Joho the Blog » peace

December 31, 2012

The top 5 stories in my town

Here are five of the top stories of the year according to our local weekly paper, the Brookline Tab. The paper says that these stories are in no particular order, and that another five will follow next week.

  • Styrofoam and plastic bags have been banned.

  • Residents are reporting that a a few of the wild turkeys roaming our streets have been aggressive.

  • A 180-pound black bear was spotted around town. It was tranquilized and transported to a wilder part of the state.

  • After losing a bid to build 271 residential units in Hancock Village, developers filed for permission to build an affordable housing project.

  • A dean at the public high school claimed he was passed over for the headmaster job because he’s African-American. A settlement was reached.


First world problems? What privilege looks like? Sure. But also an occasion to remember how blessed peace is, how wretched anything but peace is, and how fortunate we are that for our town peace is so mundane.

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August 18, 2011

Internet, freedom, and the tools of circumvention

Three new reports have come out of the Berkman Center:

The Evolving Landscape of Internet Control

by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, Rob Faris, Jillian York, and John Palfrey

This paper summarizes the results of the studies we have undertaken in order to better understand the control of the Internet in less open societies. It provides an overview of our research in the context recent changes in the methods used to control online speech, and some thoughts on the challenges to online speech in the immediate future.

International Bloggers and Internet Control
by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, Jillian York, Rob Faris, and John Palfrey

Infringements on Internet freedom, particularly through Internet filtering and surveillance, have inspired activists and technologists to develop technological counter-measures, most notably circumvention tools to defeat Internet filters and anonymity tools to help protect user privacy and avoid online surveillance efforts. However, despite the perceived importance of this field, relatively little is known about the demand for and usage patterns of these tools. In December 2010, we surveyed a sample of international bloggers to better understand how, where, why, and by whom these tools are being used.

Circumvention Tool Evaluation

by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, and John Palfrey

This paper evaluates 19 circumvention tools tested in five countries. In this report, we focus on questions of utility—the ability for a tool to be installed and used in a particular location, and the accuracy and speed of the tool. Additionally, we address concerns about security, usability and openness when appropriate.

Drawing on background research, meetings with tool developers, consultations with experts, interviews with users, structured surveys, and technical evaluations, these publications help improve our overall understanding of the role of circumvention tools in promoting greater Internet openness.

We are grateful for the participation of Global Voices Online and for the work of those who translated our blogger survey into more than a dozen languages. We offer our special thanks to the bloggers that participated in the survey.

For more information about the Berkman Center’s research on circumvention, including links to these and other reports, please visit: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/circumvention

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March 16, 2011

Episcopalian Rector prohibited from adopting Muslim rituals for Lent

According to an article at St. Louis Today by Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Steve Lawlor, a part-time rector at an Episcopal church took up elements of Islamic ritual for Lent.

On Wednesday, the first day of Lent, he began performing salah five times a day, by facing east, toward Mecca, and praying to Allah. He also started studying the Quran and following Islamic dietary restrictions by abstaining from alcohol, pork and fish. During Holy Week, he planned to fast from dawn to sunset as Muslims do during Ramadan.

He avoided rituals that would have conflicted with church doctrine; for example, he skipped the prayers declaring Mohammed to be G-d’s prophet.

Steve did this as a way of understanding Islam, especially in the light of the McCarthyite hearings being held by Rep. Peter King.

But, Bishop George Wayne Smith considered it to be a forsaking of his Christianity, and to be play-acting. The Bishop forbade Steve from continuing, saying:

“I believe what he’s trying to accomplish or says he’s trying to accomplish, which is to deepen his understanding of Islam, is admirable,” he continued. “But you dishonor another faith by pretending to take it on. You build bridges by building relationships with neighbors who are Muslim.”

