Sep 152012
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California. September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman

As protests and demonstrations continue throughout the Arab world in reaction to the Muhammad video (I still will not dignify it with the term “film” or “movie” as some do), a number of developments and articles are worth noting. But most striking – outside of the scenes of the violence in the streets – are two unfolding dramas: the questioning of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who may be the individual behind the video and the hidden drama of the Egyptian government as it negiotiates the complexities of creating a democracy.

The Mystery Man – Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

From Reuters: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula voluntarily went with officers to a meeting in a sheriff’s station in Cerritos, Los Angeles County. This was not an arrest but an “interview” – and he continues to deny involvement in the video. Officials are looking into possible parole violations – Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison (with five years of probation) for bank fraud. His release was contingent on not using aliases or accessing the Internet, both of which appear to have been done if he is the producer of the Muhammad video.

Nakoula will never end up back in jail for the video with the free speech rights in the United States, but he could for parole violations. Regardless, his name will go down as a waypoint in the history of the Internet for the havoc, destruction and death that could be brought about by a single video clip.

The Egyptian Government’s Drama Behind the Scenes

Egyptian Protestor Runs from Burning Car

Everyone is understandably focusing on the street protests in Egypt and rest of the Arab world, but there is another drama – a fundamental struggle going on behind the scenes as the Egyptian government comes to terms with a functioning democracy.

For decades,  the country lived under the iron fist of a dictatorship with protests and arrests at periodic intervals. But Mubarak could pretty much do what he wanted, with the ongoing calculation that he could only push his people to a certain point. He was a master of knowing where that (somewhat fluid boundary was).

Now that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi leads the country, it’s not so simple. For days, he has scored points with supporters and opposition parties (particularly with the radical Islamist party Salafi Al-Nour) by keeping security low and letting the protesters have the upper hand. But the very technology that keeps the video in front of peoples eyes – and helped support the overthrow of Mubarak – backfired on the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi who were saying one thing to the West and issuing statements with a radically different tone for domestic consumption.

Sometimes it seems like everything in the digital revolution is a boomerang - no matter how far it gets thrown, you’ll soon be ducking as it comes back at you. From the Wall Street Journal:

Until today, Mr. Morsi’s presidency had appeared less than contrite about the security lapse that allowed protesters to invade the fortress-like U.S. mission. On Thursday, the Brotherhood went so far as to call for nationwide “vigils” in front of “major mosques” throughout the country on Friday—a day in which protests in Egypt have become a ritual.

Though the call for demonstrations smacked of intentional escalation, Brotherhood leaders portrayed the call as a kind of contained catharsis that would move the focus of popular rage away from the volatile flashpoint that is the U.S. embassy.

Essam El Erian, the head of the FJP, said the Brotherhood firmly rejected any attacks on foreign missions and insisted that the continuing violence in downtown Cairo includes “mainly young men” and no politicians.

The Brotherhood’s mixed message was encapsulated by a Twitter exchange between the group and the U.S. Embassy. Just as the Brotherhood’s English-language Twitter account made earnest inquiries about the safety of U.S. diplomats in Cairo, its Arabic-language Twitter account praised Egyptian protesters for “rising to the defense of the Prophet.”

The @USEmbassyCairo Twitter handle replied: “By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

“I hope you know we read those too” – diplomacy these days gets carried out on Twitter.

Leading a democratically elected government is no simple task in a deeply interconnected world. Especially when what you say domestically (to an electorate with a widespread anti-American bias) is the opposite of what you say to people abroad. We can trip up on this ourselves – just witness how some campaign statements play differently here and overseas – but it’s even more difficult when a democracy is just getting underway. Just as the video has a viral quality about it in the Arab world, so do domestic statements for support of the protesters in the rest of the world. It’s a classic lose-lose situation, and yet, for Morsi to be a legitimate leader in the global community and the government an effective democracy at home, he will have to turn it into a win-win.

I don’t envy the challenge.

Mar 182012
OWS Demonstration on St Patricks Day

OWS Demonstration on St Patricks Day

Spring in the air? Demonstrations if you dare! The six month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement brought demonstrators (perhaps 600 or so) back to Zuccotti Park and the arrest of over 70 people. Not the largest protest by any measure but perhaps a sign of what will come as the weather warms. The police are limiting access to Zuccotti Park and keeping the Press at bay. But unclear how long that will last given that both are on suspect legal grounds (a Court upheld closing the Park at night but not at will).

