Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
The theme of World Water Day, which is being held in Cape Town, is Water for Cities.
More than half the world's population lives in cities. Many of these are below sea level, and hence vulnerable to the effects of climate change, mostly flooding.
The Dutch know what it means to live in a delta - in their case, the confluence of the Rhine, Schelde and Meuse rivers which all flow into the North Sea in the southwest of the country. The Dutch experience has bred generations of experts, and Dutch experts today are helping solve water problems all over the world. They are involved in an estimated 40 percent of all water projects worldwide.
In the Netherlands there are over 2000 companies, research institutes and government offices which are specialised in water-related subjects. They employ 80,000 people who guarantee a turnover of billions of euros. After all, one third of the country is below sea level, so it's no surprise that Dutch history has been shaped by the need to keep the water out.
The great flood of 1953, vividly remembered to this day, killed 1830 people and scores more in neighbouring countries. Over 70,000 people become homeless. The tragedy ultimately led to the Delta Project, with barrages and dikes built to protect the estuaries of the delta in the southwestern Netherlands. It has been called one of the most revolutionary hydrological projects in the world.
The knowledge gathered in the Netherlands is applied at projects like Water Mondial, involving Mozambique, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
When the levee broke - New Orleans, 2005
The US city of New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leading to widespread loss of life and enormous damage. Dutch technology is being used to reinforce levees and build storm barriers.
Dutch companies are also involved in the world's biggest dredging project called "The World", consisting of 300 artifical islands to be built off the Dubai coast, depicting the world. The project has been suspended because of the financial crisis.
A Dutch technique for purifying sewage water is being used in Australia, the United States and China. The method involves a special design of hydraulic tank.
And you can't catch them young enough: three Dutch schoolchildren developed a pump which does not just dispense water, but desinfects it, and the jerrycans, when it operates. The pump is being tested in Ghana.
Crown Prince Willem Alexander is representing the Netherlands at the World Water event in South Africa. He said he hopes that World Water Day will make people more aware of water-related problems.
What such awareness can achieve, is illustrated by a few simple figures: the Dutch population has grown by 11 percent since 1990, but water use in that same period increaded by just 1 percent. In 1990 each Dutch citizen used 131 litres per year; by 2009 that had gone down to 119 litres.
-Shared by Hans A H C De Wit
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
“I wanted to write a story about my great-great-grandfather. He served as grand vizier or prime minister during Iran’s industrial revolution in Iran and he was murdered,” explains Kader Abdolah.
“My aim was to write about the vizier, but the shah or king turned out to be a better subject. I suspect the king was more important. In the king, I even discovered myself.”
Abdolah’s new novel De Koning is situated in Iran (formerly Persia), the land of his birth. It was also the setting for his internationally acclaimed book The House of the Mosque in 2005. His focus has now turned to the period of major change in the second half of the 19th century, with the advent of the telegraph, the railways, electricity and state reforms.
The shah or king reluctantly surrendered to technological innovation. But he wanted nothing to do with a parliament and a constitution, despite the urgent appeals from his grand vizier– who ruled the country on his behalf.
Such was his resistance that he ordered the murder of the grand vizier, great-great-grandfather. But eventually, the shah himself perished at the hands of an opponent. This is the tale Abdolah tells in De Koning.
Kader Abdolah sees parallels between the past and the present.
“In the shah of yesteryear I discovered the men and their power: Gaddafi, Mubarak, Khomeini.”
Dynasties crumbled as a result of the technological changes at that time, but they were essentially replaced by new dictators. The writer believes that this is where the present parts company with the past.
“Now there is Facebook. These dictatorships are no longer able to hold back freedom of speech. Facebook will remove Gaddafi, Muburak and the ayatollahs, and bring a new kind of democracy.”
Language of censorship
Kader Abdolah himself fled the Iran of the ayatollahs, because his life was in danger as a writer, a journalist and a member of the underground opposition. In 1988 he came to the Netherlands with his family. His own language, Persian, had become the language of censorship and so he resolved to write only in Dutch.
While the reformists in Iran are still being mercilessly combated and suppressed, Kader Abdolah has hope for the future of his homeland:
“Iran is one of the most important democracies in the Middle East. The revolutions in Egypt and Libya are superficial: Mubarak is gone, but the structure of dictatorship remains in Egypt. But in Iran there is a movement that goes right down to the foundations. It may take 30 or 40 years, but democracy will take root in people’s genes. In 20 years’ time, we will have a strong, fully formed democracy in my homeland,” he predicts.
Abdolah’s work has been translated into many languages. But in Iran, his books are banned. He sees the books he writes as weapons in a battle.
