Category Archives: Politics

Agao and Chinese web censorship


Excellent piece on censorship in China from the NYT

No government in the world pours more resources into patrolling the Web than China’s, tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software. Yet despite these restrictions — or precisely because of them — the Internet is flourishing as the wittiest space in China. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”…

So pervasive is this irreverent subculture that the Chinese have a name for it: egao, meaning “evil works” or, more roughly, “mischievous mockery.” In its simplest form, egao (pronounced “EUH-gow”) lampoons the powerful without being overtly rebellious. Read full article

An epidemic of boredom

When I was 12 I stole a turkey roll from my school canteen. Fortunately, I was a truly crap thief, and decided to eat it straight away, 20 metres from the fridge. I was caught, and duly suspended from school. What a knobhead.

I’ve often wondered why I did it. It wasn’t because I couldn’t afford it. It wasn’t because I was angry at my school, or the canteen, or was hungry. There was definitely a part of me that thought it would make me look cool. But mostly, it was because I was bored.

In between stuffing the turkey roll into my pocket and getting caught, I experienced five minutes of exhilaration. My heart raced. It was thrilling. It was the dramatic, zinging opposite of being bored.

Watching the riots and looting in London, seemingly so devoid of cause or motive, I couldn’t help thinking that, ultimately, these kids were bored. Not bored like a knobhead middle-class 12-year old who’s thinking of pinching a turkey roll – but seriously, horribly bored. Bored on an epidemic level. Every day I see kids in north London just milling around, doing mostly fuck-all. And they are the ones who leave their flats. This was a chance for them to do something truly exciting. A chance to flee their listless lives for a few hours and do something pulse-raising. And once the boredom has given way to anger, however unfounded, the anger sticks, and gathers momentum.

But the underlying boredom is a lot worse than the eventual anger. Anger carries cause. Anger is intoxicating, and inspiring. Stodgy, nothingy boredom holds none of this. But it’s as deep a sign of societal disillusion as anger, if not deeper.

People are pointing to all sorts of explanations for what is happening – disenfranchisement, unemployment, recession, social division. And yes, I’m sure all of these elements are there, and, cumulatively, could justify what we’ve seen. But as the fires are being extinguished, and the chin-scratching post mortems abound, I hope we don’t miss one of the biggest blights of all – when there are a hell of a lot of kids with nothing to do, they’ll do stupid things. And this is a very sad problem.

UK crime maps released

The police and have just released crime maps of the UK, with a detailed breakdown of the types of crimes going on in your area. More here.

Internet censorship & surveillance

Beautifully presented map, graphics and stats on Internet surveillance and censorship, by Yui You.

Vanity Fair on Assange & The Guardian

Image: LuisCarlos Díaz / Some rights reserved

Fantastic piece in Vanity Fair on the behind-the-scenes relationships between Julian Assange, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the various players involved in the recent WikiLeaks revelations. An extract:

[Assange and Guardian journalist Nick Davies] laid plans to set up a research bunker in The Guardian’s offices. They agreed that they wouldn’t talk about the project on cell phones. They agreed that, in two days, Assange would send Davies an e-mail with the address of a Web site that hadn’t previously existed, and that would exist for only an hour or two. Assange took a paper napkin with the hotel’s name and logo and circled various words. At the top he wrote, “no spaces.” By linking the words together, Davies had his password. Full story

• Related: Should Julian Assange have remained anonymous himself?

Political football

Evo Morales playing football. Image: kk+ on Flickr / Some rights reserved

Brilliant story in today’s Guardian: Low blow Morales: Bolivian president knees football opponent in groin [with images of the offending knee]

The friendly match started when, wearing a No 10 green jersey, Morales, a football fanatic and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, led his team of bodyguards and officials on to the artificial pitch.

The yellow team was led by Luis Revilla, mayor of La Paz and a political ally turned foe of the president. After smiles and handshakes the game began. Within five minutes Daniel Gustavo Cartagena, in the No 2 jersey for the mayor’s team, scythed into the president after he passed the ball, gashing his right leg.
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Is social media a placebo for armchair protesters?

Image composite: deepsignal & webtreats / Some rights reserved

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest piece in the New Yorker begins with a lengthy introduction on the genesis of the Greensboro sit-ins, an event that triggered hundreds of similar protests in the early 60s and proved a crucial turning point in the Civil Rights movement. After four paragraphs, he gets to the point:

These events in the early sixties became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade—and it happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter.

He goes on…

The evangelists of social media… seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.

Continue reading

Google Maps: The Agnostic Cartographer?

A fascinating article in Washington Monthly on the role of Google Maps in geo-political disputes, including China vs. India (over Arunachal Pradesh), Cambodia vs. Thailand (over Preah Vihear Province), Israel vs. the Palestinians (over Kiryat Yam), and Iran vs. the Arab world over the Arab Gulf (or Persian Gulf). Here’s an extract:

Just five years since the release of Google Maps and Google Earth, the corporation may well be the world’s most important mapmaker. More than 600 million people around the world have downloaded Google Earth. As a testament to ambition, that number alone would be remarkable. But Google is also intent on upending our very notion of what a map is. Rather than produce one definitive map of the world, Google offers multiple interpretations of the earth’s geography. Sometimes, this takes the form of customized maps that cater to the beliefs of one nation or another. More often, though, Google is simply an agnostic cartographer—a peddler of “place browsers” that contain a multitude of views instead of univocal, authoritative, traditional maps. “We work to provide as much discoverable information as possible so that users can make their own judgments about geopolitical disputes,” writes Robert Boorstin, the director of Google’s public policy team.

Ironically, it is that very approach to mapping, one that is indecisive rather than domineering, that has embroiled Google in some of the globe’s hottest geopolitical conflicts. Thanks to the logic of its software and business interests, Google has inadvertently waded into disputes from Israel to Cambodia to Iran. It is said that every map is a political statement. But Google, by trying to subvert that truth, may just be intensifying the politics even more. Read more…

***UPDATE: Now Costa Rica and Nicaragua are at it.***

Nick Clegg’s travels

A few years ago, a couple of months after he was made leader of the Liberal Democrats, I went to Westminster and interviewed Nick Clegg about his travels for the Guardian. I had the idea after reading a bit about Clegg’s very international background: he’s the son of an Indonesian-born Dutch mother and a half-Russian father, he has roadtripped America with the Theroux brothers, lived in Helsinki, Austria, New York, and Hungary, and has spent 10 years in Brussels as an MEP.  He also speaks five languages and has a Spanish wife.

Having scoured through my computer, I managed to find the original audio, in which he talks about time spent in the Netherlands (02:22), his wife’s home town in Castilla-Leon (04:38), road-tripping through America with the Theroux brothers (08:08), Budapest (10:22), Brussels (10:59), the Alps (15:29), the UK (17:07), and the environmental issues associated with travel (20:45). *The sound improves after a few minutes*

Listening back, I wish I’d asked more, but as I mention at the beginning of the interview, at the time I was looking for nuggets of information about where he would recommend visiting – for a travel piece, not politics. Hey ho. He was a nice guy. Definitely a politician, but a nice guy. And he seemed to be a genuine travel enthusiast; noting, at the end of the interview, that “travel genuinely expands the mind”.

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