Thursday, January 29, 2015

China's censorship on its own citizens strenghtens

China is clamping down even more on its own people using Western Internet sources, according to this Washington Post story by Simon Denyer, here.  His story title asks "Is this North Korea?" Andrew Jacobs has a similar story in the New York Times, emphasizing a crackdown on VPN's, which have largely been allowed   Gmail and many other western products are even less available. This would be a real problem for western (especially for work) travelers who need to stay wired to home.

China insists it must be able to read all encrypted traffic, to protect its own industrial base.  Yup, it's partly economic protectionism.
And China seems to be getting away with it and benefiting, as statist companies make more money, and political dissidents are silenced.  However, in my own situation, I often see page requests from China, even though I am supposed to be blocked.  (I likewise see requests from Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia.)

But apparently the work-arounds are getting harder.  I don't know how well TOR works now there.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A lot of westerners still find Moscow a "hip city"; CBS reports on an "individualist" Chinese tennis star

I may have missed a preview of scenes from Moscow, near the Bolshoi, at a Fandango event today (controversial performance of “Swan Lake”, on the drama Blog), so I looked up a YouTube video, from “Move One Relo”, made in 2010.  
A businessman who moved in 1993 when in his 30s says it was scary so shortly after the fall of communism, but now it is a “hip city”.  Later his wife appears with him.
But a few years ago, Russia had not yet tanked, Putin hadn’t started his aggression against the Ukraine and Crimea, and particularly the government had not passed the anti-gay propaganda law.  People who “conform” (straight people with conventional family life) may not sense how difficult it is for those who don’t conform to the social demands of others to live there.
The video describes the inner beltway as the “garden ring”.  People with large families tend to live in garden suburban complexes outside the ring.

You wonder about Edward Snowden, whom most of us see as a "friend", being so comfortable in Russia. 
Wikipedia attribution link for map of Moscow 
Tonight, CBS 60 Minutes covered Chinese female tennis champ Li Na, who was criticized for claiming her victory in the French Open for herself as an individual, rather than for the “collective” in the Chinese communist state, which had put her through.  The broadcast showed her hometown apartment in a highrise complex in interior China.  The link is here

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How "personally" should non-Muslims take the radical militant behavior overseas? The idea of "shame", "honor", and squelching debate, even in the West

My own impression of what is going on with the mix of groups following and trying to impose “radical Islam” is indeed mixed.
I don’t relate to the idea that God (or Jehovah or Allah) has a specific plan for me, because I have free will.  God is not a novelist or screenwriter; He does not determine the fates of his “characters” in advance the way I can with mine on paper (or on a computer).  God does not live in an alternate universe of fantasy.  And “free will” has  a specific role in physics and cosmology.
So I also don’t relate to proselytizing, to “saving souls”, or to public emotion over “turning it all over to Him”.  I don’t join in on group emotions.  Yet, in my own way, I’m religious.  I feel sure there is an afterlife.  Sometimes there may be reincarnation, and I might be fair game for it.  I’m not sure I can take the Monroe Institute’s idea (or perhaps Christopher Nolan’s) of what happens after you leave “The Core” literally, but some of it makes sense.  You will be where you are.  Life may become like an Inception-dream-level after all.
Yet, people, even very credible an mainstream, tell me how some people believe that a “promised land” (whether Israel for the Jews, or the Fertile Crescent, extended, for Muslims) was promised to them as members of a group (not just as individuals).  Solidarity, and the willingness to fight for other members of the extended group, has long been common throughout history.  So have shared goals.  So has the idea that God (whatever his name) has made promises to the whole Group    So has the expectation that others around you share your Faith.  Individualism is rather recent (even if it precedes Ayn Rand). 

