspondent for the TV channel Fusion, Juan Rivas, wrote an article on the ugly truth behind the vulnerability of Fidencio, especially regarding the evident racism against Mexicans in the US elections:

At a time when [US presidential candidate] Donald Trump is calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers and rapists, the image of this hard-working Mexican immigrant has become a defiant symbol that challenges hateful stereotypes.

Rivas also mentioned what many old Latinos face: not enough money saved for retirement. Sadly, this reality is worse if the person lives in the United States without documents:

One-fifth of adult undocumented immigrants lives in poverty, according to the Pew Research Center. And folks who are struggling to put food on the table every night are not usually saving for retirement.

‘Street vendors are living day to day,’ said Martin Unzueta, executive director of Chicago Community and Workers’ Rights, a group that works with street vendors. ‘There are some street vendors who have social security cards, but that doesn’t mean they can send money [for retirement] to the Social Security Administration.’

Michele Chen, from progressive news organization TruthOut, reflected on Fidencio's narrative, and invited her readers to think about the inequality faced by many aging immigrants of color in the United States. She also proposed long-term solutions that could help people like Fidencio “to live with dignity” when they most need them:

Beyond GoFundMe, immigrant seniors need an infrastructure that allows them to live with dignity. The real solutions come through strengthening public services for the aging community — and rebuilding social welfare to be cognizant of structural racism and historical inequities. Seeing an elderly man like Sanchez pushing his cart should evoke sympathy, yet it's not just misfortune, but enforced inequality, that weighs upon the weary bodies of migrant elders.

Meaningful financial safeguards would be a basic step toward equity, with measures for debt relief and legal assistance to fight housing distress and eviction in communities of color. The foreclosure epidemic, the recession's fallout, compounds decades of systematic predation, payday lenders and other exploitative credit systems that feed on poor communities and has hit older Latinos at twice the rate of their white peers.

by Andrea Arzaba at September 28, 2016 11:30 AM

Vietnamese Land Activist Cấn Thị Thêu Has Braved Violence, Arrest and Prison
Can Thi Theu has been detained twice for organizing citizen petitions against land evictions.

Can Thi Theu has been detained twice for organizing citizen petitions against land evictions.

This edited article by Giang Nguyễn 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.

It tells the story of land rights activist Can Thi Theu, who was arrested last June for ‘causing public disorder’ during a demonstration. On September 20, she was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

Cấn Thị Thêu, 53, became a resident of Dương Nội, a village just outside of Hanoi, after marrying a local farmer. In late 2007 the family lost their land to the government, and she became a land rights activist. She told Loa this:

Dương Nội is where I lived. I want my children to have a home. When I lived in Dương Nội, I was a successful farmer. I owned 40 to 50 buffalos, fruit and vegetable gardens, fish ponds. We did well. But when they came to ‘take it back”, they destroyed everything, the sheds, the ponds. We lost our livelihood. Now, life is very difficult.

Thêu uses the word “take back” because in Vietnam, the land does not belong to the farmer, or technically anyone. The economy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is largely agriculture-based and land is considered the “people’s property”. Individuals have usage rights, but they never own the land. That means a city dweller must give up part of his front yard to become a street if the government demands it. A peasant family can have its fields confiscated, even after they have farmed it for generations.

The government is the administrator of its usage. With Vietnam propelling towards rapid economic development in the past three decades, and rice fields making way for new developments, the tenuous system is beginning to crack.

Theu explained the unfair treatment they received:

They paid us only 200,000 đồng ($9 US) per square meter, but on the market, they sell it at a starting price of 31 million đồng per square meter. That’s almost 200 times what they paid us. With this unfair price, and with people unable to find new jobs, so many people are driven into poverty and unemployment. That’s why we oppose the repossession of our land. These prices are robbing us blind.

Cấn Thị Thêu, her husband and two sons are just one of more than 350 families in Dương Nội alone who have been taking their case to local authorities to petition for redress.

“There are probably thousands and thousands of them,” says Dũng Mai, an artist from Hà Nội. He has been running a group called Cứu Lấy Dân Oan (Assistance for Land Petitioners) since 2012.

Mai and the volunteers of the Assistance Land Petitioners use private donations to provide daily necessities for these petitioners while they are camped out in Hanoi. He says some are able to find odd jobs, like washing dishes, while they are in the capital, but many just barely survive.

They don’t have any jobs, any home. Just recently, we had to buy canvasses to shield them from the rain and sun, so they can find some shelter by sidewalks, trees or on the side of houses with big roofs for shade. We bought them canvasses to lie on. The ground gets very cold and without a canvass, they would get wet. It’s very hard for them.

People are protesting the trial of land rights activist Cấn Thị Thêu, while family members and supporters are being barred from entering the courtroom. Their signs read: "Cấn Thị Thêu is innocent" and "Arresting people and stealing their land is an evil act." Photo from the Facebook page of Trịnh Bá Phương

People are protesting the trial of land rights activist Cấn Thị Thêu, while family members and supporters are being barred from entering the courtroom. Their signs read: “Cấn Thị Thêu is innocent” and “Arresting people and stealing their land is an evil act.” Photo from the Facebook page of Trịnh Bá Phương

According to a recent report from the Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia, an estimated 80 percent of all complaints filed by aggrieved citizens to the authorities are related to land disputes and unfair compensation.

That number is growing and women seem to make up a vocal majority.

It’s perhaps because these disaffected women as well as men have nothing left to lose, that they are willing to risk everything.

Amateur videos taken of land grabs show beatings perpetrated by men in uniform and thugs who farmers allege are undercover police.

Thêu remembers one confrontation well.

On April 25, 2014, about a thousand security police and civil defense forces came to raze the land, which we hadn’t gotten paid for yet. We were empty-handed, but they had sticks, batons and guns. I was standing on a hut that we built to look over the cemetery. I was just standing there to film the scene, the oppression from the authorities against us. They arrested people down below, they beat them savagely. I just filmed. Then they came for me. They took my camera, they beat me. I don’t know when I fell unconscious. When I woke up, I was inside police quarters in Hà Đông district.

Both she and her husband were beaten and arrested, she says. She spent the past year in prison, charged with “resisting persons in the performance of their duties” under Article 257 of the penal code. She says her sons have been beaten bloody on other occasions as well.

After having spent almost eight years fighting, she was again found on the front lines mid-September with several dozen Dương Nội neighbors and fellow petitioners from afar, sleeping overnight in front of the police inspector’s headquarters. They denounced recent police intimidation and smear campaigns.

Thêu says the group scored a victory when after negotiating the timing and attendees of the meeting, the next day an official told her that the people have a right to petition without interference and that they were allowed to receive money donations and wear protest t-shirts.

Thêu says whether it’s through petitions, protests or local empowerment, she won’t rest until her land is hers again.

They can kill all five of my family members. But I think, you live only once and you die only once. So I will live in a way that they will see that their brutality will never threaten our will to fight. We land petitioners will hold on to our land until the end.

Meanwhile, Thêu’s old property still remains abandoned and undeveloped, almost eight years after her eviction.

Listen more to the story of Cấn Thị Thêu through this podcast:

by Loa at September 28, 2016 10:53 AM

Doc Searls
Seeing is believing

I didn’t watch Monday’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I listened to it, while I live blogged what I heard in a window on top of it. This was after getting up in the middle of the night at an AirBnB with terrible wi-fi in the middle of London.

While Hillary scored some strong hits toward the end of the debate, I thought Trump sounded stronger, with many more quotable one-liners. So I gave the debate to him, much as I hated to. (Put me in the #NeverTrump column.)

But in the morning everybody was giving the debate to Hillary. What did I miss?

In a word: the video. When I watched some clips, it was clear that Hillary was winning. Trump looked rude and buffoonish, while Hillary did something wonderful: she looked into the camera as if into a friend’s eyes, and smiled while Trump mansplained away, looking like the jerk he is.

In other words, she used video better than Trump did. And I missed it.

Not next time.

By the way, I was thirteen when the first televised debate, between Nixon and Kennedy, ran on TV. In that one too, Kennedy simply looked better. (While, as the comment below says, Nixon sounded better.)

Bonus link.

by Doc Searls at September 28, 2016 06:33 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Wednesday, September 28, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about Elon Musk's plans to move us to Mars; disapproval from German regulators' over Facebook's decision to harvest data on WhatsApp users; and Nissan's new fleet of self-driving...chairs.

by Marketplace at September 28, 2016 05:00 AM

Global Voices
A Lavish Iranian TV Series Revises the History of the 1953 Coup for the Post-Nuclear Deal Age
A still from “Shahrzad” recreating the chaotic scenes from the streets of Tehran at the time (Source: shahrzadseries.com).

A still from “Shahrzad” recreating scenes of the chaos in the streets of Tehran during the period of the 1952 coup d'etat (Source: shahrzadseries.com)

By Mahdi Ganjavi

As was long widely believed, and confirmed by documents declassified a few years ago by the CIA, the Iranian coup of 1953 was initiated as the result of United States’ increasing fear of Iran’s possible turn toward communism. It resulted in the toppling of democratically elected Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq. Mosaddeq was the leader of the National Front, an alliance of politicians who shared anti-imperialist sentiments toward Britain.

The National Front advocated limited judicial reforms and the limiting of the authority of the Shah in accordance with the Constitution of 1905. They nationalized the oil industry, which led to an embargo by Britain, which in turn pushed Mosaddeq’s government to completely cut diplomatic and economic relations with the British.

The oil crisis and the economic depression that followed, along with the increasing class consciousness of the working class and peasantry, especially in the northwest of Iran, intensified the struggle that already existed between Iran’s traditional ruling class (including the Shah, landowners and the clerics), the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat/peasantry. This ignited fears of communism among world powers, motivating the CIA and MI6 to to sponsor and plan a coup against Mosaddeq, with the assistance—or at least moral support—of Iran’s ruling class. On the day of the coup, a hired mob played a crucial role on the streets of Tehran, creating chaos and attacking several newspapers offices.

A press release drafted by the US State Department anticipating the successful overthrow of Mosaddeq, and crediting “the Iranian people, under the leadership of their Shah.” Mosaddegh was ousted two weeks later (Source: NSA Archive)

A press release drafted by the US State Department anticipating the successful overthrow of Mosaddeq, and crediting “the Iranian people, under the leadership of their Shah.” Mosaddegh was ousted two weeks later (Source: NSA Archive)

In the Iranian television series “Shahrzad”, it is the accidental killing of a member of that mob that changes the course of the protagonists’ lives. Written by Hassan Fathi and Naghmeh Samini, the first season premiered in fall of 2015 through domestic DVD and online distribution. The most expensive production of its kind ever produced in Iran, Shahrzad has been so successful that, according to the BBC Persian program Pargar, it has become an engine of the cultural industry, generating sales of jewelry and commodities inspired by its story and characters.

“Shahrzad” is the story of the romantic relationship between two characters, Shahrzad and Farhad, and how it is affected by the coup of 1953. Farhad, whose name alludes to a figure from medieval Persian romantic literature, is a journalist. His father owns a carpet shop in the bazaar. His beloved, Shahrzad, is pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor. Shahrzad’s father has a restaurant in the city. Economically speaking, both Shahrzad and Farhad’s fathers are completely subordinate to a big landowner and Godfather-type figure called Buzurg Aqa.

On the day of the coup, Farhad accidentally kills a member of the mob that attacks his office. Consequently, Farhad is arrested and sentenced to death by the post-coup government. Although Farhad is granted a pardon, Buzurg Aqa—who is secretly the commander of the mob—forces Shahrzad to marry his son-in-law Qubad. This is the only way for Shahrzad to secure Farhad’s safety, and it is also desirable for Buzurg Aqa, whose own daughter is unable to bear a child and give him an heir to his wealth. Farhad and Shahrzad’s fathers, driven by their indebtedness to Buzurg Aqa, also push for Farhad and Shahrzad to separate.

“Previous to “Shahrzad”, almost all post-revolution dramas and narratives stressed the decisive role of imperialist forces, even to the extent of neglecting or downplaying domestic agency altogether.”

As in any historical narrative, what is omitted is as important as what is revealed. Like other forms of cultural production that happen in Iran through official channels, TV series distributed through domestic DVD and online distribution networks are also meticulously monitored by governmental censorship organs, though it is widely claimed that censorship is less stringent for works distributed through these channels. A look into the deeper historical context of “Shahrzad”, however, reveals some bold omissions.

According to the “Shahrzad” narrative, the political players in post-coup Iran were divided into three categories: the sympathizers of Mosaddeq, the leader toppled by the coup, exemplified by both Shahrzad and especially Farhad; the oppressive ruling class (the Shah, landlords, etc.); and the communist Tudeh Party. These three are depicted in the series as ‘the good,’ ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’, respectively, and they dominate the narrative’s presentation of history, which conspicuously omits the role of the working class, which, to be fair, is almost always omitted, or only depicted if and to the extent that it is under the leadership of the clerics.

Also absent from the “Shahrzad” narrative are religious forces. Not only are there no clerics in the series, but no key figure exhibits any explicit religious convictions. Most significantly, perhaps, there are no American agents or civilians in the movie. Even though the coup has been attributed to the secret agencies of the United States, with President Obama referring to it as “well-known history” in a 2009 speech at Cairo University, in “Shahrzad” the coup’s main protagonists are nationals: the Shah, his court and landowners. Why?

Let us start with the erasure of US forces. President Obama’s 2009 acknowledgment of the US’s role in the 1953 coup was one among a series of reconciliatory gestures for “moving forward.” The election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 was a sign that this shift, and the possibility of moving forward, had advocates not only in the United States, but also in Iran.

A resident of Tehran washes "Yankee Go Home" graffiti from a wall in the capital city of Iran, Aug. 21, 1953. The new Premier Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi requested the clean-up after the coup d'etat which restored the Shah of Iran in power. (AP Photo) PHOTO: Pahlavi Dynasty via Wikimedia Commons

A resident of Tehran washes “Yankee Go Home” graffiti from a wall in the capital city of Iran, Aug. 21, 1953. The new Premier Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi requested the clean-up after the coup d'etat which restored the Shah of Iran in power. (PHOTO: Pahlavi Dynasty via Wikimedia Commons)

Previous to “Shahrzad”, almost all post-revolution dramas and narratives stressed the decisive role of imperialist forces, even to the extent of neglecting or downplaying domestic agency altogether. They placed this coup in an ahistorical setting in which, in the absence of any concrete social and economic relations, it is the imperialist forces that have the final say.

The omission of US antagonists from “Shahrzad” might therefore be read as a response to those earlier works—as well as a contribution to the effort to “move forward” and forge stronger ties with the US in post-nuclear deal Iran.

For this process of “moving forward” to be effective, however, requires a concrete knowledge of the social and political events that resulted in the coup. The fading out of the US role in “Shahrzad” is not accompanied by a more concrete narration of social and economic relations and class struggle before and after the Revolution. Which brings us to the more provoking elimination of religious forces mentioned above.

Not only does it glorify the deposed Mosaddeq, “Shahrzad” also purges its narrative of Ayatollah Kashani, the spiritual leader of Fada’iyan Islam. Kashani was the most powerful political cleric of his time. He shared anti-imperialist sentiments with Mosaddeq and became the head of parliament for a period during Mosaddeq’s government. However, as history unfolded, the alliance of the National Front and Kashani became a fragile one. Kashani withdrew his support of Mosaddeq during the coup, and, as several historians suggest, probably even assisted the coup plotters. In “Shahrzad” the character of Buzurg Aqa, with his authority over the mobs, functions as a Kashani figure in disguise.

Mosaddegh_Kashani123

Ayatollah Kashani and Mohammad Mosaddeq. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

The omission of clerics from the narrative also forces us to consider the ideological historiography of the Islamic Republic. Although the the Islamic Republic’s official history has changed over time, including some issues and putting aside others, it has been very insistent and consistent with regard to certain subjects. From an official standpoint, for instance, no state-sanctioned cultural product of Iran should glorify nationalist forces (exemplified by Mosaddeq and the National Front) when the alternative of the religious front is available. Put differently, the overriding “Good” in any historical account can only be the religious front.

This is clearly the case with depictions of the revolution of 1979, or of the student movement of the 1970s. The Islamic Republic’s official historiography even rearticulates the religious sentiments of medieval Persia as a quest for the ideal society which was eventually established centuries later by Ayatollah Khomeini. One example of such revisionism is “Jalal Al-Din”, a series narrating the first few years of life of the famous medieval poet Rumi. In the series, Rumi’s father advocates exactly the system of governance practised today in the Islamic Republic.

“As the story of “Shahrzad” shows, the political and economic aspirations, desires, and interests of any historical moment entail a revision of what happened in the past.”

Unlike these previous TV series, “Shahrzad” glorifies nationalist forces. Not only are the protagonists followers or sympathizers of the National Front, but the erasure of all the leftist sympathizers who were killed after the coup effectively renders Hossein Fatemi, Mosaddeq’s foreign minister, the coup’s only “martyr”. In this sense, in its clash of interests with the revolutionary historiography of the Islamic Republic, the series can be said to adhere to an Islamic “bourgeois” historiography.

While both versions are part of the official historiography of Islamic Republic, they appeal to a different audiences. The Islamic bourgeois version attracts the young, urban middle class, as sometimes it blurs religious messages and instead emphasizes a nationalist discourse, which in turn could easily have appeal in conservative circles with deep roots in the military forces.

Yet, while the dominant “revolutionary” ideology fears nationalist viewpoints, making only seasonal uses of them at times such as during an economic crisis, the bourgeoisie finds them to be of general economic benefit.“Shahrzad” reveals the ways in which the historiography of the Islamic bourgeoisie is both different from, and similar to, the dominant “revolutionary” historiography. Both versions, for instance, dismiss leftist groups as tools of the Soviet Union, thereby negating any contribution by the working class to the cause of the nationalization of the oil industry. And both versions share a hatred of the Shah and his court.

Faulkner’s famous quote, “the past is never dead. It is not even past,” applies very much to Iran’s 1952 coup and its contested narratives. As the story of “Shahrzad” shows, the political and economic aspirations, desires, and interests of any historical moment entail a revision of what happened in the past. It shows that it is not only the present and future, but also the past, that is a site of constant political struggle.

Most importantly, it shows us that any effort to “move forward” redefines the past, only to confine it with a new, but temporarily beneficial, frame.

Mahdi Ganjavi is a Ph.D. student at the department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education in University of Toronto. His essays, reviews, and translations, have appeared in the International Journal of Lifelong Education, Encyclopedia Iranica, BBC Persian, the Bullet, and Radio-Zamaneh. A version of this essay that originally appeared on the Ajam Media Collective online space.

by Ajam Media Collective at September 28, 2016 02:06 AM

September 27, 2016

Global Voices
Trinidad & Tobago's Deadline for Passing US Tax Legislation Looms as Politicians ‘Play Games’
A screen shot of a Parliament Channel YouTube video, showing the parliamentary debate of Friday September 23, 2016 in Trinidad and Tobago.

A screen shot of a Parliament Channel YouTube video, showing the parliamentary debate of Friday September 23, 2016 in Trinidad and Tobago.

The deadline for Trinidad and Tobago to become a signatory to the United States’ Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is September 30, 2016. The law, which the US Congress enacted in 2010, strives to ensure that US citizens and residents with financial assets outside of the country are paying taxes.

The legislation gives US banks the power to withhold a portion (up to 30%) of payments made to foreign financial institutions that do not agree to release information on their customers who have US accounts. In fact, they can even refuse to do business with them altogether. Non-compliance would therefore have far-reaching effects: critical banking services such as credit card use, wire transfers and remittances would be cut off, Trinidad and Tobago's economy — already sluggish thanks to low energy prices — would further weaken, and the general cost of living and doing business would increase.

Yet, the bill has still not been passed in the country's parliament. Even though the government is unanimously voting for compliance, the current opposition — which had put forward the bill when they were in government — now appears to be stonewalling its passage. The government has 23 members in the House of Representatives, but 26 votes are needed to pass the bill. Despite its insistence that “nobody wants to pass this bill more than [them]”, in the parliamentary sitting of September 23, 2016, every single member of the opposition voted “No” (54:46 on the timeline of this video). For its part, the opposition has accused the government of “politicising the issue”.

The leader of the opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, explained that she and her colleagues are worried about “the draconian provisions in the Bill which are in no way necessary to give effect to the agreement”.

In his presentation to parliament, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert noted, “Clause 8 — the opposition has a problem with this. Nothing in Section 4 of the Income Tax Act, Data Protection Act or any other law of like effect prevents the disclosure of information. The opposition maintains that this strips our citizens of any protection that the law may give to them.”

Although the government has said that they addressed three of the opposition's seven concerns, the matter never went to debate. After Imbert made his presentation in parliament last Friday, he asked the speaker of the house for a one-hour adjournment, during which time the two sides could sit down and hammer out the amendments to the bill. But the opposition refused. Soon after the parliamentary sitting resumed, the opposition leader was reprimanded by the house speaker and asked to leave. The rest of the opposition (save one member) — in an apparent show of solidarity — walked out.

Theoretically, parliament would be able to meet on September 30 and pass the bill just in time to meet the deadline — but that is the date on which the minister of finance will present the country's 2017 budget, so there is no chance of FACTA being tabled for discussion then. Unless the United States agrees to extend the deadline, which at this point seems likely, Trinidad and Tobago will be left in a tenuous position. No matter what happens, though, netizens are incensed.

Wired 868's news blogger Mr. Live Wire quipped:

Quite unhelpfully, Finance Minister Colm Imbert booked his Budget speech on the same day. Presumably, Imbert did not foresee that the [opposition United National Congress] UNC would feign such a startling ignorance of what is at stake here.

Of course, that is not to say that he agreed with the legislation so much as he resigned himself to the fact that compliance had to happen:

In essence, every bank in the world will become non-paid informants of the IRS.

The cost of America’s witch hunt for tax evaders was estimated to be around eight times the value of income the IRS expects to recoup. So, to make this exercise financially viable, the IRS will let the banks pick up the tab for their investigation of US citizens who are using their services. […]

So, should Trinidad and Tobago object to accepting such a costly and invasive excursion into its own banking system by the Yanks? Of course!

We should also refuse to fork out TT$300 for a plate of pasta at those stoosh [posh] restaurants in west Trinidad.

But if you are there already and want to get fed, you will pay. And if you want access to the US banking system, you will do the same.

Otherwise, the IRS will start by withholding 30 percent of financial transfers—even Moneygram and Western Union—to locals, whether they are American or not, until they can prove they are not involved in tax evasion.

Meanwhile, the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago supports the bill, the business chambers issued calls for compliance and the country's Securities and Exchange Commission has provided its feedback.

Netizens, however, appear to be divided across political lines. One Facebook user, Gideon Charles, called the opposition's refusal to vote for the bill a desperate attempt at destabilisation, speculating that the opposition does not want FACTA compliance “because it would divulge the pilfering, the embezzling of taxpayers’ money by the former, now Opposition UNC government”. Others were more tongue in cheek, while Facebook user Susan Charles called out the minister of finance on his political posturing:

Imbert stop playing games with the FACTA bill by saying you hoping for an extension yes the deadline is Friday but ent [didn't] you already get an extension stop pretending… This is Trinidad and somebody always know somebody and so mark does bust [local saying which means what is done in the dark will soon come to light]

Still, Imbert insisted that “the bill […] is identical to the bill prepared by the People's Partnership government. It's the same bill, word for word.”

With the passing of the bill still in limbo, social media users in the Caribbean nation wonder whether the government and opposition will come together for the greater good — or in the words of Mr. Live Wire:

Russia President Vladimir Putin also railed against FATCA, which he described as an attack on Russian sovereignty. Then, 24 hours before the US deadline, Putin caved and signed on 30 June 2014.

Think Sarcastic Smurf [a snide reference to Imbert] can drive a harder bargain than a man who rides horses bareback in Siberia and invades neighbouring countries in his spare time? FATCA chance! Just sign the damn thing and done, Kamla!

by Janine Mendes-Franco at September 27, 2016 07:19 PM

Creative Commons
Announcing the CC Europe meeting!

 

cc-meeting

Next weekend, 30 participants from 15 different countries will meet for a regional meeting in Lisbon, Portugal. In this packed weekend, we will work on a variety of subjects such as Copyright Reform during a School of Rocking Copyright session, OER and Open Science, CC Business models, Tech and Infrastructure, and we’ll also kick off the GLAM certificates project. Many thanks to the fabulous CC Portugal team for hosting us!

Stay tuned for a recap in the next few weeks.

The post Announcing the CC Europe meeting! appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Gwen Franck at September 27, 2016 04:06 PM

Global Voices
Artist Draws Attention to the Plight of Child Laborers and Young Women in Myanmar
Promotional poster of the video animation 'I Wanna Go to School’. Image from the Facebook page of Nyan Kyal Say

Promotional poster of the video animation ‘I Wanna Go to School’. Image from the Facebook page of Nyan Kyal Say

Myanmar artist Nyan Kyal Say has produced several video animations that highlight the poor conditions experienced by many children and young women in his country.

One of these animations is titled ‘I Wanna Go to School’, which narrates the story of a brother and a sister whose dream of going to school is undermined by various obstacles such as gender inequality, poverty, war, child abuse, child labor, and human trafficking.

It won the best animation award in the 2015 Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival. Last month, the Asia-Pacific office of the International Labour Organization promoted the video as part of the campaign to strengthen child protection in Myanmar.

According to some studies, one out of 10 children in Myanmar are involved in child labor, with more than half of them in hazardous work. Almost half of children do not finish primary school.

Below is ‘I Wanna Go to School’

Another video animation made by Nyan Kyal Say is titled ‘My Life I Don’t Want’ which depicts the experience of many girls in Myanmar as they try to overcome the various difficulties they face in life such as sexual abuse, discrimination, and trafficking. See the trailer of the video below:

In an interview with this author, Nyan Kyal Say highlighted the role of artists in a country like Myanmar, which is undergoing a democratic transition.

