Finger painting on touch screen


June 2009 New Yorker Cover

iPone painting newyorker

How the artist did it:


What is "Middletail"?


Middletails have multiple dimensions, streamlined UGC as discussed in this New York Times article is just one of them. Time, subject, genre, among others are dimensions that each would have more than 1 midtail.

For theater distribution for movies, Black Knight would easily insure a bankable midtail of Batman movies; and StarTrek 2009 the same to its own.

Perpetual movement toward cutting out the middlemen


The Web continues its enabling power for content creator and content consumer to connect directly, and to fundementally blow the line between the creator and consumer.

It’s still a stretch to think many politician at high-up places will do what Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister is doing with Twitter; nor do we know which fad will stick. But the potential of some kind of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook in political communication is tremendous.

Twitter Diplomacy

The U.S. State Dept. is enlisting Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Twitter to help bring high tech to Iraq and Afghanistan

By Spencer E. Ante
BW Magazine

“Sorry, my first tweet not pleasant; dust storm in Baghdad today & yet another suicide bomb. awful reminder that it is not yet all fine here.” — First Twitter post from Barham Salih, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister

On a warm spring evening in Iraq this April, months before Iranians made global headlines with angry Twitter posts, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and several other American tech leaders sipped wine with Barham Salih in the garden of his Baghdad home. Dorsey urged Salih to start using the microblogging service to publicize the inner workings of the Iraqi government. “The people of Iraq and the media will follow you,” said Dorsey. “A technology like Twitter can bring access and transparency to government.” The conversation led to Salih’s first post on Apr. 24.

Dorsey was part of a first-of-its-kind technology delegation set up by the U.S. State Dept. Executives from Google (GOOG), AT&T (T), and several Silicon Valley startups traveled to Iraq to meet with government officials, business leaders, and students to offer ideas for using technology throughout the country. While the idea of promoting Twitter in a war-torn country without reliable electricity may sound far-fetched, the representatives found a receptive audience. Salih now has nearly 1,500 people following his posts, and he tweets about twice a day. “Review of Iraq’s oil policy with PM Maliki & VP Mahdi today,” he wrote last week. “Just did the Colbert Report. Great fun!” he said another time.

The Iraq digital delegation is part of a broader effort at the State Dept. U.S. officials are looking for ways to use the country’s technology leadership as a diplomatic tool. Similar delegations are being planned for Afghanistan, Mexico, and other countries. To help manage these efforts, 37-year-old Alec Ross has been named the department’s first-ever senior adviser on innovation.

Of course, the State Dept. has long organized business delegations to foreign countries. But the trip to Iraq marked the first time the government created a delegation specifically for tech companies. The idea is that countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan can hear directly from top executives about creative ways to use YouTube (GOOG), Twitter, or Facebook, while U.S. tech companies can market their wares and forge business ties abroad. “The work we’ve done with Jack and Twitter is a good example of the way we can work with Silicon Valley companies,” says Jared Cohen of the State Dept.’s Policy Planning Staff.

Cohen argues that the U.S. has a unique opportunity to open doors abroad because of the strength of its tech sector, especially as young people around the world increasingly use technology to socialize, agitate, and organize. In Iran, for example, young Iranians have been posting stories, pictures, and videos capturing the protests roiling the streets of Tehran. On June 15, Cohen asked Twitter to delay an upgrade of its network, which would have disrupted communications in Iran. The department’s involvement is separate from the tech delegations, but reflects the same tech emphasis.

The Iraq trip was the brainchild of Cohen, a 27-year-old former Rhodes Scholar. He started sounding out tech companies in February, and by April the delegation donned flak jackets to take a military plane from Jordan into Baghdad. For five days, the State Dept. escorted the visitors around the city in armored convoys, where they met with the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Minister of Science & Technology, and engineering students from the University of Baghdad. Hunter Walk, product management director at Google, says the trip helped the search giant consider ways to make technology more accessible in areas where Internet service is spotty. “That goes to the heart of our mission,” he says.

Several projects have been kicked off as a result of the trip. Google is working with the Iraqis to build a YouTube video channel where official events and speeches will be available to anyone. At the National Museum of Iraq, which was looted after the U.S. invasion, tech companies are helping to build a Web site to showcase art and artifacts. And Twitter is tweaking its software code to let Iraqis send out posts from mobile phones, since most don’t have computers.

