Global Voices

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Syria: Tweeting from the Frontline in Aleppo

Journalist Jenan Moussa is back in Aleppo, Syria, tweeting her experiences as the war between pro- and anti-government forces intensifies. Moussa's tweets are raw and personal, giving readers a snippet of what life is like for those caught in the crossfire.

Moussa observes:

@jenanmoussa: Its great to be back in #Aleppo & meet all my friends. City seems much better than last time I was here. People adapted to war.

Dinner, in Aleppo, is accompanied by the sounds of mortars falling in the distance:

@jenanmoussa: It's dinner time here in #Aleppo. We are having Mexicana chicken as sound of mortars echoes at a distance.

After a night in the city, Moussa wonders:

@jenanmoussa: Morning from #Aleppo. I couldn't sleep till 6 am. Everytime I closed my eyes I imagined bombs falling. God, how do ppl stay sane?

In Aleppo, she visits the site where a Scud missile fell some 45 days earlier. She tweets:

@jenanmoussa: Earlier today I went to site where SCUD missile fell 45 days ago in #Aleppo. 6 bodies are still missing under rubble

Jenan Moussa in Aleppo

Jenan Moussa in Aleppo, at the site where a Scud missile fell 45 days earlier. Photograph shared by @jenanmoussa on Twitter

@jenanmoussa: In #Aleppo I saw a father sitting on rubble, tears in his eyes. He's still looking for bodies of his 2 beautiful daughters & wife

@jenanmoussa: While I was w/ him, father found slippers of a child & handful of hair ( woman's hair) under rubble. ‘Maybe it's my wife’ he told me

Despite the stressful situation, Moussa maintains her humour:

@jenanmoussa: Activists here in #Aleppo laugh at me. I am sometimes only one wearing my flak jacket in house. They are used to the sounds of war.

And then goes to sleep without dinner:

@jenanmoussa: We didn't have dinner tonight. Also no shower. Not a necessity in a city like #Aleppo. Good night you all.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Beyoncé and Jay-Z's Cuba Getaway Offends Diaspora Bloggers

You might not think that political bloggers would be particularly interested in the whereabouts of celebrities, but the minute that the musical power couple, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, touched down in Cuba, an anniversary getaway suddenly became the business of the Cuban diaspora in the United States. While the Cuban embargo doesn't limit travel by U.S. citizens to the island in and of itself (Cuban-Americans are allowed to visit, even under the travel ban), it is illegal for them to spend money in Cuba, at least without special dispensation. This of course, makes travel to Cuba impossible for most Americans: how do you visit a country and not spend money there? Even though Havana Times, an on-island blog, claimed yesterday that the couple reportedly did receive permission from the U.S. Treasury Department to make the trip, for most diaspora bloggers, the offense is way more than the simple bending of a travel rule. To them, it's all in the principle.

El Cafe Cubano wondered why the couple would want to spend “their 5th wedding aniversary in a communist, dictatorship country of Cuba” and in a follow-up post, asked, tongue firmly in cheek:

So what's the big deal that Beyonce are in Jay-Z In Cuba?

Alberto de la Cruz, blogging at Babalú, was happy to explain:

Reading through the news coverage these past few days of Beyonce and Jay-Z's ill-advised and thoroughly offensive vacation in Cuba as guests of the apartheid Castro dictatorship, much of the concern centers around the legality of their trip to the communist island. That is certainly an important point since it is illegal for American citizens to visit Cuba as tourists, even if you are personal friends of President Obama. But what I personally find most troubling about this scandalous act by American music's most prominent couple is their complete and utter insensitivity to the repression and brutality suffered by the Cuban people — the majority of them black — at the hands of the tyrannical Castro dictatorship. By ‘vacationing'…as if they were just visiting any other destination, Beyonce and Jay-Z are in effect telling America, the world, and most cruelly, Cuba's enslaved people, that they tacitly approve of the island's brutal and racist regime.

He also took issue with the public relations mileage that the Cuban government seems to be getting from the visit:

Naturally, the Castro dictatorship sees Beyonce and Jay-Z's visit as a propaganda opportunity to portray themselves as something other than a repressive tyranny…releasing photos of the power couple enjoying the sights and luxuries of Cuba, but making sure they leave out the fact that those amenities are denied to typical Cubans. All the public sees is two very rich and very powerful Americans enjoying a Caribbean getaway. The beatings of dissidents, the stoning of families opposed to the Castro dictatorship, and their violent arrests and imprisonment is conveniently left out of the press releases and news reports.

