A brief experiment with truth

In my previous post, I mentioned in passing that an article by Declan Walsh in the NY Times about the war in Tigray seemed to have reversed facts and created a false narrative about who was the aggressor.  Well, this subplot took a dramatic turn today.  Long story short, in addition to the blog post, I asked him publicly repeatedly, and today he publicly admitted it! It is an extraordinary admission but since the editors of the NY Times are apparently sweeping this reversal under the rug, I would like to  relay the story more completely here.
On June 21, the NY Times published this article: “From Nobel Hero to Driver of War, Ethiopia’s Leader Faces Voters — Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed plunged Ethiopia into a war in the Tigray region that spawned atrocities and famine“.   It’s quite long and there’s lots of “color”, but it basically has two pieces of new information.
First about Feltman meeting Abiy in Addis Abeba in May. The meeting itself is not news, what’s being reported is an anecdote about how the meeting went, showing Abiy trying to clumsily charm Feltnan and failing, with details like coffee spills, etc. to show the info comes from someone who was there.  So basically this is relaying  the story of the meeting from Feltman’s perspective. Not really reporting but ok…  
Second, it reports that Coons spoke to Abiy in “early November”. What happened in that conversation is the real substance of the article. Here’s what it said:

  • “Washington” heard about the war before it started 
  • Coons called Abiy and tried to talk him out of starting the war
  • Abiy wanted the war and predicted swift victory before it started
  • There is no mention in the article of the actual event that started the war, namely the Nov 4 attack by  TPLF on the national army

The story a normal reader would get is basically that the Ethiopian government was the aggressor against TPLF.  
But if you are not naive a  few things jump out. 

  • First it is saying the call happened in early November before the start of the war, and before the US election, so it must have been Nov 1-3.  At that time Coons was running for reelection.  It is hard to believe that a US Senator is making phone calls to foreign leaders in the last 48 hours of his own election campaign.  
  • Second, the reason Senator Coons has been involved lately is as a personal emissary of President Biden. They are both from Delaware, Coons took  Biden’s seat in the Senate when Biden became VP, and it is not unusual for a sitting president or a president-elect to have personal emissaries do some international diplomacy for them.  What is unusual is for this to happen before he’s elected.  And it is even more surprising that candidate Biden would be focused on Ethiopia while he is in the final hours of his own very intense presidential campaign!  
  • Third, consider how might have “word reached Washington” about a war that hasn’t started. Who gets “word” about alleged secret military plans of a foreign country? Is the claim that Biden was getting secret foreign intelligence while he was still a candidate? The Trump adminstration and Biden transition  were not even cooperating *after* the election, so if there really was a secret channel of intelligence to Biden this would be news!
  • Fourth a quick look at Senator Coons website shows that his calls are logged.  For example the Nov 23 call is there and is consistent with what was widely reported at the time.  But there is no record of a call in early November. Strange exception.

What makes more sense is that there was no pre-Nov 3 conversation. It was the Nov 23 conversation. By taking what Abiy said three weeks after the war was started by TPLF, and placing it before Nov 4, the article creates a false narrative about who the aggressor is. Literally reversing the truth!
This was part of a pattern in all the other articles by the same Declan Walsh. In a June 28 article he wrote ENDF “invaded” Tigray back in November, a strange statement considering ENDF was attacked on its own bases in Tigray.  (I’m using links to tweets as neutral timestamps since publication dates on nytimes.com can change).  In May he wrote that “Abiy began a military operation on Nov. 4” , as if he just happened for no apparent reason.  In February article, he describes the beginning of the war by saying “Abiy launched a surprise offensive”.  A surprise! A few people have noted this amnesia. By June, he had written over 6300 words in 4 articles on the war without once mentioning the Nov 4 attacks. The phrase “Nobel prize” appears in every single article in sentences with a negative or ironic tone. Every Ethiopian government or army action is portrayed as if it was done personally by Abiy himself on a whim, a typical “third world dictator” trope.  But the Nov 4 attack by TPLF was not mentioned, not once. Finally, after months, and thousands more words, perhaps as a result of the criticism,  “Nov 4” appeared in the 20th paragraph  of an article on July 3. In the most recent article, perhaps he has retreated  to  using passive voice formulations like “”war erupted in November“.  All this to say this detail appeared on Jun 21 against a backdrop of consistent, shall we say, omission.
But this time it was more than just an omission and subjective tone, it was a blatant true or false question. So I asked him directly on Twitterhttps://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=true&id=1407024847587250179&lang=en&origin=http%3A%2F%2Fnemozen.semret.org%2Fsearch%2Flabel%2Fpropaganda&sessionId=19b629e01e577565d9fd0ae402953794f43d0c1d&theme=light&widgetsVersion=f001879%3A1634581029404&width=550pxAnd again two weeks later.
Finally today, (thanks to @Noslata and many others) Declan Walsh responded! He said the article was updated, and blamed the falsehood on Coons misremembering the dates.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=true&id=1415237973331824640&lang=en&origin=http%3A%2F%2Fnemozen.semret.org%2Fsearch%2Flabel%2Fpropaganda&sessionId=19b629e01e577565d9fd0ae402953794f43d0c1d&theme=light&widgetsVersion=f001879%3A1634581029404&width=550pxHere’s what the updated article says as of now 

So basically the main point, the meat of the story, is now completely different. 
But I’m not celebrating. The whole thing is still a loss for Truth. Either the reporter was  lying in the article and is also lying now on Twitter when he blames it on Coons; or he simply writes  what a politician tells him without even the most rudimentary checking —  more secretary than reporter. One might wonder how a “bureau chief” of a major newspaper could be such a clumsy liar or so gullible. I guess we are lucky that we are dealing with the B team here. Check this out:  “The New York Times shows how not to write an Africa job advert” a hilarious deconstruction of a job ad. That might even be the actual one that was filled by Declan Walsh!  Reading it you can totally see how the position could go to second-rate hacks who are easily manipulated by their sources.  This is not the first time either — I’ve complained before.
More depressing is that on the article itself, even now there is no indication that a correction was made! No editor’s note, no diff.  It just says updated as if it was a minor punctuation change.  It’s hard to overstate the impact of this…. One of the most influential newspapers published a completely false narrative about one of the biggest most tragic events, then after millions had read it, quietly reversed the facts.  It’s much worse than the old problem of print corrections not getting as much visibility as the original falsehood. In this case the damage is done and what little evidence there was is erased….  
Another disappointment is that  this  July 11 artcile in Al Jazeera  covers the same conversation with the same tone, and misses the opportunity to clearly put in the right context (i.e. after not before Nov 4). Before today’s admission by Declan, I had asked the author privately if he had more info on this conversation but didn’t hear back.  
So what can we do?   When this kind of stuff happened leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the NY Times played an infamous role. Here is their own list of articles that contributed to deceit about the war. Their ombudsman aka public editor, whose role was to hold the paper  accountable on behalf of readers wrote a scathing rebuke of the Time’s failures. Sadly, this position was abolished in 2017 it seems. So I resorted to asking the question on Twitter. And that is the silver lining. You are now the public editors!  And unraveling falsehoods  can now happen in a few days instead of years.  And of course, the evidence was never really erased merely swept under the rug. We can see on archive.org that the change occured between June 25 and June 27.  Also I usually don’t grab screenshots but for some reason something made me latch on to this  on June 21.   The summer solstice maybe?  Anyway  I hope  this little experiment shows there’s hope for truth. Strengthen your mind we are living in serious times
P.S. The title of this post is borrowed from the autobiography of M. K. Gandhi, one of my favorite books. POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 19 COMMENTSLABELS: AFRICAETHIOPIAMEDIAPROPAGANDA