And if videos floating around are any indication, the police were needlessly rough with those detained – slamming a protester against a glass door that broke. Do they really this kind of treatment keeps people home? Actually, OWS thanked the Mayor for the arrests as they claim it will help with fundraising.

The month of May just may be a little different this year. And since it was St. Patrick’s Day, someone had to show up with a sign about the snakes on Wall Street. More details about the events in Lower Manhattan at the Gothamist.

Mar 122012

Social media can play a vital role in protest and it appears the NYC prosecutors office would like that to end. For the second time, they have subpoenaed Twitter records of a protester involved in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) activities. The first went to activist Malcolm Harris back in February of this year (you can read his account on Reuters) and the latest subpoena went to Jeff Rae. Both have been notified by Twitter and will fight the requests.

And the point of the government’s fishing expedition for data related to minor crimes such as disorderly conduct? It obviously undermines free-speech protections in the First Amendment, but more directly, aims at the Fourth Amendment which prohibits warrantless searches. In discussing the initial subpoena against Harris, the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes:

Cell Phone TowerBy attempting to subpoena these records, the government can get around the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches by requesting information that includes IP addresses. Twitter keeps track of IP address information regarding every time a person logged into Twitter, as well as the IP address information related to a Twitter user’s direct messages to other users, and the date and time information related to these log ins and direct messages. Armed with IP addresses, the government — without a warrant — can go to an ISP to determine who was assigned that particular IP address. And if that person connected on a mobile device — which is where the majority of Twitter users access their accounts — the ISP will hand over to the government the specific cell tower (and its corresponding geographic location) which that person used to access Twitter. This allows the government to piece together a map of where a person physically is when he opens Twitter on his smartphone, sends a direct message to a friend, or Tweets. And with that information, the government could get a record of Mr. Harris’ movement over the three months it requested from Twitter. It’s no surprise then that the government singled out Mr. Harris for this request: he currently has over 1,500 followers and 7,200 Tweets. 

So you don’t need to go through the trouble of getting a court order to track someone electronically. Now you can just do it after the fact but getting hold of their Twitter feed and the IP address information, essentially gutting the Fourth Amendment against abuse of police power. There’s been some progress on the legal front here – the Supreme Court ruled in January in United States v. Jones  that for law enforcement to install a GPS device on private property, it requires a search warrant. Nonetheless, the Court also noted that the rapid technological developments of our era may require that Congress step in with legislation. And given the dysfunctional environment of Washington these days, that doesn’t seem very promising.

Amazing how quickly things can change. Back in 2009, the State Department was praising Iranian students for using Twitter and pushed the country to not cut-off Internet access. But more recently, a number of subpoenas have been issued by local law enforcement in the States for Twitter data, including the Boston Police who subpoenaed two accounts but two hashtags (not quite sure how they were to defend themselves in court).

Malcolm Harris summed up the danger here:

The biggest danger that comes from this subpoena isn’t that it’ll help convict me — I don’t think a judge will have any trouble understanding what happened on the bridge — but that it will produce a chilling effect and discourage people from using Twitter while protesting” Harris wrote for Reuters. “It’s a win-win for prosecutors: Either they use Twitter archives to build cases against demonstrators, or they scare us away from using the platform

The subpoena for Jeff Rae’s account has been posted on Scrib if you want to see it. Scary stuff and yes, protesters may think twice. Win-wins for law enforcement are never good when it comes to social protest – unless, of course, one would prefer a police state.

Feb 132012
Protests as Greek Parliament Approves Bailout Measures

Protests as Greek Parliament Approves Bailout Measures

With heated debates and recriminations by MPs in Parliament against the muffled sounds of explosions from Syntagma Square, the coalition government in Greece passed the austerity package developed by the IMF, ECB and EU over the past few weeks. The streets outside looked like a war zone with over 45 shops burned and others damaged.

As part of the bailout, Greece still needs to implement the pension and job cuts which will have a significant impact on the economy. And it will have to accept that the upcoming elections are essentially meaningless – they cannot dismantle the agreement.

