Friday, August 2, 2019

Wikinews (hereinafter WN) talks to Mikhail Gruznov, a Russian wikipedian who nearly 14 years has worked in the project; he used to work as administrator, pioneered the Wikipedia lawful paid-contribution, and has made the paid editing his profession.

Mikhail caused a political scandal that could affect the presence of Wikipedia in Russia. According to «Meduza», on July 2, he initiated the blocking of a group of 12 users that he identified, which introduced edits to the encyclopedia in the interests of the Kremlin. In addition, a month later, four media related to Yevgeny Prigozhin were included in the spam-blacklist, as reported by «Kommersant» on August 5. This also happened thanks to Gruznov, and Mikhail’s actions led to attacks on him and Wikipedia in the Russian media. «URA.Ru» accused Gruznov of creating fake articles about Russia. Wikipedia was called the “propaganda tool from the USA”. According to «Novye Izvestia», on August 6 the head of the Russian Union of Journalists Vladimir Solovyov proposed to create a national analogue of Wikipedia.

Dmitry Rozhkov, an experienced wikipedia has interviewed Mikhail on behalf of Wikinews.

Dmitry Rozhkov: Hello, Mikhail.

Mikhail Gruznov: Hi.

About ‘group of twelve‘

DR: You gave several interviews in the wake of the story about the ‘group of twelve’. Were they short originally or were they shortened after editing?

MG: It is only because some details are unnecessary for people who are not familiar with the Wikipedia’s inside information, as such details obscure.

DR: We will not go into particulars, but would like to clarify some details. Please tell us when and how it happened that you detected this group. Was it untargeted or did you understand that there could be such activity in Wikipedia. Did you try to detect them?

MG: No, I did not do it on purpose. I even does not have the technical facility for such a search. I just noticed some doubtful edits in the articles about governors. Like many others, I have some articles about key governors and the government officials on the monitoring list, and the same about some members of the opposition. And, suddenly, at the end of February, I noticed a newbie with a massive (Oldfishkeeper — WN) contribution in the articles about governors. And, his contributions, let me say it, as I first thought about them, – were amusing. He described hobbies of governors in many details and in a bit childish way. I thought, ‘why not’ and forgot it.

DR: What happened next?

MG: Then there was an episode after which everything became clear to me. It was the war inside the article about Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at the ‘Anti-Corruption Foundation‘. I found a group of members whose contributions were coordinated and it looked suspicious. All of them registered in the project during the period from October to January. So, I began to analyze their contributions and it became clear that their views of life looked as if they were synchronized. They all liked public officials and disliked the opposition members. And, what is most important – they move in groups. And, there are two ‘old’ members, registered long ago, who provide patrolling to those users. And at some moment, I guessed that they all worked as a group. Especially, it became obvious when they started almost simultaneously submit their status applications. They intersperse targeted edits with neutral ones to obtain the wiki experience and pretend for formal statuses. What is most threatening is that nobody considered applications of the members of the group with the sufficient thoroughness. Nobody understood who were them really and what was their contribution. And, they easily could have become patrollers if someone would enter the application page and totalize. But, it happened that nobody of administrators entered the page and 20 or 25 applications piled.

DR: So, you have prepared the request and applied it to the check users. To what extent did the check result prove your expectation? According to it, only one “old” member, the supposed Nesterovich (Zergeist2/S.Felix) was banned and his relation to this group was not established. What they did was to restore his ban at which his account should have been.

MG: There are several layers here. First, I made all the tables, collected data for the request and started to think what to do next. I could have filed the request to the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom). But, I thought that preliminarily it is necessary to understand if there was formal evidence that this group was linked. This would make the arbiter’s work easier. It is clear that check users does not evaluate the contribution content. Generally speaking, it makes no difference to them what a user writes in the article. They just check if the accounts are linked among each other or with an earlier banned user. The fact that Zergeist2 is banned is coincidence, as his account was banned because it was linked with a user banned earlier.

DR: That is it.

MG: I think that the checking by check users is the first step and necessary preparation for filing the request at the Arbitration Committee that shall consider the merits of the contribution.

DR: Look, what we have now. The check users said nothing definite about the two ‘old’ accounts. One account is banned on the grounds having no relevance to the purpose of your request. What remains is a group of 7 or 8 users and only 4 or 5 of them registered practically at the same time and generally speaking, they can belong to one person or different persons linked so closely that they can be considered as one. Thus, it is just a small-time crook, not a full-scale conspiracy.

MG: Obviously, check users cannot prove the existence of conspiracy. It is not their competence. As I have said, it is only the first step. Frankly speaking, I did not expect that this step would attract such attention. If you remember, some wikipedians, Sergey Rublyov and Krasotkin, posted on Facebook the news about this request. And, afterwards, it was impossible to stop this news wave. And, media was preparing…

DR: …to a sensation.

MG: Yes, to issue the material as soon as the check users submit a result.

DR: Well, what is the intermediate result concerning this group, we’ll call like that, today. Could you verbalize it in some form?

MG: Firstly, we understand that there is some ‘smoke’, and, actually, it is dealt with a group. Secondly, if you consider the content of their contribution, i.e. each of their edits, it becomes clear that the entire group acted according to a plan and gradually implemented this plan. The main result of the check is that their activity ceased. All the planned work of this botnet (I call it like that for convenience), performed for 9 months was in vain. Everybody paid attention to the edits about governors and the opposition. It is not easy to clean the articles from this rubbish, but, at least, the community is aware of the problem now.

DR: What will be your further steps?

MG: Now I am preparing a claim at the Arbitration Committee. I am going to prove that the activity of this botnet was destructive, grounding on the edits content analysis. Besides, on the basis of the source assessment and the subsequent request to put them on spam-list, I will demand banning the pool of media related to RIA FAN. They are often called as ’prigozhinskie’, and this botnet also often refers to them.

DR: Can we say that the untimely leakage of the information in media spoiled your game?

MG: No, it rather took some of my attention for the necessity to provide comments and comments to the comments. In general, everything is according to the plan.

DR: Will the request at the Arbitration Committee contain newly established facts or maybe new actors? Are you going to do the entire analytical work alone or will you leave something for arbiters?

MG: I have got already some results. I will repack the already announced material, focusing on the non-banned accounts.

DR: Does it mean that you will insist on your original version without any corrections?

MG: By all means. Flint1972 and Zergeist2 are the two most threatening botnet users. I will comment on the contribution of Zergeist2 to deter his unbanning to the maximum extent.

DR: By the way, I also was studying the contribution of Flint1972 and at some moment, I thought that it was also written by Nesterovich. Firstly, his birth year is 1972 . Secondly, his account appeared two or three months after the Nesterovich account banning date. And Zergeist2 appeared after two or three years (there was Zergeist account too). I doubt if Nesterovich did not do the editing during that time. So, there should be one more account and Flint1972 can match. But, later I saw that the edits by these two accounts are done almost simultaneously, so they belonged to different people.

MG: Maybe, it is worth doing the linguistic analysis, but it a comprehensive work, takes long time, and I do not have the appropriate tools. I would think that it is done by different people, but they are hired to create and supervise this pool.

DR: These are the brave conclusions you do.

MG: Obviously, we cannot know it for sure. It is my hypothesis.

DR: As far as I understand, those facts you have included in the request to check users are not all. You did not provide your edit-by-edit reasoning. As you were delving into the subject, you possibly became more and more convinced that there was a big conspiracy. However, now I clearly see the much smaller conspiracy of four or six users. A global conspiracy with the devised facility of two or three more persons still is not obvious to me. But, surely, I do not have such ‘delving’ experience of yours.

MG: Yes, I have considered each of their edits: the way they do the edits, how they patrol after each other. I see that some accounts specialize only on negative adding, others are interested only in editing articles about governors, and there are those combining the first and the second. That is why, I did not hesitate even a second when I published the request. Maybe, all this is not so obvious to an outside observer who luckily did not delve into the issue. We’ll see. I hope that the arbiters’ decision will make it clear to the community. As I have already said, the main result is achieved, their destructive activity is stopped. Besides, it will be difficult to create a new botnet from scratch.

DR: Okay, we will wait then for development of the story of the ‘group of twelve’.

About deputies and Dissernet

DR: Do you believe that there is only one botnet in ruWiki?

MG: Yes, it is one in this very pool of articles. But if we take, for example, articles about deputes of the State Duma, which is 450 pages, I can see quite a number of the systemic spin doctors there.

DR: Does a spin-doctor promote one Duma deputy?

MG: Some spins promote many deputies. But, this is another pool not linked to the revealed group.

DR: Are you planning to go into this issue?

MG: I have the idea to undertake this investigation, but it is a quite massive work. It requires the analysis of all articles about the deputies. So, I will do a smaller research concerning Dissernet. Basing on edits in the articles about deputies and governor, I see their sharp reaction to the statements that they stole their theses and engaged users try to delete this information.

DR: Is it always necessary to save this information in articles? As a statement of Dissernet can be deemed an original source why do we think that it is an undoubtedly reliable source. Why are you sure that it has passed WP:WEIGHT?

MG: Firstly, Dissernet is formed by acknowledged scientists. By now, nobody has proved that Dissernet is wrong or at least contains many mistakes. All accusations addressed to the Dissernet have no grounds. Besides, much material from Dissernet concerning higher politicians appears in mass media as republishing.

DR: I would not say that Dissernet is never wrong. There is always a portion of ZoLUS remained without satisfaction. It occurs that revealed violations are admitted to be noncritical, while Dissernet presents them all as terrible offenders. In any case, there is much of the show in the Dissernet activity, despite of the great job it is doing.

MG: As far as I remember, Dissernet does not evaluate the thesis content or the scientific value of works. Its attitude includes a good deal of formality. It pays attention at borrowings from the earlier published works, the borrowings volume. Basing on this data, Dissernet states that the thesis is not unique. What it must be! This allows anyone to make further conclusions independently. In any case, it would be interesting to know how many attempts to delete the information about the Dissernet researches were.

DR: I only mean that, possibly, the individual attitude should be used at posting such materials. And you have to be more careful with wordings for the unsatisfied ZoLUSes, and doubly careful if it is yet to be considered.

MG: Sure. We should rely on WP:LIVE. This is the underlying rule however ignored by many experienced users. They often include in articles their convincement not supported by reliable secondary sources. I will try to be correct and accurate.

DR: Does it mean that you are planning to do it?

MG: Yes, I say, each potential research takes time. Actually, lots of time…

About monitoring of Wikipedia

DR: Well, going back to the deputies’ spin-doctors. There are lots of them, possibly, several hundreds, each one promotes at least one deputy and it is not necessarily they are linked to each other. If you detect some of them, others will appear. It is not efficient to spend time on it. The problem should be solved in-system.

MG: And this is the problem caused by absence of the effective monitoring system. We can monitor new articles. We can monitor fresh edits. We can monitor separate articles. However, all the said does not allow watching the entire picture. As long as we do not have such tools, the situation at which a group can root in its standpoint will be undetectable.

DR: What shall we do then?

MG: I have got some ideas about how create such system. It would help detecting not only new destructive users but can be also helpful at monitoring the community health.

DR: Is the problem of the community health is up-to-date? And, how far can it be discussed without involvement of abstract notions?

MG: The matter is that, now, we do not know digitally what is going on at Wikipedia at all. Any speculation about health or ill health, about how to make the Wikipedia better …

DR: How did you drive to the conclusion on the ill health then? Did you do any research?

MG: From time to time, I look at the list of active editors. The number of them has long ago set on about ten thousand users who did at least one edit. We are entirely unable to understand how many out of these ten thousand users are active ones and how many bots are

DR: You can just look at the statistics, including the ‘activity’ criterion, so many edits per month….

MG: It is rather mechanistic, I would like to do a more rigorous research. Besides, it is strange that the  Wikimedia Foundation does not provide any review with this regard. I have always thought that they have enough money to issue such reviews about health of local sections, at least for the major ones. Until we understand what is going on, we, in fact, cannot take informed decisions. The number of articles is growing every year and they exist unlike the editors. But, it also is also has the reverse side of the medal; fewer editors edit the ever-increasing number of articles. Even keeping the stable state of articles consumes the community resources. This is not to mention the fact that a good part of articles describe current matters and outdates every day. I can judge it by my articles. Take the article about museum. What, seems, can change there? Look, they planned to erect a new building for the museum, then, they refused from this plan, as a result the article needs updating and we have no authors to do it.

DR: Can automation be used to solve this problem? The increasing number of bots and smart bots, Wikidata can generate articles independently.

MG: Only partly. However, I think that the radiant future will come and the artificial intelligence , based on data arrays will be able to gener?te a stub, if not an article, that did not exist before.

DR: It has been implemented already; we have some test articles. If you look at the code, you will see the reference to Wikidata and the script collects standard phrases to make a stub.

MG: Yes, but Wikidata has its own dark side in this case. If you want to add something to the article about your village, generated by the script using the wikidata information only, it will not be that easy, at least it is more difficult to do now than it was before when you just pressed ‘edit’ or ‘edit code’.

DR: Perhaps, it could be solved. For instance, create a template of author additions under the wikidata template and teach the artificial intelligence to combine these data into an article. We have already a similar thing in Wikinews: the news feed is formed automatically from headlines and anyone can manually add the text under a selected headline to describe this piece of news.

MG: Yes, it is possible. However, I think the effort put is not sufficient for this radiant future to come. Here I would put the blame on the Wikimedia Foundation, because they have money.

DR: I agree, money is allocated, but they assign it to projects like overcoming ‘gender gap‘. Its effectiveness for five years is about one percent, which is within the limits of statistical error.

MG: I prone to think that they have money plenty for everything. I remind a story occurred at a conference. I cannot remember now the name of the participant who coded the addition of the Open Street Map (OSM) to the cards. The Foundation pinched money; they did not pay several thousand dollars for the software application making all these things faster. It is a beggarly amount for the Foundation, while it would have produced the great positive impact on the community. After all the cards were done, but for many years before the cards appeared, volunteers had been taking screenshots  manually in OSM and loading them to Wikimedia commons. In other words, we mix cement with spades instead of using the cement machine. If resources could be disengaged, we would use them for creating content.

DR: Could you work out the technical assignment for a system that would monitor the possible correction of users’ activities for a period?

MG: I believe, I could.

About lack of resources

DR: Which other resources can be disengaged?

MG: On having reviewing the established vicious practices. Article about significant topics on ruWiki  are sent by unknown reason on WP:KU, on which we have overflow of work that keeps growing.

DR: Perhaps, here the community need to demonstrate the element of will. There is a trend to improve articles only under the threat of deletion. It a common place, that a user starts to edit his article when he sees the threat of losing it, while all users feel their involvement in all articles, even if they did not write them. However, as the time goes on, this attitude works worse and worse and articles on significant topics are not only on the deletion list, but are deleted. It should be noted, that many articles for deletion are not bad. Besides, there is the rule WP:NOTNEWS which is another decease of the project. The rule is considered as a kind of guidelines like the original investigation ban WP:ORIGINAL  or similar.

MG: NOTNEWS is strangely understood. In my opinion, this rule is not about current content of article, it is about topic. If a topic appears once or twice on the wave of ‘hipe’ to be never covered in media again, it is probably of no cyclopedia significance. However, some users think instead, that we may not use the news source. Of course, we should object it, as the wrong understanding of rules results in deletion of significant topics and repulsion of the experienced editors and newcomers.

DR: I agree, sometimes it seems that those who grounds the article deletion according to the rule have read it only till the shortcut. They think that NOTNEWS is their associative array linked to this word, while the rule contains another word.

MG: Yes, it is understandable and not so complicated. As a result we have long queues because ’For deletion’ is used instead of ’For improvement’. An article may be pending for a year or two at this template.

DR: I repeat, in my opinion it is the matter of will. I doubt whether it should be settled by means of requests to the Arbcom or complaints against the actions of overzealous ‘deleters’. Perhaps, a well-prepared poll will be helpful in this case, as, probably, it will confirm what is already written in the rule NOTNEWS and will put stress on the correct use.

MG: Yes, the rule can be supplemented upon results of such poll with the clarification that the rule must not be understood in a wrong way, that the rule is often understood like that, which is not correct. In sum, it would save the enormous number of person-years, while keeping media and news sources as the main ones for describing events in Wikipedia.

DR: Now practically any article about a new event is nominated for deleting, even it is quite clear that the event will figure in history, for example, a terrorist attack in a European country with hundreds victims. Moreover, users sometimes delete the non-event articles because they are linked to NOTNEWS, for example biographies, though they have nothing to do with the rule. I also can remember the long lasting attacks on ’Current events’ (In the news – WP) after it appeared on the headline ruWiki.

MG: It seems to me that partially this can be the reaction to imperfect articles about nowadays, as some people, I suppose, feel physical discomfort at seeing them posted. It seems to them that such articles would rather not exist.

DR: Or they would not like to see such articles at all. In my view, some users tend to get barriered from the outer world, isolate Wikipedia so that it would describe only ‘eternal issues’, what was described many times and many years ago.

MG: It could be like that. But I always ask: what is wrong if Wikipedia contains a hundred articles about terrorist attacks? We are not limited by number of articles. We do not spend paper on printing articles. We have no terms to which we are supposed to deliver a number of selected articles. On the contrary, we delete articles and demotivate users who are interested in these topics. After all, they could be writing afterwards not only about terrorist attacks. Some users consider Wikipedia as a supervalue and believe that an ordinary editor strives for staying in the community at all costs. But in fact, Wikipedia every day competes for person’s attention with his job, family, unpaid loans, other thousand things. A person can be sitting with friends in a café, or have a nice walk. But, the person selects exhaustive search to make an article on some topic. Then the person is said ‘we will delete your contribution’ and he/she leaves.

DR: Yes, as a rule, he or she leaves quietly. A number of users have many positive contributions and they can leave demonstratively. This is a notable case for the community with requests not to leave etc. However, the common reaction is that the most of users cease editing.

MG: And we even do not know by what reasons. And, nobody does measurements. Suppose, one hundred newbies created non-advertising and known-useful edits in June. We do not check how many of them ‘survived’ in July, how many ceased their activity in August. We do not try to know why it happened; they did not have enough time, or they did not like something in Wikipedia, or they would like to change something, or there was something repelling them. I am saying this to return to the issue that we do not understand what the community is at actual practice. I have heard the opinion that if a user leaves Wikipedia, he or she was not prepared for it. But, why should he or she struggle?

DR: It is absolutely not clear why he or she should be tolerant in the aggressive environment.

MG: Particularly, when there are so many ways to apply ones creativity. One can post texts on external platforms or invest in personal resources, doing it now is easy like it never was before. We must do everything to make people select Wikipedia.

DR: But alas.

MG: Yes, a gender gap  is a consequence of the inconvenient staying in the community. I think that if the community atmosphere improves regardless men or women, the women share will increase naturally. Instead, we are trying to cure a consequence of a complex decease. Banning Fram in English Wikipedia is one of many markers of the unhealthy atmosphere in the community. Fram is an active editor, at the same time he is ‘toxic’ with regard to many ones. And it is a big question how to measure his contribution objectively at the hamburg score. By the way, Russian mass media did not cover this story; it was discussed only on forums.

DR: Let us tell what the deal was.

MG: In two words; usually the decision about banning violators is taken inside the community. It is done by administrator in easy cases and by Arbcom in complicated ones. But in this case, a special committee of the Wikimedia Foundation  arrived and banned the administrator for a year. Then the scandal went on the rise, because the foundation did not explain why they did it. The foundation only said general words about harassment  without giving details. When one of the administrators unbanned Fram, the Foundation banned him again. This resulted in a huge conflict. The last time when I checked the information about it, almost twenty administrators withdrew as a sign of protest. The scandal went out far beyond the Wikipedia project and BuzzFeed’ published a vast article, which I translated in Russian and posted.

DR: What will be the end of the story?

MG: It is not clear yet. It is wider than the ordinary ban of Fram. It is about the boundaries of autonomy of the English section, and about the degree of interference of the Foundation in its operation. Something like that happened, in my knowledge, only in the [[w:Chechen section, at the time when separatists settled there and, ultimately, people from meta came there.

DR: But still it was another story. Everything was transparent there. The meta people (stewards) – they are not the same as the Foundation people, moreover, a request was filed with regard to the Chechen section. Was the request filed in Fram’s case?

MG: The Foundation has failed to disclose the details, no open letters were posted. The Foundation appeared out of the blue, banned and left, without giving any details. And they thought that it would ‘work out’. Why does the Foundation, having so many wonderful people on its staff, i.e. three hundred people, with specialists in community among them, do such sudden movements? The community of volunteers is not ready to swallow the insult, as it often occurs at commercial structures at which people work for remuneration and have more reasons to tolerate it.

About paid editing

DR: Well, for afters, turn to people working for remuneration (laugh). Let us talk about the lawfully paid contributions. Tell how you came to this idea.

MG: I started editing the Wikipedia when I was doing my first year at higher school (December 2005 — WN). I got passionately interested in it.

DR: What was it that attracted you?

MG: I liked the idea of creating a consistent picture out of the chaos of information. You can do analysis, write an article and then others can use your work results. They need not do this work repeatedly. You save someone’s time. In principle, today, it works too.

DR: What did you write about at that time?

MG: It seems that the first edit was about Uranus. Then I got acquainted with people from Piter’s social circuit who wrote about Saint Petersburg. Soon afterwards, I turned to metapedism and became administrator. Then, I saw that there are wikepedians and the outer world with PR people who sometimes try to communicate with wikipedia. But, this people speak different languages and they often talk about the same things. They do not understand each other, which leads to conflicts and all of them spend time. And, I thought that I could be the buffer speaking wikipedish with wikipedians and the language comprehensible to PR people with the latter.

DR: The language of marketing?

MG: Yes, and remove the most part of conflicts. In principle, at the output, we should have good articles and resources for the full-time engagement in Wikipedia. It is my hypothesis, it still remains in my mind and I am convinced in it. For example, a student can afford doing edits in Wikipedia, because he has free time. Then he finds it difficult because the job and other things occupy his time. However, if you earn on the Wikipedia-related services, you can be engaged in Wikipedia full-time and involve long-headed guys, who, otherwise, would work in some other place.

DR: This hypothesis is fine. What does the community think about it?

MG: The community, to put it mildly, was wary of this intension. At that moment there were no rules regulating paid editing. It was a kind of terra incognita.

DR: Nonetheless, you could be banned for the conflict of interests.

MG: Yes. Actually, the community then drove to the conclusion that for the sake of safety the people engaged in the paid editing would not have any rights at all. At some moment (June 2014 — WN) the Foundation issued the Policy of paid contributions, if I remember it right, as a response to the incident of hacked network of accounts linked to major PR agencies. In fact, the Wikimedia Foundation applied the attitude used for the US public administration.

DR: Was it, in your opinion, a forced measure?

MG: It was both forced and absolutely natural. In any case, it was inevitable. If Wikipedia were a small marginal resource, it could do without it. Like the state was forced to adopt the policies on lobbyism at some time, the wiki-world was forced to adopt it too. Naturally, this global policy was ported to the Russian language, and since then one can legally undertake the paid editing.

DR: Irregardless of somebody’s likes or dislikes.

MG: It is another matter that practices accepted at the Russian-speaking community do not allow people occupied de-facto in the paid editing to declare about themselves as lobbyists did. When you announce that you are a paid editor you become the easy meat for ideological opponents who does not support the idea that Wikipedia should have the paid contributions. You, broadly speaking, become persecuted. I face it all the time even when I work on the non-commercial projects. Some users write to those people, including charity foundations, asking whether I got something in return. It is persecution in its pure form.

DR: Actually, it is not permitted at Wikipedia. When I was arbiter, there was a history with a user who addressed a complaint about another user to his job at non-commercial organization, trying to bring reputational damage beyond the Wikipedia boundaries. In punishment, his account was banned perpetually. Considering that you are working in Wikipedia full-time, it is what you do for your living… And the suspicions of those ones ‘inspecting’, as I understand, were ungrounded…

MG: Yes, of course. This disturbs people whom I work with. But, as I have a rather thick skin, and one cannot be different if one works at Wikipedia, I tolerate it as long as I can.

DR: I have heard from opponents of paid editing practically clear that the lawful paid editing is worse than the hidden one. Because it allegedly legitimizes or shifts the ’Overton window’ and everything like that. Well, you can see it by yourself, you have revealed the group of paid pushers, and instead of the gratitude to you for having done their job, these strugglers have posted the complaint against you on the forum.

MG: Perhaps, they are guided by the judgement: we turn a blind eye to the existence of the enormous ‘black market’ which we even do not try to evaluate by size, and trace a several users announcing themselves the paid editors whose contribution is on the surface. We do not have an instrument to assess the share of these editors on the market of paid editing, but I have a feeling that they are a drop in the ocean. Besides, it is extremely unlikely that paid editors steal topics, on which volunteers would like to write. Probably, their topics do not cross. When I worked pro bono  on the review articles ’Homeless in Russia’ and ’Artificial abortions in Russia‘, I did not notice that somebody pretended to work on these topics.

DR: I have no doubt about it.

MG: We have too much work to do and so scarce authors who write the good texts, that we would arrange for persecution of each other.

DR: What is your forecast concerning development of the paid editing?

MG: I think that nothing will change in the nearest years. The registered-witch hunt will go on. It is repetition of the story about foreign agent law. They say, look, here is the law, register, just obtain the status of foreign agent and work. You obtain the status and actually cannot conduct the normal activity. The same is with Wiki.

DR: It comes that, law provokes you to violate law. How could we overcome this situation?

MG: The only way is to conduct a series of research to show the actual scale of this activity. Now, whatever topic we take, we do not have figures on it. This makes any discussion meaningless that comes down to defining winner as the loudest one. If we have figures, we will be able to prove our point of view and ask the opponent to provide figures too. Now, everything occurs by intuition, which is very strange, as it concerns a big project with the significant social importance.

DR: Wikipedia occurred as the evolutionary project and remains it now.

MG: The attitudes possible 10 years ago, when Wikipedia was smaller, are not too effective, to tell the truth. The community and the tools cannot develop as fast as Wikipedia does. They do not match its level of development. That is a problem.

DR: Wikipedia in any case is in a steady state. Can, even hypothetically, wide acceptance of the paid editing shift this balance and will a new equilibrium point be found? Roughly speaking, can one group of PR experts be balanced by another similar group to the overall satisfaction?

MG: Look we have a rule that should be obeyed. But, we are not motivated for obeying this rule and the punishment for non-compliance to this rule is not inevitable. The risk of being caught, for a PR expert who has failed to declare his conflict of interests, is not big.

DR: Nobody has the particular strive to catch him.

MG: Yes, if the risk were high and the punishment were inevitable …

DR: It would be significant for a user who has worked for his reputation and values it. If we are talking about a PR person who is interested in Wikipedia only for the sake of posting there one article promoting his company … Well, if he fails the task, the company will substitute him with another person or will give up this idea, there are lots of ways get promoted.

MG: Both yes and no. Going back to the idea of monitoring, I say that it is a ‘l’idée fixe’ during the recent time. We do not accrue information about the articles used as the centers of attraction by PR experts. There are articles in which one or, maybe, ten affiliated editors not linked to each other were interested during a year period.

DR: Could it be that their management is more stubbornly supports the idea to promote via the Wikipedia article?

MG: Well, it could be an article not about company or person; but an article written on social topics or about the infrastructure issues.

About sponsors and philanthropists

DR: Here you have run before my question. Imagine, that the situation develops in the way that Wikipedia having lots of good articles about people and companies, written in compliance with the rules, and lots of the poor-quality articles written on general and humanitarian topics; will see the time when customers will be ready to pay not only for the topics of their direct interest but also those aimed at bringing benefits to public. Will this time come?

MG: I remember from my experience when customers ordered articles on general topics. But, it is not evident to people or companies. The idea should be offered to them.

DR: By the way, we have already long practiced the some kinds of paid editing in the interests of public, that is contests: ‘Sister cities’, ‘’The History of Russian Entrepreneurship’, ’Learn arts and crafts’.

MG: Yes, this is another model.

DR: Sponsors are ready to take part in such projects; they understand the contest idea and they bear lower costs as compared to those of direct order of articles, plus the positive newsworthy event.

MG: Yes, regarding various hard topic, I say, that sometimes it is easier to earn on some obvious issues, and afterwards write on my own on an important topic, because searching a sponsor can be the time-and-labor consuming process with unknown result and the possible negative gain. For example, who would buy the topic ‘Tuberculosis in Russia’?

DR: To some philanthropist, however our philanthropist traditions pended at the before-revolution understandings, in the ideal case. We understand it if a philanthropist builds a church or a hospital.

MG: Yes, let us build a church, as it is visible and tangible.

DR: Philanthropy at the information technology century, at least in Russia has yet to form.

MG: This is the problem ‘hen or egg’. Unless you explain systematically and for a long time that it could be done like this, money will not be invested. Besides, the topic ‘let us write on the socially important issue and give the money for it’ is not such an obvious one as ‘this is an afflicted child, please give the money for treatment’. The latter is a more comprehensible argument, this is why, the topics about sick children and churches raise more money than that donated on preservation of wooden architecture or more complicated concepts.

DR: And what if you address to NCO? They receive grants and part of them should be spent on informing and the public awareness campaigns.

MG: I take as a premise that it is better not to take money there. They are actually short of money for their own needs. I consider NCO as a source of expertise. Sometimes they ask to write about them, however in the most of cases we make a draft article and ask them to approve it. The article about ‘OVD-Info’ is the latest one of such kind. As I am subscribed to the monthly donation there, I thought it logical to make the article look better. I wrote a draft, posted it and received the feedback  from them, edited the article and it is fine. If I asked money from them, perhaps it would work, but I consider such activity as noncommercial.

DR: And what about commercial companies?

MG: With regard to businesses, I agree that it is necessary to promote the idea about possible investing in articles describing the reality in which businesses exist. For example, oil and gas companies could be financing articles about oil and gas, about fields, technologies, etc.

DR: Here, it is not everything clear. Such things usually go through tenders. In case of direct payment based on rates per article, it is more expensive and it is difficult to promote on it. Moreover, it may result in the opposite effect; unknown moneybags buy up the free encyclopedia articles and none will mention that are articles are good indeed.

MG: I agree, another difficulty here is how to present it properly. To add it, there are more complicated concepts, and those of higher level, such as a better tourist attractiveness of cities.

DR: Yes, address it to authorities.

MG: They are even more difficult to explain that it is a beneficial issue. For example, take articles about Saint-Petersburg in English; some issues are described, some yet to be described. I suppose that foreigners vising Saint-Petersburg, and there are plenty of them, would be interested in general article about the city and its sightseeing places. In sum, this would be beneficial for the city. Whom would I sell it?

DR: Try to sell it to Beglov.

MG: Aha-ha-ha!

DR: Why not? You come within office hours; I want to sell you a new touring reality. The next year will see the doubled flow of tourists.

MG: The thing is that it is difficult to measure. There is no method to prove why this pair of Americans have come to Saint-Petersburg or Moscow this year. But, I feel that it is important with back brain. That is how we live with our back brain difficult to sell.

DR: A lot have been recorded by now, and I think it will be the most profound interview I ever recorded.

MG: Because we discussed the complicated topics verbalized practically for the first time.

DR: I am grateful to you for the talk. It was interesting.

MG: I hope it was.



Thursday, October 13, 2005

On Wednesday, Apple introduced an iPod capable of displaying video, as well as a new video section to the iTunes music store. Apple CEO Steve Jobs believes that this may have a large impact on the film industry, in a similar fashion to that of the impact on the music industry when the iPod first was released.

The new iPod comes in a 30GB edition and a 60GB edition for US$299 and US$399, respectively. On the 30GB iPod, 75 hours of video at a resolution of 320×240 can be stored, and on the 60GB iPod, 150 hours can be stored. Despite these features, people claim that the screen may be too small for people to enjoy. However, iPod owners will be able to purchase an optional S-Video cable for playing video from their iPod on a television.

To help complement the new video section, Apple and ABC have agreed to a deal in which episodes of television programs such as Lost and Desperate Housewives will be available the day after airing for $1.99 per episode. Other plans for the video section involve the animation company Pixar, which was founded by current Apple CEO Steve Jobs. There are also plans to distribute content from Disney, Pixar’s distributor and owner of ABC. In addition, music videos will also be available at the on-line music store for $1.99 each.

The video iPod was announced along with a new model of its iMac G5, which features a remote control that allows the iMac to act as a home media center as well as a normal personal computer. To control media center capabilities, the new iMac is sold with a program called Front Row. Some customers have complained however that this iMac is missing functionality out-of-the-box that allows a user to watch TV on it.

The new iMac also has an Apple iSight digital camera built-in as well as a thinner design than its predecessor.



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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Last Tuesday early morning, a sea lion walked from the beach into Pantai Inn in La Jolla, California. The animal was rescued by local animal rescue authorities. Wikinews took an interview from Shane Pappas, a General Manager of the inn.

((Wikinews)) At what time of day did the sea lion enter the Inn?

Shane Pappas: Surveillance footage shows that our sea lion friend made her way onto our property at approximately 5:45am on Tuesday morning. She waddled through our courtyard and climbed up onto one of our lounge chairs.

((WN)) How long did he stay in the Inn before he was moved out of the building?

Shane Pappas: The sea lion was not seen by our staff until about 6:30am. At that point my front desk agent Veronica made frantic calls to the authorities to find someone to come rescue the sea lion. By the time we got a hold of Sea World they were able to come and rescue her at around 9:45am. All told the sea lion was here for about four hours.

((WN)) What do you think attracted the animal? Was it the radio sound? Was it heard as far as the beach?

Shane Pappas: We’re not sure what attracted the sea lion. We like to think that it was the beauty and relaxation of our courtyard. In regards to the radio sound I’m not sure what you are referring to.

((WN)) Who and how transported the animal out of the building?

Shane Pappas: A gentleman named Bill who is a rescue worker with Sea World came out to rescue the pup. He asked if I would assist in the rescue which I was more than happy to do. It’s not every day that you get to rescue a sea lion.

((WN)) Where was the animal transported to?

Shane Pappas: The sea lion was loaded into a crate on a truck and transported back to Sea World. She will be kept there for six weeks so that she can be nursed back to health and returned to the wild.



Thursday, August 30, 2018

On Tuesday, two officers of cotton farming conglomerate Norman Farming in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for alleged fraud of the government. Queensland Police alleged over the past seven years the farmers submitted fraudulent claims to receive funding from Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources, resulting in an approximately AUD20 million dishonest personal financial gain. The Court laid charges and released the defendants on bail.

According to the results of the investigation by Police, the two men allegedly falsified documents, including invoices, misrepresenting work from contractors as earthwork supposedly in aid of improving water irrigation efficiency. The two allegedly presented farming-related work on their property on six projects as aimed at improving the efficiency of water irrigation at their property near Goondiwindi.

Police arrested the chief executive officer (CEO) of the conglomerate, 43-year-old John Norman, and the conglomerate’s chief financial officer, 53-year-old Stephen Evans. They appeared in Court represented by their lawyers. In the Court they were charged, Norman with six and Evans with four counts of aggravated fraud, Norman with six and Evans with four counts of fraudulently producing or using a false record. Police opposed bail, however the Magistrate released the two on bail conditionally, requiring they surrender their passports.

According to reports by Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian, neighbours of Norman Farming had complained to the authorities about Norman Farming’s work resulting in excessive removal of floodwater from the McIntyre river, leading to reduced availability of water for the farmers downstream.

Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy provided the funding as a part of its Healthy Head Waters scheme. Detective Inspector Mick Dowie said the Department did not have the authority of police to compel provision of documents, leading to difficulty with verifying the invoices which the two submitted in their application.

Dowie said the investigation took over a year to complete, including analysis of accounting reports.



Friday, July 29, 2011

Today sees the reopening of the National Museum of Scotland following a three-year renovation costing £47.4 million (US$ 77.3 million). Edinburgh’s Chambers Street was closed to traffic for the morning, with the 10am reopening by eleven-year-old Bryony Hare, who took her first steps in the museum, and won a competition organised by the local Evening News paper to be a VIP guest at the event. Prior to the opening, Wikinews toured the renovated museum, viewing the new galleries, and some of the 8,000 objects inside.

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Dressed in Victorian attire, Scottish broadcaster Grant Stott acted as master of ceremonies over festivities starting shortly after 9am. The packed street cheered an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex created by Millenium FX; onlookers were entertained with a twenty-minute performance by the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers on the steps of the museum; then, following Bryony Hare knocking three times on the original doors to ask that the museum be opened, the ceremony was heralded with a specially composed fanfare – played on a replica of the museum’s 2,000-year-old carnyx Celtic war-horn. During the fanfare, two abseilers unfurled white pennons down either side of the original entrance.

The completion of the opening to the public was marked with Chinese firecrackers, and fireworks, being set off on the museum roof. As the public crowded into the museum, the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers resumed their performance; a street theatre group mingled with the large crowd, and the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex entertained the thinning crowd of onlookers in the centre of the street.

On Wednesday, the museum welcomed the world’s press for an in depth preview of the new visitor experience. Wikinews was represented by Brian McNeil, who is also Wikimedia UK’s interim liaison with Museum Galleries Scotland.

The new pavement-level Entrance Hall saw journalists mingle with curators. The director, Gordon Rintoul, introduced presentations by Gareth Hoskins and Ralph Applebaum, respective heads of the Architects and Building Design Team; and, the designers responsible for the rejuvenation of the museum.

Describing himself as a “local lad”, Hoskins reminisced about his grandfather regularly bringing him to the museum, and pushing all the buttons on the numerous interactive exhibits throughout the museum. Describing the nearly 150-year-old museum as having become “a little tired”, and a place “only visited on a rainy day”, he commented that many international visitors to Edinburgh did not realise that the building was a public space; explaining the focus was to improve access to the museum – hence the opening of street-level access – and, to “transform the complex”, focus on “opening up the building”, and “creating a number of new spaces […] that would improve facilities and really make this an experience for 21st century museum visitors”.

Hoskins explained that a “rabbit warren” of storage spaces were cleared out to provide street-level access to the museum; the floor in this “crypt-like” space being lowered by 1.5 metres to achieve this goal. Then Hoskins handed over to Applebaum, who expressed his delight to be present at the reopening.