“When I write, I think of the people in Iran who fight against dictatorship. When I write I am on the frontline, in the vanguard against dictatorship. My books can be seen as literature, but they are also the true fight against the ayatollahs.”
The writer has a burning desire to return to his homeland one day. Will Kader Abdolah ever write in his mother tongue again?
“After 22 years I am no longer able to write in Persian. I can’t put my soul into it. I can only produce literature in Dutch. It’s painful, but that’s the turn my life has taken.”
Shared by Hans A.H.C De Wit
Sunday, March 20, 2011
It’s a possibility the West should take seriously, says Glenn Schoen, terrorism expert with international security firm G4S.”Gaddafi’s got his back to the wall. Diplomatically and economically he can hardly do anything anymore. Militarily his capabilities will soon be limited. And one of the few options open to him to put pressure on the international community remains, of course, terrorism.”
It’s not clear whether Gaddafi now has potential terrorists in other countries. “We do know that the Libyan foreign secret service ESO is still active. Not only at embassies still in the hands of Tripoli, but also beyond. And we know that two months ago he probably sent some more people abroad to keep an eye on Libyan dissidents. So we can assume that he does have a certain capacity to do this, although it will be less than it was a few years ago.”
A Libyan terrorist attack could come in the next few days. “He’ll see when it’s useful to exert counter pressure,” says Glenn Schoen. That might be at the start of allied military action, to stop certain countries from helping the British, French and Americans. It would be a way for Gaddafi to create disunity in the Western world.
The longer the fighting in Libya goes on, the more time Gaddafi has to prepare terrorist attacks, Mr Schoen warns. Western countries should share secret information on the whereabouts of Libyan agents and on the flow of Libyan funds. And they should step up security for potential targets like civil aviation and the embassies of allied countries.
But not everyone is expecting fresh Libyan terrorist attacks. Dutch Libya expert Gerbert van der Aa thinks Gaddafi is now barely capable of carrying out major acts of terrorism against the West. Since Tripoli renounced terrorism, it has not maintained the international terrorist infrastructure it had in place for decades.
What’s more, many Libyan embassies – the bases for Libyan secret agents – have turned against the regime in Tripoli. And embassy personnel who nominally remain loyal to Gaddafi will not be willing to support terrorist attacks, says Mr Van der Aa, who recently wrote a book on the capricious colonel. “There’s a growing feeling at most embassies that they would be very happy for Gaddafi to go. So I don’t think there’s much support for him there.”
Shared by Hans A.H.C De Wit
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
In my post some days back, The Unbearable Randonmess of Being, I talked about how women are an inherently strong race. Their strength is of such a unique emotional nature that by default they end up taking a lot more than that is expected of any human, any other male or female in person, at that point in time or situation.
Woman, you are brave and strong, it is in your genes. But do not let this genuine natural benevolence come in your way.
Do you feel you are in a situation you don't deserve to be in?
Do you think you are made for better things, better understanding, love and compassion than what your immediate family spares for you?
Do you think you are unhappy but you can easily adjust to the situation and seek happiness even out of the present, however gloomy or disappointing it may be?
And do you bank on your strength to face sorrow?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, sit back and think. Confide, trust and be brave.
Do not bank on your feminine strength to pull you through sorrow. I know we are a strong race and can see ourselves through hell and fire. But why? Use your strength instead to find joy. Take a call, give priority to your individual well-being and stop gulping down sorrow, inequality or abuse just because you have an infinite capacity to hold your own in such circumstances.
No one will protect your dignity for you. And when you make a truce with the unfairness that is dealt to you, you lower yourself. Day by day, month by month, the compromises you make pile up against your original self-respecting self that was made of iron and steel. And yet, you woman, you are so strong, you find strength in your weakness. You take a deep breath, tell your mind you will see it through, and see it through. Why?
Why? And for whom? For your partner? For your husband who unapologetically prioritizes his work before you, your profession? For your in-laws who expect you to be the good homely homemaker who has swallowed her tongue? For some vague definition of society that will have its own negative opinions if you be brave enough to seek your joy? For your parents whom you do not want to hurt, burden or put through any emotional crisis you are certain you can tackle on your own? No. This is not the way. Woman, I know you will pull through on your own and smile like no one will ever know. But you don't need to. Confide, trust, be brave and move on.
Move on to seek your happiness without any sense of guilt. Woman, why do you think just because you are a woman and because your social position is much more intricately entwined to the smooth functioning of your family, you should continue keeping yourself as the last priority? Woman, why do you feel guilty for seeking happiness? You deserve it just as much as any undeserving chauvinist deserves it. Listen to no one who tries to tell you otherwise.
