A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for January 2011

[LINK] “South Sudan’s tricky name game”

What will independent South Sudan be called? Percy Zvomuya takes a look at the question in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian.

Azania — these were some of the tantalising names that were being touted for the new state comprising the southern provinces of Sudan. Alas, the grey-suited politicians made a beeline for the obvious: South Sudan.

Juwama was perhaps the least attractive of the options: a portmanteau term for Juba, Wau and Malakal, the three main cities of the south. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue like Tanzania, which amalgamates the names of mainland Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar.

Explaining why they were sticking with the tried and tested, Benjamin Marial, South Sudan’s information minister, said, “that is the majority preference — it’s the easiest for the time being; there are already many things with that name”, referring to government agencies. “Should the people of South Sudan in the future want a new name, they’ll have that chance.”

Poor Azania, Black Consciousness disciples are probably lamenting — it never quite makes it. Its origins are obscure, but some scholars think it was used by Persians, perhaps Arabs, to refer to Africa’s darker-skinned peoples.

An internet search reveals that a number of African states have names alluding to the complexions of their inhabitants. Sudan itself is derived from the Arab phrase bilad as-sudan, “land of the blacks”.

Race, topography, indigenous languages–all have been used to produce the names of countries.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 31, 2011 at 6:00 pm

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[LINK] “At Flickr, fending off rumours and Facebook”

Please tell me I won’t have to back up my Flickr account over at Google Picasa.

Speculation in technology circles that Yahoo might close or sell Flickr, its photo-sharing service, prompted an emphatic denial this month.

“Is Yahoo committed to Flickr?” Blake Irving, Yahoo’s product chief, wrote in a message on Twitter. “Hell yes we are!”

The confusion over Flickr’s future was perhaps understandable. Yahoo had just recently disclosed plans to shut down or otherwise dispose of several other Web products, including the bookmarking service Delicious, and some users feared Flickr would be next.

A pioneer in combining photos with social networking features, Flickr is facing a stiff challenge from newer services. In addition to fighting rumours, it is having to work hard to keep its users returning as Facebook widens its lead as the popular destination for sharing party, vacation and family snapshots.

Although Flickr is well known and still widely used, its traffic is shrinking. Unique visitors to Flickr in the United States fell 16 per cent, to 21.3 million, in December compared with a year earlier, according to comScore. Meanwhile, for that same time frame, use of Facebook’s photo features grew 92 per cent, to 123.9 million users.

Flickr’s trajectory largely dovetails that of Yahoo, which is struggling to re-emerge from years of underperformance. Carol A. Bartz, the company’s chief executive, is leading a turnaround effort that includes jettisoning products that are not central to her strategy of emphasizing Yahoo’s strengths.

Other than the recent support on Twitter, Yahoo’s top executives have barely mentioned Flickr publicly for some time. Few top executives actually have a public Flickr account.

No one questions Flickr’s appeal to photographers who post, admire and comment on a wealth of artistic images, many of which are magazine quality. Where Flickr is faltering is with people who want to store and share more mundane snapshots.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 31, 2011 at 3:21 pm

[OBSCURA] “1342 – [old] news”

1342 – [old] news
Originally uploaded by allanparke

Flickr’s allanparke has this great picture showing the newspaper boxes of Toronto. From left to right, there’s a box for the daily Metro Toronto, the evening t.o.night, weekly NOW Toronto, the Toronto Star daily, two newspaper boxes holding a variety of free flimsy weeklies and monthlies, the Toronto Sun, 24 hours, eye weekly, and another newspaper box with free weeklies and monthlies. Curiously, nothing from the National Post or Globe and Mail.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 31, 2011 at 11:18 am

[PHOTO] Henry Moore on the street

One of the largest collections of the works of English sculptor Henry Moore can be found at the Art Gallery of Ontario”. One, “Two Large Forms” (1966-1969), is on the AGO’s streetcorner, at the southwest of the intersection of Dundas and McCaul. It makes for an arresting sight: when I photographed it in the middle of last month, a woman was trying to keep her children from using the sculpture as a playground. She shouldn’t have: what else is public art for but play?




