Earlier this month, U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went to the Miami-Dade Lincoln Day Dinner to deliver a decidedly anti-Castro speech.
"I look forward to the day when the stain of Castro is rinsed from the Cuban soil," Romney declared.
But his choice of words in three lines of the speech were surprising: "Hugo Chávez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase -- Patria o muerte, venceremos. It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba,'' Romney declared.
Roughly translated, the Spanish-language bit of that means: "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome."
Oops. A speech writer in Romney's shop apparently didn't know that the phrase has been a favorite of Fidel Castro's for decades. He closes nearly every public address with it. Occasionally, he throws "Socialism or death" in there for good measure too.
Romney has assembled an impressive campaign infrastructure in Florida, and the speech was surely vetted beforehand, which makes the snafu even more surprising. The text of the speech has been changed in the version now available online. But someone in the Romney camp ought to explain whether the governor was or was not aware that the phrase belongs to one of the world's last remaining dictators?
As China's Internet-savvy population grows larger each day, government officials there are worried about the detrimental effects of the Internet on both society and the economy.
One Chinese website, tencent.com (and its subsidiary QQ.com), is especially troubling for the Chinese leadership. Tencent’s messaging service, which boasts usage by over two-thirds of China’s Internet users, has its own virtual economy with currency counted in "QQcoins". The online currency is so ubiquitous that it is now accepted by some other Chinese companies as legal tender. Fearing that the QQcoins are being used to circumvent China's strict anti-gambling laws and the potential for the virtual economy to negatively affect the real Chinese economy, the government banned the use of virtual currency for anything other than virtual services.
Meanwhile, the Internet has become such a terrible social ill that China has indefinitely postponed approval for any new Internet cafes, according to a notice issued by 14 different government entities.
China is in the throes of a campaign to "purify" the Internet, and most of the content of the notice was aimed at tightening controls over the country's estimated 113,000 Internet cafes. It blamed the cafes for fostering "internet addiction," banned approval of new ones this year, and toughened penalties for those that admit minors.
If you still aren't convinced of the Chinese government’s proposition that the Internet is harmful, check this out:
An obese 26-year-old man in northeastern China died after a "marathon" online gaming session over the Lunar New Year holiday, state media said on Wednesday.
Women and men around the world today have been celebrating International Women's Day, which has been observed now for nearly 100 years.
And how things have changed in the past century. In 1907, New Zealand and Finland were the only countries where women had full voting rights. In the United States, women didn't get the vote until 1920. It took all the way until 1971 for Swiss women to gain suffrage. Most recently, in 2005, Kuwaiti women at last gained access to the ballot box. And now, for the first time, a woman is a credible candidate for U.S. president.
I often reflect on how life has so radically changed for women in my own family. Neither of my grandmothers, who lived in India, had a high school education. One got married at age 13 and had her first child at 16. My mother was able to attain a college degree in India, and by the time she was the age that I am now, she was a married stay-at-home mom in the United States with two kids. Today, I am a woman who has a graduate degree, works a full-time job, and is nowhere close to having kids.
How fast women's roles have been changing!
As we reflect on achievements, though, let's not forget that much work still needs to be done. Today, sixty million girls are not in school. Preferences for sons has led to gender imbalances in parts of India and China. And in sub-Saharan Africa, women's lower social status is causing them to get infected with HIV in higher numbers than men.
It all makes me wonder: In 2107, how will women be doing?
The U.S. State Department released its 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices yesterday. Tucked away in all the jargon in the report on Kazakhstan was this gem, filed under the section titled Internet Freedom:
In December 2005 the government deemed as offensive the content of a satirical web site controlled by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and revoked the .kz domain."
Sacha Baron Cohen, is, of course, the British actor who plays a fictional Kazakh TV reporter in the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Shortly before the revocation of the ".kz" domain, a Kazakh government official had threatened to take "legal measures" against Cohen. Responding in the character of Borat, Cohen—who happens to be Jewish—said:
I ... fully support my government's position to sue this Jew."
