Monday, January 01, 2018

Cruising the Web

Happy New Year's! I wish every one of my readers a happy, healthy 2018!

While those who dislike Trump pride themselves on being The Resistance, the truly courageous resistance are those Iranian protesters who took to the streets to protest their government. Living in an autocratic theocracy, it takes true courage to publicly chant "Death to Rouhani." What started as protests over the economic woes of a country with rising inflation have morphed into political protests.
About 300 demonstrators gathered in Kermanshah after what Fars said was a “call by the anti-revolution”. They shouted “Political prisoners should be freed” and “Freedom or death”, and some public property was destroyed. Fars did not name any opposition groups.

The protests in Kermanshah, the main city in the region where an earthquake killed more than 600 people in November, took place a day after hundreds of people rallied in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, shouting anti-government slogans in protest against high prices.

Footage that could not be verified showed protests in other cities including Sari and Rasht in the north, Qom south of Tehran, and Hamadan in the west.
And we know that the Iranian government is truly afraid because they're trying to block any communication that protesters can make over the internet.
Iranian authorities, scrambling to contain the biggest nationwide protests since 2009, have blocked social media apps and said anyone who disrupts public order will pay the price, after a turbulent night of growing anti-establishment demonstrations left at least two dead.

People took to the streets on Saturday night for a third evening of apparently spontaneous protests. The demonstrations began over economic grievances but have since taken on a political dimension, with unprecedented calls for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.
With limited reporting out of Iran and misleading stories from some major media outlets, Twitter has actually become almost indispensable in following the story since we can see videos of the protests with translations of what people are chanting. Over the weekend, several news outlets downplayed, ignored, or mislead on what was happening in Iran. As Stephen Miller writes,
The question that needs to be asked right now is why traditional mainstream media outlets – grandstanding over their importance in this new, bold era of fact-checking and truth-telling – have largely ignored a blossoming revolution.

Anyone on Twitter could click #IranProtests and view videos and eyewitness accounts that contradicted much of Western media’s early reporting about these protests being simply about economic anxiety as was the case with The New York Times and Washington Post.

But the now three-day duration of rallies and protests that have found their way to Tehran have gone largely unnoticed in America’s corporate media apparatus. The New York Times simply described the protests as economic grievances, the same way Iranian state-run television described them.

CNN ignored the protests completely, and the explosion on social media until a front page story reporting on not uprisings against the regime, but a pro-government rally and President Trump’s tweet in support of the protestors. If the State Department wants to send a message of solidarity to the protesters in Iran, perhaps it can send them a white truck. Yes, the question has to be asked how such an uprising of thousands against their government would be covered by western media if this were Tel Aviv. We don’t need U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley defiantly raising her hand to answer that question for us.
Instead of turning to those outlets, I found I was getting more information about what was happening at some of these protests from Iranian emigres on Twitter. For example,

No wonder the regime wants to block access to the internet.

Three days of demonstrations over falling living standards have become the biggest show of dissent since huge pro-reform rallies in 2009.

A Revolutionary Guards commander said the protests had degenerated into people chanting political slogans and burning public property.

Two protesters died of gunshot wounds.

The authorities in Dorud in western Iran said security forces did not open fire on demonstrators, and blamed the deaths instead on Sunni Muslim extremists and foreign powers.

Correspondents say the reference to foreign intelligence agencies was intended to mean Saudi Arabia.

Iran has imposed "temporary" restrictions on social networks Telegram and Instagram.

The decision was taken "to maintain tranquillity and security of society", a source told state news agency IRIB.

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov tweeted that the action was taken after his company refused to shut down channels on the messaging app used to organise peaceful protests.
Remember that this is the regime that the Obama administration allowed to have hundreds of billions of dollars in cash. Little of that money went to helping the Iranian people. As predicted at the time, much of it has gone to propping up the regime and funding terrorists organizations throughout the Middle East.

