This is the website of Abulsme Noibatno Itramne (also known as Sam Minter). Comments here or emails to me at abulsme@abulsme.com are encouraged... or follow me on Twitter as @abulsme.

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June 2009
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Curmudgeon’s Corner: Freaking Huge

Sam and Ivan talk about:

  • Iran
  • Honduras
  • Dead Celebrities
  • Johnny Carson
  • Governor Sanford
  • Red Line Crash
  • Big Bills

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Note: For those using the “View in iTunes” link, it often takes iTunes quite a few hours to show a new episode after the episode is posted here. So if you are looking for the podcast very soon after I post this, use one of the other methods to find the new episode. For those who are subscribed, your Podcast software should pick up the new episode next time it checks for new episodes on its own, or you can always force a refresh. For those using the XML feed directly, the new episode is now there.

Somalia Crossroads

An article by my father in this month’s In These Times magazine…

The Somalia Crossroads
(William Minter and Daniel Volman, In These Times, 29 Jun 2009)

In October 2008, Human Rights Watch rated Somalia the most ignored tragedy in the world. Almost 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, and an additional half million are refugees. Two decades of instability, including a U.S.-backed intervention by Ethiopian troops in December 2006, have failed to put Somalia on the map.

It took the drama of high seas piracy to bring Somalia back into the media spotlight. The hijacking of a Saudi supertanker in November was followed by the capture and sensational rescue of U.S. merchant ship Captain Richard Phillips in April.

After Navy sharpshooters rescued Captain Phillips, killing three pirates in the action, the media clamor abated. Once again, the debate on Somalia retreated to inside-the-beltway obscurity. (You can view the spike in public attention by searching for “Somalia” on Google Trends at www.google.com/trends.)

But for Somalis, the crisis continues. So does the danger that Washington may be tempted into military intervention that would be damaging for Somalis, for U.S. relations with Africa and for U.S. security. That risk exists, despite commendable caution thus far by Obama administration policymakers, who are aware of the potential for military actions to backfire.

She Be Sunk, Cap’n

While I was asleep the news broke that the folks who run The Pirate Bay have seemingly finally caved and are selling. (This is everywhere now, but I first saw the news at TorrentFreak.) In the Pirate Bay’s confirmation of the news they do some weak justifications and some talk about how things will move forward, but in the end the news is the same. I don’t think anyone would seriously believe that being owned by a public company won’t fundamentally change most if not all of the things that made the site interesting. (Most prominently or course being a blatant disregard for the law… OK, not quite, they always claimed what they were doing was perfectly legal in Sweden, and they just disregarded laws elsewhere… but still, that was the flavor of things.)

Of course as usual with such things, in the end it will have little or no effect on actual internet piracy, it will just move it around. But it is somewhat more disappointing in this case, as the way in which these folks had been completely defiant and mocking of the entertainment industry was just… entertaining. And they couched everything in terms of higher principals which they were defending. In the end though, I guess years of legal battles and a few big losses on that front can wear you down.

Oh well.

(Oh, and if this deal actually goes through, I’m guessing the buyers will soon find their purchase useless and without much value… either they will fundamentally change and lose most users and the value of the brand, or they will try not to and get crushed by legal pressure that a small scrappy private outfit with a “mission” could tolerate but a public company never could. The press release from the company seems to indicate the first possibility rather than the second.)

Hold Up, Wait

DVD: Jerry Maguire

This week it was time for another movie from my own Netflix queue. And this time it was Jerry Maguire. This is a movie I had once started to watch back in 1997, but had not finished. When we started to watch it this time, I didn’t really remember even a single minute of it, so I must not have gotten very far at all.

Anyway, it was cute. I liked it. It seems it got nominated for a bunch of award, and I’m not sure if it actually was good enough to deserve that, but it was a fun little movie, with some cute moments, as well as the handful of famous lines from it. I had fun. And Brandy and Amy enjoyed it and laughed a decent bit too. And of course you had the nice emotional happy ending thing.

I’m trying to think of more to say about this, but there really isn’t a huge amount that comes to mind. Nice little romantic comedy crossed with a little bit (but not annoying amount) of sports. Cute kid. Worth renting.

DVD: From Here to Eternity

This last weekend was time for another movie from my own Netflix Queue. And specifically, it was once again time for me to resume my climb through AFI’s 100 Years 100 Movies list which I have slowly been working myself through since the list was released in 1998. I had previously watched #100 up to #53. It was now time for #52, which was this movie.

For those who don’t know, it is about a bunch of soldiers in Hawaii in the run up to Pearl Harbor. I must admit though, it didn’t do all that much for me. I know it won lots of awards and such, but… I just never really connected with any of the people. They seemed to just be walking through things. And making decisions I couldn’t quite understand. Well, sometimes. I got why the main character didn’t want to box any more, and how he would just to just take the various indignities pushed on to him. But at the very end why he would take a short cut rather than the direct route? And why he would just run when confronted? Dunno. Mystery to me.