In reality, Cohen didn't skip a beat, moving his site to www.borat.tv. As Nurlan Isin, president of the Association of Kazakh IT Companies, explained at the time, "We've done this so he can't badmouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name." So it's a stretch, to say the least, for the U.S. State Department to lump Cohen's case in with the very real and serious human rights abuses that permeate the rest of the report.
Editor's note: Passport blogger Preeti Aroon also contributed to this post.
Wondering if your website is blocked in China? Plug your URL into www.greatfirewallofchina.org, and you'll know instantly if your page is reaching the Middle Kingdom's 125 million Internet users. The slick site is the work of a group of artists and journalists who want "to make the censorship system transparent and keep open the discussion on censorship." The site keeps a record of every URL tested and the result, revealing that the status of many blocked sites changes almost daily. If your site is available, you can even see a preview of how it appears to Chinese surfers.
Here are some blocked and available sites, according to the Great Firewall:
|CNN: Lou Dobbs||Available|
FP is not blocked. For more on Chinese censorship, don't miss Mike Boyer's interview with Li Wufeng, China's top Internet censor.
UPDATE: Robert Mayer over at Publis Pundit points out that Chinese bannination doesn't just happen on a site-wide scale. While FP Passport's main page is available in China, some individual pages, such as our previously mentioned interview with China's top internet cop are blocked. Could China's filters be so sophisticated that they can whittle down websites to knock out individual, offending pages? Looks like it.
A group of prominent lawyers in China has cried foul over censorship by a popular Chinese blog host, Sina.com. In an open letter to the Internet company, they ask:
Sina.com, please tell us: Why did you violate our freedom of speech over and over again?
Sina.com, please tell us: Why did you feel that it is your right to delete blog posts? Or even your power?
Sina.com, please tell us: Why do you feel that you do not need to negotiate with (or even notify) us before you delete a blog post?
The letter writers are all well-respected advocates for human rights in China. Their decision to publicly confront Sina.com now seems calculated to draw attention and spark a reaction. The Chinese government has long relied on a tacit understanding with large media companies that they self-censor in order to avoid overt government interference; Western companies like Google have agreed to police themselves along the same lines. If the public opposition voiced by the lawyers spreads, media companies in China may find themselves forced to choose between the demands of their customers and their overseers.
The Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal have released their annual Index of Economic Freedom for 2007. The Index compares countries across a number of economic variables, including business freedom (how easy it is to start a business), trade freedom, freedom from government intervention, and freedom from corruption. China, wisely, has maintained its hands-off economic policy since the 1997 handover—Hong Kong again tops the list as the most economically "free" country*, followed by Singapore and Australia. The United States is fourth. Some other interesting (and possibly questionable) findings:
* For the sake of the index, Heritage and the WSJ considered Hong Kong and Taiwan countries.
Yesterday, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, FP's parent organization, launched its new vision for a global think tank centered in Washington, but with local offices in Moscow, Beijing, Beirut, and (soon) Brussels. The difference between a think tank that deals with international issues—those are a dime a dozen in this town—and a think tank that is itself international may sound like a fine distinction at first. But being based locally and working in the language is key to understanding other countries as they see themselves. With a dangerous political situation and the world's view of United States foreign policy lower than ever, it's vital that high-quality dialogue flow between places like Beijing and Washington. Carnegie's new global vision will help that tremendously.
But there are broader changes afoot that cross other boundaries. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, spoke about how technology is transforming the world (and simultaneously being transformed by it) in yesterday's riveting keynote address at Carnegie's launch event for the new vision.
One particularly intriguing question Schmidt asked was, What happens when the next billion Internet users go online? What are the implications for freedom of speech?
One billion is a lot of people. How will they communicate with each other?
Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland popped up to ask an interesting question: Are intellectual property rights a thing of the past in the Internet age? Schmidt responded by explaining how "intellectual property rights are fundamental to how we operate." Google Books, for instance, is raising all kinds of new and interesting questions about intellectual property.
