Archive for October, 2010

Currently I am attempting to write an essay about the pacification project by the government in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This project aims at replacing the violent military police BOPE (as you might know from the movie Tropa de Elite) with a so-called socially trained police called Pacification Police Unit (UPP).

The main objective is the recovery “of these areas lost to trafficking and socially including the most marginalised of the population through the implementation of this special unit. The project’s official website explains that this unit is a new model of Public Security and policing which promotes a closer and improved relation between the police and the citizens. The main objective of this program is to integrate the police into community life. It is a strategic concept based on the collaboration of the citizens and the public security institutions.


How will this new protector be received? The feelings of a traumatised people that has given up to believe in the government’s goodwill are now mixed with new hope, but also with simultaneous disappointment as those promises are not entirely lived up to. This is reflected in the discussion about the UPP. On the one hand positive voices are heard. Violence has significantly decreased and most of the drugs lords are exiled from the favelas that are occupied by the UPP. In Cidade de Deus, for instance, is no more shooting. One particular news item reports on a high authority from the UK who visited the favela and the fact that there was no extra protection necessary in order to receive this woman.

Other reports, interviews and comments in discussions on the web argue that favela residents have embraced the new police men. They are accepted as new authorities in the favelas and have even replaced the drugs trafficker as the young boys’ hero. On the other hand, however, it is argued that politicians have a clear stake in the implementation, seeing a new possibility to gain votes by the middle class. Also, two major international events – the olympic games and the world cup in 2014 and 2016 – at which Brazil can prove its socio-economic improvements to the outside world are seen as important motives for “organising” the city. As they initiated the program in the favelas located in the city’s south (Zona Sul), the richest and most touristy area of the city, the effect would be much more visible to the middle class than starting in the peripheries or suburbs of the city. Moreover, it is argued that precisely these favelas in which the UPP has been installed are those that are considered less violent. In the most challenging favelas the operation has not started yet. These critiques are hard to prove, but reflect the wary attitude towards the government by a part of the population.

While the implementation of the UPP has proved to be successful in providing security in terms of significant reduction of violence inside the favelas within which they operate, one might argue what “security” entails. Is pacification enough? And will the end of violence bring peace, and not the least important, equality? That is, what do we consider violence, merely armed violence or violence in terms of lack of access to basic services? When these areas were under rule of drugs traffickers, access to water, electricity, cable tv and housing was democratised. No that these economies are formalised, costs rise and access to these services become very expensive for most residents.

But perhaps more important is the question of participation of the local people in this process. An article in Direito Para Quem, a human rights journal, gives a voice to Rapper Fiell, who explains that the famous Funk parties (Baile Funk) are now prohibited, just as the cyber cafés and other “illegitimate” forms of leisure. This same guy took the initative to create a flyer that informs about the rights of the people and how they are often abused by the police. He claims: “On the asphalt (middle class/elite areas) people like the work of the UPP, but here in the favela we are forced to adapt to the program without the ability to participate”. What about a participatory democratic process, in which citizens have a voice? Doesn’t the fact that the UPP occupies these favelas suggests that this is a form of repression?

Pacification certainly is a good step, but too often policy makers fail to take into account local structures. Something that struck me in Brazil is the very strong social organisation in the form of, for instance, neighbourhood or community associations that represent the voices of the people. To what extent do they have a role in the implementation of this project? It’s hard to form an opinion about an oversea situation… For now I just got upset by the fact that Fiell’s Funk parties had stopped. I just sent a friend request to the APAFUNK (associação dos profissionais e amigos do FUNK – association of professionals and friends of FUNK)..

In this new era of digital publishing, we should not only be concerned with the things we can can do in our leisure time, moreover, we should try to find the boundaries of what digital publishing can mean to our education system. First of all, I find it remarkable that online reading still finds very little support in the Dutch school system. Only in New Media Master did I receive the majority of the texts online, but previous studies still favored paper editions over online ones. Another remarkable notion is that e-readers are said to be inaccessible to everybody because they would be too expensive. This reasoning is based on very short term thinking as online reading first of all gives you the option of reading many texts online for free instead of having to buy an expensive reader. Secondly, buying books in PDF or other e-reader friendly formats is often much cheaper than buying the complete book.

