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Tag: Afghanistan

The digital dividends and divides of 2016

Friday, 15 January, 2016 0 Comments

The internet. What’s it good for? Lots. It can help boost trade, improve economies, distribute knowledge and create jobs for the marginalized. Who says? The World Bank says. That’s why it called the document it released yesterday “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.” The key word there is “dividends”. But we don’t live in a perfect world so the report notes that “better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits — circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.” Not everyone has collected those digital dividends, in other words.

Still, it’s quite a leap to portray the the report as an indictment of the internet, but that’s exactly what the Guardian did in a story hilariously titled “Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns.” This is so comical that one can imagine Evgeny Morozov writing it. Instead, Danny Yadron “in San Francisco” is responsible. Anyway, back to the World Bank report. It presents a picture of a divided world in which 60 percent of people are still offline, four billion don’t have internet access, some two billion do not use a mobile phone and and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. And what happens when the internet impacts?

“Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality — in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”

To counter this, the World Bank recommends that governments lower barriers to internet adoption with rules that encourage competition and innovation, and investing in “analog complements,” such as basic education. Quote: “Many poor lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to use the internet. In Mali and Uganda, about three-quarters of third-grade children cannot read. In Afghanistan and Niger, 7 of 10 adults are illiterate.” Those divides need to be closed before those dividends become real.

Note: Those tech companies castigated by the Guardian are committed to bringing internet access to the four corners of the world. Google’s Project Loon is set to float over Indonesia and Facebook’s Internet.org will offer mobile web access to people in India and Egypt. And both are experimenting with providing internet access using solar-powered, high-altitude drones. Yes, we need to ensure that these companies don’t become synonymous with the internet, but neither should we resort to paranoia about their innovations. Those digital dividends depend on closing those divides.


The bullet came before the ballot

Friday, 4 April, 2014 0 Comments

AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus was shot dead this morning while reporting on tomorrow’s presidential poll in Afghanistan. Her images of the country’s people and poverty, rituals, fears, pride and barbarity fill the viewer with hope and despair.

Anja Niedringhaus


Afghanistan 1977: Haven of Peace and Tranquility

Wednesday, 26 March, 2014 0 Comments

Reuters: “Afghanistan accused Pakistan’s intelligence service on Monday of staging last week’s attack on a hotel in Kabul in which nine people including foreigners were shot dead by militants.”

CNN: “The number of people killed when militants stormed an election commission office in the Afghan capital Tuesday has risen to five, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said.”

That’s how it is today in Afghanistan, but if we go back to 1977, we find the country’s national airline, Ariana, transporting passengers to a promised land of peace and tranquility. All that ended on 25 December 1979 when Soviet Airborne Forces landed in Kabul. Two days later, KGB and GRU operatives dressed in Afghan uniforms occupied major military and media buildings, attacked the Tajbeg Presidential Palace and killed President Hafizullah Amin. Within two weeks, Soviet forces in Afghanistan exceeded 100,000 personnel. What followed was a decade of barbarism, followed by retreat and the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Ariana is flying again, but peace and tranquility remain a mirage for Afghanistan.

Ariana


On the uses of drones

Friday, 6 September, 2013 0 Comments

According to the Reuters news agency, a suspected US drone killed at least six terrorists in Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border. Hardly any fair-minded person would think that this is unjust, given the crimes committed by the region’s gangsters, yet there is considerable opposition to drone warfare. The United Nations has condemned US drone strikes in Pakistan, saying that they violate the country’s sovereignty. The UN, of course, ignores the fact that the Pashtun region is an infamous sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaeda thugs. Heard of Waziristan? “These proud and independent people have been self-governing for generations, and have a rich tribal history that has been too little understood in the West,” said a person called Bill Emmerson, who bears the ludicrous title of “UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism”. Inevitably, not a word was heard from Bill Emmerson about the Taliban murdering Indian writer Sushmita Banerjee in southeastern Afghanistan earlier this week.

But back to drones. The really cool thing about this clip is that it was filmed by a drone, in one continuous shot, flying around the French band, Phoenix. Founded in Versailles, the group consists of Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy, Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz. They became rich and famous in 2004 when their track “Too Young” was featured on the soundtrack of Lost in Translation, which was directed by Sofia Coppola. A romantic after-effect saw the same Sofia Coppola marry Thomas Mars in 2011 at her family’s villa at Bernalda in the Southern Italian region of Basilicata. By the way, Phoenix will co-headline the Austin City Limits Music Festival next month, alongside the Kings of Leon, Wilco and Depeche Mode.


Saving the Laphroaig from the Taliban

Thursday, 19 January, 2012

Brrrr! It’s cold and dark, wet and windy out there. Looks like it’ll be a weekend for a good book and generous glasses of single malt whisky. Up for a rereading is News From No Man’s Land by the legendary BBC foreign correspondent, John Simpson. This is the third in a series of three autobiographical […]

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