WTF Friday, 12/16/11

As commenter “Tanuki Man” points out, this one is a little white man’s burden-y. I understand the frustration at the large amount of money spent by UN, EU, UK, etc. resulting in what seems to be a flawed election in DRC, but maybe that (as well as history) should tell you that democracy might take more than dough and trying hard. Advocating redirecting these funds toward health measures might make sense, but is that any less of a shrug?

Womp womp…

“A year after the self-immolation of a vegetable vendor in Tunisia sparked a political tidal wave across the Arab world, it’s hard to point to much positive change in the North African country. Unemployment remains high, Islamists won a plurality in elections, and women fight to wear the niqab in public.” Well, when you put it like that…

WTF Friday 12/2/11

Vladimir Putin appeals to voters and politicians to not “make politics a circus.” Yea, this guy.
I though this article was actually going to explain how Egyptian voters have figured a way to “boycott boycotts.” It did not. I even Googled “how to boycott a boycott.” Nada. Would it just be to vote? If anyone has a creative solution to this I’d love to hear it.

WTF Friday, 11/11/11

Karel du Guct, the EU’s trade commissioner, on EU-Africa Economic Relations: “We should have a comprehensive vision of where we want to go to, but I never get the feeling when we discuss with them that we have the same vision; and I believe our vision is the right one.” Wow I really wonder why people can’t see eye to eye with this guy.

I’m not gonna link to this HuffPost article but let’s see if I can’t paint a picture. Headline is “Somalia Famine: Baby [Not Republishing Name] Back From Brink of Death,” followed by “before and after” photos. Yo this is not a Dan Marino weight loss commercial, this is not a Proactiv commercial starring Justin Beiber, this is a malnourished child, and this is inappropriate.

George Weah takes a dive. I might let it slide cuz he also did this.

WTF Friday (Err, Saturday), 2/19/11

Voting going pretty well in Uganda. Oh, except for this little incident. Gotta admit that is a pretty good prank, though.

Oxymoron of the week: “CNN interviews Bahrain’s special envoy to the U.S., Abdul Latif bin Rashid al Zayani, who says ‘we need to have dialogue … we need to calm down.’ He also said Bahrain’s king is ‘committed to democracy.'”

Somebody’s got a bday coming up! The folks from Reporters without Borders are definitely not getting invited: “The time when Zimbabwe was southern Africa’s breadbasket is long gone. No matter. Monday is his birthday. Like a boy, that’s all he can think about right now.” 87 and young at heart. What a guy.

WTF Friday, 11/5/10

The military junta in Burma has decided to cancel elections in several regions populated by ethnic minorities, shunning the ever-popular dictatorial move of rigging elections. Nice. Way to cut out the middle man.

BBC has apologized to Bob Geldof for running a series of reports insinuating that Live Aid money has been used to purchase weapons. This was in March. It is now November. Timely. Especially considering that, according to the BBC, there is “no evidence for these statements.” I think they at least owe him a fruit basket.
Zimbabwe has reached the 5-peat for the lowest ranking on the UNDP Human Development Index despite the life expectancy for the country increasing from 37 to 47 since a few years ago. Kinda calls into question the whole point of this list…

Get Your Act Together, New York!

I just voted. It was kind of ridiculous.

As has been widely reported elsewhere, New York has recently switched to paper ballots from their previous mechanical-voting machines, whose drawbacks (didn’t really work for casting votes with, too heavy) were finally deemed to outweigh their benefits (didn’t really work for casting votes with, too heavy to steal). Unfortunately, in what I assume was some sort of political compromise, they’ve been replaced with paper ballots that don’t really work for casting votes with either.

I thought I was prepared. I am kind of an election-law nerd, (I usually vote early so that I can volunteer as an election-protection adviser, but this year I don’t have time), and I had been following the kerfuffle about the ballot problems pretty closely. So, even before I arrived, I knew that the instructions for filling out the ballot would be vague, but that I should fill in the circle below the candidate’s name. And I had heard on NPR this morning that there would be more voting opportunities, including a referendum on term limits, printed on the back of the ballot, but that this would not be indicated anywhere on the front of the ballot.

