Posts tagged ‘freedom’


Je suis Charlie

09.01.2015

I was watching France 24 about half an hour after the Charlie Hebdo attack and made the above graphic a few hours later, in support of press freedoms and the victims’ families, and showing solidarity with other members of the media. One friend has made it his Facebook profile photo and I followed suit about a day later.
   We have come across the usual, and expected, ‘Everyday Muslims should say something and be openly against extremists. Silence means they endorse these actions.’
   Some have, of course, but no more than Christians came out to condemn the actions of Protestants and Catholics groups during the Troubles (although at least the IRA told you to get out of a building), or white American Christians came out against the KKK prior to the Civil Rights Movement.
   I wonder if there are double standards here.
   Perhaps this Muslim writer put it best in a Facebook comment: ‘I was just making a larger point about how easy it is to make the assertion and equate “silence” to passive aggression. Most Muslims are from non-English speaking countries. Just because they don’t tweet in support and aren’t given enough media coverage, doesn’t mean they directly/indirectly propagate the oppression conduced by radical Islamists.
   ‘I’m a Muslim who vehemently opposes attacks such as the one in Paris. I can only say this to you because I’m equipped with the privileged circumstances to do so. Most people on this planet (let alone Muslims), do not. Claiming that I have a stake in these attacks, however, is blatantly unfair too.’
   I’m not denying that those engaged in acts of terror do so in the name of Islam, just as the Klan proclaims itself a Christian organization. They have been able to spread their hate more readily because of where we are in history, namely in an age of easy movement across borders and the internet. But had the same technology been ready 100 years ago, it isn’t hard to imagine Chinese terrorists taking it to the west for what western colonial powers were doing inside China. Would the PLA have been more widespread for the same reasons? Probably. It’s hard for me to have it in for any one faith since we’re not that far away from doing the same, and the fact we aren’t is down to winning the lottery of where, when, and to whom we were born.
   I definitely have it in for those who are committing atrocities, and they need to be identified and dealt with. We can debate on whether we have a suitable legal framework to do this, and that is another topic.
   Simon Jenkins should have the last word on this topic:

[The terrorists] sought to terrify others and thus to deter continued criticism, and they now seek to reduce the French state to a condition of paranoia. They want to goad otherwise liberal people to illiberal actions …
   Osama bin Laden’s attacks on the United States, culminating in New York in 2001, were exceptional. Since he could not hope for an American capitulation, the intention must have been to scare the US into a hysterical reaction … [Y]ears of war ensued, years that realised al-Qaida’s wildest dreams. Western nations plunged into battle, at a cost of some $3tn. Thousands of lives were lost and regimes were destabilised across the region. Democratic governments lurched towards authoritarianism. Almost willingly, it seemed, governments tore up many of the central tenets of their liberties. In the more belligerent states – the US and Britain – habeas corpus, private communication, legal process and even freedom of speech were curtailed or jeopardised. The forces of state repression suddenly found themselves singing the best tunes.
   Bin Laden was handed his triumph. For a decade he was able to rally supporters to his cause. He boasted at the vulnerability of this supposedly superior society. He taunted democracies that claimed immunity from the devious tactics of militant Islam …
   Terrorism is no ordinary crime. It depends on consequence. It can kill people and damage property. It can impose cost. But it cannot occupy territory or topple governments. Even to instil fear it requires human enhancement, from the media and politicians.
   That is why the most effective response is to meet terrorism on its own terms. It is to refuse to be terrified. It is not to show fear, not to overreact, not to over-publicise the aftermath. It is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror, and leave the perpetrator devoid of further satisfaction. That is the only way to defeat terrorism.

Autocade hit 3,000 models before December 31 was out. The 3,000th: the Renault Espace V.
   There are still some big omissions (for instance, all the full-size Japanese sedans, all the Toyota Celicas, and it needs more Corvettes, Ferraris and Maseratis) but a lot of the mainstream model lines are there (all current Geelys, all the Volkswagen Golfs, and more and more current model lines). For a site made primarily out of personal interest, it’s doing reasonably well, with a few thousand page views daily.
   A quick summary then, based on the stats grabbed in early December:

March 2008: launch
July 2008: 500 (four months for first 500)
December 2009: 1,000 (17 months for second 500)
May 2011: 1,500 (17 months for third 500)
December 2012: 2,000 (19 months for fourth 500)
June 2014: 2,500 (18 months for fifth 500)
December 2014: 3,000 (six months for sixth 500)

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views

Currently, it’s on 5,473,963, so the rate is increasing slightly, probably helped by a new Facebook fan page (with a mere 60 members).
   We have been chatting about some radical changes to Autocade in 2015. Should this happen, I’ll blog about it when I am able.