Pay any price, bear any burden

There is so much to say about the tragedy currently unfolding in Tigray, so much propaganda, so many paranoid conspiracy theories on all sides in the conflict, and this being Africa, such low quality media coverage…  If you don’t know much about it, don’t get Gell-Man amnesia and start with a random news article. Instead, the best place to start is probably the Wikipedia pages on the war, the timeline, and the start (check the citations if anything seems biased!) But my assumption is that you have already done all of that.  
My focus here is just the US foreign policy aspect.  What is going on in Washington, how do we explain US government  actions vis-à-vis Ethiopia?  Is it  “responsibility to protect” or is it  “neocolonialism”? Is it all part of a broader strategy related to China or is it related to Egypt? I have not seen anyone answer this adequately, so this is my humble attempt to make sense of it.
Throughout this post I try to remember three principles.  Occam’s razor: The simplest explanation is usually the best one. Hanlon’s razor: never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. Third, every complex problem has a simple neat explanation which is wrong, so we won’t oversimplify. 
Let me explain where the question arises. First let’s take a snapshot — the very eventful week of May 23, 2021:

  • May 23:  the US State Dept imposed imposed visa restrictions  on Ethiopian government officials, which had been rumoured a couple of days earlier.
  • May 24 Blinken spoke to the UAE foreign minister. The same day, the UAE pulled out of Ethiopia-Sudan dispute mediation.
  • May 26 Blinken met with Al-Sisi 
  • May 26 USAID said in a press release and in a US Senate hearing on May 27, that a “USAID partner” had been killed by “Ethiopian and Eritrean” and that the killing was ” clearly intentional”.  A few things stood out: 
    • I’ve tried but can’t find the name of the partner organization.  It’s not mentioned in the press release, or in the statements to congress the next day, or in any press interview. Why would it be secret? 
    • In congress, USAID’s Sarah Charles said it happened in April. But for some reason, USAID did not speak bout the murder for a month.   Here’s a CNN story where “a top USAID official working on the ground in Tigray” talks about the situation with partners on April 30, and does not mention the murder.
    • the press release says the killing was by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. As described by Ms Charles, it was not in the heat of the battle. And she also says “and”.  It would be understandable if they said “or”. The “and” means they know it’s both. It seems strange that both armies would simultaneously shoot one unarmed person, especially given that most reports have them in different territories, and there was no battle going on. 
  • May 27 In Senate testimony, Sarah Charles said that it was critical the US be allowed to bring in  “right kind of people” and “right kind of equipment” to Ethiopia, but that some people were denied visas.  Which raises the question, why would the Ethiopian government deny some visas but not all? WFP, World Vision and CARE don’t seem to have visa problems. The government says it not only grants access but also provides security to aid workers when they go in areas where fighting is still going on. And adds that it has intercepted weapons and ammunition in food aid trucks,  so checking the trucks is necessary.  The subtext here is obvious.  It is not a  secret that USAID sometimes has secret programs  and after all, as it’s current head Samantha Powers said in her confirmation hearing, USAID is a national security agency.  So a bit of disagreement on the “right kind of people” should be expected and the USAID reaction seems a little disingenuous.

Then there’s the election. Despite all the flaws, the Ethiopian federal elections on June 21st are objectively an improvement over the previous ones. The flaws of course include the fact that two major parties OFC and OLF boycotted. And that the election has been delayed in some regions, including Tigray, which together represent almost 20% of the seats. On the positive side,  the independence of the judiciary, independence of the  election board, number of parties participating nationwide, number of voters are all better than ever  (admittedly a very low bar). Yet over the last few weeks, the US statements started sounding very negative about it. It started with “deeply concerned” on May 27,  to being “gravely concerned” on June 11.   They also keep talking about “post-election dialogue” before the election,  which sounds a lot like encouraging people in advance to not respect the outcome.  All we hear from the US state department  is glass half-empty rhetoric, and almost constant predictions of violence. Wouldn’t it be strange if, while doctors are working hard to deliver a baby, a “friend” just kept repeating over and over that they are deeply concerned about the complications, and that the family should be prepared for a funeral? 
Now zoom out and consider the think tanks and media figures that form the bench of the foreign policy establishment. We have ex-CIA people like Cameron Hudson at the Atlantic Council and Judd Devermont at the Center for Strategic & International studies, consistently pushing the most pessimistic narratives about the election. We have Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute, ex-Pentagon neocon who worked on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, writing extremely negative articles about Ethiopia predicting trouble with Kenya and Somalia, and even predicting the break up of the country.  If we look at the NY Times, the chief Africa guy Declan Walsh  seems to be on a campaign to rewrite the history of how the war started: he wrote 4 long articles on it, without once mentioning the actual event that started the war,  namely the Nov 4 attacks, and each time stating the opposite of what happened — that the first attack was by the government rather than TPLF.  (His most recent article seems to deliberately change the date of a conversation between Abiy and Coons to support that reversal).  This is really bizarre and reminds me of the scandal of the WMD stories  leading up to the Iraq war. 
If you know anything about US-Ethiopia relations, regardless of your views, it should be obvious that something is going on. It almost feels like a new product launch. The Biden administration and the broader foreign policy establishment in the US seem to be executing a policy which views the current Ethiopian government as an adversary. Most importantly, there is a clear push for “intervention”.  What is the thinking behind it? Let’s consider some hypotheses:
1. R2P: Our null hypothesis is to take it at face value.  The US actions simply reflect “the international community’s responsibility to protect” and should be welcomed. No doubt that this motivation is true  for many of the individuals involved, so I will give this some weight, but overall, the pattern of actions listed above refutes this as the only explanation. Why would they go to such lengths to not acknowledge the cause of the war for instance?
2. Scorpion:  the opposite hypothesis is that the US and Ethiopia are like the scorpion and the frog in the fable, that “they” just want to harm Ethiopia period, because it is in their nature as an evil empire.  We can simply dismiss this hypothesis. And throw pure racism in this bucket too. Yes of course racism is a factor at various levels, especially the subtle racism of condescending “experts”, but it is just silly to think that is the main force driving the policy.
3. Puppets: This hypothesis is that the TPLF is successfully manipulating “the west” using money and propaganda.   It’s true that many journalists, crisis experts and activists on social media probably serve TPLF. Some may be paid agents, and  some may be “useful idiots”.  But the idea that people at the highest levels of power in Washington are unwitting puppets of TPLF seems implausible. How about the idea that they are consciously doing it? Indeed much has been made of Susan Rice’s history with TPLF, or Tedros Adhanom’s connections etc.  Relationships matter a great deal of course, like Chalabi for Iraq, but  it seems like a stretch to say these personal relationships are the main reason for the overall policy.

4. China peril:  maybe it is just part of the geopolitical chess game with China. Ok that seems plausible on the surface, China has been very investing in Ethiopia, way more than the US. And containing a “surging China in Africa” definitely fits the bill as something big enough to drive policy in Washington.  But on deeper analysis… It doesn’t explain our situation. Over the last 3 years with the current government, the trend in Ethiopia is slightly leaning more towards the West than before, including famously in the telecom sector.  So “growing fear of China” does not make sense as an explanation for US interventionism in Ethiopia at this time. Ditto for “fear of Russia”.  
5. Neocolonialist resource grab:  this hypothesis is that “The West” has a strategy to exploit resources in the region in the long run, which requires a pliant government, which it had until three years ago with TPLF, but the current government is not, so they want to destabilize and ultimately replace it. Given the last 150  years of African history, this definitely deserves consideration. But in this case that doesn’t really make sense as a root cause. Ethiopia is not a very good place for pure extractive exploitation… Not much oil and gas etc.  What there is is a lot of water, which is indeed very valuable. But even if you think of water converted to electricity, or water converted to food through irrigation, so what? It’s not like the US or Europe need to take food or electricity from Ethiopia, so that doesn’t explain it. 
6. Oak:  But of course water is the key and it brings us to our final hypothesis, which is the Egyptian angle. It is no coincidence that all of this strange stuff is overlapping with GERD.  Fundamentally, GERD itself is actually not harmful to Egypt,  and there is a reasonable way to share the Nile long term – the Cooperative Framework Agreement. But politically, GERD is a threat to the Al Sisi regime right now.  The military government in Egypt lives in constant fear of the  Muslim brotherhood, fear of a new iteration of the Arab Spring of 2011, etc. The exaggerated almost caricatural “strongman” image Al Sisi cultivates is because he needs to project strength. 

That’s how he got there in 2013, it is in the nature of his power. The moment he shows weakness, he’s toast.  Like the oak tree in the fable, if he bends he breaks. And nothing makes him look weaker than Ethiopia going ahead with GERD despite his intransigence. Egypt will be fine but the current Egyptian government is at risk, and the best way to minimize that risk is to destabilize Ethiopia enough that GERD is stopped or at least  delayed until it can be done in a “pliant” way that makes Al Sisi look “strong” domestically in Egypt. 
But why does the US care about this oak tree regime more than peace in the horn of Africa? Well the oak is a necessary part of the regional axis with Saudi Arabia, and UAE. If Egypt is run by the Muslim brotherhood or a secular civilian government, or anything other than a military dictator,  it may no longer be a reliable ally of Saudi Arabia and opponent of Iran.  And this is definitely the type of thing that could cause neo-cons, and the liberal hawks and all the other interventionists to coalesce.  So it seems plausible that there is a faction within the Biden administration and the broader “establishment” that believes in trying to weaken Ethiopia to help Al Sisi as part of the the overall strategy in the Middle East.  It explains the “launch” events of the week of May 23, it fits Feltman going to Saudi Arabia, the  UAE and Qatar to discuss GERD. It fits with the US policy in Yemen. And it is similar to the convoluted logic on Syria that you see from all the “serious people”.  It is of course not wise to attach yourself to a doomed oak and it’s not like they don’t know it. Listen to this interview with Ben Rhodes  who was in the white house during the Egyptian coup of 2013. But a policy in an organization as complex as this is not like a logical thought in a single brain, it’s the outcome of many competing interests.  If enough factions want something, it can happen even if their reasons are contradictory.  A great explanation of this is in an interview of Al Gore in 2006 which really struck me at the time.  Skip ahead to 27:20 where he says  “the decision to invade Iraq was the worst strategic mistake in American history” and goes on to very clearly explain the “perfect storm” of four policy forces that led to it.  It is really one of the most remarkably clear segments I’ve ever heard on recent US foreign policy.
And as in the case of Iraq in 2001-2003, here in 2021 with Ethiopia, it’s not one thing, I would say US interventionism is driven by 

  • 60% stability of the Al-Sisi regime,
  • 20% fear of China,
  • 15% R2P
  • 5%  pro-TPLF feelings

For now this seems like a powerful mix, and the interventionists  have the upper hand in the Biden administration. They will “pay any price, bear any burden” to pursue these deeply flawed goals. As long as the price is paid and the burden is born by others of course.  That’s the big picture. Not very glorious. Just the same type of mess that in the past has led to the US supporting military coups overthrowing democracy when the “wrong” party wins elections like in Egypt, talking about humanitarianism while favoring war like in Yemen, “accidentally” arming Al Nusra Front (aka Al.Qaeda) in Syria, lying about motives and bringing perpetual war like in Iraq etc.  I’m sure Samantha Powers and Susan Rice try to rationalize that they are the good guys, the ends justify the means, mistakes are made etc. But they have been staring into the abyss for too long, the abyss stared back at them and sucked them in. 
The best hope is for the interventionists to be slowed by the weight of their past disasters and blocked by other factions in the US. American interventionism has been failing a lot for a long time. The Iraq invasion gave birth to Al Qaeda in Iraq, then ISIS. They made Iran, which they want above all to contain, stronger than ever in Iraq. Assad won in Syria. Even Libya,  despite Egypt the supposed big force of the Arab world being right next door, is a dismal failure.  In Yemen $100B and five years of bombing, the Houthis are still there.   In Afghanistan, after 20 years and $2T US intervention, Al Qaeda moved and the Taliban won.  More important than the failure to achieve US goals, the incalculable damage to the people in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen is impossible to ignore and the strategic blow-back keeps getting worse.  So despite the strong interventionist cabal in the Biden administration, it’s not clear they can beat the “isolationists”, some evangelical Christians like Inhofe that are pro-Ethiopia, maybe even some “anti-imperialists” from the left,  and other factions in the administration and congress.

