Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

The Scotsman
Mystery group wage war on Sadr's militia

In a deadly expression of feelings that until now were kept quiet, a group representing local residents is said to have killed at least five militiamen in the last four days.

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadr’s presence and come amid simmering discontent at the havoc their lawless presence has wreaked.

The group calls itself the Thulfiqar Army, after a twin-bladed sword said to be used by the Shiite martyr Imam Ali, to whom Najaf’s vast central mosque is dedicated.

Residents say leaflets bearing that name have been circulated in the city in the last week, urging Sadr’s al-Mahdi army to leave immediately or face imminent death. . . .

"It has got some of the Mahdi guys quite worried, I tell you. They are banding together more, when normally you would see them happily walking on the streets alone. I think their commanders have ordered them to do that."

via Instapundit

For more on Sadr, see the article on the Christian Science Monitor.

Several people have asked me to comment on an article in the NYT about the reaction of to the Japanese people to the three Japanese taken hostage in Iraq. The article describes how everyone including the politicians in Japan are angry at the hostages for causing trouble to the Japanese government and being irresponsible.

There are many conflicting reports about whether they were reckless or not and what their motives were so I won't comment on that. I also don't feel strongly personally on this issue so I'm not going to make a judgmental point either. What I would like to describe is a bit more background on how Japanese think about responsibility and apologies.

I think one of the things that made many Japanese I know upset were the parents of the hostages making public statements about how the government should help get the hostages back without apologizing first about causing trouble for the government. Even if they didn't believe it, it would be proper Japanese etiquette to say this first. It's quite cliche, but it's true that if you get into an automobile accident in Japan, even if you think it's probably the other person's fault, you apologize first. Japanese are warned not to do this in the US because apologizes imply responsibility. In many cases, apologies in Japan are a formality and skipping them is rather rude. I think many people thought these parents were "rude" on a national scale. Another example of a throw-away apology is that when you ask for a waiter in a restaurant, you say, "I'm sorry... or excuse me." We often apologize profusely when in doubt or are requesting any kind of favor.

An important psychological element is that even though we are individuals, we often represent the group. I have something like 16 or so generations before me on my gravestone and I often feel like a mere blip in the history of my family. Taking risk or tainting my family name is not something that I can freely do without feeling the guilt and responsibility to my ancestors.

It's also interesting to note that most Japanese children's cartoons have story lines where they are a team. Often one of the members get in trouble or drop out of the group and the whole show is about how the group tries to help the drop out get back in tune with the group. It's usually the group saving the single "problem" member. On the other hand, many American cartoons are super-heros who are independent and save the world through taking risk and being different. I know I'm generalizing here, but people who watch a lot of Japanese TV will understand what I'm saying I think.

I once talked to one of the directors of the Sumo Wrestling association. She said she always had a great deal of difficulty explaining one of the core principles of Sumo to foreigners. Sumo wrestlers are not supposed to show anguish when they lose or happiness when they win. They are to be emotionless and stoic. "Like a rooster carved out of wood," she said. This is a very central theme to many of Japanese aesthetics. This Japanese stoicism is central to much of the Japanese lack of sympathy to heroics, I think.

Although I understand what the NYT article is saying and I don't necessarily agree with the way the hostages are being treated and picked on right now, I think that lack of initial apologies and the feeling of Japanese to heroics in Japan is behind the reaction. Having said that, I think this attitude is what is hampering Japan's entrepreneurism as well as Japan's ability to participate as a leader in global affairs. It's a fairly deeply rooted cultural theme that won't change very easily though.

As usual, I'm happy to hear dissenting opinions.

Brin was no expert on international diplomacy. So he ordered a half-dozen books about Chinese history, business, and politics on Amazon.com and splurged on overnight shipping. He consulted with Schmidt, Page, and David Drummond, Google's general counsel and head of business development, then put in a call to tech industry doyenne Esther Dyson for advice and contacts. Google has no offices in China, so Brin enlisted go-betweens to get the message to Chinese authorities that Google would be very interested in working out a compromise to restore access. "We didn't want to do anything rash," Brin says. "The situation over there is more complex than I had imagined."

Four days later, Chinese authorities restored access to the site. How did that happen? For starters, the Chinese government was deluged with outcries from the nation's 46 million Internet users when access to Google was cut off. "Internet users in China are an apolitical crowd," says Xiao Qiang, executive director of New York-based Human Rights In China. "They tend to be people who are doing well, and they don't usually voice strong views. But this stepped into their digital freedom."

The quick workaround: Chinese authorities tweaked the national firewall, making the new Google China different from the site that was turned off. Today, Chinese who use Google to search on terms like "falun gong" or "human rights in china" receive a standard-looking results page. But when they click on any of the results, either their browsers are redirected to a blank or government-approved page, or their computers are blocked from accessing Google for an hour or two. "They have a new mechanism that can block the results of certain searches," Brin says. Did Google help China find or obtain the filtering technology? "We didn't make changes to our servers" is all he'll say.

Seth Finkelstein describes how Google self-censorship works. Also, Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School have a paper on Localized Google search result exclusions which is quite interesting.

I can understand from a business perspective why Google would do this, but whenever I bring this up with people they deny it or can't believe it.

Does anyone else have any more information on this?

PS This has nothing to do with trying to hurt Google or their IPO. I've been trying to figure this out for the last few weeks and have reached a dead end in my research so I'm trying to understand more. How companies like this work with governments and how this information is then disclosed is very important.

Google's S-1 is online. (Warning. Big file.)

via CNET