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Freedom

A picture from Hong Kong worth a thousand words

Monday, 17 June, 2019

The people of Hong Kong identify far more with their city than with mainland China and they have a very different concept of “freedom” than the autocrats in Beijing. The core values Hong Kongers cherish include the universal values of judicial independence, civil rights and press freedom, but these are listed by China as among the “seven unmentionables,” putting Hong Kongers on the frontline of a dangerous clash between liberty and the Communist Party’s need for total control.

Protest becomes rebellion in the eyes of Beijing when the masses take to the streets to demonstrate against proposed extradition legislation, and this is mortally dangerous because those who took part in the killing of thousands of protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 are now in a position to send in the tanks against today’s protesters in Hong Kong. Regardless of what happens, however, this remarkable image of people in Hong Kong demanding and defending freedom will remain.

Hong Kong protests

Note: More than 25 percent of Hong Kong’s population of 7.4 million people protested at the weekend. By proportion, these are the largest protests in modern history.


Down with Article 13, which is now Article 17!

Saturday, 23 March, 2019

The EU, despite its enormous bureaucracy and budgets, has singularly failed to produce an Apple, a Google, an Amazon, a Facebook, a Twitter, an Instagram, a Microsoft, an Adobe, a Whatsapp, a Reddit, a Procore, a Wikipedia…. The list goes on and on and on and on and on.

Despite its enormous budgets and bureaucracy, though, the EU is very good at one thing when it comes to technology: the shakedown. If it’s not European tech and it’s really popular, fine it. That’s the thinking in Brussels, and this has turned out to be a rather nice little earner over the past decade.

The latest scam is a proposed reform of EU of copyright law (PDF). Brussels claims this would force internet platforms to share revenues with artists by forcing the likes of Google and Facebook to pay publishers for displaying news snippets and removing copyright-protected content from YouTube or Instagram. The platforms would have to sign licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers, authors, publishers and journalists to use their work online. To do this, the platforms would have to install filters to prevent users uploading copyrighted material, but these algorithms might not see the joke in Hitler’s comments about Boris Johnson. And the filters are seen by many as the thin end of an EU wedge to throttle free speech and impose Brussels-like dreariness upon a creative continent.

The European Parliament is set to have its final vote on the proposals next Tuesday and protests against the legislation are scheduled across Europe today. The demonstrations are being organized by the Save Your Internet campaign, which has labelled the legislation “a massive threat to the free exchange of opinions and culture online.” So, sign up, hit the streets and sing along.


Cold War II: America vs. China

Wednesday, 10 October, 2018

A year ago, the President of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, was the pride of China — local boy done good, sort of thing. Then, while visiting his homeland last week, he vanished. Gone Guy. As far as we know, he’s being held under a new form of detention called liuzhi, or “retention in custody.” Under liuzhi, people can be denied access to legal counsel or families for as long as six months. Within that time frame, the thugs of the National Supervisory Commission will extract the desired confessions. Most in the West are still in denial about the true nature of the so-called “People’s Republic,” but one man has decided to speak up. He’s Mike Pence, the US Vice President.

Mike Pence Announces Cold War II” was the headline on an opinion piece yesterday in the Wall Street Journal by Walter Russell Mead. Snippet:

Imperialism and all reactionaries are all paper tigers, 1965 “The Trump administration’s China policy swam into view, and it’s a humdinger. Vice President Mike Pence gave a guide to the approach in a speech last week at the Hudson Institute (where I am a fellow). Denouncing what he called China’s ‘whole of government’ approach to its rivalry with the U.S., Mr. Pence vowed the Trump administration will respond in kind. He denounced China’s suppression of the Tibetans and Uighurs, its ‘Made in China 2025’ plan for tech dominance, and its ‘debt diplomacy’ through the Belt and Road initiative. The speech sounded like something Ronald Reagan could have delivered against the Soviet Union: Mr. Xi, tear down this wall! Mr. Pence also detailed an integrated, cross-government strategy to counter what the administration considers Chinese military, economic, political and ideological aggression.

In the same week as the vice president’s speech, Navy plans for greatly intensified patrols in and around Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea were leaked to the press. Moreover, the recently-entered trilateral U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was revealed to have a clause discouraging trade agreements between member countries and China. The administration indicated it would seek similar clauses in other trade agreements. Also last week, Congress approved the Build Act, a $60 billion development-financing program designed to counter China’s Belt and Road strategy in Africa and Asia. Finally, the White House issued a report highlighting the danger that foreign-based supply chains pose to U.S. military capabilities in the event they are cut off during a conflict.

Any one of these steps would have rated banner headlines in normal times; in the Age of Trump, all of them together barely registered. But this is a major shift in American foreign policy.”

China is a mortal enemy of democracy and freedom. It’s time for people to shout this from the rooftops.

Imperialism and all reactionaries are all paper tigers, 1965


Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the “No Platform” thugs

Tuesday, 6 February, 2018 0 Comments

“I am among those who have been ‘de-platformed’ for speaking critically about the political and ideological aspects of Islam that are not compatible with American values and human rights. The usual justification for disinviting us is that speaking critically of Islam is ‘hate speech’ that is ‘hurtful’ to Muslims.”

