Posts tagged ‘terrorism’


A look back at 2015: a year that was harder to laugh at

20.12.2015

I’ve done this a few times now: looked through my year’s Tumblr posts to get an alternative feel for the Zeitgeist. Tumblr is where I put the less relevant junk that comes by my digital meanderings. But as I scrolled down to January 2015 in the archive, I’m not that certain the posts really reflected the world as we knew it. Nor was there much to laugh at, which was the original reason I started doing these at the close of 2009.
   January, of course, was the month of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which saw 11 murdered, including the famed cartoonist Wolinski, whose work I enjoyed over the years. Facebook was still going through a massive bot (first-world) problem, being overrun by fake accounts that had to be reported constantly. The anti-vax movement was large enough to prompt a cartoonist to do an idiot’s guide to how vaccines work. In other words, it was a pretty depressing way to end the lunar year and start the solar one.
   February: Hannah Davis made it on to the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition by pulling her knickers down as far as socially acceptable (or unacceptable, depending on your point of view), while 50 Shades of Grey hit the cinemas, with one person commenting, ‘Seriously, this book raises every red flag warning signal I learned during my Military Police training. Grey is a ****ing psycho.’ Mission: Impossible’s second man with the rubber mask, Leonard Nimoy, he of the TV movie Baffled, passed away. Apparently he did some science fiction series, too.
   Citroën celebrated the 60th anniversary of the DS, generally regarded as one of the greatest car designs of the 20th century, while Alarm für Cobra 11 returned for another half-season in March. In April, one Tweeter refused to do any Bruce Jenner jokes: ‘there are kids & adults confused/bullied/dying over their gender identity,’ said an American photographer called Spike. The devastating Nepalese earthquakes were also in April, again nothing to be joked about. There was this moment of levity:

And the Fairfax Press published a photograph of President Xi of China, although the caption reads ‘South Korea’s President Park Geun Hye’. Wrong country, wrong gender. When reposted on Weibo, this was my most viral post of the year.

   In May, we published a first-hand account of the Nepal ’quakes in Lucire, by Kayla Newhouse. It was a month for motorheads with For the Love of Cars back on Channel 4. Facebook hackers, meanwhile, started targeting Japanese, and later Korean, accounts, taking them over and turning them into bots.
   In June, rumours swirled over the death of Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, whereupon I made this image:

   In July, rape complaints against actor Bill Cosby reached fever pitch as woman after woman came out with credible and very similar stories. Staying Stateside, one writer said of the GOP primaries: ‘It will go down someday as the greatest reality show ever conceived. The concept is ingenious. Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump.’ A Sydney man, who allegedly insulted then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, inspired the internet public to raise funds for him to beat the fine.
   In September, Doctor Who returned to telly for its 35th season, while Facebook continued to be overwhelmed by bots, mostly based around hacked Korean accounts. A young Briton, Connie Talbot, released a cover version of Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, the theme from the James Bond film Spectre, which I regarded as superior to the original.
   In October, US Senator Bernie Sanders answered the question, ‘Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?’ He responded, ‘Black lives matter. And the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail. Or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China.’
   As we neared the year’s end, I wrote a blog post, uncharacteristically published both on my Tumblr and here, on how a pharmaceutical company would release a Daraprim competitor for US$1 a pill, after the company behind Daraprim raised its price from US$13·50 to US$750. That was before Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was arrested in an investigation that began in 2014. I did one post noting what my Dad had begun forgetting because of his newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, with the intent of following up, out of solidarity with another other caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers. November, too, saw Paris’s second major terrorist attack, and Astérix illustrator Albert Uderzo contributed this touching image:

Microsoft rolled out the bug-filled Windows 10, which worked differently every day.
   In December, it wasn’t quite ‘Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars’. There was, after all, Trump, Trump and more Trump, the only potential presidential candidate getting air time outside the US. Observing the primaries, 9Gag noted that the movie Idiocracy ‘started out as a comedy and is turning into a documentary’. Michael Welton wrote, meanwhile, in Counterpunch, ‘The only way we might fathom the post 9/11 American world of governmental deceit and a raw market approach to political problem solving is to assume that moral principle has been banished because the only criteria for action is whether the ends of success and profitability have been achieved. That’s all. That’s it. And since morality is the foundation of legal systems, adhering to law is abandoned as well.’ The New Zealand flag referendum didn’t make it into my Tumblr; but if it had, I wonder if we would be arguing whether the first-placed alternative by Kyle Lockwood is black and blue, or gold and white—a reference to another argument that had internauts wasting bandwidth back in February.
   It’s not an inaccurate snapshot of 2015, but it’s also a pretty depressing one. France tasted terror attacks much like other cities, but the west noticed for a change; there were serious natural disasters; and bonkers politicians got more air time than credible ones. Those moments of levity—my humorous Jon Snow image and feigned ignorance, for instance—were few and far between. It was that much harder to laugh at the year, which stresses just how much we need to do now and in 2016 to get things on a more sensible path. Can we educate and communicate sufficiently to do it, through every channel we have? Or are social media so fragmented now that you’ll only really talk into an echo chamber? And if so, how do we unite behind a set of common values and get around this?

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Modern terrorism and where we are in history

10.01.2015

Thoughts today on social networks, chatting to friends about issues stemming from the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the hostage saga in Paris’s 11th arrondissement.
   In response to an Australian friend of Chinese heritage:

[Muslims] have been [speaking out against violence] since 9-11 and probably before but no one cared or no one could be bothered translating it into English.
   As to why [certain members of this religion engage in violence], it’s an accident of history.
   Had air travel and the internet been around 100 years ago, I’m sure we would be the ones doing some of this because of the way colonial powers were carving China up.
   Extremists will use whatever they have as a means to unite others behind their cause. If plain old sympathy does not work, then they will make it religious, or at least, about ideology. It’s why there are even Buddhist terrorists in history. Yes, this is being done in the name of Islam, just like the Troubles were in the name of Christ. There’s plenty of killing going on in the Old Testament of the Bible.
   Without social media it certainly seemed that mainstream Protestant and Catholic voices were silent in that conflict, and by this logic, endorsing the violence.
   And not everyone has the privilege to make these statements. We can in a free society but some of these people live in fear.
   But we in the west have played directly into their hands anyway with the changes in our laws and clamping down on free speech, when we should have held firm with our own traditions and beliefs, and told these folks to get with the programme in a globalized society.
   The more confused the occident becomes and the greater the economic chasms in our own society, the more the disaffected youths might think: you do not have the answer and maybe these nut jobs do. Hence you see them come from poor areas where religion is one of the things they feel some fellowship with.
   And with the negative sides of western civilization, as there are some, no doubt they will seize on that to get recruits. For politicians who do not believe that inequality (real or actual) is a problem, then they had better wake up fast, as no amount of legislation about stripping foreign fighters of citizenship is going to stem the tide.
   Like I said in an earlier thread, no Muslim I know would engage in or endorse this stuff, but I’m in a privileged position as are the Muslims I have met. Not so these guys, and they have a wonderful target—us, living in comfort—to sell others on.
   Muslims are the stereotyped bogeymen for now, and then in another age the mainstream will have chosen another minority to pick on, telling us how their beliefs are evil.

   And to an American friend and colleague, who points out MEMRI has been translating, in some ways a postscript:

I’m definitely not denying that there are plenty of nut jobs in that part of the world who push their crazy on to others. You only need to get a sense of what gets broadcast on al-Jazeera (as opposed to al-Jazeera English) where they get a ready platform.
   But, once again, it is where we are technologically as a people, with many disunited and hypocritical.

   When you’re a minority, you can see how majority thought can work against you. I’ve heard, depending on where I am, that Muslims (or even all Arabs) are terrorists, whites are undisciplined, or Jews are stingey, and at some point you just have to say no to stereotypes when you realize that you could be the next group to be singled out and targeted. Remember when Chinese were Triads, a popular one that was within the lifetimes of most New Zealanders reading this blog? That was the mid-1990s, when a few years before I was denied service at Woolworths because of the logic that trade was not supplied and all Chinese must be greengrocers.
   It beats being called a Triad or a terrorist.

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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 »


We all belong to the Christchurch region

23.02.2011
Good Living
Above Good Living, November 11, 2009, with Angela Stone and Megan Banks. Or, the day I met Donna Manning, who produced the show.