Finally, the resolution to my problems around Linux was putting Linux Mint 17.1 on to a bootable USB stick using Rufus, which happily (and unlike a lot of programs) does what it says on the tin. (The allotted hard drive space for Ubuntu 13, which was determined when I installed 10, became insufficient for 14, hence the Christmas project of trying to upgrade.) Neither Ubuntu 14 nor Mint 17 allowed itself to be installed without hard drive partitioning—it is not poor memory when I say that Ubuntu 10 presented no such hassles in 2011—and that is too risky based on my computing knowledge while I have data on every hard drive that I need to keep. (Again, this is down to experience: an earlier attempt following instructions—that old bugbear—cost all the data on one hard drive and having to Dial a Geek and pay NZ$100.) I could not put either on to the hard drive I wanted, despite selecting the ‘Something else’ option. Putting either into a VM Ware virtual machine made little sense, though I tried it at the suggestion of a good friend, only to find that the only screen resolution that was possible was a tiny 640 by 480. (Going into display settings did nothing: it was the only option available; trying to force different ones through the Terminal also failed, while downloading new drivers for the screen did not make any difference.) After hours—possibly even days wasted if you totalled up those hours—none of the usually helpful forums like Ask Ubuntu had answers that matched my circumstances.
   The USB set-up is good for me for now, since I do not get that much work done in Linux, but I cannot believe how complicated things had become. As with the browsers I have, there is very little on my computers that is so customized that they would be considered extraordinary—I do not have those computing skills to make changes at that level—so it makes me wonder why there is such a gulf between the claims and the reality when it comes to software, constantly. Yosemite taking 12 hours to upgrade, browsers that stopped displaying text, and now Linux requiring a computing degree to install, aren’t good signs for the computing industry.
   Unless you are in the support business, then they are wonderful signs for the computing industry.

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Posted in media, politics, publishing, technology, UK, USA | 3 Comments »


An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

29.09.2014

Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
   I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
   Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
   I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
   And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
   Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
   Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
   He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
   Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
   I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
   The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
   Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
   The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
   Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
   Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
   They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
   While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
   It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
   Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
   It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
   Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
   This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
   Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
   It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
   That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
   Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
   One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
   Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
   Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
   I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
   The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
   The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
   Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
   And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
   Taiwan, too, will be watching.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, politics | 1 Comment »


‘Planet Key’ is good old-fashioned Kiwi satire

23.08.2014

Fed up with the Electoral Commission barring Darren Watson from expressing his valid view with his satirical song ‘Planet Key’, I made a spoken-word version of it for my Tumblr a week ago, with copyright clearance over the lyrics. I wrote:

Since the Electoral Commission has imposed a ban on Darren Watson’s ‘Planet Key’—in fact, it can never be broadcast, and apparently, to heck with the Bill of Rights Act 1990—I felt it only right to help him express his great work, in the best tradition of William Shatner covering ‘Rocketman’. This has not been endorsed by Mr Watson (whom I do not know), and recorded with crap gear.

   I’ve read the Electoral Act 1993 and the Broadcasting Act 1989, but I still think they’re trumped by the Bill of Rights Act 1990.
   Legal arguments aside, I agree with Darren, that his expression of his political view is no different from Tom Scott drawing a cartoon.
   He has a right to freedom of thought and a right to express it.
   The Electoral Commission’s position seems to centre around his receiving payment for the song to cover his and his animator’s costs—which puts it in the class of an election advertisement.
   Again, I’m not sure how this is different from the Tom Scott example.
   Tom is paid for his work, albeit by the media who license it. Darren doesn’t have the backing of media syndication, so he’s asking for money via sales of the song on Itunes. We pay for the newspaper that features Tom’s work, so we can pay Itunes to download Darren’s. Tom doesn’t get the full amount that we pay the newspaper. Darren doesn’t get the full amount that we pay Itunes. How are they different?
   Is the Commission saying that only people who are featured in foreign-owned media are permitted to have a say? This is the 21st century, and there are vehicles beyond mainstream media. That’s the reality.
   The good news is that other Kiwis have been uploading Darren’s song, with the Electoral Commission saying, ‘if the content appeared elsewhere online, it would not require a promoter statement if it was posted as the expression of a personal political view and no payment was involved,’ according to Radio New Zealand. Darren might not be making money like Tom Scott does, but his view is still getting out there.
   On that note, I’m sure you’d much rather hear the original than mine. If you ever see Darren’s gigs out there, please support him through those.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


