Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Very important vote happening for the free culture community. Please vote "yes" if you're qualified.

Cross-posted from the Creative Commons Blog:

A community vote is now underway, hopefully one of the final steps in the process the migration of Wikipedia (actually Wikipedias, as each language is its own site, and also other Wikimedia Foundation sites) to using Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike as its primary content license.

This migration would be a huge boost for the free culture movement, and for Wikipedia and Creative Commons -- until the migration happens there is an unnecessary licensing barrier between the most important free culture project (Wikipedia of course, currently under the Free Documentation License, intended for software documentation) and most other free culture projects and individual creators, which use the aforementioned CC BY-SA license.

To qualify to vote, one must have made 25 edits to a Wikimedia site prior to March 15. Make sure you're logged in to the project on which you qualify, and you should see a site notice at the top of each page that looks like the image below (red outline added around notice).

licensing update site notice

Click on "vote now" and you'll be taken to the voting site.

For background on the migration process, see Wikimedia's licensing update article and the following series of posts on the Creative Commons blog:

Here's a great "propaganda poster", original created by Brianna Laugher (cited a number of times on this blog), licensed under CC BY. See her post, Vote YES for licensing sanity!

Indeed, please go vote yes to unify the free culture movement!

Vote YES! For licensing sanity!

I highly recommend any company or organization that works with user generated content to send someone to this bootcamp by the best in the field at this stuff. For lawyers and non-lawyers alike!

Does your company have to contend with the maze of laws dealing with user privacy and publishing user content? Want to do the right thing by the online community that gives your business value, and still fulfill your legal obligations?

On May 11, 2009, EFF will reprise its successful one-day session for Internet companies that handle issues arising from users and user-generated content. From DMCA to CDA to ECPA, the law surrounding Internet content can be confusing, especially for the folks who have to decide on the fly whether to let something stay up or take it down, or whether to give their customer's name to the FBI agent on the phone. We will also have additional sessions on Open Source licensing and employment law for start-ups and small Internet companies. The event is co-sponsored by the Golden Gate University School of Law Intellectual Property Law Center.

Fancy ceiling above Starbuck's at Ibn Battuta mall

I wasn't going to write a blog post until I had more experience, but I reached the limit of what I can say in 140 character Twitter responses. Everyone has been sending me links to the Guardian article and the article in The Independent about the treatment of workers in Dubai. They come in the wake of an increasing flow of articles bashing Dubai. The New York Times article sort of broke the damn in terms of sensationalizing all of this I think. Just like the Desert Blogger, I've never seen cockroaches coming out of the faucets. ;-P The Desert Blogger has a good response to these articles.

I'm still new to the region so I can't speak definitively as a native, but I do know that the picture that is sketched is pretty biased and I think could be rightly called "bashing". As far as I can tell there is a crunch going on, just like everywhere else, and the government and businesses are trying to figure out what to keep and what to shut down. There are a lot of solid businesses and a lot of solid business people in Dubai and like anywhere else, consolidation and downsizing is taking its toll.

Having said that, the parking lots are not full of homeless foreigners and dumped cars. The mood is the same, if not maybe slightly more upbeat than the US or Japan these days. Instead of taking an hour and a half to get across town, it takes half an hour, instead of 3 days in advance reservations for the lounge/bar at The Address, it's 2 days and you can usually get a table at the nice restaurants with less than a hour wait now... usually. The real estate and development part of Dubai seems to be getting hit the hardest, but it looks the shipping and "the hub of the Middle East" parts of Dubai seem to be doing OK.

I don't want to appear like I'm defending human rights offenders. As a board member of Global Voices, WITNESS and a supporter of a number of Human Rights organizations, I spend a TON of time on human rights issues. We NEED to talk about human rights. However, human rights issues are resolved by understanding how and what kind of pressure to put on who in order to cause the change. While broad understanding of human rights is important, I don't find that sprinkling them on articles as part of a negative press pile-on is really, comparatively speaking, that productive.

The author of the article in The Independent defends his position and says that critics of his article are suffering from 'what-aboutery'. It's not a bad rebuttal, but I'm not sure the article was really intended to try to make things better for those oppressed workers, but rather just to piss on Dubai some more along with everyone else. I didn't see a "what you can do to help" button or mention anywhere in the article. Just a bunch of finger wagging.

In contrast, and as an example (and I'm sure some people will call this what-aboutery), if you look at the WITNESS coverage of the issue of slavery in rural Brazil, it's written as a call to action against this human rights violation.

Fixing human rights violations require people in that country or countries that have influence over that country to speak up. Shouting at people who don't really listen to you anyway, isn't very helpful. In fact in can be counter-productive. That's why Japan needs to speak up about Burma, the Chinese need to speak up about Africa and Americans about things like Guantanamo Bay.

Again, I'm not in favor of censorship, nor am I in favor of ignoring human rights violations. I'm just not super-supportive of not-very-constructive finger-wagging-because-it's-fashionable-right-now journalism. If you care, write about the people who are trying to fix the problems.

When I was in Israel and Palestine recently, I was impressed most by the Palestinians who were trying to cause change in Palestine and the Israelis who were trying to change the way Israelis think. In my 2005 thread about the Anti-Japan protests in China, what impressed me the most were the people who were reflective of their own society's problems after the discussion, not those criticizing their enemies.

I don't want to sound too defensive about Dubai or the Middle East in general, but one thing I've learned from my still brief time is that it's much more complicated than it appears. Just calling Muslim law and governance "medieval" and writing it off is ignorant. It's very different and isn't in sync with what many of us might think is "fair". They treat bounced checks and drug smuggling very seriously. Moving to the Middle East casually and assuming that everything should be just like home is dangerous and I wouldn't recommend it. However, I knew about the drug thing even before I visited and I learned about the "bounced checks land you in jail" thing on my first day.

In summary, I think that if you're looking for fast money or a "rags to riches" dream, I would recommend against going to Dubai. On the other hand, if you're looking for a safe place to park while you explore opportunities or culture in the Middle East, I think Dubai is fine, for now. The food is good, there are great people, the culture is diverse, most of the infrastructure works and the laws are, relatively speaking, friendly to foreigners compared to the rest of the region. That's why I moved there and so far I'm not regretting my decision.

UPDATE: Xeni posted this on Boing Boing and there is a thread of comments there.

UPDATE 2: A followup post.

Yossi Vardi
Yossi Vardi

(Israel trip Flickr set)

I visited Israel for the second time ever after my first trip in 2003. Both of my trips were thanks to invitations from Yossi Vardi. Yossi is one of the most unique people I know combining almost unlimited humor, compassion, entrepreneurial spirit, generosity, creativity and influence. Whatever Yossi tells me to do, I try to do. He'd been inviting me to his Kinnernet camp for years and I was finally able to make it this year.

The last time I visited Israel, I had never been to the Middle East. This time, having had a bit more experience in the Middle East and having just been to Qatar for the Al Jazeera annual forum where the main topic of discussion was Gaza, I was able to experience Israel with more context.

Kinnernet was held on the Kinneret kibbutz. Kinnernet, inspired by Tim O'Reilly's FOO Camp unconference format is like FOO camp except with robots, fire jugglers, lots of power tools and a costume dance gala. I really enjoyed the event - super interesting sessions and great people. The event was like a physical manifestation of all things Yossi.

Yossi and the Garage Geeks also hosted a Creative Commons evening for us at the scrappy and cool Garage Geeks "outdoor auditorium". I was able to meet the CC Israel team and lots of people from the community. Big kudos to Yossi, Garage Geeks and the CC Israel team for organizing this.

Daniel Lubetzky, who was out of town, introduced me to his Israeli and Palestinian One Voice teams. One Voice tries amplify the voice of the silent majority of moderates on both the Israeli and Palestinian communities through volunteers and youth leaders. I was impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of both teams, but also by the challenge of the fundamentally different contexts of the two communities. Both groups were focused primarily on activities within their own communities, which I think is smart. It's much easier to change yourself than to try to change other people. I'm always reminded of this when I'm in debates about the issues between the Chinese and the Japanese.

I visited Ramallah in the West Bank to meet up with the Palestinian One Voice team. Many people including my travel agent and Israeli friends suggested that it would be difficult to get in or dangerous. I had no trouble at the checkpoints and Ramallah City seemed like a vibrant and interesting place considering the circumstances. I was even treated to the best falafel sandwich I've ever had. :-) Although my trip to Ramallah was really brief, I was able to have nice chat with Nisreen and her One Voice Palestine crew and get a quick tour of Ramallah.

Apparently just the week before my visit, Google had done a workshop in Ramallah which was very well received. The geeks in Ramallah seemed very motivated and in several conversations that I had with both Palestinians and Israelis, the idea of Internet startups based in or involving Palestinians came up as a great way to empower people in the West Bank and Gaza as well as increase communications between Palestinians and Israelis. I totally agree. The Palestinians explained that it was now very difficult or impossible for them to travel outside of the territories and get visa for many countries including the US and many Arab countries. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to not be allowed to travel freely. Luckily, the Internet is not filtered or blocked in Palestine.

I visited Yasser Arafat's tomb with some of my new Palestinian friends and was struck by how deeply they respected him. There was a poem at the tomb about how there was a bit of Yasser Arafat in every Palestinian. Credited with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Yasser Arafat seemed almost deified. (My apologies if I've mangled the explanation.)

As I was leaving Israel getting my polite, but extremely thorough security examination at Tel Aviv airport which included a full body massage in a private room, I couldn't help pondering how things might be improved in the region. People I met in both communities were extremely warm, friendly and dedicated to peace. However, there appeared to be almost irreconcilable and fundamental differences in what they believed the final solution was. While I met very few extremists, they seemed to continue to have a great deal of influence in their respective communities.

I remembered some words spoken by Shimon Peres at a Brainstorm conference in Aspen in 2002 and wondered if people like Shimon Peres would ever wield enough influence to create peace. I'm not sure how I can help, but I intend to continue to visit the region and increase my ties with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to see if I can contribute to peace in some way.

Following are some of the notes I took from the talk by Shimon Peres in 2002 which he gave just hours after another bomb had been detonated in an Israeli University.

"I have no hatred in my heart for the Palestinians."

"We are just two tragedies meeting in the same place. I hope that this doesn't turn into a third tragedy."

"What can you learn from History? Very little... History was written with red ink, with bloodshed. We should educate our children how to imagine, not how to remember."


I've written about my friend Joshua Ramo in the past and mention his new book The Age of the Unthinkable in my blog post about Dubai and the unknowable. I was reading a proof of the book during my trip and it helped spark that post.

Joshua has a background in physics, journalism and foreign affairs. I'm pretty sure he's the only person I know who has interviewed both the head of Israeli intelligence and the CTO of the Hizbollah. He is one of the few people I know who is as crazy about experiencing new cultures as me. Unlike me, Joshua can write and is extremely well read and his new book The Age of the Unthinkable describes through narratives, facts and theory, the framework that describes better than any book I know, the way that I look at the world, current events and my own relationship to this world.

One way of describing the book is Black Swan written in a non-arrogant, more constructive and culturally deep and thoughtful way.

I highly recommend this book. It is available on Amazon. Johsua has a website for the book. (I think Boris did the design. :-) ) You can also see Joshua on the TODAY Show, NPR's All Things Considered, and WNYC Brian Lehrer.