Monday, August 31, 2009

Beijing in "lockdown" ahead of National Day

The centre of Beijing was under a virtual lockdown over the weekend as tens of thousands of people rehearsed for a huge parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. From around 20:00 on Friday traffic was halted along the Avenue of Eternal Peace, the main thoroughfare running through Beijing. And pedestrian access to many streets surrounding Tiananmen Square was barred as the square itself filled with participants of the National Day parade.
The security blanket remained in place until Sunday with cordons and police manning checkpoints around the square. The aim, apart from disrupting traffic, was to keep a veil of secrecy around the October 1st celebrations. Some details have leaked out however. The pageant will include more tan 200,000 participants, including members of the People's Liberation Army, who will march through Beijing in a little of a month's time. The parade will showcase the latest military hardware, and fighter jets will pass overhead. Dozens of floats will also head along the main streets of Beijing as mosaics of Chinese characters will be held aloft by hundreds of schoolchildren in te square itself. One teenager told the Times of London that it took 16,000 pupils holding up cards just to make the first of the two characters for "country". According to Wikileaks other statements will read "Long live the Communist Party of China", "Rejuvenate our country through science and education" and "Tomorrow will be better".
Security is already being tightened across China, with tens of thousands of extra police on duty and additional checks across the Beijing underground system. X-ray machines are sited at all subway stations and in major venues and there is a sharply increased visible police presence across the cit. Checkpoints around the capital have been reactivated for the first time since last year's Olympics and more than 80,000 residents have been recruited for a two-month crime-watch campaign to ensure nothing goes wrong on the big day. Even AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] style aircraft have been spotted in the skies over the capital.
Over the weekend there were dozens of highly visible armed police units in addition to the regular police and security near Tiananmen Square. And security surrounding the square itself was extremely tight with military and police guarding all access points.
Xinhua reported the first round of rehearsals, there will be more, as success. Only state media were allowed access to the area and there were a few pictures shown on the state news broadcaster CCTV. For members of the public there was little to see other than empty streets surrounding the city centre, and a few search lights lighting up the sky on Sunday evening.
Apart from the fireworks which may well be seen several blocks away, few ordinary citizens are likely to get a close up view of the parade on the actual day. One Beijinger told tvnewswatch, "the best place to view it will be in your living room on your TV." Much like the Olympics this will be an invitation and ticket only 'made for television' event.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Space shuttle Discovery finally lifts off

Space shuttle Discovery finally lifted off the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today after two previous hitches delayed the mission. Storms and technical issues delayed two earlier attempts this week. STS-128 lifted of at 23:59 ET on Friday local time [03:39 GMT Saturday]. Discovery will carry the Leonardo supply module to the International Space Station and deliver new crew member Nicola Stott to replace Tim Kopra who moved into the ISS during STS-127. The crew of Discovery will also diliver refrigerator sized racks of equipment, including the COLBERT treadmill, exercise devicce named after the US comedian Stephen Colbert.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy dies age 77

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May 2008 has died. He was 77 years old.

Labelled the "Lion of the Senate", Kennedy became a member of the Senate in 1962 to replace his brother when he resigned to become president, and was re-elected seven times. He has been an active supporter of current President Barack Obama. The Kennedy family announced his death in a brief statement in the early hours of Wednesday.

Edward Kennedy was the only one of four brothers to die a natural death. His brother Joseph was killed in an air crash in World War II, and both President John F Kennedy and presidential hopeful Robert F Kennedy were assassinated.

Tributes to the senator have already been pouring in. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan says she is "terribly saddened; Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground and they had great respect." Senator Harry Reid said the US Senate had 'lost its patriarch'. Governor Schwarzenegger said, "Teddy inspired our country through his dedication and his devotion to a life of public service." Meanwhile the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Kennedy would be mourned "on every continent". The former Prime Minister Tony Blair also praised the senator and said his prayers were with Ted Kennedy's family.

A statement from the Kennedy family said. "Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever."

Shuttle launch delayed again

The launch of Space shuttle Discovery has been delayed once again, this time due to a problem with a liquid hydrogen valve. Yesterday [Tuesday] NASA scrubbed an early morning launch due to storms in the vicinity of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Discovery had intended to lift off at 01:10 ET [05:10 GMT] today on its mission to deliver refrigerator-sized racks full of equipment, including the COLBERT treadmill, an exercise device named after U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert. 