To another questioner worried about how dictatorships or other forces could seize control of the Web, Schmidt was reassuring. Kind of:
I'm not as worried about it as you might be, because I understand how difficult it is to go in and impose your bias on a single node in the Internet .... You have to be able to shut down the borders .... Anyone who can do that on the Internet is quite dangerous .... The good news about the Internet is it's structured to make that extremely difficult .... Unless you're able to get control of all of the interconnection points, which is essentially impossible in most, at least, democratic countries, it's very very difficult to see how the kind of manipulation you're describing would occur."
Check out his response for yourself:
For at least the third time, the Chinese government has blocked Gao Yaojie—a Chinese doctor who has played a critical role in drawing attention to China's HIV/AIDS crisis—from leaving the country to accept an award from Vital Voices, a U.S.-based advocacy group supported by Hillary Clinton. Gao was prevented by police from leaving her house, causing her to miss her flight to Beijing (where she was planning to apply for her visa).
Gao Yaojie was one of the first people to expose the "blood scandal" in Henan province, in which local authorities knowingly allowed blood contaminated with HIV to spread throughout Henan's blood supply, which has created around 100,000 orphans. In the 1990s, local officials set up clinics and began paying peasants $5 for blood donations to meet the massive shortage of blood in local hospitals. But because donors were suffering from anemia from giving away too much blood, the collectors switched to taking only plasma, then pooling the blood of different types together, and re-injecting the remaining blood into the donors—a sure-fire way to spread diseases quickly.
Authorities have tried to cover up the scandal by arresting AIDS activists, closing down orphanages, and trying desperately to prevent the media from getting wind of it. Thanks to people like Gao, though, they haven't succeeded entirely.
(Hat tip: China Shakes the World by James Kynge)
Today, India marked the 59th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's death. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paraphrased one of Gandhi's teachings by saying, "We need a new development paradigm that caters to everyone's need and can keep in check human greed."
But just how appropriate is Gandhi's philosophy for the new India of the 21st century?
It's telling that in a survey published last year by the Economic Times newspaper, 37 percent of Indian students and young business leaders said today's biggest icon was Bill Gates. Only 30 percent chose Gandhi.
So, maybe this dance performance in front of the Taj Mahal celebrating Microsoft's Vista roll-out campaign isn't as absurd as it looks at first:
A 2-meter-high baby diaper made out of police uniforms has been banned by communist authorities in Vietnam. The artwork is the same light brown color as the uniforms of Vietnam's traffic police, and the inside of the giant diaper is lined with pockets—each fastened by a police button.
The artist, Truong Tan, was merely trying to make a coy statement on official corruption by comparing the absorbent capacities of diapers with the pockets of police officers. But he wasn't coy enough. All cultural events in Vietnam need to be approved in advance, and organizers must submit photos of artwork along with descriptions. In this case, the photo was submitted sans description, so authorities were a bit slow in picking up on the sculpture's hidden meaning. But after one member of the police department saw it up close, he got the joke—and the giant diaper was duly banned from the exhibition.
Tunisian blogger Sami Ben Gharbia has created this fascinating Google Maps mashup of the prisons where political dissidents have been locked up by the Tunisian government. When you click on a marker, legal details about the prisoners' cases pop up, along with video from the dissidents and their families.
Tunisia has a long history of human rights abuses and harsh conditions in its network of secret prisons, so publishing this much politically sensitive and hard-to-obtain information has earned Gharbia plaudits from human rights advocates... along with the inability to return home from his exile in The Hague. The Tunisian government maintains one of the strictest online censorship regimes in the world, so it's hard to know to what extent Gharbia's map is reaching Tunisians inside the country.
Hat tip: Boing Boing
As popular China blogger Jeremy Goldkorn observes, "Aside from the rather predictable rules about Taiwan... most of the list resembles a guide to Western style political correctness rather than the usual Communist Party list of taboo words and subject matter."
The following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Asbar), which aired on ANB TV on November 26, 2006.
Adonis: The difference between Europe and the Islamic world is in quality, not in degree. What I mean is that the Christian view of the world is not political, but humanistic. It is human beings who are the basis for politics. A Christian person has great liberty to separate his religious faith from his political activity. The mistake committed by the Church in the Middle Ages was rectified - obviously after a struggle and violent revolutions - and political rule was entirely separated from politics...
Interviewer: From religion...