One major consequence of the turmoil over the agreement (and the same applies to Egypt and other countries over the past year) has been the decimation of the tourist industry. I remember a wonderful dinner a few years back at a cafe in Athens, gazing up at the floodlit Acropolis and the complex cultural history it embodied – we talked into the night about the complicated relationships with Ancient Egypt, Early Christianity, the Roman and Ottoman empires, and the 19th century German scholars who reinterpreted Greece as part of the Western Tradition. Here was a creative and mangled river of broad cultural achievement – influencing others as others in turn appropriated Greek land, ideas, and culture for their own ends.

The history here is long, deep, and fascinating. The beauty of the landscape, particularly the islands, equally so. But it is hard to imagine that many will want to visit a society brought to its knees economically and socially. I’m not sure what the future holds – I’m not sure that anyone knows from the conference rooms in Brussels to the streets of Athens – but I do know the tourists will go elsewhere. And with them goes the money that so much of the Greek economy depends – at least 20% of GDP (and it’s probably significantly higher than that). Tourists usually don’t visit broken societies, unless they’re holed up in resorts isolated from the local population. And sadly, Greece is most definitely broken.

Don’t believe me? Listen to Helena Smith in the Guardian who has reported from Greece for more than twenty years:

The country has reached a crossroads, of that there can be no doubt. But almost two years since it was first “rescued” with €110bn, the nation’s acceptance of this latest lifeline puts it in a perilous place. Politicians, almost without exception, believe they are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t”.

After more than two decades reporting from Athens, I can only concur. For the truth – as unpalatable as it may be for the IMF, EU and European Central Bank, Greece’s “troika” of creditors – is that, far from plugging the country’s budget black holes, the harsh austerity pursued in the name of deficit-reducing goals has pushed it towards economic and social collapse. Relentless wage and pension cuts, tax rises and cost-cutting reforms have left the country a shadow of itself. In its fifth successive year of recession, Greece is a hollowed-out version of what it once was, coming apart at the seams a little more with each day. Men and women forage through rubbish bins late at night. More sleep on the streets.

Late this evening, the stock markets are reacting positively and we will hear the pronouncements of success from the IMF, ECB and EU leaders during the coming days. But as leaders pat each other on the back and breathe a collective sigh of relief, Greece continues its slide toward economic and social collapse.

Feb 112012

There have been protests in over 200 European cities today against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) despite the brutal winter weather of the past few weeks. ACTA’s already been approved by most European governments but still needs the approval of the European Parliament and will probably come up for a vote in June. In ways similar to the now slumbering SOPA and PIPA legislation in the United States, it would criminalize a good deal of activity on the Web without effectively stopping piracy.

Here’s a map of today’s ACTA protests:

ACTA is not actually legislation, but far worse: a  trade agreement negotiated in secret by the United States and Japan with the participation of a few other countries and industries. It’s all been done in secrecy and were it not for leaked drafts, even less would be known about how it was developed.

Bulgarian MPs in Guy Fawkes Masks to Protest ACTA

Bulgarian MPs in Guy Fawkes Masks

You’ll find two good accounts of ACTA agreement at Stop ACTA and at the  Electronic Frontier Foundation. If you are in favor of an open society, of creativity, of the right to remix and make appropriate reuse of material on the Web, this is not the time to fall asleep. The concept of copyright needs to be upheld; criminalizing everything we do on the Web is not the solution. If your really undecided or think this agreement is a good idea, take a look at Just read through reason number 5:

ACTA Permanently bypasses democracy by giving the “ACTA Committee” the power to “propose amendments to [ACTA]” (article 6.4). In other words, voting for ACTA writes a blank check to an unelected committee. These closed-door proceedings will be a playground for SOPA-supporters like the MPAA. 

Feb 112012
Demonstrations in Athens Greece - 2-11-12

Demonstrations in Athens Greece - 2-11-12

A second day of protests in Greece as Parliament edges closer to a vote on Sunday. The Cabinet approved the agreement negotiated with the EU on Saturday.

A few MP’s have resigned in protest but it appears the majority coalition still has the votes to approve the austerity package.