So part of me gets the idea of “war over religion”, which I never took seriously before 9/11. 
Earlier this week, I sat in a Starbucks in Center City Philadelphia, having visited the Franklin Institute (and couple days earlier, libertarian writer Charles Murray’s favorite place, Fishtown), and perused a paper copy of the most recent “Economist” with several articles on the recent terror attacks in France and the busts all over Europe (the latest were by Spain early today actually in the north African coast).  Typical is “A Struggle that Shames”, link here.  Analysts are puzzled over the ease of recruiting young adults in social media – when I know from my own head that I have always been hard to recruit – and yet, as in that church conversation I mentioned above – I don’t experience “belief” the way others do.  I even see “lack of objectivity” as a source of weakness, where others see lack of emotion and faith as lack of basic humanity (or at least compassion).  The Economist articles take a moderate stance, saying that Sunni Islam’s lack of centralized religious authority leaves young people at the mercy of the extremists, who have their own power agendas.  British Prime Minister David Cameron, somewhat in contradiction to president Obama, says there has to be a lot more to radicalization than just slick social media in combination with poverty, since some of the recruits seem to have had “every opportunity’ to make it good in the West.   
The Outlook section of the Washington Post last Sunday (January 18, 2015) offered a lead story by journalist Asra Q. Nomandi, about being ordered by a local Muslim cleric in Morgantown W Va, in a Panera Bread shop in 2004, to “stop writing”.  She was told “You have shamed the community”.  She did not stop writing, and is still with us.  But the article , titled “Blasphemers beware” in print and “Meet the honor brigade, an organized campaign to silence debate on Islam”  In the article she describes how shame and honor work in much of Islamic culture (as depicted in the film “Honor Diaries”, movies blog Jan. 10, 2015).  Sometimes the culture seems designed to give men guaranteed access to women, with religious justification that to an intellectually reasonable person seems specious at best (and quite heterosexually self-serving).  If “debate on Islam” is to be stopped, then the cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad could no longer by themselves be a special issue of insult.  Indeed, the attacks or threats against Theo van Gogh or Salman Rushdie (as well as Charlie Hebdo or Molly Norris) seem to go beyond the issue just of cartoons or “idolatry”. Questions also arise, is the debate to be squelched just among Muslims (most of all female Muslims) or non-Muslims, too.  Silencing discussion seems not to be motivated so much by "hiding" weakness or corruption as it is a strategy of control and even warfare. If any “apostate” is fair game (as to a lone wolf with a scythe) then, logically, again, this is no longer just about cartoons and images.  It is about “us” and “them”, where (even Western) non-believers are “enemies” of future generations of Muslims trying for paradise.  At its worst, radical Islam (I don’t know any other term, whatever the president wants to call it) would sound capable of declaring war not just on other nations or religions but on prominent or even ordinary non-believing individuals.
Again, though, the more temperate writings on these matters, as in the “Economist,”  mental comfort food in that warm cafĂ© on the coldest average day of the year in a northeastern US City, still make radical Islam as mainly a problem with “them”. (The debate on “blasphemy” is so contained, as Christianity has its own history with the issue.)  It’s largely overseas, in the Middle East and now Europe but, despite 9/11, probably a long way from here.  It’s other people’s business.  In America, most are “assimilated”. Furthermore, so much of it seems to be a struggle within Islam, overseas -- Shiite v. Sunni.  It's not always anti-Semetic or anti-Christian or even anti-gay.  It's "their" problem.  
Yes, there is a personal and a “professional” read on this.  I believe in God (I remember a girl writing a theme in 10th Grade English on this) but He doesn’t give me orders.  Nor does he give anyone else orders.  We can make choices but we are responsible for the results of these choices – until, you might say – these choices confound someone else’s circular reasoning. Where we get into trouble with our karma is that we get dependent on the sacrifices of others without seeing these happen. (That gets complicated by the idea that how you respond to external coercion, when it can affect others,is itself a core moral issue, like it or not.)  That is in many ways a matter of both economic justice, and personal “purpose” in the values placed on interactions with other people.  It’s easy to see how religion can offer answers to what seem like ethical contradictions encountered when practicing free will -- but the secular political, Maoist Left can be just as threatening and violent (hint: North Korea, et al).  There is no way to go through life meaningfully without making mistakes.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

ISIS execution of gays gets attention in social media but not major news coverage

The UK Independent reported a particularly graphic story today of ISIS throwing gay men off a tower, as well as stoning women and "cruficifying" men in "retaliation", story by Adam Withnall, here.  The story has gotten a lot of attention in my own Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds.  Curiously, the story wasn't mentioned on CNN tonight, as it got buried by stories of "No Go Zones" in Europe, in a statement by Bobby Jindal and other Republicans.  I was in Birmingham England in 1982 and noticed nothing unusual at all.

