The way most of the world knows about Niue, a 100 square mile island in the south Pacific, with a population of about 1,100, is because of its country-code top-level domain (CCTLD), which is the ubiquitous .nu.
Selling the rights to .nu to international domain registrar bought the county’s population unlimited access to a satellite Internet connection that downlinked to a free wifi service that had run since 2003, making Niue the first country in the world to extend free Internet to all its residents. The early rollout of projects like One Laptop Per Child ensured that the people of Niue were able to take advantage of the service. Niue is the country with the highest per-capita Internet penetration in the world.
But last month, Rocket Systems, who administered the .nu deal and the free Internet connection, announced that they would be shutting down the free link and replacing it with a paid one, because the .nu royalties had been cut. Under the new mandate, the 75% of people in Niue who relied on the service will begin paying an eye-popping NZD50/10mb to access the service. This is moderately competitive for satellite data, but by the standards of the developed world, it’s amazingly expensive, especially given the country’s low median per capita income.
I can’t locate an explanation for the royalty decrease, but I imagine it has to do with the proliferation of new generic TLDs, from .day to .dentist to .esq to .sex to .sucks to .yoga. The artificial scarcity of names online created Niue’s free Internet, and the end of that scarcity banished it.
I can’t help but wonder if this couldn’t have been foreseen and forestalled by using the money from the royalty to lay a transoceanic cable (very, very expensive, but then, so is unlimited satellite access), which would have had far lower operating costs once it was amortized. But hindsight is, as always, 20-20.
William Binney is one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA. He was a leading code-breaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War but resigned soon after September 11, disgusted by Washington’s move towards mass surveillance.
On 5 July he spoke at a conference in London organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and revealed the extent of the surveillance programs unleashed by the Bush and Obama administrations.
“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”
The NSA will soon be able to collect 966 exabytes a year, the total of internet traffic annually. Former Google head Eric Schmidt once argued that the entire amount of knowledge from the beginning of humankind until 2003 amount to only five exabytes.
Binney, who featured in a 2012 short film by Oscar-nominated US film-maker Laura Poitras, described a future where surveillance is ubiquitous and government intrusion unlimited.
“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control”, Binney said, “but I’m a little optimistic with some recent Supreme Court decisions, such as law enforcement mostly now needing a warrant before searching a smartphone.”
France’s new data retention law requires online service providers to retain databases of their users’ addresses, real names and passwords, and to supply these to police on demand. Leaving aside the risk of retaining all this personal information (identity thieves, stalkers, etc – that which isn’t stored can’t be stolen and leaked), there’s the risk of requiring providers to store unhashed passwords, as Bruce Schneier points out.
Well-designed systems don’t store passwords; rather, they take the password you supply and run it through a cryptographic hashing algorithm that turns it into another string (in theory, this string can’t be turned back into the password). When you re-visit the website and supply your password, it is run through the algorithm again, and then the result is compared to the stored version. That way, no one – not even the provider – knows your password (except you). Again, that which isn’t stored can’t be leaked. Requiring French online services to keep a record of unhashed passwords is a reversal of decades of best practices in security.
PrEP has changed the way we talk and think about safe sex, to the chagrin of some. Though highly effective—but not completely—against the transmission of HIV, critics have slammed it for popularizing “Truvada whoredom” as well as a spike in other STIs among gay men. So this is probably going to rub them the wrong way: Nurx, a health technology startup based in San Francisco, has released an app that offers PrEP delivery, easy-peasy-one-two-threesy. For everyone else, however, this is great news.
The CDC recommends 1.2 million people should be on Truvada—including almost 25% of all men who have sex with men—yet only 21,000 actually take the drug, for lack of awareness or access. Nurx, currently only available to Californians but with plans for expansion, removes some of the barriers to getting on PrEP.
According to a press release, this is how the app works:
1. The patient creates an account and fills out their health profile.
2. After completing the health profile, the user answers questions to determine whether they are a candidate for PrEP, and submits their request.
3. The information is then reviewed by a Nurx partner physician who will determine the eligibility of the patient for Truvada for PrEP.
4. Eligible users must then complete lab tests for HIV status and renal function prior to the prescription being issued. Also recommended will be lab tests for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, pregnancy (for female users), chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
5. The physician will then assess the lab results and determine whether Truvada for PrEP can be prescribed, and if so, will be dispatched to the user’s address.