People will pull you down. They will try to snub you, supress you and keep you 'in your place' ever so subtly that you would not even realise how badly you have been manipulated till you gather the courage to break it all, move away and take in a breath of fresh, free air. Talk to your friends, talk to your family. Or talk to your maid. Talk to anyone who won't judge you. Listen to what they say, tell them you need love and warmth and you are not getting it where you now stand. And unfortunately even if their answer is a stereotypical representation of the downsides of being a woman, don't lose heart. If they tell you to hang on, take in a little more pain because it is likely to stop in future or because it is very likely that you will 'get used to it', tell them to go kick themselves in their butt. Impossible, I know. You can ask me, you know. I would take pleasure doing so.
But woman, listen to me. You be good and be brave. The world is waiting for you. I am waiting for you, to meet someone of my own kind, someone who is not free and happy by default, but who has actively sought her own happiness and self-respect and has gone through the pain and confusion that comes in between seeking happiness and resigning to the status quo.
And years after you have moved on, have gone through pain and discomfort not for some third party, but have consciously undergone the trouble and confusion of breaking away from stereotypes knowing that it is for your own good, no one can stop you from being happy. Use your strength to your own benefit. In our benevolence, we keep using our tolerance for others. For once use it for your own self.
Your strength is for a much more positive reason. To nuture, care, love and honour. Don't make your strength a tool for taking in more than you can take, for acknowledging sorrow and unfairness and yet making it a part and parcel of your life. Your strength, woman, is not a placibo. It is a power pill. Use it such. You are already so amazingly brave. It's now the time to make a conscious decision to 'be' brave. Be brave, woman. Move on.
More such reflections on Life Rules
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Hans Poortvliet knows how difficult it is for the Dutch to encourage each other:
"It’s easier for the Dutch to criticise each other than to give each other compliments. It’s not one of our national traits. It’s to do with our Calvinistic nature. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that it’s good to appreciate others. But it doesn’t come naturally to us."
Part of the job
Hans Poortvliet: "Our Calvinistic restraint ensures that we’re sparing with compliments - though daily life
would be more enjoyable if we’d give them more often. ‘You’ve done well’ is rarely heard. And when it is, all too often the reaction is ‘it's just part of my job’."
By contrast, Americans are the complete opposite, says a n US expat, Robert Chesal:
"In the Netherlands you only hear comments when you make a mistake. And if you hear nothing, you take it that everything’s fine. But you don’t get a compliment for it. That’s the way things are here. In America it’s quite different, people are much more generous about complimenting each other."
Robert Chesal has lived in the Netherlands for nearly 25 years. In that time he hasn't come to have serious doubts about himself, but he has had to get used to the lack of praise here:
"Because we give and receive so many compliments in America, Americans are a confident people.
I felt I could do things reasonably well, so I was not dependent on compliments. I’ve had compliments all my life in America. It took some time before I realised they weren’t given in the Netherlands."
Hans Poortvliet says managers of Dutch businesses would do well to appreciate their employees more, by rewarding them with appreciation and compliments. Especially in these days of an ageing population and consequent likely reduction of the labour force. "Employees love being recognised for their input. The main reason they start losing interest in their job is a lack of appreciation," says Mr Poortvliet, who is a manager himself.
Dutch society seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the way people treat each other. "There is a constant need to be self-confident, but very little drive to value each other," is what sociologist Paul Schnabel told on the subject of the evident lack of courtesy in the Netherlands. He sees a possible solution in the Dutch taking it upon themselves to become more considerate and obliging towards each other. "It sounds banal, but that’s what it’s all about."
In an attempt to curb Dutch boorishness Hans Poortvliet was the moving force behind National Compliments day on 1st March (now in it’s 9th year) which has as its motto ‘momentje voor een complimentje’ (a little time for a compliment) and 'waardeer en krijg meer' (appreciate and accumulate).
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Bhatti's niece Mariam had just closed the gate to the house and Bhatti’s driver was about to drive to the Minister’s office when a small white car blocked the way. According to Bhatti’s, nephew, Robinson George, three gunmen emerged, ran to Bhatti's car and started shooting into the rear passenger seat from different sides. The gunmen then fled and Mariam ran to the car to find her uncle severely injured. The rear windscreen and side panes of the vehicle were smashed. The driver rushed Bhatti to a nearby hospital, but he was declared dead on arrival.
The Punjabi Taliban
The attackers left pamphlets behind signed as ‘Tanzim Al Qaida Tehrik Taliban Punjab’, known to be an al Qaida supported Punjabi Taliban movement. The pamphlets stated that Bhatti had been punished for being a blasphemer – probably because of Bhatti’s long-time efforts to change Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law. Critics of the blasphemy law say that instead of protecting religious feelings, the law is being used to settle personal scores.
Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistani government, became an activist for the rights of minorities when he was still a college student according to family members. After assuming the first federal ministerial post for minorities in Pakistan in 2008 he had set himself a few goals he said. One of them was changing the blasphemy law: “We are reviewing all the laws which create anarchy, an inferiority complex and a sense of discrimination”, he said in his typically soft-spoken voice.
Silence through terror
His ideals and belief were severely put to the test in recent years. In 2010 a Christian woman, Asia Noreen, was sentenced to death for blasphemy – though evidence points to the charges arising from nothing more than a small argument her village. Then in January of this year, Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was killed by his own security guard for taking. The guard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri claimed that he’d killed a blasphemer because Taseer was championing Asia Bibi’s case and speaking out for the abolition of the blasphemy law. Qadri was hailed as a hero, and showered with flower petals when he went to court to face murder charges. Pakistan’s extremist right had so cowered the government that no high ranking figure attended Taseer’s funeral. The few parliamentarians, like Bhatti and his colleague ex information minister Sherry Rehman, who had proposed reforms were left in the cold. And any public or political debate about the bill have halted.
Many religious leaders, tribal elders and others have also been killed for their moderate believes – and the subsequent silence has blatantly eaten away the public space of Pakistan’s moderates and given it to the extremists.
There are consequences at every level. Two men outside the home of Bhatti’s mother say they saw the attackers and the car speeding away, but remain silent witnesses. “I saw them speeding away, I saw everything, but when the police asks us we say that we haven’t seen anything. The Taliban can kill me too.”
One small spark of hope may be the dozens and sometimes hundreds of people who publicly give voice to their moderate ideals. A vigil in front of a bookshop in Islamabad hardly drew just 20 demonstrators, but they were standing there. They demanded exemplary punishments for the killers of Taseer and Bhatti and measures that discourage extremists to commit more murders. One banner said it all: ‘Stop this madness’.
Friday, March 4, 2011
The court in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır banned the website, a property of Google Inc., in response to a complaint by the satellite television provider Digiturk, which owns the broadcast rights to Turkish Super League games. Matches broadcast on Digiturk’s Lig TV channel had been illegally posted by several Blogger users on their blogs.
“This is a disproportionate response by the court and undoubtedly has a huge impact on all law-abiding citizens,” cyber-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday, adding that millions of Turkish bloggers and blog readers would be affected by the Diyarbakır court decision.
“[I understand] there is a legitimate concern [regarding Digiturk’s commercial rights] but banning all these websites will not solve the issue. The decision opens the way to collateral damage,” said Akdeniz, who is also a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University.
There are more than 600,000 Turkish bloggers actively using Blogger and some 18 million users from Turkey visited pages hosted by the site last month, Akdeniz said. The ban is expected to fully go into effect within a few days unless it is successfully challenged in court.
“If two people plan a criminal activity on the phone, should we ban the use of telephones all over the country?” asked Deniz Ergürel, the secretary-general of the Media Association.
“We believe this is a wrong approach to the issue and deprives millions of bloggers and Internet users from writing and sharing ideas online,” Ergürel, who is also a regular blogger, told the Daily News on Wednesday. He added that while the violation of Digiturk’s commercial rights should not be ignored, other solutions had to be found. “Even cursing, threatening or cheating over the phone is considered a crime, but this does not imply access to phones all over the country would be banned if there is a case against them,” he said.
In a press release Wednesday, Digiturk said illegal broadcasts of the league games had not stopped despite many warnings about the issue.
“Digiturk has spent $321 million in order to get the right to broadcast Spor Toto Super League matches. However, matches [whose broadcasting rights] belong to Digiturk and Lig TV are broadcasted by certain websites, disregarding all relevant laws,” the company said in its statement. “Thus, we applied to court to ban these websites, and the court decided to ban access to them, after it was proved that although all legal procedures were conducted, the violations were not stopped.”
Bloggers and their readers reacted angrily and quickly to the court decision, with nearly 9,000 users of the social-networking website Facebook joining a group called “Do not touch my blog” in less than two days after the decision was announced. Similar campaigns have also been created on other websites, such as Twitter.
“I can understand that a company tries to protect its rights when they are violated. But I cannot make sense of the banning of all blogs for content illegally used on only a few blogs,” regular blogger Gülşen Çetin, 24, told the Daily News on Wednesday. “The company that is involved says it couldn’t handle the issue with Google. Of course, everybody is responsible for their own claims, but this is not an excuse for them to cause such a big censorship event.”