He concluded:

While you are busy watching Beyonce dancing salsa in Cuba, the Castro dictatorship knows you will not be watching or thinking about the reality of life in Castro's Cuba. You will not be thinking about the hundreds of political arrests that take place every month, or the tens of thousands of political prisoners rotting in Cuban gulags…you are not thinking about Sonia Garro, a black woman and dissident who has been unjustly imprisoned for over a year. While your eyes are focused on Beyonce and Jay-Z partying on the forbidden island of Cuba, the Castro dictatorship knows your eyes are not focused on the defenseless Ladies in White being mercilessly pummeled and beaten by the Castro dictatorship's State Security and hired thugs. That, my friends, is what bothers me the most about Beyonce and Jay-Z's vacation to Cuba: They have helped the Castro dictatorship hide its atrocities and racist repression.

Uncommon Sense, meanwhile, was focusing the spotlight on continuing injustices in Cuba – in this case, quite fittingly, the plight of a Cuban rapper who has undertaken a hunger strike to demand his freedom:

The same week American hip-hop superpunk Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce celebrated their wedding anniversary in Havana, Cuban rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga sat in a Cuban jail cell, on hunger strike after the secret police broke into his mother's home and beat and arrested him.

Jay-Z may have 99 problems, but it's safe to say that letting Remon's suffering– the suffering of a fellow musician, the suffering of a fellow black man, the suffering of any Cuban — infringe on his and Beyonce's partying in Cuba ain't one.

Capitol Hill Cubans also wondered if the couple would intercede for the imprisoned rapper and others.

Jorge Ponce, also blogging at Babalú, posted a photo of Jay-Z wearing a T-shirt with an image of Che Guevara, which he used as a jumping-off point from which to discuss the issue of race in Cuba:

The famous revolutionary Guevara was not a friend of African-Americans. Thus, Jay-Z demonstrates immense ignorance about Guevara’s past history and comments, or his only concern is to show his cool side in front of the cameras.

Following are two quotes attributed to “El Che” with regards to African-Americans:

‘We’re going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.’


‘The Negro is indolent and lazy, and spends his money on frivolities, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent.’

And now we find out that the Cuban authorities have demoted Afro-Cuban Roberto Zurbano for penning a recent article in the New York Times that was highly critical of racism in the Cuban Revolution and its leaders.

Which brings us back to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Cuban vacation. Will they meet with human-rights dissidents in Cuba – most of which are Afro Cubans, like Dr. Oscar Biscet – and advocate on behalf of Roberto Zurbano, or will they concentrate on just having fun?

He added:

Between you and me, the Cuban authorities hoped that Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Cuban excursion would end the articles and coverage by the American and world media outlets on Yoani Sánchez. Well, kudos to Yoani and the powerful message that she’s aired about the lack of human rights and civil liberties in Cuba.

Capitol Hill Cubans agreed that there was merit to that argument, referring to a Reuters news story in support:

Castro's state media was the first to post pictures of the trip and to tip off foreign news bureaus on the island about the star's presence and whereabouts.


Because the foreign media has been focusing too much on critical Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez and pro-democracy leaders Rosa Maria Paya and Berta Soler.

The blog also noted one of Beyoncé's past transgressions, referring to her 2009 agreement with one of the sons of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, to sing at a New Years Eve party in St. Barts. (She reportedly later donated her $2 million fee to Haiti earthquake relief):

Beyonce corrected her controversial action then with a noble deed after — can she do the same now?

Just give 5 minutes to Berta [Soler, leader of the Ladies in White], who will be visiting the U.S. later this month.

Is that too much to ask?

via Global Voices » Feature

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Iran's Anesthetics Shortage Reaches Alarming Levels

Firoozeh Mozafari's cartoon for Iranian news website khabaronline, Translation of the words: [Doctor to Patient]: "Sir, please cooperate and get unconscious. We need to do our job!" source:

Firoozeh Mozafari's cartoon for Iranian news website khabaronline, Translation of the words: [Doctor to Patient]: “Sir, please cooperate and get unconscious. We need to do our job!”

Panic struck in Iranian hospitals as the country's medical officials confirmed a serious national shortage of anesthetics on March 15, 2013 hindering life-saving operations on patients in Iran.