Not an unreasonable statement, nor an islamophobic one (although we could have done without the “or says he’s trying to accomplish” statement of distrust). But, it’s a false disjunction. You can build bridges both ways. More important, what Steve was doing was not quite pretending. Rather, it was enacting the rituals and finding in them similarities of meaning. I can understand the Bishop’s discomfort with this. For example, as I understand it, Jews are forbidden from kneeling while praying, and thus could not perform the five daily prayers the Muslim way, for ritual has meaning. That’s why performing — enacting — another religion’s rituals can help in understanding that religion. Performing another religion’s rituals thus is subject to contradictory objections: (a) The performance of empty gestures is mere play-acting and thus disrespectful. Or, (b) the performance of ritual is never mere play-acting because ritual always carries inner meaning, so performing the rituals of another religion is transgressive of one’s own religion.

Yet, between these poles of negativity there can be respectful intent, the possibility of genuinely furthering one’s understanding, and make a statement of shared humanity in the face of the shameful fear-mongering of Rep. King and his followers.


Two references, of very different sorts. First, there’s Stephen Colbert’s bit about giving up Christianity for Lent. Second, Islamicate mentions (in the post where I found the link to the “Muslim for Lent” story) that s/he has spent the past six weeks in an Episocpal seminary. Fascinating.

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January 11, 2011

Tech for Peace report

I haven’t had a chance to read this yet, but it sounds promising:

10 January 2011, Switzerland: The ICT4Peace Foundation, in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and GeorgiaTech, is pleased to release, on the occasion of the anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the first in a series of papers looking at the increasingly important role of information and communication technology (ICT) in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, peacekeeping and crisis response.

Unlike other papers on innovative technologies (crowdsourcing, social networking etc) dealing with crisis response, reconstruction and humanitarian aid, this collection of thought provoking pieces by esteemed writers, including former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Martti Athisaari and a younger generation of cutting edge practitioners and scholars in this fast moving space, aims to encourage meaningful debate and action on how to solve the serious challenges that still exist in the effective use of ICTs.

You can download it here.

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September 22, 2010

Whatever happened to peace?

When I was a lad and then a young man and a young academic, peace used to be an idea we studied, debated, marched for. It was a central concept around which movements and university centers were built.

Now I cant recall the last time I heard someone arguing about peace. I’m sure there are still researchers and activists working on peace issues. But it has dropped from public consciousness as a topic or even as a goal. Why?

I only have some hunches.

During my time with the concept of peace, I saw it incorporate conflict. Peace was getting a bad name as a wooly-headed, utopian idea of the young and recently stoned. So, we built right into the concept of peace — and into the names of the academic centers dealing with it — the idea that peace is not the absence of conflict. A peaceful world would still be at odds with itself. Otherwise, we’ve defined peace into unattainability.

Over time, perhaps (remember, this is a hunch), the focus shifted from peace to conflict studies. First, peace is such a high value that putting it into an academic centers name makes the center sound partisan. And Lord knows, we wouldn’t want academics to have a partisan bias in favor of peace! Second, it’s far easier to be practical and helpful about resolving conflicts than about bringing peace.

I have no problem with this — if these hunches are correct — except that there’s still a role for thinking about peace. For example, we hear lots about cyberwar, cyberterrorism, and cybersecurity, but comparatively little about what a cyberpeaceful Net might look like.

Is it time to give thinking about peace another chance?

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October 10, 2009

Obama’s dignity

Robert Fuller has a good post at DailyKos that speculates that the Nobel committee was rewarding Obama for his “dignitarian” politics. “Dignitarian politics represents a modern synthesis of libertarian and egalitarian politics.”

Dignitarianism is Robert’s political philosophy. I don’t know the specifics of it, but I like the word it’s based on.
The term has come to connote someone who remains polite and proper, no matter what the occasion, because of a sense of self-worth and confidence. That’s part of what Obama manifests as “coolness” — not in the hep cat sense (yes, I just said “hep cat”), but in the way he refused to rise to the bait the way many of his supporters were hoping he would during the debates with McCain.

