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Archive for the tag “freedom”

How US Net Neutrality affects the rest of us

Those of us outside the US may have observed their debates on net neutrality, and wondered whether it would affect us.

Even if it is something confined purely to the US, however, the loss of net neutrality there will affect people all over the world. But when people speak of the loss of net neutrality, there are many ways in which it has already been lost, or rather, it is an ideal that has never been fully realised.

This article helps to explain what it means for people in the US — Someone Finally Illustrated What The Loss Of Net Neutrality Really Looks Like, And You Won’t Like It:

Net neutrality has become a volatile, high-profile news story, and with good reason: Americans are in danger of losing it. But what is net neutrality, and why is it important? Why are some lawmakers fighting so hard to make it a thing of the past?

The answer is complex, rooted in technological progress, a changing economic landscape, and a society and culture that is seeing greater class divisions than at any other time in our history. Some in our government are determined to make the internet a profit-driven product, and while this may sound understandable in a capitalist society, the dangers are very real.

Aptly illustrated by this picture:

If you live in South Africa, say, and you post some family photos on Facebook, the loss of net neutrality in the US might mean that your cousin in the US may not be able to see them, because their ISP has decided to charge more for access to Facebook.

Of course even with net neutrality your cousin in the US might not have been able to see your photos, because Facebook’s algorithm already decides who gets to see what you post, and who doesn’t get to see it.

Think of another example. An academic researcher in South Africa posts a research query in a blog, trying to verify some fact, or get reactions to a conjecture or hypothesis. With net neutrality, anyone with a web connection can see the blog and respond to the post. But without net neutrality, an ISP can decide to make that particular blogging platform only accessible to some of its subscribers who pay extra for it.

Even without legal protection of “net neutrality”, there have been all kinds of attempts to corral users into a closed system. Facebook’s Messaging app is an example. Get people to use that, and people have to join Facebook to communicate with you. Others may have attempted the same thing, but it might have backfired on them. In an earlier post, The decline and decline of tumblr | Notes from underground, I noted that tumblr had gradually reduced the functionality of their site to make it a closed world. Perhaps they did this in the hope that they, like Facebook, might be able to lock users in to their site, though the actual effect was to remove the incentive for many people to visit their site at all. To lock people in successfully, you have to be big like Facebook, not small like tumblr.

We had something similar in South Africa. A few years ago people who used MWeb as their ISP found it difficult to access certain web sites, because MWeb was trying to lock them in and steer them towards its own offerings. I don’t know if they still do that, but there was quite an outcry at the time.

Something similar was seen back in the 1990s, when dial-up BBSs were popular. Telkom, whose phone lines were being used for it, wanted to charge more for data calls to BBSs than for voice calls, but the counter argument was that Telkom was a “common carrier” — their job was to provide the connections, for which they could charge, but the content of the calls was none of their business. The “common carrier” principle is the same principle as net neutrality — an ISP charges you for the internet connection and the band width you use, but the content of your connection is none of their business.

The “common carrier” principle provided a great deal of freedom, because anyone could set up a BBS, and so BBSs were a great enhancement to free speech. It was one of the factors that helped to topple a lot of dictatorial regimes in the annus mirabilis of 1989. It was how news of the Tianamnen Square massacre in China reached the rest of the world; pro-democracy activists used a BBS conference called ASIAN_LINK to communicate with each other and the rest of the world.

So the loss of New Neutrality takes the USA another step further away from the “free world” that it once claimed to be the leader of.




Dalai Lama again refused entry into SA

The Dalai Lama has again been refused entry to South Africa, this time for the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the Cape Times reported on Thursday

The Dalai Lama’s representative in South Africa Nangsa Choedon said officials from the department of international relations had phoned her office in the past week to say the Tibetan spiritual leader would not be granted a visa. The office had yet to receive written confirmation.”For now the Dalai Lama has decided to cancel his trip to South Africa,” Choedon was quoted as saying.

The summit, an annual gathering, is being held in Cape Town next month, with arrangements being made by a local organising committee formed by the foundations representing four South African laureates — Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk, and Albert Luthuli.

via Dalai Lama again refused entry into SA – Sowetan LIVE.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

And this happens in the year when we are supposed to be celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy. Our “freedom” is beginning to look a bit tattered around the edges.