The role of artists is very important for every country, because aside from pointing out the realities, they can also make people feel those realities and make the public understand. For Myanmar, since the eyes of most Myanmar people were closed by the previous military-backed governments for many decades, they became lost and didn’t even know that they were lost. In such case, art is a strong way to make their eyes open. Also, because of that, during those years, many artworks dealing with politics, social issues, economy, and government matters were censored. Now, since Myanmar is in rapid transition and transformation with the new government, and as artists are now given the freedom to create, art becomes more important for the people to see and feel the reality, and motivate them to make changes in society.

He is confident that animation artists like him will continue to have an important role in the country:

For animation, we have to keep trying far to survive, since the animation market and animation knowledge in Myanmar is still not well-developed yet. However, I can see positive movements in Myanmar like the rising number of young animation artists. I believe we can do it for the development of animation culture in Myanmar.

Nyan Kyal Say. Source: Facebook

Nyan Kyal Say. Source: Facebook

by Mong Palatino at September 27, 2016 09:06 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Tuesday, September 27, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about the New York Times' new Political Ad Tracker, a tool that will allow you to send metadata about political ads you encounter on Facebook; optimism over Twitter's recent livestreaming deals; and Adobe's creation of the Digital Price Index.

by Marketplace at September 27, 2016 05:00 AM

September 26, 2016

Global Voices
Animations, TV Shows, and Personal Testimonies Help Colombians Understand the (Possible) End of Conflict
"There goes Colombia". Photo by Flickr user Lucho Molina. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“There goes Colombia”. Photo by Flickr user Lucho Molina. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Colombia is currently living through a historic process that could put an end to the horrific armed conflict that has dominated the country's narrative for more than 50 years. On October 2, 2016, Colombians both inside and out of the country will vote to either accept or reject the signed agreement between the government and the militant group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The negotiation process, which has taken years of complex and difficult decisions, has been amply discussed in the public arena, a discussion that reflects the strong divisions within Colombian society.

These opinions are a good mirror of each group's own context. In general, these point of views collide in rural areas, where people are for and against the FARC. In cities, views are conflicting — on one hand, there are those who have not been directly touched by the war, and on the other there are those who fled violence only to come to live in urban areas marked by poverty and exclusion.

‘People are not against the peace process, they're against the rumors about the process’

In order to transform the debate and inform people about the peace agreements, numerous information campaigns have been launched, including the animated series “Dejemos de matarnos” (“Let's Stop Killing Ourselves“). Narrated by historian Diana Uribe, the series explains the minutiae of the peace agreement and confronts the fears surrounding the agreement. Uribe claims in the video how opinions and misinformation are affecting the debate: “People are not against the peace process, they're against the rumors about the process.” The series also link the Colombian process for peace with those of other countries, such as Ireland, Rwanda, and Guatemala

Cada vez que los pueblos pasan por un proceso de paz la humanidad en su totalidad da un paso hacia adelante. No solo porque la paz nos engrandece como especie, sino porque cada proceso de paz es un aprendizaje que nos da las claves para el siguiente. Así como Irlanda y Sudáfrica le están enseñando al mundo cómo superar los odios y la violencia, así también llegará el día en que Colombia le cuente su historia a los demás para que otros puedan aprender de lo que nosotros hicimos.

Every time nations go through a peace process, humanity as a whole takes a step forward. Not only because peace elevates us as a species, but also because each peace process is a learning experience that gives us the keys for the next one. Just like Ireland and South Africa are teaching the world how to overcome hatred and violence, so too will come the day when Colombia will add its story to the rest so that others can learn from what we have done.

Other analyses of the road to peace and its possible regional significance were explored by the program “Claves” (“Keys” in English), in which different Latin American analysts compared the Colombian peace process with that of El Salvador:

Dagoberto Gutiérrez, a guerrilla chief on the civil war period who was a negotiator and signer of the Salvadoran peace agreements, said:

En la negociación se negocia el fin de la guerra, pero no el fin del conflicto. Termina esa guerra [El Salvador], esa guerra era civil que es cuando se enfrentan dos partes de una misma sociedad; y se abren las puertas para otra guerra, la actual, una guerra social.

What was negotiated was the end of the war, not the end of the conflict. The civil war ends [in El Salvador], a civil war in which two parts of the same society fight each other; then the doors of another war, the current war, a social war, open.

While Mauricio Ernesto Vargas, a retired general and a signer of the Salvadoran peace agreement, commented:

Es mejor coexistir que matarnos, es mejor hablarnos que ignorarnos […] No deben confundir [los colombianos] lo que es el proceso de pacificación con lo que es la construcción de la paz.

It is better to coexist than to kill ourselves, to talk with each other than to ignore each other […] [Colombians] should not confuse the pacification process with the process of peace building.

And Jaime Martínez, director general of the Public Security Academy and director of the Center for Criminal Studies of El Salvador, observed:

Ganamos [los salvadoreños] muchísimo con los acuerdos de paz. Como sea, con las imperfecciones que ahora tenemos e incluso con las nuevas conflictividades […] estamos mucho mejor que esa época oscura, terrible, de locura que había durante la guerra que vivimos.

We [Salvadorans] won so much with the peace agreements. With the imperfections we have now, including the new unrest […] we are much better off than [we were during] that dark, terrible, time of madness that happened during the war that we lived through.

‘The sons of the rich do not go to war’

The Colombian conflict has been characterized by a multiplicity of versions, histories and scenarios. It is a conflict that has had repercussions within and outside of the country. Colombia has the second-highest number of internally displaced people due to conflict in the world (6.3 million people, according to the UNHCR), and much of the diaspora who have gone in search of better opportunities in other Latin American countries have fled from either direct or indirect violence from the armed conflict. 

Young people especially have been the most victimized. Video testimonies that have circulated across social media emphasize the fact that many of those who participate in the wars — no matter the side — are youth who are impoverished and victims of exclusion. As Leonard Rentería, a community youth leader, said in a powerful video, “The sons of the rich do not go to war.” “I Never Imagined Colombia,” a collection of testimonies gathered by Patricia Barón, Martha Lucía Jordán and Omar Rincón, recounts years of displacements, violence, wielding weapons and reintegration first person:

No me he olvidado del pasado […] porque eso son cosas que me han hecho madurar bastante. Yo te he contado que hay momentos en que me arrepiento de todo, pero es que no me puedo… me arrepiento en la forma en que ahora hay gente que prácticamente que lo ve a uno, y no sé, como todo extraño […]  Antes no pensaba lo que pienso ahora, antes pensaba que mi mundo giraba alrededor de lo que vivía en el monte y no miraba adelante nada, ni para atrás tampoco. Pero resulta que desde que salí [de la guerrilla] las cosas me han estado cambiando, ahora estoy aquí, con todo lo que he recorrido y he conocido, aprendido de las personas.

I have not forgotten the past […] because those are things that have made me grow. I have told you that there are moments in which I regret everything, but it is that I cannot…I regret the way in which now there are people who see me, I don't know, as a complete stranger […] Before, I did not think what I think now; before I thought that my world revolved around what I was living in the forest and I did not look ahead to anything nor behind. But the result is that ever since I left [the guerrillas], things are changing for me, and now I am here, with all that I have gone through and known, [and have] learned of people.

Colombia between a Yes and a No

The debates and the polarization on this subject are centered around the vote that will decide the fate of the peace agreement. The campaigns based on a “Yes” for peace defend it with the idea that it brings Colombians a step towards a more united Colombia and that it can move the country past a war that has scarred various generations. Those who advocate voting “No” fear that the country is submitting to the FARC, that its members have places in the Senate, and that their crimes will go unpunished. 

The number of voices across sectors that see hope in the peace process, however, are multiplying. Expectations are high that the agreement can be part of a process of forgiveness and reconciliation that will establish a more united Colombia. And it is hoped, likewise, that the agreement can strengthen relations with the rest of the region and help Colombians dedicate themselves to the biggest challenge of ending the conflict: the daily and collective construction of a long-lasting peace.

GV Face: How Colombians Are Trying to Understand Peace

On September 27, we'll analyze the conflict's context, compare Colombia's current peace process to others around the world, discuss the upcoming referendum and talk about how Colombians imagine their future after the war.

Read our past coverage of the conflict and Colombia's road to peace:

by Sara Holmes at September 26, 2016 11:43 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Jordanian Authorities Impose Media Gag After Writer's Killing
Censorship. Image by Isaac Mao, April 18, 2005. CC BY 2.0

Censorship. Image by Eric Drooker. CC BY 2.0

Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot dead on 25 September outside a court in the capital Amman, where he was scheduled to stand trial over a cartoon he shared on Facebook.

Government authorities have officially banned news coverage of his assassination.

The cartoon in question depicted a bearded man in heaven, lying in bed with two women, inside of a tent. God peers inside the tent, and the man asks God to bring him some wine and cashew nuts. The writer posted the cartoon with the comment “the Lord of Dawa'ish.” Dawa'ish is the Arabic language acronym used to refer to ISIS members or supporters in the plural. Dawa'ish and Dai'sh (Arabic-language acronym for ISIS) are usually used to negatively refer to the group and its members.

Hattar was facing three years in jail for insulting religion.

Hattar was facing three years in jail for insulting religion.

At the behest of Prime Minister Hani al-Mulqi, Hattar was arrested on 13 August for “insulting divinity. According to Al Jazeera, he removed the cartoon soon after, stating “it mocks terrorists and their concept of God and heaven. It does not infringe God's divinity in any way.”

Hattar was a staunch leftist, known for his controversial political writings and his support for the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad. The 54-year-old writer stayed in police custody until he was released on bail in early September. Despite the threats on his life, he was not afforded any police protection.

After news of the assassination broke on September 25, Jordanians were already expecting a gag order.

Sure enough, on September 26 the country's State Security Court issued a ban on the coverage of news related to Hattar's assassination. According to a statement published by the media commission, a government body that regulates audiovisual, print, and electronic media, the ban aims to “preserve investigation secrecy, and ensure public interest.”

This is nothing new for Jordan. On 1 September 2016, the government issued a gag on news coverage related to the King and the royal family, unless they are published by the Royal Hashemite Court itself. The ban came in the form of a 25-word statement from Jordan's media monitor and offered no details on how long the ban would last or what penalties would be served to violators.

On Twitter, Jordanians bemoaned the fact that gag orders now seem to be issued whenever something newsworthy happens.

The local online magazine 7iber counted 15 gag orders between early 2014 and mid-August 2016. The list includes the gag order issued on the case brought by Jordanian authorities against Hattar, the day after his arrest.

In another example, on 28 August 2016, authorities banned coverage of the detention of a preacher for posting on Facebook a video critical of Amman's participation in the US-led military campaign against ISIS.

Though the Jordanian government was quick to condemn his assassination describing it as an “ugly crime”, critics say that it is also partially to blame for bringing the case against the writer in the first place, and for not investigating threats against his life.

Jordanian writer and editor Naseem Tarawnah tweeted:

In an editorial mourning the loss of Hattar published yesterday, 7iber wrote:

If blood stains the hands of Hattar’s assassin who fired four shots at him, then the hands of the state and instigators are not clean either…Incitement against the murdered writer started on social media and other platforms, with threats to kill him published and delivered to him. This did not warrant “an order to investigate” nor did it initiate any legal case against the instigators…If this weren’t the same government that initiated Hattar’s trial, we might have been able to describe its role as negligent or complacent. But when its popularity and its acceptance by some is considered more important than protecting the life of one of its citizens, then its responsibility regarding this crime becomes much more significant.

The Committee to Protect Journalists described the writer's murder as the “result of lack of commitment to freedom of expression by Jordanian authorities,” and called on the government to “to bring the killer to justice and to change its approach to freedom of the press to foster openness and protection for critical voices.”

Today's gag order indicates that the Jordanian government is not planning to liberalize its free speech or censorship policies anytime soon.

by Afef Abrougui at September 26, 2016 08:07 PM

Global Voices
Jordanian Authorities Impose Media Gag After Writer's Killing
Censorship. Image by Isaac Mao, April 18, 2005. CC BY 2.0

Censorship. Image by Eric Drooker. CC BY 2.0

Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot dead on 25 September outside a court in the capital Amman, where he was scheduled to stand trial over a cartoon he shared on Facebook.

Government authorities have officially banned news coverage of his assassination.

The cartoon in question depicted a bearded man in heaven, lying in bed with two women, inside of a tent. God peers inside the tent, and the man asks God to bring him some wine and cashew nuts. The writer posted the cartoon with the comment “the Lord of Dawa'ish.” Dawa'ish is the Arabic language acronym used to refer to ISIS members or supporters in the plural. Dawa'ish and Dai'sh (Arabic-language acronym for ISIS) are usually used to negatively refer to the group and its members.

Hattar was facing three years in jail for insulting religion.

Hattar was facing three years in jail for insulting religion.

At the behest of Prime Minister Hani al-Mulqi, Hattar was arrested on 13 August for “insulting divinity. According to Al Jazeera, he removed the cartoon soon after, stating “it mocks terrorists and their concept of God and heaven. It does not infringe God's divinity in any way.”

Hattar was a staunch leftist, known for his controversial political writings and his support for the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad. The 54-year-old writer stayed in police custody until he was released on bail in early September. Despite the threats on his life, he was not afforded any police protection.

After news of the assassination broke on September 25, Jordanians were already expecting a gag order.

Sure enough, on September 26 the country's State Security Court issued a ban on the coverage of news related to Hattar's assassination. According to a statement published by the media commission, a government body that regulates audiovisual, print, and electronic media, the ban aims to “preserve investigation secrecy, and ensure public interest.”

This is nothing new for Jordan. On 1 September 2016, the government issued a gag on news coverage related to the King and the royal family, unless they are published by the Royal Hashemite Court itself. The ban came in the form of a 25-word statement from Jordan's media monitor and offered no details on how long the ban would last or what penalties would be served to violators.

On Twitter, Jordanians bemoaned the fact that gag orders now seem to be issued whenever something newsworthy happens.

The local online magazine 7iber counted 15 gag orders between early 2014 and mid-August 2016. The list includes the gag order issued on the case brought by Jordanian authorities against Hattar, the day after his arrest.

In another example, on 28 August 2016, authorities banned coverage of the detention of a preacher for posting on Facebook a video critical of Amman's participation in the US-led military campaign against ISIS.

Though the Jordanian government was quick to condemn his assassination describing it as an “ugly crime”, critics say that it is also partially to blame for bringing the case against the writer in the first place, and for not investigating threats against his life.

Jordanian writer and editor Naseem Tarawnah tweeted:

In an editorial mourning the loss of Hattar published yesterday, 7iber wrote:

If blood stains the hands of Hattar’s assassin who fired four shots at him, then the hands of the state and instigators are not clean either…Incitement against the murdered writer started on social media and other platforms, with threats to kill him published and delivered to him. This did not warrant “an order to investigate” nor did it initiate any legal case against the instigators…If this weren’t the same government that initiated Hattar’s trial, we might have been able to describe its role as negligent or complacent. But when its popularity and its acceptance by some is considered more important than protecting the life of one of its citizens, then its responsibility regarding this crime becomes much more significant.

The Committee to Protect Journalists described the writer's murder as the “result of lack of commitment to freedom of expression by Jordanian authorities,” and called on the government to “to bring the killer to justice and to change its approach to freedom of the press to foster openness and protection for critical voices.”

Today's gag order indicates that the Jordanian government is not planning to liberalize its free speech or censorship policies anytime soon.

by Afef Abrougui at September 26, 2016 08:02 PM

This Soviet Cartoon Was Too Much for Romania’s Communist Censors
A frame from the second episode of "Nu pogodi" not approved by Communist Romanian censors.

A scene from an episode of the Soviet cartoon “Nu Pogodi” not approved by Communist Romanian censors.

According to the documentary “Chuck Norris vs Communism,” Romania's state censorship actually deleted scenes from the classic Soviet cartoon “Nu Pogodi” before broadcasting it on state TV during the 1980s. For instance, in the first scene of the second episode, the Rabbit carries three balloons: red, blue, and yellow. Because they matched the colors of the Romanian flag, censors cut out the scene to avoid associations about Soviet dominance over Romania.

“Nu Pogodi” (“Well, Just You Wait!” or “I'll get you!”) is probably the Soviet Union's best-loved, most famous cartoon. Produced in Russia by Moscow-based Soyuzmultfilm, it featured two main characters inspired by Tom and Jerry: the ‘hooligan” Wolf and the goody two shoes Rabbit. Today and on YouTube, it remains popular across the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, as well as in the former Yugoslavia.

While Romania was indeed a Soviet satellite state, the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu tried to maintain the perception that his government was in charge, and that his brand of Communism, which included Romanian nationalism, was “the best.” Other instances spurring censorship highlighted in the “Chuck Norris” documentary included deleting scenes of abundant food (banned because of shortages in most consumer products, thanks to the shortcomings of Communism's planned economy).

Soyuzmultfilm has published all the “Nu, pogodi!” episodes online on YouTube, including a 2014 reboot. (These videos cannot be embedded outside YouTube, however.)

“Nu, pogodi!” was created in the traditions of Disney and Warner Bros. For other of cartoons made behind the Iron Curtain, check out more examples from Russia, Ukraine, and Hungary.

by Filip Stojanovski at September 26, 2016 07:34 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
The Rise of Experimental Government: David Halpern at the What Works Global Summit

What is the state of the "empiricism agenda" to understand "what works" in policy? And what is it that we don't know?

I'm here at the What Works Global Summit (WWGS) in London, where David Halpern and Peter John are discussing the role of randomized trials in society. The WWGS is a gathering of practitioners in international development, policing, education, public health, activism, and many other areas where people have applied quantitative methods to get causal estimates on the outcomes of their social interventions.

The main speaker, David Halpern, is the Chief Executive at the Behavioral Insights Team, led the team since its creation, and before that was the chief analyst of the UK Prime Minister's Strategy Unit. David is also national advisor of the What Works Network, I've blogged about the the Behavioral Insights Team here before, sharing a talk by Oliver Hauser on the role of randomized trials in policymaking. Charing the conversation is Peter John, professor of political science and public policy at UCL, and lead author of a book (and article) called Nudge Nudge, Think Think: Two Strategies for Changing Civic Behavior (I summarize it here).

David starts out by referring to Archie Cochrane's book Efficiency and Effectiveness (1972), where he set out the argument for the use of randomized trials in medicine. In a side note, Cochrane asked:

what other profession encourages publications about its error, and experimental investigations into the effect of their actions? Which magistrate, judge, or headmaster has encouraged RCTs into their 'therapeutic' and 'deterrent' actions?.... Let us remember the number of bridges that have fallen down.

At the time, Cochrane was arguing for the basic randomized controlled trial. RCTs offer simple math for calculating potential outcomes, even as more causal methods are being available. In recent years, David has explained RCTs by describing how the British started to win in cycling. The British cycling team have worked on marginal gains: picking apart their work, testing different ideas, and making incremental improvements. If the UK could do that for cycling, why couldn't they do it for other areas of public interest? David describes this as "radical incrementalism." At the same time, it's also important to be able to make "leaps" -- describing Graeme Obree, whose crazy ideas about bicycle design allowed him to break the velodrome world speed record.

Next, David tells us about the journey from the "nudge unit" to the UK's more recent efforts with What Works centres. Back in 2010, the UK government created a "nudge unit," which aside from the policies it tested, has had a larger legacy to introduce the idea of empiricism into policy circles. To illustrate their work, David tells the story of an experiment the group did to test different kinds of tax letters to citizens. The group tested added extra lines to the letters, saying things like "Nine out of ten people pay their tax on time." By building different different kinds of interventions, they got effects of over five percentage points. Next, they asked about the effects among the people who were least likely to have an effect. By testing different messages with these groups, they were able to increase tax payment by seven percentage points, asking the question "what works for who?"

Why does this matter? These experiments tested an intervention that cost very little to try -- just changing the working of tax letters. So these experiments powerfully-demonstrated what governments could achieve by putting minimal effort into randomized trials. This has opened up opportunities for different kinds of experiments, like an experiment that tried to support learners to stay in further education colleges. They tried offering affirming values, saying something about grit, or texting student's friends to ask their friends how their learning was going. The intervention had a nearly six percentage point effect on school attendance, and they're waiting to see what the effect may be on scores.

The Behavioral Insights imported and exposed ministers to the idea of evidence based policy. The What Works movement is setting out to support people to generate new findings, transmit their findings, and support communities to adopt those findings. Together, they have created six "What Works Centres" in departments from health to policing, to support the UK government to evaluate social policy. Even in the health world, may issues of service delivery or public health have not be evaluated as well as pharmaceuticals. Davides arguesthat education randomized trials happened once a year at most, but thanks to the founding of the Education Endowment Foundation, they have funded 127 trials across 7,200 schools, creating resources for school administrators to make decisions based on the findings. The Early Intervention Foundation supports research on young people beyond school. Other groups include the What Works Crime Reduction, the centre focusing on Local Economic Growth, the Centre for Ageing Better, and the What Works Wellbeing centre. These centres are part of a larger network and wider work. David outlines the following goals:

  • Stimulating ministerial interest. Rather than telling ministers they should hold off on an idea until there's an answer, we should tell ministers: you have more than one idea; why don't we implement the policy, try several things at once, and trim the one that is least effectively?
  • (Re-)training the policy profession so policymakers are familiar with building policies that can be iterated and tested.
  • The Trial Advisory Panel, which can offer feedback and advice on how to design trials
  • Publishing what we don't know, but ought to. David wants governments to publish lists of things that we don't know that we ought to know the answer to.
  • Moving from efficiency reviews to efficacy reviews in government.

In the next five years, David wants to live in a world where "radical incrementalism" is routine everywhere in government. He wants to see more work to identify what kinds of things work for what people. This will require governments to link people's data more closely. David wants to see empiricism applied to social work and the rest of the criminal justice system beyond police. Next, David wants to foster public demand and understanding. He wants people to interrogate the evidence behind different kinds of claims, and to expect that public services are taking an evidence-based approach. Finally, he wants to see the "What Works" enterprise grow internationally. David describes knowledge from experiments as a public good that we all contribute to every time we do an experiment.

David briefly notes that as we think about a society with more widespread experiments, it's important to take serious the public concerns about privacy and social control associated with experimentation.

David concludes by pointing to the "terra incognita" on a map in the early renaissance. He argues that by working together across countries and regions, we can support each other to fill in the gaps of experimental knowledge on the outcomes of policies.

Questions and Answers

Q: Where do experiments fit in the politics of mistrust, when many in the public may be less likely to care about evidence? David responds: Most ministers in government come in with strong beliefs, including policies. Some of them will not have a good evidence base. But there are so many choices in any given area. One approach is to ask what goals a person has where they haven't specified-- and then help them work on that. And then ask what other questions aren't headline news but which are amenable to evidence. The White House Social & Behavioral Sciences Team has published very dull things: things that everyone would agree to, and testing variations. If the UK nudge unit had started on radical reforms, they would have gotten knocked aside. There are million of other things to test that are less controversial. We can leave politicians their headline ideas. In some cases, policymakers have written "provisional" positions into legislation, budgeting resources to test them.

Observation: A participant from the Brookings Institution told a story from the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. They've been running for two years, and many of their things have worked. He then talked excitedly about some of their failures. David responds that experimental groups have had many early successes because many government processes can easily be improved--anyone can do better. Over time, it will be important to develop good ways to talk about null results once the averages start to balance out.

Question: someone asks how to convince government to pay attention to evidence? David responds that with the What Works Centres, they have focused on building community among practitioners, who are able to carry out experiments independently of the national government. That community work can often create an appetite within government, says David.

Q: How do you think about ethics with policy trials? Halpern responds that he believes it's important to have an overt panel of the public involved in decisions about what the public thinks are acceptable policy experiments. If we want a more experimental government, we may need to turn to juries as a model for maintaining ethics in the public interest.

by natematias at September 26, 2016 05:50 PM

Rising Voices
A Specially Designed Keyboard Allows Yorùbá and Igbo Speakers to Type Their Languages
Screenshot from "How Do You Tone Mark in Yorùbá?"

Screenshot from “How Do You Tone Mark in Yorùbá?”

Typing Nigerian languages, such as Yorùbá and Igbo, is usually a challenge as most keyboards are not equipped for the tonality that characterizes them. These technical barriers have been a source of concern for many Nigerians who would wish to type their local languages properly.

However, this might no longer be an issue thanks to YorubaName.com, which has developed a Yorùbá and Igbo keyboard. YorubaName.com is a multimedia dictionary of Yorùbá names, which seeks to:

…preserve and document all Yorùbá names in a multimedia format. It is part of a long-term project to document all types of African cultural experiences on the internet as a way of ensuring the survival of African identities in their various expressions.

YorubaName.com was founded by Kọlá Túbọsún, whose bachelor of arts’ thesis formed the backbone of the project. He and his team of linguists and techies, including Global Voices author and translator Laila Le Guen, are behind the keyboard.

Laila has been a volunteer with the YorubaName project since March 2015, and she recently completed a three-year diploma in Yorùbá studies offered at Inalco, Paris, that included a rigorous language course alongside specialised classes in linguistics, history, literature and anthropology. She explained in an interview the issue that the keyboard solves:

Laila Le Guen, Core Team member of YorubaNames.com, Editor and Translator

Laila Le Guen, YorubaNames.com team member, editor and translator.

With this keyboard, we are addressing technical barriers to the use of Yorùbá and Igbo online. The new keyboard is an updated version of a keyboard layout we released last year to fill a gap in technological solutions to type Yorùbá in standard orthography. Yorùbá makes use of grave accent, acute accent and occasionally macron (n̄) to mark tone, and some characters include subdots (ẹ ọ ṣ). Some keyboard layouts existed on Windows and I had created one for Mac for my personal use since none existed at the time but all these efforts were scattered and inconsistent. The idea behind the YorubaName keyboard layout was to propose a user-friendly package for Mac and Windows and also to take advantage of our existing platform to promote its use.

Yorùbá is both a language and the name of one of three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. Besides Nigeria, it is also spoken in the Republic of Benin and in communities elsewhere in the world. There are about 30 million speakers of Yorùbá worldwide. 