Three measures are up for a vote tomorrow according to Aljazerra:

. . . . recapitalise Greek banks, an authorisation for Papademos and the finance minister to sign the eurozone bailout, and a bond swap with private creditors designed to wipe out around $131.9bn from Greece’s $461bn debt. 

But we’ve been down this road before and even if approved, this is hardly the end of the story. Ultimately, the entire bailout package could be implemented only to come unraveled with possible elections in late spring.

Jan 182012


A number of the most popular Websites went dark for the day to protest the SOPA and PIPA legislation working its way through Congress. While SOPA has been temporarily stopped, the Senate version of the bill is still scheduled for a vote. It appears that the protest has been somewhat effective as a number of Senators have withdrawn their support over the course of the day.

In some ways, this may mark a new era for the Web in terms of social activism for the future of the online environment. And it may signify a new era in that topics such as DNS and domain blocking will become part of our cultural vocabulary, terms that will now be understood (to some degree or another) by people outside the technology field. Surely everyone does not need to fully understand these concepts any more than people who drive will ever fully understand the composition and lifespan of concrete. But those who drive do understand potholes and washouts and these bills do exactly that with the Internet. They would turn it from its current role as a producer/consumer environment into a consumption only arena (and one that would be controlled by large corporations).

In short, they would kill the Web as a creative space.

If you need more information, look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) summary FAQ on or a more detailed analysis here. Even if you are not from the United States (almost 50% of the readers of this blog are overseas), this affects you. Please educate yourself. Piracy is not defensible, but the solution is not to cut the telephone lines for everyone just because a few lines were used to plot illegal activity. This is a beginning – please do your part.


Dec 312011

After the initial remarks by the head of the Arab League mission, Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi, who described the observers’ visit as “reassuring” and told Reuters that “The situation (in Homs) seemed reassuring so far,” there is finally evidence that the observers are encountering evidence of Syrian brutality. Not much, but at least it is something.

However, as Mousab Azzawi, chief coordinator of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, noted in General Dabi’s own miserable human rights record: “Out of 340 million Arabs, they could not find one decent person to lead the observer mission?”

But here at least is something though it took an estimated 150 deaths to get the observers to this point.

ADDENDUM: New controversy - despite the fact that the observer is clearly heard referring to snipers in the video below, Gen Mustafa al-Dabi has told BBC News that the official making the remark was merely stating a “hypothetical” case. If the General did say this, activists are right in their conclusion that the entire mission is a sham.

Dec 302011
Still image taken from video shows purported members of "Free Syrian Army" firing at a convoy of government security buses in the village of Dael / Reuters

Still image taken from video shows purported members of "Free Syrian Army" firing at a convoy of government security buses in the village of Dael / Reuters

These are the words of Qutaiba, a 22-year-old engineering student, recalling his beatings by the feared Air Force Intelligence, al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya. The account is in a compelling article in the Atlantic by BBC’s Paul Rand who was smuggled into Syria along with cameraman Fred Scott and was able to meet with the opposition in Homs, one of the flash points of the revolution:

Whatever the outcome of the many protest movements in 2011, it’s hard to doubt the disruptive power of social media and a global news environment, and the fear it generates for those in power:

“You motherfucker,” the colonel spat at the soldier. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times: No one. Should touch. Any. Citizen.” 

On the word “citizen” the colonel’s hand flew out and smacked Qutaiba on the side of the head. The blow sent him crashing to the ground, looking at their boots. The officer had struck him “with the flat of his hand, but it was a strong one,” he later remembered. The colonel remained silent. The guards and Abdullah laughed uproariously.

Then he was taken away to be beaten and tortured over a period of weeks. It was not sophisticated or inventive. Electric shocks while he lay on the floor in a pool of water. Endless kicks and punches that would leave his guards exhausted at the end of each flurry. For the first five days, they didn’t even ask any questions. That came later, the initial pummelling just to soften him up. . . .

. . . . He remembered each taunt from the guards. “This is for Facebook.” Smack. “This is for Twitter.” Punch. “This is for CNN, for the BBC, for Al Jazeera.” 

In Syria, social networks support a struggle that is about something other than poverty or abuse of power. A quote from Khoda, a Syrian house painter:

In Egypt, the revolution started because of poverty and hunger . . . . In Libya it started because of misuse of power. In Syria, the main purpose of the revolution is to gain back our dignity and our honour. 