Even more important than being dignified is treating others with dignity. Being dignified can be a trick of manners or a technique for self defense, but consistently treating others with dignity is a profound statement of what you think matters in this world. That is what many around the globe are responding to when they hear Obama, especially when they remember the cacklin’ cowboy who came before him. (Pardon me. When it comes to GW Bush, I make an exception to the rule of dignity. I am no Obama.) It is also what many in our national political scene respond to negatively about Obama, confusing it with compromise, appeasement, weakness, or triangulation.

Treating people with dignity is an acknowledgment of the equality of worth aspirations. Your life and values are as serious to you as mine are to me. Dignity is thus hope’s social self. But, for peacemakers, it is also highly pragmatic. If you will not accord opponents dignity, then your only alternative is to conquer them. Sometimes that is required. But a peaceful world is built on dignity accorded to others.

That is what President Obama brings. Coming from the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, it is worth a Nobel Peace Prize if only as a legacy to be fulfilled.

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July 3, 2009

Coup Coup Catch You?

Ethan is once again knowledgeable and provocative, this time about what it takes for a coup to get some attention in this country. He compares the media’s interest in Honduras’ institutional coup (as a guy called it last night on The News Hour) with the almost complete ignoring of various coups in Africa.

Ethan concludes (but read the whole thing):

So why does Honduras get the Iran treatment, while Niger is ignored like Madagascar? Proximity? Strategic importance? (though Niger’s got massive uranium reserves – you remember yellowcake, right?) It’s not population – Niger’s roughly twice the size of Honduras. Expectation? Perhaps we’re sufficiently accustomed to African coups (Madagascar, Mauritania and Guinea in the past year) that Niger’s not a surprise.

Or perhaps all the pundits are still trying to figure out which one’s Nigeria and which one’s Niger…

Ethan conspicuously leaves out racism — the soft racism (as that ol’ phrase President George W. Bush once put it) of not knowing, not caring, and not bothering to develop a narrative.

(By the way, be sure to click on the link in the quote from Ethan. It leads to one of The Onion’s funniest videos ever.)

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June 2, 2009

[berkman] Lokman Tsui: Beyond objectivity

Lokman Tsui is giving a Berkman talk called “Beyond Objectivity: Global Voices and the future of Journalism.” This is based on research he’s been doing for his doctoral dissertation.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Lokman has been long interested in the Chinese Internet. He was born and raised in Amsterdam, and says that the Dutch often don’t like difference and diversity; they’re struggling with the idea of cultural complexity. After wrestling with what to study, he talked with Andrew Lih and came away wanting to study something that works but that we don’t understand well. Lokman chose Global Voices.

He’s interested in “how the world comes to know itself.” Lokman thinks journalism is crucial to this. James Carrey [sp?]: The public is what forms when people get together to talk about the news. Now, with the Internet, we have strangers everywhere. “What does that mean for the kind of journalism we want?” Lokman cites Habermas. We need to re-think journalism. “My purpose here is not to celebrate the Internet” or to dismiss the dangers, but to see it as an historic opportunity. By thinking about the global nature of communication, we can design better institutions.

His research begins with a study of GV as a a “newsroom.” What are the journalists’ routines? How do they socialize? How do they get news? E.g., it used to be easy and convenient to get info from gov’t sources, leading to a bias towards those sources. But the GV newsroom is different. Multicultural, global. And the newsroom is online, which leads to different interactions and shapes the news. We need a new conceptual toolkit to understand it.

Is GV journalism at all? GV is the trickster of journalism, in Lewis Hyde’s sense: it provokes us to respond and develop. GV and journalism are both ways of seeing. There are three ideals of journalism, intertwined with ideals of democracy. (1) Professional J, with liberal democracy, aimed at providing information. (2) Alternative media, with participatory democracy, aimed at representation. (3) Public journalism along with deliberative democracy, aimed at conversation.For a long time, we’ve taken objectivity as the “gold standard” of journalism. But this doesn’t make sense for public journalism; it makes no sense to ask whether a conversation is objectivity. How do we judge conversations? GV gives some hints. GV supports “communicative” democracy (a la Iris Young) , aiming at conversation, and replacing objectivity with hospitality. Habermas was thinking of coffee houses where people have to bracket differences to enable conversation. Hospitality enables conversations even when there’s a disparity of power. Differences can be very useful in having a good conversation. E.g., the powerful host serves the guest, subverting the power relationship. That’s hospitality. It’s a way of judging journalism as well, seeking to include difference and diversity.

Hospitality goes back to Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” His third law suggests that hospitality is a right based on the fact that we share a world. Kant says we cannot refuse a visitor if it will lead to his/her destruction. Hospitality is about access, recognition, and appropriate response. Arendt wrote about intersubjectivity as a way toward truth. We now have an abundance of stories on line. The constraints have changed, so the way we judge journalism should change. The challenge is that, while the cost of speech as gone down, our attention is still scarce.At RottenTomatoes.com, the objectivity is in the dry summary. But the subjective reviews are more interesting and useful. The professionals should aggregate and amplify all these voices. You need to put them all together. What would an aggregation site look like for the news? It’d look a bit like GV. You get curated news and posts and tweets, and then comments and conversation.

Q: [me] Why has the term “hospitality” become less used precisely when we are most in contact with different cultures?
A: It may be partially due to the paradox of choice, and a fear of the unknown that’s come about in recent years. We’re very happy to send our products, our TV programs, and our money everywhere. But the flow of people is restricted. And it’s a matter of being able to listen, which some places are better at than others. I’m playing with the hospitality ratio: how much you listen vs. how much you speak. E.g., how many films you import vs. expert. A few years ago I looked at how many links link back to you and how many links to others. I compared a-list blogs and newspapers. Newspapers didn’t link out much at all.

Q: How do we train people for journalism?
A: J is a craft as well as a profession. The Internet is making us think about J as a craft: pursuing excellence for its own sake in something you care about. Most GV people think of themselves as craftspeople. Q: Where’s the hook in what you’re saying? And, btw, journalist didn’t come out of people seeking the truth but hard-drinking people who were getting paid to present a point of view. Also, you might look at Erik Erikson.

Q: Hospitality is reciprocal. How might the concept of respect apply to journalism?
A: Reciprocity is a huge part of hospitality. It means journalist need to include more views.Q: There are many public spheres, even within GV.
A: Yes.

Q: Does GV connect to other kinds of civic spaces, other than journalism?
A: GV isn’t just a bunch of people trying to do journalism. It’s an infrastructure for other sorts of projects, such as translation, herdict.org… There are tons of other civic practices there. Q: [ethanz] I want to temper some of your optimism. I think it’s great that you’re offering a new criterion — hospitality — for evaluating journalism. I think these ideas get stronger in combination. My main criticism of your work is that you’re not critical enough of GV [which Ethan co-founded]. GV is at best partially successful.

[I missed the last few questions. Sorry.] [Tags: ]

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May 13, 2009

TED translates

TED has started a great new project: Distributed translations of TED Talks. Taking a page from Global Voices, it’s crowd-sourcing translations.

This is exactly what should happen and is a great solution for relatively scarce resources such as TED talks. Figure out how to scale this and get yourself a Nobel prize.

By the way, TED has also introduced interactive transcripts: Click on a phrase in the transcript and the video skips to that spot. Very useful. And with a little specialized text editor, we could have the edit-video-by-editing-text app that I’ve been looking for.

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May 1, 2009

On being a fool in a foreign public

Yet another important post from Ethan Zuckerman. He’s working through what it takes to connect with others who are unlike us, and why the Internet has not done much of a job replacing airplane tickets as the way to learn to love difference. Most of the post — which proceeds by telling several stories — puts it in terms of the value of dorkiness. But at the end, Ethan expresses its fuller form: We have to be willing to be a fool in public — and a foreign public, in this case — if we are to forge the bonds that will let us love the difference in others. And all I’d add to this magnificent post is that (it seems to me) in the moment we let ourselves become the fool, we acknowledge the dignity of the place, and we become the foreigner in a homeland.

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