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The New York Times started out by downplaying the protests in Iran or the fact that they had a political motivation.
Now compare today’s New York Times coverage. It is entitled “Scattered Protests Erupt in Iran Over Economic Woes.” More remarkably, consider the very first line:

Protests over the Iranian government’s handling of the economy spread to several cities on Friday, including Tehran, in what appeared to be a sign of unrest.

Ya think? “ Appeared” to be a sign of unrest?

What else was it, a sign of support for the ayatollahs?

And note the Times title again, telling you these protests are all about the economy—a conclusion contradicted by the words being shouted by the protesters, as the BBC tells us.

In fact, buried down in the Times story we do find that in Kermanshah “protesters shouted anti-government slogans like ‘Death or freedom,’ ‘Care for us and leave Palestine’ and ‘Political prisoners must be freed’….” Does that sound like a "protest over economic woes?"

The Times story is written by its bureau chief in Tehran, Thomas Erdbrink, one of the very few Western reporters (he is Dutch) accredited to report for U.S. media.

Must he pull punches for fear of being expelled from Iran? After all, this is a regime that has invaded embassies (most recently, for example, the British Embassy in 2011) and in 2009 the entire BBC bureau there was shut down and the BBC’s correspondent expelled.

In 2014, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was arrested and then imprisoned for 18 months. He and his wife are now suing the government of Iran for their maltreatment and torture while in captivity.

So perhaps it is wise for reporters in Tehran to watch what they say. But the Times’s report and headline that these are merely economic protests are misleading. Both should be corrected.

Lee Smith analyses the inability of American media to cover honestly the protests in Iran.
The current media landscape was shaped by years of an Obama administration that made the nuclear deal its second-term priority. Talking points on Iran were fed to reporters by the White House—and those who veered outside government-approved lines could expect to be cut off by the administration’s ace press handlers, like active CIA officer Ned Price. It’s totally normal for American reporters to print talking points fed to them daily by a CIA officer who works for a guy with an MA in creative writing, right? But no one ever balked. The hive-mind of today’s media is fed by minders and validated by Twitter in a process that is entirely self-enclosed and circular; a “story” means that someone gave you “sources” who “validate” the agreed upon “story-line.” Someone has to feed these guys so they can write—which is tough to do when real events are unfolding hour by hour on the ground.

The United States has plenty of real expertise about Iran—not just inside think-tanks but throughout the country. The Los Angeles area alone hosts some 800,000 people of Iranian heritage, none of whom are among the “Iran experts” who are regularly featured in the press. Most of the “experts” tapped by the media to comment on Iranian matters have been credentialed and funded by pro-Iran deal organizations like Trita Parsi’s National Iranian American Council. They are propagandists for the regime. Others, like Hooman Majd and Hussein Moussavian, were actually regime functionaries, who now distribute a more sophisticated brand of pro-regime propaganda inside the US.

The election of Rouhani represents a moderate trend in Iranian politics that the United States should encourage. The cash windfall that will come to the regime as a result of sanctions relief will be spent to repair the economy and address the needs of the Iranian people. Etc Etc.

Americans were systematically bombarded by craven regime “talking points” on mainstream and elite media throughout the Obama presidency—because the president had his eye on making a historic deal with Iran that would secure his “legacy.” Anyone who suggested that there was no real difference between Iranian moderates and hardliners, that the regime will spend its money on its foreign wars, not its own people, was shouted down. Anyone who also belonged to the pro-Israel community—meaning that they cared, among other things, about democratic governance in the Middle East—was denounced as a deceitful dual loyalist who thirsted to send innocent American boys off to war. You know, like those hook-nosed banker cartoons that once enlivened the pages of German newspapers.
Remember that the Obama administration spent the past eight years selling their version of the Iranian regime and the media mostly swallowed it.
The current coverage of the protests sweeping across Iran is bad by design. The Obama administration used the press to mislead the American public in order to win the president’s signature foreign policy initiative. The bill for that program of systematic misinformation is still coming in, and the price is much higher than anyone could have imagined, including more than 500,000 dead in Syria and an American press incapable of understanding, never mind reporting, that this death toll was part of Obama’s quid pro quo for the nuclear deal.