Anyway, I guess there were some interesting bits. And some funny moments. And it was fun to note things like “Hey, there’s the guy from Airwolf!”. (Knowing of course that given his long career, the fact that I remember Ernest Borgnine most for Airwolf is kind of a shame, but, well, that’s how it is.

Overall though I’d probably pass on this. It was OK, but not memorable.

Curmudgeon’s Corner: News of Thunder

Sam and Ivan talk about:

  • Storms and Power
  • Nortel
  • Steve Jobs
  • Healthcare
  • Media Coverage
  • Events in Iran

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Note: For those using the “View in iTunes” link, it often takes iTunes quite a few hours to show a new episode after the episode is posted here. So if you are looking for the podcast very soon after I post this, use one of the other methods to find the new episode. For those who are subscribed, your Podcast software should pick up the new episode next time it checks for new episodes on its own, or you can always force a refresh. For those using the XML feed directly, the new episode is now there.

Slower Day

So last night I decided to actually sleep, and ended up having a nice long sleep in contrast to the one hour the night before. Since getting up in addition to normal morning routine things (Eggo’s… yum!) I’ve spent time catching up on what all has happened in Iran since I went to sleep. Bottom line, a less eventful day than yesterday. There have been reports of some protests today, but mainly they stayed peaceful it seems. Is it petering out and winding down? Is this done? Or are people just taking a breath to prepare for more in the coming days? Who knows. We’ll see how it plays out.

In the meantime, two Iran related items…

niacINsight posts this correspondance from someone in Iran describing their personal experience on Saturday:

A Day in the Life
(niacINsight, 21 Jun 2009)

Then at Towhid Square the scene changes drastically. The streets to Azadi are blocked. But this time, people don’t change their path. They fight for it. There’s a shower of stones. Tear gas. Fire. People jam the sidewalks. The battle scene is huge. We cannot see the limits but it extends to nearby street. My student is keener to go forward than I am. Her mother could persuade her to stay home for two days, but now allows her to go out on the most dangerous day. The people shout, ‘Down with the dictator’. The anti-riot police are also throwing stones. People don’t run back anymore. I grab a broken brick and throw. I’m amazed. I never thought I’d do it. I should practice. It was a very bad shot. I grab another one, the size of a pomegranate and keep it with me, hiding it behind my back. My feeling is a mixture of a university teacher and a hooligan.

Read the whole thing. As usual with these types of things, it is just a slice, not a way to understand the whole situation. But stories like this give a different human sort of view into what is going on.

Second, while I was driving around town yesterday, I was listening to the most recent episode of Dan Carlin’s podcast Common Sense titled “The Persian Rapprochement”. It was recorded BEFORE the events in Iran over the last week, but for the first part of this episode Dan talks a lot about Iran and the possibilities for change in Iran, and the potential American approaches to Iran. It was a good discussion, and in many ways as he was speaking, I thought how nicely some of what was being said foreshadowed and gave at least some insight into what is going on today. It is worth taking a little time and listening to it.

Anyway, I’m still tracking the various sources I’ve been tracking over the past few days in order to pay attention to what is happening in Iran. But it is already near midnight there, and I am just doing things a little more slowly than yesterday, and spending a bit more time doing other things. But I’m still watching. We’ll see how things play out.

A Thought on the Actual Election Results

It seems like the evidence is pretty strong (although not beyond any doubt) that the election results were tampered with to inflate the Ahmadinejad totals. It is however nowhere near as clear that Ahmadinejad didn’t actually win. It may well be that even if the results hadn’t been cooked, he would have still won, just by a much narrower margin. Or maybe he lost. My expectation at this point is that this is actually now a completely unknowable question. The relevant evidence that would be needed to decide such a thing is probably long gone.

At this point the events in Iran have moved beyond the just this particular election and the results thereof. Who will actually be Iran’s President over the next few years… and who will be in charge in a broader sense, will be determined by many things… but who got the most votes last week is no longer one of those things.

Being Careful

A note from a reader, responding to my previous post:

“Meanwhile, anybody who had remotely been paying attention online had, like I had, within the previous hour watched a vivid and explicit high resolution video of a teenage girl who had just been shot bleeding out and dying in her father’s arms.

And yes, while technically speaking the video was not authenticated with a chain of custody and an exact knowledge of exactly when and where it came from and what the situation was surrounding it. But in addition to the video itself, there were multiple reports from people claiming to have witnessed that event from different perspectives..”

– believing everything you see leaves you open to be mislead. That video and the eye-witness accounts could be from anywhere. I agree that Iran could be in the midst of an almost Berlin Wall moment but truth must tell us this, not random internet downloads.

Our views of Iran will now shrink. Iran knows the eyes of the world are upon them and they will shut out the light. We need the truth. Your page looks for the truth. Please find it.

