Monday, December 28, 2009

How to Wordlise your profile (WN0026)

Over the festive break, I've been wading through sorting out my browser bookmarks. There must have been literally thousands of them built up over the years that I've saved, never to return to them and take another look. I'll share them through my Delicious page when they're all sorted out.

As I'm in the process of sorting out all of my data in order to make my on and offline operations a little smoother, it seemed like a good time to tackle this oversight. I'm also tantalisingly close to having my own personal website ready to launch and have needed to deal with this as part of the background work on that.

Whilst sifting through URLs, one of the little treats I came across was this site (click on the link and follow the instructions) that enables visitors to turn their profiles into a Wordle image. What that means to those who have or have used neither is making a word picture from the music that I most listen to. 'scrobbles' (sends the data to your internet profile) the music that you play on your computer and builds a picture of your listening habits, enabling you to connect to other like-minded music fans. Wordle itself is a great tool for visualising texts, and is particularly effective and finding themes in longer pieces. It does this by taking the words that are used most often in a text and making them bigger than the other words that are used less often. It's a tool that I really ought to use more in the classroom, but like with so many more of the online tools available to all these days, have yet to sift through them fully enough and actually try and be innovative with them. Guess that's part of what my data sift is about too - might help me to become a better teacher.

Although I might contest the results, it seems that I'm STILL listening to The Beatles more than any other artist. Rhombus, a dub act from New Zealand that I came across in Tokyo, seem to come in second, which I'd probably agree with. I also apparently listen to a lot of Tom Waits and David Bowie, again something I'd agree with. One or two surprises there though. Didn't think that I listen to that much Mozart.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow in Brighton (and free photos)

Although I lived in Brighton for about 11 years prior to moving to Tokyo, I never really saw much snow in this town. This weekend, that all changed. Brighton is one the parts of the UK that experienced much higher than usual snowfall and it makes for a beautiful cityscape. You can follow live reports of other snowfall around the UK by following the Twitter hashtag #uksnow.

Yesterday, I went down to the beach with my camera and found that it too was covered in snow. To my delight (and to be expected for an arty place like this), the seafront was full of sculptures - snowmen, snowwomen and even a large snowcat. The above photo set shows some of what Brighton looks like in the snow.

All of the pictures are issued under a Creative Commons license (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0). This means that people are free to share (copy, distribute or transmit) or remix (adapt) the pictures, so long as they meet the following conditions:
  • AttributionYou must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

  • NoncommercialYou may not use this work for commercial purposes.

  • Share AlikeIf you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

For attributing photos, please use 'Globalism Pictures' and link back to the following URL:

I also took the plunge this week with the rest of my photos on Flickr and issued that same license for all of them. There are plenty more Brighton pictures, extensive collections of images from Japan, plus sets from several other cities and locations around the world.

Feel free to use them in blogs, flyers and posters, websites, presentations or other similar ventures, and please get in touch if you'd like to use a picture for commercial purposes (I'm happy to do that too, just would prefer to be asked before an image is used!).

Here are some of examples of what can be found:

Creative Commons License disclaimer:
  • Waiver — Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
  • Public Domain — Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license.
  • Other Rights — In no way are any of the following rights affected by the license:
    • Your fair dealing or fair use rights, or other applicable copyright exceptions and limitations;
    • The author's moral rights;
    • Rights other persons may have either in the work itself or in how the work is used, such as publicity or privacy rights.
  • Notice — For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Obama's Nobel Doctrine and the Pacifist's Dilemma

Image: 'The Nobel Doctrine' by D1 Designs (issued under CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 license)

On December 2 at West Point Military Academy, President Barack Obama announced his long-awaited new strategy on US military policy in Afghanistan, pitched as a short-term escalation of the war coupled with the intention to begin troop withdrawals by July 2011. On December 10 in Oslo, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded according to the Nobel Committee 'for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.'

He is the fourth US President to have been awarded the prize, following Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter, but the only one to have been awarded it during his first year in office. This decision by the Nobel Committee prompted much criticism around the world that he'd yet to do anything noticeable enough to warrant the honour.