Nigeria hosts about 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages, but information and communication technology is generally not made with any of those languages in mind. There's also the issue of preserving and promoting their cultural and language identity while abroad: Although there is paucity of accurate statistics, rough estimates drawn from different Nigerian embassies and the International Organisation for Migration show that 15 million Nigerians live outside the country. This seems valid because according to reports, Nigerians living abroad remitted US$21 billion back home in 2014 alone.

Nigerians in the diaspora and those at home wish to keep their identity alive. They want to type, send and receive SMS and make social media posts in their local languages, but most times they are unable to do so. Thus the justifiable interest in the new keyboard developed by Leila and her colleagues.

Laila and Kola in Ibadan

Laila and Kola engaging some students in Irawo, a private hall of residence affiliated to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria during a road tour to promote YorubaNames.com in July. Image used with permission

As part of their research into the keyboard's development, Laila and Kọlá went on a road tour that took them to the cities of Ibadan and Lagos. Even though Yorùbá isn't only spoken in Nigeria, the keyboard is aimed at Nigerian Yorùbá speakers, Laila stressed:
It's important to note that, although Yorùbá is also spoken in neighbouring Benin Republic and marginally in Togo, we are using the Nigerian official orthography and targeting Nigerian and English-speaking diaspora users (for now). There are a couple of reasons for this: Benin Republic uses a different official orthography for Yorùbá but it is seldom used, as scholars and students import books from Nigeria and have become more familiar with the Nigerian standard – this issue is a bit controversial in academic circles in Benin Republic. Besides, very few speakers of Yorùbá in Benin are literate in the language, as it is not taught in school at all other than in specialised programmes for linguists and as part of (rare) adult literacy classes. Finally, keyboards in Benin Republic are made on the French model, but this would be easily solved by adapting the template. We aim to extend our audience to Beninois people very soon by translating the platform into French and hopefully serve their technological needs more adequately.

Although it originally focused on Yorùbá, the keyboard eventually expanded to Igbo, another major Nigerian language. Laila explained:

When we started sharing the keyboard layout on social media and encouraging our community to use it, we received a number of requests from Igbo speakers to make a similar product for their language. It turns out that Igbo orthography is very similar to Yorùbá, in the sense that it also includes grave and acute accents as tone marks, as well as subdots. Since Igbo requires only a couple of extra characters (ị, ụ and ñ), it made sense to add them in the updated June 2016 release.

The keyboard aids users to switch from English to Yorùbá and Igbo, and is adapted for both Mac and Windows operating systems. Laila gave a synopsis of the unique features of this keyboard:

The keyboard enables users to type English, Yorùbá and Igbo without switching language preference settings. The key combinations to type characters such as ṣ or á are easy to memorise which makes for a fast learning process. It's available for Mac and Windows and we're hoping to develop a Linux version and mobile solutions in the future. Also, it's free 🙂

In a country where ethnic narratives are often characterized by hate, a project that seeks to immortalize Nigerian native languages using online tools is more than heartwarming. This is especially instructive because languages are the purveyors of culture and all the other aspects of the identity of a people.

by Eddie Avila at September 26, 2016 04:06 PM

Global Voices
Two Years and Still No Justice, but Mexico Has Not Forgotten Ayotzinapa's Students
Memorial to the students who were victims of a forced disappearance, located in the Reform Promenade in Mexico City. Image by author.

“Alive they took them away, alive we want them back” Memorial to the students who were victims of a forced disappearance, located in the Reform Promenade in Mexico City. Image by author and published with permission.

September 26, 2016 marks the two-year anniversary of a series of violent acts in which a group of students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College – with its headquarters in Ayotzinapa, in the western Mexican state of Guerrero – were deprived of their freedom by local police and later handed over to an armed group identified as the Guerreros Unidos, or “United Guerreros” (a play on words, as guerreros also means “warriors” in Spanish). The Ayotzinapa case – as this tragic series of events is known – remains unpunished.

The forced disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa marked the start of President Enrique Peña Nieto's fall in popularity and was followed by a series of high-profile corruption and/or conflict of interest scandals that implicated the president and his closest partners. Added to these scandals was the discovery of other violent events in which government forces committed extrajudicial executions of civilians, such as the Tlatlaya case and the Apatzingán Massacre, to mention only a few.

Twenty-four months have passed since the students disappeared. Two different people have headed the office of the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR, in Spanish), an office that is part of the Public Ministry (Mexico's prosecuting authority) and conducts investigations. More than 110 people have found themselves subjected to preventative detention, accused of being involved in the Ayotzinapa case, and not a single one has been declared criminally responsible, that is to say, condemned by a judge.

Mexican institutions’ standard: 111 detained in the #Ayotzinapa case and no one knows for sure what actually happened. How stupid, right?

Perhaps the most important news in the days leading up to Ayotzinapa's second anniversary is the resignation of Tomás Zerón, who occupied the post of director in chief for Mexico's Criminal Investigation Agency. Zerón found himself in the cross hairs of both the missing students’ families and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which helped in the investigation's inquiry and was appointed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

Their complaints against him were based on a video that circulated in which Zerón is seen wandering around the place where, according to the official version, the students’ remains were burned. It is also believed that Zerón “sowed” evidence intentionally so that it would be found by experts who were working in the area.

Zerón's resignation has been demanded by the families of those who disappeared and by Vidulfo Rosales, who acts as their legal adviser:

We demand the resignation of Tomás Zerón for manipulating the evidence in the San Juan River, in Cocula.

More than 43 are missing

In the maelstrom of indignation, and perhaps in trying to keep the symbolism of the now emblematic number 43, hardly anyone talks about the other victims of that bloody day. These victims are people who, although they did not suffer from forced disappearances, were still severely wounded from the violence.

Such is the case with a student by the name of Aldo Gutiérrez Solano, whose story was referred to on the Latin Times’ website:

Aldo Gutiérrez Solano es uno de los estudiantes de la Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos que [resultó] herido la noche del 26 de Septiembre de 2014 en Iguala. El caso Ayotzinapa causó indignación en todo México y el extranjero, no solo fueron los 43 estudiantes desaparecidos y posiblemente asesinados cruelmente por un grupo delictivo y los oficiales locales de Guerrero, sino también cuentan los que murieron esa noche y los heridos que siguen sufriendo la indiferencia y poca consideración por parte de las autoridades federales.

Aldo Gutiérrez Solano is one of the students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College who [was] wounded the night of September 26, 2014, in Iguala. The Ayotzinapa case caused outrage throughout all of Mexico and abroad, [not only for] the 43 students who have disappeared and possibly been cruelly murdered by a criminal group and local Guerrero officials, but also [for] those who died that night and those who were injured and continue to suffer from the indifference and little consideration from the federal authorities.

In August 2016, it was reported that student Aldo Gutiérrez was hit that fateful night by a projectile (bullet) that destroyed 65% of his brain. According to the neurological expert who has traveled from Cuba to attend to him, he remains in a “vegetative state” with little chance of recovery.

Thus, two years after the forced disappearance of the 43 students by government forces and the injuries caused to others, the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR), now headed by Arely Gómez (a member of the same party as President Peña), has been remiss in presenting a theory of what actually happened that differs from the “historical truth” suggested by her predecessor Jesús Murillo.

This same PGR has been incapable of obtaining convictions against those presented before the judiciary as responsible for Ayotzinapa. In this same vein, Twitter user Rubén Cárdenas threw out the following advice:

What would be just is a double arrest in the PGR: [One] for Jesús Murillo Karam for inventing the “historical version” and [another] for Arely Gómez as accessory.

Arely Gómez, however, has insisted that the investigation, after so many months, is still ongoing:

“Ayotzinapa is not a closed case”: Arely Gómez |

The story of the Ayotzinapa case continues to be written. For the families of the missing students, the search goes on. For all Mexicans, the episode remains fresh in their memories.

You can read more about the so-called historical truth of the case and about the participation of foreign specialists here.

by Sara Holmes at September 26, 2016 03:04 PM

Luis Villa
Public licenses and data: So what to do instead?

I just explained why open and copyleft licensing, which work fairly well in the software context, might not be legally workable, or practically a good idea, around data. So what to do instead? tl;dr: say no to licenses, say yes to norms.

"Day 43-Sharing" by A. David Holloway, under CC BY 2.0.
Day 43-Sharing” by A. David Holloway, under CC BY 2.0.

Partial solutions

In this complex landscape, it should be no surprise that there are no perfect solutions. I’ll start with two behaviors that can help.

Education and lawyering: just say no

If you’re reading this post, odds are that, within your organization or community, you’re known as a data geek and might get pulled in when someone asks for a new data (or hardware, or culture) license. The best thing you can do is help explain why restrictive “public” licensing for data is a bad idea. To the extent there is a community of lawyers around open licensing, we also need to be comfortable saying “this is a bad idea”.

These blog posts, to some extent, are my mea culpa for not saying “no” during the drafting of ODbL. At that time, I thought that if only we worked hard enough, and were creative enough, we could make a data license that avoided the pitfalls others had identified. It was only years later that I finally realized there were systemic reasons why we were doomed, despite lots of hard work and thoughtful lawyering. These posts lay out why, so that in the future I can say no more efficiently. Feel free to borrow them when you also need to say no :)

Project structure: collaboration builds on itself

When thinking about what people actually want from open licenses, it is important to remember that how people collaborate is deeply impacted by factors of how your project is structured. (To put it another way, architecture is also law.) For example, many kernel contributors feel that the best reason to contribute your code to the Linux kernel is not because of the license, but because the high velocity of development means that your costs are much lower if you get your features upstream quickly. Similarly, if you can build a big community like Wikimedia’s around your data, the velocity of improvements is likely to reduce the desire to fork. Where possible, consider also offering services and collaboration spaces that encourage people to work in public, rather than providing the bare minimum necessary for your own use. Or more simply, spend money on community people, rather than lawyers! These kinds of tweaks can often have much more of an impact on free-riding and contribution than any license choice. Unfortunately, the details are often project specific – which makes it hard to talk about in a blog post! Especially one that is already too long.

Solving with norms

So if lawyers should advise against the use of data law, and structuring your project for collaboration might not apply to you, what then? Following Peter Desmet, Science Commons, and others, I think the right tool for building resilient, global communities of sharing (in data and elsewhere) is written norms, combined with a formal release of rights.

Norms are essentially optimistic statements of what should be done, rather than formal requirements of what must be done (with the enforcement power of the state behind them). There is an extensive literature, pioneered by Nobelist Elinor Ostrom, on how they are actually how a huge amount of humankind’s work gets done – despite the skepticism of economists and lawyers. Critically, they often work even without the enforcement power of the legal system. For example, academia’s anti-plagiarism norms (when buttressed by appropriate non-legal institutional supports) are fairly successful. While there are still plagiarism problems, they’re fairly comparable to the Linux kernel’s GPL-violation problems – even though, unlike GPL, there is no legal enforcement mechanisms!

Norms and licenses have similar benefits

In many key ways, norms are not actually significantly different than licenses. Norms and licenses both can help (or hurt) a community reach their goals by:

  • Educating newcomers about community expectations: Collaboration requires shared understanding of the behavior that will guide that collaboration. Written norms can create that shared expectation just as well as licenses, and often better, since they can be flexible and human-readable in ways legally-binding international documents can’t.
  • Serving as the basis for social pressure: For the vast majority of collaborative projects, praise, shame, and other social nudges, not legal threats, are the actual basis for collaboration. (If you need proof of this, consider the decades-long success of open source before any legal enforcement was attempted.) Again, norms can serve this role just as well or not better, since it is often desire to cooperate and a fear of shaming that are what actually drive collaboration.
  • Similar levels of enforcement: While you can’t use the legal system to enforce a norm, most people and organizations also don’t have the option to use the legal system to enforce licenses – it is too expensive, or too time consuming, or the violator is in another country, or one of many other reasons why the legal system might not be an option (especially in data!) So instead most projects result to tools like personal appeals or threats of publicity – tools that are still available with norms.
  • Working in practice (usually): As I mentioned above, basing collaboration on social norms, rather than legal tools, work all the time in real life. The idea that collaboration can’t occur without the threat of legal sanction is really a somewhat recent invention. (I could actually have listed this under differences – since, as Ostrom teaches us, legal mechanisms often fail where norms succeed, and I think that is the case in data too.)

Why are norms better?

Of course, if norms were merely “as good as” licenses in the ways I just listed, I probably wouldn’t recommend them. Here are some ways that they can be better, in ways that address some of the concerns I raised in my earlier posts in this series:

  • Global: While [building global norms is not easy](http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038591/), social norms based on appeals to the very human desires for collaboration and partnership can be a lot more global than the current schemes for protecting database or hardware rights, which aren’t international. (You can try to fake internationalization through a license, but as I pointed out in earlier posts, that is likely to fail legally, and be ignored by exactly the largest partners who you most want to get on board.)
  • Flexible: Many of the practical problems with licenses in data space boil down to their inflexibility: if a license presumes something to be true, and it isn’t, you might not be able to do anything about it. Norms can be much more generous – well-intentioned re-users can creatively reinterpret the rules as necessary to get to a good outcome, without having to ask every contributor to change the license. (Copyright law in the US provides some flexibility through fair use, which has been critical in the development of the internet. The EU does not extend such flexibility to data, though member states can add some fair dealing provisions if they choose. In neither case are those exceptions global, so they can’t be relied on by collaborative projects that aim to be global in scope.)
  • Work against, not with, the permission culture: Lessig warned us early on about “permission culture” – the notion that we would always need to ask permission to do anything. Creative Commons was an attempt to fight it, but by being a legal obligation, rather than a normative statement, it made a key concession to the permission culture – that the legal system was the right terrain to have discussions about sharing. The digital world has pretty whole-heartedly rejected this conclusion, sharing freely and constantly. As a result, I suspect a system that appeals to ethical systems has a better chance of long-term sustainability, because it works with the “new” default behavior online rather than bringing in the heavy, and inflexible, hand of the law.

Why you still need a (permissive) license

Norms aren’t enough if the underlying legal system might allow an early contributor to later wield the law as a threat. That’s why the best practice in the data space is to use something like the Creative Commons public domain grant (CC-Zero) to set a clear, reliable, permissive baseline, and then use norms to add flexible requirements on top of that. This uses law to provide reliability and predictability, and then uses norms to address concerns about fairness, free-riding, and effectiveness. CC-Zero still isn’t perfect; most notably it has to try to be both a grant and a license to deal with different international rules around grants.

What next?

In this context, when I say “norms”, I mean not just the general term, but specifically written norms that can act as a reference point for community members. In the data space, some good examples are DPLA’s “CCO-BY” and the Canadensys biodiversity initiative. A more subtle form can be found buried in the terms for NIH’s Clinical Trials database. So, some potential next steps, depending on where your collaborative project is:

  • If your community has informal norms (“attribution good! sharing good!”) consider writing them down like the examples above. If you’re being pressed to adopt a license (hi, Wikidata!), consider writing down norms instead, and thinking creatively about how to name and shame those who violate those norms.
  • If you’re an organization that publishes licenses, consider using your drafting prowess to write some standard norms that encapsulate the same behaviors without the clunkiness of database (or hardware) law. (Open Data Commons made some moves in this direction circa 2010, and other groups could consider doing the same.)
  • If you’re an organization that keeps getting told that people won’t participate in your project because of your license, consider moving towards a more permissive license + a norm, or interpreting your license permissively and reinforcing it with norms.

Good luck! May your data be widely re-used and contributors be excited to join your project.

by Luis Villa at September 26, 2016 03:00 PM

Rising Voices
From Making Videos to Digital Activism: Learning Experiences in the Mískitu and Mayangna Languages
Grabación de “La Vida con SIDA - SIDA Wal Iwanka” en Miskito.

Recording of “Life with AIDS – SIDA Wal Iwanka” in Miskitu.

This is the second article about the “Miskitus and Mayangnas on the Internet” project, grantee winner of the 2015 Microgrant call to support digital activism initiatives for indigenous languages. The project is being carried out in Nicaragua and seeks to strengthen local languages with the active participation of young people.

The project began with conducting a multimedia class in which young people in the Leadership School from the URACCAN University focused on taking smartphone pictures of their environment and create slideshows. During the class the students showed interest in how to integrate subtitles and narrations in the audio, opting to use the MovieMaker software for this purpose; many of the participants admitted to not being able to read and write in Mískitu [Miskito, in English] and Mayangna, while others who could, said they had never thought about adding text to their presentations. In addition to the incorporation of written elements, students were also interested in including popular songs in Mískitu, English Creole and Spanish, responding positively to the mixture of the media in different languages.

Throughout February and March, the students rarely had access to computer labs during their multimedia class. To solve this issue of limited access, their instructor added files to organize class activities in order to properly plan the designs using the computer software. Printed and digital guides were also created for students to design multimedia, such as an animated video, a website or a video game in Mískitu and Mayangna.

The students had a favorable response to the use of the files, which included a comics design with themes related to theater presentations that would later be recorded professionally. When students presented their comics, their instructor and school administrators were pleasantly surprised by the students’ ability to think deeply about issues related to social injustices such as: the lack of education about sexually transmitted diseases, bullying, the discrimination between races or ethnic groups, and poverty.

The students demonstrated their leadership skills in the development of the issues which reflected problems in the real world and in urgent need of innovative solutions. The products are intended for speakers of Mískitu and Mayangna living in Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas, the urban area surrounding the URACCAN University. Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas is a multilingual city that uses Mískitu, Mayangna, Spanish and English Creole languages, however, only the television news are bilingual in Spanish and Mískitu, so the themes developed by the students are the first productions in Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas which are using all four languages spoken in the city.

The students in the leadership school grew during this process as activists for their own languages to participate as designers of multilingual programs focused on promoting issues that affect the daily life in their communities. The young actors, directors, and producers enjoy their creations and hope the residents in their city and nearby communities can use these products to become activists, too, who promote changes in local social norms that allow the use of multiple languages in different contexts.

by Teodora C. Hasegan at September 26, 2016 01:58 PM

DML Central
Hacking for Change

In a recent trip to Sub-Saharan Africa, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent time seeing up close the country’s burgeoning technology and social innovation-driven ecosystem. During his visit to countries like Nigeria and Nairobi, Zuckerberg visited a coding camp for children, vibrant innovation hubs, and several tech companies. He also sought to learn more about what makes Kenya the world leader in mobile money. Zuckerberg met with a number of young tech entrepreneurs who are toiling away, striving to remake Africa’s economy, boost civic life, strengthen education, and raise public health standards. According to Zuckerberg, “Africa is where the future is being built.” His visit was certainly prompted by Facebook’s commercial interests in the continent, but it is also recognition that a new generation of Africans is poised to transform the continent.

A New Generation of Leaders

Zuckerberg’s visit reminds me of a group of young African entrepreneurs that our research team in Austin met as part of a White House initiative. In 2010, the White house launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The primary goal of the effort is to spotlight Africa’s transformation and, importantly, the rise of a generation of civic, tech, and entrepreneurial talent that is spreading across the continent. Africa is one of the world’s youngest continents and an emerging market in the tech and social innovation space. Mobile phones are widely adopted and as education continues to spread, the demand for tech services, platforms, new innovations will also spread.

In the summer of 2014, several young African leaders were invited to the U.S. to participate in a White House summit. In addition to convening in D.C., these young men and women spent time visiting some of the most dynamic innovation ecosystems in the U.S. A group of 25 young African leaders visited Austin. During their visit, they participated in business development and entrepreneur workshops at the University of Texas and checked out some of the local tech companies as well as established tech companies like Google-Austin.

An Idea is Born

Our research team participated in one event that hosted the young African leaders at a local co-working space. That day, a modest but visionary local enterprise, Doing Development, coordinated an event to introduce the young African leaders to their counterparts in Austin, a disparate group of young social entrepreneurs striving to make their mark in the city’s innovation economy.

The event was an opportunity for the African and Austin-based entrepreneurs to share their start-up visions with each other, exchange ideas, and explore possible collaborations. One of the co-founders of Doing Development, Michael Henderson, saw an opportunity to partner with some of the young African entrepreneurs. A colleague of his, a young Nigerian now living in Austin, was visibly thrilled by the opportunities this meet-up catalyzed. He viewed the explorations with the young African leaders as an opportunity to do good work and also to inspire a new narrative about life on the African continent. He told us, “for me, as a designer, I can create a logo for somebody, or I can take photos, or, you know, I can go to South Africa and meet other creatives and tell that narrative and show that there’s more than just AIDS, Ebola, and starving kids.” (Several months later, this young man and Henderson took separate trips to Africa to reconnect with some of the young leaders they met and to follow-up on some of the ideas they discussed during that initial meet-up in Austin.)

The young leaders from Africa were involved in a variety of social enterprises that focused on leveraging technology to launch start-ups in education, public health, and civic tech. The young designers and entrepreneurs were especially interested in leveraging their talents, ambitions, and networks to impact some of Africa’s most vulnerable populations, including children (i.e., education) and women (i.e., education, contraception). Their social enterprises reflect the new vision and leadership that is poised to empower a new wave of social entrepreneurship and innovation across the continent. As we spoke with them and listened to their stories, it was clear that many of these young entrepreneurs had decided that if life in their respective countries was going to improve, they would have to be part of the solution. Thus, many of their start-ups were designed to not only enhance the African economy, but African society, too.

After the meet-up, Henderson began brainstorming ways to collaborate with some of the young African talent that he met. One idea that he pursued was to organize a hackathon that linked young designers, developers, and civic leaders in Austin with some of the aspirations articulated by the young African leaders. One of the many things that Henderson learned from the young African leaders was the potential of mobile to drive innovation in education, health, and commerce. His idea was straightforward: organize a hackathon to prototype mobile solutions that might enhance the quality of life for Africans in some discernible way.

Doing Innovation: It Isn’t Easy

Hackathons have emerged as a vital aspect of the innovation economy and millennial innovators have adapted the model to catalyze their economic and civic aspirations. Doing Development leaders saw the hackathon as an opportunity to pursue their creative, civic, and entrepreneurial mission. However, in order to thrive, hackathons need more than a good idea or a noble cause. Like any new idea or product, hackathons need resources including talent (i.e., tech, design, and civic), technology (i.e., computers, sharpies, note pads), and physical space in order to realize their goals.

One of the things that we have discovered in our research is that some innovation ecosystems are more capital-rich than others. For example, while there may be a growing ecosystem around mobile entertainment in the local innovation scene in Austin there may not be as vibrant of an ecosystem focused on designing solutions for the developing world. This reality created a number of challenges for Doing Development as they made preparations for their event.

The hackathon took a lot of hard work, imagination, and grit. Hackathons are a way of professional socialization in the tech sector and university setting. But, when fledging start-ups or community leaders seek to organize their own version of a hackathon, the struggles are clearly apparent. Doing Development faced a number of obstacles in the organization of its hackathon, including publicizing the event, recruiting the right mix of talent, and, of course, financing the execution. Fortunately, as a result of their participation in a local co-working venue, Doing Development had access to at least one essential resource: a physical space that offered open working spaces and internet connectivity.

Among the many assets that young innovators need, none may be more important than the social relations that they cultivate. Doing Development tapped its connections to designers, coders, and media producers to find the human capital it needed. A meeting with the coordinator of SXSW Interactive secured four badges to offer as incentives for participating in the hackathon. The meeting with SXSW officials also provided Doing Development access to judges, who agreed to evaluate the ideas generated from the event. After a lot of hard work, door knocking, phone calls, and, favor asking, Doing Development was able to recruit a small group of designers, artists, and civic innovators to develop some ideas that might serve Africa’s growing population in some notable way.

Hackathon for Change

The hackathon was a 48-hour affair, complete with the requisite elements — bright-eyed and ambitious techies and designers, powered-up laptops, whiteboards, post-it notes, and plenty of caffeine. Over the course of two days, the hackathon focused much of its activity around designing mobile solutions that could be useful across urban and rural parts of the African continent. The hackers were able to Skype in Vital Sounouvouh, one of the young African leaders who was part of the White House summit. Sounouvouh has established expertise in the growing spread of mobile across the African continent. During his visit to Austin, he spoke about the number of mobile phones in Africa. He noted that the vast majority of devices were not smartphones. He insisted that any solution generated by the hackers must keep in mind the population and the platforms it would be designing for. His presence was a vital source of information and inspiration.

Over the course of the two days, Doing Development received a crash course in organizing a hackathon by organizing a hackathon. This is one of the key principles in the world of innovation: a main source of learning/creating is through doing. Get an idea, find a way to try and bring it to life. In many ways, Doing Development was intentionally learning even as it was innovating. This is what the Stanford Design School calls “a bias toward action.

After several ideas and prototypes were explored, the designers were able to produce three feature phone applications, including an app for addressing public health crises like Ebola, a translator app, and an app for connecting users to Wikipedia via SMS technology.

The collaboration between American designers and African designers is certainly what the White House had in mind when it launched YALI. Drawing from our fieldwork, we believe that innovation is powered through the creation of spaces and opportunities for ideas to collide, diverse perspectives to be shared, and new solutions prototyped. This has emerged as a powerful context for collectively grappling with what social innovators like to call “wicked problems.” Throughout our fieldwork, we have observed how young designers, artists, and civic leaders are actively pursuing new models, new relationships, and new spaces to continue expanding how they both think about and do innovation.

NOTE: In this three-part video, you can see up close and behind the scenes the struggles DDD persisted through to bring their idea of a Hackathon for Change to fruition.

The post Hacking for Change appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at September 26, 2016 01:00 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Monday, September 26, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about the first 2016 presidential debate and news that questions gathered from Facebook will be allowed at the event; reports that Apple might be working on a smart-home device similar to Amazon Echo; and the possibility that BlackBerry might be getting out of the phone business.

by Marketplace at September 26, 2016 05:00 AM

Global Voices
Macedonian ‘Colorful Revolution’ Rallies to Defend Special Prosecutor’s Office
'VMRO we have a problem' a poster featuring Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva and high party officials Ilija Dimovski MP, former ministers Gordana Jankuloska and Mile Janakieski, and former PM Nikola Gruevski. Poster by Zoran Kardula, used with permission.

