Tag Archives: Globalization

Now Beijing is going after puns

Seems the language purity police in Beijing are going after anyone having fun with words. (Nowhere to Pun Amid Crackdown on Wordplay)

The official target seems to be advertising copy that plays on famous Chinese idioms. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television calls these puns and twisted words an affront to Chinese culture.

The problem is that wordplay is a classic form of Chinese humor.

For example, a standard greeting in Mandarin for the New Year is Gong Xi Fa Cai (Wishing you wealth.) But by making a small change to Gong Xi Bai Cai (Wishing you white cabbage), you can bring down the house. (And it works in Cantonese as well.)

Of course, the real target might be the millions of Netizens who use puns to attack government officials and policies.

One of the classic plays is using May 35 (5/35) to denote June 4, the day in 1989 of the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square. (Of course, eventually the censors began blocking “May”, “35”, and “35th”.

The Grass-Mud Horse is a great example of how the Netizens in China started wordplay to express their feelings toward the government.

One of my favorites is bird anus. This one is dedicated to government spokesman Qín Gāng.

Because the names of government leaders and officials often become sensitive words, netizens frequently invent creative (and pejorative) homonyms to sidestep scrutiny and censorship. A career diplomat, Qin Gang (秦刚) has held a number of official posts at China’s Foreign Ministry since 1992. He is currently a ministry spokesperson and head of the ministry’s information department. The characters in his name are homophonic with those meaning “bird anus.” A netizen explains why this nickname fits Qin:

The anus is from where one farts and shits. In other words, if the bird wants to fart, the anus must let the fart pass—the anus cannot decide what kind of fart to fart. That is why he is called “Bird Anus.” [In Chinese “to fart” can also mean “to speak nonsense.”]

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

TOR: Software that helps keep journalists safe

TOR is a piece of software that was developed by the US Navy and then got support for further improvements and distribution by the Electronic Frontier, Google and the State Department. (Here is a short video explanation at MIT.) 

The value of TOR is that its encrypts data that allows human rights activists and journalists to get around the censorship and monitoring of dictatorships. It is such a robust piece of encryption software that even the NSA has been unable to crack it.

IFEX interviewed  Andrew Lewman, Executive Director of the TOR Project.

Keeping writers safe online: An interview with the Tor Project

 

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Press Freedom at Lowest Point in Decade

Freedom House released its 2014 Press Freedom Report today. And the news is not good for lovers of free and independent media.

The decline was driven in part by major regression in several Middle Eastern states, including Egypt, Libya, and Jordan; marked setbacks in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa; and deterioration in the relatively open media environment of the United States.

“We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments’ efforts to control the message and punish the messenger,” said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report. “In every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters, blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists.”

A quick glance at the map makes it clear that press freedom is in danger. (FYI: Green is good! And you will notice that there is blessed little green on this map.)

You can view the panel discussion when the report was released here:

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Freedom of access, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

Indian polling schedule

Just a quick follow up for those who have yet to grasp that the Indian election — with its 850 million voters — is a big thing, visit the website of the Election Commission of India to see the when, how and where of the voting.

Just FYI: This is offered because so few US media outlets have thought it worthwhile to report on this election. To use Vice President Biden’s phrase: “This really is a big fucking deal!”

India schedule

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Filed under Connections, India, International News Coverage

Did John Oliver hit the mark on US coverage of the Indian election?

The online New York Times has a series of blog and news postings about news from around the world. Nida Najar from India posted a blistering (and well-deserved) attack on the US media’s lack of coverage of India’s election. And the attack was based on a bit done by former The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver: John Oliver on the American Media’s India Blind Spot

And sure enough, a quick Google Search of “Indian Election 2014″ does not yield one U.S. media outlet reporting on the election.

In a way this is not surprising. Oliver points to the McLaughlin Group as the only news show that discussed the election, only to have it being dismissed by the host as irrelevant because “it’s not even in our hemisphere.” (For once I found myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan: “It’s 800 million voters! More than 1 billion people!”)

For the political and economic well being of the United States, India matters. (I can be snarky: The importance if India is well beyond tech support. Where do you think you are calling when your computer crashes?)

India is the 11th most important trading partner with the United States, accounting for 1.7 percent of all US trade. That puts it in the same neighborhood as France, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

Most of what the US sell to India are not raw materials or agricultural products but finished goods that require good jobs:

  • Misc. manufactured commodities
  • Transportation equipment
  • Chemicals
  • Computer and electronic products

So, yes, the US needs to be informed and aware of what is going on in India, if for no other reason, because our economic well being depends on it.

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Filed under India, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade

Lack of Free Media and Free Elections: Subtext to Missing Malaysia Jet

Loads of people are speculating as to what happened to MH370.  The speculation has so dominated the news that satirist Andy Borowitz noted CNN APOLOGIZES FOR BRIEFLY AIRING NON-FLIGHT 370 STORY.