Written by Randy McDonald

January 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm

[PHOTO] Spadina Compass

Spadina Compass (1)

Spadina Compass (2)

Spadina Compass (3)

The compass, intricately spraypainted and with a weaving Celtic-style border, was to be found the middle of last month on the northeast corner of Spadina and Queen Street West.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm

[H&F] “Baseball Teams as Early-Modern States”

How are different baseball teams like different early-modern states? Co-blogger The Oberamtmann makes the case for each team over at History and Futility.

The Yankees, for instance.

New York Yankees: Austrian Habsburgs

While not always spending their immense resources efficiently to attain it, the Yankees/Habsburgs consider it worth the prestige afforded through the imperial crown. Idealistic and almost mystical histories provide the Yankees/Habsburgs with a sense of purpose and a naturally powerful demeanor. While not always victorious, their power and influence leads to awe, respect, and resentment from both allies and enemies. Even in down times, then, the Yankees/Austrian Habsburgs can use their historic influence to rally free agents/Imperial defense and taxes to their cause. Any moments of weakness, however, are seized by their rivals and lead immediately to calls of imminent demise, but old historiographical assumptions of inefficiency denoting stagnance and internal corruption are increasingly overturned. Incredible abilities to bounce back from some of the most crushing blows, like having Vienna besieged or Andy Pettitte retire.

  • George Steinbrenner before his first suspension: Ferdinand II
  • Before his second suspension: Ferdinand III
  • Thereafter: Leopold I
  • Hank Steinbrenner pre-shutting up: Joseph I
  • Hank Steinbrenner post-shutting up: Francis-Stephen of Lorraine
  • Hal Steinbrenner: Maria Theresa
  • Wallenstein: Alex Rodriguez (can also be Dave Winfield)
  • Mariano Rivera: Prince Eugen of Savoy

And more worryingly, from my perspective, the Blue Jays.

Toronto Blue Jays: Russia

Striking out from a place that gets very, very cold in winter, the Blue Jays/Russia enjoy a competitive advantage in the form of a potentially huge fan base/population, although mobilizing it is probably impossible. One could suggest that their inner problems are insurmountable, with new and old empires in the same division/as European neighbors. Being about a generation behind in current thought (c’mon, building a team focused on power hitters? What, is it 1998?) it might seem to many that the Blue Jays/Russia will never reach its potential. However, an incredible crop of young pitchers and stabilization in the offensive results of young position players/tough, intelligent and unyielding Czars just might bring strong success sooner than anyone else thinks. Help comes in the former of completely unexpected jumps forward, in the form of unloading Vernon Wells/building St. Petersburg.

  • Alex Anthopolous: Peter the Great (heck, after that trade, he can be Catherine the Great too)

Go, read, laugh, cringe.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm

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[LINK] The Egyptian Internet outages

Originally uploaded by randyfmcdonald

Originally available here as part of the 27 January 2011 Renesys blog post “Egypt Leaves the Internet” by James Cowie, this shows the way in which Egypt was detached from the Internet.

We have examined the takedown event more closely, looking at the sequence in which Egyptian service providers removed themselves from the Internet. The following plot shows the number of available networks for each of the significant providers, between 22:00 and 23:00 UTC last night (midnight to 1am Cairo time).

Our new observation is that this was not an instantaneous event on the front end; each service provider approached the task of shutting down its part of the Egyptian Internet separately.

* Telecom Egypt (AS8452), the national incumbent, starts the process at 22:12:43.
* Raya joins in a minute later, at 22:13:26.
* Link Egypt (AS24863) begins taking themselves down 4 minutes later, at 22:17:10.
* Etisalat Misr (AS32992) goes two minutes later, at 22:19:02.
* Internet Egypt (AS5536) goes six minutes later, at 22:25:10.