Addressing the irony of receiving the award so soon after announcing the despatching of another 30,000 troops, along with the other criticisms made, Obama commented in his speech
I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this accomplishments are slight...But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars.
Naturally, his remarks have sparked extensive reflection amongst the global commentariat. The BBC's Mark Mardell believes that Obama has 'pulled off a difficult balancing act in walking the tightrope between war and peace'. The Guardian's Martin Kettle described the speech as having not just a reprimand to the Nobel committee for awarding the prize before he had any notable achievements to be worthy of the award but also to liberals who refuse to understand that 'politics will always be more complicated, nuanced and messy' than they seem to understand. Steven Hurst for the Associated Press interpreted the speech as many others have also done - no less than the outlining of the Obama Doctrine, 'a steadfast defense of warfare against evil, praise of nonviolence and exhortations for mankind to affirm the 'spark of the divine' in everyone'.

I felt that by Obama's standards, it was a good speech, and not a surprising one from a man that is the President of the United States and who has both a job to do and an incredible global mess inherited from his predecessor to try and clear up. To please everybody would be an impossible task. The best that he realistically could hope for is to leave the situations he has found himself responsible for in a better state than they were when he picked up the reins, whilst striving to actually improve them rather than just leave them in a less worse state.

However, I still come to the Afghan question as an avowed pacifist, a person who believes that non-violence has to be the primary approach to resolving issues of conflict, and one that is fully aware of the history of failed intervention in that particular country - such as those of the British and the Soviet Union - that has earned Afghanistan the sobriquet of 'the graveyard of Empires'.

A dictionary definition of pacifism describes the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means. It goes on to describe that a pacifist will refuse to participate in war or military service because of such a belief.

This is a belief that I have held for much of my life, a fusion of family influences (such as a grandfather who was a conscientious objector during World War II - a particularly difficult position to take at the time) and the evolution of my own observations of the world and its human history, combined with my sense of justice - a sense that echoes the epithet most often attributed to Gandhi that 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind' (ie revenge only breeds the desire for more revenge).

This belief also contributed to my leaving the UK in disgust at what I saw to be Tony Blair's attempts at British imperial revivalism with the joint invasion of Iraq back in 2003, and subsequently my setting up of an organisation in Japan (where I moved to) for the purpose of raising consciousness amongst a younger generation of Japanese of the idea of peace - a concept embedded in their country's constitution but which many younger people seemed almost unaware of despite the suffering that their country had both experienced and inflicted during the last period of major global conflict.

Whilst working on this consciousness-raising effort, I studied the notions of conflict and peace more deeply than I had before, as a vehicle for examining my own beliefs. Having always tried to avoid conflict at all costs, my position underwent an evolution of sorts. The No-Nonsense Guide to Conflict and Peace describes conflict as having some benefits, and being therefore not a concept to dismiss completely:

Conflict can prevent stagnation; stimulate interest and curiosity, the airing of problems, the development of solutions. External conflict can promote internal group cohesion. Creatively handled, discord can enable social structures to readjust by eliminating sources of dissatisfaction and removing the causes for opting out, so creating a new balance in a society.
With such insights, I re-evaluated problems that I faced in the work I was doing. I soon found that in facing up to and tackling a problem head-on rather than accepting it and avoiding dealing with it invariably led to that problem finding some sort of resolution. This does not lead on to suggest that violence therefore becomes acceptable, but merely that conflict doesn't always have to be avoided.

During the news about Obama's Afghan escalation, I had a telephone conversation with my father, a man I can generally talk to in depth about global affairs and who has a good understanding of history and politics, amongst other things. He was raised in much stronger socialist traditions than I was and we talked about Afghanistan. I asked him what would he do or suggest as a solution, mindful that he would be fully aware of the history of failed intervention in the area.

He had no clear answers to the question either, for it seems to be an intractable problem for those who care about the fate of other peoples around the world. He described his repulsion at the medieval actions of the pre-invasion Taliban government, in particular their treatment of women, and then went on to talk about the British and European volunteers who went to Spain to fight Franco's forces during the Spanish Civil War, and the subsequent fight against Hitler and fascism as examples were using violence was deemed necessary to overcome the 'greater evil'.

