April 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
My review of Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here, published in The National.
In her celebrated January 2010 statement on “internet freedom”, Hillary Clinton chided countries such as China, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Egypt for placing restrictions on internet access. The then-US secretary of state affirmed her government’s conviction that “the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become”, because “access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable, generates new ideas, encourages creativity and entrepreneurship”.
Not long after, the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks obtained a trove of information revealing US military and diplomatic conduct in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the world. Information flowed freely. But the US government appeared somewhat less convinced of its capacity for strengthening society. Access to WikiLeaks was restricted in many government agencies; Amazon, MasterCard, Visa and PayPal were persuaded to withdraw their services; and students and government employees were discouraged from sharing Wikileaks information on pain of jeopardising career prospects.
Internet freedom, it turned out, was not a sacrosanct principle. It failed to resist the intrusion of profane political concerns. As an analytical category independent of political and social constraints, the internet produced stirring rhetoric, but shorn of its obfuscating theology, it proved subject to the imperatives of power as much in the United States as in Uzbekistan.
This disconnect between the reality of the internet – the physical infrastructure, with its platforms, protocols and utilities; its promises, perils and limitations – and the idea of “the internet” – as a fixed, coherent and unproblematic phenomenon that is open, public and collaborative – enables two dangerous tendencies that are the subject of Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems That Don’t Exist.
The first he calls “solutionism” – a preoccupation with spectacular and narrow solutions to complex social and political problems. The second is “internet-centrism” – a conviction that “the internet” heralds a revolutionary era, a time of profound change in which old truths have become obsolete.
You can read the rest here.
February 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Al Jazeera World on the great Gideon Levy.
Gideon Levy is someone who evokes strong emotions from fellow Israelis. The writer and journalist has made weekly visits, over the past three decades, to the occupied Palestinian territories, describing what he sees – plainly and without propaganda. For some Israelis, he is seen as a brave disseminator of the truth. But many others condemn him as a propagandist for Hamas. And his columns for the Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper have made him, arguably, one of the most hated men in Israel. Going Against The Grain follows Gideon Levy on one of his assignments in Hebron, and meets some of the ordinary Palestinians whose lives he has described in his regular column for Haaretz.
January 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Reporter Janine di Giovanni has been to the worst places on Earth to bring back stories from Bosnia, Sierra Leone and most recently Syria. She tells stories of human moments within large conflicts — and explores that shocking transition when a familiar city street becomes a bombed-out battleground.
December 5, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Our friend Tony Karon joins Rashid Khalidi, Peter Beinart and Ethan Bronner on Al Jazeera’s Empire.
The dawn of a Palestinian state has been a long time coming. After 65 years of dispossession, 45 years of occupation, and 20 years of failed peace attempts, on Thursday Palestine took one step closer to joining the community of nations. With a final vote of 138 to 9, an overwhelming majority of nations at the UN General Assembly voted to recognise Palestine as a non-member state. This upgrade puts Palestine on par with the Vatican, and also could allow Palestinian claims to be filed in the International Criminal Court. This recognition came just days after another in the long line of catastrophes Palestinians have faced. Under a brutal Israeli bombardment of Gaza, nearly 200 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more were wounded. Empire asks: Must the Palestinian dream of a state be Israel’s nightmare? And what does the path to a just solution look like?
November 30, 2012 § 5 Comments
29 November 2012 — We are delighted that an overwhelming majority of countries at the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer status. To coincide with this, here is Roger Waters, the front man for Pink Floyd, the greatest rock band ever, speaking earlier in the day, on behalf of the Russell Tribunal, delivering his indictment of Israeli criminality at the UN and making a plea for the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state.
October 23, 2012 § 3 Comments
I am moving material from my old blog to PULSE and since Adam Curtis comes up in so many conversations on the media, I am starting by reposting his classic documentary on the PR industry.
The Century of the Self. ‘Adam Curtis’ acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty’.
To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?
The Freud dynasty is at the heart of this compelling social history. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis; Edward Bernays, who invented public relations; Anna Freud, Sigmund’s devoted daughter; and present-day PR guru and Sigmund’s great grandson, Matthew Freud.
Sigmund Freud’s work into the bubbling and murky world of the subconscious changed the world. By introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud provided useful tools for understanding the secret desires of the masses. Unwittingly, his work served as the precursor to a world full of political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society’s belief that the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness is man’s ultimate goal.