Read the complete article by ERISA DAUTAJ ŞENERDEM here
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
Muammar Gaddafi is doing everything in his power to stop the Libyan revolution in its tracks. He has rejected dialogue in favour of brute force. The international community has condemned the violence in no uncertain terms. On Wednesday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of serious violations of international law and human rights in Libya. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on Tuesday for an independent international investigation, condemning the "callousness with which Libyan authorities and their hired guns are reportedly shooting live rounds of ammunition at peaceful protesters".
Dr Pillay, a former judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, says such actions could constitute crimes against humanity. But the ICC’s current chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo says his hands are tied. This week he announced that the solution lies first and foremost in the hands of Libya; the ICC can only serve as a legal last resort.
The ICC can only intervene if Libya refuses or is unable to carry out its own investigation into the crimes. Until such times, Mr Ocampo can only wait on the sidelines. If Gaddafi is toppled, a new regime may want to bring him to justice before a Libyan court. Ocampo will only be able to act if Libya’s new leaders are unwilling or unable to take such steps.
But that scenario is still a long way off. This week Gaddafi declared that he would fight on until the last bullet. Mr Ocampo is bound by the Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty that led to the founding of the ICC. Gaddafi’s regime is not a signatory to the treaty and has therefore banished the prosecutor to the sidelines for the time being.
Yet there is still a chance that the ICC may come into action. First of all, the UN Security Council might instruct Mr Ocampo to carry out investigations in Libya. However, the Security Council is very much divided on the ICC. So far the UN has only asked Mr Ocampo to conduct investigations in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur.
The other option lies in Tripoli itself. It is extremely unlikely that Gaddafi would ever accept the jurisdiction of the ICC, but a new Libyan regime might. The ball remains in Libya’s court: Ocampo will have to wait and see whether a new Libyan leadership will invite him to investigate the current political violence.
If the ICC takes on the case, it will focus on investigating whether crimes against humanity have been committed. Any crimes committed by Gaddafi before July 2002 will be beyond the court’s jurisdiction.
The International Criminal Court
•The International Criminal Court has been based in the Dutch city of The Hague since July 2002.
•The prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, can only prosecute people suspected of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after 1 July 2002.
•There are 114 signatories to the Rome Statute.
•Five suspects are currently being held at the UN detention facility in Scheveningen. Trials are ongoing against:
•Lubanga (DR Congo)
-Katanga & Ngudjolo Chui (DR Congo)
•Bemba (Central African Republic)
•The court' s most wanted suspects are:
•Omar al Bashir (Sudan) for war crimes and genocide
•Joseph Kony (Uganda) for war crimes committed by the LRA rebel group
Sunday, February 27, 2011
From Love Matters:
Living with your boyfriend or girlfriend without being married? It’s still a taboo for most Indians. But a growing number of couples are daring to make the move.
“It’s a constant battle”, says Amrita about her parents insistence that she get married. She and her boyfriend Avinash, both 27, want to wait. They live together in Delhi and have full-time jobs in the fashion industry.
“It came as a shock when I told them we live together,” she says. “I try to explain it with practical arguments. We save money and I tell them honestly we would spend most of our time together anyways. They are not completely okay with it, but I did not leave them much choice.”
It’s because both of their families live far from Delhi that the couple can share a house. “If my parents lived in Delhi, I wouldn’t have a choice but to stay with them,” says Amrita.
“My older brother has been a huge help. He’s met Avinash and convinced my parents that he’s a trustworthy guy, and that it’s safer for me to live with him now I’m in Delhi.”
Amrita told her parents about her relationship with Avinash a year before she moved in with him. At first they found even that hard to accept. Avinash’s family feels the same.
The couple has been together now for five years. As time passes, the pressure to get married builds. “Sure we want to marry eventually,” Amrita says. “But right now we want to focus on other things. We’ve both set certain personal targets, things we want to accomplish career-wise. Our parents don’t understand – they tell us we can do all of that after marriage.”
Disguise the truth
Because of the disagreements, Amrita and Avinash haven’t been able to visit each other’s parental homes. “My aunts and uncles all live there as well and they don’t know about our relationship yet. So my parents wouldn’t be comfortable with me bringing Avinash home,” Amrita explains.
Even in Delhi, the couple sometimes disguise the truth about their living situation. “Our maid, for example, probably assumes we’re married. So does our landlord. Just after we had agreed to take this place, an older lady in the family asked how long we’d been married. We told her we weren’t, and the expression on her face changed. But I think she liked us and luckily she didn’t make an issue out of it.”
Between the couple and their parents, one area remains in Amrita’s words, “grey”. “We don’t discuss sexuality with them. And when they come and stay with us in Delhi, Avinash and I sleep in separate rooms.” She smiles: “Whether, they are in a state of denial, or blissfully ignorant, I don’t know.”