Kheirollah Gholami, a pharmacist in Tehran, has been widely quoted as saying, “If the situation stays like this, we don't really know what to do. Patients cannot be knocked unconscious with a hammer.”

Iranian netizens and bloggers have reacted. Mana Neyestani, a renowned dissident cartoonist has created the following for Mardomak website:

Cartoon by Mana Neyestani. Translation from right to left 1) “The aesthetician is doing his best…” 2) “Once upon a time there was a lion that lived in a jungle….” 3) [the patient] “Damn you with your sanctions!” — [words on the newspaper] “Head of Anaesthetics Association: “Anaesthetics have become rare.”

Iranian blogger, Dara, slams the Islamic Republic for having failed people in every possible way:

Operating rooms in some hospitals across the country have been closed due to the shortage of anaesthetics, fake penicillin imported from China claims the lives of our compatriots, the American dollar value is still at a whopping 35,000 rials and high prices strain people to an extent that it seems this [Nowruz] new year's shopping will be among the dullest in recent years. And at such times, some still talk of participating in elections. Seriously, what do you expect us to elect while all has already been taken care of by the Leader? [...] Whom should I vote for when I cannot even receive anaesthetic in the operating room?

Mohsen Sazgara tweeted:

According to a high ranking official in the medical faculty of the University of Tehran, if this situation continues, we will be forced to shut down operation rooms.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Argentina: Floods in Buenos Aires Leave 35 Dead

The heavy rains that hit the province of Buenos Aires have left at least 35 people dead [es] and thousands homeless.

The blog EA2CPG tells us [es] about the climate phenomenon which hit Argentina on April 2, 2013, coinciding with the Veteran's Day and the Falklands War Memorial public holidays [es]:

La ciudad de Buenos Aires tiene unos tres millones de habitantes. Más de un 10% de la población ha sido afectada directamente por las últimas lluvias, las más dañinas de los últimos 107 años, de acuerdo con las autoridades. La Reina del Plata se pareció en la madrugada del martes a Venecia y necesitará muchos días para retomar la normalidad.

The city of Buenos Aires has around three million inhabitants. More than 10% of the population has been directly affected by the recent rains, the most damaging in the last 107 years, according to the authorities. In the early hours of Tuesday morning La Reina del Plata looked like Venice and will need several days to return to normal.

Popckorn, [es] a blog about mobile culture in Buenos Aires, publishes citizens’ images [es] of some of the neighbourhoods affected by the heavy rains. Meanwhile the YouTube user informeya shares this video of the floods:

In the post “#Temporal: Relatos de la Catástrofe” [es] (“Storm: Stories of the Catastrophe”), the Anfibia [es] magazine, among images of the tragedy, also publishes some testimonies that victims published on Facebook, like that of musician Gabo Ferro:

La colección de discos de Gardel de mi viejo flotando entre los míos y los de mis amigos. La casa levantada sobre una correntada. Entre la somnolencia de la madrugada, el asombro y la impotencia. Sacar el agua y tragar saliva. Seis horas sacando agua. En su casa, mi vieja eligiendo entre sus cosas guardadas durante 79 años que tirar y que secar para salvar. Una vecina triste como un fantasma pues el agua le arrebató una foto; lo único que le quedaba de su hijo.

My father's Gardel record collection floats among mine and those of my friends. The house is carried by a current. In the sleepiness of the early hours, the shock and the powerlessness. Draining the water, and gulping. Six hours draining water. In her house, my mum chooses among things she has kept for 79 years: what to throw out and what to dry and save. A neighbour, sad like a ghost because the water snatched a photo; the only thing she had left of her son.

These are not the first floods [es] that the province of Buenos Aires has suffered. Recurrent damage caused by the rains have prompted Argentine bloggers to debate whether minimal investment in infrastructure, fast-growing real estate, or climate change is to blame for the disaster.