Rand noted that the word “dignity” came up often. But it is also clear that the situation is much more complex than in Egypt or Libya – there are calls by the protesters for intervention, for NATO to act, for a no-fly zone at the very least. But as Rand notes:

They are not going to get it. Syria is not Libya; it has been called the “Arab Yugoslavia.” It is too big, too complicated, with too many combustible neighbors. Tor the time being, much as Western countries would wish Assad gone, the Syrian people appear to be on their own. 

But technology can only so so much. In the end, if the country remains divided and Assad retains support, it seems that the revolution will only succeed through civil war.

Dec 142011
John Knefel being dragged off by NYC Police

John Knefel being dragged off by NYC Police

Boingboing has an insightful piece by Maggie Koerth-Baker on the journalism issues brought up by the OWS protests. Who is a journalist today? How do you issue credentials? We have policies and practices created in another era that no longer make sense given the digital tools available.

She takes the example of John Knefel, a writer and comedian arrested yesterday while documenting an OSW action in New York:

Knefel doesn’t work for a major media outlet. But he’s also not just some random bystander. He’s got a political podcast with new episodes three times a week. Do we only call someone a journalist if they have enough page views? Do they have to have a journalism degree? What’s the line?

Knefel is a biased source of information. But so are a lot of mainstream commentators. We’d call someone from Fox News a journalist. We’d call someone from Reason magazine a journalist. We’d call somebody from Mother Jones a journalist. Having a clear political angle to your coverage doesn’t make you not a journalist. Except when it does. So what are the actual criteria?

Knefel didn’t have a press pass. But, as Xeni has pointed out, the press pass system in New York is incredibly convoluted and contradictory. So what if you can’t get one? Does that mean you aren’t a journalist? This is particularly problematic given the fact that the rules seem to be set up to favor long-standing publications with lots of resources that mostly just cover New York City. How does that fit into a globalized world? Why punish media entrepreneurship?

We live in an age where publishing is easy and the tools to do it are available to a much wider swatch of people. But our standards and rules for who gets protection as a member of the press are based on a paradigm where publishing wasn’t easy and only a limited number of people could do it.

What is even more bizarre here is that the rules for obtaining a press pass in New York essentially require you to break the rules – repeatedly – as pointed out in an article last month by Elizabeth Spiers, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Observer, who ironically cannot get a press pass for herself. Simply put, it’s a form of control by the NYPD and stifling of the First Amendment.

And it gets even more twisted: the current rules are in response to a court settlement with bloggers who had argued that the prior even more arcane rules gave them no opportunity to be seen as legitimate news gathers by the NYPD.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter after all since credentialed reporters have been arrested at OWS gatherings. But it’s time for someone to breech the castle moat and let them know the world has changed.

Dec 102011
White Ribbon as Symbol of Russian Protest Movement

White Ribbon as Symbol of Russian Protest Movement

There’s an old Russian proverb,

One man in a field is not a warrior. 

And we most definitely know that tens of thousands of security personnel are already being deployed. We wait to see how many turn out for the protest this Saturday and how the police respond. Already, 100′s are in jail from last week and there appears to be significant support for Putin in many areas of the country. But frustration and anger is clearly there.

One note, minor but not entirely insignificant: the movement now has a symbol in the use of a white ribbon. It seems to be catching on as a symbol of transparency and fair elections. They’re showing up on cars, briefcases, private television networks, everywhere. Now we await the warriors and the idealists.

UPDATE at 12:00 EST: Despite a rather ominous remark noted in the Guardian News Live Updates of the demonstrations, the protests have resulted in few arrests:

 A senior official from the United Russia party has told demonstrators to not to turn into “cannon fodder” and abide the law, writes Alexei Belovs. 

Here is the official statement of the protesters demands:

1. Freedom for political prisoners

2. Annulment of the election results

3. The resignation of Vladimir Churov, head of the election commission, and an official investigation of vote fraud

4. Registration of the opposition parties and new democratic legislation on parties and elections

5. New democratic and open elections 

And a few of the many pointed and funny protest signs:

Russian Protest Signs

Russian Protest Signs


Dec 092011


Russian Demonstration

Russian Demonstration

Revolutions and protest movements are fought on many fronts, from battles in the streets (Syria, Egypt, etc.), acts of disobedience (women driving in Saudi Arabia), to passive actions (student protesters pepper-sprayed in California) – and usually on multiple fronts at once.