In 1968 the South African government excluded the cricketer Basil d’Oliveira from coming with the MCC team on a cricket tour, and the result was the exclusion of South Africa from world cricket for more than 20 years. Now it seems that the young dog is learning the old dog’s tricks.

It means that, as in the bad old days, South Africa is not a suitable place for international gatherings, because people can be barred from attending by arbitrary government decisions.

If the people arranging the gathering of Nobel Laureates have any integrity, they will move the venue to a free country (Botswana for instance), which will all ow all those invited to attend.

If the organisers of the gathering are not willing to do that, then the other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates should refuse to attend. Their attendance in such circumstances would make a mockery of the Peace Prize.


Memories of Pete Seeger

The news of the death of Pete Seeger was not surprising, but was sad nonetheless. since he was one of the first singers I ever became a fan of, though at first I never even knew his name.

When I was younger we lived on a smallholding at Sunningdale, just outside Johannesburg (the bit where we lived it has now been absorbed by the megalopolis, and has another name). Because it was outside the municipal area, there was no mains electricity or water, and so any music and records we played  we heard on an old wind-up gramophone. My parents had about 10 records, and the only ones I can remember were Ravel’s Bolero on a 12″ 78 record, and two 10″ ones with songs — Rum and Coca-Cola by the Andrews Sisters, and Old Paint by The Weavers.

I used to ride horses a lot in those days, and when I was about 11 or 12 years old I used to ride around singing Old Paint because I knew it was about a horse, even though I didn’t understand some of the words, like couleesdraw and hoolihan. I didn’t know then that Pete Seeger was one of the Weavers, but ten years later I certainly did, when I was a student in the 1960s, and in a way his were the songs that shaped our generation.

My mother worked for SARRAL, the South African Recording Rights Association, which kept track of musicians’ royalties, and then she was headhunted by Teal Records, who wanted her to sort out their copyright department, which was a mess. They used to get all sorts of samples from overseas record distributers, and Teal would decide whether to import them, or, if they were likely to be popular, to press and distribute them locally.

seegerMy mother picked up quite a lot of these samples, especially the ones that weren’t distibuted in South Africa. Pete Seeger’s We shall overcome album was one that was not distributed, not because Teal thought it wouldn’t sell, but because the Publications Control Board immediately banned it. My mother nicked the sample copy and brought it home.  By that time we lived in Johannesburg, had mains electricity, and so had upgraded our wind-up gramophone to an electric one that could play LPs.

And we played it so much that it almost wore out.

And thirty-five years years later, when our kids were about the same age as I was when I used to sing Old Paint they had most of the songs on the record word perfect, right down to the accent — “what was going on in Birmingham, with the daags….” and breaking into I ain’t scared of your jail ’cause I want my freedom, I want my freedom now.

Pete Seeger taught us to express our desire for freedom in song. May his memory be eternal!

Political dreams

Now here’s a story that’s likely to have financial journalists and tenderpreneurs frothing at the mouth

Opinionated Vicar: Prophet of the Day: the President of Uruguay:

Think of a world leader, politician, or indeed anyone in power that you know, who gives away 90% of their income. Tricky. But there is one: But there is one: the President of Uruguay. He has personal wealth of just over £1000, which takes the form of an old VW Beetle, and living off 10% of his official salary means that his regular income is about the same as that of an average Uruguayan.

Look at the Uruguayan president’s house (his wife’s, actually) and compare it with Zumaville.

If there’s one thing that the “mainstream” media can’t stand, it’s a politician who isn’t on the make, and there are very few of those around. One of the few African politicians who was not on the make was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and the Western media published lots of denigratory articles about him. There was one syndicated article, with a title like The “teacher” who reduced his nation to beggary, which did the rounds for about 20 years, and was reprinted again and again. I saw it several times over the years in South African newspapers.

I have a dream that before I die I will see Mamphela Ramphele as the president of South Africa.

It’s not likely to happen, of course, because the way our political system is constructed anyone who now wants to get to that position has to be prepared to devote all their time to the political infighting and backstabbing that constitutes out political process. Mamphela Ramphele is one of South Africa’s South Africa’s foremost public intellectuals, and I doubt that she has the stomach for that kind of thing. Moral turpitude seems to be a requirement for the job.

