Belarus internet ban targets foreign websites

internet banA new internet ban in the former Soviet country Belarus will make the usage or browsing of many foreign websites illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $125. The Library of Congress reports that all Belarusian companies and entrepreneurs will be required to use only locally-hosted websites for conducting business, sales, or exchanging emails. Additionally, e-commerce websites without a local presence will be banned from providing goods or services to anyone in Belarus, meaning that websites like Amazon will not be allowed to sell to Belarusians. Internet cafe owners are required to report any illegal browsing to the authorities for prosecution. Additionally, websites deemed “extremist” or “pornographic” will be banned, bringing to mind a scene from the TV series Scrubs when Dr. Cox says “I’m fairly sure if they took porn off the Internet, there’d only be one website left, and it’d be called ‘Bring Back the Porn’.”

What’s unclear about the law is how it would apply to non-commerce sites like blogs or news sites, or any other website without the .by extension. How about travel booking engines or content for citizens to travel abroad? It’s also unclear how it would affect non-Belarusians doing business in the country, such as Gadling’s blogger Alex Robertson Textor, who recently reported from Minsk. Will this very website become illegal to read in Belarus? We hope not, for any Belarusian readers, and for the sake of internet freedom for all.

Photo courtesy Flickr user decafeined from a protest earlier this year in Istanbul against pending internet censorship in Turkey.

Witness to War: important reading this Memorial Day

war, wwii
Every Memorial Day weekend we remember the soldiers who fought for the United States. For those of us who have never experienced war, however, it’s hard to understand their experiences.

The Witness to War program is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the wartime memories of veterans and helping to give civilians a better idea of what they went through. As their website says, “These are the stories of scared 18 and 19 year olds thrust into circumstances of such intensity and violence, that they became the defining moments of their lives.”

Some are video interviews, like Hap Chandler’s thoughts on his involvement in the Dresden bombing, and Jim Paine’s harrowing memory of being the only survivor when his Jeep ran over a German mine. There are also written memoirs and wartime diaries. Some are short anecdotes while others are more extensive. Tucker Smallwood gives us 23 pages of his gripping Vietnam memoir.

All of the stories Witness to War collects will be donated to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and other non-profit organizations willing to spread their message.

There’s plenty of reading here and a lot of food for thought. So sometime this Memorial Day, take a break from the cookouts and TV and check this out.

[Photo of American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

First map to name America goes on display at Library of Congress

Visitors to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., have a rare opportunity to see the first map that used the name “America” for the New World.

The Library has the only surviving copy of the famous Waldseemüller map, created in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller, a German cartographer living in France. The map was a major departure from earlier maps in that it relied less on the received wisdom of Classical geographers like Ptolemy and more on reports by the many explorers of the time.

Waldseemüller studied reports by Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci and decided Columbus was wrong in thinking he had reached India. Waldseemüller favored Vespucci’s theory that the lands they were exploring on the other side of the Atlantic were actually part of a previously unknown continent. Waldseemüller rewarded Vespucci by naming the continent after him. America is the feminized Latin form of Vespucci’s first name. All other continents had Latin feminine names, so it fit.

The map is not only correct about the New World, but also portrays other parts of the globe far more accurately than other maps of the time. It’s a fine work of art too, with detailed depictions of terrain and portraits of Ptolemy and Vespucci.The map is on display as part of the exhibition “Exploring the Early Americas.”