An additional weakness of the interventionists, which may seem paradoxical, is that they don’t pay the price of their mistakes personally. No matter how wrong their predictions and disastrous their policies,  the same people keep shuffling in and out of think tanks and  the Pentagon and the state department, progressing their careers, with no evolutionary pressure, no natural selection.  So in effect, neo-cons and liberal hawks and Clintonites and Cheneyites in the foreign policy establishment have been in-breeding for so long their ideas are getting weaker, and their failures are getting more expensive.  Samantha Powers and Susan Rice are like inbred descendants of Henry Kissinger. Michael Rubin is like Paul Wolfowitz’s mini-me.  So one possibility is that it all just fizzles out in incompetence and they end up doing nothing significant in Ethiopia.
There are also forces outside the US at play. GERD is kind of a pan-African rallying point. Practically six Nile Basin countries are already aligned with Ethiopia on this issue. Another key variable appears to be the UAE. They are usually aligned with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. But, they have had a good relationship with Eritrea and Ethiopia,  helped with the peace treaty between the two governments, offered to mediate with Sudan (until suddenly backing off mentioned above). Qatar is famously not aligned with Saudis so a possible balancing force. Turkey is a other big source of investment in Ethiopia and is a potential stabilizing force and of course China is as usual against US interventionism.  Finally, there’s the fact that no matter how many times they pooh-pooh Abiy’s Nobel peace prize,  whatever his flaws, they can’t make him look like a Saddam, Gaddafi or Assad because he isn’t.  And the election will make that even clearer.POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 116 COMMENTSLABELS: AFRICAETHIOPIAPOLITICSPROPAGANDAUSA


Defending America?

Here are three facts every American should know:

  1. Americans pay $1 Trillion a year for War and ‘Security’.   In fact, that understates it a bit, for 2012 the US is spending over a trillion dollars on national security. 
  2. The US spends more than the next 10 biggest military spending countries… combined! Taking #2 China and #3 Russia together, the US still spends 3 times more. 
  3. Military spending doubled in the last decade. The US spends more today than it ever did during the “arms race” of the cold war against the Soviet Union, and that’s adjusted for inflation.  More than at the peak of the cold war!

Now regardless of your opinion, if you live in the US, simply test a few friends on any one of these facts. I bet most of them are not even close. In the mainstream debate on military spending, reducing it is considered the crazy thing!  The above facts rarely get mentioned, neither by the politicians nor the reporters. 
Defending America? From what or whom? Military-industrial complex anyone? If you’re feeling courageous, here’s a fascinating piece entitled Stormtroopin’ USA. POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 0 COMMENTSLABELS: POLITICSPROPAGANDAUSA


South Africa imagined

I am writing this from Johannesburg, where I arrived a few days ago. Before I get to know too much about this country, I wanted to jot down why South Africa has always loomed large in my imagination, especially poltical imagination, going back to really young age. This is a long rambling post that’s more personal than usual and is  probably of interest to no one but myself. I also haven’t checked the facts, this is just a raw memory dump that probably has some innacuracies. Proceed with caution or not at all.

My first consciousness of South Africa was when I saw in my passport, the words: “Valid for all countries except South Africa.” I remember thinking, why? First of all, I knew Africa was a continent (I was in it), and I knew the names of several countries… This one I’d never heard of seemed kind of odd..  Second, what was this strange exception, why in the whole world, was there this one place I wasn’t allowed to go? Maybe it was dangerous because it was all the way at the bottom and we might fall off the earth if we went there! Naturally I started asking questions. And I learned about apartheid. I’m not quite sure how I reacted to that at first — I would love to think that I immediately decided it was an injustice… But the truth is, I don’t remember. Maybe it became just another fact, like the fact that there were a lot of people in China, and pyramids in Egypt, etc.

Over the years through adolescence and teen-age, it started getting more concrete. Now kids, in those days there was no Wikipedia… And apartheid wasn’t in our school curriculum. And I was too young to tackle a serious book. But in Kenya in the 1980s, hardly a day would go by where apartheid was not in the newspaper. So what I got was articles  (I was a news junkie from an early age) that would talk about some OAU meeting or something like that, and they would mention in passing old events that the reader was assumed to be familiar with.  The African boycott of the 1976 Olympics one day. Another day, BikoSharpeville was big, but it was all maddeningly unclear. The information was just trickling in, it took years and years of tidbits before I felt I had a coherent narrative.   The most significant fragment was one day I read an article about the 1976 uprising. It must have been an anniversary because it was a full story just about that… I remember a picture of a dead boy, and it struck me that wow, these kids were my age! It was no longer just an accumulation of historical facts. I started feeling it viscerally.

And of course, there was Mandela.   Just a name and a photo, always the same photo it seemed. I’m not sure why but  the newspaper (usually the Daily Nation and sometimes the Standard) always used that one picture as far as I recall. The fact that the photo was ancient, and that they never said anything concrete about him except that he was in jail (of course what could they say, they probably had no information either), made Mandela very remote, he might as well have been Tutankamen, frozen in time, clearly “important” somehow, but not really significant to me.

Music was a large part of my evolving understanding. When I was 13, I had the privilege of meeting Miriam Makeba. We were in Abidjan, and she happened to be walking down a hotel corridor with a woman that my mother knew. So just like that, we stopped and said hi shook hands,  and the adults chatted for a few minutes as my sister and I just stood and stared at the famous woman.  At that time, to me she was  the singer of the song that everyone loved — “Malaika”.  Since the song was in Swahili, I had always assumed that she was from Kenya, or Tanzania. But naturally we talked about her a lot the rest of that day, and I found out about her remarkable life. A few years later, I heard her sing in person, at a Paul Simon and Lady Smith Black Mambazo’s Graceland tour concert. (Major props to Paul Simon btw, what an awesome dude). Hugh Masakela was there too and sang “Bring back Nelson Mandela” and I was like “yeah, they better!” 

By 16, I was completely radically immersed.  I followed all the details of which countries imposed sanctions and which ones didn’t, which companies divested from South Africa, and which ones didn’t (to this day I still boycott Shell oil, for that and for their evilness in the Niger delta, and many other places — they are really as close as you can find to evil in business).  Anyway, by that point, it’s not like I was a pioneer or anyhing, the whole world was demanding the end of apartheid.