And what was gained? America enriched and strengthened a soon-to-be nuclear regime that murders its neighbors abroad while torturing, oppressing, and impoverishing its own citizens. Whether the current wave of protests is successful or not, they show that the Iranian people are heartily sick of the regime that Obama and his servants spent eight years of his Presidency praising and propping up.

As Miller reminds us, the media served as lapdogs for the Obama administration's hyping of the Iran deal and continue to downplay any criticism of that deal.
A woman was caught on videotape screaming “death to Khamenei” at Iranian law enforcement officials – an action that could not only endanger her life, but the lives of her family. But nevertheless, she persisted.

Social media came to a halt when another video was shared on Twitter of a female activist, shedding her hijab and waving a makeshift flag at security forces while standing atop a container.

I’m not exactly sure why an Iranian woman would shed such a garment that we’ve been told by the political left of this country is a symbol of empowerment and feminism. But her body, her choice.

Protesters are shouting “Death to Khamenei,” “Mullahs get lost,” “No more Islamic Republic,” “Clerics return us our country.” They are not shouting “We have economic anxiety”. This is not about economic anxiety. This about revolting against a regime who has exhausted its moral good will, and no longer can lean on a sympathetic United States for more pallets of cash.

There is no doubt that socio-economics are playing a small role in all this. That’s bound to happen when a corrupt repressive regime promises its people millions of dollars to improve their lives, courtesy of their former friends in the Obama administration who flew them pallets of cash. Then somehow that money found its way to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

The echo chamber of media outlets that are now hesitant to report on the uprising in Iran cannot be ignored, especially after the coordinated lash-out on the heels of Josh Meyer’s devastating report in Politico over the Obama administration killing an investigation into Hezbollah’s drug trafficking operation. The Obama administration reportedly took the action to appease Iran and facilitate a nuclear deal.
Noah Pollak has a suggestion for journalists looking for a different slant on the story of the Iranian protests.

Iranian women protesting being forced to wear the hijab show so much courage than any woman protesting Trump and Pence by donning Handmaid's Tale gear or pussy hats. Think of the courage manifested by this one woman.
She may one day be the symbol of the fight for freedom in the same way as the man standing up to the tanks in Tiananmen Square has been a model of courage to so many people since 1989, We still don't know what happened to Tank Man, though the Chinese government has been successful in erasing the image and history within China so that young people today have no idea what actually happened or that there was such a brave man. We can only cross our fingers and hope that this brave Iranian woman survives her courageous protest. Perhaps the prevalence of social media with #IStandWithHer trending on Twitter can help spread her image throughout the world just like news cameras preserved the memory of Tank Man's bravery.

This may be a propitious sign, but I wouldn't put much faith in the temporary policy announcement from Tehran's police.
Police in Iran’s capital said Thursday they will no longer arrest women for failing to observe the Islamic dress code in place since the 1979 revolution.

The announcement signaled an easing of punishments for violating the country’s conservative dress code, as called for by the young and reform-minded Iranians who helped re-elect President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, earlier this year.

But hard-liners opposed to easing such rules still dominate Iran’s security forces and judiciary, so it was unclear whether the change would be fully implemented.

“Those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centers, nor will judicial cases be filed against them.” Tehran police chief Gen. Hossein Rahimi was quoted as saying by the reformist daily Sharq.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency said violators will instead be made to attend classes given by police. It said repeat offenders could still be subject to legal action, and the dress code remains in place outside the capital.

For nearly 40 years, women in Iran have been forced to cover their hair and wear long, loose garments. Younger and more liberal-minded women have long pushed the boundaries of the official dress code, wearing loose headscarves that don’t fully cover their hair and painting their nails, drawing the ire of conservatives.

Iran’s morality police— similar to Saudi Arabia’s religious police— typically detain violators and escort them to a police van. Their families are then called to bring the detainee a change of clothes. The violator is then required to sign a form that they will not commit the offense again.