Speaking on typography and social media, with Retake the Net in between

29.10.2011

Sometimes, a brand-new speech will give you some jitters, because the material’s unrehearsed. But I have to say I had a lot of fun today at Creative Camp at Natcoll in Wellington, organized by Kai König, Diane Sieger and their team, talking about typography and how we should be aware of it today. It was helped by a few graphics from Font Police, our humour website which netted itself a mention in Mashable earlier this month. I did feel inspired, and this was one of those talks where I was really happy with the content and how it fell into place.
   After a quick bite, it was off to Retake the Net, organized by Brian Calhoun, Sibylle Schwarz and Aimée Whitcroft, discussing internet freedoms.
   I attended two sessions: one on the corporate control of the cloud, and another on intellectual property (in part—I had to leave during it, but not before raising the Bill of Rights Act and its position vis-à-vis the Copyright Act). In the former, I was somewhat buoyed to learn that four of the sixteen participants used Duck Duck Go instead of Google, and the idea of the filter bubble was raised.
   November will see me head to the MTA conference to speak on social media, and participate in a debate over fuel prices.
   My talks will centre around social media. We had nutted out the approach as early as April, before Facebook launched Timeline, and before Google Plus. The landscape has changed, not in principle, but in terms of the tools. Had I prepared screen shots back then, they would have become dated. I plan to finish that talk off, along with its graphics, in the next few days, so what attendees will see will be only a couple of weeks old, at the most.

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Posted in business, design, internet, New Zealand, technology, typography, Wellington | No Comments »


Even as Liu Xiaobo gets a Nobel prize, Beijing can be smug

12.12.2010

As I watched actress Liv Ullmann read Liu Xiaobo’s address, ‘I Have No Enemies’, on BBC World, I was quite moved.
   The address is what the Nobel Prize-winning author and intellectual delivered prior to his sentencing by a Red Chinese court for subversion.
   What is fascinating is the dignity with which the words are written, showing respect even to his prosecutors.
   Liu even discusses how the human rights in the prison at which he is held have greatly improved since the first time he was locked up there, saying that the ‘enemy mentality’ that Red China once held is disappearing in favour of a more humanist approach.
   Given that he knew he would be found guilty just before Christmas 2009, the address is remarkable for the hints of optimism he holds for his country.
   Liu Xiaobo will not, by himself, see through a wholesale change in the way the Communist Party is running mainland China, but he is representative of many forces which will, some day, make the country freer and more open.
   He is also representative of the area with occident and orient disagree: human rights. While those campaigning for Liu’s release should not stop, his address puts a lot of things into context.
   Mainland China, as it opens up, has tried to find a balance between governmental intervention and the market-place. Even Confucius has been partially recognized by the Politburo as a way to reinforce the state’s position, somehow reinterpreted along the lines of: we bring you prosperity, you give us your loyalty.
   As much as the internet is patrolled, there is a tendency for people to wish to be more free, and blacking out TV screens behind the Bamboo Curtain or resorting to censorship simply makes people wonder what they are missing.
   Where the country might yet succeed, however, is keeping a firm hand on change. Instead of the rush that saw to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing is being pragmatic. As unbridled globalization and a corrupt, conspiratorial financial system has seen to two economic downturns in the last decade, and as the US’s politics move to extremes, the occident is giving fuel to Beijing’s methods. That’s not something that we should feel happy about, nor should we tolerate our commerce being run to further class structures in our societies.
   Liu has been likened to Nelson Mandela by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland. Mandela made a similar speech on the eve of being sentenced to treason in 1964. While Liu has his supporters, and I do not proclaim to be any expert on South African history, my feeling is that the former president was known to far more of his own people. There are also other differences to the other Nobel winners who have not been able to attend, be they Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi.
   The chief difference is that fewer of us living in the occident in 2010 can be as smug or as preachy. While I support calls for Liu Xiaobo to be released—the jailing of a man exercising the same rights you and I do in criticizing our governments shows, in my mind, the weakness and insecurity of the critiqued régime—there is a real lesson for the rest of us.
   We cannot be in a position to insist on change if we keep supporting governments that weaken our own approaches to human rights. If we vote in a government that widens the distance between rich and poor—and history has more than often shown us which do—then we are letting down our most downtrodden citizens. If we fail to tidy up the mess our business sectors have left in their wake, then we are simply allowing their mistakes to recur.
   For every failure we chalk up because we let things remain the way they are, the more Beijing’s politicians can sit back and accuse us of hypocrisy.