But I’m not alone in having this dream; it is shared by at least one other person.

Of course it is too much to hope for that such dreams can be fulfilled twice in a lifetime.

It should have been enough that in 1994 South Africa gained its freedom and was liberated from the evil ideology of apartheid. Back in the bad old days the enemy was obvious, and the moral choices were clear. The country was in the grip of an evil dieology, and if we were to be liberated that grip must be broken.

But now there is no single source of evil that one can point to; it is just the usual messy mishmash of human sinfulnes, greed, lust for power, incompetence and corruption. In a sense South Africa has become normal. It is what most countries have to contend with, one way or another.

It reminds me of a song that we used to sing in the early 1970s, buy a little-known British gospel rock group called Parchment:

Yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true
We fought for our freedom, and what did it do?
Now no one can see where they stand.

Let there be light in the land, let there be light in the people
Let there be God in our lives from now on.

What is a libertarian?

What is a libertarian?

I read the blogs of people who claim to be libertarians, and it’s really hard to tell.

  1. Some sound like libertines.
  2. Some sound like liberals on steroids.
  3. Some sound as though they believe the universe has given them the right to grind the face of the poor into the dirt, forever, and they are just longing for the opportunity to do it.

And some sound like all three, switching from one to the other in as many sentences.

Hat-tip to Ron Paul Is Not a Libertarian | Clarissa’s Blog — I originally posted the above as a comment in response to Clarissa’s post, but thought I would also post it separately as well.

There is a chain or restaurants here in South Africa that advertises by saying “You can’t have too much of a good thing.”

It is an invitation to gluttony, saying, in effect, that over-eating is not a vice.

I am a liberal, and I generally think that liberalism is a good thing.

I think that liberty, human freedom, is a good thing.

But when I read blogs by people who claim to be libertarians, I get the impression that what they are after is not so much liberty as licence. That is why I say that they are like liberals on steroids.

Liberals think that liberty is important, it is an important value, and the lack of it should be remedied as quickly as possible. Libertarians seem to believe that personal liberty is the only value, and that everything else must be subordinated to it.

Someone once asked me how, as an Orthodox Christian, I could say that I was a liberal. They thought that liberalism was the essence of everything that is evil and wrong with the world.

Yet Orthodox writers assume that freedom and love are essential characteristics of being human. For example, Christos Yannaras (1984:33) writes

Man’s insistence on his individuality is an indication of his failure to realize his personal distinctiveness and freedom, of his falling away from the fulness of existence which is the life of the Trinity, personal coinherence and communion in love. This falling away is sin, amartia, which means missing the mark as to existential truth and authenticity. The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and ‘missing the mark,’ as the loss of that ‘end’ or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

But making freedom the main thing, or even the only thing, as libertarians seem to do, is to turn freedom into an idol. It turns liberty into an ideology, a kind of binding principle, so that in embracing the idea of freedom, and bowing down and worshipping it, one actually loses one’s freedom. When one makes liberty a principle and a rule by which everything is judged, one loses one’s freedom to live and to act; freedom as a false god is anything but free.



Yannaras, Christos. 1984. The freedom of morality. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

The phony liberators

When Hugo Chávez first became president of Venezuela in 1999, he seemed to be a champion of democracy, and in initial reforms he tried to introduce a more participatory style of democracy.

But that didn’t last, and when he publicly sided with political leaders whose main aim was to suppress anything resembling participatory democracy, like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, he showed his true colours. Those who praised him for his initial championing of democracy have now become his fiercest critics, as he has clearly joined the side of the suppressors of democracy.

Noam Chomsky denounces old friend Hugo Chávez for ‘assault’ on democracy | The Observer:

Hugo Chávez has long considered Noam Chomsky one of his best friends in the west. He has basked in the renowned scholar’s praise for Venezuela’s socialist revolution and echoed his denunciations of US imperialism…

The president may be about to have second thoughts about that, because his favourite intellectual has now turned his guns on Chávez.

Speaking to the Observer last week, Chomsky has accused the socialist leader of amassing too much power and of making an “assault” on Venezuela’s democracy.

Perhaps this is yet another illustration of what was said by the Brazilian educationist Paolo Freire,

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion (P. Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 1998, p. 29).