But the news out of Russia suggests that social media is also becoming an arena of struggle as the government or pro-government supporters try to disrupt conversations on Twitter.

If the protests grow, it will be a new stage in the evolution of social media in the political realm. In most of the Middle East, Twitter and Facebook were used largely by opposition groups to organize and share information. The main response of those in power was to pull the plug on Internet service altogether when unrest threatened to topple the government. But that’s not going to happen in Russia; instead, we’re seeing what appears to be a coordinated effort to redirect the flow of information on Twitter through automatic postings.

According to Maxim Goncharov at the security firm Trend Micro, pro-government posts appear to be program generated, coordinated by a botnet to undermine the use of Twitter. From BBC News:

Whether the attack was supported officially or not is not relevant,” he wrote, “but we can now see how social media has become the battlefield of a new war for freedom of speech.

With some ten messages (almost identical) posted per second, it would appear that these are program generated and not the tweets of individuals. We will see much more of this in the future. Yes, social media is empowering but it’s only a matter of time before entrenched powers use it to undermine free expression.

Many have argued (and rightly so, I think) that privacy will be a critical issue born of the technology revolution. It already is – but it would be shortsighted to not see that in a revolution in communications, the battle for free speech will be fundamental. I’m not sure when, or that any of us could ever predict how, but somewhere in the next decade, there will be another Gettysburg, a virtual battlefield (this should be in the plural) upon which the future of free speech is decided. Though like Gettysburg in the history of the United States, even the victories here will not put the issue to rest. It will be an ongoing struggle of which Russia is only the latest chapter.

Dec 052011

In a word, remarkable. Only scattered protests both pro and against United Russia, Putin’s party which “won” the elections this weekend but with a greatly diminished tally. Hard to tell if this is the beginning of a significant protest movement in Russia or if it will die down after a few days. But all the “triggers” are there – dissatisfaction among a large segment of the population, a ruling party that continues to get elected in a less than democratic process, online activism through Facebook and video of events on the streets. This could get interesting . . .

Nov 212011

The situation looks particularly grim after deadly clashes in Tahrir Square left 11 dead and many injured this weekend. As one protester put it: “We need a constitution.” Instead, they are getting the brutal hand of the army which appears determined to isolate itself from any democratic solution that may be implemented – in other words, there will be no real democracy.

But there are issues that run far deeper than simply the army’s plans for itself; the real challenge may lie in the complex relationship between the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and liberals who may be willing to compromise on army proposals over fear of the Brotherhood winning a majority in the elections. From the NY Times:

The Muslim Brotherhood, which helped lead the Islamist rally, issued a statement declaring the ruling military council responsible for allowing excessive violence against unarmed protesters, and it called for prosecution “of all those who commanded this attack.”

But it also issued a pointed challenge to “politicians and intellectuals,” presumably referring to Egyptian liberals. Many have urged the adoption of some sort of ground rules protecting Western-style civil liberties before a potential Islamist majority of the Parliament might dominate the constitutional convention. The military acted on those suggestions to present the liberals with a kind of devil’s bargain: a declaration that would have protected individual and minority rights, but also granted the military permanent political powers and immunity from scrutiny as the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy.”

“Will you respect the will of the people or will you turn against it?” the brotherhood statement read, in a direct challenge to the liberals. “Your credibility is now on the line, and we hope that you will not turn against it.”

There may be no party allegiances when running through Tahrir Square with the military shooting at you, but some may fear that will change when it comes to the ballot box. This may be a turning point if the liberal Nobel-prize winner and presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradei is accurate:

It would have been more honorable for the cabinet to say the state has failed and to leave for others to manage the country,” he said, arguing that neither the military-led cabinet nor the generals themselves were qualified. “This is not a crisis,” he said. “The country is falling apart.”

Once again, good video of a grim weekend from Aljazeera:

Nov 212011
Chancellor's Katehi's Silent Walk of Shame

Chancellor's Katehi's Walk

Sometimes silence is more powerful, especially in the analog F2F world. After a press conference with UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi regarding Friday’s brutal treatment of students, students lined the walkway as she left the building, protesting with silent stares as she walked three blocks to her car. You can hear every step.