A little research on the Internet already provided for a huge range of articles written about this topic. Apple for example implemented the iPod touch in a primary school to further help students who have English as a second language. Though the device has many similarities with the Dictaphone, it seems to me that the ease of saving and recalling information possibly makes it successful. Students could see their progress due to the organizing capabilities of the iPod.

On higher education level, the Abilene Christian University has a pioneering program on mobile reading and learning which they successfully launched in 2008. They experiment with mobile learning in providing students and teachers with an ever present library ‘to offer students and faculty opportunities to experiment with emerging forms of social, informational and media access’. Considering my own experiences, when you do have an e-reader to your availability, you are triggered to take it with you and use it more often. And we seem to move on rapidly; textbook producer Macmillan has launched a software program called Dynamicbooks where teachers can edit their textbooks by adding or deleting parts of the book so it can be more conform with their own lesson material for example. Both Gizmodo and the New York Times refer to this as a Wikipedian way of dealing with the lesson material. Though the idea of everybody being an editor very much appeals to me, we should keep in mind the possible misleading way to transfer information to students as teachers might give a very one sided view on the subject. The academic community should be careful in deciding to apply these techniques on a bigger scale.

At this point, the e-book is still causing me some stress but I can also see the great potential it has for mobile learning environments and efficiency. Though we should not forget the implications this can have on students and definitely don’t think too lightly about this, we have a bright e-future ahead of us.

If you want to know more about copyrights, piracy and the whole industry around it, this is your chance. Enjoy!

I have only been there once, but still, when I hear the name Israel my senses are set sharp. There is something addictive about it and I haven’t figured out yet what it is; the food, or the people, or the climate, or maybe it’s just because it’s in the news all the time. Of course, having many Israeli friends certainly helps you getting interested in the cause, but the last year I had the feeling that something was pulling me over to the other side more and more.

The conflict has caught me since I was 18, but the remarkable thing is that my opinion was never solid. I started off as very Pro-Israel, but over the years, I have also realized what impact the media has had on my perception. It is then that I started to digg deeper into the matter. And it was only after reading Joris Luyendijks book that my interest for the Palestinian cause was triggered as well. Before, I had only seen them as ‘the other’ bluntly said, all making the Arabic conspiracy complete. After reading the book ‘het zijn net mensen‘, I realized the incredible difficult position the Palestinians are facing, living under a double dictatorship without having a clearly defined peace of land. And maybe this sounds rather obvious nowadays, but I wonder how many people have thought the same with me 2 years ago…

The next question is: what can we do about it? The first time I heard about youth media was when one of my friends went to Israel with a program called Holyswitch. Joyce went to Jerusalem to increase mutual understanding between Israeli and Palestinian youth through blogging. Teenagers from both sides were asked to take up the dialogue and try to understand more of each others’ culture. Although this sort of projects might be done regularly, hearing the experiences of a friend always makes it more compelling. At the same time, it makes me feel hopelessly powerless. The amount of projects must be quite numerous, and still, what have they reached? The average Israeli still sees the Palestinian as a terrorist and the Palestinians just think of Israeli’s of the suppressor that stole their land. But I start to see the use of smaller scale projects more and more.

Grassroots projects are often trying to make a difference in communities rather than on a national level. Can smaller media projects then offer a solution? Does Internet provide a new way of understanding and offering dialogue where both parties can carefully explore enemy’s terrain? Maybe we should all stop to aim for the bigger crowd, but rather focus on small scale levels. Then again, I guess we need organizations such as the UN as an overlooking organ and that can also get on the government level.

I feel lost. Should we go top-down or bottom up? Is there a way to meet in the middle? Or do we keep missing each other? SOS, how do we save the world?