Unless the oppressed can get beyond this barrier, then even if they succeed in overthroring their oppressors, they will simply become oppressors in their turn, and hence phony liberators.

And George Orwell said much the same thing in his Animal farm.

There are some pictures of Hugo Chávez in which he seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to the late Eugene Terreblanche. Or Julius Malema.

Namibian turning point – forty years ago today

Forty years ago today the World Court announced its judgement that South Africa’s rule of Namibia was illegal. It happened, most appropriately, on the Winter Solstice. Until then the nights had been longer than the days and getting longer. But thereafter, though the nights were still longer than the days, they were getting shorter.

It was to be another nineteen long years before the last South African troops crossed the southern border, and Namibia heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The longest night was still the longest night, but for the first time it gave real hope, hope that the dawn was getting ever closer. Nothing changed, yet everything had changed.

Here’s what I wrote in my diary at the time, for what it’s worth. Perhaps I should explain, by way of background, that I was at the time a self-supporting priest in the Anglican Church in Windhoek and worked at the Windhoek Advertiser as a proof reader, and that Deve de Beer (who also worked for the Anglican Church) and I were stringers for the Argus Africa News Service, which fed most of the evening newspapers in South Africa.

Monday 21 June 1971

I took Musrum up to Woodway to have its silencer fixed, and then Dave took me to work. I sent off stories to the Argus Africa News Service about the World Court verdict due to be given today. There was a surface calm, and apparent indifference, but people in high places appear to be worried. Die Suidwester had an editorial asking people to keep calm, and not to take hasty decisions, and Dirk
Mudge, the acting administrator, also made a plea for calm.

At lunch time I went to the court, and saw Chris Nicholson there. He said he had heard on the radio that the World Court had decided by 13 votes to 2 that South Africa had no right to be in South West, and thought it would be interesting to see who the 2 were. It would be a guide to the impartiality of the court. If they were British and French, it would show that national self-interest dominated the proceedings, rather than a real concern for justice.

We carried the story on the front page of the Advertiser, and Cowley wrote an editorial about Bantustan presidents or leaders going overseas to do a power of good to the homelands policy. Jimmy [Jimmy Simpson, the subesitor]was bitter about the World Court, and said it looked like his fishing would be over. When I asked him why, he said, “Well, with the United Nations taking over”. I don’t see why the United Nations will prohibit Jimmy from fishing, but he seemed convinced they will.

After work I went to the diocesan office and Dave was there; I went out to see Clemens Kapuuo, but was told he had gone to town, and on the way saw Johan Penderis walking back from rugby practice, and gave him a lift. I went out again later to try to find Clemens Kapuuo, calling at the diocesan office again. Abraham Hangula was there, and he asked what the verdict was and when I told him he beamed and shouted “Alleluia!” and then said “If the South African government leaves, then we can really preach the gospel.”

I gave Dina a lift to Katutura, and ran out of petrol. I asked her what she thought about the World Court decision, and she said she didn’t think. But she asked all sorts of questions, like what would South Africa do, what would happen if they pulled out, and would they really pull out. When I got to Clemens Kapuuo’s shop there was a group of men standing outside, Mbuende among them. Mbuende introduced me to the others, who were Herero councillors from Aminuis. One of them burst out “We are so glad about the World Court decision that our country is ours”, and there were great smiles all round. Mbuende said that Kapuuo was not at home, but had gone to Omaruru. I asked if any of the councillors was prepared to make a statement, but they all wanted to wait until Clemens came back.

I then asked him about a Mr Meroro, the chairman of Swapo, who had recently issued a press statement denying that he had said what the SABC had said he had said. Mbuende took me to see him – his shop was nearby – and he said he would not like to make any comment until he had spoken to his vice president in Walvis Bay. But he would say that he was very pleased with the decision. He seems quite a pleasant bloke – though
not a leader like Clemens Kapuuo. I took Mbuende back to the diocesan office to see the bishop, and arranged what was to happen about the Herero church conference, but the bishop and Dave had gone to see pastor Reeh. We spoke to Clive Whitford who said we could quote him as saying he was “overjoyed” by the World Court decision. He said I should attribute it to “a white professional man” and not to a “teacher”, since he and Chris Roering were the only teachers (white) in town who could possibly make such a remark.