September 20, 2012 § 4 Comments
In Amusing Ourselves to Death, a prophetic work on the impact of television on culture, the late media scholar Neil Postman compared two dystopias. One was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, a world of strict thought control and surveillance where dissent was drowned under screams of torture. The other was Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World, a culture of permanent distraction, immobilized by entertainment and diminished by superficiality. One society was watched by Big Brother; the other entertained by it.
Postman found Orwell’s vision irrelevant to western democracies. Modern society, he said, was less a prison than a burlesque. Like Huxley’s nightmare vision, culture was being impoverished by distraction and trivia, and thought devalued. The problem wasn’t so much entertainment as the habit of mind that resulted from being permanently stimulated and amused, leaving little space for reflection.
The case against television may have been overstated. It was after all a passive medium and individuals were free to walk away. Internet too in its first incarnation had limited claim on our lives. But things have changed dramatically with Web 2.0. We no longer just consume information; we also create it. Barriers to entry are lower and technical skills are no longer necessary. Combined with smart phones and wireless technology, we are in the midst of an epochal change. We are dependent on technology in a way we have never been before.
May 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
by Keane Bhatt
Honduras has belatedly appeared on the radar of the U.S. media over the past couple of weeks. A joint U.S.-Honduras drug raid on Friday, May 11, reportedly killed civilians—including two pregnant women—near Ahuas, a town in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. According to press coverage based on accounts by U.S. officials, four State Department helicopters—piloted by Guatemalan military officers and outside contractors—carried a strike force of Honduran security officers from a U.S.-built base to the Patuca River. They were accompanied by what The New York Times called a “commando-style squad” of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, and acted on Colombian and U.S. intelligence. U.S. and Honduran officials told The Times the forces seized 1,000 pounds of cocaine from a boat before being attacked by another boat of drug traffickers; Honduran personnel, then on the ground, and with support from “the door gunner of at least one of the helicopters,” engaged in a late-night firefight with the traffickers, killing two of them. The State Department and the DEA insist that only Hondurans participated in the shootout.
Both the local mayor and congressional representative disputed this account, asserting in the Honduran newspaper El Tiempo three days after the raid that four people were killed—Emerson Martínez, Chalo Brock Wood, Candelaria Tratt Nelson, and Juana Banegas—and that they were ordinary citizens. In a later interview with TIME, the local leaders said the civilian boat was “ferrying passengers,” and “was passing from the opposite direction and got caught in the nighttime crossfire.” Close to a week after initial reports incorrectly described the mission as having been carried out solely by Honduran forces, and days after the local authorities accused the DEA of involvement, official U.S. spokespersons finally admitted to the DEA’s “advisory role” in the brutal raid.
May 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
April 30, 2012 § 5 Comments
By Roy Revie
Earlier this month the Guardian reported a military parade in Esfahan marking Iran’s Army Day in which military placards warned of the dangers of Western cultural influence. Emphasis was given, in a sort of ‘what will they think of next’ way, to a poster warning of the “damages of the Facebook internet site” – pictured here. The image certainly does seem strange – until you look into the context. The Iranian regime have been talking about a “soft war” being waged against it by a “cultural NATO” intent on undermining the ideology of the Islamic Republic for a while now. Ridicule and claims of paranoia have hitherto been the primary response from the West – this is regrettable as some of the underlying issues are of key importance for contemporary foreign policy, and the internet’s role in political change.
Typical of Western reports about Iranian concerns over ‘soft war’ is a recent AP article, which uses the term to contextualise Iranian schemes as various as a “hack-proof communications network for [the IRGC’s] high-level commanders”, possibly involving – shock horror! – “special relay towers and passcodes” (something surely recognised universally as a military necessity); fear of “internet espionage and viral attacks from abroad”; the attempt to “choke off opposition outlets at home”; and accusations that internet tools like Google and Facebook are instruments of espionage. The first two examples obviously reflect the understandable sense of being besieged the Iranian regime feels and hints at countermeasures we would expect any sovereign state to take – the leap to internal repression in the later examples seem to go beyond this, however in terms of taking defensive measures against foreign states, they can be conceptually situated on a threat continuum that goes from Stuxnet right through to Twitter.