First impressions: this sequencing looks like people getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to take themselves off the air. Not an automated system that takes all providers down at once; instead, the incumbent leads and other providers follow meekly one by one until Egypt is silenced.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 29, 2011 at 12:00 am

[LINK] “The Dark Side of Twittering a Revolution”

Blogger Jamais Cascio relinked to an old post he wrote during the 2009 Iran events. Social networking systems can be used to get the masses for something good, true; equally, they can be used for something bad.

In noting the potential power of social networking tools for organizing mass change, I thought out loud for a moment about what kinds of dangers might emerge. It struck me, as I spoke, that there is a terrible analogy that might be applicable: the use of radio as a way of coordinating bloody attacks on rival ethnic communities during the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s. I asked, out loud, whether Twitter could ever be used to trigger a genocide. The audience was understandably stunned by the question, and after a few seconds someone shouted, “No!” I could only hope that the anonymous reply was right, but I don’t think he was.

iran twitterConsider, for a moment, what we’re seeing happening in Iran: mass-action coordinated, at least in part, through Twitter; traditional media in Iran having lost any legitimacy for the angry populace, alternative media–like Twitter–increasingly becoming the sole source of information; and a growing sense of persecution and crisis, abetted by the limited streams of rumor-heavy news. Let me again emphasize that I don’t think that what’s happening in Iran is a misuse of social media; what I do think is that the same kinds of dynamics that have allowed for a potential democratic revolution in Iran could emerge just as readily in support of something far darker.

In a 1999 presentation for the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Professor Frank Chalk noted five circumstances that would allow the maximum intensity of a media-driven response to a crisis:

1. the introduction of a new medium of communication, such as radio [or Twitter];
2. the use of a completely new style of communication;
3. the wide-spread perception that a crisis exists;
4. a public with little knowledge of the situation from other sources of information, and
5. a deep-seated habit of obeying authority among the target audience.

All of these circumstances pertain to the promulgation of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and many of them are found in other cases of genocide and genocidal killings, as well.

It’s easy to see how well this model applies to the Iranian situation, too.

The transparency of Twitter and like platforms does mean does mean it’s relatively easy to keep track, and certainly the sort of monologue of Rwanda’s famously anti-Tutsi Radio Mille Collines can’t go unchallenged, but, nevertheless.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm

[LINK] “Paging Davos, I never got my invite …”

Alpha Sources’ Claus Vistesen wondered why he wasn’t invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos. The predictions of some attendees that the world is set for a generation of strong growth are to blame; they’re not quite supported by fiscal realities.

If governments choose to focus all their efforts on growth and let fiscal excess continue the already huge debt problem will become worse. And if they don’t, they must face growth rates that are not only low, but perhaps even negative for a long period of time. A very recent shot fired across the bow today by the S&P comes in the form of the downgrade of Japan’s sovereign debt.

I would then pose my spectators one simple question and ask to reflect on some simple issue. What is the trend growth in the OECD and her individual economies with a balanced fiscal budget? And once we have agreed on that answer the obvious next question would how the world will deal with a substantial part of its economies exhibiting negative trend growth rates for as far as the eye can see?

More than anything I think that this has probably yet to sink in to markets and policy makers alike. Indeed, after having pissed in the proverbial bunch bowl I would probably go on to talk about the necessity (although my praise for the apparent success of the Euro bond issuance) of substantial debt restructuring in the Eurozone.

Alas, at that point my microphone would have long been switched off and I would probably, to boot, have been taken out by the in-house Davos sniper tasked with the elimination of any spoilers of the good mood.

Claus was writing about First World economies. Conceivably, even if they stagnate (relatively) for the next generation, the world as a whole could still thrive, still enjoy a generation of prosperity, as it engages is catch-up economic growth. Hopefully; Third World debt certainly has been an issue in the past.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the Egyptian protests and social networking’s role

The events in Egypt are starting to look revolutionary.

The headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party were ablaze in Cairo on Friday night, shortly after a curfew came into force, live footage carried by Al Jazeera television showed.

State television confirmed the building was set on fire.