Adonis: From religion, sorry. In our case, political rule was based... Ever since the struggle over who would inherit Prophet Muhammad's place, political rule was essentially based on religion.
Interviewer: But there were great revolutions in the Arab and Islamic world. Take, for example, the ideology of Arab nationalism. This ideology may be connected with Islamic culture, but it is still a man-made ideology.
Adonis: But the ideology of nationalism, in all its forms, is a religious ideology, in the sense that it has never raised any cardinal question concerning religion.
The Arabs have managed to turn democracy or the revolution into a dynastic or monarchic regime, which is handed down. Most Arab regimes are monarchic regimes, one way or another.
View the entire transcript.
Stuck with no ideas for those hard-to-buy-for people on your holiday list? Look no further than the War on Terror Board Game.
It's got suicide bombers, political kidnaps and intercontinental war. It's got filthy propaganda, rampant paranoia and secret treaties...
Here's some rapid play for you, in case you need some convincing:
The goal of War on Terror, the boardgame is to liberate the world, ridding it of fear and terrorism forever...
Everyone starts the game as an Empire, with a couple of free villages and they can settle anywhere in the world...
Empires then spread over the planet grabbing all available land, searching for the best oil and the most strategic borders. Some go for towns and cities, other spend their cash on extra empire cards, building up their political options. Maybe, if they're lucky, they'll get an early nuke...
Sooner or later someone takes a pop...
Empires soon strike up alliances and the propaganda war is in full flow...
Nice touch award: the Axis of Evil spinner in the middle of the board.
The Brits behind the game got some flack from 7/7 survivors for including 'suicide bomber' cards when the game launched in September. The designers had this to say:
We accept that some people think this is in poor taste and may see it as puerile. But we would say that launching an illegal war on Iraq is in poor taste."
Hat tip: Boing Boing
According to a UNDP-sponsored study released last week, gender inequality is a "barrier to progress and prosperity in Arab societies as a whole." This final Arab Human Development Report (AHDR), compiled by Arab experts and academics, is part of a four-part series that began after September 11th.
This AHDR report denies that Islam is responsible for male dominance, and instead cites cultural and political factors, as well as wars, occupation and terrorism as obstacles to equality. The first AHDR, released in 2002, identified that female disempowerment was "one of three critical deficits crippling Arab nations in their quest to return to the first rank of world leaders of commerce, learning and culture."
Four years later, turning this condition around has become a top "precondition for development."
The news is not all grim. "Most Arab countries now have a parliament, a cabinet or a local council, where at least one woman participates effectively," says the AHDR. Still, many of these developments are merely cosmetic, and "[i]n all cases... real decisions in the Arab world are, at all levels, in the hands of men." There is a broad desire for gender equality in the region, as a public opinion poll commissioned by the report shows. Women's issues are also "increasingly permeating intellectual and cultural discourse."
Meanwhile, a UNICEF report published this week reinforces the crucial need for gender equality. According to the State of the World's Children 2007 Report,
Eliminating gender discrimination and empowering women will have a profound and positive impact on the survival and well-being of children. Gender equality produces the “double dividend” of benefiting both women and children and is pivotal to the health and development of families, communities and nations.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says that Kandahar's only hospital for women, which has 40 beds, received 29 cases of suicide in the space of two months. Twenty of those women had set themselves alight.
Kandahar has the highest rates of self-immolation, compared to the rest of the country. Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission is working with German NGO Medica Mondiale towards overcoming cultural obstacles to female empowerment. Afghanistan has also recently passed a law which banned the marriage of women under 18 years. Another is in the pipeline which would require the consent of both the man and the woman in order for a marriage to be legal. Now that would be progress.
Old Communist habits die hard. Just ask Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko. That's why, when the Chinese government announced last week that it had revised the country's media regulations in the run up to the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, one had to chuckle. Under the new rules, foreign reporters will apparently be allowed to travel freely in the country, including to sensitive provinces such as Tibet and Xinjiang, interviewing anyone they wish and using Chinese nationals as researchers and translators.