Farhad Alaaldin, an Iraqi who is director general of the London telecom provider Talia Communications, says the long-term changes may be more significant. Because of the visit, Salih established a task force to foster the use of digital media in Iraq. Alaaldin, who will co-chair the task force, says young people in particular are interested in taking advantage of new technologies. “The university students [who met with] the delegation are still buzzing with the ideas and thoughts they heard from them,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Media as the "4th Power" or as entertainment


I’ve wondered since Obama won the election last Nov. what would happen to REpublican/conservative media outlets under Murdock’s News Corp. Now we know about the NeoCon’s Weekly Standard.

Clarity Media to Buy Conservative Magazine The Weekly Standard

Authored by Mark Hefflinger on June 18, 2009 – 10:41am.

Washington – Clarity Media Group, the Denver-based publisher of The Washington Examiner, said that it will pay an undisclosed sum to buy DC-based conservative opinion magazine and website The Weekly Standard from owner News Corp (NYSE: NWS).

Clarity, owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz, said that it plans to retain the magazine’s staff and content.

“We’re very much looking forward to working with (Clarity) to produce an even better magazine with a stronger web presence and even larger readership,” said William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard.

The publication, launched by News Corp. in 1995, has an audited circulation of 83,000, with a newsstand price of $3.95.

File-swap and civil disobedience


Ultimately, there is something called civil disobedience, any game changing trend may have to come to that should current establishment, political, legal, commercial, or otherwise resist the change.

Harvard Law Prof. Admonished by Judge in File-Sharing Case
Authored by Mark Hefflinger on June 18, 2009 – 12:37pm.

Boston – Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson, who is defending Boston student Joel Tenenbaum against charges of copyright infringement on a file-sharing network by Sony (NYSE: SNE), has been admonished by the judge for some of his legal tactics, Ars Technica reported.

“The Court’s indulgence is at an end,” wrote U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner.

“Too often, as described below, the important issues in this case have been overshadowed by the tactics of defense counsel: taping opposing counsel without permission (and in violation of the law), posting recordings of court communications and emails with potential experts (who have rejected the positions counsel asserts) on the Internet, and now allegedly replicating the acts that are the subject of this lawsuit, namely uploading the copyrighted songs that the Defendant is accused of file-sharing.”

Most recently, Nesson posted all of the songs that Tenenbaum is accused of sharing on a peer-to-peer network to an online storage locker.

Ars noted that, despite the judge’s warning, Nesson has been successful in persuading her to allow a “fair use” defense to be argued at trial, and also to allow continued videotaping of depositions, provided they are not posted online.

Reflection on Tiananmen, Spring of 1989, Part I


The 1989 movement has a place in China’s modern history equal to the Opium War, the Taiping Rebellion, the 1898 Wuxu Reform, the Boxers, the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, the 1919 May 4th Movement, the Civil War, the 1949 founding of the People Republic of China, and the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution. Its significance surpasses that of a mere short-term student movement, not only because of the great number of lives it touched nationwide during the movement, but also because it has long-lasting symbolic and political meaning that will continue to unfold for generations to come.

The mass movement in 1989 raised the fundamental questions that China faced in the 1980s. The questions are:

Can a technologically and economically modernizing China develop, prosper, and strengthen without implementing other Western values?
Can a patriarchal political system cope with the desires and aspirations of its youth and of its future generations living in an increasing interconnected world and open society?
Can dynastic cycles and the psychology of you-die-I-live in the zero-sum political transitions be somehow replaced by dialogue, negotiation, compromise, and co-existence?
Can order and progress somehow co-exist in China?
Is every movement in support of liberal tradition, (freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law), doomed to act merely as a prelude to each and every major transformation in China, only to be commandeered later by forces that are conservative and comparatively backward?

These are questions that concern the whole of China: the ruling party, the people, and the emerging political elite. Moreover, they are the same questions that generations of Chinese have faced in their relentless modernization efforts during the last century and a half. The answers to these questions were uncertain then, and still remain so today in the post-Deng Xiaoping era.