“Each year, more than 40,000 Americans are infected with HIV, however studies show that if taken daily, Truvada for PrEP can significantly reduce the chances of transmission of the virus,“ says Edvard Engesaeth, M.D., a co-founder of Nurx. “Our app makes Truvada more accessible for people who need this revolutionary drug.”
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By BY LAUREN KASCAK & SAYANTANI DASGUPTA | June 19, 2014
“Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit.“
An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a six-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s Facebook profile picture.” The article quotes “22-year-old Angela Fisher” who says:
I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.
It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”
I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.
I HAVE PARTICIPATED IN not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.
Such trips—critically called voluntourism—are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.
How do they attract so many paying volunteers?
Photography is a big part of the answer. Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource. Photography—particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children—is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.
It was the photographs posted by other students that inspired me to go on my first overseas medical mission. When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even pre-meditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most Likes.
Over time, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs, and ultimately left my camera at home. Now, as an insider, I see three common types of photographs voluntourists share through social media: The Suffering Other, The Self-Directed Samaritan, and The Overseas Selfie.
THE SUFFERING OTHER
In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.
Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph …
… must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.
THE SELF-DIRECTED SAMARITAN
Here we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, so vulnerable, and so Other.
The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10-day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?
This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”
Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On Photography, Susan Sontag reminds us:
Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.
On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”
THE OVERSEAS SELFIE
In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:
Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are…. In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”
Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning—there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the Internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community. but rather as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.
VOLUNTOURISM IS ULTIMATELY ABOUT the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems. In Ghana, I realized that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.
In the end, the Africa we voluntourists photograph isn’t a real place at all. It is an imaginary geography whose landscapes are forged by colonialism, as well as a good deal of narcissism. I hope my fellow students think critically about what they are doing and why before they sign up for a short-term global volunteer experience. And if they do go, it is my hope that they might think with some degree of narrative humility about how to de-center themselves from the Western savior narrative. Most importantly, I hope they leave their iPhones at home.
This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism.”
Ok but Never Alone, the super awesome game written by the Iñupiat people of Alaska (http://neveralonegame.com/game/) is on sale on steam now for $2.99 and it’s absolutely brilliant and you should go buy it
OK so last night at 2 AM I was on my phone and thus couldn’t really type out a post on how awesome the game is but here we go:
1) It was written by the Iñupiat people about their culture. It basically centers around a little girl who is exploring the Alaska wilds, trying to figure out a) why blizzards are destroying her village and b) why this evil dude is also bent on destroying her village. She travels around with her trusty pal, an arctic fox, and if one of them dies, they both have to start over from the last save point. He’s like her guide with spirits and figuring stuff out (but is also a playable character). She has an amazing magic bolo that she aims at things.
2) If that wasn’t cool enough, the game is 100% narrated in the Iñupiat language with subtitles AND every so often you unlock these little mini educational videos called “cultural insights” which are like little 2 minute clips about certain things, like scrimshaw and arctic foxes and just little cultural videos basically with interviews with Iñupiat people.
3) It’s fun for experienced gamers AND non-experienced gamers alike. I’m not really a gamer, and I get really frustrated at complicated RPGs/FPS a lot of the time because I’m not used to memorizing very complicated button combinations (and I have ADHD, and if I’m not medicated, I have a hard time remembering which button does which and how and resort to button smashing). BUT this game is super intuitive and part of the experience is being guided through what you do with each button and you’re just taught how to do it seamlessly as part of the story telling.
4) The art is gorgeous. Just look at this amazing shit:
Like seriously I cannot stress how beautiful and soothing this game is to watch and play
5) the story telling is flawless and you get immediately emotionally invested in your characters.
6) Also it’s super fun to play with two people, one as the fox, one as the little girl. Because the fox is like a guide and the little girl is following him and you really REALLY have to work together and figure shit out and oh my god polar bears are so scary.
6) Also IT’S CURRENTLY ON SALE FOR STEAM’S LUNAR NEW YEAR SALE FOR $2.99 WHICH IS AMAZING SO GO BUY THIS GAME AND SUPPORT THIS GAME BECAUSE THIS GAME IS FUCKING FANTASTIC.
Hey guys its me Rashida and I’m going to be participating on a panel about transgender hypervisibilty next Tuesday at 7 @ Pomona College in Claremont, CA with @pootlovato @chrysalisamidst and @transgirlnextdoor so come out and support if you can and pls hit me up if you decided to come thru I’d love to meet some of my followers/mutals! 💖💖💕💕
“A huge leak of confidential documents has revealed how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth.
Eleven million documents were leaked from one of the world’s most secretive companies, Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.”
This is huge