So writes Ayaan Hirsi Ali in “The ‘No Platform’ Brigade,” which is published in the Hoover Institution Journal. “The practice of de-platforming must end not just for the sake of politeness but for critical thinking,” she notes, and adds: “Free thought, free speech, and a free press were at the core of Western Civilization’s success.”

Despite the increasing intolerance of the Left and its fundamentalist Islamist allies, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not for turning: “However uncomfortable free speech about Islam may be for some people, enforcing silence on the subject will do nothing to help those who are genuinely oppressed — above all the growing number of Muslim dissidents around the world whose courageous questioning of their own faith risks death at the hands of the very Islamists whose feelings progressives are so desperate not to hurt.”

Background: Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu in 1969 and she was subjected to female genital mutilation as a child. Ayaan Hirsi Ali Initially, she was a devout Muslim, but she began to question her faith and, as she tells it, one day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she asked, “Must our husbands obey us too?” In 1992, she fled to the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage was given asylum and, later citizenship. From 2003 to 2006, she served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament and her name gained international attention in 2004 following the murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh’s chest and, increasingly disillusioned with the Netherlands, she moved to the United States. She lives now with round-the-clock security because her determination to speak out against fundamentalism has made her a target for Islamic extremists.


A Persian Spring?

Saturday, 30 December, 2017 0 Comments

“The protests started Thursday in Mashhad, Iran’s second-most populous city, ostensibly as a revolt against rising prices, corruption and unemployment. The demonstrations soon spread across the country and have grown into a broader display of discontent with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani’s repressive regime. Twitter has been a venue for videos of the protests in various cities, with demonstrators shouting slogans like ‘Death to the dictator!'”

That’s from The Wall Street Journal and the story is titled, “New Protests in Iran: Demonstrations spread against the regime and its imperial adventures“. Our sincere hope now for 2018 is a Persian Spring.

The image below is from 1979. That was the year liberals and leftists and feminists in the West failed to support the women of Iran in their struggle against religious oppression in the name of cultural tolerance and moral relativism. Let’s not let it happen again.

Women in Iran protest against Islamic oppression


Going to Dunkirk

Thursday, 27 July, 2017 0 Comments

Going to the new Christopher Nolan film, that is.

The British retreat to the coastal French town of Dunkirk in late May 1940 was a key moment of the Second World War. Several hundred thousand British and Allied troops were encircled by the Germans. Had Hitler attacked, he would have captured a quarter of a million men, stripping Britain of its army and putting enormous pressure on London to enter into peace talks with Berlin. But the Germans didn’t attack. Their nine Panzer divisions stopped outside Dunkirk. And the British were able to start their evacuation from the beaches with the result that most of the their troops got home. Some 300,000 men were rescued — two thirds British, the rest French.

As the exhausted troops were disembarking along the south-eastern coast of England, the five members of Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet met on 27 May to discuss entering into peace negotiations with Germany. Churchill was passionately against any such move, but the foreign minister, Lord Halifax, was for talks as he felt England’s negotiating position was stronger with France still in the war. He also believed that Britain’s goal should not be to fight Germany, but rather to preserve as much independence as possible in a peaceful coexistence.

During the following day’s Cabinet meeting, however, the tide turned in favour of Churchill when he declared absolutely that there would be no surrender, and that as long as he was in office, he would never negotiate with the Nazis. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” he declared, “let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.”

He was thinking of the 68,111 killed, wounded or captured British troops at Dunkirk.


Cuba libre!

Saturday, 26 November, 2016 0 Comments

The national cocktail of Cuba tastes best when raising a toast to freedom. But there’s more to it than just cola, rum and lime; it’s all in the way you make that Cuba libre.

Ingredients:

1 part Bacardi Oro rum
2 wedges of lime
2 parts Coca Cola
Ice cubes

How to mix: Fill a long glass with ice. Squeeze and drop the lime wedges into the glass, coating the ice well with the juices. Pour in the Bacardi, top up with chilled Coke and stir gently. Now, say, Cuba libre! And remember: Fidel Castro imprisoned and impoverished his nation. He was one of the most evil men of his time. Sic semper tyrannis.

Cuba libre


The memory hole in Europe and China

Wednesday, 16 March, 2016 0 Comments

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the “memory hole” is a slot into which government officials deposit politically incorrect documents to be incinerated. Thoughts of Orwell’s warning were awakened by two recent occurrences, one minor, one major. Let’s start with the minor. A Google search of this blog for references to Steve Jobs produces a results page that ends with the notification: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” This is a consequence of the EU’s “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling, which is Orwellian in its implications.

Now, the major matter. A week ago, the Hong Kong Free Press reported that “All traces of Hong Kong English language newspaper the South China Morning Post have been wiped from social media platforms in China.” The writer, Karen Cheung, added the Orwellian aspect with this ominous sentence: “The paper’s disappearance from Chinese social media came weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to tighten control over the news in China, saying that ‘state media must be surnamed Party.'”