“VMRO, we have a problem”—a poster featuring Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva and high party officials Ilija Dimovski MP, former ministers Gordana Jankuloska and Mile Janakieski, and former PM Nikola Gruevski. Poster by Zoran Kardula, used with permission.

Activists of the “Colorful Revolution” movement have announced a new demonstration planned to take plan in front of the parliament building in Skopje on Monday, September 28, in support of the Special Prosecutor's Office (SPO).

After months of preparation and no small amount of time lost to legalistic sabotages and obstructions by the ruling parties, VMRO-DPMNE and DUI, Macedonia's special prosecutor finally pressed charges against top ruling party officials and state authorities in two cases launched on September 15.

As explained by Special Prosecutor Fatime Fetai, one indictment concerns the destruction of documents related to illegal wiretapping equipment, while the other indictment concerns violence outside the Centar municipality, which occurred in June 2013.

In 2015, Macedonia's political opposition published a selection of leaked audio recordings that suggest the country's intelligence services had illegally wiretapped a range of people. In the conversations, some of the country's ruling elite seem to implicate themselves in acts of corruption. One such instance was the 2013 mob violence in Centar, which happened while the local council was debating a zoning issue that would affect top politicians’ profit margins. In one of the leaked recordings, Macedonia's then-prime minister can be heard allegedly admitting that the mob was organized on his orders.

The revelations accelerated an already simmering political crisis, and the SPO was formed as part of an European Union and United States-brokered agreement to bring an end to the stalemate.

Lawmakers’ efforts to delay the proceedings have continued, including asking SPO chief Katica Janeva a barrage of diversionary questions at her recent annual report presentation, including demands that she account for minute details in office expense reports. During formal sessions, members of parliament have also openly insulted and threatened her, in an apparent attempt to intimidate her into dropping the charges against the ruling parties.

“You have kept me here for three days deliberately and will not let me work. For three days, I've sat here and answered the same questions. You are deliberately keeping me here so that I can not work,” Janeva told Member of Parliament Krste Mukoski, who accused the SPO chief of being incompetent and not knowing how to run her agency, Meta.mk reported.

Many of the members of parliament in question have a clear conflict of interest, considering that their voices can be heard in a published sample of the leaked wiretaps, which serve as evidence in the SPO's investigation.

After the first day of the hearings, deputies from VMRO-DPMNE and DUI banned live television coverage, despite apparent legal requirements that the session remain open to the public. Meanwhile, Janeva has endured the hearings, despite reported health problems.

Record of crime will not disappear just because the prosecutor wore a lace top. #PutCriminalsInJail

Harassing Janeva might have backfired, however, cultivating the public perception that lawmakers are acting like “hysterical bullies” and shaming the country.

In the mainstream media, largely controlled by the ruling parties, the SPO has been the target of relentlessly negative coverage.

A bird's-eye view summary of these two days: we could see a repulsive caricature of a parliament. An institution perfected by DPMNE over the last ten years.

Janeva's supporters have eagerly promoted the demonstration planned by the “Colorful Revolution” movement, sharing information about the event since Friday, September 23, and sharing it hundreds of times among each other on Facebook:

Соборци и соборки,

Ве повикуваме во Понеделник, на 26.09.2016, во 17 часот пред Собранието на Република Македонија на јавен собир за поддршка на СЈО.

По летните одмори, СЈО повторно е под каконада на режимските глсноговорници. Периодов во Собранието и по медиумите под контрола на обвинетиот груевски можеме да забележиме вистински линч и пропаганда против Катица Јанева и целото СЈО.

Истовремено, власта со кој се уште управува обвинетиот груевски ја користи секоја прилика за да ја блокира работата на оваа институција.

Судиите од тефтерот на горде продолжуваат да ги одбиваат барањата за притвор, го укинаа единственото кое беше прифатено и го вратија едниот Обвинителен предлог кој СЈО го поднесе до кривичното одделение, поради причина која не им е проблем кога постапуваат по предметите на зврлевски.

Уставниот суд се уште нема закажано седница на која ќе се разгледува Иницијативата за уставноста на СЈО.
Пратениците од ДПМНЕ одбиваат секаква поддршка за СЈО. Одбиваат да ги донесат потребните законски измени за заштита на сведоци и свиркачи, одбиваат да го продолжат рокот за работење на СЈО, а собраниската говорница ја користат исклучиво за дискредитација на Катица Јанева и институцијата која ја претставува.
Владата зад која се уште стои обвинетиот груевски, продолжува да остава на високи функции луѓе кои се под истрага за сериозни кривични дела од страна на СЈО.

На СЈО повторно му е потребна нашата помош. Не смееме да дозволиме режимот да помисли дека оваа институција барем за момент е без силната, здружена и одлучна поддршка на граѓаните!

Се додека нема правда, НЕМА ДА ИМА МИР!!!

Dear brothers and sisters-in-arms,

We call upon you to gather at 5:00 p.m. on September 26, 2016, in front of the Assembly of Republic of Macedonia for a public rally in support of the SPO.

After the summer holidays, SPO is again under a barrage of fire by the regime's mouthpieces. We're witnessing a true lynching of and propaganda against Katica Janeva and the whole SPO in the Assembly and the media under control of the indicted Gruevski.

Simultaneously, the government still ruled by the indicted Gruevski uses all opportunities to block the work of this institution.

The corrupt judges who owe their posts to the ruling party refuse the SPO's requests for detention of suspects. They also suspended the single house arrest of SPO suspect and the refused to proceed with criminal prosecution in another case, citing reasons that have not been a problem when responding to the cases of the [non-special] Public Prosecutor Zvrlevski.

The Constitutional Court has still not scheduled a session to decide on the constitutionality of the SPO.

The MPs of [VMRO-]DPMNE refuse to provide any support to the SPO. They refuse to adopt the necessary legislation for the protection of witnesses and whistleblowers; they refuse to extend the deadline for its mandate; and they use the parliament's pulpit for their attempts to discredit Katica Janeva and the institutions she represents.

The government, which still stands behind the indicted Gruevski, continues to appoint persons under investigation by the SPO to high public offices.

The SPO needs our help again. We must not let the regime think that this is institution, even for a moment, is left without the strong, joint, and decisive support by the citizens!

As long as there's no justice, there will be no peace!

According to a poll in April conducted by the US-government-funded International Republican Institute, 63 percent of the nation supported the work being carried out by the Special Prosecutor's Office.

by Filip Stojanovski at September 26, 2016 01:34 AM

September 25, 2016

Global Voices
Chiles in Walnut Sauce: Mexican History in Each Bite
First Chilli in Walnut Sauce fair in San Pedro Cholula. Photo taken from the Flickr account of <a href="https://www.flickr.com

First Hot Peppers in Walnut Sauce fair in San Pedro Cholula. Photo taken from the Flickr account of Arturo Alfaro Galan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hot peppers in walnut sauce is the signature dish in Central Eastern Mexico and one of the most popular meals in the national cuisine. The dish is also a blend of the colours of the Mexican flag: green, red, and white. In this text, we are going to gather some expressions related to the dish's origin and, of course, to its ingredients concerning Mexico's national celebrations.

To continue exploring Mexican cooking (in the past we wrote about tacos de canasta or basket tacos and tacos al pastor), we now turn to hot peppers in walnut sauce, which are nothing more than peppers stuffed with meat, drenched in a special walnut sauce, and adorned with fruit. It sounds simple but the preparation is far more involved, and the meal has its origins in the country's War of Independence.

September is a special month in Mexico. This is because September 16 marks the beginning of the war of independence against Spain. On September 21 (although it is rarely celebrated), the Army of the Three Guarantees arrived in what is known today as Mexico City. The achievement of independence led Agustín de Iturbide, one of the city's architects, to proclaim himself emperor within a short time.

Tania Jardón of the University del Claustro de Sor Juana explains the beginnings of how Mexicans started eating hot peppers in walnut sauce:

Existen diversas versiones sobre el origen de este platillo típico de las Fiestas Patrias. La más popular dice que este platillo fue inventado por las monjas agustinas del Convento de Santa Mónica en Puebla, para celebrar tanto la reciente Independencia de México, como el santo del nuevo emperador, Agustín de Iturbide. Aprovechando los productos de temporada como la granada y la nuez de Castilla, las monjas agustinas prepararon un plato que llevara los colores del ejército trigarante: verde, blanco y rojo.

There exist various versions about the origins of this dish, which is typical of the Independence Day celebrations. The most popular version says that this dish was invented by the Augustinian nuns of the Santa Monica Convent in Puebla to celebrate the recent Mexican Independence as well as the saint of the new emperor, Agustín de Iturbide. Taking advantage of seasonal products such as pomegranates and walnuts, the nuns prepared a dish that bore the colours of the Army of the Three Guarantees: green, white, and red.

The same author shares this other version:

Otra versión, y más romántica que la anterior, está descrita por el famoso escritor Artemio de Valle-Arizpe. De Valle-Arizpe, relata que en el ejército trigarante existían tres soldados cuyas novias vivían en Puebla. Emocionadas por la Independencia y por tener de vuelta a sus enamorados, decidieron crear un platillo para engalanarlos. Cada una eligió un ingrediente que representara el color del ejército y encomendadas a la Virgen del Rosario y a San Pascual Bailón, se dispusieron a cocinar.

Another version, more romantic than the previous one and described by the famous writer Artemio de Valle-Arizpe,relates that there were three soldiers in the Army of the Three Guarantees whose fiancées lived in Puebla. Excited by the independence and the return of their lovers, they decided to create a dish to adorn them with. Each one chose an ingredient that represented the colour of the army and was entrusted to the Virgin of the Rosary and San Pascual Bailón. Then they set out to cook.

Writing for the website of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education,Briss Carrizo confirms these historical origins:

La receta original data del año 1714, pero no fue hasta el año 1821, cuando los insurgentes ganaron la guerra de la Independencia de México, que el chile relleno bañado en salsa de nuez se acompañó por primera vez con adornos en verde con el perejil y rojo con la granada, haciendo alusión a la nueva bandera tricolor que habían adoptado los insurgentes.

A partir de dicho año, los responsables de preparar los chiles en nogada -que en ese entonces se degustaban como postre- comenzaron a experimentar con nuevos ingredientes que actualmente se producen en más de 25 municipios del estado de Puebla como manzana, plátano, durazno, pera y nuez de castilla.

The original recipe dates from 1714 but it was not until 1821, when the insurgents won the war of Mexican Independence, that hot peppers stuffed and drenched in walnut sauce, was accompanied for the first time with green adornments made from parsley and red ones from pomegranate alluding to the new tricolour flag that the insurgents had adopted.

From that year on, the people in charge of preparing the hot peppers in walnut sauce, which from then on was savoured as a dessert, began to experiment with new ingredients such as apples, bananas, peaches, pears, and walnuts that are currently produced in more than 25 municipalities in the state of Puebla.

The website ChilesEnNogada.com mentions other ingredients that were used in the preparation of the dish:

Almendra, piñón, acitrón (biznaga), durazno, pera, manzana y plátano macho; eran los ingredientes con los que se preparaba este manjar que probablemente se comía como postre. Es así como la gastronomía poblana se enriqueció, obteniendo uno de los platillos más representativos.

Almonds, pine seeds, candied peaches (bishop's weed), pears, apples, and plantains; these were the ingredients with which this delicacy that was probably eaten as a dessert was prepared. This is how Pueblan gastronomy was enriched, obtaining one of the most represented dishes in the process.

Today, hot peppers in walnut sauce is served as a main course (not as a dessert) in restaurants all over Mexico—especially in centre of the country in August and September. Although its preparation is laborious and slow, it is served not only in places dedicated to luxury and high cuisine, but on medium-budget tables, as well.

On Twitter, people are fond of sharing how much they enjoy the dish:

Hoy fue un día hermoso porque comí chiles en nogada y vi a mis amigos y caminé de la mano de mi novio y me tomé mis copitas y me dormí 👌🏼— sof (@SofTellez) August 30, 2015

Today was a beautiful day because I ate hot peppers in walnut sauce, saw my friends, walked hand in hand with my boyfriend, had some drinks and fell asleep.

Abby Carrillo sent the following question:

I had never tried hot peppers in walnut sauce in my life. Does trying them make me an official Chilanga [slang for a resident of Mexico city]?

Fernanda Centeno shared the following image of this traditional dish:

In @Grafocafe we are already preparing hot peppers in walnut sauce. pic.twitter.com/KM5NBMJWRo

The site Chilango.com took on the task of checking out several places where this delight is served:

We went to look for best hot peppers in walnut sauce in Mexico city and found them! http://t.co/8CFmNJWG8l pic.twitter.com/pZf5Ina9vN

The exotic combination of flavours that hot peppers in walnut sauce is just one of the joys available to Mexicans (and their guests, of course) during the national celebrations in September.

by Eviano George-Akoke at September 25, 2016 05:24 PM

Allegations of Rigged Ethnic Hungarian Voting in Croatia’s Latest Election
Promotional photo from the demo movie "Talk to me," featuring Croatian-Hungarian actress Csilla Barath Bastaić.

Promotional photo for the 2012 film “Talk to Me,” featuring Croatian-Hungarian actress Csilla Barath Bastaić.

The number of people who registered to vote as ethnic Hungarians dramatically increased between Croatia's last two elections. Why? Some say it is due to organized crime, citing intimidation and bribing to ensure victory for the candidate favored by the country's ruling party.

While election fraud had been endemic to the Balkans, it wasn't a major issue in Croatia's elections in recent years. Due to the deadlock that forces the winning conservative HDZ to form coalitions with smaller parties, however, the political significance of potential “swing” deputies was abnormally high in elections on September 11.

The Croatian Parliament is composed of 151 members elected to a four-year terms through secret ballots. Seats are allocated according to the Croatian Parliament's electoral districts: 140 members of the parliament are elected in multi-seat constituencies, 8 from the minorities, and 3 from the Croatian diaspora. The votes for the minorities’ deputies are cast by voters who declare themselves a part of one of the minorities that form roughly a tenth of the population (Serbs, Bosniaks, Italians, Roma, Hungarians, Slovenes, Czechs, and so on).

Election results for the parliamentary representative of the Hungarian national minority in Croatia. Screen shot from the State Electoral Commission of the Republic of Croatia.

Election results for the parliamentary representative of the Hungarian national minority in Croatia. Screen shot from the State Electoral Commission of the Republic of Croatia.

Preliminary results suggest that Robert Jankovics, who is closely associated with the right-wing HDZ party, defeated incumbent left-leaning deputy Šandor Juhas, who has suggested examining alleged collusion with Hungary's ruling party Fidesz and its government. HDZ and Fidesz are both members of the European People's Party.

The website T-Portal's examination of Croatia's voter registry shows that the number of voters who identified as members of the Hungarian ethnic minority increased by 852 between the regular elections in December 2015 and the early elections in September. This narrow increase in votes by ethnic Hungarian voters affected the slim margin of about 300 votes between the incumbent leftist deputy and his right-wing competitor.

According to reports by the Croatian and regional news media, state institutions, including social services agencies, have preyed on some of the most vulnerable people in the country's eastern rural areas, reportedly pressuring groups to change their ethnic registration.

There have been other forms of voting irregularities, as well. Zorica Blažević, a voter in Kamenac, called the police to report that she was registered as Hungarian even though she is an ethnic Croat:

‘Osim obećanja o boljoj socijalnoj pomoći, agitatorica nije prezala ni od zastrašivanja. ‘Rekla je da će mi uzeti kuću i sina i da ćemo imati problema s policijom, a ja sam se onda uplašila.’

Besides promising to increase my monthly social benefits, the agitators also threatened me. They said they will take away my home and my son and that we'll have trouble with the police, which intimidated me.

According to various reports, a secret campaign using socio-economic pressures is underway against ethnic Roma. In addition to cash incentives, voters were also enticed with packages containing flour, sugar, shower gels, and chocolates.

Croatia's State Electoral Commission is expected to reveal the election's official results on Monday, September 26. It's unknown if officials will address the allegations described above. Though bribery and blackmail in elections are criminal offenses in Croatia, victims rarely submit official reports to police, due to intimidation.

by Marko Angelov at September 25, 2016 05:02 PM

Polish Lawmakers Move Forward With a New Abortion Ban That Critics Say Will Be ‘Hell for Women’
Polish #BlackProtest poster. Photo used with permission of author Kasia Babis.

Polish #BlackProtest poster. Photo used with permission of author Kasia Babis.

In the face of a “Black Protest” movement that has gripped the Polish Internet and several city squares throughout the country, the Polish Parliament voted in favor of moving ahead with legislation that would outlaw abortions in nearly all circumstances, introducing prison sentences for both women having the procedure and doctors who perform it. The lawmakers’ decision has already led to even more protests.

This Friday, members of parliament supported the controversial draft law's development, voting to refer it to a legislative committee for review and revisions. Lawmakers also voted to dismiss another piece of legislation that would have taken Polish reproductive rights in the opposite direction, liberalizing existing laws.

Poland's parliament is currently controlled by the rightwing Law and Justice Party, which enjoys the support of the Roman Catholic Church.

Critics of the push to restrict abortion rights even further in Poland say the new law would be “hell for women,” referring to a famous collection of essays by the Polish writer and doctor Tadeusz Boy-Żelenski, who in 1930 described the suffering endured by women in that era as a result of limits on reproductive choice.

Opponents of the new proposed abortion ban list several nightmare scenarios that would result, if the law is passed, such as forcing women who are raped to give birth to children, and even throwing criminal suspicion on mothers who miscarry naturally, raising police concerns that the miscarriage may have been deliberate. The one narrow exception that law would preserve for carrying out an abortion—instances when a mother's life is in danger—will put doctors in the dangerously awkward position of deciding when a pregnancy's threat to a mother's life is “direct enough.” Making the “wrong” decision in these cases could presumably land a physician in prison, too.

Since Thursday, Poland's “Black Protest” movement appears to be gaining momentum, which participation online continuing to grow.

The backlash against Poland's controversial legislation is no longer restricted to Poles, either. Internet users from around Europe and the United States have joined the protest movement, sharing photos and posts expressing solidarity with Poland's pro-choice demonstrators.

Kasia Babis, a Polish illustrator, published a poster in English calling people to join the “Black Protest,” depicting some of the legislation's likely consequences. At the time of this writing, the poster has more than 3,000 “likes” on Facebook and more than 1,800 “shares,” including one by noted libertarian and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

After the vote in the parliament this weekend, the left-wing party RAZEM announced a series of “Black Protest” demonstrations against the bill in nine major Polish cities on Sunday, September 25.

Tomorrow, we won't just sit at home! #BlackProtest

At the same time, many spontaneous solidarity gatherings took place or are planned abroad, including rallies in London, New York, Vienna, and Berlin.

Facebook event: International Solidarity with the Women of Ireland and Poland
Tweet: Solidarity Rally against abortion ban in Poland and Ireland will take place in Vienna on September 29. #BlackProtest

The hashtags #czarnyprotest (“#BlackProtest,” found here on Facebook and Twitter) and #blackprotest (Facebook, Twitter) continue to serve as rallying points for dissemination of information about the protest movement.

by Kasia Odrozek at September 25, 2016 03:58 PM

Need the Latest News on Flooding? In Jakarta, There's an App for That.
Feri Yadi, a resident of Muara Baru in North Jakarta, stands atop the seawall recently built to protect his neighborhood. He has little confidence that the wall will work as expected. "Like in the past, this will be broken somehow" he says. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

Feri Yadi, a resident of Muara Baru in North Jakarta, stands atop the seawall recently built to protect his neighborhood. He has little confidence that the wall will work as expected. “Like in the past, this will be broken somehow” he says. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

This article by Chris Bentley originally appeared on PRI.org on September 16, 2016. It is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Like millions of Jakartans, Dedi Setiawan lives along one of the city’s 13 rivers, in a village-style neighborhood called a kampung. The area’s unpaved paths are jammed with people selling snacks and cell phone credits out of carts, residents hang laundry out to dry between bamboo shacks and small brick homes, and the river crossing is a wooden boat pulled along a wire strung between the banks.

Life along Jakarta’s rivers can be challenging. The city faces some of the worst flooding problems of any major urban area in the world, in part because those 13 rivers, often swollen by monsoon rains, drain into a dense urban area that’s rapidly sinking below sea level.

In 2013, rising waters sent Setiawan scrambling to the second floor of his house, and during the flood, he couldn’t get in touch with anyone to find out what was going on elsewhere.

“Back then we didn’t have the communication system,” he says.

But the growth of social media has changed that.

Listen to this story on PRI.org »

“Now we mainly use WhatsApp and Facebook groups to communicate with each other,” he says.

Word spreads organically — people upriver might text their friends a photo of flooding in their part of town so their neighbors downstream can prepare.

Going online for flood information is faster than waiting for official announcements, and residents say they trust the information more because it’s coming from a real person.

Fajar Inayati, who lives upriver from Setiawan, says during a recent flood her friends were sharing photos before the government could get the word out, and even before it hit the local news.

Seawater floods some streets in Jakarta's Muara Angke neighborhood even during low tides and the dry season. Most of the district's residents are fishermen who work in nearby Jakarta Bay. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

Seawater floods some streets in Jakarta's Muara Angke neighborhood even during low tides and the dry season. Most of the district's residents are fishermen who work in nearby Jakarta Bay. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

“We were not at the area where the flood came, but we heard it from our friends who shared it,” Inayati says. “They were there, so I believe that the news must be reliable and factual.”

The social media posts prompted her and her neighbors to start prepping sandbags to keep the water at bay.

Of course social media can also be unreliable sometimes. Rumors spread fast, and even good information can get drowned out in the chaos of a natural disaster.

Faster and more reliable

That’s where PetaJakarta comes in. It's an open-source, real-time, online map of the city that automatically filters Tweets about flooding to improve accuracy and fill in the gaps between official city reports.

When someone tweets “banjir”  — the Indonesian word for flood —  and tags @PetaJkt, PetaJakarta automatically replies, asking them to verify the tweet with geotagged photos. The app then combines all those reports with official data from the city into an up-to-the-minute, online flood map that can be more reliable than other social posts.

“If you have four people with photos at different angles showing one event, that's a pretty difficult thing to stage,” says Etienne Turpin, a Canadian-born designer and research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ‘s Urban Risk Lab. He founded PetaJakarta in 2014 along with colleague Tomas Holderness. Today they operate an eight-person team of mostly local residents out of an office in Jakarta's Guntur neighborhood.

Holderness and Turpin both study disaster resilience, and that's what drew them to Jakarta. Turpin says he once heard Indonesia referred to as a “living laboratory for disaster.” And Jakarta, he says, “is the sort of center of that laboratory.”

Slums line the Ciliwung river, one of 13 that run through Jakarta. Trash accumlated on the banks shows the high water mark during monsoon season. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

Slums line the Ciliwung river, one of 13 that run through Jakarta. Trash accumlated on the banks shows the high water mark during monsoon season. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

By one estimate, Jakarta is also the world's capital of Twitter activity, which Turpin says makes it a goldmine of data, full of what he calls “human sensors” for tracking disasters and vetting real-time reports.

Compare PetaJakarta’s real-time flood mapping with the city’s standard practice of circulating static PDF maps every six hours.

“If you want to decide if you should leave work early to pick up your children from school, or check on your elderly parents, having a picture of a map every six hours doesn't give you a lot of confidence about making those decisions,” Turpin says.

It's about democratizing disaster management, he says.

“If decision support is just concentrated in the hands of the government, we have a bottleneck of information. But if real-time information is being collected, validated and shared, then we have 31 million decision makers deciding, ‘Should I drive this way? Should I avoid a certain area?'”

Given its speed and accuracy, even some government officials have turned to PetaJakarta. Soon after it went online, Jakarta's governor urged his followers on Twitter to use PetaJakarta to tweet about flooding.

Anto Sugianto, who works for the city in the flood-prone northern district of Ancol, says PetaJakarta has become an important tool in flood response.

During a flood in April, Sugianto says he used PetaJakarta to help city teams decide where to deploy pumps to suck water away from important streets, and what roads to close to keep people from being trapped in their cars. His team even contributed their own geotagged photos to the site while they worked.

Sugianto says Petajakarta has begun to transform flood response in the city from a top-down effort to a cooperative relationship between the city and its residents.

“It’s not only that the Kelurahan [district] can give information to the public,” Sugianto says. “Now we get information from them, too. Give and get.”

A model for elsewhere

And PetaJakarta is getting noticed beyond Indonesia. Both the US Federal Communications Commission and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent have cited PetaJakarta as a model of community engagement in disaster response.

Aerial view of North Jakarta. Nearly all of the northern part of the city is now below sea level. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

Aerial view of North Jakarta. Nearly all of the northern part of the city is now below sea level. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth

Of course, better online mapping won’t help actually prevent the flooding that plagues Jakartans like Dedi Setiawan and Fajar Inayati. That would take an overhaul of the city's stormwater system, including new urban planning ideas and investments in green infrastructure to restore some of Jakarta's paved-over landscape.

But as cities like Jakarta struggle to adapt to the new normal of high water that’s coming with global warming, online tools like PetaJakarta may help them live better with what they can’t change — and connect with each other while they do.

Read or hear the whole series: Living with Rising Seas

This report was produced in partnership with The GroundTruth Project.

by Public Radio International at September 25, 2016 10:00 AM

9 Things to Love About Afghanistan

Afghan children cheering for peace. Photo by Najeeb Azad.

This post is an edited version of a post that appeared first on the author's blog, A New Stone of Hope.

Overseas, the word Afghanistan strikes fear into many people's hearts, while some are quick to conflate it with the Taliban movement that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001 and continues to seek power through arms.

But beyond politics, Afghanistan is a source of great inspiration and resolve for its long-suffering citizens, for a number of reasons.

So, before asking the more frequently posed question of why so many Afghans are prepared to leave the country of their birth, perhaps it would be better to ask why so many stay?

1. It is one of the youngest countries in the world, and children are its pride

Afghanistan is the fifth youngest country in the world, with 68% of its population under 25. This booming demographic creates risks and opportunities. Young people want to grow their stake in the country's development and it is up to older generations to allow them to do that.

With hope, opportunities will be created for youth to serve their conflict-torn developing country, rather than advanced developed countries.