Except of course Reagan and Thatcher (“a part bien sur Madame Thatcher” comme dirait Renaud).  It really annoys me that they are considered respectable or even great historical leaders, when in fact, they were the last, the absolute last of all world leaders to continue supporting apartheid Even after the entire effin British Commonwealth wanted sanctions, Thatcher tried to help the apartheid government. Of course they didn’t put it that way…. They called it “constructive engagement” .Meanwhile they were funneling billions in military aid to South Africa and their allied mass-murdering  warlords like Savimbi in Angola, and the other lunatic in Mozambique whose name I don’t remember.  For this charade, Reagan employed a useless US assistant secretary of state called Chester Crocker who would periodically fly to Pretoria  to kiss P. W. Botha’s ass.  All in the name of fighting communism.  (Thatcher, Botha and Reagan are featured together on the cover of Fela’s “Beasts of No Nation”,  an album which struck a deep chord in me at the time.) When I hear the mainstream consensus in the US about Reagan today, it makes my stomach turn. Children, don’t ever forget, Reagan was a  guy who tought apartheid was ok. He also thought it was a good idea to funnel billions of dollars into trans-national Islamic fundamentalist jihad in Afghanistan, also in the name of anti-communism. How did that strategy work out? 

In those days, Mandela and the ANC were called terrorists. And Osama bin Laden and his merry band of mujaheddin were called freedom fighters. Kids,  never ever ever understimate the power of propaganda. But I digress.

Eventually, both communism and apartheid ended. One thing I am eternally grateful for is that I was there and old enough to understand when those things happened. Every generation should have at least one such supposedly impossible completely unthinkable thing happen in world history. It really helps you understand that most political power is based on illusion, fear and propaganda, which seem inevitable and invicible until suddenly they crumble and you wonder how they could have lasted. Such events teach us that we don’t ever need to support or even tolerate the bad guys just because that’s the “reasonable” or “realistic” thing to do. (of course if  bad guys can actually get you, well it might be ok to keep a low profile if you have to, but my point is, don’t buy into their justifications.)

And of course, there was Mandela.  He was a fantastic symbol when in jail, but now… this old broken martyr three decades removed from reality, what could he possibly do? I remember staring at the TV, live mesmerized waiting for him to appear on that first day. And suddenly there he was this strange man, very different from that old picture. As he walked, you could almost feel the hundreds of millions of eyeballs on him. And what a sight. Nelson Mandela walking side-by-side with Winnie Mandela. Just like Masakela sang.  (Sadly it later turned out that Winnie was a less-than-worthy companion… ). He gave a short speech.  he seemed fit, graceful, … But he spoke very slowly like a primary school teacher, and it was a little weird.

Then things began to unfold. First, I feared a power struggle with the existing leadership of the ANC under Oliver Tambo. But no, Mandela said Tambo is the president of the ANC period. Wow. This guy is really different, not just another power-hungry pol. Then  came the famous  Ted Koppel interview. At one point, Koppel asked him what he thought about Castro, Arafat and Ghadafi. We were like:  Damn! It’s a trap! In that split second, I imagined America turning against Mandela, the disaster was imminent. I hoped he’d been watching American politics in his short time since coming out and that he would figure out how to  doublespeak his way out of it like a candidate in an election. Instead, Mandela said something like: those were our friends when no one else supported us, they helped us, and I will not deny them now.   My jaw dropped. Shock. Who talks like that?!!  After a couple of seconds, we realized that Koppel also had been silent. No follow-up question, no gotcha, nothing. Just an awkward silence with 100 million people watching. Then Mandela said: “Mr Koppel, have I paralyzed you?” BOOM!  Minds exploded. The audience erupted. Like Alexander facing the Gordian knot, Madiba had just taken out his sword, and sliced through decades and decades of bullshit, in one swoop.  The simplicity, the honor, the integrity … he just set it straight. We had just witnessed leadership of a quality that I didn’t even know existed.

There is one other thing I remember from that same interview. Some douchebag member of the apartheid parliament from the Conservative party (which was worse than the National party that invented apartheid) was video conferenced in to present the “other side”… I forget what he said but he addressed him as “Nelson, you ….” The tone was familiar to anyone who has lived in Africa. That special mix of familiarity and condescension that the “master” would use to address his servant. The kind of tone people use to call  a 70-year old man by his first name and ask him to go fetch something. Anyway MP Douchebag went on for a few minutes, smug in his belief that he could show America that this old kaffir was just a kaffir. I was ready to punch the TV. My blood was boiling. Mandela quietly waited for him to finish, and then responded in a polite tone in Afrikaans. He then turned around and translated what he had just said into English for the audience, and it was the most magnanimous response possible.  Audience erupts again. Game, set and match. Then I knew this is really a  Great Man.

But let us not forget, even Ghandi ultimately failed to accomplish what he wanted above all. He died by the hand of his own co-religionist for not being  anti- the other religion.  India and Pakistan partitioned, muslim and hindus killed each other by the millions. Six decades later, it’s still not over, now they have nuclear weapons aimed at each other. Would that same fate befall Madiba?

What happened over the following couple of years is the true miracle for me. I was disappointed that the recent movie “Invictus” chose to focus on the 1995 rugby world cup story. (Particularly since Clint Eastwood is one of my favorite directors and in “Bird” for example he didn’t shy away from the hard parts of the story).  Yes it’s a great inspirational story… And for anyone else it would be a great hommage. Or if there had already been great films about Mandela then this would be a nice interesting story to add. But for that to be the first major hollywood movie about Mandela is like making the first major movie about George Washington and not mentioning the dark days of the revolutionary war, the famous crossing of the Delaware river, Valley Forge, and things like that.

People forget that South Africa did erupt. People (at least outside of South Africa) seems to think he came out of jail, and it was all hugs and peace and love forever  after. No, a while, it was  mayhem. Day after day, killings, burnings. Post-apartheid had failed. The western media as they always do, portrayed it as an ethnic conflict between Zulus and Xhosas. Repeatedly hammering stereotypes of “age-old tribal conflict” just like they did in Yugoslavia or Iraq. Of course that’s not what it really was, the true story is that there are other motives which sometimes invent ethnic hatred  to serve a concrete purpose e.g. to get someone in power, or to exploit some resources through. And  unfortunately is always easy to do even from scratch because people really are  baboons. Given two religions or ethnic groups, even if they have lived side by side in peace forever, coming up with a reason to make a few of them hate each other and start a war is the easiest thing in politics.  Oh and no I don’t believe that international media are in some giant conspiracy with bad guys around the world. They are just incompetent, often unwitting, tools. See Gell-Mann amnesia.