Applebaum commented that one of his first encounters with the museum was seeing “struggling young mothers with two kids in strollers making their way up the steps”, expressing his pleasure at this being made a thing of the past. Applebaum explained that the Victorian age saw the opening of museums for public access, with the National Museum’s earlier incarnation being the “College Museum” – a “first window into this museum’s collection”.

Have you any photos of the museum, or its exhibits?

The museum itself is physically connected to the University of Edinburgh’s old college via a bridge which allowed students to move between the two buildings.

Applebaum explained that the museum will, now redeveloped, be used as a social space, with gatherings held in the Grand Gallery, “turning the museum into a social convening space mixed with knowledge”. Continuing, he praised the collections, saying they are “cultural assets [… Scotland is] turning those into real cultural capital”, and the museum is, and museums in general are, providing a sense of “social pride”.

McNeil joined the yellow group on a guided tour round the museum with one of the staff. Climbing the stairs at the rear of the Entrance Hall, the foot of the Window on the World exhibit, the group gained a first chance to see the restored Grand Gallery. This space is flooded with light from the glass ceiling three floors above, supported by 40 cast-iron columns. As may disappoint some visitors, the fish ponds have been removed; these were not an original feature, but originally installed in the 1960s – supposedly to humidify the museum; and failing in this regard. But, several curators joked that they attracted attention as “the only thing that moved” in the museum.

The museum’s original architect was Captain Francis Fowke, also responsible for the design of London’s Royal Albert Hall; his design for the then-Industrial Museum apparently inspired by Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace.

The group moved from the Grand Gallery into the Discoveries Gallery to the south side of the museum. The old red staircase is gone, and the Millennium Clock stands to the right of a newly-installed escalator, giving easier access to the upper galleries than the original staircases at each end of the Grand Gallery. Two glass elevators have also been installed, flanking the opening into the Discoveries Gallery and, providing disabled access from top-to-bottom of the museum.

The National Museum of Scotland’s origins can be traced back to 1780 when the 11th Earl of Buchan, David Stuart Erskine, formed the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; the Society being tasked with the collection and preservation of archaeological artefacts for Scotland. In 1858, control of this was passed to the government of the day and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland came into being. Items in the collection at that time were housed at various locations around the city.

On Wednesday, October 28, 1861, during a royal visit to Edinburgh by Queen Victoria, Prince-Consort Albert laid the foundation-stone for what was then intended to be the Industrial Museum. Nearly five years later, it was the second son of Victoria and Albert, Prince Alfred, the then-Duke of Edinburgh, who opened the building which was then known as the Scottish Museum of Science and Art. A full-page feature, published in the following Monday’s issue of The Scotsman covered the history leading up to the opening of the museum, those who had championed its establishment, the building of the collection which it was to house, and Edinburgh University’s donation of their Natural History collection to augment the exhibits put on public display.

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Selection of views of the Grand Gallery Image: Brian McNeil.

Selection of views of the Grand Gallery Image: Brian McNeil.

Selection of views of the Grand Gallery Image: Brian McNeil.

Closed for a little over three years, today’s reopening of the museum is seen as the “centrepiece” of National Museums Scotland’s fifteen-year plan to dramatically improve accessibility and better present their collections. Sir Andrew Grossard, chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “The reopening of the National Museum of Scotland, on time and within budget is a tremendous achievement […] Our collections tell great stories about the world, how Scots saw that world, and the disproportionate impact they had upon it. The intellectual and collecting impact of the Scottish diaspora has been profound. It is an inspiring story which has captured the imagination of our many supporters who have helped us achieve our aspirations and to whom we are profoundly grateful.

The extensive work, carried out with a view to expand publicly accessible space and display more of the museums collections, carried a £47.4 million pricetag. This was jointly funded with £16 million from the Scottish Government, and £17.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Further funds towards the work came from private sources and totalled £13.6 million. Subsequent development, as part of the longer-term £70 million “Masterplan”, is expected to be completed by 2020 and see an additional eleven galleries opened.

The funding by the Scottish Government can be seen as a ‘canny‘ investment; a report commissioned by National Museums Scotland, and produced by consultancy firm Biggar Economics, suggest the work carried out could be worth £58.1 million per year, compared with an estimated value to the economy of £48.8 prior to the 2008 closure. Visitor figures are expected to rise by over 20%; use of function facilities are predicted to increase, alongside other increases in local hospitality-sector spending.

Proudly commenting on the Scottish Government’s involvement Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, described the reopening as, “one of the nation’s cultural highlights of 2011” and says the rejuvenated museum is, “[a] must-see attraction for local and international visitors alike“. Continuing to extol the museum’s virtues, Hyslop states that it “promotes the best of Scotland and our contributions to the world.

So-far, the work carried out is estimated to have increased the public space within the museum complex by 50%. Street-level storage rooms, never before seen by the public, have been transformed into new exhibit space, and pavement-level access to the buildings provided which include a new set of visitor facilities. Architectural firm Gareth Hoskins have retained the original Grand Gallery – now the first floor of the museum – described as a “birdcage” structure and originally inspired by The Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park, London for the 1851 Great Exhibition.

The centrepiece in the Grand Gallery is the “Window on the World” exhibit, which stands around 20 metres tall and is currently one of the largest installations in any UK museum. This showcases numerous items from the museum’s collections, rising through four storeys in the centre of the museum. Alexander Hayward, the museums Keeper of Science and Technology, challenged attending journalists to imagine installing “teapots at thirty feet”.

The redeveloped museum includes the opening of sixteen brand new galleries. Housed within, are over 8,000 objects, only 20% of which have been previously seen.

  • Ground floor
  • First floor
  • Second floor
  • Top floor

The Window on the World rises through the four floors of the museum and contains over 800 objects. This includes a gyrocopter from the 1930s, the world’s largest scrimshaw – made from the jaws of a sperm whale which the University of Edinburgh requested for their collection, a number of Buddha figures, spearheads, antique tools, an old gramophone and record, a selection of old local signage, and a girder from the doomed Tay Bridge.

The arrangement of galleries around the Grand Gallery’s “birdcage” structure is organised into themes across multiple floors. The World Cultures Galleries allow visitors to explore the culture of the entire planet; Living Lands explains the ways in which our natural environment influences the way we live our lives, and the beliefs that grow out of the places we live – from the Arctic cold of North America to Australia’s deserts.

The adjacent Patterns of Life gallery shows objects ranging from the everyday, to the unusual from all over the world. The functions different objects serve at different periods in peoples’ lives are explored, and complement the contents of the Living Lands gallery.

Performance & Lives houses musical instruments from around the world, alongside masks and costumes; both rooted in long-established traditions and rituals, this displayed alongside contemporary items showing the interpretation of tradition by contemporary artists and instrument-creators.

The museum proudly bills the Facing the Sea gallery as the only one in the UK which is specifically based on the cultures of the South Pacific. It explores the rich diversity of the communities in the region, how the sea shapes the islanders’ lives – describing how their lives are shaped as much by the sea as the land.

Both the Facing the Sea and Performance & Lives galleries are on the second floor, next to the new exhibition shop and foyer which leads to one of the new exhibition galleries, expected to house the visiting Amazing Mummies exhibit in February, coming from Leiden in the Netherlands.

The Inspired by Nature, Artistic Legacies, and Traditions in Sculpture galleries take up most of the east side of the upper floor of the museum. The latter of these shows the sculptors from diverse cultures have, through history, explored the possibilities in expressing oneself using metal, wood, or stone. The Inspired by Nature gallery shows how many artists, including contemporary ones, draw their influence from the world around us – often commenting on our own human impact on that natural world.

Contrastingly, the Artistic Legacies gallery compares more traditional art and the work of modern artists. The displayed exhibits attempt to show how people, in creating specific art objects, attempt to illustrate the human spirit, the cultures they are familiar with, and the imaginative input of the objects’ creators.

The easternmost side of the museum, adjacent to Edinburgh University’s Old College, will bring back memories for many regular visitors to the museum; but, with an extensive array of new items. The museum’s dedicated taxidermy staff have produced a wide variety of fresh examples from the natural world.