We'll see. The new rules sounded good in a press conference in Beijing, but the actual enforcement of them will fall to local cops, many of whom have been studying a training manual entitled "Olympic Security English." Peter Ford, over at the Christian Science Monitor, got his hands on a copy of the manual, and notes that it teaches local patrolman phrases such as, "You're a sports reporter. You should only cover the Games." It also teaches cops to tell reporters that talking about the Falun Gong is "beyond the permit" and "beyond the limit of your coverage and illegal." The AP also saw a copy of the 252-page manual and detailed the following training scenario from the book's first chapter entitled "How to Stop Illegal News Coverage":
The journalist says he is gathering information about Falun Gong and is detained.... The policeman says Falun Gong "is beyond your coverage and illegal. As a foreign reporter in China, you should obey China law and do nothing against your status." The reporter is taken away to "clear up this matter."
One of Iran's most popular television personalities is caught up in a steamy sex scandal. Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, whose popular TV dramas are often watched by two thirds of the Islamic Republic, has found herself the unwitting star of a different kind of show: a porn video. The DVD of the film, in which 25-year-old Ebrahim is apparently shown having sex at home with her then-fiancee, has sold an incredible 100,000 copies on Iran's black market in the past few months, even at the fairly expensive price of $13.
Obviously, Iran's leaders aren't letting such flagrant flouting of the country's strict morality laws go unpunished. Ebrahimi faces potential lashing for having sex outside of marriage, and her partner, who has been extradicted from Armenia to face charges, could be thrown in jail for three years. Ebrahimi is fighting back by denying that she's even the woman in the video.
I watched the film after I heard about the fuss from colleagues and the girl in it is not me," Ebrahimi said...."It is possible to use studio make-up to have a person look like me. I have some knowledge of montage techniques and I know you can create a new face by distorting the features of another person."
Still, Ehrahimi is under self-imposed house arrest for now.
In the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections this Saturday, cyber-activists in Bahrain are using Google Earth to highlight the excesses of the ruling al-Khalifa family. It's always surprised me that more authoritarian regimes do not block access to Google Earth. Bahrain has tried in the past, but its efforts to do so proved mostly futile. And since Google ratcheted up the resolution of its images of Bahrain, Google Earthing the royal family's private golf courses, estates, islands, yachts, and other luxuries has become a national pastime. Most Bahrainis have long known that these things existed, but they've been hidden behind walls and fences. Below are few representative examples of what many are seeing up close for the first time. Egyptian blogger Elijah Zarwan has also put together a nice compilation.
Every day, journalists around the world risk their lives in the pursuit of truth. Their harrowing experiences go largely unrecognized, but the effects of their work are immense - from giving a voice to those often unheard to defending the freedom of expression. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently honored the recipients of its annual International Press Freedom Awards, distinguishing selected international journalists who continue their work despite continued attacks, imprisonment, and harassment. This week, FP caught up with the three awardees, Colombian photojournalist Jésus Abad Colorado, Yemeni editor Jamal Amer, and Gambian journalist Madi Ceesay to learn more about their work in unfree societies.
In Moscow, the blue light special sells for about $20,000 on the black market. What is it? A traffic kit including a flashing blue police light, a siren, a special license plate that exempts the driver from traffic violations, and supporting documents. Its purpose is to help you fight traffic. Why would anyone pay such a high price just to avoid traffic? Well, Moscow streets are a nightmarish clog of some 3 million cars, a 12-fold increase since the end of Communism. Here's a look:
Hat tip: English Russia (Photos by Anton Nossik)
Google Video is under attack by the Iranian government for posting a user's video that challenges the country's territorial integrity. The video says that Azeri provincial capital Tabriz is "in southern Azerbaijan, currently in the territory of Iran," the Guardian reports. Both the region and the city, however, have been part of Iran for more than 4,000 years.
Among the heaviest reactors: Iranian MP Valiallah Azarvash, who said: "An Iranian never accepts such slights. Since the second millennium BC, eastern Azerbaijan and Tabriz have never been separated from the body of Iran. How can they now belong somewhere else?" The Ministry of Information Technology has encouraged Iranians to bombard Google with emails of complaint.