Unfortunately, due to the bad governance of the National Unity Government, unemployment is very high, as are insecurity, corruption, and violence.

While many young people are ensnared by extremist groups, narcotics addiction and poverty, the youth of Afghanistan remains the country's greatest untapped resource, and its only hope for a better future.

2. A diversity of…everything

Despite a relatively small geographical area, Afghanistan is home to a diverse range of:

  1. Cultural heritage — from the traces of Ghaznavian reign in Ghazni (once the Cultural Capital of Islamic World) to the Koshani reign in Bamyan (which became the 2015 Cultural Capital of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation);
  2. Languages — from Shighnani to Brahawi;
  3. Dialects — from a Pashtun Kandahari sha – (‘okay’ or ‘good’) to a Nangarhari's kha;
  4. Food — from an Uzbaki Qabuli to a Hazaragi Wogray Ajay;
  5. Costumes — from a long Uzbaki costume to the beautiful modern Kabuli costume;
  6. Musical instruments — from the Dambura to the Rubab;
  7. Dances — from the Atan to Qarsak;
  8. National games: from Buzkashi to toup-dunda ;
  9. Fauna — from the beautiful snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep and yak to the jet-like snow finch;
  10. Flora — from rhubarb to giant hogweed. (There are over 3,000 plant species in Afghanistan, including hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, and fungi which makes Afghanistan more diverse in terms of strains of flora species than the whole of Europe).

Decades of conflict in Afghanistan have provided an opportunity for politicians and outside forces to harness the country's diversity to stir conflict between communities. But diversity remains the core of Afghanistan's national heritage and an inspiration to a great part of the population.

3. A hospitality like nowhere else

Afghans are reflexively hospitable, serving guests as one of their own with home-cooked food. This is at the root of the proverb “nan wa piyaz, qash waz”, meaning “bread and onion be the food, with happy mood.”

4. Tremendous patriotism, despite divisions

Afghans are patriots, with a rich history of fighting for independence and against foreign invasions.

British and Soviet attempts to bring the country to heel were both repulsed by Afghans.

Although foreign powers also played a role in supporting these anti-imperial insurgencies in Afghanistan, they would not have been possible without Afghans’ overwhelming attachment to their land and hunger for independence.

Today, Afghans are increasingly united against some of the worst acts of terrorism in the world, which have found a home in their country.

The so-called Tabassum Revolution, for instance, was a social movement that erupted in outcry following the brutal beheading of a 9-year-old girl in the country's Zabul province of Afghanistan by militants with apparent affiliations to the radical ISIS group now active in the country.

Afghanistan is still a country where external powers continue to play divide and conquer, but an emboldened civil society, particularly in the capital, is raising its voice against growing violence and insecurity.

This is the new patriotic struggle, which poses challenges to the underperforming government and Taliban alike.

5. Women gain more visibility

In a 2011 survey by Thomas Reuters Foundation, Afghanistan was identified as the most dangerous place for women to live due to high mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a lack of economic rights.

There have been major achievements along the path to gender equality, however, since the ouster of the Taliban that restricted women's access to work outside the home, restricted their ability to travel without men and made the burqa the indisputable national female dress.

The Afghan constitution, established in 2004, makes a specific note of gender equality in Article 22, which states: “Any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan are prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal rights and duties before the law.”

With women in the parliament, and, on rare occasion, behind the wheel of a taxi, things have improved in recent times.

But there is still a long way to go before they are able to guarantee their fundamental rights.

6. Simplicity is king

Afghans live their life in the simplest way possible.

Whole Afghan families tend to live in a single house together collectively, unlike in the West where everybody has their own rooms, and the family only gathers during meal hours.

Simplicity for Afghans extends to preferring to sit cross-legged on the floor over chairs, and sleeping on mattresses on the floor rather than beds.

Ambivalence towards luxury has helped the Afghans survive the hardship they have endured over the years, and the basic life is one that many prefer, even if they are wealthy.

For Afghans, the simple home is a sanctuary. The real problems begin outside it.

7. Children going to school

In 2001, there were no girls formally attending schools in Afghanistan, and only one million boys going to school.

According to the World Bank, a total of 7.8 million children were enrolled in schools as of 2012, including 2.9 million girls. Only a new generation of hard-working intellectually curious Afghans can truly put the country on a path towards development and self-sufficiency.

8. Nan, nan and more nan

Afghans are addicted to nan, which is, objectively speaking, one of the world's tastiest forms of bread. One popular meal called Shorba often involves eating nan with nan; shortened nan is soaked in broth and then eaten back with dry nan.

Afghans living abroad often report peculiar nan cravings, including toothache from eating the softer sliced bread that cannot compare to their beloved staple.

9. Tasty fruit above ground and fantastic mineral wealth below it

More than 80% of Afghanistan’s population depend on agriculture for a living. The country is also rich in gold, copper and other minerals. Unfortunately due to security threats there has been little investment made in Afghanistan's land. According to one study, the value of country’s mineral resources were estimated to be around three trillion US Dollars.

More easily obtained nuggets of the country's vast natural wealth can be found in bazaars across the country. Afghanistan’s Kandahar province has some of the most delicious pomegranates in the world, Bamyan has world-class potatoes, and Kunduz is renowned across the region for its incredible melons. For the fruit alone, Afghanistan is worth a visit!

by Najeebullah Azad at September 25, 2016 05:12 AM

September 24, 2016

Global Voices
Two Palestinian Ex-Prisoners Open Up Ramallah's First Food Truck
Khaldoun Barghouti, an ex-prisoner-turned-entrepreneur, serves up a chicken sandwich for a young customer in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Credit: Dalia Hatuqa

Khaldoun Barghouti, an ex-prisoner-turned-entrepreneur, serves up a chicken sandwich for a young customer in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Credit: Dalia Hatuqa

This article by Dalia Hatuqa originally appeared on PRI.org on September 21, 2016. It is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The sun is blazing over the city center in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital. It’s at least 90 degrees at the main fruit and vegetable market, but that’s not keeping shoppers away.

“Five tomatoes for 10 shekels,” one vender hollers — that’s about $3.

Amid the hustle and bustle, a truck airbrushed in purple, red and green pulls up. A concession window slides open and the two men inside get to work. One starts up the deep fryer, while the other slices open loaves of bread.

It's known by the Arabic name “Qitar Ata’am,” which translates as “The Food Train.”

Listen to this story on PRI.org »

But Ramallah’s first food truck is similar to the ones rolling through the streets of so many US cities.

The truck is the brainchild of Khaldun Barghouti and AbdelRahman Bibi, two men who served close to a decade in an Israeli prison because of their association with banned groups. Behind bars, they thought long and hard about how to make a living once they got out.

Palestinian women walk past "Qitar Ata'am", which translates into "the Food Train," the first food truck in Ramallah. Credit: Dalia Hatuqa

Palestinian women walk past “Qitar Ata'am”, which translates into “the Food Train,” the first food truck in Ramallah. Credit: Dalia Hatuqa

“Prisoners don't want to be a burden on society,” says Barghouti, who studied IT, history and marketing, both inside and outside of prison. “We wanted to start a business without walls, so to speak, something that can give us freedom of movement.”

Nearly everything about the food truck was inspired by the men’s time in prison, Barghouti says. They had the truck painted in bright colors to contrast with the drab tones of life in jail. Their menu even includes a concoction of tuna and corn similar to one they had in prison, morphed into a more refined delicacy.

“We mostly do chicken shawarma sandwiches, chicken schnitzel, hamburgers and sausage,” Barghouti says.

All the sandwiches come topped with a heaping pile of french fries and diced vegetables, drizzled with a choice of tahini or garlic sauce.

Hole-in-the-wall fast food shops are all over in Palestinian cities, but a mobile kitchen in the form of a food truck is something very new here. The transportation ministry created a new kind of license for the business. And the challenges didn't stop there.

“The toughest thing was finding power,” says Bibi, who is 35. “The diesel generator we had been using for electricity was annoying and smelly. So we researched how other food trucks do it and found a green solution.”

They had a Palestinian company attach four large solar panels to the truck's roof, which generate enough power to run the small freezer, ventilation fans and display fridge.

The van and its signature panels have so far garnered a lot of attention, and a steady stream of clients.

“Let me get a sausage sandwich,” says Rami, a local 14-year-old.

“I like the idea that it works on solar energy,” he says. “It’s awesome!”

Barghouti and his business partner are betting big on the food truck concept. They took out a $37,000 loan, payable in five years, and the bank gave them a special low interest rate because of their ex-prisoner status.

“Everything was customized for this truck: the refrigerator, freezer and fryers,” Barghouti says. “I think the only thing we bought from a store were the knives.”

Barghouti, who has six children, and Bibi, who recently married, are seeing early signs of success. Numerous people — including other former prisoners — have been asking them for advice about starting their own food trucks, and there’s word that another one has started operating in the Gaza Strip.

“In the beginning, people were just curious about the food truck,” says Barghouthi, as he piles a sausage sandwich with toppings.

“People wanted to support us because we are former prisoners,” he says. “But now, they come for the food.”

by Public Radio International at September 24, 2016 01:48 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Sudanese Authorities Use ‘Pornography’ as Evidence in Criminal Trial of Human Rights Advocates
A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

Human rights activists in Sudan are being prosecuted in what critics are calling a “morality” trial.

Six activists, all of whom are affiliated with Khartoum Center for Training and Human Development (TRACKS), have been charged with undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the State, espionage, and terrorism. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison, or death.

Case number 110/2016 filed on 15 August against eight TRACKS staff and affiliates is brought against TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar, trainers Al-Hassan Kheiry, Abu Hureira Abdelrahman, and Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, administrator Arwa Ahmed Al-Rabie and Cameroonian volunteer Imany Leyla Raye. Albaqir al Afif Mukhtar, the director of Alkhatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), and Musatafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development are also accused in this case.

Case number 56/2015 was originally brought against TRACKS director Afif Mukhtar, and human rights trainer Adil Bakheit. However, after they were summoned to court on 22 May 2016, they were informed that two other TRACKS staff members Al-Rabie and accountant Nudaina Kamal, were also accused in the case.

Despite the seriousness of these charges, Sudanese prosecutors have turned the trial to an investigation into the private lives of activists showing private photos and videos from the defendants’ confiscated laptops, as evidence of “immorality”.

On 22 May 2016, police arrested eight TRACKS activists after they appeared before the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against the State for investigation in relations to charges brought up by the NISS. While five of them have since been released, three remain in prison, including TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar and trainer Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, and Mustafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development, who was at TRACKS’ office at the time of the most recent raid.

Over the past two years, the Khartoum-based civil society group, which provides trainings on human rights and information technology, has been subjected to multiple incidents of police harassment. Their offices were raided twice by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), in March 2015 and February 2016, with police repeatedly interrogating the group’s staff and confiscating their documents and electronic devices.

During a hearing on 4 September, the prosecutors screened a pornographic video allegedly found on one defendant's computer. They also showed private photos they found on defendants’ computers as evidence of “immorality”. The defendants say there is nothing “immoral” or “pornographic” about these photos, as the picture in the tweet below shows.

The violation of the defendants’ privacy continued in a 22 September hearing, with investigators exposing details about the defendants’ lifestyles.

For these and other Sudanese civil society members, the use of personal photographs and data as evidence has undercut the legitimacy of the trial and the judiciary.

Showing such pictures and videos may not be relevant to the trial, but it is a calculated strategy of the Sudanese authorities to “discredit civil society” in the country, writes Sudanese journalist Reem Abbas, who was present during the hearings on 4 and 22 September:

Setting the ground by damaging the defendants’s public image and presenting them as immoral as understood and seen by the conservative Sudanese society will cause confusion within the solidarity movement. This tactic is very dangerous as it will be used to instigate public opinion against the defendants and initiate a smear campaign that changes the entire discourse of the trial causing the lawyers to become distracted from the actual charges…With women who are perceived as activists or active in the civil society, this is done on another level. Our pictures were shown to reiterate their point, this is the civil society here! They watch pornography and their women are uncovered and they are even smiling in the pictures!

She concludes:

The civil society was painted as a world of debauchery and this debauchery was documented in pictures that were shown inside the courthouse, violating the privacy of the defendants and their friends. But it was done for this exact reason, the NISS wanted to put the whole civil society on trial and in Sudan, the worst kind of trial is a moral one

The Sudanese government's crackdown on civil society groups and human rights activists is nothing new. In 2012, authorities shut down four civil society groups based in the capital Khartoum, while earlier this year the government banned four civil society representatives from traveling to Geneva to take part at a UN-led human rights event. TRACKs is one of very few independent civil society groups still operating in the country, and its trial is seen as a trial against the entire Sudanese civil society, as activist Dalia Haj-Omar tweets:

by Afef Abrougui at September 24, 2016 08:43 AM

Global Voices
Sudanese Authorities Use ‘Pornography’ as Evidence in Criminal Trial of Human Rights Advocates
A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

Human rights activists in Sudan are being prosecuted in what critics are calling a “morality” trial.

Six activists, all of whom are affiliated with Khartoum Center for Training and Human Development (TRACKS), have been charged with undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the State, espionage, and terrorism. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison, or death.

Case number 110/2016 filed on 15 August against eight TRACKS staff and affiliates is brought against TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar, trainers Al-Hassan Kheiry, Abu Hureira Abdelrahman, and Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, administrator Arwa Ahmed Al-Rabie and Cameroonian volunteer Imany Leyla Raye. Albaqir al Afif Mukhtar, the director of Alkhatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), and Musatafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development are also accused in this case.

Case number 56/2015 was originally brought against TRACKS director Afif Mukhtar, and human rights trainer Adil Bakheit. However, after they were summoned to court on 22 May 2016, they were informed that two other TRACKS staff members Al-Rabie and accountant Nudaina Kamal, were also accused in the case.

Despite the seriousness of these charges, Sudanese prosecutors have turned the trial to an investigation into the private lives of activists showing private photos and videos from the defendants’ confiscated laptops, as evidence of “immorality”.

On 22 May 2016, police arrested eight TRACKS activists after they appeared before the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against the State for investigation in relations to charges brought up by the NISS. While five of them have since been released, three remain in prison, including TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar and trainer Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, and Mustafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development, who was at TRACKS’ office at the time of the most recent raid.

Over the past two years, the Khartoum-based civil society group, which provides trainings on human rights and information technology, has been subjected to multiple incidents of police harassment. Their offices were raided twice by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), in March 2015 and February 2016, with police repeatedly interrogating the group’s staff and confiscating their documents and electronic devices.

During a hearing on 4 September, the prosecutors screened a pornographic video allegedly found on one defendant's computer. They also showed private photos they found on defendants’ computers as evidence of “immorality”. The defendants say there is nothing “immoral” or “pornographic” about these photos, as the picture in the tweet below shows.

The violation of the defendants’ privacy continued in a 22 September hearing, with investigators exposing details about the defendants’ lifestyles.

For these and other Sudanese civil society members, the use of personal photographs and data as evidence has undercut the legitimacy of the trial and the judiciary.

Showing such pictures and videos may not be relevant to the trial, but it is a calculated strategy of the Sudanese authorities to “discredit civil society” in the country, writes Sudanese journalist Reem Abbas, who was present during the hearings on 4 and 22 September:

Setting the ground by damaging the defendants’s public image and presenting them as immoral as understood and seen by the conservative Sudanese society will cause confusion within the solidarity movement. This tactic is very dangerous as it will be used to instigate public opinion against the defendants and initiate a smear campaign that changes the entire discourse of the trial causing the lawyers to become distracted from the actual charges…With women who are perceived as activists or active in the civil society, this is done on another level. Our pictures were shown to reiterate their point, this is the civil society here! They watch pornography and their women are uncovered and they are even smiling in the pictures!

She concludes:

The civil society was painted as a world of debauchery and this debauchery was documented in pictures that were shown inside the courthouse, violating the privacy of the defendants and their friends. But it was done for this exact reason, the NISS wanted to put the whole civil society on trial and in Sudan, the worst kind of trial is a moral one

The Sudanese government's crackdown on civil society groups and human rights activists is nothing new. In 2012, authorities shut down four civil society groups based in the capital Khartoum, while earlier this year the government banned four civil society representatives from traveling to Geneva to take part at a UN-led human rights event. TRACKs is one of very few independent civil society groups still operating in the country, and its trial is seen as a trial against the entire Sudanese civil society, as activist Dalia Haj-Omar tweets:

by Afef Abrougui at September 24, 2016 08:32 AM

Yemen's ‘Forgotten War’ Intensifies After Saudi-Led Air Strike in Al Hudaydah
A view of the Alhook district in Hodeida a day after airstrikes killed 30 on September 21. Source: Hisham Al-Omeisy on Twitter.

A view of the Alhook district in Hodeida a day after airstrikes killed 30 on September 21. Source: Hisham Al-Omeisy on Twitter.

On Wednesday September 21, 2016, Saudi-led airstrikes struck Yemen's port city of Al Hudaydah. According to medical sources speaking to CNN, at least 30 civilians were killed and at least 14 homes were destroyed, with over 90 damaged.

Al Hudaydah, also spelled ‘Hodeida’ (الحديدة‎‎), is under the control of Houthi rebels and has therefore been the target of repeated bombing by the Saudi-led coalition. Indeed, Al Arabiya reports that “a meeting of the leaders of Houthi militias inside the presidential palace” was taking place. The United Nations has condemned the air strikes.

The conflict in Yemen is often called ‘The Forgotten War‘ and the actors taking part in it are not always well-understood by international observers. In 2015, the BBC wrote an article entitled ‘Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?’ in which they explained that:

The main fight is between forces loyal to the beleaguered President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and those allied to Zaidi Shia rebels known as Houthis, who forced Mr Hadi to flee the capital Sanaa in February.

Yemen's security forces have split loyalties, with some units backing Mr Hadi, and others the Houthis and Mr Hadi's predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has remained politically influential. Mr Hadi is also supported in the predominantly Sunni south of the country by militia known as Popular Resistance Committees and local tribesmen.

Both President Hadi and the Houthis are opposed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has staged numerous deadly attacks from its strongholds in the south and south-east.

Amnesty International also has a report explaining the conflict, going back as far as 1990 to give context. It mentions how all parties in this conflict have committed “violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”. Recently, we learned that at least 10,000 people have been killed since 2015, with approximately 60% killed by the Saudi-led coalition.

Claiming that they were targeting a hostile naval base, the coalition first bombed the city's port in August 2015, blockading the port, besieging the city, and preventing relief funds and humanitarian aid from reaching those in need.

Al Hudaydah is one of Yemen's largest cities, with a population of over 400,000 people; it is also the capital of the Al Hudaydah Governorate, which in itself has over 2,620,000 people.

When asked by CNN about reports of civilian casualties in Al Hudaydah, the coalition's spokesperson, Ahmed Asseri, gave a vague response:

As with any allegations we receive, the information will be reviewed and once it is found [to be] supporting the allegation based on credible evidence, we will then move to a next step of investigation.

Meanwhile, Yemenis have taken to social media to express their frustration at the international community's failure to respond to the crisis.

On Facebook, Hossam Hamidaddin, a 27-year-old Yemeni, wrote the following ode to Al Hudaydah:

(العروس الأحمر لطخت بالدم الأحمر)
الحديدة تلك المدينة التي عرف أهلها بالطيبه والبساطة والبسمة، كنا نقضي فيها أجمل الايام قلوب أهل تهامة كأنها فلقة قمر بيضاء تنزل دموعهم رحمة على أخوانهم

وفي ليلة مظلمة نزلت صواريخ الهمج والمجرمين والذين يسعون لأغتصاب كل شيء جميل، ومزقت هذه الصواريخ عذرية العروس الاحمر تهامة لتصبح بلد ملطخ بالدماء المتناثرة الممزوجة بألم الصراخ
..
أصبحت دموع أهل الحديدة تنزل من الألم قلوبهم لم تعد بيضاء لانها لم تعد تنبض وهي تحت الانقاض صبراً أهل الحديدة ليس موعدكم الجنة لانكم أنتم الجنة بحد ذاتها..

 

Al Hudaydah, that city of people known for simplicity, kindness, and merriness… We spent the most beautiful days of our lives there. A city of heavenly lighthearted people. Their hearts and smiles shone like the moonlight. But the moon will no longer reflect its light on Hudaydah… Darkness. Only darkness will be found in Hudaydah after tonight, darkness and cries of despair.

From the black skies fell not the stars, but their missiles. The missiles of the Barbarian criminals who pursue nothing but to rape all that is beautiful. Their missiles raped our beautiful Red Bride. They ripped her virginity and seared her dress with blood. Blood. Our beloved city is swimming in a pool of blood and shrieks of pain…

My people cry and their tears fall not from their eyes, but rather from their hearts… Their hearts that are no longer pounding for they lie under the debris and rubble of the city.

Like countless other Yemenis, Hamiddadin cannot travel back to Yemen since the airport was closed on August 10, thanks to the Saudi-led coalition's intensified airstrikes on Sanaa. Indeed, as Public Radio International reported:

With the closing of Yemeni airspace, there have been few commercial flights in and out of the Sanaa airport. The only aircraft in the skies over the capital are war planes.

A screenshot of Yemeni airspace from FlightRadar24 on September 23 shows how empty it is (warplanes do not appear on the radar):

Screenshot from FlightRadar24 showing Yemen. Source.

Screenshot from FlightRadar24 showing Yemen. Source.

Yemeni activist Hisham Al-Omeisy asked:

The area's history dates back nearly 1,400 years, making it one of the oldest in Yemen. Zabid, a town near the coast in Al Hudaydah Governorate, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 and on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2000. It is known for its Great Mosque, built in 628 AD by Abu Musa Ashaari, one of the followers of Muhammad.

After Aden, Al Hudaydah city's port is the most important in Yemen and is therefore of great geopolitical value.

by Mona Bibi at September 24, 2016 12:45 AM

September 23, 2016

Global Voices
Iran Executes Hundreds of People Each Year in Its UN-Funded War on Drugs

Nooses await the executions of prisoners in Iran. Photo from ICHRI and used with permission.

The latest session of the United Nations General Assembly is underway in New York City. The assembly has featured many speakers, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who used the platform to address extremism in the world as well as the landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers.

One thing he did not mention was the death penalty. Iran has one of the globe's highest rates of capital punishment, a fact that if ignored inside the chamber, was highlighted by protesters outside the General Assembly.

Many of the executions are carried out in the name of Iran's war on drugs, one of the bloodiest in the world. By Iran’s own admission, 93 per cent of the 852 reported executions between July 2013 and June 2014 were drug-related. In 2015, Iran put more than 966 individuals to death, the majority of whom appear to have faced drug-related charges.

And the United Nations is complicit. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has for years given the Islamic Republic funding for its anti-drug efforts, a partnership that has raised serious concerns about the morality and legality of the UN's program, but will probably go unscrutinised at the General Assembly.

The UNODC was established in 1997 to address issues related to drug trafficking and abuse, among other issues related to crime and punishment. It has an estimated biennial budget of 700 million US dollars, and the majority of this funding comes from Western countries, many of whom have outlawed capital punishment in any form.

The UNODC has given Iran more than 15 million US dollars since 1998 to support operations by the country’s Anti-Narcotics Police. This is despite significant evidence that Iran’s governmental drug policies violate international law, and fall short of UNODC’s own standards.

The UK-based human rights NGO Reprieve has linked funding from the UN to at least 3,000 executions in Iran, including the execution of juvenile offenders. In 2014, for example, Iran reportedly hanged an Afghan juvenile, 15-year-old Jannat Mir, for an alleged drug offense, despite the fact that he was a minor.

Those who are executed are often individuals who are marginalized in Iranian society. This includes undocumented migrants and refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, as well as ethnic and religious minorities who face disenfranchisement in Iran.

In February 2016, it was reported that Iran executed the entire adult male population of one village based on drug charges. The village, Roushanabad, is located in Balochistan, Iran’s poorest province. The population consists of ethnic and religious minorities, many of whom earn their livelihood through smuggling.

Those who face drug charges are often denied due process. A 2014 report by Ahmad Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, quoted an experienced Iranian lawyer who said that drug trials “never last more than a few minutes.” Prisoners are often denied access to counsel, and claim that confessions are forced under torture.

Human Rights Watch has accused Iran of using drug charges against political prisoners and dissidents, raising further concerns about the implications of the UNODC’s support for the country’s anti-drugs program. In 2009, Zahra Bahrami, a citizen of both the Netherlands and Iran was arrested and accused of drug trafficking – a charge she denied. She claimed her confession was extracted under duress, and activists contend that her arrest was based on her political views. She was executed in 2011.

“Iran has hanged more than a hundred so-called drug offenders this year, and the UN has responded by praising the efficiency of the Iranian drug police and lining them up a generous five-year funding deal,” said Maya Foa, strategic director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, in an interview with the Guardian in 2015.

Instead of focusing primarily on endemic problems such as poverty and a lack of opportunities for youth that foster drug abuse, Iran continues to enact draconian punishments on individuals, including publicly executing them. Observers argue these killings are a strategy by the regime to maintain political authority through intimidation, as opposed to tackling the problems of poverty and drug abuse through treatment and economic development.

From a legal perspective, there is ample evidence that Iran’s executions are a violation of international human rights law, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR, to which Iran is a party, explicitly reserves capital punishment for only “the most serious crimes.” Article 6 of the ICCPR explicitly states that the death penalty cannot be imposed if a fair trial has not been granted.

In 2012, the UNODC released a position paper that appeared to critique its own involvement in Iran. The paper noted that cooperation with countries which use capital punishment “can be perceived as legitimising government actions.” It concluded that in such circumstances the organisation “may have no choice but to employ a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support.” Yet the UNODC has never publicly expressed a desire to withdraw support from its Iran program.

Iran has thus far practised its drug executions with impunity, and will likely avoid tough questions at the UN. Under current President Hassan Rouhani, who is often perceived and presented as a “moderate” politician, the rate of executions is higher than it was during the hardline presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a reality that seemingly betrays Rouhani's own support base and promises of “prudence and hope.” In 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Ahmad Shaheed noted that “the overall situation has worsened” with respect to human rights under Rouhani.