Update: Feb. 15

NBC News has a longer article interpreting this incident, here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Religious violence sounds like extreme political violence: it aims at revolution, expropriation, not just faith on its own

CNN has the expected detailed story on the claim of responsibility for the Hebdo attacks in France by AQAP, here. It also has a detailed examination of the public perception of the connection between Islam and violence here, “7 Questions”, by Daniel Burke, here
It’s important that the Koran does not itself mention blasphemy, whereas the Bible does. (Islamic hadiths appear to condemn it.)  It’s also important that the idea that there is some call to violence in the Koran is, according to this article, a self-serving stretch of words.  Perhaps it’s comparable to supposed condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible. The New York Times on Wednesday offered this analysis by Mustafa Akyol, p. A23, "Islam's Problem with Blasphemy", link
And 5 million copies of the latest Charlie Hebdo paper have been printed, but so far it seems to be print only, BBC story link here
In the meantime, French police have arrested about 50 people for “apology for terrorism”.  Foreign language students know that cognates among languages are often not literal, but expressing support for it, even in a single tweet, is a crime in France and some European countries.  In the US, it requires making a threat or actually providing tangible support to be a crime.
What does all of this add up to?  It seems that to threaten a journalist for reporting news, including the existence of an offensive image, is an admission that the news needs to be disseminated and heard.  (Look at the situation with North Korea.)  But this is more about having “something to hide”.
This sounds like trying to stir up a “revolutionary idea”, possibly leading toward conquest of others (“apostates”) by force in some cases. The Nazis did the same thing out of a secular ideology.
It is common for poor or less affluent people in any religion to believe that their faith is all they have.  So desecration of their “god” destroys their identity (even to the point that an extremist can exploit the idea of “avenging” the god).  From a psychological perspective, one could believe in a false god or “idol”, and then feel destroyed when that idol is desecrated, shown to have “clay feet”.  This is the problem with “upward affiliation”: when it works it really works, until one is stopped by force.  The sensational atonal dance music by Arnold Schoenberg in the “Golden Calf” passage of his opera “Moses and Aaron” reinforces this point.  I remember, in Sunday School lessons as a boy, that having “idols” was such a big deal that I once wrote down “I have idols” in a music association exercise in third grade.   All of these “strings” come together.  
But, Jesus and Mohammad are not idols.  But a lot of us sometimes behave as if somehow they were. There may be only one God in our universe, but “free will” is available to every one of us.  


Rather silly and incredible plot against the US Capitol busted as a man in Ohio is arrested in a Twitter sting, WJLA story here.

Update:  Jan. 16

The New York Times has a front page story by Doreen Carnaval and Alan Cowell, "French rein in speech backing acts of terror: debate over fairness; Recent law allows for rapid trials and stiff prison sentences" here.  Even shouting verbal support of attackers can lead to prosecution;  this is not just about Internet speech. The NTY points out that this sounds like a paradox.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

France has indeed done a poor job of integrating Muslims; Catholic League points out the flip side of the free speech debate; it gets more personal

First, on the issue of publishing the vicious satire of the “cartoons”.  I could stand with Smerconish on CNN and say that if all major media outlets publish them, then no one would stand out as an “Outlier” or worse. 
But I also feel, in the grand scheme of things, that some of the cartoons in the Islamic world might be like throwing around the “n” word (for Dr. Martin Luther King or even our president) or the “fa_” word (applied to heroes like Leonardo Da Vinci or Alan Turing) in our world in the West.  Possibly it’s a “terms of service” issue.  It (republishing the cartoons) isn’t something that I would normally do, because we do have norms of civility online.
Indeed, the Catholic League wrote a blog post “Charlie Hebdo perverts freedom”, here.   Does freedom serve society, or does society serve freedom?
Thinkprogress, on Facebook, was properly critical of this post, here.
It is true that Muslims seem very poorly integrated in France, and face (in practice) discrimination greater than that of African-Americans today in the US.  They aren’t given a lot of incentive to “play by the rules”.  Brookings has a paper on this here, as does “Euro-Islam” here.
But sometimes this gets personal, like it or not.  On Twitter, Chess Quotes has been making a lot of “revolutionary” tweets – and I don’t think chess should be politicized to promote communism or anything else, and I don’t call for “socialist revolution” myself, but the last part of the tweet below got my attention.
“A third world socialist revolution must be capable of revolutionizing the way citizens across society see themselves and their role.” 
Note – “see themselves”.  My therapists at NIH in 1962 overloaded that phrase.  