I took Mbuende back to Katutura, and started writing stories for the Argus Africa News Service, which we went to put in the telegram box at the post office, and returned to listen to Vorster’s speech on the radio at 8:00, which was predictable enough. It was funny to hear a man who bends the law to suit his own purposes complaining that others were doing this. The fact that it was the British and French judges who dissented might lend credence to this, because it was their national self-interest that was at stake.

After the speech Meroro phoned, and said I should ring the acting president of Swapo at Walvis Bay, Nathaniel Mahuiriri, and he would give me a statement, and how he did. They seemed to be having a party at his house to celebrate the decision, and he asked loudly in Herero what they all thought of the judgement, and everyone clapped. He said he regarded the judgement of the World Court as the judgement of God, and that they did not hate whites, the whites must stay, but there must be no more
apartheid, no more homelands, only one homeland for all, one nation, one Namibia. He went on for half an hour, cataloguing his objections to the contract labour system, saying Vorster’s speech on the radio was hypocritical, and when I asked him what he thought of Clemens Kapuuo, he said Swapo respected him as an honest man who spoke for his people; unlike Ushona Shiimi who was a stooge, a puppet, a tape recorder, who repeated what he was told to say.

That, I thought, was true, but nobody in their right mind could take Ushona Shiimi seriously, or think he spoke on behalf of anyone but the South African government. I have not met a single Ambo who does not think Ushona Shiimi is a big joke. After the call ended, I wrote out his statement, or the relevant bits of it, and Dave wrote a description of Windhoek at lunch time, and then we dumped those in the telegram box too, and then went off to have a drink at the Berg Hotel to celebrate, and went home to bed.

Banned books return to shelves in Egypt and Tunisia

Like many other people, I’ve been wondering which way the “velvet revolutions” in Egypt and Tunisia were going to turn. In some places, like Iran, the overthrow of the Shah brought a regime with greater repression. In Egypt the army is now (or one could say still) in control, but there are some straws in the wind that give hope:

Banned books return to shelves in Egypt and Tunisia | Books |

Anecdotal reports are also emerging of once suppressed titles appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks across Egypt. Salwa Gaspard of joint English/Arabic language publisher Saqi Books said accounts in the Arabic press told of books that had been hidden for years in private basements now once more seeing the light of day.

Cairo is also to hold a book fair in Tahrir Square – the focus for protests against former president Hosni Mubarak – at the end of March, according to Trevor Naylor of the American University of Cairo Press bookshop, which is based in the square. Naylor told the Bookseller that the event had been planned in the wake of the cancelled Cairo Book Fair, which was abandoned in January in the face of growing political unrest.

Let’s hope the wind keep blowing in that direction.

Some Zimbabwean exiles have been calling for Egyptian-style demonstrations there, but so far there is no evidence of such things.

Zimbabwe: Harare Descends Into Chaos As Ruling Party Militia Loot Shops

What’s the difference between Zimbabwe and Egypt?

In Egypt they’re protesting for democracy; in Zimbabwe they’re rioting against it. Zimbabwe: Harare Descends Into Chaos As Ruling Party Militia Loot Shops:

Harare came to a standstill on Monday when a ZANU PF mob engulfed the city in chaos, destroying property worth thousands of dollars, mainly belonging to foreign owned companies.

Our correspondent Simon Muchemwa told us that dozens of shops were looted when the ZANU PF militia went on a rampage, as police details stood by watching ordinary people and shop owners being abused and brutalised. Shops belonging to Zimbabweans were also caught up in the crossfire.

Twitter strikes a blow for freedom

There’s quite a lot of talk about “big government” these days, so kudos to Twitter for striking a blow against it and standing up for Wikileaks. Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard |

Twitter and other companies, notably Google, have a policy of notifying a user before responding to a subpoena, or a similar request for records. That gives the user a fair chance to go to court and try and quash the subpoena. That’s a great policy. But it has one fatal flaw. If the records request comes with a gag order, the company can’t notify anyone. And it’s quite routine for law enforcement to staple a gag order to a records request.

That’s what makes Twitter’s move so important. It briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn’t carry it themselves. The company’s action in asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we can only hope that other companies begin to follow.

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