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Welcome to Cuba! Take a seat in the slightly rundown but astonishing theatre of optical illusions and be baffled by the Masters of Mirage, the Castro Brothers. You may think you see something but you can never be sure. The old illusionists are certainly not going to tell you what's really happening. The tricks are concocted behind closed doors by the inner circle and there's no press conference afterwards.
Here we go. The dissidents appear from the hat in rapid tempo one after another and flap around in the spotlights like a flock of doves. In jail since 2003, 75 of them in total, serving decade-long prison sentences for expressing their opinions. But now they're set free. And soon the last dove will rise into the air. Bravo! No democracy without freedom!
Thanks are due to the Catholic Church, which insisted on this performance. And to Orlando Zapata, who died in a hunger strike a year ago trying to get himself and his fellow prisoners released. And to the dissident Guillermo Fariñas who took over Zapata's hunger strike and to whom the Castros capitulated, rather than be internationally embarrassed once again.
Behind the scenes, out of sight of the audience, Fariñas was arrested and released, arrested and released. Zapata's mother was arrested because she wouldn't keep quiet about her dead son. "Orlando lives!" she shouted at a police officer. For a year now the police have been making her life a living hell. While ordinary Cubans neither know nor care about dissidents.
Even so, change does seem to be in the air: the bloggers trick! For years dissident bloggers and journalists like Yoani Sánchez were blocked by Cuba and could only be read abroad. Now, with the snap of a finger, they're back! Give Raúl Castro a hand! Say what you like, surf where you like. No freedom without information! We've seen it in Egypt - social media chase away dictators. Soon Cuba will be Twittering and Facebooking too. Just a pity there are no Cubans in the audience, they couldn't afford the tickets. No one has internet at home and in the hotels it costs six dollars an hour, a week's wages for a Cuban.
Never mind, time for the finale. The Castros are conjuring their last rabbit out of their top hat: the super information highway. Thanks to Venezuela, Cuba will be getting broadband internet. Say goodbye to delays, goodbye to the US embargo! Long live democracy? Read about it in Granma, the Castro Brothers daily magic programme, where it warns that the new cable service "will not result in an explosion of information". Broadband does not means "broader" communication. Still no internet for the ordinary Cuban.
The new capacity is intended for the Cuban government and state-owned companies, where one and a half million people will lose their jobs in the next few months. It's the main event in the Mirage Brothers new show: freedom to earn your own money. The former civil servants are expected to set up their own companies. So that is bound to result in more political leeway, isn't it?
Roll up, roll up, it's the Theatre of Illusions, take a seat and sit back and wait for the arrival of... democracy. Now you see it, now you don't!
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Colonel Gaddafi is losing his grip on the country as the violent chaos in Libya continues. The Dutch government is doing its bit by freezing the regime’s assets in the Netherland. Not that Duthch news papers are under any illusion that the colonel will be losing any sleep over it. But the Dutch press has plenty of suggestions for more action. Enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, a no-fly zone, and a humanitarian air bridge, and a sea blockade. An oil boycott? Armed intervention is the only thing worth bothering with, says historian Gerbert van der Aa. Not feasible, says the other – stick to the no-fly zone.
Meanwhile, Colonel Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, has also been naughty. He’s in trouble with Dutch philosopher Alex Voorhoeve – his old teacher at the London School of Economics – for plagiarism. It’s emerged that he played fast and loose with the quotation marks in his thesis. The worthy thesis is apparently about “the role of civil society in democratisation” and attacks “authoritarian, corrupt regimes that don’t listen to the real needs of the people”. On Monday the author had a slightly different take on authoritarian regimes. He threatened his fellow Libyans they’d be mourning hundreds of thousands of deaths if they didn’t knuckle under and do as his dad told them.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The Hague has a large Hindustani population - immigrants from Suriname, the former Dutch colony in South America, whose forbears originally came from South Asia. With a population of 60,000, they form the city’s largest ethnic minority group. The three communities will foot the bill for the complex themselves. Two apartment blocks providing 45 homes will be built alongside the temple.
The local council has now given the project its final backing, and says the complex will become an icon for the city. Labour Party councillor Rajesh Ramnewash says he is “extremely proud” of the cooperation among the three different Hindu movements, who drew up the plan jointly.
Despite their differences, it proved remarkably simple for the three communities to work together, he says. They were brought together by the need for a “beautiful, serene space” to practice their faith, says Mr Ramnewash. “Until now we were obliged to use out-of-the-way offices or converted garages. Now we can make a start on a huge complex.” The councillor believes it will be the only temple complex in the world to be shared by three divisions of Hinduism.