The 1989 movement dramatically raised those fundamental questions. Furthermore, they connected the old and new all in one theatrical play of love and hate, faith and betrayal, naiveté and realpolitik, hopes and disappointments, dark impulses and a sense of responsibility: factors that are all too human and all too Chinese to be transcended by the noble goals and stated purposes of the spokesmen of the movement. The familiar rhetoric used by both the government and the leaders of the movement; the speed and power exerted without the structure of checks and balances, which can corrupt even the purest souls; the acceleration of tension; the presence of a revolutionary fervor similar to that which inspired the youth of the Cultural Revolution; the broad and lofty claims made by the students; the inability of high government officials to cope with open challenge; the low capacity of the student leaders to genuinely control either the direction of the movement or the pace of its course; the tendency that part of the intelligentsia had to hover between serving as outside critics or as inside participants, as well as go-betweens for the government or as supporters of the mass and students are all symptoms of a nation and its youth caught in a timeless space.

What was exceptional about this movement? It was not a movement of national salvation. The country was not under major external threat or internal turmoil anywhere near to the degree of that existing in previous national movements. However, for the first time, the purpose of a nationwide mass movement was not national survival, but the betterment of the overall quality of people’s lives.

This was not a top-down, politically elite-engineered movement with a distinctive political agenda. There was no clear bearer of the political consequences prior to the movement. Political forces, both within and outside the establishment, became involved as the course of the events progressed. The reform-minded government faction and the self-styled aspiring liberal political elite outside the government all connected themselves with the all-powerful student-led movement only when it reached a level of national influence. For the first time, a nationwide mass movement was not solely a tool of political games and a product of political design, but rather a spontaneous, grass-roots demonstration of the general concerns felt by a large section of the society, albeit primarily urban.

There were several features of this movement that made it remarkable. The fit between student demands and popular sentiment was strong in the area of social justice and general hope for greater freedom and democracy. The general population expressed little criticism of the students’ insistence on a dialogue with high ranking government officials and for the generally confrontational ways in which the students conducted their affairs. This was unexpected for a people long accustomed to the paternalistic political mentality and the supremacy of political authority. The reason was not so much because of any clear and present danger that the country faced due to the inability of the government, but rather due to the partial yet important success of government engineered reforms and the psychological, intellectual, social, and political by-product–raised- expectations–brought about by those reforms. For the first time in China’s modern history, the country was enjoying an uninterrupted period of growth with relative social stability. Fast economic growth, like economic depression, often creates psychological up-rootedness. Thus, uncertainty and the raised expectations, which were not met, generated deep dissatisfaction in the general population.

The impressive organizational structure of the student leadership was, for the most part, an important and positive factor in the growth of the movement. Anyone outside of the governmental apparatus lacked the necessary experience in mass organization, yet despite their inexperience, the students demonstrated how quickly a spontaneous movement can turn into an orderly operation. This opened up the possibility of a relatively fast mobilization and organizational consolidation of a political alternative to the Communist totalitarian Party and its supporting police state apparatus. While many had hoped for this, more had feared that it was unfeasible. This is not to say that the organizational aspect of the movement is politically mature, on the contrary, the speedy disolution of leadership following the massacre indicated the imaturity by any sound political standard. It merely indicated a remote possibility of a organizational political alternative in the future based on a sponteneous movement.

However, the movement’s importance lies not in what it accomplished, but in what it did not. 1989 did not see reconciliation between radical public concerns and adaptive public policy. Compared to government crackdowns on previous political dissent, this movement accelerated under a relatively safe environment, and repeated stimuli from the government allowed it to continue. In the early phase of the movement, pressure from school authorities on student leaders, attempts by police to block demonstrations, government manipulation in response to the demands of demonstrators, and temporary setbacks were all practically affordable before the Massacre of June 3rd and 4th, and in turn, stimulated the movement’s growth. From my own recollection, and from the dozens of eyewitness accounts that have come out in the last eight years, it was quite clear that the longer the movement lasted, the less control the leaders of both opposing parties were able to exercise till the bloody showdown in Early June. We were also, to a significant degree, led by the course of events, over which the student leadership had little overall control.