NASA is now targeting space shuttle Discovery for a launch attempt Friday morning at 0:22 ET [04:22 GMT] according to mission management team Chairman Mike Moses. Engineers will evaluate a liquid hydrogen valve that developed problems during tanking operations Tuesday evening. Detailed test data about the valve will be examined before Discovery's fuel tank is loaded with propellant ahead of Friday morning's launch attempt.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Discovery launch delayed by storms

The launch of Space shuttle Discovery has been delayed by bad weather. Storms in the area of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida began to dissipate around 30 minutes prior to launch. However it was not enough for NASA officials to give an all clear. With lightning storms less than five miles from the launch pad and low cloud hanging overhead the mission will be postponed until Wednesday at 01:10 ET [05:10 GMT]. The mission was intended to deliver the Leonardo supply module to the International Space Station [ISS]. The mission, code named STS-128, was also due take a new crew member to the station, Nicole Stott.

Discovery, commanded by veteran astronaut Rick "C.J." Sturckow, is also due to deliver refrigerator-sized racks full of equipment, including the COLBERT treadmill, an exercise machine named after US comedian Stephen Colbert.

When Discovery finally takes off Stott will take the place of Tim Kopra, who moved into the ISS during STS-127. Pilot Kevin Ford and Mission Specialists Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez, John "Danny" Olivas and Sweden's Christer Fuglesang also complement the crew.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Google forced to reveal blogger, angers privacy groups

Google, the Internet search giant, has been obliged to reveal the identity of a blogger who called magazine model Liskula Cohen [pictured], amongst other things, a skank. Using a US court to force Google to reveal the identity of the blogger has for some established a troubling legal precedent. Although the judge did not rule the wording in the blog constituted defamation, he said that another court might make such a ruling and therefore the identity of the blogger would need to be revealed in order to allow a separate case to proceed.

Such cases have occurred before according to a site developed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation amongst others. The organization says such cases are "threatening to overturn the promise of anonymous online speech and chill the freedom of expression that is central to the online world. CyberSLAPP cases typically involve a person who has posted anonymous criticisms of a corporation or public figure on the Internet. The target of the criticism then files a frivolous lawsuit just so they can issue a subpoena to the Web site or Internet Service Provider (ISP) involved, discover the identity of their anonymous critic, and intimidate or silence them."

Others are more critical. Paul Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum in San Diago said bluntly, "You can get a really beautiful model and a sympathetic judge, it's a lightning strike situation that can set precedent. We're watching this really closely and we're concerned about this. This is the really tough intersection between free speech and defamation" Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, said of the Cohen case, "The notion that you can use the court as your personal private investigator to out anonymous critics is a dangerous precedent to set. This doesn't change the rules ... but I think the practical impact is that litigious people will see this as a green light to try to out critics."

Much of the case hinges on whether the comments could rise to the level of defamation, which requires the statements to be provably false. The difficulty is that a relatively modern word like 'skank,' while clearly derogatory, does not necessarily have a defined meaning. Wikipedia returns several references, including a dance related to ska, grime and hardcore punk, a Brazilian pop band and a technique of muting some strings yet playing the strings adjacent to the unmuted strings. The dictionary definitions referred to are a slang term for slut and another for cheating. Even slut may have several non-definable meanings, ranging from a pejorative term meaning an individual who is sexually promiscuous an insult or offensive term of disparagement, meaning dirty or slovenly. It may also be used as an expression of pride in oneself or envy at the sexual successes of others.

How far this case develops is unclear. It is also unclear how far this precedent might extend, which is what concerns many privacy groups. Will politicians look to unmask bloggers that accuse them of being brain dead, in bed with corporate interests or other demonstrably false things? have set up a legal guide for bloggers and a number of tips on their website. According to EFF, The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the First Amendment right to speak anonymously: "author is generally free to decide whether or not to disclose his or her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one's privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be...the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author's decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment."

Internet risks

But outside the US there is constant concerns about remaining anonymous. Yahoo! has been widely criticised by Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch over the handing of information to Chinese authorities which resulted in the arrest of journalist Shi Tao and dissident Li Zhi. In December 2003 Li Zhi was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for "inciting subversion" while Shi Tao was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2006 for "providing state secrets to foreign entities". Jiang Lijun a Chinese freelance writer was also detained by the Chinese government aided by information provided by Yahoo. Arrested and detained since November 2002 for posting articles on the Internet which the government considered subversive, Jiang remains in custody despite receiving only a four year sentence. Another individual Wang Xiaoning, an engineer by profession, posted electronic journals in a Yahoo! group calling for democratic reform and an end to single-party rule. He was arrested in September 2002 after Yahoo! assisted Chinese authorities by providing information. In September 2003, Wang was convicted of charges of "inciting the overthrow of the state" and sentenced to ten years in prison.