While the responsibility of executions and incarcerations lies foremost with the judiciary, the Rouhani administration and the appointed minister of justice, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, have remained silent and inactive on the issue.

The hypocrisy in aiding Iran is not lost on everyone. The UK, Denmark and Ireland have withdrawn funding for UNODC’s Iran program, citing human rights concerns. However, other countries including Norway and France continue to provide funding. In 2015, the UNODC renewed a five-year commitment with Iran promising an additional 20 million dollars. As the UN General Assembly convenes, the issue of funding Iran's executions appears to have been left off the agenda.

by Hamid Yazdan Panah at September 23, 2016 04:10 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Live Blog: Lets Get Physical

This is a liveblog of a talk at the 2016 Data Literacy Conference, hosted by Fing.  This was liveblogged by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio.  These are our best attempt to record what the speak was talking about - any accuracy errors are our fault.

Samuel Huron begins by talking about how we assume that data will be in visual form, on a screen.  But there were many times where we generated lots of data, but we didn't use the same technologies and techniques. We used clay to represent numbers even before we had language.  8,000 BCE.  That didn't have a separation between the recording device and the representation. Then the Sumerians started making marks, units, on a tablet. Suddenly they were comparing between lines and columns and such.   Many more examples are on the DataPhys website.  Then we abstracted to symbols, which let us compare things and look for patterns.

Anscombe's Quartet lets us see how different datasets can have the same algorithmically resolved properties.  With our senses, we have some pre-cognitive operations that visualizations can take advantage of.

There is a separation between those that can work with the data, and those that cannot.  He wasn't all be able to work with data and act in society using it.  How can be welcome all to this?  He looking into Constructive Visualization (paper).  This study looked at a physical library of objects to build visuals that others could understand otherwise.  THey created, updated, annotated a visualization using these basic building blocks.  Some were duplications of existing shapes, but others were totally novel. Now there is an open source kit for doing this yourself.

mWYNPw6l.jpg

Pauline Gourlet continues with a discussion of more than just the physical for representing data. Sometimes we talk about data we have, but other times we have to go and collect the data we need. What will the choice of the material we use induce in the story?  How do we structure the data we are collecting?

Pauline's first example looked into looking at emotions and moods.  A difficult thing to measure, capture, and report. They started with colors on fabric, because the way it spread on the fabric looked a bit diffused.  So you could describe the mixture of emotions.  Blue meant sadness, yellow was joy, etc.  They animated the charts, and noticed dynamics and patterns in the data they captured.  

  1. The time of collection changed their moods (like art therapy)

  2. The discussion it fueled changed how they talked about their emotions.

  3. People wanted to explain the data, and projected themselves into the representations.

They repeated the whole project with primary school kids, to understand how they would experience it.  They really wanted to do it.  These kids who were 6 understand it, negotiated the meaning, and recontextualized it in the action they had just done. They did it again with graduate students in a design university. The process was a bit more systematized, with a star plot diagram with axis for things like stress.  They 3d printed some of the resulting shapes.  They also cut out the data as wooden pieces to see the stack of emotions over time.  This let you separate and find families of similar days.

8kZN57Wl.jpg

A separate example is Pauline's work looking into the usage of digital fabrication labs (FabLabs).  They created a collaborative sculpture, where the placement of objects on a stick would encode what the users were doing.  There was also a categorization of why people came to the FabLab (I experimented, I showed, etc).   These mini sculptures encoded the timespan, regularity, and purpose of their visits to the FabLab.  

Samuel speaks about a workshop they designed, to allow more open types of creation and physicalization.  A workshop that is freeform, but lightly constrained.  So there was a task that relied on different datasets. They wanted to explore how people would appropriate the physicalization.  Pauline speaks to how they explored the physicalization.  Sometime easy, involved, and simple to understand. They proposed basic tools and materials, selected materials. Wires, LEGO bricks, tokens, etc. 15 materials.  They had 3 types of cards to start the activity - context cards, cards with datasets and cards with tasks (convince, discover, collect).  Groups were invited to pick one card of each type, and get three materials.  Then they presented to everyone (without describing it). The groups created physical manifestations of the data, liek a string that one would tie to a peg and pull to record the data.  Another group created a participatory experience where you received cut outs of people representing asylum seekers, and placed them in your hands to force you to fit them in the EU somewhere.

 

 

by rahulb at September 23, 2016 04:04 PM

Organizing on Social Media to Change Platform and Government Policies: Oxford Internet Politics and Policy Conference 2016

What role does social media play in supporting collective action, and how do people organize to change social media systems themselves?

I'm here in Oxford for the 2016 Internet Politics and Policy conference, hosted by the Oxford Internet Institute. Yesterday, I shared a paper on The Civic Labor of Online Moderators. Today, I was able to attend a fascinating session on the ways that people organize online for change.

Participatory Policymaking on Collaborative Social Media Platforms

GODZILLA The Game - Reveal Trailer - Godzilla B&W 2.png

Up first is Alissa Centivanny, a professor at the Western University, Ontario. In her talk on participatory policymaking on collaborative social media platforms, Alissa asked for suggestions and feedback on this work-in-progress research.

Platforms are becoming inseparable from many aspects of our lives, developing enormous power in our lives. They're often opaque, difficult to understand. As a society, we tend to see platforms as Godzillas: powerful entities that pop up from beneath the sea and unexpectedly carry out unfettered demonstrations of power. But all of us play a role in the power dynamics at play; how can we recognize that role?

One tragedy of the human condition is that each of us lives and dies with little hint of even the most profound transformations of our society and our species that play themselves out in some small part through our own existence.

James Beniger, from The Control Revolution

Alissa's goal today is to show how design, policy, and social practice co-evolve together. She cites Hood and Margett's "Tools of Government," Participatory Policymaking, Mechanic's "Sources of Power of Lower Participants" (1970), and Hirschman's "Exit, Voice, and Loyalty" (1970). She points out that while people have done huge amounts of work in participatory policymaking practice, those efforts have not often achieved substantial policy outcomes. Yet people like Mechanic have shown many ways in the everyday world that people with limited power do manage to influence those more powerful than them.

Alissa sets out to ask questions about how online platform users are involved in shaping the policy of online platforms. Her first example is the reddit blackout, a moment when moderators of thousands of subreddit communities took collective action against the platform, forcing it to change its practices and communities (Alissa has published research on the blackout, and so have I).

Alissa's second example is the controversy over a the Wikimedia Foundation's "Knowledge Engine," a proposed extension of the foundation's work that was controversial with wikipedia contributors and led to the resignation of the foundation's executive director. Unlike moderators in the reddit blackout, Wikipedians couldn't shut off parts of the site. Instead, says Alissa, they carried out high volume, detailed deliberative processes.

Alissa is still early in the research process and is still looking for resources, links, and people to interview.

Density Dependence (but not Resource Partitioning) on a Digital Mobilization Platform (Change.org)

Next up is Nathan TeBluthius, who shares work with Benjamin Mako Hill and Aaron Shaw (read the paper online here).

Online mobilization platforms have a problem of duplicate campaigns. Or is it a problem? Nathan shows us images from four campaigns to end dog meat festivals, only one of which was successful. Since there are only so many people, might these overlapping campaigns compete, detracting from the success of a campaign, or do they actually build and grow the movement overall? Your answer to this question determines on your view of the resources available to a movement.

To answer this question, Nathan scraped a dataset of petitions from Change.org. He then created clusters of petitions based on the similarity of the issues they take on. This allows Nathan to bring in theories theories of "density dependence" from ecology, which expect that clusters that are too small or too large will end up with less participation. In other words: highly unique campaigns will seem to niche to people (and not legitimate), and hugely popular campaigns will crowd each other out (through competition). His hypothesis is that the most successful campaigns will be part of mid-sized clusters. Nathan also mentions two other hypotheses.

In their statistical model, Nathan and his co-authors find support for this main hypothesis. Here's how they put it in the paper: "This curvilinear relationship between topic density and petition success suggests support for the idea that environmental pressures on petitions include both legitimacy and competition."

Tweeting for the Cause: Network Analysis of UK Petition Sharing

Peter Cihon, a gradstudent at Cambridge University, shares work he did with Taha Nasseri, Scott Hale, and Helen Margetts (paper here).

What is the relationship between social media and petition signatures? Peter looks at the UK's online petitions site during the period of the UK coalition government from April to June 2013. Past research has shown that the number of first-day signatures predict the success of a petition. In a time-shift analysis, Margetts and colleagues showed that the volume of tweets predicted the number of signatures. Yet in an analysis of German petitions, Lindner and Riehm showed that petitions increased inequality in political participation rather than broadening it (2011). Michael Strange's work has shown how activists form coalitions through petition creation.

Peter asks the questions: what does petition sharing actively look like, and who shares petitions? To ask this question, the team collected tweets from the Twitter search API from July 2013-March 2015 associated with 11,000 petitions. To study this, they researchers worked with two kinds of networks: petitions are connected to each other if the same user tweets about them. They also look at another network that connects users if they have shared the same petition. These are both implicit relationships based on activity.

 

Using this network, they used community detection algorithms to see if sharing yields topic clusters. They couldn't find evidence that users exclusively share a particular kind of cause. Next, they asked whether sharing tends to focus on popular or unpopular petitions. That was not the case; both successful and unsuccessful petitions are shared by the same users. Finally, they asked if centrally-shared petitions are associated with the number of petitions; there was no association between the centrality of sharing and the number of petitions.

What does this mean overall? Firstly, Twitter users share petitions of different topics and a wide range of outcomes, a finding that's similar to a study of power users on change.org by Huang et al on how activists are born and made. Second, central users in sharing networks are not formal interests, but acting as individuals. Finally, "latent" interest groups may be implied by similar behavior online. To end, Peter asks what might happen if people were made aware of each other?

Questions

Pascal Jurgens mentions: What is the scarce resource that's in play? A person might actually become excited to sign more petitions, but maybe their scarce resource is attention.

Helen Margetts has a conversation with Nathan. They note that Change.org does work to put people in touch with each other, using comments systems and recommendation systems to suggest other petitions that a person might choose to join. The site also sends people emails about similar petitions.

I asked Alissa about Hirschman's choices of exit, voice, and loyalty, which tend to be seen as individuals' choices, asking her how she thought about the collective action aspects of the reddit and wikimedia protests. Alissa brings a collective sensemaking method to try to understanding the collective understandings that emerge as people try to make sense of a larger distributed movement that is not coordinated or centralized. In contrast the petition sites try (unsuccessfully) to focus and limit the conversation to specific campaigns and counts. If one imposes structure that always stretches the boundaries and edges it introduces, the others begin more loose and may or may not approximate structure over time -- it's that collective sensemaking that Alissa studies.

by natematias at September 23, 2016 03:08 PM

Global Voices
Reformist Editor Arrested Ahead of Iranian President’s Trip to the United Nations
Sadra Mohaghegh, the social affairs editor of the reformist Shargh newspaper, was arrested on September 19, 2016, but the circumstances surrounding his arrest and the charges against him are unclear, according to his lawyer. Image from ICHRI and use with permission.

Sadra Mohaghegh. Image from ICHRI and used with permission.

A version of this article was originally published on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Sadra Mohaghegh, the social affairs editor of the reformist Iranian newspaper Shargh, was arrested on September 19, 2016, but the circumstances surrounding his arrest and the charges against him are unclear, according to his lawyer.

The arrest comes on the heels of an international tour by President Hassan Rouhani that will end at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he held a press conference on September 22.

Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that his client was taken into custody by agents from a security organization, but the agents did not identify their employer.

“The agents confiscated laptops and mobile phones belonging to Mohaghegh and his wife and demanded the passwords to their social media accounts,” an informed source told the Campaign.

The semi-official Mehr News Agency reported on September 19 that a newspaper editor identified as “S-M” had been detained by “one of the security agencies” for working with “anti-revolutionary” media outlets. Later that day, Shargh confirmed Mohaghegh’s arrest via its Twitter account.

Mehr published the report with an image used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards — a body responsible for the imprisonment of many activists, journalists and dissenters — to publicize its crackdown on journalists they claim are working for “enemy states.”

Mohaghegh is well known for his reports on environmental issues and informative social media postings; a few hours after his arrest, his Twitter and Facebook accounts became inaccessible. He was briefly arrested on two previous occasions, in 2012 and 2013, but was never prosecuted.

Another journalist, Yashar Soltani, remained detained in Evin Prison on September 17 after he was unable to post the bail, set at two billion rials ($65,000 USD), for his release prior to his trial. Soltani, the editor-in-chief of Memari News, an independent website that was suspended on September 9, 2016, is being investigated for publishing an official report on illegal land sales by the Tehran Municipality.

by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran at September 23, 2016 12:39 PM

The Struggles of Peacebuilding in Mali
Image symbolisant la paix

Image symbolizing peace. Photo taken by the author and published with his permission

Rebellion, a military coup, and an invasion of Islamist militants; 2012 marked the beginning of a somber chapter in Mali's history.  All that constituted order in this West African country, which many observers saw as a model democracy, crumbled. The peace that prevailed in the country was smashed by a Tuareg rebellion in the north. The catastrophic handling of this rebellion by the government at that time led to a military coup with its own share of abuses.

The consequences of this coup were not long in coming. The chaos that was created allowed the invasion of two-thirds of the country by Tuareg rebels accompanied by jihadist groups, who eventually overpowered the Tuareg rebels and corralled them into sharia-imposed areas under their control.

Mali bid farewell to peace and stability, and instead welcomed instability and injustice. For many months rape, theft, and summary executions became the norm for many people under occupation from these armed groups, before a military operation in January 2013 from the international community put an end to their torture. Following this intervention, elections were organized, a new president was elected, and the peace process was relaunched.

Three years after the return to constitutional order, has Mail reestablished peace? Is justice really effective?

The election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to the executive office in September 2013 gave Malians high hopes. The people of Mali saw it as a clear sign of a return to stability.

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Presidential inauguration of IBK in 2013. Public domain

To the extent that these actions have been carried out, it must be noted that the long-awaited peace will be slow in becoming a reality. Although a peace accord was signed by various rebel groups between May and June of 2015, its implementation and interpretation of certain issues by various signatories have posed enormous difficulties.

Thus, more than one year after its signing, we still witness protests against provisions in the peace agreement.

This was recently the case in Gao, where on July 12 a youth protest against the implementation of “interim authority” was violently suppressed by the Malian army, leaving four dead and around 30 young people injured.

Moreover, clashes between various armed groups have not ended. There have been repeated skirmishes between such armed groups as the Organization of Azawad's Movements (an independent Tuareg alliance) and the Gatia (an armed Tuareg group close to the government) over control of the Kidal region.

To this the resurgence of Islamist movements must be added. They were driven out of large towns with the military intervention in 2013 and took refuge in isolated areas, and have since reorganized and launched regular attacks against military camps.The latest attack at Nampala military camp on July 19 resulted in 17 Malian soldiers dead.

Lors de l'hommage rendu par la nation aux soldats tombés à Nampala lors de l'attaque terroriste

The nation pays tribute to the fallen soldiers at Nampala who were killed in an attack. Photo taken by the author and published with his permission

In a report published by Malilink Investigative Reporting Group, between the signing of the peace accord on June 20, 2014, and June 25, 2015, Mali recorded 191 attacks perpetrated by militants, leaving 385 people dead.

Finally, we are beginning to see the emergence of a new phenomenon: inter-community conflicts, mostly between the Babara and Peulh populations in the Mopti region, with lives lost. On August 27, 2016, a new skirmish left five dead.

In terms of justice, there are some positive signs given by authorities, notably the arrests Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led the 2012 military coup, and many former senior military leaders involved in the assassination of the military ‘red berets’, as well as the transfer to the International Criminal Court of jihadist Ahmad Al-Faq Al-Mahdi, whose trial is ongoing.

However, numerous crimes committed during the crisis unprosecuted and unpunished.

Procès de AHMAD AL FAQUI à la CPI

Trial of Ahmad Al Faqui at the International Criminal Court. Public domain

We have even witnessed the release, as part of the peace process, of certain persons suspected of being perpetrators of serious human rights violations. Many people have raised their voices to denounce this situation, notably human rights organizations. According to the International Federation for Human Rights:

Pour eux, certaines dispositions de l’accord de paix  à savoir l’amnistie accordée à  certains responsables des groupes armés dont  le juge islamique de Tombouctou,   HOUKA HOUKA AG ALFOUSSEINI,  est une prime à l’injustice.

For them, certain provisions of the peace accord — namely the amnesty granted to certain leaders of armed groups including the Islamic judge of Timbuktu, Houka Houka Ag Alsfousseini — is a prime injustice.

Furthermore, numerous people are the victims of rape, theft, amputations, and floggings; all the while waiting for justice to be done.

After these assessments, it's important to remember that peacebuilding, justice, and security for Mali is still a major undertaking. Much help is needed, given how extensive the work is.

Achieving peace will require Malians to learn to forgive and dialogue, and the state to perform its regulatory role. But all this will be difficult without real involvement from the international community.

by Alyssa Ollivier at September 23, 2016 11:39 AM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Live Blog: Building a Data Literate Future Today

This is a liveblog of a talk at the 2016 Data Literacy Conference, hoster by Fing.  This was liveblogged by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio.  These are our best attempt to record what the speak was talking about - any accuracy errors are our fault.

Harshil Parikh is Co-Founder and CEO of Tuva.  Tuva strives to empower various types of organizations to build a foundation in data and statistical literacy.  The bad news is that defining data literacy is hard. It sits at the intersection of things like statistical literacy, visual storytelling, research methods and ethics/privacy concerns. It's hard to deliver on a product if you can't define it.

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More bad news; everyone needs data literacy - Academia, Business and Government. But these different worlds have different ways of selecting, purchasing and using products and services. Even more bad news - what type of data literacy if useful to you depends on your sector.

But there is some good news!  The need is being felt.  Investment can be linked to outcomes and impact.  There is opportunity for targeting offerings. These programs aren't zero-sum gains; the need continues over time.

Tuva started with building products for schools. They are in use by ~8500 schools, over 250 higher-ed institutions. Their business model is "freemium", where you can use some of it for free, and pay for more fleshed out offerings.

Tuva is focused now on building offerings for businesses. Any company that wants to stay competitive is investing in technology to support data.  In addition, they are acquiring and retaining data talent.  More importantly, they are realizing that these two things are not enough. This doesn't create a culture based on data and evidence.  So they are investing in their existing workforce as well. This creates a shift in investment from just data producers to data consumers.  They want to create a link between data and analytics.

This has lead Tuva to target specific audiences; specifically those that aren't very technical. This includes managers, team-leads, early-career professionals, and summer interns. They are building diagnostic assessments around literacy to justify expenditures.

Tuva has built a data visualization training for tax audit and advisory companies. They created a program for statistical literacy for a financial management company.  Each of these requires them to be nimble in the approach and curriculum. They've rolled out multilingual trainings for the World Bank targeting internal and external partner audiences (ministries and CSOs).

Demand for data literacy is on the rise. These can be directly linked to organizational outcomes. Niche products can be produced for industry verticals. Data literacy is a fundamental skill in the 21st century. This is how to build a data literate future today.

 

by rahulb at September 23, 2016 10:16 AM

Live Blog: School of Data - What is it?

This is a liveblog of a talk at the 2016 Data Literacy Conference, hoster by Fing.  This was liveblogged by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio.  These are our best attempt to record what the speak was talking about - any accuracy errors are our fault.

Dirk Slater and Cédric Lombion are introducing School of Data by illustrating the challenges they face. It was originally launched in 2012, hosted out of the Open Knowledge Foundation, with idea that decentralized content would spread the idea around the world.

They realized several things: 1) online only was not enough. You need offline training as well. 2) Partnerships are necessary as well as translation into other languages if you have international aspirations. You have to go into the field and work with people who know the local context.

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School of Data has members/partners, fellows, staff and a steering committee. They have a set of problems they have been working on.

First problem: People don't know how to work with data. He shows an example of Ximena Villagran, a fellow from Guatemala, who developed flashcards to teach people how to work with Excel pivot tables.

Second problem: People don't know how to run data projects. You have to have a methodology and a data mindset. For example, they have been working with Oxfam who has been pressuring governments to open data sets around French Banks' subsidiaries in tax havens. Oxfam staff had spent two months hand-entering the data which, with some training, could have been completed in a day. School of Data worked with them to show how to streamline these processes.

School of Data has developed techniques like the data expedition workshop, and the data pipeline, to support folks learning how to work with data.

Problem 3: How do we scale this work? They only have a team of four staff members. They believe in face to face trainings, so they built and scaled a network. The people who are members are specialists in their audience and their context. They have people in the Philippines who are managing public resources but don't have access to computers and email. In Zambia people are working on health. It wouldn't be possible for one org to do this in one way, so working as a network is very important.

Problem 4: How do we share innovation?  Sharing innovation is hard, because this involves significant documentation.  Their summer camp helps start this, they have templates to support this, and the innovation fund that supports this via mini-grants.  Their goal is to document so others can use this more effectively.  The data viz card game is an example of this (based on the datavizcatalog site).  Developing this further required support and funding.

Cédric hands over to Dirk to discuss how to improve their data literacy efforts.

Problem 5: How can the School of Data network improve data literacy efforts? They found that the School of Data curriculum is used by many to do their trainings.  The "pipeline" is used by many outside of their network. The network has effectively become a community of practice.

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Problem 6: How do we measure the impact of data literacy efforts? To do this they wanted to understand how the network practitioners understood data literacy. They got a huge range of responses from understanding a spreadsheet to using data how to solve problems. Dirk and Mariel standardized their definition to "The ability to apply and use information to make change." In order to measure impact they wanted to understand ways of doing social change and also understand who is doing the change (activists? CBOs? NGOs? governments?) For the network, this is really varied. We collectively need to be better at driving institutional change.

Problem 7: Can it be sustainable? The network is trying to understand how it can be self-sustaining for the long term. The NGOs in the network can monetize and productize their trainings for example with more of a "fee for service" model. They feel they need to move to make new partnerships with schools, civil society efforts, development initiatives, and the private sector. School of Data can help connect open data transparency efforts and citizens, for example.

Cedric wraps up by offering School of Data as a social and technical resource to the audience.  They are trying to improve themselves as a platform to support their network of field operations. This contextualized work is molded as needed to suite the neets of each place.

Charles asks what their next challenges are. Cedric shares that the biggest one is spinning out of OKFN, and becoming completely financially independent.

 

by rahulb at September 23, 2016 10:14 AM

Live Blog: Reflections on Data Literacy, Development, and Democracy

This is a liveblog of a talk at the 2016 Data Literacy Conference, hoster by Fing.  This was liveblogged by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio.  These are our best attempt to record what the speak was talking about - any accuracy errors are our fault.

Data Pop Alliance is an alliance of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, MIT Media Lab, ODI, and FlowMinder.

The first thing Emmanuel Letouzé saw on his arrival to France was a newspaper cover page (from Le Point) with a story about "The Algorithms that Govern Us".  All of this is scary.  This issue of power structures and information is old - he created a political cartoon a few years ago about how "Data is the new oil". Manu wonders: could there be a data-as-resource curse in this unequal world?  The issue of data literacy is at the heart of this question. How do we turn data in an issue of social progress.

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Manu shares a visualization of credit card activity, created by Sandy Pentland's group at the MIT Media Lab.  Based on this they built a set of groups tht have similar purchasing patterns and decisions. You can start to see where the fear of big brother comes from when you see things like this.  Around 2009 we started to see stories in the popular press about big data analysis, and the big data "revolution" (as the UN called for in 2015).  A year later they called for building capacity and literacy in people and their public servants.  Some have called data literacy the ability to work with huge amounts of data (Forbes).  Others have said it is about making marketing easier (Venture Beat).

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But is a data literate society a society of data scientists? Does everyone need to become a data scientist?

They wrote a white paper, Beyond Data Literacy, that looked back at literacy over history for the connections between literacy, development and democracy (disclosure - Rahul is a co-author). People have a simple notion that the printing press and Enlightenment then led to more reading and writing which led to things getting better. But it's not so linear. It took 400 years between the invention of the printing press and the Industrial Revolution, for example. In the late 1800's you needed people with a very basic literacy (ability to sign your name) to help operate things - merchants, clerks, surveyors and so on. He shows a quote from Claude Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, that says that contrary to writing being a tool for empowerment, it actually primarily has served to reaffirm domination structures.

Is the same phenomenon happening with data literacy?  Are we just helping people learn just enough to interact with data, but not literate enough to do anything real and challenging. He references Cathy O'Neil's recent book Weapons of Math Destruction . The danger is that people won't criticize work they see.  The white paper argues for a thicker definition; a "literacy in the age of data". The point is to be able to "constructively engage with society in the age of data".

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Based on this approach, the Data Pop alliance has developed a training program for a variety of countries.  These workshops focus on "context and concepts" first; why it matters and what it means to be data literate in the historical and cultural perspective. Big data isn't about just large data sets, but about a new social and cultural phenomenon.  With this context in mind, the trainings then move to "methods and tools". This is what many people mean when they talk about data literacy (such as understanding a graph, etc) but it's important to put it into a more critical context.  The third topic they work on is "decisions and stories"; using the stories to influence the ecosystems around you.  Lastly the focus on the ethics in the middle of all this, to guide all the activities.  Not a "data revolution", but a "revolution through data".

Manu argues that a literate citizenry will care about, and have control over their data.  Sandy Pentland has written about this at the World Economic Forum. He goes on to pose the question - "Can Open Algorithms foster development and democracy?" - and asserts that Open Algorithms are an exciting new development for democracy. He is writing about this is a variety of settings, wondering how this can be a force for positive disruptions.  Data Pop's OPAL is working on this idea. This is a platform that runs your code on private servers with private data, extracting high-level results.

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Data Pop Alliance is working across the globe with government departments to build this literacy.  His top takeaways:

  1. Data is a valuable resource

  2. Data can entrench of disrupt existing power

  3. We This will be radical evolution through dat

  4. This requires promoting data literacy

  5. We need strong investments to help this along

Charles mentions their funding from Rockefeller, and asks how they acquired that. Manu answers that this was seed funding, they have raised beyond that from other funders since then. Their concept note, after many iterations, sparked their interest.  They might have been visionaries, or crazy, but they got behind it.

