May 27, 2011

'Big Bro' Sarkozy calls for internet regulation


French President Sarkozy has referred to the need to "civilize" the internet as a central issue of France's G-8 agenda. This week Sarkozy opened an 'historic' conference on the internet and the future of the "digital ecosystem." The Paris forum brought together some famous names, including Google's Eric Schmidt and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.


Sarkozy... lauded the gathering of executives... for helping fuel the Arab spring and spurring economic growth.

But he maintained that governments have a role in setting ground rules to limit the abuses and excesses of the Internet, setting up a clash with Schmidt, who said no one would win if "some stupid rule" stunted the growth of the Web.

Sarkozy's call for "a more civilized internet" translates into a push for greater governmental regulation - all-in-all not such a hot idea. The last thing we need is more clout for Big Brother in the internet zone.

The French president has shown some rather draconian inclinations when it comes to the web. He has referred to the internet as the "Wild West" and an "extralegal zone." Not long ago in France he was behind a law that called for copyright pirates to be cut off from the internet. Of course he couches his calls for regulation in high sounding terms, referring to a "moral imperative" in order to correct "excesses." In all of this it's hard not to suspect a hint of self-interest in a president with notoriously thin skin. The internet has been rife with unflattering stories about Sarkozy's private life. Not long ago his Facebook account was hacked and the message put out that he wouldn't be running in the next election.

Colorful comments by his secretary of trade Frédéric Lefebvre have added to the impression of scare tactics aimed at paving the way for regulation. With more than a touch of hyperbole, Lefebvre described the Internet as a hotbed of “psychopaths, rapists, racists and thieves… The lack of regulation on the Net creates victims every day… How long will they tolerate young girls being raped before the authorities react?”

John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation understands the 'civilizing' of cyber space rather differently, as less about regulation and more about freedom:

We’ve been trying to civilise cyberspace for 22 years and I think we may have different notions of what that means. We think that civilisation implies liberty, implies openness, implies, to the extent possible, minimal regulation...

Internet culture doesn't exist in some parallel universe, even though Sarkozy might suspect it of doing so. It is responsive to the needs of its users. Last year in Germany there were privacy concerns related to Google's Street View. A number of companies adopted a code of good practice for "geo-data." This includes the option to blur images of homes and persons on request.

Increased governmental regulation will have a suffocating effect on everything from free expression to the growth of the digital economy. The internet zone is very different from a societal sector in which governmental regulations may be appropriate. For one thing in the world of tech change and innovation happens much more quickly. It's not easy to foresee the consequences of regulation. Regulations that in the short term may seem desirable, could very quickly turn out to be more of a liability than an asset.

The advocacy group La Quadrature du Net has come out in strong opposition to Sarkozy's proposals. Spokesman Jérémie Zimmermann described the summit as "a farce." Along with other Net activists, La Quadrature du Net warn that the world's governments are uniting to "control and censor the internet." Like Sarkozy - Italy's premier Berlusconi has been pushing his plans for internet regulation.

Government regulation runs counter to the spirit of a free web in which each of us has a stake.

Link also to Guardian - Guardian (on the reaction of UK's Cameron) - Huffpo - BBC (video)

Sarko alert

Dove Body Wash ad accused of sending mixed message


A Dove ad for VisibleCare Creme Body Wash has come under criticism for sending a mixed message. The models in the ad feature a curvy black woman, a Latina and a slim white woman. A weight/skin color transition appears to be inferred - intentionally or not - with "before" and "after" references. The "before" above the black model is on a large panel showing cracked skin - "after" above the white model shows smooth, perfect skin.

A hypothetical tagline could be "get-whiter-and-slimmer with Dove Body Wash!" On the face of it, a ridiculous suggestion because the Body Wash isn't a skin-lightening product. Nonetheless the ad might be interpreted that way.

A Dove spokesperson denied there is anything racist going on in the ad:

All three women are intended to demonstrate the "after" product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.'