Last years have been devout to digital publishing and the e-readers. The media made it seem that it was the new big thing and even my mother was considering an iPad. Because I was always annoyed by the enormous spillage of paper during my studies, I too thought it might be time for some digitization of my personal life: the BeBook Neo. It was only just on the Dutch markets, still significantly cheaper than the iPad and several online reviews sounded promising.

Compared to some older versions such as the Kindle and Sony, this version was supposed to offer Wi-Fi connections and open up regular websites. That made it sound more and more like the iPad, but like the review on Pocket Lint shows, reality proved to be less Utopian. Though I am happy with the amount of files you can upload on the reader, reading them can be a pain. The first threshold was the fact that Word documents cannot be opened on the screen. This I find quite remarkable and annoying as it is one of the formats used extensively for texts.

Another problem is the navigation and the zooming. It cost me some time to figure out how to zoom in on the texts correctly, as there are multiple options and my patience with manuals is very limited. When I did figure out how to do it right and get the text on a readable size on my whole screen, I discovered that to fit it all on the page, BeBook automatically cuts of words and sentences in the least discrete way. Reading a text where the last letter of the word is on the next line does not invite to efficiency.

The latter is strengthened by the stylo. BeBook uses a stylo, apart from the control buttons at the bottom of the tablet to navigate. Unlike reviewer Chris Hall, I don’t think this is a problem in itself but the fact that it isn’t very accurate is. I tried to tweak the level of accuracy a few times, but without results. Using the stylo to precisely mark pieces of texts continues to be a bit of a pain.

Another feature of the BeBook Neo is the option to surf the net, at least that’s what it makes believe. The real option, in my opinion stays out. I tried several times to get on my e-mail account and send a short message, but even that took me more than 15 minutes. It does not for example find the WiFi connection automatically and every time you move away from the Internet page, it demands you to connect to the Internet again and go through the whole process all over. Apart from that, it is slow and not very user friendly. But I have to admit that it has helped me out several times in emergency situations where no other means of media were at my service.
All in all, you might ask yourself why I am still trying to work my way around with Onyx Boox newest invention as using it seems to generate more complications than pleasant reading outcomes. The other side of the story is that my information is ever present, when I’m in the train, the waiting room or in a break. Already many times I ended up in a situation where I unexpectedly had to wait for a certain amount of time and where I was more than happy to have my 7000 pages and 298 grams of literature right in my handbag.

All the above, but especially the fact that I have all my article available to me at any moment made me curious as to how digital publications can be of influence in education. What else is there to explore? Can both teachers and students benefit from the new ways to engage? I will dig deeper into the subject in my post about Digital Publishing for Education.

More BeBook Neo reviews:

The E-Reader Store (Dutch)

PC Advisor

As students enrolled in the conflict studies program we were privileged to assist and participate in a masterclass by Frans Timmerman, a Dutch politician for the PvdA (labour party) and the Minister for European Affairs in the Fourth Balkenende cabinet (2007). He has also been the private secretary to Max van der Stoel, the High Commissioner on National Minorities for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE). Although I do not directly pursue such a career, I was curious to know more about his experiences.

Frustrated with his party’s shift to opposition he was very urged to talk about the current political situation in the Netherlands. Polarization, populism and Geert Wilders. “Do you think voters are rational?”

According to Timmerman we Europeans are spoiled. Naturally, our problem today is not that we’re still the most wealthy and that others are in fact very poor. What is at stake, instead, is that there’s no longer an improvement of our wealthiness and that there is a decline. Thus, feelings of fear and resentment arise. Our secure position – access to healthcare, education, employment – is under threat and we need to find a scapegoat. It’s so easy to turn against an ethnic other…

Timmermans made a remark about the distribution of the votes for the PVV (Wilder’s party) in relation to the multiculturality of a city. It appeared that in the “whitest” cities the number of PVV votes was much higher compared to the bigger cities and multicultural neighbourhoods. He has done a small research by interviewing a couple of hundreds of people that voted for the PVV in these cities and apparently people seek for someone that shows empathy with their fears. These fears are fundamentally social (health, employment, welfare), but are threatened by this other that appears to be around.