In the decade prior to the 1989 movement, almost any public demonstration resulted in a call for fundamental political reforms. The Democracy Wall Movement followed Deng’s rise to power in the late 70s. The reopening of universities and reinstallation of local elections opened up the Election Movement. Japanese revision of official high school textbooks on the Sino-Japanese War triggered the New 9.18 Movement, and the nationwide student movement of 1986. In these series of events, the 1989 movement cannot be seen as sudden and exceptional. As many fundamental conflicts accumulate, and as long as symbolic anniversaries remain appealing to the public, another mass movement could rise at anytime. Will this likelihood cease when the opposition achieves limited but concrete changes in government policy or attitude? Will the government use even more force to crackdown? How far can gradual reform go? 1989 left these questions wide-open with the deep wound inflicted by the double impact of an intolerant government and the movement’s uncompromising leadership.

The price for radical reform remains terribly high. The dramatic ending of the 1989 movement demonstrated how high that price can be, and cast a shadow over future possibilities. When a mass movement rises again, there will be no room for naiveté. What could not be accomplished last time does not necessitate its realization next time around. History tends to repeat itself, and no matter how fantastic it may seem, things can always be worse.

This complexity of the 1989 movement in the Chinese national psyche, along with the Anti-rightist Campaign in the 50th and the Cultural Revolution from the mid-60s to mid-70s, have made the already tortuous path of China’s modernization even more uncertain. Imbedded in the complexity of post-Communist transitions in Central and Eastern European countries and the Former Soviet Union since the end of the 1980s, the triumph of the institution of liberal democracy and market economy is not so certain as some have claimed and many tend to believe. The “end of history”, as some enthusiastically believed after the fall of Berlin wall, remains an inspiration, and far from reality.

This is not to say that the chance that China will finally get on the liberal democratic track is slim. On the contrary, the opening up of China in the reform period, the experience of the 1989 movement, the collapse of the world Communist camp, and the great expansion of the global market have all provided favorable conditions for democratization in China. What this does say is that the process is not an easy one, and cannot be taken for granted. China’s liberal democrats face even more complex situations, for the Chinese population has more complex examples to learn from, therefore raising more complex expectations.

While liberal opposition in China and in exile have the dream of promoting a free society of responsible individuals, how to accomplish the goal, and to start with, how to assess China’s current situation continue to be difficult tasks. Contrary to the accusations by those in the Beijing regime and some China experts in the West, we fully understand the torturous path of China’s modern history. We have empathy for the pain that all the people in China endure. We are alert to the complex domestic and international security issues China faces, and subsequently, the political and social stability that is important for a balanced development.

We differ with the Beijing regime on the point of stability. Stability should not be mere stagnation, and progress does not necessarily lead to chaos. We believe that stability should be for the good of the country, not the party in power; and that stability is only achieved if a prospering China also develops respect for human rights, rule of law, an accountable democratic government, and responsible and peaceful participation in international affairs. Only then, will we have lasting stability.

We differ also from Beijing and the apparent majority opinion in the Western political and commercial establishments on the virtue of China’s economic development. We welcome the greater freedom in job allocation, travel, access to information, and civic association due to the economic growth, and most of all, the expansion of free market. However, when economic growth strengthens a regime, that increases the military budget, increases the budget for police surveillance, but also continually decreases the investments in education, in arts and culture, in social justice, and in government’s public accountability, this represents a negative growth in the overall quality of life. Pure economic growth as such does not necessarily mean it is sustainable, nor does it mean it is a balanced development.

On the same note, we do not believe that China’s problem have to be dealt with in a one-time, revolutionary fashion (though we respect people’s right to do so.) We support all the healthy reform measures including new Premier Zhu Rongji’s anti-corruption campaign and administrative streamlining. We believe that if gradual reform can reach the necessary depth, the price people have to share for the transformation could be lower than a revolution. At the meantime, we clearly see the limitation of the current reform, and its avoidance of genuine political institutional change. Though we appreciate the complexity of the problems China is facing, and understand that such a complexity is not only a political one; we believe that without a genuine political reform, balanced development can not be achieved.