Okay, but how come the designers of the ad and the people who approved it failed to see the potential for misunderstanding? It's a mixed message at best. If all three models demonstrate the "after" look, why weren't they placed in a different order to avoid negative perceptions?

It is a stretch to call the ad racist, but the set-up lays it open to the charge.

It's not as if there aren't other examples of perceived racism that might lead to a cynical view of the Dove ad. The fashion industry has been criticized for favoring white models over models-of-color. Beauty-related ads have been criticized for skin lightening - for example this bizarre L'Oreal ad featuring Beyonce.

Also link to: The Root - This Week

May 21, 2011

The apocalypse that wasn't

harold camping,apocalypse

If you buy the prophetic ramblings of 89 year-old engineer-turned-preacher Harold Camping the world is scheduled to end today - Saturday, May 21, 2011. Surprising that Camping is so keen to usher in end-times. His enterprises have been doing pretty well in a tough economy.

NY Times:

A former civil engineer, Mr. Camping, 89, built a small nonprofit empire in radio, going from a single station in San Francisco to more than 200 radio stations and a pair of television stations, according to The Bay Citizen, which also reported the organization’s most recent I.R.S. financial disclosure filings, showing $34 million in investments, $56 million in assets and $29 million in mortgages.

Camping has an apocalypse-events preview of sorts for the upcoming "Judgment Day" drama. As of this posting a massive earthquake is reportedly going to start up in New Zealand and rumble its way around the globe. While all this rattling and rolling is going on, graves will open and and two hundred million of the "saved" will float up to heaven in the so-called "rapture." So be sure to wave as great uncle Ebeneezer and great great grandma Jemima levitate skyward.

Thanks to donations from followers who tune into the Family Radio Network, Camping has been able to launch a huge ad campaign heralding the impending apocalypse. There are over 2,000 billboards across the US warning of the end-to-come with slogans such as "Blow the trumpet, warn the people."

harold camping,apocalypse

It's amazing that there is anyone out there who takes Camping's prophesies seriously, particularly when you look at the hokey bible-based numerology he uses to support his predictions. This includes trotting out implausible dates for events that are more myth than historical fact. For example he claims that Jesus was crucified on April 1, 33 AD and that May 21 marks the 7,000th anniversary of Noah's flood. Funny stuff.

In common with other evangelical doomsday preachers Camping sees evil everywhere... too many 'Satanic' goings on wherever you look.

When May 22 dawns, it won't be the first time Camping's predictions have come back to bite him. He predicted that Christ would return on September 6, 1994. His followers even dressed their kids up in their Sunday best to wait for the big non-event. It's unclear if Camping and co will be dressing for judgment this time around.

Christian detractors call Camping "a false prophet." He's most of all an eccentric with a taste for publicity. One thing is for certain - when May 22 rolls around yet another religious wingnut will have flamed out in grand style. Some people might even be disappointed... especially those who joined a Facebook page dedicated to "Post-Rapture Looting." An entry on the page reads: “When everyone is gone and God’s not looking we need to pick up some sweet stereo equipment.”

Grey bloke's amusing take on Camping's apocalypse beneath:

For more on the story link to Guardian - NY Times

Pictures - Independent

May 10, 2011

Lisa Blue 'goddess' swimsuit makes waves

Hindus protest Goddess Lakshmi swimsuit

A swimsuit that features an image of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi has been making waves. The use of Lakshmi's image, emblazoned on the front and back of the cutaway design, has sparked outrage on the part of offended Hindus. The swimsuit was created by the Australian designer Lisa Burke - part of her Lisa Blue line at Australian Fashion Week.

Some of the sound and fury has been coming from right-wing Hindu organizations such as Shiv Sena and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. During the protests in Indian cities participants waved photocopies of the Lakshmi swimsuit and burned the Australian flag.

Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, called on Lisa Blue and the organizers of the Rosemount Australian Fashion Week to apologize and recall all swimwear featuring Lakshmi.