Men can also be stopped by the police if they are seen wearing shorts or going shirtless.

Last year, police in Tehran announced plans to deploy 7,000 male and female officers for a new plainclothes division — the largest such undercover assignment in memory - to monitor public morality and enforce the dress code.
Look at these photographs of women in Iran before the revolution. I can remember how, in the 1970s, the Shah of Iran was portrayed as these evil ruler repressing the rights of his people and jailing opponents. Seeing what followed him, perhaps we can have a more nuanced understanding of his rule. While the Iranian government would like us to believe that the women who dressed the way they did under the Shah and had the rights of education and freedom of movement that they did then adapted seamlessly to the new Islamic government's edicts on women, this photograph and history tell a very different story.
On 8 March 1979, more than 100,000 women gathered on the streets of the Iranian capital to protest against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab ruling, which meant that women would henceforth be required to wear a headscarf when away from home. The protest was held on International Women’s Day, and the images show women from all walks of life — nurses, students, mothers — marching, smiling, arms raised in protest.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini severely curtailed rights that women had become accustomed to under the shah. Within months of the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the 1967 Family Protection Law was repealed; female government workers were forced to observe Islamic dress code; women were barred from becoming judges; beaches and sports were sex-segregated; the legal age of marriage for girls was reduced to 9 (later raised to 13); and married women were barred from attending regular schools.

Almost immediately women protested these policies. The Islamic revolution is ideologically committed to inequality for women in inheritance and other areas of the civil code; and especially committed to segregation of the sexes. Many places, from “schoolrooms to ski slopes to public buses”, are strictly segregated....

“Bad hijab” ― exposure of any part of the body other than hands and face – is subject to punishment of up to 70 lashes or 60 days imprisonment. In April 2007, the Tehran police, (which is under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s supervision), began the most fierce crackdown on what is known as “bad hijab” in more than a decade. In the capital Tehran thousands of Iranian women were cautioned over their poor Islamic dress and several hundred arrested.
Do you think the women who were alive before the revolution have forgotten the freedoms they had or that they haven't told their daughters about what life was like before the revolution?

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As Sohrab Ahmari writes, what is happening now in Iran shatters a myth propounded by the NYT.
So much for the New York Times theory that, thanks to Trumpian and Saudi bellicosity, the Iranian people have closed ranks behind their rulers. In November, the paper’s Tehran bureau chief, Thomas Erdbrink, devoted an extended feature to making this case, and it proved wildly popular with the pro-nuclear deal crowd in Washington.

“After years of cynicism, sneering or simply tuning out all things political,” wrote Erdbrink, “Iran’s urban middle classes have been swept up in a wave of nationalist fervor.” He went on: “Mr. Trump and the Saudis have helped the government achieve what years of repression could never accomplish: widespread public support for the hard-line view that the United States and Riyadh cannot be trusted.”

Erdbrink’s argument echoed rhetoric from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Responding to October’s announcement of new U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Zarif tweeted: “Today, Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC.”

Or not.

This week, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to register their anger, not at Donald Trump or the House of Saud, but at the mullahs and their security apparatus. It was economic grievances that initially ignited the protests in the northeastern city of Mashhad. But soon the uprising grew and spread to at least 18 cities nationwide. And the slogans shifted from joblessness and corruption to opposition to the Islamic Republic in toto. These included:

“Death to [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei!”

“Death to Hezbollah!”

“Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, Our Life Only for Iran!”

“We Will Die to Get Our Iran Back!”

“Clerics Out of Our Country!”
That one article by Erdbrink may be just one facet of the Times' coverage of Iran and just an attempt to view politics of one country through the prism of reactions to Trump. I suspect that those brave young people in the streets are not thinking about Donald Trump for one single second, but are focused on their own complaints against their oppressive government. Sometimes, it is not about the United States. Of course, Trump supporters are eager to give him some sort of credit for what is going on there and contrasts his tweets against the Iranian government and supporting the protesters with Obama's response to similar protests in 2009. Let's wait and see whether the U.S. government takes any action besides supportive tweets.