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At ground level, the Animal World and Wildlife Panorama’s most imposing exhibit is probably the lifesize reproduction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. This rubs shoulders with other examples from around the world, including one of a pair of elephants. The on-display elephant could not be removed whilst renovation work was underway, and lurked in a corner of the gallery as work went on around it.

Above, in the Animal Senses gallery, are examples of how we experience the world through our senses, and contrasting examples of wildly differing senses, or extremes of such, present in the natural world. This gallery also has giant screens, suspended in the free space, which show footage ranging from the most tranquil and peaceful life in the sea to the tooth-and-claw bloody savagery of nature.

The Survival gallery gives visitors a look into the ever-ongoing nature of evolution; the causes of some species dying out while others thrive, and the ability of any species to adapt as a method of avoiding extinction.

Earth in Space puts our place in the universe in perspective. Housing Europe’s oldest surviving Astrolabe, dating from the eleventh century, this gallery gives an opportunity to see the technology invented to allow us to look into the big questions about what lies beyond Earth, and probe the origins of the universe and life.

In contrast, the Restless Earth gallery shows examples of the rocks and minerals formed through geological processes here on earth. The continual processes of the planet are explored alongside their impact on human life. An impressive collection of geological specimens are complemented with educational multimedia presentations.

Beyond working on new galleries, and the main redevelopment, the transformation team have revamped galleries that will be familiar to regular past visitors to the museum.

Formerly known as the Ivy Wu Gallery of East Asian Art, the Looking East gallery showcases National Museums Scotland’s extensive collection of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese material. The gallery’s creation was originally sponsored by Sir Gordon Wu, and named after his wife Ivy. It contains items from the last dynasty, the Manchu, and examples of traditional ceramic work. Japan is represented through artefacts from ordinary people’s lives, expositions on the role of the Samurai, and early trade with the West. Korean objects also show the country’s ceramic work, clothing, and traditional accessories used, and worn, by the indigenous people.

The Ancient Egypt gallery has always been a favourite of visitors to the museum. A great many of the exhibits in this space were returned to Scotland from late 19th century excavations; and, are arranged to take visitors through the rituals, and objects associated with, life, death, and the afterlife, as viewed from an Egyptian perspective.

The Art and Industry and European Styles galleries, respectively, show how designs are arrived at and turned into manufactured objects, and the evolution of European style – financed and sponsored by a wide range of artists and patrons. A large number of the objects on display, often purchased or commissioned, by Scots, are now on display for the first time ever.

Shaping our World encourages visitors to take a fresh look at technological objects developed over the last 200 years, many of which are so integrated into our lives that they are taken for granted. Radio, transportation, and modern medicines are covered, with a retrospective on the people who developed many of the items we rely on daily.

What was known as the Museum of Scotland, a modern addition to the classical Victorian-era museum, is now known as the Scottish Galleries following the renovation of the main building.

This dedicated newer wing to the now-integrated National Museum of Scotland covers the history of Scotland from a time before there were people living in the country. The geological timescale is covered in the Beginnings gallery, showing continents arranging themselves into what people today see as familiar outlines on modern-day maps.

Just next door, the history of the earliest occupants of Scotland are on display; hunters and gatherers from around 4,000 B.C give way to farmers in the Early People exhibits.

The Kingdom of the Scots follows Scotland becoming a recognisable nation, and a kingdom ruled over by the Stewart dynasty. Moving closer to modern-times, the Scotland Transformed gallery looks at the country’s history post-union in 1707.

Industry and Empire showcases Scotland’s significant place in the world as a source of heavy engineering work in the form of rail engineering and shipbuilding – key components in the building of the British Empire. Naturally, whisky was another globally-recognised export introduced to the world during empire-building.

Lastly, Scotland: A Changing Nation collects less-tangible items, including personal accounts, from the country’s journey through the 20th century; the social history of Scots, and progress towards being a multicultural nation, is explored through heavy use of multimedia exhibits.



Monday, December 16, 2013

Glasgow —Last weekend, December 8, The Reid Foundation, a left-leaning think-tank, launched The Common Weal, a vision for a more socially just and inclusive post-Independence Scotland. Five- to six-hundred turned up for the event, billed as “[a] ‘revolution’ … with T-shirts and dancing” by the Sunday Herald, and held in The Arches club and theatre, under Glasgow’s Central Street Station.

Wikinews’ Brian McNeil travelled to Glasgow to attend, walking through the city’s festively decorated George Square, and busy shopping streets, to the venue under Hielanman’s Umbrella.

More known for theatre, live music, and club nights, organisers in The Arches confirmed around 800 had signed up for the free Sunday afternoon event. The crowd was a mix of all ages, including families with young childen. Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai entertained the early arrivals by DJ-ing until the launch video for the Common Weal was screened.

The Common Weal present themselves as “an emerging movement which is developing a vision for economic and social development in Scotland which is distinct and different from the political orthodoxy that dominates politics and economics in London.” Contrasting current “me first politics” against concerns of ordinary Scots, the launch video’s opening, monochrome half, stresses everyday common concerns: “Will I have a pension I can survive on when I retire?”, “I miss my local library”, “Public transport is so bad it’s hard to get to work”; and, “Why can we always find money to bail out banks but not to protect public services?”, “Why is it always the poor, the disabled, and immigrants who get the blame?”

The preferred vision offered by the Common Weal, “Not me first, all of us first”, makes up the more-aspirational second-half of the film, advocating a national fund for industry, taking the nation’s energy into collective ownership, building quality new public housing, strengthening the welfare state, and ending tax evasion. Throughout the event a distinction between these ‘popular politics’, which experience wide support, and the derogatory ‘populist’ label, often used to dismiss such calls for a fairer society, was emphasised.

Comedienne Janey Godley took over following the film, to compère the afternoon, and introduce Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine. With the mixed audience, Godley made avoiding profanity — due to the presence of children — a theme of her warm-up; although, the humour remained fairly adult in nature.

McAlpine sketched out the movement’s hopes and plans. After thanking those who were giving their time for free, he characterised modern politics as “[…] a game that is played by a small number of professionals, in a small number of rooms, in a small number of expensively-rented premises, across Scotland — and across Britain. It’s become a thing people do as a profession, and the rest of us are all supposed to applaud them — or stand back — nod our heads every four years, and be glad for it.” With a receptive audience, he continued: “The idea that politics is something that ordinary people cannae talk about is one of the great achievements of the right-wing [over] the last thirty to forty years in Britain”; remarking, to applause, “they scared us aff.”

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On discussions around the country, he claimed that “across Scottish politics, […] the people that want this, … ‘me first’ politics, there’s not many of them. The people that want Common Weal politics, all of us first politics, I’m meeting them everywhere. […] Everyone I meet wants this, a decent politics that puts people first. […] We wanted to find a way to communicate an idea of a politics which work for all the people who those politics seek to govern, not just a few of them. People don’t understand or recognise the language of politics any more, so we want to change that language.”.

Crediting the Sunday Herald newspaper for an opportunity to share some ideas underpinning the Common Weal, McAlpine was scathing in his criticism of mainstream coverage of the independence debate: “There’s this massive debate. It’s not in the mainstream.” Seeking to “get a real debate going, about a really strong vision for a future for Scotland, it’s hard. They’re still doing IFS, accounting this, and another paper from a Whitehall that. And, we’ll all debate things that nobody really cares about, interminably, until they all go away for good.” On the current political debate, he remarked: “If mainstream politics fails to recognise what is really going on in Scotland just now, then that is its problem. […] Someone is going to offer ordinary people what they want, and when they do, everything will change.”