The posting was likely permitted because it doesn't violate Google Video's content policy. However, it will be interesting to see how the company responds. Google already censors politically-radioactive material on its Chinese search engine to ensure it reaches the 111 million users in the Middle Kingdom. Will Google stock holders' ambitions for (personal) enrichment demand that they censor Farsi-language searches too?
Britain and the United States are the bottom two western democracies when it comes to respecting the privacy rights of their citizens, according to a new report by Privacy International and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. On a five-point scale, with one being the lowest, the UK scored just 1.5, only slightly better than Russia and Singapore. In fact, the Brits are so heavily monitored that a separate 102-page report calls their country a "surveillance society." Things are only a little better in America, which scored 2.0. The scores are the average of 13 indicators, ranging from "constitutional protection" to "work place monitoring."
Germany tops the list at 3.9. But buried in the report, it says that warrantless monitoring of telephone conversations increased 500 percent in Germany from 1995-2004. (Check out Niels Sorrells's "German Tap Lessons" on ForeignPolicy.com for more about the issue.) Nonetheless, Germany gets a "communications interception" score of 4. Which suggests that either the report is flawed or that telephone monitoring in other countries is just that much more prevalent. Not good news either way.
More on the personality cult run by Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov. He staged lavish ceremonies over the weekend to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the country's independence from the Soviet Union. Ordinary residents weren't allowed to attend the official ceremonies, but the autocratic leader did find time to pardon some 10,000 prisoners as part of the celebration. Be sure to check out this photoessay of the festivities from the BBC. (Photo credit: IGOR SASSIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkmenistan's autocratic President Saparmurat Niyazov can't be beat for topping his own sense of ironic insanity. If you thought he was done when he built an ice palace and ski resort in his largely desert country, think again. Niyazov last week inaugurated a large, book-shaped building called the "House of Free Creativity" and dedicated it to free media. This in a country where all forms of media are controlled by the government, unapproved contacts with foreigners are forbidden, less than 1 percent of the country has access to the Internet (which is censored by the government anyway), and libraries were ordered closed last year and foreign publications outlawed. The only books freely disseminated in the country are those written by Niyazov himself. His 2001 book of moral guidelines and "history" is virtually the only textbook used in schools, and he recently published a book of poetry and a tome on his family tree extolling the virtues of his forefathers. (Niyazov renamed a month of the year after his mother a few years ago.) What's next - batty plans to artificially alter the country's climate? Oh, wait. Too late.
Hat tip: Boing Boing
Reporters Without Borders published its fifth annual Press Freedom Index yesterday and the results for the U.S. aren't good. Safely in the top 20 when the inaugural index came out in 2002, the United States has slipped to 53rd place this year, largely based on what the organization deems a hostile relationship between the Bush administration and journalists questioning the war on terror. Also contributing to America's tumble: Detained journalists in Iraq and Gitmo, as well as jailed blogger Josh Wolf, who refuses to surrender to authorities video of violent protests in San Francisco during last year's Gleneagles G8 summit.
There are a number of interesting improvements (Haiti, Algeria, Bolivia) and slips (France, Denmark, Japan), but because I speculated earlier this summer that Brangelina's much-publicized birth in Namibia - complete with jailed paparazzi and a no-media zone - might hurt the country's press freedom rating, I made a point to check out Namibia's score. And it has indeed gone down - ever so slightly - in the last year. But the country is still one of the best in Africa for permitting freedom of expression. And it will apparently take more than one high-profile celebrity birth to change that.
The Swedish Academy announced today that Edmund S. Phelps will receive the Nobel Prize for Economics. Phelps, a professor at Columbia University, is being lauded for his work on inflation and its effects on unemployment. Phelps becomes the sixth American this year to win a Nobel. Only two more Nobels for 2006 are left: literature and peace.
It almost certainly won't be an American sweep this year. We have no idea who will win for literature (one thing's for sure: it won't be Harold Pinter), but we do have some odds on who might get the big kahuna for peace. In this week's list, FP takes a look at some of the leading candidates, which include former Finnish president and current UN peace negotiator Martti Ahtisaari and Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for their work on the Aceh peace accords.