There will be further announcements on Monday and the report which was to take ninety days now sounds as if it will be done in thirty. Two police officers have been put on administrative leave and University of California President Mark G. Yudof has had to weigh in on the incident.

It’s surprising the degree with which those in power take a reactive stance and learn nothing from the past. Dousing Civil Rights demonstrators with water from fire hoses in the 1960′s (which almost seems quaint in our increasing militarization of police units) only helped spread the movement. Over the past week, there’s been a series of iconic incidents including an elderly activist in Seattle getting sprayed to students beaten with batons in Berkeley. There’s enough justifiable anger at those on Wall Street; get everyone angry at you and the kettle will undoubtedly boil over. You really weren’t the target, Chancellor, but you’ve become one now.

The walk:

Nov 202011

Trust me, this is not the kind of publicity you want as a higher education institution – or any institution for that matter. Boingboing has a must read interview with one of the students pepper sprayed by police at the UC-Davis campus. The video has long since gone viral but now there’s a photoshopped version of the UC-Davis Website making the rounds. The Chancellor has promised an investigation but with three months to produce a report; that sounds more like: “we’re just hoping everyone forgets the entire incident.” Wishful thinking.

In the analog world, the repercussions for an event like this were far less immediate and direct. Now, you pepper spray students in their face and someone will be in your face, altering your digital presence.  “A community that embraces civility” – the image is perhaps the only funny thing to come out of this incident.

Photoshop of UC-Davis Website and video below:

UC-Davis Photoshop of Website

UC-Davis Photoshop of Website


Nov 192011
OWS Projection on Verizon Building

OWS Projection on Verizon Building

The Village Voice has an update on the OWS 99% image projected on the “Verizon” building in lower Manhattan. Turns out that the building has never been owned by Verizon (their sign at the top is simply advertising) and they only rent out a few floors. Nevertheless, it makes a compelling target. A few of the details from an interview with Mark Read in Boingboing on how this was pulled off:

Read, 45, told BoingBoing the idea to project the messages on the building, which is near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, came up during an action coordination meeting. He spent the following two weeks devising a plan to execute the ambitious effort. The group secured a nearby apartment to set up the projection after putting up signs offering tenants money to rent out a unit for a few hours. 

The tenant ended up providing the space for free and with a 12,000 lumen projector and Modul8 VJ mixing software, they were in business. A clearer image to the right (though I still prefer the original one as it seems more fleeting, distant, yet still powerful); below a short video of the projections:


Nov 172011

​The Verizon Building near the Brooklyn Bridge finally has a purpose – as a projection screen for the Occupy Wall Street march. As members of the Communications Workers of America, Verizon employees have been without a contract for some time. Now at least the building – and an ugly one at that – has a purpose for tonight’s protest on the streets below. Via The Village Voice.

In a word: breathtaking.

Projection on Verizon Building - November 17, 2011

Projection on Verizon Building - November 17, 2011

Nov 172011

The media references to “income inequality” surges from 91 instances a week before the demonstrations started to nearly 500 by the end of October according to Ben Smith. It may be a difficult time with the protesters removal from Zucotti Park and the demonstrations in the NYC tonight, but the cultural dialogue may be changing. The question is: how many references will there be in another month and does it impact the political landscape? Via Politico.

"Income inequality" Media References per Week

"Income inequality" Media References per Week

Nov 142011
Bank of Greece Sign - Central Athens, December 6 2010

Bank of Greece Sign - Central Athens, December 6 2010

Take a look at the work of Reuters Chief Photographer in Greece, Yannis Behrakis, in documenting the protests in the country over the past few years. Working out of an office on Athens’ Syntagma square (Constitution square) where so many of the protests have taken place, Yannis has caught indelible images of the tension and anger in a country where the social fabric is being ripped apart by financial pressures and decisions made elsewhere. There’s a slide show of his work on Reuters and while most of the images will be familiar from the media coverage that is precisely what makes them interesting - so many were taken by the same individual.