Update:  CNN continues to do the most detailed coverage of events in France, including nationwide demonstrations Sunday, after all three gunmen were killed in two separate confrontations with police.  All police in France have been told to remain armed, and to delete their own social media profiles.  The latter is rather alarming, although members of the military have practically were told the same in the US in October, 2014.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Authoritarian regimes and religious leaders now try to silence western speech -- it's all the same process, whether Paris today, or with Sony.

As Wolf Blitzer said on CNN on 9/11, “there are no words” for what happened in Paris today.
But the Wall Street Journal has a compendium of reprisals over the years for depictions of Muhammad, such as regarding the film “Submission” by Theo van Gogh, and the Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy. Here is Time's account of "Je suis Charlie", link
Only two weeks ago we were saying that North Korea can’t control what movies we make and consumer at home.  It’s obvious that this has been going on with radical Islam, especially in Europe, for the last decade. There is a shocking tendency of extremist movements (whether religious elements or secular rogue states maybe distant related to communism) to "go to war" with individual civilian citizens or at least the media companies they run in western countries. Peter Beinart said as much on CNN Tonight to Don Lemon tonight.  My own days of being drafted a dealing with "special training" all the way back in 1968 seem very vivid indeed.  
Later, on AC360, Anderson Cooper interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had helped make Van Gogh’s “Submission”.  She seemed to play down the distinction between “normal” Islam and radical Islam, saying that Islam has a world vision that seems to demand submission of all non-Muslims – if I heard her right.  “World Vision” is actually a somewhat controversial Christian charity operating most visibly in Africa.   

Peter Bergen offers a rather chilling account of a "silencer" plot in the US from 2009-2011, here.
WJLA reports a demonstration in support of the journalists in front of the Newseum tonight in the bitter cold in Washington DC.  The demonstrators use pencils instead of candles.  Scott Thiman reported tonight.  The WJLA story byline is "Radicals try to alter the way news is reported".  And that may apply to more than big news organizations.

I'll add a link to a rather stark "opposing view" published by USA Today (Gannett) (Jan. 8) authored by (London) Muslim cleric Anjem Chourdary here.  He writes "Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people's desires." Then he talks about the "responsibilities" of non-Muslims (as if Allah or God had already spelled out the "consequences" of disobedience).  USA Today also has its own view directly linked at that article.  Religious fundamentalists (of any mold) often need to see others forced to follow the same rules applied to them, to make the otherwise "unfair" world make more sense to them.  Authoritarian leaders (like Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un) love to do the same thing in the secular world.

Fareed Zakaria has pointed out that the Koran never mentions blasphemy as such, but the Christian Bible does, and throughout history, Christianity used to be much more concerned with it than Islam, until more recently.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

State Department does have a big program to house asylees from strife-torn countries

The Washington Post has a big story in the Metro section Sunday January 4, 2015, “Still unsettled, but settling in”, by Julie Zauzmer, link here, to explain a State Department program that settles about 70000 families a year, when these families and individuals pass background checks and can prove they are at risk.  The specific story concerned a family from Syria (with husband targeted by Assad) now settling in to a furnished apartment in Alexandria, VA.  The State Department works with various charities (like Catholic Charities in this case) to assist the families and normally provides a three-month stipend, but the families have to find work,

It would appear from this story that the families are not housed with other people except existing relatives, if already in the US.  There are not reports in the article of recruiting “sponsors” although that has been done in the past (as with Cuban refugees in 1980).  But the whole issue could rapidly become important for gay people seeking asylum from some countries (especially Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, and various other African or Muslim countries).