For those using the Internet to publish ideas and thoughts there's always been an element of risk. Unsavoury or critical comments about employers on Facebook has resulted in sackings. Some Facebook users have suffered from abuse and victimisation leading in some cases to suicide. Bloggers too run the risk of being hauled over the hot coals. Many dismiss the seriousness of bloggers and Twitter users. Indeed not all are serious nor do the contributors hold to rules of professional journalistic standards. Much that is written on some blogs is little more than tittle tattle and points of view. But blogging is a democratisation of the web. Twitter too has freed the web. While of course the veracity of information cannot always be immediately established, the reputation of individual bloggers and Twitter users is changing the face of citizen journalism.

Internet restrictions

While it may not be an immediate threat to the likes of CNN, BBC, Reuters and others, the 2.0 web generation poses a great threat to certain governments around the world as they try to stifle the flow of information. In Iran during recent elections Internet restrictions were imposed, though they were not entirely successful. But in China the restrictions are far tighter. Since March this year the Chinese government has tightened its grip on the Internet. YouTube and Blogger have been inaccessible since march while most other social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and Picasa Web Albums were blocked in June. Chinese social networking sites have also been shut down. Micro-blogging sites Digu, Zuosa, Fanfou and Jiwai all remain blocked, though two Facebook style sites remain available including the popular Xiaonei website.

The blocking of news websites is sporadic. The Huffington Post was inaccessible until recently but the China Digital Times and The Epoch Times remain blocked. Danwei, a website about media, advertising, and urban life in China, also remains out of bounds to those within the People's Republic of China. Even the satirical online magazine Weekly World News is blocked. The reason is unclear though it may be linked to an August 15, 2005 article claiming that China were planing to "buy up America". Another possibility is that Xinhua, the state news agency, inadvertantly used the supermarket tabloid as the source of a story entitled "Sexy school teachers help students concentrate". The story of course was fictitious.

Chipping at the Great Firewall

Blogging and tweeting from China, despite the risks, is also difficult due to the blocks. Even the use of proxy servers does not always help. Server Errors still frequently occur. Freegate, freely distributed with the help of the US government, helps to a point, but is by no means perfect. E-mail still provides a useful tool. E-mail to blog facilitates the posting of article to Blogger, though formatting can go a little awry as readers may have noticed. Posting pictures is also problematic or impossible, and of course adding links also poses a problem. Twittering through the Great Firewall is achieved only via a proxy or by using the Twitter Gadget available for use in the Google ig page. At least it works for know. Tweetdeck no longer works and services like dabr, twitzap and other net based sites also fail to connect with twitter. But still cracks continue to appear in the wall, and recently the US company announced it was to launch "feed to email" service. While not perfect, the new technology will allow web users in countries with Internet censorship to bypass the blocks put in place by their political leaders.

One way that governments block access to information is to blacklist the unique internet protocol address used to identify "inappropriate" sites. Websites can circumvent this by changing their IP addresses, or sending users to proxy servers, which disguise which site the user is attempting to connect to. However governments are growing increasingly savvy, and China with the help of CISCO, Juniper and of course the assistance of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft are able to continuously block the new IP addresses and proxy servers as they are assigned, engaging websites in an endless and almost impossible cat-and-mouse game.

The Chinese government recently abandoned plans to roll out its Green Dam software on every computer in the country. The tool would have effectively bought censorship directly in to the home, stopping at source any searches or web use deemed inappropriate by the government. Internet cafes will still need to have the software installed however, as will computers used in schools. The US government's feed to email may be a small nail into the coffin that is the Great Firewall of China. It remains to be seen if it really begins to crack.

Back on point

As for the “psychotic, lying, whoring...skank” Liskula Cohen, her attempt to seek redress has over throwaway comments on a blog has only served to gain her negative publicity, as well as fuel the debate about Internet freedom. While some leaving their views on newspaper comment forms were applauding the decision others were far more dismissive. " It is either a libel or it isn't ... if the statement can be proved to be true, then fine, but why make defamatory statements if you can't prove them?" one Archullus writes in the Telegraph. Trebor Ebagum retorts, "Well, she does have a face like a hod carriers elbow."

Others more seriously "The web is the last bastion of free speech. Let's keep it that way. Was this woman's life in danger? Clearly no. Is she a publicity seeker? Clearly yes. Is it normal to expect that people who want to be in the public eye should attract occasional ridicule? Yes. Only in blogoshpere is everyone's comment "equal". Let's keep lawyers and famous people from using it purely to suit themselves."