Twenty years have gone by, since the bloody crackdown at the night of June3-4, 1989. Once again, Chinese paid the price of blood for reform at that night, and mass arrest, forced exiles which followed the massacre. Today, there are still prisoners in China who have been imprisoned in connection with the 1989 movement, relatives of the dead are still harrassed for their public mourning of their loved ones and for their appeal to establish a truth commission by the People’s Congress, and hundreds remained in exile, most of whom are not allowed to return to our homeland, even to enter Hong Kong.

So much loss, and so much pain have once again captured a generation in the bitterness that so many generations in Chinese modern history have tasted. And yet, it is the duty of us who survived the massacre to rise above the tortuous past for a better tomorrow.

Twenty years of time at least should give us the distance for a better understanding of the meaning of 1989 in Chinese history. Like the May 4th Movement in 1919, 1989 Movement means not only its particular historical events, but also a historical movement broadly defined. What a movement can leave us by and large depends on what we can discover in the process of our reflection.

(The essay so far is mostly from the preface of Almost a Revolution,  Ann Arbor Edition by the University of Michigan Press)

To be continued.

Wall Street Journal Article 6-3-2009: Survivors Confront Unsettled Legacy of Tiananmen


This is reasonably balanced article, and it’s fair. Though the nuances of current China could not be covered by an article like this in the Journal. Here are several points:

Twenty Years Later, Members of China’s Student Uprising Still Hope for Democratic Reform, but See Only Economic Progress

As Chinese soldiers marched into downtown Beijing on the night of June 3, 1989, Shen Tong was west of Tiananmen Square with a group trying vainly to get the troops to turn back. The 20-year-old Peking University undergraduate, a prominent member of the democracy movement that swept the Chinese capital that spring, narrowly avoided injury. The girl next to him was shot in the face and killed.

Mr. Shen survived, and days later fled to the U.S., where he was hailed as a hero. He cowrote a book about the Tiananmen protests, and for years worked as a democracy activist.

Shen Tong was a member of the movement at the time

Democracy for China Fund

now, he struggles to define its impact.

The Wall Street JournalShen Tong was a member of the movement at the time (top) but now, he struggles to define its impact.

But Mr. Shen’s future didn’t unfold as he had expected. Today he runs a software company in New York that does business in places including China. He has returned to Beijing several times. While still a strong believer in democracy, he has grown increasingly uncertain about the meaning of the events of 1989.

“I’m not sure that we really made the difference that we intended,” Mr. Shen says. “We do know it was a tremendously significant event, but we don’t know what it really means.”

The historical significance of most big events seems to crystallize over time. But the legacy of Tiananmen has, if anything, become less clear in the subsequent two decades.

There is little uncertainty about what happened — though the details remain shrouded in official secrecy. In April and May of 1989, students, workers and others in Beijing and other Chinese cities held peaceful demonstrations for democracy.

The leaders of the Communist Party on June 3 sent armed forces into the capital to end the protests. By the time they cleared Tiananmen Square the next day, hundreds of people in the city were dead, mostly unarmed civilians. No one outside the leadership knows exactly how many.

The crackdown put a freeze on major political reform that has yet to thaw. But in the years after Tiananmen, the Communist Party claimed a new legitimacy with a re-energized program of economic development. China’s economy is now six times its size in 1989, adjusted for inflation, and could soon surpass Japan as the world’s second largest after the U.S.

Development has been uneven — farmers and factory workers have benefited much less than the urban middle class, and corruption and human-rights abuses are pervasive. But at the same time, economic liberalization and technological change have given many Chinese the independence to live as they choose, as long as they don’t challenge Communist Party rule.

Within China, the government has largely buried the history of 1989. Most young people know little or nothing about those events. Most of those who do have accepted the government’s claim that it was forced to act to prevent chaos. Those who know what happened generally speak of it only among friends or family.

To stifle discussion of Tiananmen around its anniversary, the government detains or warns dissidents, and blocks access to Web sites that could carry sensitive content. On Tuesday, Twitter Inc. users across China reported that the popular micro-blogging service appeared to be blocked, the latest in a series of sites carrying user-supplied content that have experienced access disruptions recently in China. Chinese officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, a world that recoiled at the bloodshed in June 1989 has accepted China’s leaders and their central role in global affairs. Some of those most opposed to the Communist Party’s practices have felt compelled to deal with it.