The Facebook [es] page Cátedra Libre del Agua analizes [es] the changes that Buenos Aires has seen since its founding:

Pero por qué se inunda Buenos Aires? Desde su fundación, la ciudad fue creciendo y extendiéndose hacia el conurbano bonaerense. A medida que este crecimiento se encontraba con arroyos que desembocan al Río de la Plata se los entubaba, se rellenaba su cauce y a lotear que se acaba el mundo. La renta urbana es una tentación difícil de evitar. Durante un tiempo estos entubamientos soportaban bien la lluvia, pero a medida que se siguió construyendo la superficie natural absorbente disminuyó y el volumen de agua que comenzó a pasar por allí aumentó. A esto hay que sumarle la desaparición de los pulmones de manzana y su sustitución por cemento, además de la poca pendiente que tenían los arroyos que fueron entubados. Finalmente, están los rellenos sanitarios en la costa del Río de la Plata para ganar superficie con fines inmobiliario que aumentan el largo de los entubamientos hasta llegar al desagüe naturales.

But why does Bueno Aires flood? Since its founding, the city has been growing and expanding towards the Buenos Aires conurbation. As this growth converges with streams that flow into the Río de la Plata, it channels them, the channel gets filled up and it's a lottery as to what happens next. Urban income is a temptation that is difficult to resist. For a while these channels were bearing the rain well, but as construction continued the natural absorbent surface diminished and the volume of water that began to flow through increased. You have to add to this the disappearance of green space and its substitution with cement, as well as the gentle slopes of the streams that were channelled. Finally, you have the landfills that are located on the coast of the Río de la Plata for the purpose of gaining real-estate land, which increase the length of the pipes before they can arrive at their natural drains.

The note continues:

Si después de todo esto Buenos Aires no se inunda, es porque hay sequía. Además, el agua tiene memoria, siempre buscará ir por los mismos lugares que supo ir antaño. Una parte irá por los entubamientos y, el resto, por la superficie. Y así se producirá la inundación, una y otra vez.

If Buenos Aires is not flooded after all this, it is because there is drought. In addition, water has a memory, it will always look to go through the same places that it went through in the past. A portion will go through the pipes, and the rest on the surface. And so flooding will happen again and again.

imagen de @gstreger

image shared by Gustavo Streger (@gstreger) on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's government and the government of the city of Buenos Aires are also searching for culprits. The national news agency Telam [es] publishes declarations [es] from Secretary of Federal Planning, Julio De Vido:

El ministro de Planificación Federal, Julio De Vido, aseguró que “otra vez la falta de gestión” del gobierno de Mauricio Macri “nos lleva a lamentar víctimas fatales, y deja a 450 mil vecinos sin luz” en la Ciudad.

The Secretary of Federal Planning, Julio De Vido, claimed that “again the lack of management” of Mauricio Macri's government “leads us to regret fatalities and leaves 450,000 inhabitants without light” in the city.

On the other hand, Comunas [es] reports that the chief of government of the city of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, declared [es]:

“Los vecinos de Belgrano me dijeron que en algunos sectores algunas obras parciales que hicimos contribuyeron a mitigar un poco el problema, pero ha habido muchísimo daño y, obviamente, lo que falta es esta obra final en el arroyo Vega, que todavía no hemos podido iniciar por la falta del aval nacional para tomar el crédito” [...] “Yo pienso que la Presidenta debe haber visto lo que pasó ayer y todo lo que sufrió la gente de esa zona, en sus domicilios y en los comercios. Espero que baje una orden que nos habilite para tomar este tipo de crédito”. Macri recordó que hace más de cuatro años que la Ciudad solicita esos avales y aclaró que el crédito, “lo va a pagar la Ciudad integramente.”

“The residents of Belgrano told me that in some sectors some partial works we did contributed to somewhat mitigate the problem, but there has been a lot of damage and, obviously, what is missing is this final work at the Vega stream, that we have not yet been able to start due to the lack of national endorsement to take out a loan” [...] “I think that the President should have seen what happened yesterday and everything that the people of that area suffered in their homes and businesses. I hope a mandate is approved that allows us to take out this kind of loan.” Macri recalled that it was more than four years ago that the City applied for those endorsements and made it clear that the loan, “will be paid for entirely by the City.”

Laura Yabrun (@LambreLau) [es] writes:

@lambrelau: Para no quedar fuera de las circunstancias, CFK [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] y Macri se lavaron bien las manos #inundaciones #dondeestaCFK #Macri

@lambrelau: CFK [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] and Macri have completely washed their hands of the situation #inundaciones (floods) #dondeestaCFK (Where is CFK) #Macri

The citizen journalism site Letra Compartida [es] and the news portal Infobae [es] share more images and reports on Storify.

Thumbnail image from Twitter user @JoseIniesta.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Everything You Thought You Knew About MOOCs Could Be Wrong

Summary of a presentation by Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein.