The sale of the apartment blocks, to be built by a project developer, will generate funds to contribute to the cost of the temple complex. But the three communities can actually afford to pay for the complex themselves. “Otherwise the council wouldn’t have accepted the plan.”
Mr Ramnewash says a tight schedule has been set for the project. The plan is to be finalised within six months. “Construction will start at the end of 2012.” He doesn’t expect the new temple complex to meet with any resistance in the city.
Monday, February 21, 2011
There’s Amsterdam Idaho, Amsterdam Saskatchewan, Amsterdam Virginia, Amsterdam Georgia... you get the picture. In total, there are 16 towns named Amsterdam in North America. And they have become the subject of Amsterdam Stories USA, “an east-to-west road movie” by Dutch filmmakers Rob Rombout and Rogier van Eck.
Why Amsterdam? For both filmmakers, Amsterdam “connects to their Dutch origins and thus to emotions, images and stories.” And, while many European cities have clones in “the New World”, Amsterdam is the only one that has spread across the continent from East to West – perfect for a road movie.
Clogs and windmills
Mr Rombout says that their film about “unknown America” also shows quite a lot of Dutch heritage. “Not people wearing wooden shoes, but there are always windmills. Sometimes they are the biggest building in the whole village. You can even buy Dutch liquorice 'drop' here in the stores. There is always a Dutch element. They are proud of it.” But what do the residents of these small towns and villages think about their home’s namesake? Mr Rombout says they are interested. “Most of them have never been abroad. But I would say they are more interested in Dutch heritage than in Amsterdam heritage. Because Amsterdam unfortunately has this reputation of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll and that’s not really the image they like in the countryside here in America.”
The film is actually the second part in a trilogy of Amsterdam-based feature-length documentaries. The first, Amsterdam via Amsterdam, told the story of a sea expedition between two islands named Amsterdam at the opposite ends of the earth.
The third film, yet to come, will be called Amsterdam Black & White. Mr Rombout describes it as “a double portrait of a small village in South Africa in Transvaal – of course black – and a small village in the North of Holland which is also named Amsterdam which is of course completely white.”
As the slogan goes, I ♥ Amsterdam, all of them. Amsterdam, the Netherlands is the best!
(There is also a small town in Texas called 'Nederland' and 'luling'..the latter, only the Dutch understand that word.))
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
What is the singularity?
The term singularity describes the moment when a civilization changes so much that its rules and technologies are incomprehensible to previous generations. Think of it as a point-of-no-return in history. Most thinkers believe the singularity will be jump-started by extremely rapid technological and scientific changes. These changes will be so fast, and so profound, that every aspect of our society will be transformed, from our bodies and families to our governments and economies.
A good way to understand the singularity is to imagine explaining the internet to somebody living in the year 1200. Your frames of reference would be so different that it would be almost impossible to convey how the internet works, let alone what it means to our society. You are on the other side of what seems like a singularity to our person from the Middle Ages. But from the perspective of a future singularity, we are the medieval ones. Advances in science and technology mean that singularities might happen over periods much shorter than 800 years. And nobody knows for sure what the hell they'll bring.
Talking about the singularity is a paradox, because it is an attempt to imagine something that is by definition unimaginable to people in the present day. But that hasn't stopped hundreds of science fiction writers and futurists from doing it.
Where does the term "singularity" come from?
Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge popularized the idea of the singularity in his 1993 essay "Technological Singularity." There he described the singularity this way:
It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally happens it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown.
Specifically, Vinge pinned the Singularity to the emergence of artificial intelligence. "We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth," he wrote. "The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence."
Author Ken MacLeod has a character describe the singularity as "the Rapture for nerds" in his novel The Cassini Division, and the turn of phrase stuck, becoming a popular way to describe the singularity. (Note: MacLeod didn't actually coin this phrase - he says he got the phrase from a satirical essay in an early-1990s issue of Extropy.) Catherynne Valente argued recently for an expansion of the term to include what she calls "personal singularities," moments where a person is altered so much that she becomes unrecognizable to her former self. This definition could include posthuman experiences.
What technologies are likely to cause the next singularity?
As mentioned earlier, artificial intelligence is the technology that most people believe will usher in the singularity. Authors like Vinge and singulatarian Ray Kurzweil think AI will usher in the singularity for a twofold reason. First, creating a new form of intelligent life will completely change our understanding of ourselves as humans. Second, AI will allow us to develop new technologies so much faster than we could before that our civilization will transform rapidly. A corollary to AI is the development of robots who can work alongside - and beyond - humans.
Another singularity technology is the self-replicating molecular machine, also called autonomous nanobots, "gray goo," and a host of other things. Basically the idea is that if we can build machines that manipulate matter at the atomic level, we can control our world in the most granular way imaginable. And if these machines can work on their own? Who knows what will happen. For a dark vision of this singularity, see Greg Bear's novel Blood Music or Bill Joy's essay "The Future Doesn't Need Us"; for a more optimistic vision, Rudy Rucker's Postsingular.