In one of those fortuitous timings of events, these protests in Iran are taking place just as Iranian chess prodigy Dorsa Derakhshani published an essay in the New York Times about why she is not competing at the WOrld Chess Championships in Saudi Arabia.
Right now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the World Chess Championships are underway. But some world champions are noticeably absent: The Israeli players were blocked from participating when Saudi Arabia denied them visas.

Chess — a game that I have loved since I first sat down at a board — is pure. It doesn’t care about gender, ethnicity, nationality, status or politics. But too often the countries, organizations and people who enforce the rules in the world of chess are anything but.

This is a subject I know something about.

I was the second-highest-ranked player for girls under 18 in the world in 2016. I am the second-highest-ranked female chess player in Iranian history. And yet my passion for the game has taken me thousands of miles away from my home in Tehran to seek citizenship here in the United States.

From 2011 until 2015 I played for the Iranian national team. I had to follow the official Iranian dress code, which requires women to cover their hair in public. I understood that being a member of the team meant that I was an official representative of the country, so I never broke the rules. But I chafed under them.

By 2015, when I was 17 years old, it was clear to me that other things mattered more to the federation than talent. Just one example: I had won the Asian championship three times in a row when I arrived at the tournament in India in 2014. I was favored to win, given my record. Yet federation officials weren’t focused on my game, but on my clothing. On the very first day of the tournament, they told me my jeans were too tight. I told them I would not participate in the round unless they stopped scolding me.

In the end, I played and won that tournament in India. But time and time again, those in charge of the Iranian national team showed that they cared more about the scarf covering my hair than the brain under it.
She goes on to write about how she has left the Iranian national team and is training in St. Louis now. But she can't see her family and her brother was barred from playing in Iran because he had played an Israeli player at an international competition.

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This set of tweets from Senator Grassley make me a real fan of his! He has a continual aggravation with the History Channel for so rarely running any shows that deal with, you know, history. As anyone who loves history would agree, the History Channel is a real misnomer and I applaud Senator Grassley's attempts to shame them into showing more history. With the reawakening of interest in history such as demonstrated by the musical "Hamilton" or the appearance of Walter Isaacson's biography of Leonardo Da Vinci or Ron Chernow's biography of Grant, on the best-seller lists, it seems that there is a real interest out there in history. They should be catering to that interest instead of running "The Curse of Oak Island" Or "Counting Cars."

The NYT reports
on the growth of publishing firms having "sensitivity readers" whose job it is to read books, particularly children's books, and ferret out phrases or situations that might be upsetting to certain readers.
In today’s hair-trigger, hyperreactive social media landscape, where a tweet can set off a cascade of outrage and prompt calls for a book’s cancellation, children’s book authors and publishers are taking precautions to identify potential pitfalls in a novel’s premise or execution. Many are turning to sensitivity readers, who provide feedback on issues like race, religion, gender, sexuality, chronic illness and physical disabilities. The role that readers play in shaping children’s books has become a flash point in a fractious debate about diversity, cultural appropriation and representation, with some arguing that the reliance on sensitivity readers amounts to censorship.

Continue reading the main story
Behind the scenes, these readers are having a profound impact on children’s literature, reshaping stories in big and small ways before they reach impressionable young audiences. Like fact checkers or copy editors, sensitivity readers can provide a quality-control backstop to avoid embarrassing mistakes, but they specialize in the more fraught and subjective realm of guarding against potentially offensive portrayals of minority groups, in everything from picture books to science fiction and fantasy novels.
Of course, others are recognizing that such a practice would have barred some classics from ever being published.
Some see a downside to publishers’ growing reliance on sensitivity readers, and warn that it could lead to sanitized books tiptoe around difficult topics. Skeptics say the heightened scrutiny discourages authors from writing about cultures other than their own, resulting in more homogenized literature. “Can we no longer read ‘Othello’ because Shakespeare wasn’t black?” the novelist Francine Prose wrote recently in an essay about sensitivity readers and censorship in The New York Review of Books.

