Monday, 26 January 2015

"Je suis Charlie"

The Spectator
Following the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo earlier this month, the Mohammed cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo's current issue continues to be reprinted by the news media. The slogan "Je suis Charlie" has been adopted as an international symbol of solidarity and free speech, though this in itself caused controversy when Mardom-e Emrooz printed it as a headline last week.

The Charlie Hebdo cover has appeared in several weekly news magazines. In the UK, The Spectator and The Week printed it in their 17th January issues, and it appeared in Private Eye's 23rd January issue. In Germany, Focus printed it twice in its 17th January issue, and Stern printed it along with one of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in its 15th January issue. Stern also featured a fold-out poster which included Charlie Hebdo's first Mohammed cover from 2006.

The debate over whether to reproduce the cartoon has also prompted further analysis of the Islamic taboo against visual depictions of Mohammed. The Spectator's 24th September issue features a full-page reproduction of a 1583 portrait of Mohammed, and Le Point magazine reproduced several historical Mohammed portraits earlier this month.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Yingluck: "Thai democracy is dead..."

The National Legislative Assembly voted today to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. She has therefore been banned from political activity for the next five years. (Her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin, also received a five-year ban, in 2007.) The verdict was largely a foregone conclusion, as the NLA members were all appointed by the NCPO.

Yingluck will also face a criminal investigation, the Attorney General announced today, though the impeachment process itself is legally questionable, as the NLA was established after last year's military coup. Yingluck had planned to give a press conference following the impeachment vote, though the military prevented her from doing so. Instead, she issued a statement online: "Even as Thai democracy is dead and the rule of law destroyed, anti-democratic forces still remain prevalent as a destructive force, as evident from what I am experiencing."

Yingluck's impeachment had been recommended by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, following its investigation into her controversial rice subsidy scheme. (In 2011, the Pheu Thai government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. The result, however, was that other countries increased their rice exports, leaving the government with vast stockpiles that it could not sell.)

Given that Yingluck was removed from office by the Constitutional Court on 7th May last year, her impeachment eight months later seems designed purely to prevent her from returning to power in future elections. It also, therefore, reinforces the impression that last year's coup (as in 2006) was intended primarily to remove all traces of Thaksin's political influence. (Thaksin led the most popular political movement in Thai history, though he was viewed as a threat by the military and the Privy Council, thus his nominees Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat were both removed by the Constitutional Court.)

The NACC had also recommended the impeachment of Somsak Kiatsuranon and Nikhom Wairatpanich - former speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively - though their impeachments were rejected by the NLA. Somsak and Nikhom had organised parliamentary votes to amend article 117 of the constitution, in an attempt to restore a fully-elected Senate.

(The 1997 constitution established an elected Senate for the first time, though after the military's 2007 constitution the Senate was only 50% elected; the proposed amendment was rejected by the Constitutional Court.) Ironically, the military violated the constitution by declaring martial law, and then tore up the entire charter when they launched the coup, yet Somsak and Nikhom faced the threat of impeachment for attempting to amend individual articles in parliament.

Yingluck was elected in 2011. Just as Thaksin was deposed following PAD protests, Yingluck was dismissed after protests by the PDRC. In both cases, the protesters caused maximum disruption as a pretext for a coup - the PAD occupied Suvarnabhumi airport in 2008, and the PDRC sabotaged the election in 2014 - though no protest leaders have been prosecuted. In Yingluck's case, the protests began after her attempt to secure an amnesty for Thaksin, a policy that was condemned by both sides of the political divide.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Cartographies Of Time

Cartographies Of Time
A New Chart Of History
Cartographies Of Time: A History Of The Timeline, by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, is a history of the visual representation of chronological data. This specialised branch of information graphics has not been studied before, as the authors explain: "little has been written about historical charts and diagrams... This book is an attempt to address that gap." The result is a fascinating, comprehensive, and profusely illustrated history of timelines.

The most impressive timelines featured in Cartographies Of Time are those that attempt to represent the entirety of human history. Joseph Priestley's A New Chart Of History (1769) was one of the first significant examples, followed by Friedrich Strass's Strom Der Zeiten (1804). (Sandra Rendgren's Information Graphics includes Eugene Pick's Tableau De L'Histoire Universelle from 1858, one of several timelines inspired by Strass.)

The Book Of Trees

The Book Of Trees
The Book Of Trees: Visualizing Branches Of Knowledge is a history of tree diagrams and their influence on information graphics. Author Manuel Lima begins by discussing figurative tree diagrams, though subsequent chapters cover "a number of visual methods and techniques for the representation of hierarchical structures".