All joking aside, while the media report every bit of information put out by the Malaysian government (and others), the shortcomings of that information are clear.

The leadership of the primary countries initially involved in the search — Malaysia, Vietnam and China — were hesitant to reveal information at first, partly because — as we all know — initial information often wrong needs to be corrected or fine-tuned.

In the end, for these governments to admit they made errors could undermine their authority. You see, none of these three governments rule by the consent of the people. Media are strictly regulated. Independent sources of information to challenge and question the authorities are virtually non-existent. And opposition leaders are tossed in jail.

The New York Times touched on this issue — at least as far as Malaysia goes — March 12: Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny.

The article points to all the factors that made — make — the Malaysian government nervous about their current situation in the international spotlight:

  1. Authoritarian laws that keep the opposition in check
  2. Policies that favor the ethnic Malays
  3. A patronage system that excludes Indians and Chinese from policy positions. (Combined these groups constitute a majority)

What was missed in the article is the highly censored media.

The Malaysian government has never had to face hard questions from local reporters. And if they get questioned too fiercely by opposition parties, the leadership of those parties find themselves in jail such as Anwar Ibraham and Karpal Singh.

Malaysia is listed as having media that are Not Free by Freedom House. As are China and Vietnam.

Perhaps there is nothing that any country could do in the search for MH370. What is clear, however, is that the the initial three main players in the search were unable to deal with the situation, partially out of fear of being corrected later. Maybe they figured that questioning the veracity of one agency could lead to questions about other agencies and eventually the government itself.

It is odd how countries with no fair elections or free media fear any questions about the effectiveness of government agencies. (Look at the NYT article to see how the Malaysian government reacted.)

So that is the subtext to the search for MH370: The lack of free media and unfettered political opposition makes the governments look ineffective. In other words, it makes them less stable. And so, information is fragmented or withheld out of fear.

On another note:

As noted above, the Borowitz Report mentioned at the top pointed out how the US media have been all over the story. That piece was satire. But nothing, Borowitz could think of could have matched what CNN’s Don Lemon did. This was perhaps an all-time low for CNN when Lemon wondered if the disappearance was related to supernatural forces

UPDATE (3/19 18:32)

Okay, Fox News beat CNN for silliness.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer went on about how long it is taking to find the plane. He cited 100 years for the Titanic and 2,000 years for Noah’s Ark.

Yep. Hemmer cited a long-debunked claim that Noah’s Ark was found in Turkey. (Even Fox News knows the Ark story was a fake.)

The competition between CNN and Fox continues.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship, China, Connections, Freedom of access, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Trade & education: Foreign and domestic connections

Gallup released a study that showed a majority of Americans see view foreign trade as a positive, with 54% seeing opportunities for economic growth through exports, while only 34% see a threat from imports.

While there are some partisan differences in how trade is seen, the real divide is in education levels. The survey showed  college graduates and those with postgraduate education are more likely to see foreign trade as an opportunity for growth than those with no college or even some college education.

Trade as opportunity by education

What does this mean?

  1. It means that at least more people are seeing that international connections — via trade — are important.
  2. It shows that a large group of the American people are either not receiving or are not processing information about international trade.

To be sure, the current international trade situation does indeed hurt those without higher education.

The United States primarily exports agriculture products (and farmers need a lot of education to keep doing their job) and high-end finished products. Most of the low-skill related jobs that can be exported have long left the U.S. market. So it is to be expected that those with less education would feel more threatened than those who have higher education and advanced work skills.

Part of the debate over trade is not as simple as “They are shipping our jobs overseas” and “Exports=jobs.” Both are true but there is a lot of grey between these points.

Companies will always go to where they can get the best economic value for their product. If that means it is cheaper to make something in China or Vietnam and ship it to the States than to make it in the States, they will do that. (Interestingly, there is a big move by companies to move back to the US so they can be closer to their market. Again, unfortunately for the less educated, less trained workers, these returning companies are using robotic and other high-tech methods to be competitive. That means higher-skills are needed for the new American jobs.)

And if higher skills are needed, then higher education — even if it is a two-year community college program — is needed for the workforce.

So what is needed in the trade debate is some discussion of this basic point: For America to compete in the global market, education is a key element.

Unfortunately this is missed by the loud proponents of free trade and loud no trade advocates. And it is missed by too many reporters covering the issue.

Too often trade stories focus on the backroom dealings at Doha or just the numbers. These are simple stories that do not connect to the people on Main Street. Likewise, no effort seems to be made to connect issues that appear domestic  — such as the need for more access to training and higher education — with the international story.

Trade is an international issue as well as a domestic issue. And because American exports depend on an educated and well-trained workforce, that makes education an international issue as well as a domestic one.

 

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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas, Trade