Urging the crowd to get involved, he said: “If we can create a popular politics, that ordinary people care about, and talk about, and work[s], we can take a grip of Scotland. We can decide the future politics of Scotland, and standing around waiting for professional politicians to,… disappoint us less than they always do, does not have to be the way we do this anymore.” He concluded, “It genuinely is time for a politics that puts all of us first.”

Janey Godley took the microphone, as McAlpine left the stage to cheers and applause; joking about the ‘rabble-rousing’ tone of the speech she then introduced David Whyte of Tangent Design, creator of the Common Weal’s logo.

Whyte explained they hoped the simple image would come to represent the “all of us first” philosophy, and “a new way of doing things”. He was not the first to jokingly remark that the four-line graphic — a triangle, with a balanced line on top of it — would be an easily-applied piece of graffiti.

Politics, and the launch of the movement’s logo, then took more of a back-seat; the rest of the event more in-keeping with having a party, and the festive decorations elsewhere around the city centre. Godley, and fellow Scottish joker Bruce Morton, provided more barbed comedy. Singer Karine Polwart encouraged the crowd to sing along to a song she said was written on her way to the party, and Actor Tam Dean Burn read a speech from the 16th century Scottish play “Satire of the three estates” — given by the character John Common Weal, representing the common man — where the deeds and behaviour of the ruling classes are such that, if done by a common man, they’d be hanged.

Scotland’s Independence referendum is to take place next year, September 18. This was a repeated election pledge of the Scottish National Party (SNP) — who moved from leading a minority government, to an outright majority in the devolved parliament’s 2011 general election — making good on their promise by announcing in January 2011 their intent to hold the referendum in autumn 2014.

The question being put to the electorate is: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” A “Yes” vote would be followed with negotiations to bring to an end the early eighteenth-century ‘Union of the Parliaments’. The SNP has proposed Scotland retain Elizabeth II as head of state, a position she holds on the basis of the century-earlier Union of the Crowns.



Friday, April 11, 2008

New ‘deadly’ sexual enhancement products have been found in Singaporean markets and can cause serious side effects on users.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) announced the presence of the illegal drugs, known as Power 1 Walnut, Santi bovine penis erecting capsule, Zhong Hua Niu Bian and fake Cialis, which have been discovered over the past 3 months. Santi bovine penis erecting capsule has been found to contain high amounts of glibenclamide, a potent drug used to treat diabetes. The tablets also contain sildenafil and tadalafil – potent western medicines used to treat erectile dysfunction. Zhong Hua Niu Bian also contains sildenafil and glibenclamide.

High consumption of the tablets can be potentially deadly as the glibenclamide in the capsules can lead to drastically reduced blood sugar levels which can lead to seizures, stroke, coma or death. Consuming half of a Power 1 Walnut capsule has led to unconsciousness and frothing at the mouth.

Consumption of Power 1 Walnut has led to the death of a middle age man last week who fell into a coma. Currently, one death and two cases of coma have been reported from the total of 89 hospitalised cases linked with the consumption of the illegal drugs. It has been revealed that patients obtained the drugs by purchasing them from illegal peddlers located in various parts of Singapore.

The HSA has advised people to stop consuming the drugs and to report on any cases of consumption to them.



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lai Changxing, dubbed the Bandit King, has been given a life sentence for years of smuggling and corruption that added up to billions of US dollars or Pounds sterling. The Chinese court described the values as “massive”.

Lai smuggled goods worth more than £2 billion into Xiamen, bypassing more than £1 billion in import duty. He paid 64 local officials a total of almost £4 million in bribes, giving him effective control of the city from 1995 to 1999. He fled China after becoming a wanted man in 1999 and went to Canada via Hong Kong; the following year, Premier Zhu Rongji said “If Lai was executed three times over, it would not be too much”.

As head of the Yuanhua Group, Lai smuggled in cars, chemicals, oil, cigarettes, and other goods. He distributed bundles of cash to the poor, owned and played for his local football team, built stadia, owned a bulletproof Mercedes that once belonged to President Jiang Zemin, and attempted to construct a tower that would have been the nation’s tallest building. He attained local popularity for funding construction projects including schools, hundreds of tower blocks, and the local airport.

As well as money, officials were offered alcohol and prostitutes. Many were offered time at Lai’s seven-storey brothel, the Red Mansion, and feasted at a replica of the Forbidden City.

State TV has broadcast footage depicting a banquet table with a tiger skin laid upon it, cars given to officials, a young woman alleged to have been donated as a lover, and a sackful of gold rings. The case’s prominence was such that Liu Liying, boss of the national Central Discipline Inspection Committee, took charge of bringing Lai down.

Subsequent investigations have examined more than 1,000 suspects with police at one stage turning over an entire hotel to the probe, filling rooms with suspects. National newspaper The People’s Daily has suggested it is the most serious economic crime in modern Chinese history. He was the nation’s top car importer and one of the main traders in oil and imported cigarettes.

Hundreds of officials have been convicted and it is estimated hundreds more remain. Fellow life-sentence prisoners from the case include the city’s deputy mayor and its head of customs. The nation’s former vice-minister for security, Li Jizhou, has a suspended death sentence. Other suspects have killed themselves.

The sums involved are unusually large, and the details are extraordinarily serious

Upon his escape from the nation Lai became China’s most-wanted fugitive. Twelve years of negotiations ended with a Chinese promise Lai would be spared the death penalty, and Canada extradited him last year. Numerous lower-ranking members of Lai’s empire have already been given life imprisonment or death sentences. With execution off the table, the court gave Lai the highest sentence possible: in addition to the life term, he received fifteen years for bribery and had all his possessions confiscated.

The court justified the “double sentence” on the grounds “the sums involved are unusually large, and the details are extraordinarily serious”. “The crimes involve massive sums and particularly serious circumstances,” court officials told Xinhua. Lai had denied corruption at his trial, although he accepted exploiting loopholes to avoid import duty.

“I don’t have a good family background,” Lai said previously in a press interview. “I have to do things step by step by myself. That’s how people came to respect me. I never fussed about big money.” Lai was born as one of eight siblings in the midst of famine.





Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tuesday, World Bank released the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development. In discussing Iceland, it suggests mandatory paid parental leave for mother and father have played an important role in changing norms in the country. Parents have a government mandated nine months leave, three for the mother, three for the father and three to to distribute between the two. Leave is paid at 80% of their wages. The report describes the changes in gender relations in Iceland as “promising” in terms of impact at work and at home.

Iceland’s boys and girls mean scores for the Programme for International Student Assessment mathematics test were nearly identical with boys just edging out girls with both scores around 510. Girls outperformed boys on the literacy test with a mean score of approximately 525 to 480. Iceland’s girls mathematics performance was similar to that of girls from Estonia, Germany and Belgium. Their performance on literacy was similar to Sweden, Poland, Switzerland, Estonia and Belgium.File:MargretSverrisdottir.jpg

Mortality rates in Iceland for 1,000 people aged 15–60 sits at 56, significantly better than the United States at 107, China at 113, India at 213, Iraq at 285, Afghanistan at 479, Malawi at 481 and Zimbabwe at 772. One of the reasons the report cites for Iceland’s relatively low mortality rate is it not located in a conflict country or in an HIV/AIDS affected country.

Iceland was one of 23 countries that currently have over 30% of its Parliamentarians who are female. Other countries with over 30% representation include Rwanda, Argentina, Cuba, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. In the mid-1990s, there were only 5 countries. The report cites the 1983 creation of the Women’s Alliance, an all women’s political party, as bringing additional attention to women’s issues and deliberately attempting to increase the representation of women in Icelandic politics.

Despite some of the good news highlighted in the report about Icelandic women, there exists a systematic gender difference in earning potential. Icelandic women in both the private and public sector earn approximately 22% less than their male counterparts. Icelandic men have slightly more access to the Internet than Icelandic women by about 2%. Despite this slight disadvantage for Icelandic women, it is much better than some countries where the percentage differences are much greater. These countries include Austria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Turkey, and Macedonia.



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