NDP branch offices in several other cities around the country were also set on fire or attacked during the day, witnesses said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in his capacity as head of the military, announced a curfew in main cities starting from Friday. “According to what some provinces witnessed in terms of riots, lawlessness, looting, destruction, attack and burning of public and private property including attacks on banks and hotels, President Hosni Mubarak decreed a curfew as a military ruler,” a state TV announcer said.

The curfew is to last from 6 p.m. (local time) to 7 a.m. in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

The live feed from al Jazeera is spectacular. The YouTube channel also has some good footage, like the below Dan Nolan street reportage in Cairo.

The interesting news comes from outside of Cairo, where protests are continuing in cities like Alexandria and (below) Suez. And yes, the curfew is being completely ignored.

Foreign Policy;s Blake Hounsell has photos from Suez.

If I’m to trust in my understanding of the media coverage, the event seems to lack leadership as such, although figures like Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei are emerging as focuses. al Jazeera’s critical coverage of Arab regimes played a major role from the conventional media perspective, but from the social networking perspective social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have played a critical role in letting information escape and permeate the Internet user population in Egypt, with effective bypasses letting social media continue, using third-party apps like my own Hootsuite. Malcolm Gladwell was quite, quite wrong about the weakness of online social networks’ real-world networks.

Jeff Jedras has some nice coverage of the background.

In the countries where they don’t have the democratic freedom we take for granted, where they don’t have the free press we enjoy, where they live daily under oppressive and dictatorial governments, their perspective on social media was very different. For them, social media is a vital tool of empowerment and democracy promotion.

For countries without a free press, blogs are their free press, with actual citizen journalists reporting on events the government wants censored, and that wouldn’t be reported otherwise. And Twitter is their rapid response and organizational tool. Small handheld cameras and video sharing tools like YouTube add another layer, bringing video that would never be shown on state television.

[. . . A]s I read about the amazing events in Tunisia and Egypt, and as I watch the gripping live coverage from Egypt on Al Jazerra English, the speaker I keep thinking back to is Egypt’s Wael Abbas. Before Abbas’ presentation [at the World Blogging Forum in Bucharest in 2009], like many in the West I didn’t know much about Egypt, but I though it was a fairly friendly, free country, particularly compared to many of its neighbours.

Jedras’ report is here.

[T]he situation in Egypt described by the next speaker, Wael Abbas, was completely new and shocking to me. Abbas is a blogger and human rights activist who was named Middle East person of the year by CNN in 2007.

In Egypt, said Abbas, there’s no protection for journalism, there’s censorship on supposed security grounds, copies of papers are often confiscated and presses delayed or closed, tapes confiscated from videographers, TV stations raided by security officials and tapes seized, all leading to an environment of self-censorship by the media to avoid confrontation with the government.

As a result, he said there was a dire need in Egypt for an alternative form of media to support civil society and provide real, uncensored news to the Egyptian people. The government had been blocking the Web but ended that practice when it wanted to encourage telecom investment. Instead, said Abbas, the government doesn’t censor blogs, but instead harasses, detains and arrests bloggers within the country instead in an attempt to intimidate then into ceasing their activities.

Blogging and citizen journalism first came into its own in Egypt when the mainstream media weren’t covering protests against President Mubarak, election rigging and police violence. Bloggers stepped in to fill that gap and while sometimes the barrier between blogging and activism blurred, the objective approach bloggers tried to take found public support. They presented video and pictures of what was happening and asked people to draw their own conclusions. The media were actually spurred-on by the bloggers, being encouraged to report more of what was actually happening, and publishing blogger content. Opposition parties also reached out to the new media.

Abbas himself drew negative government attention when he published photos of hired thugs that arrested female protestors, and exposed paid pro-Mubarak protesters, and posted controversial video. He has had his Facebook, YouTube and Yahoo accounts shut down under government pressure for his activities, and the government has accused him of being a criminal, a homosexual and having converted to Christianity in attempts to discredit him.

While at its peak around 2005, Abbas said bloggers helped push the envelope for press freedom and political freedom by the opposition, its still under attack and the government’s counter-attacks are working, causing him to lose optimism that real change will happen in Egypt.

Wael Abbas’ blog is here.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm