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January 24 2014

Massive Credit Card Data Theft Hits 20 Million South Koreans

Image by Flickr User Don Hankins (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Flickr user Don Hankins (CC BY 2.0)

An unprecedented large-scale theft of customer data in South Korea has affected 20 million people, or about two-fifths of the country's entire population.

The data was lifted by a consultant working for a personal credit rating firm, Korea Credit Bureau, who accessed the user databases of three major credit card companies and sold the information to phone marketing companies.

The dimension [ko] of the confidential information stolen is truly terrifying: Not only basic information such as name, phone number and social security number were taken, but also critical data that could lead to serious abuses, such as credit card expiration date, annual income, residential status, credit limit, credit history and credit records. In some cases, as many as 21 kinds of personal information were stolen.

Right after the news broke, furious customers not only flocked [ko] to the card companies’ local stores, but shared via Twitter a very long list of their stolen personal data, followed by sarcastic comments and downright curses aimed at the firms and authorities: 

Name, social security number, card number, home phone, home address, cell phone number, work address, work position, work place official name, residential status, password question, credit card limit, info of credit card by other firms, credit rating, bank account linked to the card… This kind of info was stolen. But still they say don't worry because at least the CVC (Card Verification Code) number was not stolen. I just want to punch them in the month. 

@_2on_:성명 주민번호 휴대전화 자택전화 자택주소 직장정보 카드번호 유효기간 카드정보 결제정보 신용한도 연소득 이메일 직장번호 직장주소[...] 비번도 알려줘라

@_2on_: My name, social security number, cell phone number, home phone and address, work place info, card number, expiration data, card info, card payment info, credit limit, annual income, email, work number, work address have been stolen[...] Why don't you just give away my password as well?

Authorities try to assuage public anger by stressing that the breach has not yet lead [ko] to any real abuses, and several days later, released a package of counter measures [ko], which included more severe punishments placed on the affected firms (suspension of business and higher fines); limitations on financial firms from collecting unnecessary customer information and trading it to a third party; an extension of card customer service hours; and a five-year limit on storing previous customer data. The card companies vow to offer full compensation for the losses and reissue new cards upon request. Not many are satisfied.  

They need to know that is is much easier now to find someone whose info has not been stolen. Reissuing credit cards upon quest? If that is the most effective way, then they should replace every customers’ cards, not just someone who requests it.

The most unpopular measure regulators announced was creating an additional step in the identification process, meaning more hassle for customers: 

It is the companies who leaked the info, but it is the customers who have to bear with the inconvenience caused by the incident. What weird logic. RT @tebica: Authorities are now announcing comprehensive measures against the personal information breach and one of their measures, “adoption of one more identification step when making credit card transactions”, makes people shudder.  

It is not the first data theft of a national scale, but is certainly one of the largest. Many called for more fundamental measures. Twitter user @leesns tweeted:

How many times have we seen thefts of personal information? The current social security number system no longer works effectively in identifying users, but instead has became a tool that can easily be abused by criminals. We should either revamp or scrap the social security number system. And re-issue every credit card and stop firms from trading collected customers’ info.

January 23 2014

On Love, Politics and the Francophone Culture

Julie Gayet at Deauville film festival  via wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Julie Gayet at the Deauville Film Festival via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

The global community is now well aware of the tumultuous love life of French President François Hollande. Hollande's affair with French actress Julie Gayet and the ensuing illness of his current partner and still-considered French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler have made the cover of newspapers worldwide over the past week. Hollande is also a father of four with former partner Ségolène Royal, a politician who came in second during the 2007 presidential elections in France.

So his love life is a tad complicated, but he is hardly the first French president to have an unorthodox family structure (François Mitterand and Felix Faure come to mind). By most accounts, French voters do not factor in the private lives of their politicians when it comes down to the ballot. In fact, a survey by the Pew Research Center suggested that French voters may be more lenient towards infidelity than others:

Just 47% of the French say it is morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair, the lowest percentage among 39 nations surveyed in 2013 by the Pew Research Center. In fact, France was the only country where less than 50% of respondents described infidelity as unacceptable. Instead, four-in-ten think it is not a moral issue, while 12% say it is actually morally acceptable.

The French perspective on infidelity and politics has often puzzled many of its English-speaking neighbors. Adam Gopnik in the United Kingdom articulated the cultural dissonance between the two cultures that sprung from the Hollande's affair going public: 

France is not a puritanical society – it accepts that human appetites for sex and food are normal, or “normale”, to use a word much prized there, and that attempts to suppress either, will make men and women nervous wrecks at least [...] 

Puritans are the least buttoned-up people in the world. They can't wait to pin a scarlet A for adultery on someone's clothing, or hold a public humiliation ritual. Nothing could be more illustrative of this than the tone of outraged indignation directed by British tabloid journalists at their reluctant French press equivalents in the past week. 

A few readers disagreed with Gopnik's take. “Sean in Belgium” argued that one needs only to look at the recent mass protests in favor of family values and the ban on prostitution in France to see that the theory does not compute:

It is a caricature of the complexities of French attitudes simply to say that desire is accepted. This, after all, is the country that has just banned prostitution.   

Love and privacy in other French-speaking countries

Given the cultural impact that France has had on the countries within its former empire, one cannot help but wonder: Do the relaxed views on the issue extend to France's former colonies?

At first glance, it would seem that the French laissez-faire attitude did not extend to other Francophone countries. The aforementioned survey by the Pew Research Center noted that a large majority of polled citizens in Senegal, Lebanon, Tunisia and Canada viewed extramarital affairs as morally unacceptable. In Côte d'Ivoire, citizens are often puzzled by France's choice when it comes to matters of love and relationship.

Elsewhere, reactions were more diverse. In Morocco, prominent author Tahar Ben Jelloun empathized with the privacy that public figures ask for when it comes to their love life. Here is his open letter to Hollande's partner Valérie Treilweiler [fr]: 

Je pense à vous en ce moment où votre vie intime, la vôtre et celle de votre compagnon, est sujet de curiosité malsaine, une espèce de cambriolage en plein jour où l'on saccage tout sans penser aux conséquences non seulement sur votre existence, mais aussi celle de vos enfants.[..] Je pense à vous parce que je sais la douleur et la violence, je sais aussi l'attente et l'espoir. Une histoire d'amour est née entre vous et celui qui allait devenir président. Les gens sont durs et s'imaginent que la vie de ceux et celles qui sont sous les lumières de l'actualité ne mérite que des claques. [..] À présent, il vous faudra choisir : continuer à vivre à côté d'un homme qui est ce qu'il est et qui ne changera pas, ou bien tourner cette page douloureuse et trouver votre place

These days I think of you a lot, now that your intimate life, yours and your companion's is being subjected to morbid curiosity, a kind of robbery in broad daylight where your life is being destroyed without a thought for the consequences to not only your life, but that of your children. [...] I think of you because I know that suffering and that violence, as I also know the expectation and hope [of love]. A love story was born between you and the man who would become president. People are cruel and they think that the life of those who are in the spotlight of the news cycle only deserves punishment [...] Now you must make a decision to either continue to live next to a man who is who he is and will not change, or turn this painful page and find your own place. 

In other former colonies, citizens are not shy about discussing matters of the heart. In fact, some seem to relish the use of the word “love”. In Madagascar, former transitional President Andry Rajoelina changed the motto of the country to include the word: “Fitiavana, Tanindrazana, Fandrosoana” (Love, Homeland, Progress). The former First Lady Mialy Rajoelina is in charge of an Association called FITIA (Love), a charity that helps the education of disenfranchised children. 

Her emphasis on sharing compassion seems to have resonated with many Malagasy people, as shown by Twitter user @tagnam:

Who has not signed the petition to keep #MialyRajoelina as the first lady yet ?

In Cameroon, the 237 Online community blog reflected on the rights to privacy for their public figures. Maximilien Ombé wondered how such an affair would be covered [fr]:

On se demande si c'est possible qu'au Cameroun les médias aient le droit de publier des informations relatives aux loves stories des hommes publics notamment du Chef de l'Etat Paul Biya.

One wonders whether Cameroon media would have the right to publish information on public figures’ loves stories such as Head of State Paul Biya.

Dieudonné Mveng added [fr]:

Dès lors qu'on est politique qu'on est une personnalité on est la boussole de la société. La population prend exemple sur nous. C'est aux personnes publiques de bien se tenir.

As soon as a person goes into politics and becomes a public figure, they by default becomes a moral compass for society. The general population takes its cue from them. It is therefore a responsibility of public figures to behave as role model. 

Ampère Simo concluded [fr]:

La règle qui doit guider les médias et les professionnels de l'information dans le traitement des affaires touchant à la vie privée des individus consiste à ne révéler que ce qui est d'intérêt public.  

The rule that should guide the media and any news writers in the treatment of cases involving the privacy of individuals is to only reveal what is relevant to the public interest. 

It seems that while Francophone countries have not embraced the laid back attitude of France towards the love lives of their elite, they are also more willing to move past affairs and love stories to focus on the more pressing public issues.

South Korea: I Would Rather Sell My Personal Info

Personal information of about 20 million people, which amounts to two fifth of the entire South Korean population, has been compromised in the country's worst identity theft. Customers of the affected three major credit card firms gasped at the sheer extensiveness of the breach; it is not just the user's real name, home/work address, cellphone/home/work phone number, social security number, but in many cases, even user's credit limit, credit history, credit card expiration date, and credit records have been stolen. Korean online venues flooded with angry users’ comments and one net user even set up a fake website entitled ‘Trade My Info; the No. 1 Online Personal Info Trading Venue’ [ko]. Its intro sarcastically proclaims that instead of letting the identity thief sell your personal info, users should rather trade their info by themselves and make a a modicum of money out of it. Most of the site's links lead to related news articles on the breach. An extensive post on Korean reactions to the country's worst ID breach will soon be posted on Global Voices.

January 21 2014

Korean Seniors Prompt Boycott of McDonald and Get McResolution

Korean elderly have made headlines in New York City as they loiter at McDonald's each day, starting early in the morning till well after dark, ordering only fries or coffee. After they were kicked out for hampering business, some in the Korean community called for a boycott of the restaurant.

The New York Times story on elderly squatters in McDonald's went abuzz over the weekend, and McDonald's reacted quickly, putting out the fire by Monday by reaching a “McResolution!“. They promised extended sitting hours for the elderly during less-busy times and even to collaborate with local seniors centers to provide transportation to and from the restaurant.

However, Koreans, who are familiar with senior citizens overstaying at fast food stores in one of the most overcrowded and busiest cities in the world, South Korean capital Seoul, seem to understand McDonald's tough choice. Here are some reactions from South Korean online venues.

Image by Flicker User Kansir (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Flicker User Kansir (CC BY 2.0)

The McDonald's fiasco. I really hope people don't bring ‘race’ in to the equation. It is not like they were kicked out because of their race/nationality. By emphasizing that it is ‘Koreans’ who were being kicked out, they are actually embarrassing themselves. This is so ugly, and just embarrassing. I can see why this happen.

The reason why I am not rooting for McDonald's boycott in New York is because how they approach this problem is just so typical. Jongmyo Area in Seoul is packed with elderly who loiter at fast food chains. It is not Korean “culture”, but a problem Korean society has. It is just deplorable they brought it over and repeat it in another country.

Net users cast doubt on the Korean Parents Association of New York – a group who initiated the boycott and question whether they are eligible to represent the whole Korean community in general. Some from the group, notably the chairwoman, are accused of being extreme right-wingers who infamously blocked a peaceful protest against the election manipulation scandal held in New York last autumn. User @hippietech wrote [ko]:

자극적인 제목으로 민족성 자극하는 저질 기사. 한인사회 발끈한 적 없습니다. 몇몇 노인들이 진상짓 했을뿐

I see so many sensational, trashy reports which provoke ethnicity issues. No. Korean communities have not been angered by [the McDonald's case] and it is just a handful of rouge seniors who made a scene.

January 20 2014

South Korea Accused of Rewriting History in High School Textbook

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) 

A conservative high school history textbook in South Korea that puts a positive spin on some of the country's most controversial periods of history, such as Japan's colonial rule, has been a source of heated debate for several weeks, with the government being accused of favoring textbooks that support their political beliefs and paint a rosier view of various periods of history.

The textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co has been lambasted not only for its inaccuracy, but for whitewashing the past flaws of certain interest groups. Critics say the sheer volume of errors – over 750 mistakes – in the textbook are serious enough to disqualify it as a legitimate learning tool.

Parents and students protested hard against several schools who have decided to adopt Kyohak's textbook and finally succeeded in revoking the decision. However, the Ministry of Education has offered excuses for the publishers, first by claiming that it was not the final version. Even after it was revealed that Kyohak still has not applied the required adjustments to the textbook and its revised version contained about 350 errors, the ministry again embraced them, saying that it was a trial version. According to local report, one historian said [ko] “in his 22 years as a history teacher, he has never heard of such thing as a ‘textbook trial version’, and the ministry’s outlandish claim renders him speechless.”

The scope [ko] of the errors are wide: misleading descriptions of Japanese imperial rule of Korea, incorrect names of locations on a map, and the false claim that the United States had a colony in the Indochina region. Another noteworthy mistake includes an inaccurate description of President Park Geun-hye’s father, the late military dictator Park Chung-hee: the textbook says Koreans’ average per capital income reached 10,000 US dollars under his rule, when it should be 1,000.

The textbook also claims that the so-called comfort women – young teenagers and women, many of whom were Korean, who were forced into prostitution by the Empire of Japan during World War II to “comfort” the troops – “followed the Japanese army around”, thereby implying that they have voluntarily choose to serve the army for the money. There is even an error suspected to have been lifted from an online blog post.

The New York Times recently added fuel to the fire with an editorial entitled “Politicians and Textbooks” in which the paper accused President Park of downplaying Korean collaboration with Japanese imperialists during Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The editorial concluded that Park, along with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, are “pushing to have high school history textbooks in their countries rewritten to reflect their political views.” The Korean Foreign Ministry fired right back, saying it will “take necessary steps against the New York Times with regard to the erroneous facts.”

Enraged Koreans commented as below:

Kyohak Publishing’s textbook is only worth as much as the ruling Saenuri party’s campaign flyers. 

After watching Chairman of Kyohak Publishing Yang Cheol-woo’s interview on the JTBC Sohn Suk-hee’s news program, I can totally see how that garbage, pro-Japanese imperialist book was born. He kept claiming their textbook has no flaws and it is the most accurate book available. He even accused other textbooks of being “left-leaning”.

More concerns arose as reports came out [ko] that immediately after Kyohak Publishing’s history textbook had been rejected by parents and students, the government and ruling Saenuri party began pushing to publish it and impose the textbook on a national level. Currently, students, parents and teachers have a say in the textbook selection process, and have a choice among several different books. The political opposition denounced the move [ko] as an attempt to stifle points of view that differ from their own, and commented that a one-size-fits-all textbook system is a favorite of authoritarian regimes who can easily manipulate its content. The most notable cases of the one national textbook system would be North Korea and Russia. 

When they found out that Kyohak’s history textbook had been completely rejected by students, parents and teachers, the proper way to respond is by looking back at their flaws and feeling shameful and apologetic. But how did they react? It is as if they are seeking revenge, they are pushing to switch to a universal textbook system. This is an utter disregard for history and disrespect for the people.

Twitter influencer and historian Jeon Woo-yong (@histopian) tweeted a series of messages regarding this issue:

Even the monarchy of the Joseon Dynasty did not interfere with chroniclers’ works. It is those in power who should be afraid of history, not history that clings on to power. The reason why those in power want to exert control over history is either because they are ashamed to face history, or they dont even bother to make themselves feel unashamed'. 

Catherine Samba-Panza, Mayor of Bangui, Elected as Transitional President of Central African Republic

The Mayor of Bangui, Catherine Semba Penza participates in the clean up of the city via La Nouvelle Centrafrique Infos

Mayor of Bangui and now transitional president Catherine Semba-Panza via La Nouvelle Centrafrique Infos

After Michel Djotodia stepped down as president [fr] two weeks ago, the Central African Republic (CAR) Parliament elected Catherine Samba-Panza [fr], former mayor of Bangui, as the transitional president in charge of stabilizing the country until the next elections. Samba-Panza was recognized for her crisis management of the city during the rebels pillaging spree in 2013. It will marked the first time a women is selected as the head of the nation.    

January 17 2014

Remembering Congolese Leader Patrice Lumumba's Struggle Against Colonialism

Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was killed 53 years ago on January 17, 1961 under circumstances that still remain unclear.

Lumumba, an iconic figure of the struggle against colonialism in Africa, was removed from power because he opposed the Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga province. His successor, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, along with Mobutu's squad arrested Lumumba and executed him shortly after. His death was the culmination of a period of political turmoil in the country known as the Congo Crisis.

Congolese citizens the world over paid tribute to his uncompromising leadership on the anniversary of his death: 

53 years ago, Patrice Lumumba and his two companions were killed. Cc @Survie @Billetsdafrique

They cut his body to pieces and then they dumped it into an acid tank. 53 years later, they still cannot deal with their act.

His last letter to wife Pauline before he died was widely shared online. Community blog Quartier Libres republished the letter, in which Lumumba wrote:

Que mort, vivant, libre ou en prison sur ordre des colonialistes, ce n’est pas ma personne qui compte.

C’est le Congo, c’est notre pauvre peuple dont on a transformé l’indépendance en une cage [..] L’Afrique l’Asie, et les peuples libres et libérés de tous les coins du monde se trouveront toujours aux côtés de millions de congolais qui n’abandonneront la lutte que le jour où il n’y aura plus de colonisateurs et leurs mercenaires dans notre pays.

A mes enfants que je laisse, et que peut-être je ne reverrai plus, je veux qu’on dise que l’avenir du Congo est beau et qu’il attend d’eux, comme il attend de chaque Congolais, d’accomplir la tâche sacrée de la reconstruction de notre indépendance et de notre souveraineté, car sans dignité il n’y a pas de liberté, sans justice il n’y a pas de dignité, et sans indépendance il n’y a pas d’hommes libres.

What I can say is this: dead or alive, free or in jail, it is not about me personally.

It is about Congo, our unhappy people, whose independence is being trampled upon. [...] We are not alone. Africa, Asia, the free peoples and the peoples fighting for their freedom in all corners of the world will always be side by side with the millions of Congolese who will not give up the struggle while there is even one colonialist or colonialist mercenary in our country.

To my sons, whom I am leaving and whom, perhaps, I shall not see again, I want to say that the future of Congo is splendid and that I expect from them, as from every Congolese, the fulfillment of the sacred task of restoring our independence and our sovereignty. Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.

In the magazine CeaseFire, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, a professor of African and Afro-American studies at the University of North Carolina, and Jonathan Jacobs, a writer and activist based in London, explained the importance of Lumumba's legacy:

According to unconfirmed reports, Walter Kansteiner – US Secretary of State for African Affairs under George W. Bush, between June 2001 and November 2003 – designed a plan for the division of Congo into four countries. The justification for such a Balkanisation would be that, in its present dimensions, the country is too large and ungovernable. [...] In fact, this would facilitate access to resources, and make their transfer to outside markets easier. [...] the reality is that their project for the recolonisation of Congo will always stumble against the determination of the Congolese people to defend their unity, their national patrimony, and the territorial integrity of their homeland. The legacy of Patrice Lumumba, Pierre Lulele, André Kisase Ngandu and so many other martyrs brings women, men and children to shout “No” to balkanisation and “Yes” to a “United Congo, a strong nation.” 

Two Opposite Arguments on Whether CAR Crisis is a Religious Conflict

The violent conflict that rocks the Central African Republic (CAR) spurred a debate on whether the conflict turned into an inter-religious conflict and therefore might escalate into a genocide.  Juan Branco, a researcher at Yale law School and a blogger for Rue89, argues that there is no history of such conflict in CAR and therefore, the media is at fault for overhyping this notion  [fr]:

Il n’y a pas de monstres au camp du Kasaï, censé abriter les miliciens les plus sanguinaires d’Afrique centrale. Personne qui ne tienne de discours de haine, même quand on les y pousse. Il y a des chrétiens qui citent des longs extraits de la Bible pour convaincre leurs camarades d’abandonner leurs gris-gris. Des musulmans qui font tant bien que mal une ou deux des cinq prières exigées

   There are no monsters in the camp of Kasai, a camp is supposedly a shelter for the bloodiest Central African militia. No one here is spreading hate speech even when they are edged on to do so. There are Christians who quote extensively from the Bible to convince their comrades to abandon their voodoo charms. There are Muslims who are just trying to go through their praying rituals. 

Florence Lozach is a war reporter that just finished an investigative report on the CAR conflict. She states that media certainly did not invent the growing tension between Christians and Muslims in CAR and that all indications points toward a very worrisome trend [fr]:

Le 5 décembre, vous n’étiez pas là visiblement, M. Branco. La plupart des médias, que vous méprisez aujourd’hui au plus haut point, étaient là, eux, dans les rues, puis dans la mosquée Ali Babolo, puis à nouveau dans les rues. Les propos ont changé ce jour-là. Avec plus de 500 morts dans les rues, le discours a penché puis complètement chuté dans la haine chrétiens-musulmans.

On December 5, evidently you were not here (in Bangui) Mr. Branco. Most of the media that you despise so much today were here, in the streets, and then in the Ali Babolo mosque and then again, in the streets. The words that were used have changed that day. With over 500 dead people in the streets, the words we heard turned into hate speech between people of Christian and Muslim faith.