The book is most significant for its inclusion of diagrams created from the Middle Ages onwards. As the author explains, the field of data visualisation has a surprisingly extensive history, and it is therefore "critical for us to understand this long evolution and not be overly infatuated with work created in the last decade alone". (Sandra Rendgen's Information Graphics and Understanding The World focus primarily on contemporary infographics, though Lima includes numerous recent examples, too.)

The Book Of Trees doesn't succeed in its ambitious attempt "to convey the long, millennial history of information visualization", as it would likely be impossible to produce a comprehensive history of 1,000 years of infographics in a single volume. But it's a fascinating study, and a useful expansion of the first chapter of Lima's earlier book, Visual Complexity. (Edward R Tufte's classic The Visual Display Of Quantitative Information examines the history of charts, tables, and graphs.)

Mardom-e Emrooz

Mardom-e Emrooz
An Iranian newspaper has been closed down after it expressed support for Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper which suffered a terrorist attack earlier this month. On 13th January, Mardom-e Emrooz published the back-page headline (in Arabic) "I am Charlie, too". A court in Tehran this weekend revoked the newspaper's publishing licence, ruling that expressing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, which has printed a new Mohammed cartoon, was unacceptable in an Islamic country.

Monday, 19 January 2015

"The magazine has enough news
value to warrant its publication"

The Economist
I Have To Draw Him
Since the killing of Charlie Hebdo's staff last week, and the newspaper's defiant new Mohammed cartoon this week, other media outlets have been presented with a dilemma: to publish, or not to publish? (Most recently, the cover was printed in yesterday's Le Journal Du Dimanche in France, and in Saturday's Avadhnama in India.) As was the case after the Jyllands-Posten controversy in 2005, many European newspapers printed Mohammed cartoons in solidarity, though the American media largely avoided doing so.

Some newspapers have printed the cover alongside editorial statements citing its news value. On Tuesday, USA Today wrote: "USA TODAY traditionally does not show images of Mohammed to avoid offending Muslim readers, but the magazine has enough news value to warrant its publication in this case." In the UK, later editions of The Guardian on Tuesday explained: "The Guardian is running this cover as its news value warrants publication." Similarly, Wednesday's Financial Times stated: "The Financial Times is publishing the image because of its news value."

In The Guardian today, the readers' editor discusses the newspaper's publication of the Charlie Hebdo cover: "Two decisions were key to the Guardian's coverage of the killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris – one not to reproduce offensive cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that the magazine had published before the killings, and the second to show the front cover of the magazine produced afterwards, which also featured an image of Muhammad."

Perhaps surprisingly, on Thursday the South Wales Argus also printed the Charlie Hebdo cover, alongside a lengthy article justifying their decision (again, based on news value): "This is not a decision we have taken lightly or without a great deal of thought and discussion. And its publication is not intended to cause gratuitous offence to any of our readers, particularly among the Muslim community, although we accept that it will be offensive to some people. We are aware of the many and heartfelt sensitivities surrounding the publication of this magazine. But we are printing the image on the basis of its news value."

In contrast, most media outlets have not reproduced the new cover. The day after the Charlie Hebdo killings, the New York Times stated: "The New York Times has chosen not to reprint examples of the magazine's most controversial work because of its intentionally offensive content." On Wednesday's Sky News Tonight programme in the UK, a guest was prevented from showing the cover, and the presenter said: "at Sky News, we have chosen not to show that cover". On BBC1's Question Time on 8th January, presenter David Dimbleby quoted internal BBC policy: "The Prophet Mohammed must not be represented in any shape or form."

The current issue of The Economist magazine, published on Saturday, does include the Charlie Hebdo cover, though printers in Singapore refused to print the image. The page was therefore left blank, with a message stating: "In most of our editions this page included a picture showing the current cover of Charlie Hebdo. Our Singapore printers declined to print it."

Two newspapers that printed the cover have subsequently apologised for doing so. The Citizen in South Africa carried a front-page statement on Thursday: "Yesterday, in our continuing coverage of the Charlie Hebdo aftermath, we published an image which caused offence to many Muslim readers. We regret this oversight. We apologise to all who were offended." On Wednesday, The Star in Kenya wrote: "The Star sincerely regrets any offence and pain caused by the picture and we will bear Muslim sensibilities in mind in future."

Cartoonists themselves are faced with a similar quandary: to draw, or not to draw? This was perhaps best demonstrated by Plantu in a front-page Le Monde cartoon in 2006, in which the phrase "I must not draw Mohammed" forms a representation of Mohammed himself. Eli Valley's cartoon strip I Have To Draw Him includes only a drawing of Mohammed's eye, as an expression of artistic self-censorship.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Understanding The World

Understanding The World
Pulp Fiction In Chronological Order
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Understanding The World: The Atlas Of Infographics, written by Sandra Rendgen and edited by Julius Wiedemann, is a somewhat premature sequel to the excellent Information Graphics. Like that earlier book, also published by Taschen, Understanding The World features a new infographic by Nigel Holmes, a historical introduction by Rendgen, and an extensive selection of contemporary infographics organised by category. Both books are folios with brightly colour-coded chapters, and they share the same high-quality colour reproduction and print clarity.

There are several differences between the two books. Nigel Holmes's contribution to Understanding The World is a double-page infographic, though he produced a poster for Information Graphics. Understanding The World is organised thematically (nature, science, economy, society, and culture), whereas Information Graphics was classified by format. While Information Graphics cited the sources in which its infographics first appeared, Understanding The World sometimes omits these citations.

Most significantly, Understanding The World's historical introduction is substantially shorter than that of Information Graphics. The few examples it cites are well chosen, though: Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle, Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (from which a world map is reproduced), and Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie.

As in Information Graphics, the historical examples remain the highlights of Understanding The World. These hand-drawn maps and diagrams were created hundreds of years before the computer-generated contemporary examples that dominate the book. (Fortunately, there are a few additional historical examples inserted into each chapter.) From the portfolio of recent infographics, one of the most interesting is Noah Smith's timeline Pulp Fiction In Chronological Order, a deconstruction of the film's convoluted narrative.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
Le Monde
Les Inrockuptibles
The French newspaper Charlie Hebdo published a new edition today, just a week after Islamic extremists killed twelve people at its editorial offices in Paris. The murders led to international condemnations of religious terrorism, and a collective commitment to freedom of expression. French President Francois Hollande led over a million people in Paris on Sunday, marching in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and the victims of the killings.

In an act of extreme defiance and principle, today's edition features a new front-page cartoon of Mohammed, by Renald Luzier (known as Luz). The prophet is depicted weeping, as he was on Charlie Hebdo's first Mohammed cover in 2006. He is shown holding a "Je suis Charlie" banner, which has become a symbol of support for the newspaper since last week's attack. Luz also caricatured Mohammed in Liberation in 2011.

The new cover appeared yesterday in several newspapers, including The Independent in the UK, Liberation in France, Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, Corriere Della Sera in Italy, The Star in Kenya, and the New York Post. The cover filled the entire front page of Germany's Die Tageszeitung yesterday, and a collage of covers fills the front page of todays Liberation. It also appears in The Citizen (South Africa) today. In Japan, The Tokyo Shimbun printed the cover yesterday and again today. Turkish newspaper Cuhmuriyet published the cover twice in today's issue.

Today's issue of Le Monde has a front-page cartoon by Jean Plantureux (known as Plantu), showing Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish men all enjoying the new Charlie Hebdo. (Plantu previously drew a Mohammed cartoon for Le Monde in 2006, after the Jyllands-Posten controversy.) This week's issue of the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles, published today, has a new Mohammed cartoon on its front page, drawn by Charles Berberian.

Charlie Hebdo's offices were firebombed in 2011, after it published the Charia Hebdo issue guest-edited by Mohammed. In 2012, it printed a caricature of Mohammed naked. In 2013, it produced a comic-strip biography of Mohammed titled La Vie De Mahomet (part 1 and part 2), with an expanded edition in 2014. Last year, it published a front-page cartoon of Mohammed being beheaded by an Islamic State terrorist.

At the beginning of the century, depictions of Mohammed were not considered problematic: the South Park episode Super Best Friends and the cartoon What Would Mohammed Drive? did not cause significant controversy. However, the publication of a dozen Mohammed caricatures by Jyllands-Posten in 2005 sparked protests around the world. After this, subsequent appearances of Mohammed in South Park (in 2006 and 2010) were censored, leading to the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day! campaign.

Following the Jyllands-Posten controversy, many newspapers printed their own Mohammed cartoons: Weekendavisen, France Soir, The Guardian, Philadelphia Daily News, Liberation, Het Nieuwsblad, The Daily Tar Heel, Akron Beacon Journal, The Strand, Nana, Gorodskiye Vesti, Adresseavisen, Uke-Adressa, and Harper's. The International Herald Tribune has depicted Mohammed twice, in 2006 and 2012.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Le Point

Le Point
The current issue of French magazine Le Point, published yesterday, contains an illustration of Moahmmed on its front cover. The cover story, La Vraie Vie De Mahomet, is a historical account of Mohammed's life, illustrated with numerous paintings of the prophet, in most (though not all) of which his face has been obscured in accordance with Islamic tradition.