As I mentioned later in that same paragraph:

And yes, everybody knows the way in which anecdotal stories and pictures can show something that is not actually representative of the wider situation. Duh. That doesn’t mean we have to be protected from them. Things don’t need to be beyond any reasonable doubt to be reported.

My entire point here is that everybody KNOWS that initial reports of the sort you get when you are looking at “raw” stuff coming from tweets and blogs and youtube and the like is chaotic, without full context, and subject to massive grains of salt. And yes, it is easy to manipulate opinion if you can decide which of these things gets seen and which does not, in order to show a few of the world that helps your own cause and hurts your opponents. The responsible reader sifts through the things that come in, cross references between what is heard from different places, learns what sources to trust and which not to, etc. Some of this becomes clear almost immediately. In other cases it may be days, weeks, months, years… or never… before one truly sorts out things. And one will never truly *know* what happened in some sort of absolute way… even the people directly involved will never have that whole picture.

Would having it known that the video was taken by a particular person in a particular place in an authenticated way make it more trustworthy? Maybe. When this video first came out, was there any way to really know that it wasn’t completely manufactured (unlikely) or that it wasn’t actually old footage from some previous conflict in some different place, unrelated to the events of the day (more possible), or that what you saw was real, but the context was different and who committed the act was not who you would assume it to be, but was something else (maybe). If any of those things were true, evidence to that effect would probably surface before too long.

In the mean time though, you must interpret things with the information you have, and with a healthy use of Occam’s Razor. Is it possible this wasn’t what it seemed? Certainly. And there have definitely been reports of various things over the last week that have turned out to not be true, or to not be what they initially seemed to be. To even know this means that in relatively short order, evidence surfaced contradicting the original reports and convincing people of the original error. Some other things that have been coming out will probably also turn out to be false, but it may be a lot longer before that is known. But that is what you expect out of news coming out of a chaotic situation. You get a perception of “truth” that is fluid and changes and moves as more information surfaces, and as you interpret that information using more and more inputs and you hear what other people think about the same information and you hear and evaluate their arguments. That is normal and to be expected. And is a positive feature, not something to be avoided. You make the best judgements based on the information you have, when you have it at any given moment. When you get more information, your judgements and perceptions of reality may often change. And that is OK.

A media that does not believe that anything can be reported until it is “known” with almost metaphysical certainty, is not an information source worth paying attention to, at least for this kind of news in the short term. By the time things are in that state, the world has moved on and the information is perhaps useful for historical curiosity, but it is often no longer relevant in the moment. But the person paying attention to such chaotic sources does indeed have to be very aware of the nature of these reports and evaluate them accordingly, and be open and willing to adjust perceptions based on new information that comes in. For those who do not have the time or inclination to do so… not only shouldn’t they not pay attention to these sorts of moment by moment first hand accounts, they should probably not even read a daily paper or a news weekly, they should wait a few years until some nice well researched histories come out on the topic. And even then, they shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that what they are seeing represents any sort of pure “truth”. In all of these time scales you have the same difficulties, just to different degrees and manifested in different ways.

And not to mention that any reasonably intelligent person with some critical reasoning skills and the ability to do some of their own research could make judgements on the credibility of some of these sources at least as well as the crowd doing it (badly) on TV. The bias in the major media that something is more likely to be “true” if it comes from an official source, or from someone with a title, or from someone they know and therefore “trust” is just as much a narrow and partial view of what is going on than is looking at these other direct sources and evaluating them one by one based on partial information. And most likely just as likely to be proved “wrong” in the long run.

In the case of this particular girl, if there are significant doubts that it actually happened yesterday, that she was not actually on the periphery, shot most likely by basij militia, but possibly by other pro-regime elements, has not yet been disputed. Meanwhile more about who she was has surfaced… or, to add the appropriate caveats, unverified reports have surfaced with claims about who she was that may or may not bear out to be true as additional information becomes available in the future. But it seems… for the moment… that this was what it seemed it was.

Oh, and as for our views shrinking… it was already harder to get information out on Saturday than it was on previous days. It will probably be even harder Monday. But it will be very very difficult to shut off the information flow completely. And it may be too late. Even if all contact with the outside world were cut off, the events that have been put in motion may already be unstoppable.

Or it may be able to be stopped easily by cutting off communication and then cracking down even harder.

I was speaking to someone in person about this earlier tonight. They mentioned my post where I said: “I hope for something like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I fear that it will be more like Tiananmen in 1989.” They thought that it was looking more like Tianamen and getting worse by the hour. My response… the situation sits on a knife’s edge. It could still go either way. Every moment and every confrontation that happens, every decision made by the leaders and even by individual protestors and police officers, could push it over onto one side or another. The next hours and days will be critical.

[8:42 and 9:01 UTC – I made minor edits after posting to correct a couple of small errors on my part.]