Thursday, January 27, 2011

Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas

Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone campaigns against homosexuality

From the New York Times:
An outspoken Ugandan gay activist (David Kato) whose picture recently appeared in an anti-gay newspaper under the headline "Hang Them" was beaten to death in his home, Ugandan police said on Thursday (...) He was attacked in his home Wednesday afternoon and beaten in the head with a hammer, said Judith Nabakooba, a police spokeswoman.
What I take from the news is not the pervasive homophobic sentiment propagated in Uganda, nor that this sentiment is fostered by state policy (which we commented not long ago in this blog). I'm interested in "why" was David Kato murdered; who is responsible.

People do what they do often because they feel they should, or they are protected or entitled to. In Uganda, where gays are treated like perverted predators, some may feel that killing a homosexual is the right thing to do.

To cover up Kato's death African police and (homophobes) are using the favorite American pro-gun lobby-line of argument: nothing can prove that violence in America is, in any way, related to guns. They have changed it as such: Nothing can prove that this is a hate crime (theft they say?).

If one concludes that Uganda's anti-gay laws (which condone and promote that a paper publishes Mr. Kato's picture under the headline "Hang Them") are responsible for his death, one is over-generalizing. The fact that he was recently threatened doesn't matter at all.

So, the persecution of Jews in Europe for 500 hundred years cannot in any way be connected to the Christian anti-Semitic propaganda since the early days of institutionalized Christianity in the Fourth Century AD.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A former senior Swiss bank executive said on Monday that he had given the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, details of more than 2,000 prominent individuals and companies that he contends engaged in tax evasion and other possible criminal activity

Alfredo Triff

This piece of news in the New York Times:
Rudolf M. Elmer, who ran the Caribbean operations of the Swiss bank Julius Baer for eight years until he was dismissed in 2002, refused to identify any of the individuals or companies, but he told reporters at a news conference that about 40 politicians and “pillars of society” were among them.
According to the article, "those named in the documents come from 'the U.S., Britain, Germany, Austria and Asia — from all over,' and include 'business people, politicians, people who have made their living in the arts and multinational conglomerates — from both sides of the Atlantic.'" 1

How should one react to this new development? Obviously, 1) Rudolf Elmer has committed the gravest of sins: to violate Switzerland's strict banking secrecy laws. 2) Wikileaks has gotten more oxygen: compromising data. Should we be interested? Well, Tax evasion is 3) an illegal practice and that those caught evading taxes are generally subject to criminal charges and substantial penalties.

Many people in the right of the political spectrum are bothered by Wikileaks' constant noise and media attention. They should stick to their libertarian instincts and praise an organization that actually exposes government and corporate wrongdoing. A mature democracy depends on having an educated and informed electorate. There should be consensus that the actions of government and the state, as well as the competing political interests to exercise political power, should be underpinned by critical scrutiny and informed debate facilitated by the media.
Wikileaks is part of a new phenomenon that has to do with the disappearance of the traditional press as we know it. 2 However, that should not -and will not- contradict the basic assumption that there is no true democracy without a free press.  

Since 2007, Wikileaks has made public a huge amount of classified documents: the so-called Afghan War Diarya controversial video of an American Helicopter strike on Reuters journalists, the Iraq War Logs and Cablegate last November. The sheer amount of information and the manner in which it has been obtained has shocked everyone and redefined the rules of the game.

Take note: something must be going on when Muammar Gaddafi, a dictator of Lybia for 40 years, calls Wikileaks "an evil organization." 3

What I'm talking about can be put in terms of a balance between liberal economy and morals. If democracy is, in the words of Lincoln in his Gettysburg address, "of the people, by the people, for the people," one can make a reasonable argument that it is in the best interest of the people to know when that covenant is broken, or put into doubt.

Transparency and accountability are essential for the functioning of democracy. 
1 This case already has a history:  It started as a complaint filed in the Northern District of California by Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd. (BJB) and its Cayman Islands unit against Wikileaks, claiming that the defendants unlawfully published confidential and counterfeit documents belonging to the bank. The plaintiffs sought the return of the documents in question, allegedly stolen from BJB by a disgruntled former employee, as well as the removal of those documents from defendants' Web sites. Wikileaks contended that the documents revealed illegal financial transactions and tax evasion by the bank, while BJB asserted that they contained confidential information belonging to the bank and its customers and that some of the documents had been altered. What happens next is that federal district court judge Jeffrey White granted the plaintiff relief in the form of a permanent injunction requiring Dynadot, based in San Mateo, California, to lock and disable the domain name on February 15, 2008. But the court's order met criticism on several grounds, including constitutional: The permanent injunction was widely condemned as excessive, particularly because the directive to Dynadot blocked an entire Web site on the basis of a dispute relating to a small portion of its content. Critics likened the order to the Pentagon Papers case in which the Supreme Court famously refused a request from the Justice Department to enjoin publication of articles based on documents illegally leaked from the Defense Department. 2Whatever the causes for such crisis, this is how Steve Coll for New America Foundation puts it:
The rate of destruction of professional journalism -and its output of independent reporting on American public institutions and on international affairs- is far outpacing the ability of new institutions to reproduce what is being lost, particularly in its civic functions. Secular and cyclical economic forces have suddenly combined to dismantle the business models that have for decades supported independent, public-minded reporting for large general audiences about local and state government, Congress, the executive branch, and international affairs. According to one organization that tracks newspaper job losses, the industry shed an estimated 15,970 jobs in 2008 and 8,484 through April of this year. The rapid and large-scale loss of independent reporting by many of these professionals, without any prospect of its replacement by new institutions in the foreseeable future, is an urgent matter of public interest.
Which makes Gadaffi less original than George W. Bush! When will we have enough of evil rhetoric?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2 be or not 2 be: thats the ?