I drove in a total daze today. The last time I felt like this was September 12, 2001,* the day of the World Trade Center attacks.
   And then I learned a colleague I had met was among the dead in the CTV building.
   I felt ashamed. Ashamed that Donna Manning was not someone who was top of my list of people to text when the earthquake happened.
   After the first lot of friends all responded to say they were OK, I was playing the probability game: that if seven out of seven were fine, then it would likely stand that the percentage would hold if I contacted eight.
   Not so.
   But, I tried to tell myself, I only met Donna once, on November 11, 2009. It’s not like we were best friends.
   Yet in those few hours I thought she was a tremendously nice lady, professional, and respectful.
   I grabbed her card, which I still have, with the hope that we would continue to keep in touch.
   We didn’t.
   So it’s a bit hard to explain why I feel a friend has been taken from me—even though it was someone I only met briefly.
   Maybe someone can be a friend even on the briefest of meetings. I say to my friends living on the other side of the world that our friendships remain strong, even if we only see each other once every decade. We catch up as though no time has passed.
   And Donna Manning, in her accommodating, welcoming manner, realizing she had a guest and colleague from out of town, might be one of those people who you feel that level of connection with, quickly.
   It’s not a desire to “belong” to a tragedy. I ruled that out quickly. I counted myself as lucky that those I knew well were all OK. I lost a friend and colleague in the London attacks on July 7, 2005, and I didn’t feel a longing to be “part” of it. I didn’t blog about it much, and kept my feelings to myself and our mutual friends. I was sorry I lost a friend, and I felt the pain his widow had when she was searching for news of him. Maybe a terrorist bombing seemed so unreal, while earthquakes are something that are known to us Down Under.
   This case, I think, is part of the humanity in all of us: while we were lucky enough not to have experienced the Christchurch earthquake first-hand, we feel a sense of unity with those who did.
   This is not anything to do with nationality, as the international rescue crews have ably demonstrated by rushing to our aid. Whether they are our Australian brothers and sisters, or whether they have ventured here from Japan, the Republic of China, or Singapore, or even further afield, they see people to help and tasks to do.
   Just as we in New Zealand felt for those in Haïti, or in Australia as floods, bushfires or cyclones reached them in recent times.
   Now, we want Cantabrians to know that we might not know what they are going through but we understand loss and grief. We empathize with them for their loss.
   When I saw a photograph of Donna’s kids and ex-husband in an Associated Press photograph, my fears were confirmed. I wanted to reach out to tell them just how I felt for them.
   I wrote a few words about how I felt at the time, though that’s not much to someone who has lost a mother.
   We don’t have a desire to belong to the tragedy because we already belong to the tragedy. It has affected other members of the human race, and that’s qualifies us for immediate membership of this tragedy. They suffer, and we all suffer.
   On my Facebook and Twitter accounts, there’s no difference in the sincerity of the writer when they wish the people of Christchurch and the Canterbury region well whether they are locals or Swedish, German, Dutch, American, English, or any other nationality.
   On my Tumblr, that universality was felt in one quotation I cited—based on how many people it resonated with.
   There’s no difference in the helplessness we feel, whether we are a ferry crossing and a few hours’ drive away, or whether we are 10,000 miles away.
   If we could come and bring back your loved ones, we would.
   If we could bring back all our colleagues at CTV and The Press, we would.
   If we could bring back those Japanese students who perished in that language school, and to have them go home to their Mums and Dads happy for their Kiwi experience, we would.
   All because we know our feelings of grief that we felt in our own tragedies and we do not wish them on you.
   Yet tonight, the Manning and Gardiner families experience those very feelings of loss.
   I grieve for a colleague, and, I would like to say, a friend. Someone who touched me positively in my life.
   I am so sorry for you all.
   And I am so sorry to all those who are awaiting news, or are dealing with the horrible news that someone has been taken tragically before their time.
   I don’t want you to feel this down, but I know you do. And I wish, I truly wish, you didn’t have to go through this.

* In New Zealand, it was already September 12, 2001 when the attacks commenced.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, New Zealand, TV | 4 Comments »