Others have echoed that view, arguing that sensitivity readers might have derailed works like William Styron’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” After the subject was covered in Slate, a writer for National Review fretted that “if ‘sensitivity readers’ are given the freedom to hijack authors’ visions, we’re going to lose some beloved works of art that we could have otherwise enjoyed.”
On the other side, supporters of the practice argue that it helps writers and publishers understand more about the context of the buject matter and help them from inadvertently offending groups.
Advocates of the practice say sensitivity readers aren’t preventing authors from tackling tough subjects or writing cross-culturally, but helping to guard against misrepresentation.

“It’s a craft issue; it’s not about censorship,” said Dhonielle Clayton, a former librarian and writer who has evaluated more than 30 children’s books as a sensitivity reader this year. “We have a lot of people writing cross-culturally, and a lot of people have done it poorly and done damage.”
Nick Gillespie comments at,
But in a culture that rightly champions free expression, assimilation, class-race-and-gender mixing, and empathy, it's a practice that threatens to choke off work. There's no good reason that a small group of experts should be able to claim that it alone can validate a manuscript (and, one presumes, movies and other art forms) as authentic and real for potential protesters who will claim that this or that book must be pulled from shelves, heavily rewritten, or just not published at all. Publishers are free to print (or not) whatever they want, but this is a barely disguised version of thought control that would redact much of children's literature.
And all this uproar ignores the way that people think about the purpose of art.
Let's leave aside the not-insignificant fact that major publishers are not trying to crank YA or literary versions of The Turner Diaries. They are trying to engage readers who are seeking to either experience something different than what they know or to see their experience reflected back at them. These two aims aren't mutually exclusive by any means, but something the right-wing and left-wing cultural commissars have long believed in what scholar Joli Jensen calls "instrumental culture." In this view, books and other forms of art are essentially like medicine that's injected into people and forces them to think or behave a certain way; bad books (and movies, music, TV shows, etc.) create bad citizens. But that's the wrong way to think about the art we produce and consume, says Jensen, who makes the argument at length in her excellent 2002 study Is Art Good for Us?:
There's an assumption that art is an instrument like medicine or a toxin that can be injected into us and transform us. But there's very little evidence of a direct effect, and we all participate in creating the meaning of a particular piece of work. We should always be considerate about how we choose to tell stories and the stories we choose to tell. That's an ongoing cultural conversation, but I mistrust attempts to control that conversation by excluding a priori categories of stories or by assuming that the stories we are telling are harming us.

Since Is Art Good for Us? was published after a decade of bipartisan attempts to censor rap music and video games, the movement to constrain what is considered acceptable discourse has grown exponentially.

The entire case against cultural appropriation, for example, is based on mistaken beliefs that only certain people can legitimately represent certain points of view even when it comes to cuisine, a traditional example of mongrelization gone beautifully mad (all cooking is fusion, as any pasta-and-tomato-eating Italian will tell you). If we cannot get outside of ourselves through the act of producing and consuming culture that transcends our genetics and sociological milieu, what a degraded experience we will be doomed to lead. In the current moment, sensitivity readers reflect not a good-faith effort to avoid stupid mistakes and offense but a thought-police goon squad enforcing strict parameters on what we can think and say. They are part of the apparatus that is producing more members of the fragile generation, the term that Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt have coined to describe a world in which children especially are seen as incapable of processing even the smallest problem without suffering long-term, major damage.

There's something else to think about, too, which is that sensitivity readers won't save authors and publishers from hostility. Protesters hell-bent on being offended will always find a grievance, a megaphone, and a Quisling.
We'll never know, in this era of hysteria, what books will never be written or published because of fear of offending someone, somewhere and igniting some sort of Twitter attack that may represent only a handful of sensitivity police, but scare off publishers and authors.