Anyway,  that period is when I finally got to see the Great Man in person. That whole year I was traveling around killing time between undergrad and grad school. He was traveling around for very different reasons than killing time. Several times our paths almost crossed but not quite. I was in Senegal at a Mandela concert where he was supposed to show up but had to cancel because of the shit hitting the fan back in South Africa.  Finally, I was at another concert in Rio de Janeiro of all places.  It looked like 100,000 people came out to see Mandela.  And this time he showed up. He came on, but there were probably 50 other people on stage and you could barely see him..  the sound quality was poor and his speech was not translated into Portuguese so most people didn’t even know what he was saying. But I remember being scared, very scared. His speech had zero “feel good” in it, he talked briefly about the problems going on, that he was thankful for all the support and so on but that the situation was very very dire. He said the whole thing was about to fail and mentioned some very specific things about what various parties should do.  It was strange most of the folks were still cheering, they didn’t get it. And for me, it was a downer: when I finally see my hero, he’s all somber and talking about dark practical details that I can’t even hear..  His voice seemed weak, his body frail from a distance. I was worried and scared. I started thinking he would die and things would  fall apart (to borrow a phrase from Chinuah Achebe).

What was going then is now  well documented, people have confessed etc.  There was indeed a real effort by elements of the apartheid secret police and Inkatha who were deliberately planning that apparently spontaneous violence. Powerful organized forces were working to create a civil war so post-apartheid would fail.  But it didn’t.  The greatest achievement of Mandela to me is not the fact that he survived three decades in jail, nor that he inspired a rugby team. It is that after he came out of jail, against enormous forces, he snatched peace from the jaws of virtually certain civil war. Many others deserve credit too, but there’s no question that without him it would have exploded. I don’t know anyone else who has played such a momentous role in recent history …  most of the other “leaders” are people who happen to be at the right time at the right place, and then screw it up, like Yeltsin or Meles. But with Mandela, it’s as if Ghandi  had managed to avoid the partition of India and Pakistan, entered elective  politics, succesfully governed and retired in peace. Can you imagine? Well Madiba did it. And then,  at the height of his power, when he could have been king if he wanted, he stepped down and set the example of peaceful transition out of power, for his country and his continent.  No other leader even comes close to that level of wisdom, unselfishness and greatness.

Simply the best.
As much as I am enjoying the world cup, that’s what’s on my mind all the time as I walk around enjoying all of this that is his legacy.POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 3 COMMENTSLABELS: AFRICAPOLITICSPROPAGANDA


Airline fees and the unbelievable worthlessness of CNN

Earlier this week I stumbled upon a mini-editorial on CNN, wherein the anchor “Campbell” (not sure if it’s his first or last name, I think they try to market them like that) went off on the topic of the airline industry charging extra fees. That is, charges that are not part of the ticket price, like the fees for luggage, or food, extra leg room etc. He was all up in arms because new data showed it was EIGHT BILLION dollars last year. He said that airlines are profiting from your discomfort, his face running the gamut of expressions from mocking to outraged. Basically he painted a picture of an industry conspiring to deceptively price gouge.

But here’s the thing. In the entire piece, he failed to mention a) whether overall cost of air travel has gone up or down; b) whether the airline industry as a whole was profitable or not. Without those two additional data points, his conclusions are entirely unsupported!

What is definitely happening is a shift to more granular pricing. For example, let’s say 50% of travelers have luggage and 50% don’t. Say previously everyone paid $400 for a ticket and now it’s $350 for the seat + $100 for luggage. Why is that bad? You can argue that it it’s annoying to have the cost broken down in pieces, or you can argue that it’s great to have more flexibility. I, for one, am very happy to trade a luggage quota I don’t use for more leg room! Whatever your opinion, in our example, since the average cost is still $400, you can’t say that they are “profiting at your expense”. Yet that’s exactly what CNN did, without presenting any evidence that the total cost is higher! As a matter of fact, the cost of air travel has been going down for decades and as far as I can tell that trend hasn’t reversed recently.

Second, is there price gouging, i.e. excessive profits due to collusion in the industry?Actually, the airline industry “as a whole has made a cumulative loss during its 100-year history“. So while it’s possible for price gouging to exist in on routes without competition, it’s impossible that it is occurring on the industry as a whole. Yet that is what CNN is claiming without any qualifiers.

Wow! You couldn’t design a more logically flawed editorial if you tried.

This would be a perfect opportunity for a warning against Gell-Man amnesia, if I didn’t already believe that CNN is completely worthless. The only time I see it is accidentally while looking for sports.POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 1 COMMENTSLABELS: ECONOMICSMEDIAPROPAGANDA


On Optics (channeling Safire)

William Safire recently died. Even though I disagreed with most of his political opinions, I loved and will miss his columns, especially “On Language“. So I want to note his passing here, with my own little post on language. Now of course I don’t aspire to be as entertaining or educational as him… so I’ll just rant about something I find annoying.

Politicians and journalists in the US have started using the word “optics” when they mean “perception” or “appearance” . E.g. instead of “this looks bad” they say “the optics of this are not good“….. urgh! Extremely annoying fad! Here are two quick examples I just found using my favorite search engine. The first one is from a politician in 2008:

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa […] said that terrorists would dance in the streets if Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, is elected president […] because Obama’s middle name is “Hussein,” his father’s Muslim roots, and his appearance — or “optics,” as King put it.“I’ll just say this that when you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States — and I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? “

Well Mr. Congressman, the optics of this are that you are a pretentious buffoon who thinks that borrowing scientific sounding words makes you look smart. (Oh and it seems you are also a bigot… but that’s off-topic here.) The second one is a more recent example from an actual writer this time:

“In response to the leak, the White House kicks into high damage-control mode […], but even here shows some clumsiness, at least regarding civil-military optics: the 25 hours for the Olympics vs. 25 minutes for McChrystal optic…”

The “McChrystal optic”? To me those two words invoke a beam of light going through a solid material whose constituent atoms are arranged an orderly repeating pattern. Which of course has nothing to do with what (I think) the writer meant to communicate — something about Gen. McChrystal and perceptions. The faddish metaphor failed, the sentence is ugly and borderline incomprehensible. Way to go, Mr. Professional Writer.

I think this usage of “optics” right now, in 2009, is just at the point where it’s perfect indicator of a certain kind of pomposity. Normal people haven’t started using it (and hopefully never will), but it seems to be trendy with hacks who either can’t come up with better metaphors or fear that simple words would expose their paucity of meaning. Am I being to harsh ? OK, let’s give that last writer the benefit of the doubt, and see what else he’s written… in an even more recent post, the following:

“President Obama and his advisors seem to be wrestling with this fundamental issue in Afghanistan and the optics and the body language….”