Wary as I am of Godwin's Law, which states that '
as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches' and its use suggests overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided as it robs valid comparisons of their impact, in the big pacifist issue of whether there is ever a right time to use violence or take up arms to resolve a conflict, it seems appropriate to invoke the Hitler analogy.

This then leads to the question of whether the Taliban posed as serious a threat to the international community as the Nazis did. On a surface level, in allegedly sheltering Osama Bin Laden shortly after 9/11, there was certainly a provocation to a recently wounded giant. However, it hardly ranks as highly as the invasion of Poland in the provocative stakes.

Did the Taliban have an intention for conquering other peoples as part of their gameplan? While it seems that some of their very strict interpretation of sharia law spread to parts of Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that the group that ruled the country from 1996 - 2001 had serious expansionist intentions. Arguably, they emerged only due to the power vacuum left in an Afghanistan divided by the warlords that stepped in after the Soviet withdrawal.

Should Allied powers have intervened militarily then on humanitarian grounds? Following the Battle of Mogadishu, the US refused to intervene in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 and was criticised heavily for not doing so. This act of non-intervention by Western powers had clearly changed when, even prior to the Bush Administration, Tony Blair sent troops in to places such as Sierra Leone under 'humanitarian interventionist' grounds. Yet if saving native populations from vicious regimes is the policy of Western military powers, why not Burma, Zimbabwe or Darfur?

The case for ending further war has been made most eloquently by Malalai Joy - an Afghan - in a column published in The Guardian. She states that '
it is not a case of a 'bad war' and a 'good war' (Obama's describes a 'just war' in his Nobel speech) – there is no difference, war is war'. Should the people of the country, devastated by decades of foreign invaders and civil wars, should they not have the ultimate say in how their country is managed?

Ultimately, these kind of conundrums raise more questions than they provide answers. While I can say that I'm overjoyed that the President of what still remains the most powerful country on the planet is a thoughtful and intelligent man who clearly has peaceful intentions rather than warmongering ones, I remain sorry that he has chosen to prolong the military actions that his country (and this one, amongst many more) will continue to inflict on that ravaged place. I remain saddened that he has chosen to have the blood of innocent women and children (for they are always the unchosen victims of war) on his hands. I appreciate his position and the massive challenges he faces, but still disagree with him over the most vital questions of war and peace.

I haven't solved the pacifist's dilemma over the Hitler issue in this post, but will end with the words of Buffy Sainte-Marie from her song 'Universal Solider':
He’s fighting for democracy,
he’s fighting for the reds
He says it’s for the peace of all.
He’s the one, who must decide,
who’s to live and who’s to die.
And he never sees the writing on the walls.

But without him,
how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body
as a weapon to the war.
And without him all this killing can’t go on.

He’s the universal soldier
And he really is the blame
But his orders comes from
far away no more.

They come from him.
And you and me.
Oh, brothers can’t you see.
This is not the way we put an end to war
Comments welcomed.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Global Editorial on Climate Change and Copenhagen

Image by David Blackwell, issued under a Creative Commons licence

On Monday last week, UK newspaper The Guardian published a unique editorial initiative ahead of the Copenhagen Convention on Climate Change. Forging a common position between 56 newspapers in 45 countries, they spoke with one voice about the challenges facing us all with the prospect of global temperature rises and what leaders must do in Copenhagen to take action on arguably the greatest challenge that humanity has ever collectively faced.

Impressed with their achievement, I wanted to be able to reproduce the editorial here and so emailed the newspaper's rights department about issuing the text under a Creative Commons licence, to enable the blogosphere to be able to share it around. Although I never received a response, I discovered today that they have done just that, and so here it is in full:

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: 'We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay.'

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of 'exported emissions' so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than 'old Europe', must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature'.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgement on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

Editorial created by The Guardian and issued under a CC BY-ND 2.0 licence. Original article found here.