Charles asks about OPAL, and how it can be surprising that big companies like Orange are interested in this.  Manu mentions that Orange did the first large open data projects in Africa.  Many criticized this, because the main consumers and analyzers of this data were not from the Ivory Coast (and only 3 had visited ever). They are still working on how to address this, even within the companies. We hope to finalize and announce OPAL at the end of the year.

by rahulb at September 23, 2016 10:11 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Friday, September 23, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about Yahoo's data breach and the possible origins of the hack. We'll also play this week's Silicon Tally with Rhonda Milrad, the CEO and founder of Relationup, a company that lets you text experts for relationship advice.

by Marketplace at September 23, 2016 10:00 AM

Global Voices
Drone Video Exposes Illegal Burning of Land on Palm Oil Plantations in Indonesia
Screenshot of a palm oil field that was cleared by burning in Indonesia. Image is from a drone video uploaded on YouTube.

Screenshot of a palm oil field that was cleared by burning in Indonesia. Image is from a drone video uploaded on YouTube.

A drone video captured the extent of burnt oil palms and the clearing of land in the western region of Indonesia. The burning of land is believed to be the cause of the haze that has blanketed Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia every year.

The drone's launch was part of an investigation by Eyes on the Forest Indonesia (EOF), a coalition of three environment groups which was established in 2004 to study the recurring forest fires.

According to EOF, the video gave proof that 3,000 hectares of land allegedly owned by plantation company Andika Permata Sawit Lestari (APSL) were ‘deliberately burned’.

The video can be used as an additional evidence against the company, which is facing charges of land grabbing and operating without a proper license.

In recent months, the Indonesian government has stepped up its efforts to stop forest fires in Riau, the ‘ground zero’ of the haze disaster. It vowed to prosecute companies responsible for the forest fires. It also urged Malaysia and Singapore to probe the companies in their countries which are funding the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia.

Early this month, seven employees of the government’s environment ministry investigating a fire incident were hostaged by scores of individuals who were assumed to be employees of a plantation company. They were released after the police intervened and only after they deleted photos and videos of what they documented in the area.

The EOF said the drone video confirmed what the employees were investigating.

As Indonesia pursues its probe about the issue, haze continues to plague the country and its neighbors.

Watch the drone video that exposes the burning of land in Indonesia:

by Mong Palatino at September 23, 2016 09:11 AM

A Specially Designed Keyboard Allows Yorùbá and Igbo Speakers to Type Their Languages
Screenshot from "How Do You Tone Mark in Yorùbá?"

Screenshot from “How Do You Tone Mark in Yorùbá?”

Typing Nigerian languages, such as Yorùbá and Igbo, is usually a challenge as most keyboards are not equipped for the tonality that characterizes them. These technical barriers have been a source of concern for many Nigerians who would wish to type their local languages properly.

However, this might no longer be an issue thanks to YorubaName.com, which has developed a Yorùbá and Igbo keyboard. YorubaName.com is a multimedia dictionary of Yorùbá names, which seeks to:

…preserve and document all Yorùbá names in a multimedia format. It is part of a long-term project to document all types of African cultural experiences on the internet as a way of ensuring the survival of African identities in their various expressions.

YorubaName.com was founded by Kọlá Túbọsún, whose bachelor of arts’ thesis formed the backbone of the project. He and his team of linguists and techies, including Global Voices author and translator Laila Le Guen, are behind the keyboard.

Laila has been a volunteer with the YorubaName project since March 2015, and she recently completed a three-year diploma in Yorùbá studies offered at Inalco, Paris, that included a rigorous language course alongside specialised classes in linguistics, history, literature and anthropology. She explained in an interview the issue that the keyboard solves:

Laila Le Guen, Core Team member of YorubaNames.com, Editor and Translator

Laila Le Guen, YorubaNames.com team member, editor and translator.

With this keyboard, we are addressing technical barriers to the use of Yorùbá and Igbo online. The new keyboard is an updated version of a keyboard layout we released last year to fill a gap in technological solutions to type Yorùbá in standard orthography. Yorùbá makes use of grave accent, acute accent and occasionally macron (n̄) to mark tone, and some characters include subdots (ẹ ọ ṣ). Some keyboard layouts existed on Windows and I had created one for Mac for my personal use since none existed at the time but all these efforts were scattered and inconsistent. The idea behind the YorubaName keyboard layout was to propose a user-friendly package for Mac and Windows and also to take advantage of our existing platform to promote its use.

Yorùbá is both a language and the name of one of three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. Besides Nigeria, it is also spoken in the Republic of Benin and in communities elsewhere in the world. There are about 30 million speakers of Yorùbá worldwide. 

Nigeria hosts about 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages, but information and communication technology is generally not made with any of those languages in mind. There's also the issue of preserving and promoting their cultural and language identity while abroad: Although there is paucity of accurate statistics, rough estimates drawn from different Nigerian embassies and the International Organisation for Migration show that 15 million Nigerians live outside the country. This seems valid because according to reports, Nigerians living abroad remitted US$21 billion back home in 2014 alone.

Nigerians in the diaspora and those at home wish to keep their identity alive. They want to type, send and receive SMS and make social media posts in their local languages, but most times they are unable to do so. Thus the justifiable interest in the new keyboard developed by Leila and her colleagues.

Laila and Kola in Ibadan

Laila and Kola engaging some students in Irawo, a private hall of residence affiliated to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria during a road tour to promote YorubaNames.com in July. Image used with permission

As part of their research into the keyboard's development, Laila and Kọlá went on a road tour that took them to the cities of Ibadan and Lagos. Even though Yorùbá isn't only spoken in Nigeria, the keyboard is aimed at Nigerian Yorùbá speakers, Laila stressed:
It's important to note that, although Yorùbá is also spoken in neighbouring Benin Republic and marginally in Togo, we are using the Nigerian official orthography and targeting Nigerian and English-speaking diaspora users (for now). There are a couple of reasons for this: Benin Republic uses a different official orthography for Yorùbá but it is seldom used, as scholars and students import books from Nigeria and have become more familiar with the Nigerian standard – this issue is a bit controversial in academic circles in Benin Republic. Besides, very few speakers of Yorùbá in Benin are literate in the language, as it is not taught in school at all other than in specialised programmes for linguists and as part of (rare) adult literacy classes. Finally, keyboards in Benin Republic are made on the French model, but this would be easily solved by adapting the template. We aim to extend our audience to Beninois people very soon by translating the platform into French and hopefully serve their technological needs more adequately.

Although it originally focused on Yorùbá, the keyboard eventually expanded to Igbo, another major Nigerian language. Laila explained:

When we started sharing the keyboard layout on social media and encouraging our community to use it, we received a number of requests from Igbo speakers to make a similar product for their language. It turns out that Igbo orthography is very similar to Yorùbá, in the sense that it also includes grave and acute accents as tone marks, as well as subdots. Since Igbo requires only a couple of extra characters (ị, ụ and ñ), it made sense to add them in the updated June 2016 release.

The keyboard aids users to switch from English to Yorùbá and Igbo, and is adapted for both Mac and Windows operating systems. Laila gave a synopsis of the unique features of this keyboard:

The keyboard enables users to type English, Yorùbá and Igbo without switching language preference settings. The key combinations to type characters such as ṣ or á are easy to memorise which makes for a fast learning process. It's available for Mac and Windows and we're hoping to develop a Linux version and mobile solutions in the future. Also, it's free :)

In a country where ethnic narratives are often characterized by hate, a project that seeks to immortalize Nigerian native languages using online tools is more than heartwarming. This is especially instructive because languages are the purveyors of culture and all the other aspects of the identity of a people.

by Nwachukwu Egbunike at September 23, 2016 05:19 AM

Poles Dress in Black to Protest Legislation That Would Mean a Near Total Ban on Abortions

The hashtag #czarnyprotest (“BlackProtest”) is trending in Poland today, as thousands of people share photos of themselves dressed in black to protest against legislation that would criminalize almost all kinds of abortion and toughen the country's already severe anti-abortion laws.

Today, the whole family is opposed to barbarism against women. #BlackProtest

Prepared by a think-tank with the backing of the Catholic Church and the ruling right-wing party PIS, the near-total abortion ban would introduce jail sentences of up to five years for causing “the death of a conceived child.”

Allowing abortions only under the specific condition that a mother's life is in danger, all other circumstances would be made insufficient grounds for terminating a pregnancy, including cases of rape, incest, or fetal anomalies. If passed, the law would apply both to women (and girls) seeking abortions and the doctors who perform the procedure.

Many Internet users now expressing their objections to the legislation are calling the law “barbaric” and a breach of women's rights.

A live “black protest” initiated by the left wing party RAZEM (“together”) took place in front of the Polish Parliament building, where lawmakers debated the proposal on September 22. During that debate, all political parties distanced themselves from the project. The legislature will hold a formal vote on Friday, September 23.

Not a step further! RAZEM members Wroclaw support #BlackProtest.
@partiarazem #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs #ForWomensPolicy

by Kasia Odrozek at September 23, 2016 02:23 AM

September 22, 2016

Creative Commons
Copyright reform in Colombia should focus on supporting users’ rights

copyrightwrenchToday Creative Commons, CC Colombia, and over a dozen other CC affiliates and partners sent a letter to the Colombian government calling for user-friendly copyright reform. Colombia’s copyright law is being re-opened to come into compliance with the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

We believe that this is a timely opportunity to introduce positive changes to copyright that will support users and the public, such as adopting a flexible use exception like fair use. Our community looks forward to providing ideas and feedback during the reform process.

Letter of support for balanced Colombian copyright law reform [English]
Carta para apoyar una reforma equilibrada al derecho de autor en Colombia [Spanish]


The signatories below are writing to you regarding the proposed updates to copyright law in Colombia that will be introduced in order to implement the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement. We are concerned that these changes will only further tip the balance of copyright toward the interests of rights holders, while ignoring necessary protections for the public domain, as well as for users, consumers, and the general public.

We understand that the proposed changes would include increasing copyright terms  for some types of rights holders, and adopting an instrument to mirror the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We urge the Congress to take this opportunity to provide for crucial balances to copyright that protect the rights of users. In the fast-changing digital and online environment, the Congress should consider introducing a flexible exception to copyright that echoes the regulation of countries that have adopted “fair use” or “fair dealing” exceptions.

It has been our experience that to ensure the maximum benefits to both culture and the economy in this digital age, the scope and shape of copyright law need to be reviewed. Now is the time for the Congress to ensure that appropriate and necessary exceptions and limitations are updated in order to protect and support users, access to information, and creativity.

Creative Commons Colombia
Creative Commons
Fundación Karisma
COMMUNIA International Association on the Public Domain
Centrum Cyfrowe
Creative Commons Peru
Creative Commons Uruguay
Kennisland
Creative Commons Netherlands
Creative Commons Ireland
Creative Commons Ukraine
Creative Commons Indonesia
Creative Commons Portugal
Creative Commons UK
Australian Digital Alliance
Creative Commons Chile
Creative Commons Australia
Creative Commons Nigeria


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

The post Copyright reform in Colombia should focus on supporting users’ rights appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Timothy Vollmer at September 22, 2016 10:27 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Citizen audit at the Federal University of Pará

At the start of the summer semester, accounting students in two courses at the Federal University of Pará in northern Brazil teamed up with an unusual set of partners to develop proposals for civic audits using Promise Tracker. As part of their final course project, students studying public budgeting and accounting worked with representatives of the federal Ministry of Transparency, Supervision and Control and the Social Observatory of Belém to design citizen monitoring campaigns to audit public spending in programs related to social services, health, school lunch and school transport.

Belem grou[

Inspiration for the projects came from previous Promise Tracker campaigns implemented throughout the state of Pará with support from the Social Observatory, including the monitoring of Ver-o-Peso market last summer and the ongoing school lunch campaign in Santarém.

In preparing their civic audit proposals, accounting students researched legislation related to their selected topic, defined the objectives and target audience to contribute data, planned key milestones, and determined to whom they would present results. Groups developed monitoring campaigns to assess the condition of outdoor recreational spaces at local schools, the availability of prescription medications at state-run pharmaceutical distribution centers, and access to supplemental social services.

During the same period, students in the public budgeting course developed outreach and training materials to support new schools in adopting the "Égua da Merenda, João" campaign on school lunches. Materials porduced included short videos written and acted out by students, and animations explaining national and state legislation around school nutrition and how to use the Promise Tracker app for monitoring.

Despite the short duration of the project, the group was excited to have the opportunity to move from theory to practice, putting their knowledge to work on topics with real social impact, including the delivery of public services. As one student shared, “we see in the classroom that there is no lack of legislation around these issues. What’s missing are control mechanisms to make sure that the laws on the books are respected and money spent is actually getting to citizens. This project made me realize my potential as a facilitator to use what I know about the system to help people structure and direct their demands.” Students were enthusiastic about including the project in the curriculum for the next cohort of incoming students and hope that their proposals can be used as a foundation to help future classes expand and improve the work.

A special shout out to professor Lidiane Dias for taking the initiative to bring this tool into her classrooms and to Ivan Costa for the infinite creativity and dedication to seeking out innovative partnerships for piloting citizen monitoring campaigns. This early experience bringing together academia, public and government institutions and civil society groups has shown inspiring potential and we are looking forward to exploring how to expand the model into other departments and disciplines.

by emreiser at September 22, 2016 08:40 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Internet Shutdowns Are Ever-Present in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula
A 2014 demonstration against mobile shutdowns in North Sinai. Banner reads: "We don't want to use Israeli networks because of your neglect." Photo by Sinai2014/SinaiOutofCoverage group page.

A 2014 demonstration against mobile shutdowns in North Sinai. Banner reads: “We don't want to use Israeli networks because of your neglect.” Photo by Sinai2014/SinaiOutofCoverage group page.

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

Citizens in Egypt’s North Sinai region weathered a shutdown of phone and Internet services over the weekend of September 17 that went on for at least eight hours. Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that most areas of the region have had service restored, but there’s little hope that networks will remain connected for good.

The northern zone of the Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Israel and Palestine’s Gaza strip, has been heavily controlled by the Egyptian military since mid-2013, when they began in earnest their assault on violent insurgent groups in the region. By early 2014, cuts to telecommunications networks would regularly last throughout the day, in what appears to be an effort to deter insurgents from communicating with one another. The collateral damage this has brought upon citizens, leaving them unable to communicate, stay in touch with loved ones, send and receive information and money, among many other things, is incalculable. Citizen groups have organized to protest the cuts on various occasions, but have seen little result. The cuts have also helped solidify a de facto media blackout in the region that has resulted from strict punishments for journalists seeking to cover military operations in the area.

In December 2015, Egyptian technologist and Global Voices’ author Ramy Raoof described to TIME Magazine how security authorities were cutting network connections “indiscriminately,” noting that they have made no effort to preserve basic or emergency services, such as the ability to call for an ambulance. And when networks are down, insurgents can use other unblockable means of communications like roaming foreign (chiefly Israel-based) mobile networks and satellites. Like many others, Raoof reasons: “It doesn’t prevent the bad guys from doing bad things.”

Kuwaiti royal faces jail time for insulting emir on Snapchat

A Kuwaiti court convicted Sheikh Abdullah Salem Al Sabah of insulting the royal family, despite the fact that he is the grandnephew of the emir. He has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of USD $16,500 for sending a Snapchat message in which he criticized the main cabinet, which is occupied entirely by members of the royal family (and his own).

Russian blogger convicted of publishing ‘extremist statements’ about Syria

Russian prosecutors have called for opposition blogger Anton Nossik to be sentenced to two years in a penal colony for publishing “extremist statements” online. The charges stem from a blog post titled “Wipe Syria From the Face of the Earth,” where Nossik called for bombing all of the country, including territory controlled by the Syrian government — an expression of opposition to the Assad regime. The post was published just days before the Russian government began a bombing campaign in support of the ruling Assad government. Nossik’s verdict is set to be announced on October 3.

Why didn’t the UAE have an ‘Arab Spring’?

Despite a relative absence of government protests, state-sponsored repression in the UAE is commonplace: arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, deportations and revocation of citizenship are tactics used to silence dissent in the country. Despite boasts by UAE leaders of the high living standards of citizens, “for the time being…activists and government critics do not seem to enjoy the happiness, well-being and safety the Emirates offer,” writes Global Voices’ Afef Abrougui.

New research shines light on political censorship in Bahrain

Bahrain is using an Internet filtering software called Netsweeper to censor political content, including pages relating to human rights, opposition politics, Shiite websites, local and regional news sources and content critical of religion, according to new research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Citizen Lab researchers found that the software was being used on nine Bahrain-based ISPs during the summer of 2016.  The report concludes: “The sale of technology used to censor political speech and other forms of legitimate expression, to a state with a highly problematic human rights record, raises serious questions about the corporate social responsibility practices of Netsweeper.”

Russians contemplate life without Internet porn

Russian authorities blocked two major porn sites this week, including PornHub and YouPorn, by adding the sites to the country’s blacklist. Russian censors have targeted porn streaming services in the past, but previously limited bans to Russian localized versions. This is the first time ISPs have been asked to ban the full global versions of the sites. Led by a group of journalists, Russian Internet users have responded to the bans with an online flashmob, where people film themselves watching pornographic videos and narrating what they see.

More than anyone else, the US is knocking on Twitter’s door

Twitter’s latest transparency report shows that the US government made more requests for users’ personal data than any other government — and that overall the number of government requests rose 2.1 percent, affecting 8 percent more user accounts. In this report, Twitter also revealed more detailed information on who is making the requests from the US. The company said the FBI, Secret Service and the New York County District Attorney’s Office were the top requesters for account information.

Latin American indigenous language activists promote new emojis

Calls for more emoji diversity have expanded beyond skin color to include more culturally diverse representations, writes GV’s Eddie Avila. In addition to a recent petition to include a hijab emoji, indigenous language activists in Mexico and Chile have begun to create their own emoji sets reflecting traditional dress and linguistic expressions in languages including Huastec, spoken mostly in central Mexico, and Mapudungun, spoken by the Mapuche of Chile.

Happy Software Freedom Day!

September 17 marked Software Freedom Day, a global celebration of the use of free and open source software. To mark the occasion, free and open source software enthusiasts gathered together in cities around the world to hold hackathons, run free software installation camps, and educate people about its use.

New Research

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

 

Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at September 22, 2016 06:49 PM

Global Voices
Why Aren't We Talking About Mexican Prisons?
Internos del Reclusorio Norte en la Ciudad de México. Foto del usuario de Flickr Eneas de Troya compartida en términos de licencia Creative Commons 2.0.

Prisoners in the Reclusorio Norte prison in Mexico City. Photo from Flickr user Eneas de Troya. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Mexico's New Penal Justice System or Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal (NSJP), an ambitious judicial reform originally passed in 2008, came into effect in June 2016. The most widely reported aspects of the NSJP are the oral proceedings and the adoption of a process similar to the one used in the United States.

However, it will also impact the penitentiary system in ways that are rarely, if ever, spoken of in mainstream media except in extreme cases like that of “El Chapo” Guzmán, the notorious drug trafficker who escaped twice from supposedly maximum security facilities.

According to an online report from the newspaper Zócalo de Saltillo, it is expected that with the implementation of the NSJP, a large number of people will be set free and Mexican prisons could very soon experience changes in the number of prisoners.

Unos 50,000 presos federales y locales pronto podrían estar en las calles. Se trata de reos que no han sido sentenciados hasta ahora y que, de acuerdo con la miscelánea para el nuevo sistema penal aprobada ayer por el Senado, tendrán derecho a solicitar su libertad a partir del próximo sábado.

Some 50,000 federal and local prisoners could soon be on the streets. These are inmates who have not been sentenced until now and, according to the various articles in the new penal system approved yesterday by the Senate, they will have the right to request release beginning next Saturday.

Beyond those currently imprisoned, the number of new people being incarcerated should, in theory, decline thanks to the NSJP because only a handful of crimes will result in prison sentences, among them: intentional homicide, genocide, rape, espionage, terrorism and crimes against health (drug trafficking). Lesser crimes, such as loss of property, theft and fraud, will not necessarily mean the guilty party will have to go to jail.

Before the reform, people accused of the above crimes needed to remain incarcerated (on remand) during the trial, leading to prison saturation. This is one of the issues tackled in the work done by the organization México Evalúa and shared with followers by the Twitter user René Sánchez Puls:

Horribly managed penitentiary system prisons in México look at the percentages by state doc 80 pages @mexevaluahttps://t.co/wUJ9AUbasY

Edgar López. Foto del usuario Flickr Edgar Efrén López Ramos, Reclusorio Sur 02. Usada bajo licencia CC 2.0.

Edgar López. Photo by Flickr user Edgar Efrén López Ramos, Reclusorio Sur 02. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Inequality in prisons is a reflection of the country

Mexican prisons are going through a crisis that reflects the daily inequality in the country: While some have it all, others don't even have a space to sleep.

In the beginning of 2016, a prison center called Topo Chico was the scene of a massacre, which received short-lived media attention. Luis González de Alba, a writer who spent time in prison decades ago, referred to this attention in a piece for the magazine Nexos:

Con el escándalo del enfrentamiento de dos pandillas de narcos en el penal de Topo Chico, cerca de Monterrey, y los 49 muertos que dejó el saldo sangriento, se produjo una revisión de las instalaciones y nos informan, con inexplicable alarma y sorpresa, que había irregularidades nunca imaginadas: prisioneros VIP con celdas acondicionadas a su gusto y muebles de recámara, televisores y hasta saunas.

The scandal, caused by the confrontation between two drug gangs in the Topo Chico prison near Monterrey, which ended in a bloody toll of 49 deaths, led to a revision of the facilities. We are informed, with inexplicable alarm and surprise, that there were irregularities hardly imaginable: VIP prisoners with air-conditioned cells to suit their tastes, bedroom furniture, televisions and even saunas.

González de Alba continued by giving comments based on his personal experience in jails:

El grupo dominante vendía el derecho a tener una litera de cemento y no un lugar en el suelo para dormir, alimentos especiales, ya no digamos droga y servicios sexuales. Todo costaba al preso y la autoridad no sólo era tolerante, sino parte de la extorsión a los prisioneros. Me asombra el asombro: así ha sido siempre en las cárceles del país. La novedad es que también ocurra en las de alta seguridad.

The dominant group sold the right to sleep on a cement bunk instead of a place on the floor, special food and it goes without saying, drugs and sexual services. Everything was for a price for the inmate and the authorities were not only tolerant, but they took part in extorting inmates. I'm surprised by the surprise: It has always been like this in the country's prisons. The novelty is that it also happens in maximum security prisons.

The dominance of inmate groups to which Alba refers above is spoken about very little in the media. A report from the business magazine Forbes, quoting an official source, is an example of one of the few times it is covered:

De acuerdo con la Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH), el deficiente control en las funciones de autoridad por parte de los servidores públicos dentro de los centros, da lugar a situaciones de autogobierno.

In accordance with the National Committee for Human Rights (CNDH), deficient control in authoritative functions on the part of public servants inside the prisons gives rise to situations of self-government.

Self-government, but also overcrowding and unsanitary conditions brought on by overpopulation in Mexican penitentiary centers, are topics which I myself explored in a piece for the newspaper Mexican Times:

Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and corruption have brought ruin to the penitentiary system: @tadeo_rc https://t.co/agOuu2I6ufpic.twitter.com/B2zXdHBIqW

The penitentiary system crisis is not limited in the region to Mexico. The newspaper El País has reported in the past about overpopulation plaguing prisons in Latin America.

Lupita Pitalua is another person who is worried about the penitentiary crisis:

While I'm listening to a documentary about the topic, the problem needs to be addressed now! Penitentiary system in Mexico

With the NSJP's implementation, the Mexican penitentiary system may finally come out of the shadows, where it has been forgotten by authorities and the media. Beyond the latest reform, there's still much to be resolved, such as the issue of reintegrating offenders into society and not just keeping them in captivity only to later release them without any treatment.

by Andrea Chong Bras at September 22, 2016 06:12 PM

The Office on Missing Persons in Sri Lanka: A New Chapter or Another Empty Promise?
A mother is still waiting for her missing son. Image via Flickr, by Vikalpa/ Groundviews.

A mother is still waiting for her missing son. Image via Flickr, by Vikalpa/Groundviews.

This post by Bhavani Fonseka originally appeared on Groundviews, an award-winning citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. An edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

11 August 2016 was an important day for the victims of past abuses in Sri Lanka. This was when Sri Lanka’s Parliament enacted legislation to establish the first permanent entity to investigate enforced and involuntary disappearances and missing persons. For the family members of the victims, many of whom have experienced numerous investigations with no follow-up, the Office on Missing Persons may finally be able to provide them answers and end the silence.

Thousands of people have disappeared in Sri Lanka since the 1980s stemming from the country's 26-year-long war with Tamil Tiger rebels (1983-2009) and a separate Marxist insurrection (1987-89). Different human rights groups have documented many of the disappearances and attributed them to the Sri Lankan security forces, pro-government paramilitary groups and Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups. In 2016, the present coalition government under President Maithripala Sirisena agreed to issue a certificate of absence to relatives of over 65,000 people who went missing during the civil war and the Marxist uprising.

Further, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), which was a proposal by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was created. The OMP bill faced challenges from some members of parliament, but with the support of all the key parties, the legislation was passed in Parliament. The road to OMP can be viewed on a timeline here.

Although Sri Lanka now has legislation establishing a permanent body to investigate these cases, no official figures are available on the exact numbers of disappearances and the missing in Sri Lanka. The recently concluded Paranagama Commission received over 25,000 complaints of missing persons. Over the years multiple commissions have received thousands more complaints. This means thousands across Sri Lanka continue to search for answers.

In many instances family members go from one investigation to another, clinging to the hope of finding their loved ones or at the very least getting answers. The search, despite the many difficulties and challenges, is a basic ask: what happened to my loved one?

What is the OMP?