The use of an image of a god or goddess on a commercial product can be a risky proposition. When Lakshmi's image was used by Burger King in 2009 the promotion sparked a similar backlash. The pairing of Lakshmi with beef was viewed as blasphemous by many Hindus since the cow has sacred significance for them.

In general the reaction of the religious seems to depend on how a sacred image is handled. Images of Hindu deities turn up in many commercial products without any problem. For example Hindu Art Yoga Clothing has a line of t'shirts and other items featuring a range of gods and goddesses. There is even a Lakshmi handbag that has been advertised without any protests breaking out.


Handbags are one thing though - It's hard to believe that the creators of the swimsuit were naive enough to imagine that the image of Lakshmi on the rear end of a model's bikini wouldn't provoke a backlash.

Lisa Burke has apologized and announced that the Lakshmi range won't be available for sale in stocklists or retail outlets. She said: "At no time would we ever have intended that the brand would cause offence. The use of images of Goddess Lakshmi was not in any way a measure of calculated risk taking, simply it was a desire to celebrate different cultures and share that through our brand."

The "celebrate different cultures" bit is hard to buy. Western companies that appropriate what is considered sacred art by some are about making a profit. It's really about exploitation. However the heated reaction of Hindu nationalists - all male - is as much about politics and right-wing chauvinism as it is about culture and religion.

May 2, 2011

NDP looking strong on eve of Canadian election

jack layton,canada,ndp

In an EKOS-iPolitics poll for May 1 the gap between the NDP and front-running Conservatives has narrowed to just 3 points. The poll has the Conservatives with 34.6% of support of decided and leaning voters - the NDP is at 31.4%. The Liberals are back at 20.4%.

The NDP offers a real democratic alternative to 'fortress' Harper and his controlling style of governance. The catalog of Harper lies, flip-flops and power grabs makes interesting reading - it speaks to an agenda that has to be challenged in an Ottawa that needs fixing.

The name Harper prefers for his administration was spelled out in a directive that went out to public servants. It stated that in federal communications the "Government of Canada" should be replaced with "Harper Government." It certainly clarifies a few things because a majority of Canadians (based on the popular vote) have difficulty associating Harper and his agenda with the Canada they know and love.

The NDP was recently endorsed by the Toronto Star. A T-Star editorial lists some of the NDP's assets:

• The party is on the verge of a historic breakthrough in Quebec, which would go far toward establishing it as a truly national party. Pushing back the Bloc Québécois is an enormous service to all Canadians. For the long-term unity of the country it is vital to have a national federalist leader trusted in Quebec as well as other regions. Layton’s roots in Quebec have proven key to this.

• The platform the NDP offers voters is ambitious and puts people first. It focuses on seniors, health care and the environment. It is in the broad tradition of nation-building that has long been at the heart of Canadian politics. After years of hearing the Harper Conservatives give the back of the hand to such aspirations, it is refreshing to see.

• On economic issues, long the NDP’s weakest point, the party is much sounder than it has been in the past. It is reaching out to small business as the main motor of job creation, and proposes no increases in personal taxes (though it would hike the corporate tax rate to 19.5 per cent). It pledges to balance the federal budget in four years, the same as the Liberals and Conservatives.

• In Layton it has a leader who has won the trust of many voters — a rare feat in a time dominated by cynical, ultra-partisan politicking. As a product of Toronto’s municipal scene and a veteran of urban politics, he is more attuned than any other major leader to the needs of our country’s cities — the engines of innovation and future prosperity.

Harper's partisan approach to politics has been a divisive force in the country. Even with a Tory win, the strong showing of the NDP on the federal scene sends a clear message for the future. Times they are a'changing.

Canada needs a federal government that genuinely represents the needs and aspirations of Canadians - not a machine that exploits fear and cynicism in order to help galvanize the vote.

Video of NDP rally in BC:

More on the election - Toronto Star - Rabble