The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

TSP does Summer

In 1905, Albert Einstein proved the existence of atoms, developed quantum theory, and outlined his special theory on relativity. Unsurprisingly, Einstein’s magnificent year was dubbed his annus mirabilis. We at TSP are hardly arrogant enough to compare our musings to theories that spawned a century of innovation in physics, warfare, and other far flung fields. Yet the past several months have seen the pouring out of ideas and criticism that had been building for several years, some of which nonetheless remain unrecognized in the international arena. Moreover, that they’ll eventually become widely realized is not in question. So despite the reward of the endeavor and a recent flurry of article fodder emanating from around the world, TSP’s authors have temporarily turned to other extracurricular pursuits. And as it stands, we’re not at all ashamed of our quarter-annus half-mirabilis.

We’ll resume posting this fall, and if you’d like us to notify you when we do just send an email to thescreamingpen@hotmail.com with the subject “notify me.” Thanks to all of our readers and don’t let the bastards get you down!


Stupid annus mirabilis…Why you gots to be so good?

Also, on a lighter note, TSP has been notified by readers in China that the government there has made an attempt to block access to this site. Hardy fans are only able to view TSP by way of third-party sites like those mentioned below in “Wired For Truth.” So to all those in the Middle Kingdom, here’s to you: keep on keepin’ on!

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July 25, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wired for Truth

Guest Author KPC Explains Why China’s Internet Censorship Is Proving Futile

As angry students filled the streets during the Tiananmen uprising of 1989, Communist Party officials clamored to restrict the use of photocopiers. They argued the contraptions would allow dissidents to disseminate anti-government propaganda. While a lot has changed in the interceding years—and copyphobia now seems almost charming—China’s cadres are no less adamant about neutralizing today’s technological threats to their authority. These days, Internet search engines and Web logs have become the party’s new public enemies.


The Propaganda Ministry Plays Whack-a-Mole

China is known to employ some of the most sophisticated censorship technology in the world. Authorities wield controls so precise banning mere phrases is as effortless as blocking entire Web sites. With nearly 111 million Chinese online, the government’s official stance is that it aims to protect its citizens from “dangerous” or “unhealthy” content, such as pornography. But upon closer inspection, the government has as much contempt for search results on topics including democracy, human rights, Taiwan and Tibet.

An exhaustive search for any of these terms is practically impossible using China’s beloved Baidu or other search engines complicit with Chinese censorship law. Perform a search for “Tiananmen” and you are more likely to find tourist information than potentially embarrassing historical text, a fact that has angered human rights activists worldwide.

Recently, major Western service providers have also become embroiled in the censorship controversy. In May, human rights advocacy group Amnesty International issued a stern rebuke against Google and Yahoo!, among others, for colluding with the Chinese government. Google took a public relations beating after it launched its censored version, Google.cn, and Yahoo! has come under fire for allegedly helping government officials identify Chinese journalist Shi Tao after he sent an e-mail abroad exposing China’s media restrictions. The outing of Shi landed him a 10-year prison term. Shi is one of many who have received harsh punishment for accessing or disseminating politically sensitive materials online.

China has gone to great lengths to control the flow of information on the Web. While it has focused much of its attention on search engines, government officials are equally determined to snuff out subversive Web logs or blogs. The free-flowing nature of this Internet venue makes it easy for users to spread information quickly and cost effectively, which is precisely the reason President Hu Jintao announced a crackdown on these forums in late June.

China’s assault on blogs has been threefold: utilize the same censorship controls that have been effective against search engines, issue “admittance standards,” and arrest anyone posting subversive material as a means of reprisal and intimidation. Hu has his work cut out for him. According to a study by Beijing’s Tsinghua University, China has 37 million blogs. That number is expected to nearly double by the end of the year.

What does the future hold?

For now, China is winning a slew of censorship battles, but Hu and his cronies will likely lose the war. If China is to conquer the Web, it must overcome a series of obstacles arising from an increasing number of Internet users, internal and external political pressure, and technological loopholes allowing users to bypass online censorship.

Hu endorses the Internet as an invaluable tool for business and education, and recognizes that the Net is essential if China wishes to complete with other nations. Since the Internet is here to stay, the number of Chinese who have access to its search engines, blogs and e-mail accounts will only grow with time, making it increasingly difficult for authorities to control the flow of information.

While many have decried Google and Yahoo’s cooperation with Chinese officials, some good may come from the controversy. The international community is now more aware of China’s censorship policies thanks to these high-profile cases, and activists around the world have renewed their determination to end Internet restrictions. This external political pressure is coupled with that of dissidents living within China. The Chinese masses will undoubtedly continue to flex their political muscles online despite restrictions and jail time.

Perhaps the most encouraging phenomenon is the appearance of home-grown service providers that enable the Chinese to bypass government controls. Beijing-based Maxthon routs traffic through a Web proxy, which creates a loophole allowing users access to restricted sites. Although the company downplays this functionality, word of the shortcut has spread from internet café to college dormitory, causing an explosion in the service’s popularity. In time, the party may get wise and shut Maxthon down, but there will be no shortage of loopholes.

The Communist regime may ultimately discover that censoring the Web is as futile as restricting the use of photocopiers. These counterrevolutionary machines now reside in nearly every office building, bank, school and supply shop in Beijing, and offer copies to anyone capable of pressing a button.

-KPC

July 14, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Censorship, China, Globalisation | Leave a comment

Slippery As an Eel

Momentum Undercut in the World’s Most Intractable Dispute

It was but a mere blip on the radar screen. For just several hours a fortnight ago, an article ran on the major news sites stating that Hamas and Fatah – the two primary groups representing Palestinians – had reached an agreement that could lead to talks with Israel. News watchers will be forgiven if they missed it; as quickly as the story appeared it was buried in the second half of lengthy articles about the latest development: a stout Israeli military offensive into Gaza.

True, Palestinian militants were launching rockets into southern Israel from Gaza for the past month, sporadically costing civilian lives. Spoilers have captured a severely unfortunate young soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, and held him hostage somewhere in Gaza for ten days while making overblown demands for Israel to empty their jails of Palestinians – albeit more legitimately for women and children – in return for his release. And despite the Palestinian compromise, Hamas hadn’t accepted legitimate international demands that it recognize Israel.


No Messing Around

Israel’s response was swift and effective, and was accomplished as much through the media as on the battlefield. Israeli officials lamented Hamas’ pigheaded refusal to recognize the state of Israel’s right to exist and twisted the screws tighter than at any time since the two-year-old ceasefire began. Israel reoccupied central Gaza, a first since unilaterally withdrawing from the territory last year. Israel arrested some 60-odd officials from Hamas and eight elected government ministers, and purposefully flew bombers over Bashir Assad, the unfriendly president of neighboring Syria (where some of the Hamas leadership resides).

Yet despite Hamas’ intransigence, the Israeli campaign is grossly disproportionate to the offences committed by the group holding the young soldier hostage. Analysts also differ fundamentally as to how much control the political wing of Hamas has over the three factions – one of which is nominally tied to Hamas – that played a role in the capturing raid. Israel’s operation will likely prove counterproductive as well: far from securing the release of Cpl. Shalit, the effective decapitation of Hamas’ leadership in Gaza may only serve to solidify Palestinian support for their embattled leaders.

It would be foolhardy to rush to the support of a group that refuses to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Yet as all practitioners of diplomacy know, however depraved, these are sticking points used as bargaining chips in negotiations, and aren’t given up lightly; especially when they’ve been bedrock principles for decades. In just a few short months, however, momentum had been building for change. Since Hamas’ election in January, the Palestinian Authority’s leader, the secular Mahmoud Abbas, had been trying to force Hamas’ into embracing these notions. He called for a referendum in which it looked possible that wearied voters would give Hamas the cover needed to reverse policy and avoiding the appearance of caving under foreign pressure. The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah was an additionally auspicious development.

Post-reoccupation, these events have no chance of being carried forward. Any opportunity for a referendum, much less recognition of Israel, has evaporated. Under siege, Hamas will maintain support by appearing as the martyred defender against a harsh foreign invader. Hamas won’t be allowed to either achieve change or turbidly stagnate and prove its own deficiencies. Moreover, the timing of Israel’s military incursion was suspiciously close to the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah accord, and peace is as far away as ever.

Of course, it’s beginning to be accepted wisdom that this is actually what Israel desires, as Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas Prime Minister, argues in today’s Washington Post. Suicide-bombings in Israel have slowed to a trickle in the last year and the country occupies all territory vital to its security. In May, President Bush sanctioned Israel’s land claims. States that possess everything they desire and face no pressure to give any of it up have never made for good faith negotiating partners. Squared off against a bitter enemy that does itself no favors in the public debate, don’t look for Israel to prove itself an exception to the rule.

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

July 12, 2006 Posted by | Hamas, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Politics | Leave a comment