Bingo! Optics and body language…. just horrible isn’t it?

It’s not that I am just a cranky conservative when it comes to language — far from it, I love its constant evolution — slang, jargon, lingo.. it’s all great! But that doesn’t mean that all neologisms are good. It doesn’t mean that “any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes“, to quote George Orwell. For a new word, usage, phrase, or expression to work, for it to be cool, in any language “what is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.

R.I.P. William Safire.



Gell-Mann Amnesia

Last November, I came across this piece by Michael Crichton. I found the following bit brilliant:Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

Brilliant! It reminds me of my rants about the NY Times. Yet I still buy it most days…. Amnesia.
Note: when I wrote that post, in November 2007, the Times’ newsstand price had just increased from $1 to $1.25. Now it’s $2. 100% increase in less than two years!POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 3 COMMENTSLABELS: MEDIAPROPAGANDA


$135B: pros and cons

Last week, a friend pointed me to the following story:

“Italy’s financial police (Guardia italiana di Finanza) has seized US bonds worth US 134.5 billion from two Japanese nationals ….”
My first thought …. well not my first, the first was of course: “WTF?!!”, but the second or third thought was “this could be terrorism!” A deliberate attack on the ability of the US govt to finance itself, by shaking confidence in the debt instruments.

And of course I expected it to be huge news. The biggest case of counterfeiting in history and a new kind of terrorism etc, etc. Yet, I searched and searched, and there was barely any mention of it anywhere else that day and the next day! No follow-ups, no debunking, nothing. In fact even the initial story is completely absent from mainstream news. Why the silence, what’s going on? Where are all the experts and the pros? Then when you think about it… it makes sense. If it really is an attack, an attack on the very essence of money — confidence, that’s exactly how you would want to respond isn’t it? Is it possible that say all the reporters who called the US Federal Reserve for comment got a quiet very high level response saying: “please bury this story”, and did so? After all it is well known that major US news organizations have in the recent past complied when the US government asked them not to reveal national security secrets that they knew.

Today a week later, there are still very few stories about it on the web, and zero from the major US news organizations, nothing from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN et al.

Here’s a good blog post theorizing that the bonds must be counterfeit, and likely designed to be caught.POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 3 COMMENTSLABELS: ECONOMICSPROPAGANDAUSAWTF


Predictions, elections, polls, fractals, reflixivity & the kitchen sink

People argue about whether prediction markets do a better job of forecasting elections than polls, or it’s an illusion due to timing.

Initially, I am inclined to believe this is one area where the market works better. This follows from their most basic properties. Let’s assume both are mostly mediocre. That is many polls and prediction markets available, but just no good in general.

Now consider polls. If there was fewer of them, and they were well communicated, we could count on the fact that expert from all sides would scrutinize them and that they would thus be held to the highest standards. Or of course if you average a lot of polls, you should get a more accurate poll of polls, as errors cancel out. In both cases, centralization increases accuracy of polls. Conversely, when looking at any one poll alone chances are, the one you’re looking at is a bad/biased one.

For markets on the other hand, even if you are looking at one market alone, if it was biased, all it would take is one person who has seen the other markets to arbitrage the bias away, in effect linking the two markets and making them two views of one more accurate underlying market. Two polls cannot get organically linked and become more accurate than each by itself. You have to add them up yourself. But two markets can! Thus any one market you stumble upon is more likely to be accurate than a poll you stumble across.

This argument seems particularly apt for the US presidential elections, since there’s so much slicing and dicing… The polls are all complicated what-if scenarios. So anyway, according to Intrade, which I’ve written about before, here are the current probabilities for the next US President (taking bid prices, to get lower bounds):

And the Iowa Electronic Markets seem to agree. Thus, the above, in my humble opinion, is as close as you’re gonna get to a prediction out there today.

But is it any good?

Getting back to the philosophical argument again… polls are trying to measure current feelings, i.e. they assume there’s an underlying “true” preference of the public, and that they are an objective mechanism to reveal it, within a certain Gaussian error. But it could of course be that the error is much larger than we think possible, because the models are completely wrong. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Black Swan, that I mentioned here a couple of posts ago, has argued, a lot of mistakes are due to imposing Gaussian models on a reality that has fractal or power-law or heavy-tailed scaling. For polls, if you think there is a true current preference, then I guess the error should be Gaussian (in other words, using Taleb’s lingo, the preference is “in mediocristan”). But looking at it over time, as you must for a prediction, maybe a single poll of a few thousand people, even if it’s not representing a wider reality, can have a fractal effect, replicating it’s belief patterns at larger scales, through media. If that’ s the case, most polls will be meaningless, some will be virally important. And prediction markets won’t work well either. True the participants size can scale so maybe they can make fractal bets, but no matter how many expert bets the market brings in, it won’t improve the information about a black swan type event which is what a fractally scaling popularity would be.

Some people, like George Soros in his recent book (that I just picked up this weekend) argue that, when it comes to human/social phenomena, the underlying reality doesn’t exist separately, it is entangled with human attempts to understand it, and manipulate it (he calls it reflexivity). So taking his ideas to polls, are they measuring something that fundamentally may not actually exist? Probably, there’s no objective public opinion that exists independently, waiting to be measured. But it exists reflexively (this is my interpretation/application of Soros idea here so sorry if it’s wrong). The polls, even if totally arbitrary to start with, by being communicated, may induce the reality they purport to measure. People listen to the news, and the polls, and their future actions are affected in some way, may then come to act in the way that is suggested to them by the polls for people like them. It may or may not be controlled in concentrated way, but if we apply this theory, then polls are as much instruments of action as measurements, in robotic terms, as much actuators as sensors.POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET 5 COMMENTSLABELS: EPISTEMOLOGYPOLITICSPROBABILITYPROPAGANDA


Collected rants about a certain Mr. Jeffrey Gettleman

Over the last few months, I have had quite a bit to say to
Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times. But like Don Quichotte at the windmills I waive and waive my sword, and he refuses to fight back! What a coward. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It all started out nicely about 4 months ago… with a front page article about Ethiopia on the NY Times. Here’s what I had to say on 21 Jun 2007:

The journalist was clearly sympathetic to the ONLF .. but still I was glad that article appeared on the cover of the Times. Somalia was a big mistake by Meles. A Times article wont make things worse… Instead of worrying about the Times, the outside force they should be concerned about is the mullahs in the madrassas preaching about christian Ethiopians raping and killing muslims on behalf of Bush.

At least this article will make things better because the sooner they feel pressure from outside and the stronger it is, the better chance there is that ET can get the out of Somalia, bring in the AU and de-escalate the situation in Ogaden.