But that is nothing very new. We know that this is exactly what is happening in an increasing number of western countries. What hasn’t been discussed, however, is the way in which we tend to counter this problem of different ethnicities by multiculturalizing our society, but more importantly, with our integration policy. The latter forces the ethnic other to “stop being who they are” and become more like us. Can you expect someone to become someone else? To do away with the foundations of your self? Does our expectatio of them to adapt and their difficulty to do this results in frustration from both sides (they don’t want to adapt – they don’t respect us for who we are)?

From immigrants we moved to our role as citizens in society. Although the state’s role to exercise control is decreasing, we still tend to outsource everything to the state and, as a consequence, we expect that this higher force can resolve all our problems. We have rights, and they have obligations. But what if we subvert these roles? What if they have rights, and we have obligations? Have we become so individualised that we lost our feeling, or rather, obligation to be solidary? Have we lost the patience to understand the other and thus build a community? Timmermans gave an example of a man that bumped into him on the street. The man reacted very aggressive, because his way was blocked. I experience this so often when biking through Amsterdam; people who curse you when you accidentally bike in their way. Do we focus too much on ourselves, on what we want, and on our freedom? Could one perhaps argue that the “freedom” we claim is becoming competitive, as in “my freedom is better when it takes your freedom”?

Finally, this anti-solidary tension in our society recalls that deeply buried and vague memory of community life and group-feeling, and the guaranty it used to provide for the basic physical and material needs. Smartly, the populist parties in western Europe focus precisely on this aspect. Zizek already explained the rise of the extreme right by claiming that the liberal left has focused so much on multiculturality, tolerance, ethnic equality and environmental issues that the social classes have been forgotten. The extreme right can give these people exactly what they want, and creates an enemy in order to enforce this feeling. Having an enemy fuels the system. And that’s where we come back where we started at. Now the circle is round and the question remains: how to break it open?

During my time in the uVolunteer office I was asked to look for ways to improve the company’s online visibility. Because I was especially interested in other NGO’s and similar initiatives I was surprised by the way these companies made use of Twitter. Twitter seemed to have created a little world of its own where you could start up new initiatives, get in touch with people in the field and have immediate access of information all in the Twitter way. Therefore, I was, and still am interested in how Twitter changes the environment for Grassroots organizations.

Especially on the grassroots level, marketing seems to be an infinite stumbling stone due to a lack of money or expertise. In a blog post by Siena Anstis for the Worlbank, she points out how Twitter is a cheap and multi-way tool to publicize corporations. Twitter in that matter provides new ways to engage and cater to the right audience and at the same time also lets you reflect on your own business. You can update your audience immediately when changes are implemented, and at the same time, they can react and tell you when something is bothering them or give you advice. Especially for grassroots organizations and companies covering a niche work field, Twitter offers the possibility to find like minded people and discuss and compare problems. At uVolunteer for example, I was once putting up posts about a turtle conservation project. A member of another turtle conservation project then contacted me over Twitter with the request to work together. From that point on we kept in touch and managed to combine some services.

But engagement goes further than that. The uncultured project for example uses Twitpics to show the donors where the money goes and how it is spent. Twitter therefore also provides a way to maintain transparency between the organization and its donors. Other than for example the website, you can react immediately to projects and tweets and I believe that it possibly narrows the distance between donors and organizations.

Another way in which Twitter is used for the good is online donations. When the earthquake hit Haiti, the Red Cross was said to have smartly and successfully used Twitter to draw attention to the cause. Like the case in Iran, lots of other media drew attention to the ‘revolution’ Twitter had brought about. By offering possibilities to donate online, support funds were said to have skyrocketed! The question we should ask ourselves here though is: compared to what? The red Cross in general only received 3,6 percent of their actual donations through online media in 2009. Not directly a revolution I would say. The act of donating seems to disappear compared to the amount of tweets and retweets on the matter. In her post: Why Social media is reinventing activism, Sarah Kessler mentions the term ‘Slacktivism’, “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” Differently said, we tweet and moreover, retweet to feel better about ourselves and have the feeling we did in some way engage. Also, one of my fellow students, Onur Yilmaz criticized the impact Twitter really had on the so called revolution in Iran. Isn’t it all a setup? Are we all tricked into believing Twitter is the new kid on the block? On the other hand, new applications will continue to develop and Social Media specialist Beth Kanter already mentioned the Twitpay application where you can donate online in just one tweet. She is positive on the idea that Twitter can make a difference in for NGO’s on a marketing level and will hold the future of online donations in 2012. Although I agree on the idea that payments online are getting easier and perhaps even more popular, I think the same counts for scam. Most people are afraid to do payments online and who’s there to blame? The amount of fake fundraisers will grow once the online payment methods breach.