Le Point's article is its response to the killing of several Charlie Hebdo staff this week. Charlie Hebdo published its own Mohammed biography, the irreverent La Vie De Mahomet in 2013 (part 1, part 2), with an expanded edition in 2014. Another French magazine, L'Express, printed historical images of Mohammed's face in 2008 and 2011.


Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
Charlie Hebdo
Berliner Kurier
Twelve people were shot dead on Wednesday in Paris, at the offices of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The newspaper's editor, Stephane Charbonnier (known as Charb), was among those who died. Several cartoonists, including Jean Cabut (known as Cabu), were also killed.

This is possibly the most violent attack ever committed against a media organisation. The killers were Islamic extremists, and Charlie Hebdo is notorious for its provocative caricatures of Mohammed. Last year, the newspaper was sued for blasphemy, and its offices were firebombed in 2011 after its Charia Hebdo edition. (That cover was reprinted yesterday in The Washington Post.)

Charlie Hebdo published its first Mohammed cartoon in 2002. This was followed by a front-page Mohammed caricature in 2006, one of many cartoons printed in Europe after the Jyllands-Posten controversy. In 2012, it printed a cartoon of Mohammed naked. In 2013, it produced a comic-book biography of Mohammed (La Vie De Mahomet, part 1 and part 2), with an expanded edition in 2014. Most recently, its 1st October 2014 edition featured a front-page cartoon by Charb depicting an Islamic State terrorist beheading Mohammed.

The cartoons have been reprinted by several European newspapers. The Charia Hebdo cover was reprinted yesterday by Corriere Della Sera (Italy), BZ (Germany), and Hamburger Morgenpost (Germany). The Berliner Kurier (Germany) yesterday featured a new cartoon of Muhammed in a bath of blood, holding a copy of Charia Hebdo. Berlingske (Denmark) reprinted the 2006 and 2011 Mohammed covers yesterday, and BT (Denmark) printed the front and back pages of Charia Hebdo. Le Monde (France) today includes thumbnail reproductions of the 2006 and 2011 Mohammed covers, a photo of the Berliner Kurier cartoon, and a large reprint of the 2006 Mohammed cover.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Banned Month

Banned Month
Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Holocaust
Bangkok's Jam Cafe is hosting a Banned season this month, as part of its regular Cult Move Night event. The season begins tonight with a screening of Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, the notoriously violent 'video nasty' that inspired the film-within-a-film horror sub-genre. (Previous Cult Movie Night seasons have included Doppelganger Month, American Independent Month, Anime Month, 'So Bad It's Good' Month, Philip Seymour Hoffman Month, and Noir Month.)

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Governance Of China

The Governance Of China
The Governance Of China (translated from the Chinese 谈治国理政) is an anthology of public statements by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The first entry is Xi's acceptance speech following his appointment as General Secretary of the Communist Party in November 2012. The book also includes photographs of Xi, one of which - showing the President holding an umbrella - has since been appropriated by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Most of the book's texts are speeches delivered by Xi, or diplomatic correspondence signed by him. The only exception, from Rossiya-1 television, is a softball interview with Xi: it was broadcast in Russia (China's main ally), and Xi's answers are extended monologues (with no interruptions from the interviewer). In what could almost be a parody of obsequious questioning, the presenter asks: "How do you feel as the leader of such a big country? What hobbies do you have? What are your favourite sports?" (page 113).

[Xi rarely gives unscripted interviews, though at a recent press conference New York Times reporter Mark Landler questioned him directly about China's denial of visas to Western journalists. (Xi and US President Obama held the joint press conference last November in Beijing.) However, Xi largely evaded Landler's question, and a transcript is unlikely to be included in The Governance Of China II.]

Internationally, Xi's most famous remarks are from a January 2012 anti-corruption speech: "We should continue to catch "tigers" as well as "flies" when dealing with cases of leading officials in violation of Party discipline" (page 429). The most notorious 'tiger', Xi's potential rival Bo Xilai, is currently serving a life sentence.

Ultimately, The Governance Of China is a propaganda exercise. It concludes with an overtly hagiographic Xi biography: "Xi is a man of compassion..." (page 482); "Xi regularly shows a strong sense of responsibility towards the future of the nation..." (page 483); "A dutiful son, Xi often strolls and chats with his mother..." (page 494).

Thursday, 1 January 2015


In 2012, Madonna released a limited edition gatefold 12" single, Broken, which is available only to members of her Icon fan club. The pink vinyl record features an extended remix of Broken, which is a previously unreleased non-album track. Previously, Icon members were able to download the exclusive Confessions On A Dance Floor bonus track Superpop.