And yet. First of all, the print on the ballot was ridiculously small. Honestly, I think the party names listed under each candidate were in the smallest print I have ever seen on a paper document. And I am a lawyer. Small print is kind of my thing! And then, despite the warning from NPR this morning, I totally got lulled into a false sense of satisfaction after filling out the front of my ballot and seeing no sign that I was supposed to flip it over, and so I forgot to fill out the back, and didn’t remember until I had just walked out the door of the polling place. The voters of New York will just have to decide those referenda without me.

In other “sometimes New York just sucks” news, Kate just brought this to my attention:

Sometimes it seems as if some of Coney Island must die so that the historic amusement district can be saved — even if it means the death of Shoot the Freak.

Early on Monday, the owners of Shoot the Freak, Ruby’s bar, Coney Island Souvenirs, Gyro Corner, Beer Garden and four other boardwalk operators were informed that their leases would not be renewed. And the operator of the Cyclone roller coaster is also leaving Coney Island.

It’s almost enough to make a girl want to move back to her home town on the prairie.


Oh Britain, I Just Can’t Quit You

From the BBC’s guide to voting and polling stations for today’s election:

Dogs may not yet be entitled to vote but they are allowed to come and watch as long as they don’t disrupt the vote. According to previous guidance issued by the Electoral Commission, dogs must be in an “accompanying” role rather than “free-range”.

In cases where a voter has two or more dogs and will struggle to control them while casting their ballot, polling station staff may hold the dogs’ leads. Rural constituencies might have cases of voters riding to the polling station. In such cases, horses and ponies should be tethered up outside. There is no guidance on other animals such as rabbits, ferrets or pot-bellied pigs, so any decision will be at the discretion of presiding officers.”

The guide also answers other frequently-asked questions, such as “can I vote if I’m drunk?” (yes), “can I wear a giant rosette?” (no), and “I’m a member of the royal family, can I vote?” (surprisingly complicated, but apparently depends on how fancy a royal you are).

WTF Friday, 4/30/10

  • Mother Jones highlights a photo series by Jonathan Torgovnik featuring women who had children as a result of rape during the Rwandan genocide. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like MJ’s headline, “Can You Love a Child of Rape?,” is really the right way to frame this. Doesn’t posing the question that way place “not loving them” as the default, and “loving them” as the exception? Doesn’t that make you kind of uncomfortable? Would really like to hear from our readers on this.

  • Speaking of rape and eye-catching headlines (as we tend to do), there has got to be a better way to convey that there has been a lot of rape in the DRC than calling it the “rape capital of the world.” I mean, shouldn’t the UN have some sort of “special representative on sexual violence in conflict” who would handle these matters more delicately? Oh, they do? Oh, she said it? Cripes.

  • FP has a great piece called “The World’s Worst Immigration Laws.” I find it interesting that Italy fines illegal immigrants while Japan pays them to leave. Wacky world we live in.
  • Lastly, from the “forgone conclusion department,” Bashir wins in a landslide.

Iranians Bizarrely Unwilling to Relinquish Dreams of Democracy

Via my second semi-anonymous Iranian, this is a video of protesters in Tehran singing the pre-Revolution Iranian national anthem. My source points out that it is striking that the members of the younger generation in the crowd know the words to this song and adds that “if the regime was going to get nervous this would be the moment.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that a senior panel of election monitors has admitted that there were “discrepancies” in the vote count. The authorities claim that these irregularities do not violate Iranian law, will not affect the election’s outcome, and are certainly not legitimate cause for any protesting. (The Revolutionary Guard’s website warns the opposition to stay off the streets or face a “revolutionary confrontation.”)

And if you are looking for an eyewitness account comprising more than 140 characters, I recommend Salon’s anonymous Tehran dispatches, the latest of which is here.

Ask an Iranian, Part II

The protests in Iran continued today, amidst reports of increasingly violent government crackdowns. This Youtube video recorded by some seriously ballsy individual apparently shows Basiji breaking into homes in Tehran.

Mainstream media coverage is still lagging way behind Web 2.0 (don’t worry, though, the MSM has found a new role for itself: reporting on the use of social networking sites by protesters), to the point that the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to delay its scheduled site maintenance to avoid cutting service to Iran this afternoon.