Job Market Trends in the Mobile Phone Industry of Côte d'Ivoire

Alain François Loukou, a research fellow and teacher at the Alassane Ouattara University in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire, wrote an extensive report on the evolution of IT in Côte d'Ivoire [fr]. He shares the following table on the recent evolution of the mobile phone market in his country in terms of mobile penetration, jobs, turnover and investment [fr]: 

Job market in mobile phone industry in  Côte d'Ivoire - Public Domain

Job market in mobile phone industry in Côte d'Ivoire – Public Domain

  

January 16 2014

BBC's North Korean Broadcast Plan Hit a Snag

It is not the first time BBC's ambitious plan to reach out to one of the world's most reclusive countries has been thwarted. Back in June 2013, BBC World Service’ plan to air programmes in North Korea was curbed by government cuts to its budget. This time, BBC has concluded ‘it is not currently possible’ for them ‘to offer a meaningful, effective and cost-effective service.’ North Korea Tech blog went over each possible hurdle North Korean broadcast service would face, including the jamming issue, regulations and more.

January 12 2014

37 Million Students Start New Year with Free Textbooks in Bangladesh

A Student rises up a textbook during the

A student lifts up a textbook during the “Textbook Festival Day” program organized bythe  Education Ministry in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

More than 37 million school students in Bangladesh have received nearly 300 million free school books from the government as part of “Textbook Festival Day” on January 2, 2014, setting a new world record in free textbook distribution, according to Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid.

One of the aims of the annual textbook festival, which has been held since 2011, is to combat illiteracy in the country. According to UNESCO, about 80 percent of youth are literate in Bangladesh. 

In the past few years, the country has made tremendous progress [bn] in its education sector. Bangladesh has achieved almost 100 percent enrollment of eligible children in primary schools, male-female student parity, and ensuring free textbook for all. In 1991, the rate of enrollment was only 61 percent. In 2011, the rate rose to 98.2 percent and in 2012 to 99.47 percent. The rate of female enrollment in primary schools increased from 32 percent to 51 percent and in higher secondary from 18 percent to 54 percent of total students.

In 2014 school year the total books distributed were 299,675,938 among 37,336,672 students of primary, Ebtedayee, Higher secondary School, Dakhil and vocational school systems. The new textbooks can also be downloaded for free or read online from the government's e-book website and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) site.

Blogger and educator Masum Billah noted on the site Articles on Education of Bangladesh another benefit of free textbooks:

Free book distribution for all the primary students emerges as a great contributing factor to reducing drop out.

Different media published photos of students’ happy faces as they received their textbooks.

Film producer Rowshan Ara Nipa remembered on Facebook her own memories of school, when it took at least a few months to receive a new book for the school year:

গত ৫ বছর ধরে জানুয়ারীর ১ তাং এলেই সব বিদ্যালয় গুলিতে এক অসাধারন আনন্দ উৎসব আমাকে সুখকর এক ঈর্ষায় ফেলে দেয় , আহ্হারে আমি যদি ওদের বয়সী হতাম তবে তো আমিও আজ এই আনন্দের ভাগীধার হতাম! তবে আনন্দ যে একেবারে হয়না তা ঠিক নয়, বছরের শুরুর এই দিনে এক সাথে এত কচি কাচার হাসি মুখ এর চেয়ে বড় কোন শুভেচ্ছা আর আছে কি?

খুব মনে আছে এই তো ৫ বছর আগেই কোন ছাত্র-ছাত্রী নতুন বই কবে পাবে তার কোন ঠিক ঠাক সময় ছিলনা, বছরের ৩ মাস পেরিয়ে গেলেও নতন বই এর দেখা পাওয়া বড় সৌভাগ্য বলে গন্য হোত অথবা ২/১ টা নতুন বই আর পুরোনো বই মিলে একটা সেট বানানোর প্রান পন চেষ্টা করা হোত । আমার মা- বাবা দুজনেই প্রাথমিক বিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক ছিলেন। নতুন বই তো দুরের কথা ফেব্রুয়ারী-মার্চ পর্যন্ত কোন বই ছাত্রদের হাতে নাই এ নিয়ে দুশ্চিন্তার অন্ত ছিলনা…

The date January 1 meant a day of joy, which makes me happily jealous, if I were like them I would be part of the celebrations. But it is grand is to see all those happy faces of the children.

I remember that only five years ago there were no guarantee for the students when they would receive books. It would be pure luck for the students if they could get one or two books from the whole set after three months. Both my parents were primary school teachers. They would worry a lot how they were going to carry on with teaching the curriculum in the absence of books till February or March.

Sandipan Basu made fun of the situation:

এখনকার পোলাপাইনগুলা অভাগা। আমাদের কালে আমরা বই না পাওয়ার অজুহাতে পুরা জানুয়ারি স্কুলে যাইতাম না। আর পোলাপাইনে এখন বছরের প্রথমদিনই বই পাইয়া যায়। ক্যামনে কি !!

Today's students have no luck. We could skip school for the whole of January because we did not have new textbooks. Now they get new books at the beginning of the year. How is it possible?

Students rise up textbooks during the

Students celebrating the “Textbook Festival Day” in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

Bangladesh is advancing despite its problems. The distribution of books on the second day of the year is one such example. Blogger Arif Jebtik wrote:

যাঁরা ভাবে বাংলাদেশ এগুচ্ছে না, তাঁরা আমাদের বাংলাদেশ দেখেনি। আমি জানি এই দেশ কীভাবে কতটুকু আগাচ্ছে। [..]

আজ বই হাতে পাওয়া প্রিয় প্রজন্ম, তোমরা সুখে থাকো। তোমাদের যখন পিছু ফিরে দেখার সুযোগ হবে, সেই বয়েসে তোমরা যে বাংলাদেশে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকবে, সেই সুন্দর বাংলাদেশের কথা ভেবে আমি মাঝে মাঝেই তোমাদের ঈর্ষা করি…

Those who think that Bangladesh is not progressing, they are not aware of Bangladesh. I know how it is leaping forward. [..]

Please be happy that the new generation received new books on time. When you look back at this moment one day, like I am doing, you will have lived through that progressive Bangladesh, and I am very much jealous.

Political violence has been a feature of many people's lives in Bangladesh, including children. Freedom fighter and activist Akku Chowdhury wrote:

this is the kind of Bangladesh we would like to see…Children happy with new books seeking knowledge….not Children with gun powder learning to make human BBQ….we want violent free democratic and peaceful nation moving forward with the spirit of liberation war….we want leaders ready to walk the talk…leaders who lead by example….we want politicians who considers power as a public service but not self service to become wealthier….joi manush (hail humans)

January 09 2014

South Korea: Political Revenge against Whistleblower?

Kwon Eun-hee, a policewoman and ex-chief investigator at Seoul Suseo Police station, revealed last summer that her team had received pressures and ‘unreasonable orders’ from superiors to reduce the scope of an investigation into the spy agency election manipulation scandal. Although net users lauded Kwon, her bold act seems to have taken its toll; local media reports [ko] that Kwon has failed to get a promotion which was considered ‘a sure thing for someone with Kwon’s resume and qualifications’, adding that if that happens one more time, by law she would be forced to leave her position in four years. Many suspect it is a politically-motivated decision, including prominent citizen journalist Media Mongu who commented it is ‘a scary revenge’ [ko] and embedded a highlight video of Kwon's revelations.

January 07 2014

Users Jeer at North Korean Death-by-Dog Story

A major US media outlet, NBC made one of the most sensational international reports which claimed the North Korean young dictator might have had his uncle devoured by 120 ravenous dogs. Unsurprisingly, the report went viral online, but was later found out to be a confusion caused by social media satire. Numerous jeers and jokes have been made about Western media's speculative reports on the world’s most reclusive nations. Ask A Korean blog founder via Twitter (@AskAKoreanreminded people of the fake voiceover fiasco back in the spring of 2013 when the inter-Korean tension was dangerously heightened.

January 03 2014

South Korean Lawmaker Proposes Bill Denying Right to Counsel for Anti-State Criminals

A ruling party lawmaker, Kim Jin-tae proposed a bill [ko] that either denies or greatly limits the right to counsel for criminals who are accused of committing ‘anti-state activities'. It has already drawn harsh criticism from civil rights lawyers who call it ‘utterly unconstitutional idea’ [ko] and sparked heated debates in major South Korean online venues. Vice chairman of the Lawyers for a Democratic Society's Judicial Committee, Lee Jae-hwa (@jhohmylawtweeted [ko] as below. 

[After linking to news article [ko] about the bill] Kim Jin-tae is totally delusional. What would be his next step? He may even propose a bill legalizing torture.

January 02 2014

South Korean Authorities Discredit Dissenting Voices as ‘Not-Real’ News

Who gets to decide what is real news or not? It seems the South Korean government thinks they have enough authority to do so. 

The country's media regulation authorities have discredited several news programs, calling them “not real news”. Among many programs that found themselves a target were Newstapa, an investigative news site which made groundbreaking revelations in 2013; Gobal News, a young news site runs by an independent citizen-funded station, just like Newstapa; and several news shows aired by the Christian Broadcasting System (CBS) radio.  

The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) released its report on the media landscape on December 30 and disqualified some as “non-real news” (or “not legit” news) and vowed [ko] to send warnings to those broadcasters in order to push them to make major adjustments in their formats. The government's explanation was that it is illegal for special-purpose stations (i.e. traffic or religion channels) to adopt the form of “news, news anchors, and journalists” and for local channels (which air in a specific province or city) to report on general, state-level social issues – in other words, they can't use the format of news when covering any subjects that are deemed outside of their area of coverage.

Journalists and media workers lambasted the decision, commenting [ko] that the current journalism environment has turned as hostile as that of the 1980s when notorious military dictator Chun Doo-hwan brutally cracked down on any forms of dissent and stifled journalism.

A media industry veteran and currently investigative reporter at Newstapa, Choi Kyung-young (@kyung0), wrote [ko] as below. Newstapa (English name: Korea Center for Investigative Journalism) made stunning feats of journalism last year by disclosing critical facts about the election manipulation scandal and elite tax haven scheme, but was discredited by authorities as “not real news”. 

[...] 어디서 유사언론학을 들었는지 모르겠으나 “정부가 무엇이 보도인지를 규정하면 그 나라에는 보도는 사라지고 선전만 남게된다” http://t.co/Ww3nIpXUUT

[...] I dont know where they learnt about the definition on “non-legit news”, but bear in mind that once the government gets to decide what is news or not, news reports in that nation disappears and only propaganda is left. 

CBS (Christian Broadcasting System, not related to the US media company of the same name) is a non-profit organization that has a history of being the first independent radio station in the country. Although it has a Christian background, some of CBS's news programs have been praised for unbiased reports.

One of the hosts for CBS's news program, Kim Eung-gyo, wrote that the only comparable crackdown on media to this current one is the 1980′s shutdown when the military regime forced CBS to shutter by merging them and other independent broadcasters with state-run TV. The station reopened seven years later:

As suspected, they provoked CBS. They branded these programs – CBS News, Jeong Kwan-yong's Current Issues, Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show – “not real news” done without proper permission. It seems like the ghost of [military dictator] Chun Doo-hwan – who halted CBS which has aired news since 1954 - has returned to this era.

Media critic Yoo Chang-seon (‏@changseon) criticized [ko] authorities’ guidelines as outdated:

방송통신위원회의 이러한 발상, 참 낡고 낡았다 하는 생각이 듭니다. 종교채널이든 경제채널이든 교통채널이든, 그 방송을 듣고 보는 사람들 모두 세상 돌아가는 일을 알아야 합니다. 어느 분야 하나 서로 연결되지 않는 것이 없는 세상입니다[...]

Korea Communications Commission's decision reveals that their thinking cannot be more outdated. Whether it is a religious channel, an economic channel or a traffic channel, the audience should be able get information on what is happening now in the world by watching those channels. Moreover, everything, every industry are closely connected with each other[...]

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Gobal news and Newstapa both belong to RTV, [ko] an independent TV station that heavily depends on citizen contributions and donations. RTV tweeted as below right after the news about “not-real news” broke. Gobal news revealed [ko] that while the move was made against them, the government provides generous benefits to TV stations run by major newspapers who strongly support the government and its policies:

This signals the start of muzzling media critical of the government. It means that they will allow people to watch only the network TVs and those TV stations run by conservative newspaper companies [referring to Chosun, Joonang and Donga Newspaper]

RTV's journalists said that they will resist against [ko] authorities’ guidelines, and many citizens expressed the same. Pyo Chang-won, a former professor at the National Police University and now influential talk show host, tweeted as below. 

CBS radio and its program “Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show” have played the role of real journalism program by delivering facts and sharp analyses to audiences. I fully support and want to encourage them, and every fiber of my body will be resisting against the KCC's anachronistic oppression of the media – which would be more befitting of a dictatorial era. Cheer up. 

3 Suggestions for Good Governance in the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Mali

Three countries in francophone Africa are fighting to exit prolonged social crises that stem from broken political systems. Over the past five years, the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Mali went through political takeovers that involved the participation of armed factions: 

All three nations face similar long odds before a sustainable political system can be stabilized. Here are three conditions that civil societies in these respective countries have identified in order to start the reconstruction of the political system.

Madagascar   

Emmanuel Jovelin, a lecturer at the Université of Lille, and Lala Rarivomanantsoa, a professor at the University of Antananarivo, wrote a book called “Opinion publique et bonne gouvernance à Madagascar” [Public opinion and good governance in Madagascar]. The authors addressed a multitude of issues pertaining to Malagasy citizens’ perception of their political representatives. One of their most outstanding chapters is the proposed framework for evaluating governance in Madagascar. They opine [fr]: 

Le gouverné n'est pas, comme on a toujours tendance à le croire, une masse informe que le gouvernant pourrait modeler à sa guise. L'opinion qu'il se fait de la gouvernance prend des formes variées parfois contradictoires pour mettre en place une administration efficace. [...] Mais l'ensemble des opinions recensées dans cette étude peut constituer la base d'une gouvernance respectant les règles de la démocratie [...] La succession des différents régimes depuis l'Indépendance peut s'expliquer par une faiblesse des structures intermédiaires de dialogue (à travers l'administration et au sein de la société civile) qui n'ont pas fonctionné comme on aurait pu le souhaiter.  

Citizens are not, as one tends to believe, a shapeless mass that could be shaped as rulers would wish. Citizens’ opinion of governance takes various forms sometimes contradictory to the establishment of an effective administration. [...] Still, all opinions identified in this study can form the basis of a governance that respects the rules of democracy [...] The succession of different regimes since independence can be explained by a weakly structures intermediate dialogue (through government and within civil society) that did not work as one might wish.

Below is the matrix they propose to evaluate the performance of the governing administration:

Screenshot of the  framework to evaluate governance in Madagascar from an extract of the book by Jovelin, Rarivomanantsoa - CC-license-BY

Screenshot of the framework to evaluate governance in Madagascar from an extract of the book by Jovelin, Rarivomanantsoa – CC-license-BY

The first two lines details the skills/competence that any governing bodies should showcase and provide a scoring chart  :

1. Scoring for “Academic Achievement” : primary school: 1; secondary school: 2 ; higher education: 3.

2. Scoring  for the feasability of development programmes : weak : 1; medium: 2; strong: 3. 

Central African Republic

The conflict in the Central African Republic has escalated to an alarming level of victims: the death toll has now reached at least 500, according to the local Red Cross.