As he notes in his blog, for 24 years he has covered war (he was almost killed in Sierra Leone in 2000), and now he covers one in his own country:

Being a photojournalist who has covered wars with Reuters for over 24 years I feel sad to be covering a “financial war” in my own country but at the same time I know that I must remain unbiased and objective until the end of it.

Speaking to her own Christian Democrats (CDU) Party in Leipzig on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “Europe is in one of its toughest, perhaps the toughest hour since World War Two.” The images of Yannis Behrakis record one of the current flash points of this time. As Europe spins out of control, there may sadly be many more.

Oct 312011

No doubt, it’s a time-honored tradition – police and protesters each want an advantage over the other. You have a goal; you basically use whatever means at your disposal.

But two points: first, infiltration by those in power is one thing – the Civil Rights movement was a target, knew it, and leveraged it as much as possible. No secrecy. In fact, the more the police knew, the more they – and the press – would show up at the next demonstration. And opposition in front of the press was exactly what Dr. King wanted. It instigated change.

But unlike the protesters, the police represent the state. They’re not out there to exercise First Amendment rights. So when infiltration is done by the police with the goal of deceiving and redirecting a protest movement to get what they want, you’ve got a serious problem.

And so this from the Occupy Oakland crowd. The protester turns out to be a cop, and if the Police Chief’s quotes are accuate, Oakland, you’ve got a serious problem:

Oct 282011

Nujood Ali and Shada Nasser

This video is remarkable and says so much about the undercurrents of change swirling through the Middle East. This is not the most compelling clip you’ll see – no exuberant rebels dragging a bleeding Gaddafi from a concrete culvert – no, here are women lined to up to symbolically and literally assert their presence and stand up against their second-class status.

Yemeni women first came into the news when Nujood Ali, a ten year old girl who was repeatedly raped and abused by a husband three times her age, was granted the right to a divorce with the assistance of her lawyer,  Shada Nasser. If you haven’t read Nujood Ali’s compelling story, take a few minutes and read Carla Power’s article in Glamour.

In February 2011, Yemen was back in the news with the struggle to remove the autocratic president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, from office and end his authoritarian rule over the country. The capital city, Sanaa, has been an endlessly tense scenes of quiet standoffs alternating with brutal crackdowns.

And Yemeni women were in the spotlight with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni activist.  But the men in the streets, though fighting for a revolution, have yet to come to terms with all the implications it entails. The result? Thousands of women have broke their silence and gathered in the capital. They brought their full-body veils, laid them out in the street, and set them on fire. It is a highly symbolic act, fraught with meaning in a very conservative Islamic society. Again, Yemeni women are saying they will be equal partners in a revolution to shape the future.

And their own destiny.

Oct 272011
Giles Fraser in front of St. Paul's Cathedral

Giles Fraser in front of St. Paul's Cathedral

Giles Fraser is resigning in protest over plans to forcibly evict protesters camped out on the steps of the church. Fearing “violence in the name of the church” Fraser tweeted around 9:00am this morning:

It is with great sadness that I have handed in my notice at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

As Cathedral Canon, Fraser has been a supporter of the Occupy London Stock Exchange movement, denouncing corporate greed, and helping clear police from the steps of the Cathedral. Over the past week, it has become increasingly apparent that the City of London Corporation (which controls the square in the front of the church) plans on forcibly removing the protesters. Naomi Colvin, a spokeswoman for the group said the following:

Courage like that is really very inspiring. It reassures us that what we’re doing is important. The people who have a bit of integrity, it’s becoming more obvious who those people are. I hope we can do well enough to justify their sacrifices.

For Fraser, the effort to close down the protest camp was contrary to his own beliefs but also flew in the face of what the Church should stand for:

He . . .  realised, as some of his colleagues did not, how the cathedral chapter’s attempts to close the camp down – and their over-reaction in closing the cathedral – would play in the outside world and how it would make the church appear: scared, cowed, out-of-touch and pro-establishment – the very things he consistently preaches against in sermons and broadcasts.

But there may have been more going on behind the scenes including efforts by those who would like to see him removed for his outspoken views:

He had been talking privately about possibly needing to resign when the chapter voted to take action against the protesters, but his hand may have been forced – ironically – by the revelation of that in the media. It is an interesting question who leaked it: there are church conservatives who would be delighted to see him fall.