For an informed perspective on the political dynamics underlying the protests (and as a sequel to yesterday’s “Ask an Iranian, Part I” post), today I talk with an Iranian political refugee currently working as a barrister in New Zealand. (Yes, everyone I know is lawyers. Get over it.) Please feel free to leave additional questions in the comments.

Q. Could Ahmadinejad really have won this election?

Absolutely. There’s no doubt that he won a great number of votes and the election result was always expected to be a close call either way.

The problem is the unrealistic margin he claims to have won by in the face of such extraordinary voter turn out. That Iranians summoned up faith enough to vote in record numbers on Friday is what made this election result farcical. Had most reform minded would-be liberal voters stayed at home like they usually do people would be shrugging their shoulders right now, but they didn’t and now their faith in the system is irrevocably shaken.

Q. Who are Ahmadinejad’s supporters and why are they so into him?

I think a lot of Iranians voted for Ahmadinejad because there are a lot of Iranians who are poor and have been kept religious and been empowered by the Islamic revolution – like young women from poor religious families who all of a sudden work outside of the home as administrators of Islamic justice/education/governance which they would not be able to do under any other kind of government. Or young uneducated men from religious families who feel powerful and respected when a hardliner is in power. His image as a poor blacksmith’s son and former Revolutionary Guard would still resonate strongly with those who lost sons and brothers in the war and see upholding revolutionary values as the only way to honour their martyrs’ memory. He also does things like give government funding to provincial projects and benefits to certain working class demographics, so he may also be seen as a bit of a socialist working class hero (although reports from the provinces also note great mistrust where benefits have not been properly administered or projects such as hospitals have been so shoddily built they are not properly benefiting the community).

A lot of Iranians also relate to the way he seems to be a ‘straight talking’ politician who sticks it to the George Bushes of the world on behalf of the Middle East. Iran has now had two neighbours invaded and taken over by the US, which has had the effect of strengthening fundamentalist Islam in the region generally, so Ahmadinejad standing up to the West legitimately alleviates some of the degradation people feel as Muslims and Middle Easterners.

Q. What does this protest movement have to do to succeed?

There is a danger that if the movement does not transcend the contest between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad quickly, the Mousavi supporters will end up looking like a bunch of arrogant Western influenced rich kids. This is the image the Ahmadinejad administration has so far used and one that was used in the last revolution against the supporters of the Shah. -Characterizing calls for freedom as support for Western values that defile our martyrs and corrupt the spirit of our Islamic Revolution (which, by the way, was largely fought for and won by educated university students just like the ones on the streets today).

The movement needs to evolve from the spontaneous reaction of Mousavi supporters to an unfair election result to capturing the discontent of a majority of Iranians. As much as everyone on this side of the world wants it to succeed, within Iran it could be seen as an attack by the elite upper middle class university kids on the the rights of the working class, more religious Iranians. The beauty of the last revolution was that it brought the discontent of these two sides of Iranian society together against the corrupt monarchy.

As a contest between the two candidates this movement doesn’t have an overwhelming majority to actually overthrow the government. But, Iranian people on both side of this election are angry. Dismissing opposition to Ahmadinejad as a elitist north Tehran phenomenon is insulting to the millions of middle-class Iranians who have suffered the most under his governance. This movement can speak to the anger and dissatisfaction of all Iranians, with the oppression, poverty (despite all that oil money), unemployment, women’s oppression, and the degradation we have suffered on the world stage. If the protests can give voice to this suffering there may be no limits to the change the movement could affect.

Q. What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve heard from someone on the ground?

I’m surprised at the whole thing actually, that the election would be so blatantly rigged! I realize in the West it seems elections must always be rigged in Iran but normally the tampering would not be to this extent and the real problem is with the selection/approval of candidates by Ayatollahs to begin with, not actual voter fraud to this extent. The Islamic Republic is after all built as much on the pretext of Islamic law as on a semblance of democratic support!

Q. What do you think the likely next developments will be?

A lot more violence unfortunately, whether its behind closed doors in the dark cells of Evin prison after the protests are suppressed or out on the streets as it gains momentum and the tanks roll out.

Q. Do you wish you were there?

Yes, constantly!