Thursday, February 16, 2006

Doesn't It Seem Strange?

The U.S. Congress is holding hearings on Google, Yahoo, and MSN aiding the Chinese government in the suppression of human rights.

But on January 25, 2006, an article in the New York Times reported that Google is refusing to execute a subpoena by the U.S. government to surveil the Internet searches of U.S. citizens.

The justification given, by both U.S. and China governments, is that they are trying to find information on illegal activities, including terrorism and pornography, to ensure the stability and security of its citizens. What are the differences?

In the U.S., terrorism is defined mostly as those related to al Qaeda, which attacked the United States by hijacking airplanes.

In China, terrorism is defined mostly as those related to Falungong, which is a cult that tricks its followers into giving up their money, any sort of health care, and even into self-immolation.

Both governments want to protect the safety and security of their citizens. They do it by filtering web sites and search results. That is right, the U.S. government also blocks web sites if it deems those sites to violate the laws of the U.S. government, including not only terrorists but intellectual property scofflaws.

Why should "free speech" be able to trump the human rights to safety and security? The publication of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad has caused several people to die, while others have been injured. Perhaps the publishers did not know this would be the result. Hence they are not technically liable for the results. But it is clear that publication is not necessarily a right guaranteed under "free speech". In fact, the New York Times did not publish the cartoons. Perhaps Congress will convene a hearing to investigate why the Times censored its reporting? Unlikely.

There is something more going on in the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, lead by Christopher Smith. I implore Congress to stop these hearings. Instead, criticize the very fact of surveillance and filtering, and investigate the U.S. Justice Department and the myriad local police forces that have used the Internet to put people in jail. There are more than a few.

Why should Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft be held at fault for complying with the same exact laws that exist in both China and the U.S. -- the right for society to be free from intimidation, violence, and attack?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hypocrisy of Chris Smith

In the New York Times today, an article reported that Congress, and specifically the House, is excoriating tech companies Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco for their business operations in China.

From my perspective, I wonder why it is that most mp3 files, movies, and software can be distributed freely over the internet in China but not in the U.S. Those sites in China, infringing on copyrights of the record industry, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley (among others), are frequently blocked by the U.S. government. Yup, your right to access free content on the internet is restricted not in China but in the U.S. Is this a violation of your human rights?

The companies that go to China are bridging a divide. Gaining access to China, remember, only occurred in the past 25 years.

When I lived in China in 2000, the New York Times was blocked. Then, one day, it wasn't. People in China can and do read about news from the U.S. They know much more about current events in the U.S. then we do about events over there. They also know about censorship.

I understand the argument that "freedom of expression" is a fundamental right in the U.S. Indeed, without it, I might not be able to write this weblog. However, in China, it is not a fundamental right. This is not a human rights question, but a question of the relation between ideal and real.

Schooling and health care are universal human rights. But many people in the U.S. do not have health care. Does that mean the U.S. government is violating our human rights? If I have to work after high school instead of going to college in order to pay for food and living expenses, is that a violation of my human rights by the U.S. government?

In China, many pornographic and cult websites are blocked. Most news sites are not. Does this make a difference? Doesn't it matter what is blocked? Falungong is legally a (terrorist) cult in China, so its websites are blocked. Is this unreasonable?

In China, everyone knows the law is not to openly criticize the government in print, since everyone does it in daily conversation everyday (if you don't believe it, learn Chinese, go to Beijing, and take a few cab rides -- there are quite a few disgruntled cabbies). When a blogger violates this law, he/she must pay the price, just as anyone else does.

In reality, media changes nothing. The law is still the law.

If the House of Representatives wants to challenge Chinese law, that is fine. But why on earth are Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco being raked over the coals? Aren't we violating their (human) right to do business?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Superbowl Halftime

First, go Sprint. Halftime show brought to you by Sprint (together with Nextel). Buy a cell phone!

Also, I created a Chen Chunxian entry at Wikipedia. Check it out if you get a chance.

Professor Chen was an amazing person. We all know about Liu Chuanzhi, one of the founders and current Chairman of Lenovo. But Liu Chuanzhi walked down the road blazed by the late Professor Chen in 1980. Without him, Liu Chuanzhi would still be trying to determine who to promote in the cadre department of the (China) Academy of Sciences.

I think it would be worthwhile to create a Chen Chunxian monument in Zhongguancun -- probably in front of Hilon Market, the busiest market in Zhongguancun.

I met Professor Chen on October 26, 2003. Professor Chen passed away on August 11, 2004. Perhaps I was the last foreigner to visit him. Perhaps Professor Chen created the idea that high-tech, technology, was a project aimed to get science out of the lab and into people's hands. Professor Chen created the idea that a privately-run enterprise in China could use scientists to make money. Making money put technology on the street, with all the civil society and life-improvement consequences that therewith.

I will miss him.

No Negative News

I just wanted to report that there is no negative news from China today.

Perhaps it is a general trend in news reporting, or simply the nature of news itself, but the vast majority of news I get about China these days (and for the past 5 years) is negative. I do not question the "objectivity" of reporting, just the selection of topics. The site I get a lot of China stuff from is China Digital Times. Check it out for daily emails on China-related reports in the media. But let's think a little before we report another peasant uprising.

In one of the best classes I ever took, Maria Lepowsky taught us about "Anthropology by Women" (my emphasis). Although the class was 30-3 female-male, the focus was not on feminism per se, but on women: what women anthropologists have done, their influence in the field. Focusing on women is a choice of topic. Feminism, properly speaking, attacks domination and defines mainstream institutions as patriarchical. Instead, in Lepowsky's class at the University of Wisconsin, we chose to study the work of women.

In Zhongguancun, a million wonderful things happen everyday. Computers are assembled, migrants learn technical skills to fix photocopiers, the local government assists new start-up companies, and people live their lives. Most of them are happy. There is no ominous specter looming over everything.

Of course, Zhongguancun is not the countryside, which is the new "darling" of Western media reports on China. But Zhongguancun is surrounded by the countryside. In my travails in and around Zhongguancun, I had occasion to visit the countryside many times. What I encountered was not anger over land grabs or vitriol at the government. Instead, people yearned for a bigger piece of the pie. At the same time, countryfolk are extremely cognizant that life in China today is better, far better, than it was in the past.

The point of this post is only to draw attention to the fact that all the news out of China today is extremely negative. Perhaps happy peasants are not very interesting. But they far outnumber the unhappy ones. Is there a motive in reporting the bad rather than the good?