Phil – there’s so much hype or madness around MOOCs, and there’s a lot of discussion from people who were not previously involved in online education. They sometimes act like online education was invented in the last two years. And they sometimes get terms wrong, like using the terms ‘MOOC’ and ‘online education’ interchangeably.

View of the history of MOOCs:

Most discussion is based around the Stanford branch of MOOCs, which started in 2011. They are a content distribution from a central perspective.

All of the MOOCs had the following problems:
-          Revenue models, or becoming self-sustaining
-          How students will get credentials from MOOCs

Michael – the main contribution MOOCs have made thus far is to reawaken our imagination about what’s possible in online learning. While students have become very interested in MOOCs, we need to think about what institutional problem we are solving with MOOCs.

We think of MOOCs as massive, open, online and courses. But what if they’re not? 

Non-massive MOOCs: the number of students could be limited, for example for reasons of pedagogical quality. In some cases, some part of a MOOC may be massive while other parts are not. There is (says a commenter) Stanford’s SPOC (small private online course). 

Non-open MOOC: most xMOOCs are not open in the sense that their content is not provided under Creative Commons. Mostly, ‘open’ means ‘open access’, meaning anyone can sign up. But that’s not the same as ‘free’.

Non-online MOOCs – the blended model. This is also related to the concept of ‘classroom flipping’. But there is nothing about MOOCs that demands that they be offered online.

Non-class MOOCs. They can be communities, like project-based communities. Like eg. Photo-a-day communities. Or ds106. They are based around a class, but with ‘drive-by accountants’. Or they can be self-organized, the way a students self-organized a sequel.

We like to think of them as a continuum, between the little bits of material an instructor might hand out, all the way up to how much of a course you can put up online, a range from minimal materials, to courseware, to full courseware, to a full course.

We think that MOOCs are beginning to span these two categories, and that the interesting future for MOOCs may be in the ‘courseware’ category. If so viewed, MOOCs as courseware begin to compete more directly with traditional publisher offerings.

Phil (responding to chat room): where do instructors come in? Are they interchangeable?
Michael: the answer is yet to be writer; there’s a good chance it’s a move in the opposite direction. The MOOC is self-sufficient; ‘MOOCs as courseware’ suggests there’s a definite role for local facilitators. (SD – aka the Triad model).

Whatever the future of MOOCs, it should be adapted to meet the needs of the students you’re serving, rather than copying from somewhere else. We ought not take a factory approach and suggest that we think we know what they ought to look like.

Phil: MOOCs are reflecting a trend toward a much more team-based approach to design, and teachers can get involved in that.

Next slide: if we look at where MOOCs are most influential, their major influence is not from MOOCs in and of themselves. There’s the suggestion that MOOCs as they are in 2012 is what will replace learning. But this model is still evolving. There’s a difference between the foreign element – the MOOC – and the transforming idea, which is what actually creates change.

The xMOOCs in particular are the foreign element that dismantles the status quos, and what creates a lot of the push-back to the idea. And we see a lot of resistance to MOOCs in higher ed these days. There’s a lot of arguing, and a lot of chaos, but change hasn’t started to happen. Our performance during this period could even be worse than what was traditional.

The transforming idea is when groups begin saying ‘aha’ – if I apply it this way I will get performance benefits. And then we progress to a new status quo.

So when we look at how MOOCs are adapting, in a perfect storm with budgets coming together, people are no longer arguing that online education cannot work. So the status quo has been disrupted.
 But now people are trying to work them out. But we shouldn’t assume that MOOCs as they are now are the final model, nor that by applying MOOCs of 2012 we can make everything better.

What we eventually adopt might not be the original idea that triggered everything else.
Question: is the MOOC, then, a good vehicle for learning?

Phil: I think it opens up a whole new potential for new types of learning, eg. Student-to-student learning. But the current design of MOOCs aren’t necessarily very good for learning.

Michael: it’s a bit like asking whether a poem is a good vehicle for communication. The answer is: sometimes. The xMOOCs are sonnets, and the cMOOCs are haiku, and they have very different characteristics. 

The CMOOCs have done interesting work in self-organization and community for learning. The xMOOCs have scaled the lecture hall. Those are very different approaches. The value that you see in them depends on the value you see in those goals.

Phil: xMOOCs have really opened up a campus dialogue. I do think that’s been a big change.