Maybe more interesting about this new way of engaging with your donors and partners is the effect of immediacy. The reason the Haiti campaign was so successful is possibly because all the information was immediate. People on the spot were tweeting and looking for interaction about the situation and putting up photos. Therefore, Twitter was probably a better provider of the situation than the regular news channels.

Concluding, I would say that Twitter provides a platform where grassroots organizations can build a new type of relationship with their beneficiaries, partners and critics. It offers a way to maintain transparency, but maybe more importantly immediacy. In disaster situations, it certainly helps when someone on the spot can tell you what’s going on. Unmediated and uncensored. Though using Twitter for non-profits as a way to raise money is still a little Utopian. There are new ways and of course it is always nice to have an extra source of income, but we should be careful in our enthusiasm to directly name Twitter the new donation machine. We are just not there yet…

Thursday 21 October, 8:30pm

A couple of months ago I wrote a paper on local activism through the production of videos on local (community) issues. This work is done by an NGO called Video Volunteers (VV). They train a number of people in communities and equip them with the necessary material/tools (camera, pc, etc) and encourage them to produce videos that report on local problems. In this way they tend to pressure local authorities in order to take action and find a solution to their problems. It turns out to be very effective. Not only do these people make a living out of this – besides making these political videos, they also earn some extra money by making commercial videos – they also in  a way empower the local people as they now (feel that they) have voice. The videos are posted online and can be watched by a global audience…

This video was sent to my by VV in their monthly newsletter, and reports on a case of prostitution in a village in the North of India.

What is the value of such an video, what does this simple video change locally? It is something I kept thinking about. It has to compete with billions of other videos online.. But I think, however, that the strenght of such a video lies within the production process. The locals can give their opinion, they feel that they have something important to say, and that people are interested in their stories. Furthermore, when they interview several actors they create a larger network of people involved with the problem, which increases their power as community residents. Finally, a camera and a group of reporters and the idea that a video will be posted on the Internet usually frightens authorities that are unwilling to take action or find solutions, and thus the dwellers might actually change something.

Video Volunteers is one of the examples of “10 Tactics for Turning Information into Action“. Me Like!

I <3 Photoshop

Posted: October 11, 2010 by Fei An in New Media
Tags: , , , , ,

The flyer I made below was the result of tedious work in Inkscape, Gimp and good old Photoshop. Although it seems like a simple flyer, it sure caused me a lot of headaches. I found myself caught in some sort of moral dilemma, where I wanted to use Inkscape and Gimp badly because of their ‘ open sourceness’, but I couldn’t help longing back badly to use the interface where I was already so used to.

In a weak moment, I again volunteered to take up another task for Kriterion and design the flyer for one of the upcoming events. I thought this would be a good way to pressure myself to make something nice of the assignment, instead, I was frustrated all over. After trying to figure out the so called powerful features of Inkscape for hours I gave up, though I refused to let Photoshop win so easily! So I downloaded Gimp in order to still be faithful to the Open Source ideology and not surrender to expensive Adobe. Having almost the same features, I had to sadly conclude that my patience was just pixels short and I had to beg Photoshop on my knees to take me back.

Though I did have one little victory, the one thing that I did manage to do well in Inkscape is the Tipi. This little accomplishment gives hope but it also became clear to me that our designing skills are dependent on the program we use; half an hour in Photoshop and the work was done! I am just not ready yet to separate myself from good old Adobe and you can’t say I didn’t try!