Archive for July, 2009

LOVE OF INFO

July 7, 2009

freedom if informationJack London’s story “Love of Life” tells about a man in the North American tundra who sprained his ankle and was left behind by his friend to die amidst the deserted snows. However, the man survived – being eventually noticed and picked up by members of a scientific expedition on a whale-ship. Even though after some time he felt and looked quite healthy, he developed a permanent insatiable appetite — because of his almost having starved to death during that ordeal. The hunger never left him. A quotation from the story gives a very vivid description of the problem:

“…when he sat at table with the scientific men and ship’s officers…he gloated over the spectacle of so much food, watching it anxiously as it went into the mouths of others. With the disappearance of each mouthful an expression of deep regret came into his eyes. He was quite sane, yet he hated those men at meal-time. He was haunted by a fear that the food would not last. He inquired of the cook, the cabin-boy, the captain, concerning the food stores. They reassured him countless times; but he could not believe them, and pried cunningly about the lazarette to see with his own eyes…”

I remembered the story while reading this morning’s reports about the Chinese authorities suppressing the uprising of Uiguhrs in the western region of Xinjiang. China’s central government took all the usual steps to enshrine its version of events as received wisdom: it crippled Internet service; blocked Twitter’s micro-blogs; purged search engines of unapproved references to the violence; saturated the Chinese media with the state-sanctioned story.

YouTube remained blocked in China this week. Officials are systematically tearing down satellite dishes across the region, eliminating uncensored foreign television and radio broadcasts.

Cellphone calls to Urumqi and nearby areas are largely blocked. A Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Fanfou, is running, but Urumqi-related searches are blocked.

Chinese search engines no longer give replies for searches related to the violence. Results of a Google search on Monday for “Xinjiang rioting” turned up many links that had already been deleted on such well-trafficked Chinese Internet forums as Mop and Tianya.

State television has focused primarily on scenes of violence directed against China’s ethnic Han majority. Chinese news Web sites carry official accounts of the unrest, but readers are generally blocked from posting comments.

……………………..

When  Mikhail Gorbachev abolished the information control in the Soviet Union I was working on my dissertation at the Lenin Library in Moscow.Once I decided to test the system and asked a librarian for The Times. I was pleasantly surprised to receive it within a few minutes – without any applications written or any special permits issued. After reading through several articles I raised my head and looked round. I could not believe that I was in the heart of Moscow reading critical (!) matter about the U.S.S.R. and its leaders. In the same way I found it rather unusual to listen to Radio Liberty without it being jammed.

Since that time I have started being afraid.  I fear that I may be deprived of the opportunity to get an immediate knowledge about the world and about what is going on in it. The younger generation who have not been through the times of the “iron curtain” may find my fears unsubstantiated. However – after this Chinese clampdown on the freedom of information – aren’t I right in suspecting that things can make a U-turn? And no matter how much comforting the reassurances can be, I’ll keep watching the “food stores”,  I’ll “pry cunningly about the lazarette to see with my own eyes” and… toll the alarm bell if the food is not found.

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EVERY MAN HIS OWN DOCTOR

July 6, 2009

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My son, who works in England, travelled all the way from the North of the country to London to have his passport renewed at the Ukrainian Embassy. At the Embassy he was told that the new passport could not be issued because “the printer is out of work”.

A seemingly unrelated case took place in a sleepy Ukrainian hollow where a drunken parliamentarian murdered a local person. The case surfaced and started being discussed widely in the media only because there were two competing factions in Parliament and the parliamentarian in question belonged to one of them.  However, law-enforcing bodies – instead of apprehending the culprit – did their best to get him off the hook. At the moment the murderer is in hiding.

In actual fact, the two cases have one common basis: the “upper crust’s”  ostentatious disdain to ordinary people and the disregard of the people’s needs and afflictions.  It’s a clear loss of standards of what is right or just. The absence of moral. A sign of society’s disintegration.

What may be the recipe? To carry one’s own weapon for self-defense… Or to come to the Embassy with one’s own printer…


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