Another, writing under the name M P Jones, says, "Nobody takes defamatory attacks or opinions expressed anonymously serious [sic] - they just show that the person launching them is an idiot - unless of course, there is truth to the matters raised in this manner. If so, it is not defamation. So, unless you have very, very thin skin, in itself making you an object of cyber ridicule, there is no reason to pursue anonymous bloggers. I think that the more important principle here is protecting political dissidents and whistle-blowers rather than the odd human clothes rack who has got her knickers in a twist." Well there you have it. A "psychotic, lying, whoring...skank" who looks like a "hod carriers elbow" has "got her knickers in a twist" and made herself "an object of cyber ridicule" while threatening Internet freedom and blogging anonymity to boot. Good one.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Facebook loses weight

In a move that may prove a big hit to those with slow Internet connections, Facebook has begun tests on a new lighter website. Facebook Lite, which is currently being trialled in India, is a cut-down version of the traditional graphics heavy version of the site.

The company said that the new site would be simpler to use. "Facebook Lite is a fast-loading, simplified version of Facebook that enables people to make comments, accept friend requests, write on people's walls, and look at photos and status updates," the company said in a statement. "We are currently testing Facebook Lite in countries where we are seeing lots of new users coming to Facebook for the first time and are looking to start off with a more simple experience."

Facebook has an estimated 250 million users worldwide, though many exist in Europe, the United States and Canada where Internet speeds are faster. The company hopes that by providing a service that can be used on slower connections it will attract more users. While Facebook Lite is only available in India at present, there are plans to extend this to China and Russia.

However, the move into China may prove difficult. the country has blocked many social websites including Facebook for several months and the restrictions may continue until October as preparations for the 60th anniversary of the forming of the PRC gather pace. The announcement of Facebook Lite comes within days of Facebook acquiring the content-sharing service FriendFeed, which is also blocked in China.

Meanwhile Xiaonei, China's own version of a social networking site which works similarly to Facebook, and has even been criticised for directly copying the site, remains online. The fact it remains available while Facebook remains blocked has even brought allegations by some of unfair competition and a deliberate breaking of trade rules.

Since early this year vast numbers of mostly western sites have been blocked within the Chinese mainland. YouTube and Blogger were blocked in March and in June even Hotmail, Microsoft Messenger, Google and Gmail were subject to restrictions for a short time. In late June Facebook, Twitter, Picasa web albums were also targeted and still remain inaccessible. And more recently Chinese versions of micro-blogging sites such as Digu, Zuosa, Fanfou and Jiwai have also been shut down.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, August 07, 2009

Twitter suffers from DDoS attack

In the last few hours Twitter has suffered from a Distributed Denial of Service [DDoS] attack bringing a halt to tweets across the globe. Here in China Twitter has been unavailable for some time, as have many other sites. However, there have been work arounds such as using third party apps like Tweetdeck and Google gadgets. But last night in China Twitter became inaccessible even through these services. The situation remains the same in Beijing as of 09:30 local time [01:30 GMT] and tvnewswatch is unable to access Twitter at all.

Twitter release a statement on their site saying "We are defending against a denial of service attack, and will update status again shortly". This morning the company said they were making some recovery but problems still existed.

Meanwhile, CNET has reported that the social network site Facebook has also suffered from similar problems. Internet access is increasingly difficult. Google accounts were particularly hard to access on Friday with "time-outs" and "Error" pages being returned. tvnewswatch will update the situation when it is possible to do so.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

U.S. fitness center shooting leaves four dead

Several people have been left dead and others injured following a shooting at a fitness center in Pittsburgh in the United States. Witnesses told WTAE Channel 4 Action News that a gunman entered an aerobics center and turned off the lights before opening fire. Early reports suggested at least four people were killed in the incident including the gunman. More than a dozen others are said to be injured.

The shooting happened at around 8:16 pm local time on Tuesday [0:16 GMT Wednesday] August 4, in the Collier Township near Pittsburgh in the United States, around 600 km west of New York. Within an hour the entire shopping center in which the gym is located was shut down. Reporters at the scene said as many as 15 ambulances and 20 police cars attended the incident. Several people sustained serious injuries and one local hospital said 5 women were being treated with multiple shotgun wounds.

One member of the LA Fitness center told of her panic as the gunman opened fire. The woman who gave only the name Nicole said that a middle-aged white male with a gym bag entered her Latin dance class before turning off the lights and opening fire. "It was horrible," she said. "He was only about 20 feet away from me," Nicole told WTAE-TV, "I'm not sure if he had two guns but I saw one and there was a lot of gunfire."

She said there was "uproar" as people made their escape. She also spoke of making her escape after jumping into a stranger's car [CNN].