And finally, a lot of singulatarian thought is devoted to the idea that synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and other life sciences will eventually give us control of the human genome. Two world-altering events would come out of that. One, we could engineer new forms of life and change the course of human evolution in one generation. Two, it's likely that control over our genomes will allow us to tinker with the mechanisms that make us age, thus dramatically increasing our lifespans. Many futurists, from Kurzweil and Steward Brand, to scientists like Aubrey De Gray, have suggested that extreme human longevity (in the hundreds of years) is a crucial part of the singularity.
Have we had a singularity before?
The singularity is usually anticipated as a future transformation, but it can also be used to describe past transformations like the one in our example earlier with the person from 1200. The industrial revolution could be said to represent a singularity, as could the information age.
In 1992, Vinge predicted that "in 30 years" we would have artificial intelligence. We've still got 12 years to go - it could happen! In his groundbreaking 2000 essay for Wired, "The Future Doesn't Need Us," technologist Joy opined:
The enabling breakthrough to assemblers seems quite likely within the next 20 years. Molecular electronics - the new subfield of nanotechnology where individual molecules are circuit elements - should mature quickly and become enormously lucrative within this decade, causing a large incremental investment in all nanotechnologies.
And in the 2005 book The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil says the singularity will come "within several decades."
Longevity scientist De Gray says that our biotech is advanced enough that a child born in 2010 might live to be 150, or 500 years old. MIT AI researcher Rodney Brooks writes in his excellent book Flesh and Machines that it's "unlikely that we will be able to simply download our brains into a computer anytime soon." Though Brooks does add:
The lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as unrecognizable to us as our use of information technology in all its forms would be incomprehensible to someone form the dawn of the twentieth century.
So when will the singularity really happen? It depends on your perspective. But it always seem like it's just a few decades off.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia's assimilation of different cultures was "genius" because it encourages immigrants to integrate as citizens rather than behave simply as "guest workers".
"To me, multiculturalism is a bit like a marriage. It has its stresses and strains," Bowen told the conservative Sydney Institute think-tank late on Wednesday.
"We have to remind each other occasionally that we are better off with each other. It takes nurturing; it takes care. "It is in that spirit tonight that I quite proudly proclaim that Australian multiculturalism has worked.
"That not only has Australia benefited from the immigration of those who come from diverse backgrounds, but we have also benefited from the cultures they have brought and sustained in this, their new homeland."
Bowen's strident defence comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a "muscular liberalism" to force the country's diverse population to coexist more closely as a society.
Chancellor Angela Merkel last year declared that German multiculturalism has "utterly failed", while French President Nicolas Sarkozy also called his country's policies a "failure".
The debate in Europe has heated up in recent years with the onset of homegrown Islamic extremism, but Bowen said some countries had deeper-rooted problems.
"Germany has regarded immigration as an economic necessity. A requirement for guest workers has driven an economic immigration policy," he said. "Never has a German government proposed a policy of respect for existing cultures where they do not clash with basic German values.'' He added: "France's resistance to a formal policy of multiculturalism has not encouraged greater integration of immigrant societies but, on the contrary, it has bred resentment, separatism and violence."
Australia has absorbed generational waves of immigrants, from Chinese during the 1800s Gold Rush to Vietnamese, Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and finally large numbers of Indian students in the past few years. But immigration remains a political flashpoint with intense debate over the steady arrival of rickety boats carrying asylum-seekers from poor countries. Last Thursday, conservative opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison faced calls to resign after he reportedly urged the shadow cabinet to play on fears over Muslim migrants in its attacks on the government.
Australia has an uneasy relationship with its Islamic community. Sydney's Cronulla Beach saw riots in 2005 when mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians in a bid to "reclaim the beach".
Dozens of Muslim men have been jailed in Australia under strict anti-terrorism laws which also saw the wrongful imprisonment of an Indian-born doctor following failed attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007.
Bowen said it was "inevitable" that Muslim migration would be questioned "in the age of concern about terrorism inspired by extremist Islam" and condemned "values such as Sharia law or religious intolerance or violence". It is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism, whether Islamic or otherwise," he said.
But Australia was also engulfed in controversy in 2009, when a spate of attacks and robberies targeting Indian students drew street protests in Sydney and Melbourne and accusations of racism in Indian media.
But its patchwork society remains generally harmonious, despite occasional flare-ups. Last week, TV personality Eddie McGuire was condemned for calling diverse western Sydney the "land of the falafel".