As an ex-English teacher, Alibaba’s Jack Ma must be familiar with the works of Orwell. If his bid for the South China Morning Post goes through, he may be tempted to complete its descent into the memory hole. Why would Ma want to buy the paper? “Maybe he’s been told to,” speculates Big Lychee. Orwellian.

Censor


Rumsfeld develops an app at 83, posts on Medium

Tuesday, 26 January, 2016 0 Comments

Harold Wilson, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is supposed to have said “A week is a long time in politics.” And it’s true. Just look at those Clinton-Sanders poll predictions from Iowa. The same could be said of the internet, except the window is narrower. A day online is the digital equivalent of the political week: “24 hours is a long time on the web.” Yesterday, we were quoting Dave Winer’s blog post titled Anywhere but Medium and who is posting on Medium now? Donald Rumsfeld. “At 83, I Decided to Develop an App” writes the nemesis of Saddam. The app is called Churchill Solitaire and it has a fascinating back story that involves Hitler, a young Belgian government aide named André de Staercke and, of course, Sir Winston. Snippet:

“Churchill Solitaire is a game that is a host of contradictions — simple yet complicated; frustrating yet fun. Now it lives on for a new generation — a fitting tribute to a great man. And starting this week, it is available to the world on the AppStore and will soon be coming to other platforms.

I can’t say if this is the last app I’ll ever be involved in — after all, I’m only 83! But it is safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to worry about.”

Whatever one thinks of Donald Rumsfeld, one should be willing to accept the wisdom of the opening statement of his Medium post: “Among the things one learns as time passes is that everyone has to age, but not everyone has to get old. One of the best ways to stay young is to keep learning.”


It is 2022 and the votes are being counted in France

Tuesday, 17 November, 2015 0 Comments

On the day that Michel Houellebecq’s Submission was published in France, two Islamist terrorists stormed into the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and murdered 12 people, including eight journalists. Among the dead was the economist Bernard Maris, one of Houellebecq’s closest friends. The tragedy and the coincidence were interpreted as a portent, but nobody could agree as to its significance. Conspiracy theorists wondered if Houellebecq had not somehow provoked the attack. The fact that the publication date of the book had been signaled long in advance did nothing to deter them.

Submission transports readers to the year 2022 as the votes are being counted after the French general election. Marine Le Pen and her Front National are neck-and-neck with the Muslim Brotherhood, led by a charismatic grocer’s son, Mohammed Ben Abbes. The Socialists, under Manuel Valls, decide to form a coalition with the Brotherhood to keep Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace, but negotiations are tricky. One evening during the talks, François, the narrator, meets a friend whose husband works for the DGSI intelligence service, and the three discuss politics with the aid of port. Snippet:

“But what do they want?”
“They want every French child to have the option of a Muslim education, at every level of schooling. Now, however you look at it, a Muslim education is very different from a secular one. First off, no co-education. And women would be allowed to study only certain things. What the Muslim Brotherhood really wants is for most women to study Home Economics, once they finish junior school, then get married as soon as possible, with a small minority studying art or literature first. Sottomissioni That’s their vision of an ideal society. Also, every teacher would have to be Muslim. No exceptions. Schools would observe Muslim dietary laws and the five daily prayers; above all, the curriculum itself would have to reflect the teachings of the Koran.”
“You think the Socialists will give in?”
“The haven’t got much of a choice. If they don’t reach an agreement, they don’t have a chance against the National Front. Even if they do reach an agreement, the National Front could still win. You’ve seen the polls…”

“Are your sure? That sounds so drastic…”
“Quite sure. It’s all been settled. And it is exactly in line with the theory of minority sharia, which the Muslim Brotherhood has always embraced. So they could something similar with education. Public education would still be available to everyone though with vastly reduced funding. The national budget would be slashed by two-thirds at least, and this time the teachers wouldn’t be able to stop it. In the current economic climate, any budget cut is bound to play well at the polls.”

All of this bores François, who Houellebecq depicts as a caricature of the Western middle class: smug, agnostic, narcissistic, alcohol-addicted and sex-preoccupied. But there’s no smoke without fire. The question at the core of the story is how will he manage when his world is engulfed by the approaching wave of zealotry. Sink or swim? If ever there was a book for our times, Submission is it.


Thermopylae today

Sunday, 5 July, 2015 0 Comments

Thermopylae is famed for the battle that took place there in 480 BC, in which an outnumbered Greek force (including 300 Spartans) held off a substantially larger army of Persians under Xerxes. In his poem Thermopylae, C.P. Cavafy points out that although the Greeks knew they would be defeated, they were not deterred. They fought and died for their principles. Cavafy says that if we have values, we should defend them even if we know there is the danger of failure, loss and betrayal.

Thermopylae

Honour to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they are rich, and when they are poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honour is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance,
that the Medes will break through after all.

(translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

C.P. Cavafy