We'll also admit that our top picks may be totally wrong. After all, the Nobel Committee has a history of picking surpise recipients. Remember when Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines won in 1997? No one saw that coming. The IHT has a good primer on how the prizewinners are chosen. In short, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is selected by a group of five Norwegian committee members, who are selected by Norway's parliament. They choose from a list of nominees (this year, there are 191, including 23 organizations), whose names are put forward by previous laureates, academics, and parliamentarians around the world. It's like Fight Club: what happens in the committee, stays in the committee (although nominators are free to talk to the press individually about who they recommended, which is why we know that people like Ahtisaari and Bono have been nominated in the past). Still, if we were betting folks, we'd put our money on the Finn.
Earlier this month Niall Ferguson, arguing the advantages of monarchies, wagered that "taking all the world's polities over the last 100 years, the republics have, on average, witnessed more succession crises than the monarchies." Monarchies, it seems, may have the ability to temper the upheaval of political succession.
In Thailand, the king has proved to be pivotal in the current crisis. Kingship, anachronistic though it seems, remains a potent symbol of authority. And as an institution, it remains quite popular; one in four countries still retains some form of monarchy. As constitutional heads of state, the monarchy remains a symbol that focuses the national imagination.
All of this leads me to wonder: Where in the world is Zahir Shah? The popular former king of Afghanistan has all but disappeared from the scene after having jump-started the loya jirga in 2002. A Pashtun and a royal, he may just provide the struggling government the symbol of unity needed to rally the Pashtun tribes. After all, in both Cambodia (1993) and Spain (1975), the transition to democracy was overseen by a restored monarchy. In any case, seeing as how bad things are outside of Kabul, perhaps it wouldn't hurt to coax Zahir out of retirement.
Literature is under attack in Turkey. Tomorrow, prize-winning novelist Elif Shafak will go on trial in Istanbul over comments about the Armenian genocide that a character makes in her best-selling novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. The offensive comment: "I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915," says Dikran Stamboulian, a minor Armenian character in the book. And for that reference to a genocide, Ms. Shafak is being charged with insulting "Turkishness." The case against her is being led by ultranationalists, one of whom recently linked the possibility of Turkey's accession to the EU and Ms. Shafak's novel as stripping away Muslim identity in Turkey, mostly by those who, like Ms. Shafak, "support a more open Turkey,...world citizens, half-Turks."
Unfortunately, Shafak is hardly the first to be charged with this broad and ridiculous offense. More than 60 writers and publishers have been prosecuted under new laws introduced 18 months ago. And though Turkey has long had restrictions on its writers, it seems that, with Turkey undergoing a real identity crisis over whether to seek EU membership, there's never been more at stake. We'll be sure to watch the case.
This is Li Wufeng, China's top Internet cop.
A quiet man who fidgets in his seat and whose voice is at times nearly inaudible, Li is the director-general of China's State Council Information Office (SCIO), the agency in charge of regulating Internet content inside China. I and a handful of other Western journalists met with Li for an hour today in the SCIO's main office in Beijing.
Li started by giving us the latest stats on China's Internet presence. They are impressive, including 120 million Internet users and 30 million bloggers. Staggering numbers, particularly considering the extent to which the Chinese state continues to control the Internet. This is a subject Li pooh-poohs. In fact, by his account, China not only doesn't censor the Internet, it doesn't even know how.
We have neither the technology nor the manpower" to censor or filter the Internet, Li told us. "We have just dozens of people in the Internet affairs bureau. Half of them are here today [in the room]," he added.
It was a strange denial, especially considering the large amount of time Li spent more or less defending China's Internet censorship. Repeatedly pressed by the journalists in the room, Li said that "it is an international practice to regulate or filter the Internet" and that "China has adopted the international practice ... just like the United States." I told Li that I found it hard to believe that China does not have the technology or manpower to censor or filter the Web, particularly given the large number of high-profile cases, including, by some accounts, the blocking of nytimes.com and some human rights Web sites from within China. Li went on the defensive. "We have our own choice of the Internet content" within China, he said. "If someone is shouting bad things about me from outside my window, I have the right to close that window." Sound strangely like an admission? It did to me, too.
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