The OMP is an independent office with seven members appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The members of the OMP are meant to be independent individuals with expertise on human rights, international humanitarian law, humanitarian issues, fact-finding among other areas. There is also a fixed term of three years and limitation of two terms per member.

The office will be headquartered in Colombo with the option of having field offices. Many victims have been vocal that the OMP must have field presence which will facilitate access for them to engage with it.

The OMP has the mandate to trace, search and investigate into complaints brought before them on cases of both the missing and disappeared. Due to its permanent nature, there is no fear of whether the mandate will be renewed or not, as faced by many other commissions. This provides for the OMP to conduct investigations thoroughly and not be rushed by any deadlines.

The legislation provides for a tracing unit but specifies that the OMP also has the discretion to establish other units or divisions, ensuring that the office is able to obtain the necessary expertise and technical assistance required to investigate into cases, some spanning decades.

How is the OMP different than past initiatives?

Sri Lanka has had a long list of state-driven investigations including numerous commissions of inquiry. Several have solely been on enforced disappearances and/or missing persons. Thousands of people have gone before these numerous initiatives, recounting past events and abuses, and in many cases have done so multiple times, going from one investigation to another, repeating experiences to multiple persons and entities.

For most, their questions remained unanswered. Such experiences involved complex emotions of hope, frustration, anger, fatigue, anticipation, disappointment and much more. For many, state initiatives by successive governments have failed and there is no trust another commission will make a difference.

But the OMP is different to past initiatives because:

  • It is not an investigation with a limited time span but a permanent body that is meant to have the necessary resources and expertise to investigate cases of disappearances and missing persons.
  • It is established by an Act of Parliament with specific powers to investigate and is an improvement on the structurally flawed commissions appointed previously.
  • The OMP has no restrictions in terms of time period or geographic area and can look at all cases of disappearances and missing.
  • Anyone can go before the OMP to give information or make a complaint.

Why is the OMP important now?

Successive government have attempted and failed to provide answers to a significant number of people from across Sri Lanka on the whereabouts of their missing loved ones. Investigations, inquiries, committees and commissions over the years have all failed in this basic task of finding answers. Despite the lack of confidence with such initiatives, thousands continue to engage with the hope that the next initiative may provide answers. Failures with past initiatives and structural flaws are the very reasons for a new entity with the necessary powers to investigate and find answers.

The OMP provides a chance to correct these wrongs. This is the time to go beyond the rhetoric and to establish a mechanism that can finally, after years of failed attempts, provide answers to the thousands still searching for their loved ones. It is also finally an opportunity to say “never again.”

by GroundViews at September 22, 2016 04:20 PM

DML Central
Virtually Connecting at #2016DML

I am pleased to report that the upcoming Digital Media and Learning Conference (to be held at the University of California, Irvine on Oct. 5-7) is slated as rich ground for Virtually Connecting!  

Virtually Connecting is a connected learning community that is reshaping the ways we think about professional collegiality. In a traditional model of professional development, conferences have always been the key location to build conversations and connections. In the era of the conference hashtag and the meeting back channel, claims have been made that it is easier to keep up with conference conversations, even from afar. But, despite the fact that knowledge is often shared via presentation slides and keynotes are often livestreamed online, this online sharing is still a distant second to the in-person experience. What is missing is the key opportunity to network and converse with people in between the scheduled conference events, the hallway conversations. What is difficult to experience from a distance is that transformational learning that results from immersing yourself in a dialogue with co-learners who are talking about the very same things you care about.

A founding purpose of @VConnecting is to enliven virtual participation in academic conferences, widening access to a fuller conference experience by connecting onsite conference presenters with virtual participants in small groups. Using available technologies, virtual conference attendees can meet and talk with conference presenters. VC is a volunteer effort, and its ranks have grown considerably since Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue founded/ piloted VC in early 2015. Along with third principal member Autumn Caines, in just a couple of years, VC has grown a long list of “virtual buddies” who infuse this work with both energy and insight. Each VC session is recorded and livestreamed, to allow additional virtual attendees to participate in the discussion by listening and asking questions via Twitter. At the heart of this effort is a commitment to building and strengthening relationships. Virtually Connecting helps people not only make new connections, but also make nascent connections stronger. The @VConnecting manifesto highlights a key value to be inclusive, while also recognizing that inclusion is indeed an elusive and ever-present challenge.

There will be different Virtually Connecting sessions throughout the DML 2016 conference (including an onsite conference panel and other online-connect sessions) with a wonderful roster of onsite and offsite guests:  

dmlvc

There still is time to join us. If you’re interested in having conversations with some of the folks onsite by joining in from offsite, we have several sessions planned.

What is special about the emergence of Virtually Connecting as a new #connectedlearning community is the foundational commitment to equity and access when attempting to design new professional learning networks. Virtual Connecting is genuinely interested in lessening that gap between center and periphery, between local participant and distant observer. VC seeks to expand access to smart and dynamic conversations by including many kinds of learners. It is this kind of connecting that will make a difference by transforming our collective sense of collegiality, by opening up the entry points for new knowledge production, and by helping identify our shared purpose. The Digital Media and Learning Conference motto is: “Let’s Build. Let’s Design. Let’s Solve.” Virtually Connecting is a key facet of that DML commitment.

Banner image credit: DML Research Hub

The post Virtually Connecting at #2016DML appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at September 22, 2016 01:00 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Marketplace Tech for Thursday, September 22, 2016
On today's show, we'll talk about the benefits that social media companies, like Twitter and Facebook, get from streaming political debates; wireless signals that can detect emotions; and AT&T's new patented technology that will able to deliver super-fast internet.

by Marketplace at September 22, 2016 10:00 AM

Global Voices
In Bulgaria, an Example of How Refugees Need Not Be a Problem, but a Solution
Refugee children resettled in Bulgaria after the Balkan Wars. Photo: Wikipedia, Public Domain.

Balkan Wars refugees from Greece resettled in Bulgaria in 1913. Many contemporary Bulgarians are direct descendants of waves of refugees who were successfully integrated into Bulgarian society over the last two centuries. Photo: Wikipedia, Public Domain.

Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere continue to follow the so-called Balkan Route from Turkey to Hungary in search of better life in Western Europe, and some European governments continue to greet them with hostility. Mainstream right-wing politicians use their presence to intimidate their constituencies, and in some countries the refugee crisis is used as an excuse for paramilitary activities.

If you happen to believe that this is the wrong approach, here's one more reason to add to your arsenal.

A recent news story by the Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN) about Bulgaria tells the story of one man that illustrates how refugees can provide solutions to some existing problems, in this case by providing talent for sectors experiencing a shortage of qualified workers.

“The Bulgarian business processing sector lacks 50,000 people. The first condition for employees is to speak one more language apart from their mother tongue, because the companies operating from Bulgaria provide services for the whole world,” Vasil Velichkov, owner of the Sofia-based Sensika company, explained to BIRN.

Educated refugees like Syrian journalist and professor of literature Elias Sulaiman, 33, help fill such gaps. He came to Bulgaria in 2013 seeking passage to Germany or Sweden, but as he spent time in the country helping other refugees as a volunteer, he began to learn about opportunities for employment in the growing IT industry there, and is now an employee of an outsourcing company. He also has started a family with local woman. A major factor of his success was his knowledge of native Arabic and Spanish.

For their part, Bulgaria's business sector managed to convince the government “to ease the procedure for non-European specialists to obtain a European blue card that gives them the right to work.” However, Sulaiman's case is relatively rare due to a lack of government outreach towards the general refugee population.

Refugee family arriving in Europe. Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, CC BY-NC-ND.

An Iraqi refugee family arriving in Europe. Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, CC BY-NC-ND.

A shortage of workers isn't exclusive to Bulgaria — or at least won't be as time goes on. Most European countries, including non-European Union members, have aging populations, and if things don't change, they'll need quite a few workers able to do all sorts of jobs in the near future.

Bulgaria has also seen its own citizens leave the country in droves in its recent history. Several years ago after Bulgaria joined the European Union, many workers left for the greener pastures suddenly available to them in wealthier EU countries. For instance, many Bulgarians went to the UK to work as strawberry and potato pickers or to Greece to work as hotel maids. A visitor to Bulgaria at that time would often hear the locals complaining about how all the youth and women were ‘gone.’

‘Not investing in refugees is a huge missed opportunity’

However, refugees coming to Europe aren't always being treated as potential contributing members of society.

The Bratislava Declaration, adopted on September 16 by the leaders of 27 states remaining in the EU (without the UK), uses a language reminiscent more of a state of war than a humanitarian crisis. For instance, it speaks of a “commitment today by a number of Member States to offer immediate assistance to strengthen the protection of Bulgaria's border with Turkey, and continue support to other frontline States” (emphasis added).

Refugees and other migrants remain vulnerable to mistreatment. Politico.com noted that human rights groups in Hungary have raised concerns that the international community is turning a blind eye to various abuses by authorities on the Hungarian border.

Europe had its share of refugee crises during the last hundred years. Often times, the continent's governments didn't respond with empathy, in spite of moral imperatives. Many of the countries on today's Balkan Route were directly affected both as sources of exiled people and as refugee destinations after the Balkan Wars, World War I, the Holocaust, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.

History had also showed that in many cases, misguided bureaucratic attitudes can cause as much human suffering as downright racism and bigotry. Many of the perpetrators of abuse during the above mentioned historic events later claimed they were just blindly obeying orders and following ‘the rules.’

The Center for Legal Aid “Voice in Bulgaria” published a report on its findings about the legal and humanitarian aspects of the detentions of over 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers in 2015 and over 5,000 during the first five months of 2016. Most of the aprehended people were from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The report confirmed the existence of “routine detention practices, in most cases based rather on policies for ‘dealing’ with the increased migration flows than on individual assessment in the particular case and a necessity to impose this type of measure only in view of attaining the final goal of removal of these persons from the country.”

It also noted worrisome attitudes towards unaccompanied minors and corrupt practices during apprehension.

Stepping out of that unwelcoming mindset can be beneficial both for the refugees and the host countries.

In 2014, Melissa Fleming of the United Nations’ refugee agency gave a TED talk about the need to help the refugees rebuild their lives, instead just allowing them to survive.

Not investing in refugees is a huge missed opportunity. Leave them abandoned, and they risk exploitation and abuse, and leave them unskilled and uneducated, and delay by years the return to peace and prosperity in their countries […] The victims of war can hold the keys to lasting peace, and its the refugees who can stop the cycle of violence.

by Marko Angelov at September 22, 2016 09:31 AM

A Toxic Mix of Illegal Logging and Corruption Is Devastating Europe’s Last Primeval Forests
A screen shot from 'Clear Cut Crimes' documentary by OCCRP and RISE Project.

A screen shot from ‘Clear Cut Crimes’ documentary by OCCRP and RISE Project.

Earlier this week, journalists from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the RISE Project published a new documentary studying the effects of illegal logging in Romania and Ukraine. The film, titled “Clear Cut Crimes,” examines the collusion of illegal and legal businesses that are devastating the last of Europe's primeval forests.

Clear Cut Crimes is a 42-minute documentary film shot over a period of one year in the Carpathian Mountains. Our investigation follows the money to expose the crime of illegal deforestation, an activity that risks environmental disaster and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The major Austrian timber firm Holzindustrie Schweighofer is positioned as a main beneficiary of the practice, having built a wood-processing capacity in Romania that exceeds that country’s legal wood-harvesting quota.

Schweighofer feeds off a destructive system devised by criminal groups involved in illegal deforestation. These groups work in cahoots with corrupt politicians who assist the thugs in expanding their unlawful logging businesses. They use poor people as fronts for their companies and will run a bulldozer over anyone or anything standing in their way. In the meantime, law enforcement sits on the sidelines as the violence unfolds.

The film also documents the efforts of the Cossack Battalion, a paramilitary group that fights against the logging mafia at the border with Ukraine. The organized crime network that exports wood from that side of Carpathians into Romanian factories, the battalion argues, “is supported by corrupt officials in Kyiv.”

In Romania and elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe, the deforestation has amplified the deadly effects of floods in recent years. Analyses of floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Macedonia have pointed out that the effects would had been far less severe if the nearby forests had not been cut down.

Besides feeding the construction and furniture industries, illegal logging is also directly connected to local poverty. In Macedonia, which lacks a gas supply network, many families use illegally cut and thus cheap wood for heating during the winter, as they cannot afford electricity or diesel fuel. Political corruption plays a major role at this small-scale level, too.

A video shot prior to the 2009 local elections in a village near Strumica shows the candidate nodding with approval when a local apparatchik tells the villagers that they would be free to cut wood in the nearby forest, if she were elected mayor. The candidate, Silvana Boneva, a long-term member of parliament, didn't win her race that year.

Leaked wiretaps show that Ms. Boneva's party exhorted businesses (in her town and with her knowledge) in subsequent elections on a massive scale. Currently, she is a member of the State Election Commission, in charge of ensuring the validity of upcoming general elections in December.

by Marko Angelov at September 22, 2016 03:10 AM

Hong Kong's ‘Pro-Beijing’ Camp Is Imploding From Within in the Media
Screen Shot of Sing Pao Daily's frontpage on September 13

Screenshot of Sing Pao Daily's front page on September 13

In Hong Kong, you're either from the pro-Beijing camp and supportive of the central government of China, or from the pan-democracy camp and for less central control from China. But for three weeks, one of Hong Kong's oldest newspapers has been blurring the line.

Sing Pao Daily, which is otherwise known to be pro-Beijing, has been running anonymous critiques of the city's top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying — who came to power with Beijing's blessing — and the powerful Liaison Office of the Central People's Government, which is Beijing's top representative body in Hong Kong.

Some critics believe the shocking move from Sing Pao Daily shows fissures within Hong Kong's pro-Beijing camp and represents views from a powerful sector within the pro-Beijing camp that has been marginalised by the chief executive and the Liaison Office.

Specifically, the paper has accused Leung of “inciting” independence in Hong Kong and cozying up with members of organised crime or the Triad. The anonymous commenter has also accused the Liaison Office of interfering in Hong Kong's domestic affairs and manipulating local legislative elections by supporting groups that divide the pan-democracy camp.

On September 12, a commentary in the paper went so far as to claim that Leung was part of a “Gang of Four” trying to destablise Hong Kong. The Gang of Four is a term used for four Chinese Communist Party officials who became incredibly powerful during the latter part of Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and were later charged with treason.

The next day, Sing Pao published a widely spread netizen-photoshopped picture of Leung sitting in a prison cell (see top photo) with a commentary attacking Jiang Zai Zhong, the CEO of the media group Ta Kung Pao, for turning his newspaper into Leung and the Liaison Office’s mouthpiece.

Leung dismissed the newspaper's accusations and simply said “it was not worth commenting on – you know what is going on very well.”

But no one really knows what is going on.

Some analysts believe the continuous anonymous critique is meant to ‘bombard’ Beijing with discontent and will not stop until Beijing finalises the list of candidates for Leung's replacement in the 2017 chief executive election. Leung was selected by a 1,200-member election committee with Beijing's blessing as the city's chief executive in 2012.

Others believe that the newspaper wants to drive home the need for an ongoing corruption investigation into the Liaison Office to deliver results. Since January 2016, a team from China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has been investigating the Liaison Office, looking into their financial records and reviewing the effectiveness and functioning of the Beijing body in Hong Kong.

The newspaper

Soon after the first commentary was published, various other newspapers in Hong Kong, including Wen Wei Po which is run by the Liaison Office, fought back and attempted to discredit Sing Pao, by attacking its owner. They published news reports accusing its chairman, Gu Zhuheng, of being a “fugitive” who was involved in an illegal money lending platform and is wanted by police in the Chinese city Shenzhen. Gu denounced the accusation, claiming that it was “false” and “libelous”.

Gu Zhuoheng took over Sing Pao Daily, one of Hong Kong's oldest papers, by injecting capital into the corporation when the paper was on the verge of bankruptcy in August 2015. At the time, people in Hong Kong believed that Gu was backed by the Beijing government in taking over the paper, in order to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control over media in Hong Kong. The Liaison Office already runs three newspapers in Hong Kong and most big media houses are editorially aligned with the pro-Beijing camp.

Inciting independence

The first front-page commentary, published on August 30, created an uproar for holding Leung accountable for the rise of the independence movement in Hong Kong. Here's a translation courtesy of Hong Kong Free Press:

In fact, Hong Kong independence has no market in Hong Kong… Leung Chun-ying deliberately encouraged Hong Kong independence to consolidate the authority of his governance and the hawk faction.

The paper then urges the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to investigate Leung and the Liaison Office over power abuse:

Hong Kong society expects the CCDI to investigate the work and the role of the Liaison Office along with a recommendation to disband the group that hurts the interests of the country and Hong Kong.

Sing Pao’s opinion actually echoes the view of many people in Hong Kong, who sarcastically labelled Leung as the father of Hong Kong's pro-independence movement, as he kept making public speeches on the “non-existing” separatist tendency.

Divide and conquer

According to the “one country, two systems” principle underwritten in 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to the people of China from the UK, the city's capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years until 2047. But Beijing has been showing signs of impatience in recent years, encroaching more and more on Hong Kong's internal affairs, including disqualifying pro-independence candidates from elections and deploying strategies that split the pan-democrat votes and weaken their camp, which unlike the pro-Beijing camp, supports less central control from China.

Sing Pao ran another commentary, two days before voting in local elections began on September 2. The piece criticised Leung and the Liaison Office for providing resources and assistance to a pan-democratic political group called Youngspiration. The group is running against Scholarism, a student activist group behind the series of pro-democracy protests in 2014, known as the Umbrella Revolution. The paper also made accusations that a number of the group’s key members came from a non-profit organisation that is affiliated with Lau Nai Keung, a pro-Beijing businessman who is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. But Youngspiration has denied any linkage to Lau.

The anonymous commentator then questioned why Leung banned six pro-independence candidates running for legislative elections, but allowed members of Youngspiration to run the race, given that the group has openly claimed to support the self-determination of Hong Kong.

This was not the only time local elections in Hong Kong have seen the sudden rise of “radical” political groups within pan-democrats. For example, during the district council election in 2015, Anthony Cheng, who is connected to a pro-Beijing businessman, was offering election funds to new political groups, which had the potential to compete with other pan-democratic parties.

Cozying up with the Triad

Sing Pao continued to bombard Leung and the China Liaison Office after the legislative elections. After newly elected lawmaker Eddie Chu received a death threat, Sing Pao accused Leung of actively seeking the Triad or organised crime's support when he started his election campaign in 2012.

The paper reminded the public of a dinner in February 2012 in which Leung and his election team were sitting with a dozen representatives of the indigenous rural community, two of whom are believed to be aligned with the Triad. The dinner meeting was Leung’s election campaign.

Leung did not shy away from the Triad after coming into office, which analysts say has undermined the rule of law in Hong Kong. After Leung became the chief executive, in August 2013 members of the Triad were called to stop anti-government protesters from approaching a town hall meeting that Leung was attending. During the pro-democracy protests in 2014, members of the Triad were mobilised to attack sit-in protesters in Mong Kok.

by Oiwan Lam at September 22, 2016 01:03 AM

September 21, 2016

Global Voices
Expelled by Assad's Forces, Daraya Residents Receive a Hero's Welcome in Rebel-Held Syria
Children of Daraya in the refugee camps of Idlib - Monday 29 August (Source: Enab Biladi)

Children of Daraya in the refugee camps of Idlib – Monday 29 August (Source: Enab Biladi)

After four years of a brutal government siege, the last remaining citizens of rebel-held Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that boasted over 200,000 residents until 2011, agreed to leave their home on August 25, 2016, and make way to Idlib and other rebel-held areas in Northern Syria. 

As Enab Baladi, the independent women-run newspaper founded in Daraya, reported:

The agreement, reached by a committee representing Daraya’s military and civil activities and a delegation from the Syrian regime, led to the departure of the civilians and military personnel from Daraya to the Damascus countryside and Idlib. This agreement ended harsh times for the besieged people of Daraya. However, despite the difficultly and danger of the city, dozens of those settled in the refugee camps miss Daraya greatly.

The news of Daraya’s fall to the Assad regime came as a shock to many Syrian activists and supporters. Syrian activist Lina Sergie Attar said that after four years of Assad’s infamous ‘kneel or starve’ policy, kneel had finally won.

Attar was referring to the ‘kneel or starve’ (الجوع أو الركوع) slogan sprayed by regime forces on the walls of besieged rebel-held areas, celebrating the Assad regime’s notorious starvation-as-tactic-of-war policy.

The Documentation Department from the now-exiled Local Council of Daraya City (المجلس المحلي لمدينة داريا) released this infographic, also available in Arabic, detailing their violent final month in Daraya:

Infographic released by the Local Council of Daraya City . Source: Facebook Page.

Infographic released by the Local Council of Daraya City. Source: Facebook Page.

Whereas Daraya’s suffering under siege did not always make the headlines, images of residents of the city of Madaya to the north eating leaves to survive earlier in 2016 brought the regime’s starvation policy into the spotlight, albeit temporarily. Recent reports have included Assad’s targeting of hospitals as part of that policy. As Dr. Zaher Sahloul, founder of the American Relief Coalition for Syria and senior adviser and former president of the Syrian American Medical Societyrecently told Global Voices in an exclusive interview:

When the Russian government or the Syrian regime bomb these hospitals they do so with the intent of destroying the hospitals. They want to drive the doctors out so people can follow them. Because when there’s no doctors in town, when there’s no hospitals in town, people don’t stay.”

Abo Jamal, the leader of Shuhada Al-Islam, one of the two rebel factions that were in Daraya under the command of the local council, was quoted by the news website Middle East Eye on September 1 as saying that the revolution will continue until “Aleppo, the coast [Latakia], and Idlib have united to liberate Damascus”.

Daraya held a special place for the Syrian revolutionary movement, which first challenged President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power five years ago. It was the home of both Ghiath Matar, nicknamed Little Gandhi, and Yahya Sherbaji, both advocates of non-violent resistance. They were both arrested by the regime in the early days of the revolution on September 6, 2011. While Sherbaji’s current situation isn’t known, the body of Ghiyath Matar, a tailor with a fondness for flowers, was returned to his family just three days later, with clear evidence of torture.

Widely shared image of Ghiath Matar (left) and Yahya Sherbaj (right) at protests in 2011. Source.

Widely shared image of Ghiath Matar (left) and Yahya Sherbaj (right) at a protest in 2011. Source: Ghiath Mattar Foundation.

Palestinian writer and activist Budour Hassan remembered Ghiath Matar and reminded us of how ‘unusual’ it was for his body to be returned in the first place:

Even before 2011, Daraya had already secured its revolutionary reputation. Its residents had protested against the 2003 American invasion of Iraq as well as against Israel’s oppression against Palestinians during the Second Intifada, the name of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli authorities in the early 2000s.

As British-Syrian writer Robin Yassin-Kassab explains, part of Daraya activists’ inspiration was religious:

This legacy of civic engagement owes a great deal to the Daraya-based religious scholar Abd al-Akram al-Saqqa, who introduced his students to the work of ‘liberal Islamist’ and apostle of non-violence Jawdat Said, and was twice arrested as a result. Jawdat Said emphasised, amongst other things, rights for women, the importance of pluralism, and the need to defend minority groups.

A camp in Idlib Governorate in northwestern Syria called Atmeh received many of Daraya's refugees on September 3, 2016. Global Voices received the following two interviews conducted by Ahmad Al Sheikh with the help of Xili Duran in Atmeh of refugees speaking about what the siege was like. The subtitles were added by Nour Hajjar.

The first person, Itidal, recalled the time when death came dangerously close to her and her children:

We were going down the stairs, my children and I. With no lights or anything. Then, the plane appeared. We rushed to go down. The plane hit us while we were rushing down. We ducked all together, my children and I. We were stacked on top of each other. I said it was impossible for us to stay alive that day. Thank God we were saved. I was asking them “are you okay? are you hurt?” The dust was covering us. But we were unharmed that day, thank God. God was looking after us.

When asked how she felt about leaving Daraya, she said:

We were crying, we couldn’t see anything because of how much we were crying. I have a picture of me leaving the country, just crying and crying all the way on the road. My country is different. Even if I celebrated like that, even if I saw your country and how you are doing, Daraya is different. It is our mother, our family, our world, all of these are Daraya. Even if saw all the world, all the countries, Daraya is different.

Here is the interview:

Izdihar, mother of seven, who lost two of her children as well as her husband, recalled what life under siege was like:

We'd been under siege for five years. No food. No water. There was no clean water to drink. When we drank it, it felt like our intestines are going to explode. We were besieged from all sides. Nothing was allowed in. Barrel bombs, ‘Elephant’ rockets, incendiary weapons… Our homes were destroyed. We built them ‘with blood, sweat and tears’ and he demolished them. He left us no houses. And he killed our young ones. Despite the destruction and the siege, we endured. In the end, he told us to leave.

As for what she felt when she left Daraya, she echoed Itidal's words:

I cried. I felt as if I had nothing. Nothing. Without a homeland, a human being is nothing.

Here is the interview:

The videos testify to what independent women-run newspaper Enab Baladi claimed when it reported that the people of Daraya were given a hero’s welcome in Idlib.

Mohammad Abou Faris, one of Daraya's refugees in Idlib, recalled how one man told him:

You’re from Daraya, sir. You have everything. You’re our teachers.

Enab Baladi also reported on some of their observations of Daraya's children in Idlib on September 5, 2016:

Samer Janah, 8 years old, is sad to leave his city behind. He has not been able to adjust to the children, nor has he been able to play with them. Every half an hour, he asks his father to return to Daraya.

Judy, a six-year-old girl, says that she will return to Daraya, but not until the shelling ceases and the cookies are plentiful.

Most of the Daraya children in the Atama refugee camp leave at sunrise to play, and do not return unless forced to after dinner.

One family reported feeling happy to see the people of Idlib so welcoming:

We were not expecting everyone here to be so welcoming. The leaders and members of the free army squadrons come and ask us how we were living… What is the secret to this determination and how did your squadrons manage to resist the army?

by Joey Ayoub at September 21, 2016 09:27 PM

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