Map of the battles in late 2012 in the CAR civil war via wikipedia CC License-BY

Map of the battles in late 2012 in the CAR Civil War via Wikipedia CC License-BY

The following video illustrates the level of fear and insecurity across the country:

The OCBG blog based in Bangui reports on the proceedings meeting on good governance [fr] in the CAR:

En Centrafrique ou ailleurs, par crainte ou par méfiance et quelquefois désintérêt à la chose politique, nombreux sont ceux qui se cachent [..] Notre pays a été marqué par des mutineries successives, des coups d’état et des rebellions ce qui affecte sa stabilité et son développement économique [..] En effet, les centrafricains attendent des gouvernants de demain : L’organisation d’une véritable armée nationale ; la garantie sécuritaire des populations sur toute l’étendue du pays ; l création des infrastructures (écoles, routes, hôpitaux, bâtiments administratifs etc.,) les accords de Libreville ne peuvent résoudre les problématiques récurrentes à notre pays, dans la mesure où Libreville a été qu’une course à l’échalote et des maroquins, aucun des protagonistes n’a posé la question relative à l’urgence sociale qui prévaut

In CAR and the greater region, many people are hiding because of fear, distrust and disinterest towards politics [...] Our country has been marked by successive mutinies, coups and rebellions which affects its stability and economic development [...] In fact, the CAR expect the following from their leaders: the establishment of a truly national army, the guaranteed safety of populations throughout the country, the creation of infrastructure (schools, roads, hospitals, administrative buildings etc.). The Libreville agreement cannot solve the recurrent problems of our country because the Libreville agreement [a ceasefire agreement signed in January 2013 that stipulated the integration of the opposition in the government] was a race for money and power, neither side even addressed the question of social emergency that prevails.

Mali

The Malian crisis was partly resolved by the French military intervention in 2013, but despite the presence of the peace forces, unrest is still prominent in the northern territory.

 A Tuareg rebel in northern Mali on wikipedia CC-license-BY

A Tuareg rebel in northern Mali on Wikipedia CC-license-BY

In light of many still unresolved issue of governance, Michael Bratton, Massa Coulibaly and Fabiana Machado report on the survey they conducted with Malian citizens on what they expect in a good governance [PDF] : 

Malians prefer democracy to other political regimes but their perception of democracy is culturally distinct. Malian satisfaction with democracy is often seen in terms of the personal performance of individual political leaders. They judge the legitimacy of the state based on popular trust in public institutions and perceptions that public officials are not corrupt [..] Malians continue to regard the State as the most reliable provider of employment. They prefer cosnensus and unity to political and economic competition. 

December 31 2013

Malagasy Genius Seeking Happiness off the Grid

Arthur Ramiandrisoa at 11 via Dinosoria CC-License-BY

Arthur at 11 via Dinosoria CC-License-BY

Arthur Ramiandrisoa has been under the spotlight his life. That comes with the territory when you hold the record as the youngest french high school graduate ever [fr] at the tender age of 11. The precocious boy whose father is from Madagascar and mother from France obtained his Masters in Mathematics at 15 from the University of Paris VI. Books were written about him, and TV and radio channels wanted to know the teaching method that got him so successful early on. He seemed destined for great achievements when he decided that what he wanted more than anything is a normal life, away from all the public attention he garnered early on, as E. Pineau explains [fr]: 

Présenté comme le “champion des surdoués français”, l'étiquette se révélera trop encombrante. Depuis son doctorat, obtenu à 19 ans, Arthur Ramiandrisoa n'a qu'un souhait : se faire oublier. Contactés à plusieurs reprises, ses proches n'ont pas donné suite à nos sollicitations. Se contentant de nous indiquer qu’“Arthur a gardé un très mauvais souvenir de plusieurs reportages” et “souhaitconserver l'anonymat dans lequel il vit actuellement”

Billed as the French “champion of the gifted children“, this label will prove too cumbersome in the end. Since he obtained his PhD at 19, Arthur Ramiandrisoa has only one wish: to be forgotten. Contacted several times, his family did not respond to any requests for interviews. They say that “Arthur has bad memories from several reports about him” and “wishes to remain anonymous from now on.

A Ramiandrisoa, now an IT architect, was also a pioneer of XML modeling for urban planning.

South Korean Pres. Vows Pre-emptive Strikes on Social Media Rumors

Is South Korea government gearing up toward social media censorship? The latest official remark by President Park (full transcript [ko]) had Korean net users worried. Park, addressing “those rumors spreading via social media”, said “if the government let these things happen, it will bring chaos nationwide” and added “bear in mind that the authorities need to react fast and aggressively, and preemptively against those groups trying to distort the situations”. Many twitter users voiced concerns and pointed out the fact (such as @ppsskr's tweet [ko] which has been retweeted over 500 times) that the government bodies sent out over 24 million tweets to tip the scale in favor of Park in the latest presidential election.

December 29 2013

Iran: Two Poets Arrested

Poets Mehdi Mousavi and Fatemeh Ekhtesari disappeared in Iran. News reported that the two have been detained since early December. More than two hundred people signed an online petition and called on the UN to take action about the situation of cultural activists particularly the case of these two young poets in Iran.

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

December 28 2013

South Korea: Reason Behind Movie ‘The Attorney's Box Office Smash

South Korean movie ‘The Attorney’ which depicts the early life of ex-President Roh who started as a civil rights lawyer resisting against dictatorial regimes, has drawn over 4 million admissions in just ten days of screening. Movie critics even comment [ko] that its popularity in Korea is more explosive than that of Hollywood blockbuster ‘Avatar’ which made a huge hit in the country. Prominent culture critic Chin Jung-kwon (@unheim) explains via Twitter that the current administration and its multiple political scandals have ironically helped the movie by inspiring people to take interest in democratic values.

It is hard for this sort of film to make a big-time (commercial) success, but the government has paved the way for public’s explosive responses to it. While movie ‘May 18’ (which is about the 80s democratic movement) have failed to re-summon the old slogan of ‘Democracy’, this movie was able to gain success as the government taught people that you should not be treating that old value as outdated.

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