Last week, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a longtime China critic, who was expelled from the country in 1991 after unfurling a banner in Tiananmen Square memorializing those killed in the crackdown — returned to Beijing to talk to Chinese leaders about cooperation on climate change.

Those who helped shape Tiananmen also have differing views of its legacy.

Wu’er Kaixi, a student leader in 1989 and No. 2 on the government’s most-wanted list after the crackdown, says the democracy movement should be credited with much of China’s economic progress in the past 20 years, as the government accelerated economic reforms to regain legitimacy it lost on June 4.

“The longer the time passes, the more I think of it as a great movement,” says Mr. Wu’er, who has lived in exile since 1989.

Wang Juntao, whom the government labeled an orchestrator in 1989, believes China’s people are closer to forcing democratic change now.

[A Chinese couple take cover at an underpass as tanks deploy in Beijing to stop the 1989 demonstrations. ] Associated PressA Chinese couple take cover at an underpass as tanks deploy in Beijing to stop the 1989 demonstrations.

The Chinese people have “learned a lesson. They’ve found that we were right — without democracy the Chinese government will become more violent and self-interested,” says Mr. Wang, now 50, who was imprisoned before being expelled in 1994 to the U.S., where he has lived ever since. “I think I will definitely return to China, and I will be successful. Finally, we will win [China] back.”

Other participants have returned to China, or never left. Most lead lives that have nothing to do with politics. “People generally have tremendous difficulty linking that part of their life with their life today — except the extreme minority who carried on the movement at great cost,” Mr. Shen says. For many people in China, he says, June 1989 is “frozen in history.”

Mr. Shen first returned to China in 1992. After arriving in the U.S. in 1989, he cowrote “Almost a Revolution,” about his involvement in the democracy protests, completed his undergraduate degree at Brandeis University, and started graduate studies at Boston University and Harvard University. He also started a group called the Democracy for China Fund.

In China, he traveled around speaking to other activists. Back in Beijing, the night before a scheduled news conference, police arrested him at his mother’s apartment. He was released after eight weeks and put on a plane back to the U.S., where he vowed to continue the fight for democracy.

Chinese authorities also detained several people who met with Mr. Shen. One wasn’t released for nearly two years. Fellow democracy activists criticized Mr. Shen for endangering his collaborators. Mr. Shen said that the others were aware of the risks. Still, he says today, “They are on my conscience.”

Mr. Shen stayed away from China for nearly a decade. He continued to work for democracy, but his interests broadened. In the mid-1990s, he started businesses in publishing and television production. He stopped his doctoral studies without a degree.

In May 1999, U.S.-led forces in Yugoslavia bombed China’s Embassy in Belgrade, killing three. Washington said the incident was an error, but the bombing triggered protests by college students in Beijing outside the American Embassy.

Watching the protests on TV, Mr. Shen was struck by how effective the government had been in replacing the democratic ideals of previous generations with a combination of nationalism and economic growth.

“I felt profound sadness,” he says. “What I hadn’t realized is that this combination, that rests upon very systematic repression of historical memory, was working.”

In 2000, Mr. Shen founded a new company, VFinity, which sells software that clients use to manage and search video and other digital content. He married and had two children — changes that he says also realigned his thinking.

“I realize how much involuntary suffering my family went through” during his initial years of activism and exile, Mr. Shen says.

In 2001, Mr. Shen returned to Beijing to visit family. It was the first of about half a dozen return visits — each requiring agreements in advance with Chinese authorities not to engage in political activities while there.

As his business developed, China’s market beckoned. In 2006, VFinity opened an office in Beijing. Some critics have suggested VFinity’s software could be used by Chinese authorities for surveillance purposes. Mr. Shen says VFinity hasn’t sold its product to police agencies, though he says it is impossible to ensure they don’t ultimately get access to the software.

Mr. Shen says there is no simple formula to reconcile his feelings about the Chinese government with the practical considerations of doing business there.

“The more distance I have, the more I realize what I don’t know,” he says.

Overall, he says, the country’s economic reform policy, without political change, “is clearly not sufficient, but it’s better than the alternative” of no reform at all.