On a month later, our destinies crossed paths again when he wrote a more aggressive piece about the Ogaden region. Here’s what I wrote in response on July 24, 2007:

True the fact is that ONLF is resurgent, there’s a huge crisis in
Ogaden and that is a big story that deserves to be on the cover.

But this guy is either biased or irresponsible. He repeats the
allegation that three guys who spoke up at a meeting were tortured and killed
by the govt. He simply echoes Ogaden Online, adding that they have “a
network of reporters and contributors, some equipped with satellite
phones.” Isn’t that a pathetic way to validate their legitimacy? For all we
know it could be the ONLF office in Toronto that runs that website.

Moreover, he knows who the alleged victims are (the guys spoke on a NY
Times video!!!). And he can’t verify it? He can’t even get an official
response or statement from the govt about this? He has quotes from the
govt spokesman for other things but not this. WTF?! He didn”t have
time to call back before the deadline? The dog ate the response? We’re
talking about 3 specifc guys who were tortured and killed allegedly
because of the Times material. It’s a disgraceful level of investigation.

Hopefully we’ll soon know whether the truth is that it’s ONLF
propaganda or a government atrocity but it won’t be thanks to Jeffrey Gettleman
— the new Judith Miller… Pffff! Shame on the Times. Plus they just
raised the daily price to $1.25! I swear I’m this close to dumping the
old grey lady

Finally, the epic showdown on Oct 2, 2007. As you can see the temperature rose

Check this out: “A calm voice from embattled Eritrea” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/02/world/africa/02eritrea.html
by…. you guessed it! Our hero Jeffrey Gettleman, aka Judith Miller the Second. Yes the same Jeffrey “excuse me while I regurgitate ONLF press releases” Gettleman who we last saw a couple of months ago in the thread below.

This time Isaias is the subject of Gettleman’s fantasy. Acoording to the article, Isaias is simply a righteous guy, leader of a mighty little country in a fight against superpowers, who don’t like it simply because it’s “one small voice”! Besides the noble and righteous struggle against superpowers, Eritrea has a few mundane little economic challenges. But the only thing holding back the flourishing of democracy and growth of the economy is… you guessed it, the evil big neighbor to the south. To cap it off, Gellman says “… Mr. Isaias’s mustached face, which has been likened to an African version of Tom Selleck.” Seriously. They actually printed that. I swear I expected the article to continue: “After the blowjob, Isu asked me if it was as good for me as it was for him”. Seriously.
In fact if you read it carefully, there are no meaningful facts at all, no sign that any pointed questions were asked, nothing but a glowing portrait of Issayas, exactly as he would want himself portrayed, a calm nice guy, with hobbies, no pretensions, but idealist, fighting for justice.

Last time I was angry at the Times, now shock, disbelief…. What comes next again? Weyne weyne… New York Times… Anyway forget them, others are doing quality reporting and analysis, I just came across the example pasted below.

From http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/08/05/ethiop16594.htm


“Ethiopia has often justified military action in Somalia on grounds of cooperation between what it calls “terrorist” groups in Somalia and the rebellion in Ogaden. The ONLF certainly has strong ethnic and political links to Somali insurgents now fighting against the Ethiopian military presence in Somalia. It may have decided to escalate its rebellion in Ogaden in response to Ethiopia’s full-scale military intervention in Somalia in December last year.

Now there are reliable reports that, as a result of Ethiopian military pressure inside Somalia, Somali insurgents including members the militant Islamist al-Shabaab have sought refuge in Ogaden where they could be regrouping. Thus instead of containing and calming the situation in Somalia, the actions of Ethiopia’s forces there may well be exacerbating the conflict and regionalising it.

The emerging crisis in the Ogaden is indicative of an increasingly volatile political and military situation in the Horn of Africa. Predictably civilians are bearing the brunt of the crisis both in the Ogaden and in Somalia where hundreds of thousands have been displaced by fighting since the Ethiopian intervention. Predictably human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war are being perpetrated by all sides. It could all get a lot worse, especially if it leads to a resumption of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

So why isn’t the international community doing more to address this crisis. Hasn’t the UN being saying for years that crisis prevention is better than cure?

The EU and the United States have significant leverage over Ethiopia in the form of foreign aid and political influence. They should use it instead of turning a blind eye to abuses carried out by the Ethiopian security forces in the name of counter terrorism.

Western support for Ethiopia’s counter insurgency efforts in the Horn of Africa is not only morally wrong and riddled with double standards, it is also ineffective and counterproductive. It will lead to the escalation and regionalisation of the conflicts of the region and may well help to radicalise its large and young Muslim population. “



Chaos theory: from A-nuak to Z-end

I just came across this item in Google news: “Anuak Minorities Facing Insecurity and Terror in Ethiopia”, an editorial in Al Jazeerah by Keith Harmon Snow. As I read this editorial, I went from genuine dismay at what is going to skepticism. The timing of this editorial is a bit suspect. He wrote this report for UNICEF more than a year ago, why didn’t UNICEF publicize it? Probably because it was not objective. The author definitely seems to have an axe to grind. The guy clearly has been researching this issue — see e.g. http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Jun2004/snow0604.html, and he raises huge issues, and I intend to read up a lot more on this.

But what’s really alarming now is that the Anuak story is blending, or actively being blended into the Ethio-Somalia story. So the virus, that started out as just the Islamic Courts Union versus warlords of Mogadishu, morphed into ICU versus the transitional government of Somalia, then became the coming war between Ethiopia and Somalia, now all of a sudden has mutated into a much more ominous disease:

“The Pentagon and Ethiopian military are prosecuting an entirely invisible war in Somalia, and while persistently threatening, arresting and shooting Anuak men, the Ethiopian military has actually tried to conscript some Anuak men to fight for them in Somalia. This is not a war on terror it is a war of terror. Ethiopia’s clandestine involvement in Eritrea is equally invisible, and Human Rights Watch has also documented the ongoing repression against the Oromo people in Ethiopia’s Oromo State. Other minorities are being forcibly displaced to serve conservation or petroleum interests.”

This is the story that is being told on Al Jazeera. SomaliNet.

I believe we may have already entered the chaotic phase. Not necessarily on the ground yet, in terms of full-scale war. But in the chaos theory sense: small actions will be reflected, and propagated in unpredictable manners, and along every ethnic and religious fault line in Ethiopia, amplified, multiplied, echoed, reverberated by the dynamics of the global crusade/jihad. Every time someone dies, their ethnicity or their religion will be tallied up, sliced and diced. How long before this leads to home grown religious death-squads, and ethnic militias?POSTED BY NEMO SEMRET


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