Alfredo Triff

People say Twitter is the next big thing.

Methinks not.

While it is true that the Twitter phenomenon can be subversive, as we learned from Ahmadineyad's election coup in Iran (2009-2010), the blue birdie's song is essentially a one-way text-message operation (and a little less friendly than Facebook at that). And though there are clever tweets, the vapid seems to reign. Twitter is designed for "who" or "what" generates more attention. Content is secondary, almost a pretext for textlebrity.1

Twitter is defended in some quarters as "social phenomenon." This writer, for instance, uses Lacanian theory to make his point:
Social networks may be the new form of social life that is arising in the midst of the degradation of the Symbolic Order and the consequent fragmentation of Imaginary reality. The hallmark of this new form is that people are shifting their orientations away from the Symbolic Order to each other. The Symbolic Order no longer serves as a locus from which guidelines for living emanate. The representatives of orthodox knowledge, experts, are being supplanted by me "wisdom of crowds," evoked through social networks.2

I'm not convinced. Surely, "texting" is not the problem. What I object to is the platform's self-imposed 140-character limit. Why? The idea cannot be that compressing meaning is necessarily better. What happens is that in our increasing (over)crowded space for attention, less is more.

 This blogger cleverly imagines a -possible- Shakespeare tweet:

"2b or not 2b: thats the ? whthr tis noblr 2 suffr slings+arrws of outrgous frtune or take arms vs sea of trbles & by opposng end thm, die: sleep: prchance 2 dream. theres rub"

Tweeter's minimalist credo is conditioned by our present global predicament: As space and time get more crowded, there is less space and time time to say anything. Like in food rationing, the more you get rationed, the hungrier you get.3

Then, there is this Sysomos' survey, which finds that nearly 60% of tweets come from 2.2% of Twitter's users, with 22.5% making up a full 90% of Twitter's activity. How should we read this fact? Imagine each tweet as a unit of exchange with a certain value. If so, the information that is digested by the majority of tweetizens in Tweetverse emanates from a minority. What makes this minority so special?

Moreover: What is the majority in Tweetverse doing? Absorbing the endless proliferation of tweets coming down the tweetpipe. Even if they tweet once in a while, they still get all this news content and information. They don't have to do very much to get a lot back. It's just a matter of connecting and immediately getting flooded with stuff. In Tweetverse, being happy means being inside the Tweetbubble.

The "social phenomenon" boils down to getting people's attention.

Something has changed: We used to pay attention selectively, at discreet intervals. The very idea of attention (from the Latin attendere) means directing our attention carefully. One cannot pay attention to everything. Since the platform is created for the constant bombardment of platitudes, one's attention becomes "enter-tained" (Lat. intertenere) literally "stopping in between" Tweeter's ever-changing content.

In Tweetverse one really doesn't pay attention. Instead, the tweet-addict passively absorbs the endless noise.

Don't take this post as an invective against Twitter. (Disclosure: I have a Twitter account). With McLuhan, I'm ready to say: "Twitter (the medium) is the massage." Only that this kind of medium leaves me empty.

As society, we've become less and less engaged with discourse, i.e., fighting with ideas, sweating a paragraph, looking for the best words, taking time to make the writing more lucid, richer.

How could this be good? 
1Celebrities seldom text. Instead, they send pics (and count with the most followers).  2 There are manuals that teach you how  to write your best Twitter. You learn "how to avoid the too-much syndrome," as if writing and too-big-to-fail were related. The writer candidly recommends "writing techniques for writing poetry and fiction." There are "twitips" such as this: "An example of Twitterville Grammar is leaving out unnecessary words such as that and which. People understand what you're trying to say without them." How about spelling? It doesn't really matter because "English is a living language and Twitter is just the place to have some fun with your word choices."  3 O. C. McSwite, "Administrative Theory & Praxis." Volume: 31, #1 (March, 2009).