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Posted in China, culture, internet, media, politics | 17 Comments »


Autocade grows to 1,100 models: slowly but surely

22.06.2010

Some weeks ago, as we neared this milestone, I planned to write a small blog post on reaching 1,100 cars at the Autocade site. And to show that these milestones are not rigged, we wound up with a fairly ghastly motor at that 1,100 mark.

Image:Nissan_Cherry_GL.jpg

Nissan Cherry (E10/KPE10). 1970–4 (prod. unknown). 2- and 4-door sedan, 3-door coupé, 3-door wagon. F/F, 988, 1171 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Small, front-wheel-drive range from Nissan, slotting beneath Sunny. First Nissan-designed car with front drive. Short front doors on all variants. Sporting model X-1 featured twin carburettors and 80 bhp. Unusually styled coupé (KPE10) from 1971, wagon from 1972. Mid-cycle update 1973. Exported usually as Datsun 100A and 120A. Usual Japanese virtues of quality, hitting Europe and American markets when they faced crises, and establishing Datsun as a leading player.

Yes, the old Cherry. Remember the horrible coupé model that looked like a mix of a regular Nissan Cherry, a SHADO Mobile from UFO, and a potato? It even looked bigger than the sedan—not what you’d usually expect when you consider the etymology of the word coupé.
   Although Autocade hasn’t become a car reference site that slips off the tongue of most enthusiasts, 1,100-plus entries are nothing to be sneezed at. I have even noticed that Wikipedia sometimes references it—supporting my theory that if it exists online, Wikipedia will believe it. Never mind that something might be totally legitimate and be covered in the international print press: if it can’t be found by the editors on Google, it doesn’t exist. So much for meritocratic coverage—because even Google will refuse to list certain things. (On this note, the current Yahoo! Search is more comprehensive.)
   But even then Wikipedia will get the occasional thing wrong. I noticed that its reference to the Camina, produced by Saehan of Korea, comes from Autocade. Yet it’s cited in Wikipedia as the Saehan Camina. Sorry, chaps: the vehicle was the Camina, with no reference to the company, although its successor was the Saehan Gemini.
   I’m not saying Autocade is perfect—I found a few errors myself today—but I spot so many errors on Wikipedia that could be avoided if all netizens—and I include myself—were more responsible. Like email, blogs and YouTube comments, many things on the ’net go into a form of decline once the original purpose is lost. Of course Wikipedia editors need to rely on search engines, because there are probably too many people abusing the site, creating a culture of suspicion. The initial wave of contributors who came on board, hoping to beat the encyclopædias, has gone. Senior editors need to find a final arbiter that is impartial, and a search engine’s robot is freer from bias than a human being.
   Perhaps I am being protective and even slightly hypocritical when I say I prefer the slow growth of Autocade, and its limited number of sysops, to the rapid development of Wikipedia. Of course information should be free, but the limited scope of Autocade helps ensure just a little more accuracy. The main problems I have with Wikipedia reflect less how many of its editors work (though I have cited at least one exception), and more how many of us choose to interact online, especially with the cloak of anonymity.
   You can’t change that without changing the way people work online and take pride in what they do—and that’s just not going to happen when certain governments are quite content to divide us into the information-rich and the information-poor. But that is a point for another discussion.

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Posted in cars, culture, internet, publishing, technology | 1 Comment »


Surprises on the press freedoms’ map

09.02.2010

This map (via pedroelrey on Tumblr) is food for thought, about international press freedoms:

   Those of us who enjoy a free press need to use it and not take it for granted. We might not always like what’s being said, but we should embrace the fact that we can say it at all.
   I was surprised to see that the US did not have a fully free press, according to this map from Reporters sans Frontières, which classes it with Chile, Argentina, France, South Africa and Japan.
   In fact, there are few of us that seem to be in the white—especially when you factor in the small populations of Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia.
   The fact there are still countries in the black—the colour used here to represent a grave situation for press freedom—is also disturbing. Some communist nations, parts of the Middle East and Africa and several former Soviet states have very little press freedom.
   Anyone want to come up with some theories on why the US, France and Japan—developed countries I would have thought would come up in the white on such a map—are in second place when it comes to press freedoms?

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Posted in culture, France, media, politics | 1 Comment »