Tag Archives: Iran

Mexico: U.S. Alleges Iranian Assassination Plot Involving Los Zetas

The following is my latest post for Global Voices (globalvoicesonline.org), published this morning.  My thanks to Silvia Vinas, editor of the Latin America “desk,” for her support.

On October 11, the U.S. Department of Justice charged two men with conspiring with “factions of the Iranian government” to carry out a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir, and to bomb both the Saudi and Israeli embassies, all in Washington D.C.  Attorney General Eric Holder praised law enforcement and intelligence agencies who worked together to disrupt a plot “conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran.”

According to early reports by Al Arabiya and other news agencies,

The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a U.S. informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.  The Iranian-American thought he was dealing with a member of the feared Zetas Mexican drug organization, according to agents quoted by ABC News….

An aide to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the U.S. allegations that the Islamic republic was involved in a plot to kill the Saudi envoy.  “This is a prefabricated scenario to turn public attention away from domestic problems within the United States”… the president’s press advisor told AFP.

For a Spanish-language account of events, see Animal Político.

In the immediate aftermath of the press conference at which U.S. authorities first publicized the plot, blogsofwar.com began live-streaming tweets that responded to the provocative reports. In an apparent effort to promote coherence, the site divides the broad array of incoming tweets into three columns, headed “Iranian Plot,” “Mexican Drug Cartels” and “Saudi Arabia.” It is still livestreaming at the time of this post’s writing.

A Twitter search filtered through the hashtags #Mexico #Iran likewise turns up a spectrum of responses. While early tweets for the most part conveyed the details of the alleged plot, sometimes with links to news reports, it was not long before editorializing took over. @Sarmastian, based in Tottenham, was provoked to tweet twice in rapid succession:

@Sarmastian: #US have for years been looking for an excuse to crack down on Mexican border by linking cartels with IRGC. #Iran #Mexico #MidEast

@Sarmastian: #Iran could easily get to a #Saudi target within Saudi itself via non-Iranians. The news reported stinks inside-out. #US #MidEast #Mexico

Writing from Mexico, Carlos (@alquicarlos) used quotation marks, hashtags and a direct mention to Mexican President Felipe Calderón to inflect his intervention:

Que #NarcoUSAterror “descubrió” que los Z les maquilan armas de destrucción masiva a Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traidor @felipecalderon

#NarcoUSAterror “discovered” that the Z [Zetas] make weapons of mass destruction for Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traitor @felipecalderon

From the other side of the Rio Grande, @Lima570 from San Antonio wrote,

I hope no one is surprised that terrorist [sic] are working with Mexican drug cartel

Several netizens linked the alleged plot to the ongoing scandal over U.S. Operation “Fast and Furious”@JamesinSELA, for example, tweeted to a morning radio show:

@cspanwj If the mexican drug cartels are now terrorist organizations, did Holder give arms to terrorists?

In a similar vein, @TehGoldenRule posed a question that was not simply rhetorical.

@Ryan_Konky If that was an act of war what is letting 1,000s of assault weapons make their way to Mexican drug cartels?

From an unspecified location in the Twitterverse, @brownwc voiced a skepticism shared by many netizens around the globe.

Iranians hire Mexican drug cartel hit squad to assassinate Saudi ambassador. U.S. foils the plan. Can’t wait for the movie. #isthisreallife?


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The Globe and Mail editorial: Death on video (Iran)

From The Globe and Mail, published on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 12:00AM EST. Last updated on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 3:55AM EST.


Sometimes a single story or moment can awaken the world to injustice. A new journalism prize takes us back to June 20, when a woman was shot during Iran’s abortive Green Revolution, and someone with a cellphone videoed the event. The 2009 George Polk Award for Videography was given anonymously, because few know who captured the woman’s death and uploaded the video to the Internet. But we all know the victim – 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan – because we saw, or can choose to see, her death. The award is a tribute to the bravery of all those who stand in that state’s deadly crosshairs.

To watch the grainy, shaky footage of her final moments is to begin to understand, for 40 seconds, a world of brutality. It begins with Ms. Agha-Soltan already on the ground, supine and bleeding heavily; she has been shot in the chest. A few men rush to try and attend to her. Her eyes roll up and to the right. Blood streams from her mouth, then her nose. Around 20 seconds in, the horror sets in and the men begin to wail. One cries, “Neda, do not be afraid.”

It was too late; she died on that Tehran street: her last words were “I’m burning.”

Ms. Agha-Soltan, a singer and aspiring tourism guide, was no radical. A friend said, “All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted.” Her killers have not been brought to justice, though pro-government paramilitaries have been suspected.

We know little about the video’s makers, but the video itself, rapidly disseminated online, awakened the world to the horror of the Iranian leadership. It is a regime that continues to use internal proxies and its own power to harass or even kill its opponents and block their communication to the outside world.

Neda Agha-Soltan’s death was a tragedy. But sometimes enough facts – a protest, a gunshot, an innocent woman slain – and the human need to chronicle and witness them, can overcome even the most repressive government.

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Detox and a return to Twitter

In the aftermath of several days in the intellectual sauna, so to speak, with Benjamin, followed by a figural plunge into the wintry waters with Berger, I feel refreshed and ready to attempt some timely reflections on Twitter.  I’m on the verge of a coin toss to decide whether, in light of the various opportunity costs, to devote several hours to a book by Dom Sagolla, 140 Characters:  A Style Guide for the Short Form, whose foreword is by Jack Dorsey, “Creator, Co-founder, & Chairman, Twitter, Inc.”  According to the brief bio on the back cover, @Dom “helped create Twitter with Jack Dorsey and a team of entrepreneurs in San Francisco.  He also helped engineer Macromedia Studio, Odeo, and Adobe Creative Suite, and now produces iPhone applications with his company, Dollar App.”

Here is part of what @Jack has to say about Twitter in his foreword:

The amazing thing about this particular protocol is that it’s being defined daily.  By you.  Twitter was inspired by the concepts of immediacy, transparency, and approachability, and created by the guiding principles of simplicity, constraint, and craftsmanshipWe started small.  We built something out of love and a desire to see it flourish throughout the world.  We defined a mere 1 percent of what Twitter is today.  The remaining 99 percent has been, and will continue to be, created by the millions of people who make this medium their own, tweet by tweet. (xiii)

As I’ve written before, I can’t fathom how they work out those percentages.  In any event, @Dom’s introduction provides a concise account of Twitter’s origins and early history, including an incident of which I was previously unaware:

James Black, a photojournalist from Oakland, California, was on a trip to Egypt.  On April 16, 2008, he was detained by Egyptian law enforcement over a simple misunderstanding.  As he was thrown in the police car, he wrote one word:  “Arrested.” [http://twitter.com/#!/jamesbuck/status/786571964 ]  This Twitter post was picked up by U.S. authorities and resulted in his release from jail the following day.  Twitter received nationwide news coverage that day, a true sign that one could have a large impact with only a few characters of text. (xxiv-xxv)

The intro closes with a “recap” of Twitter’s brief history in the “short form” that the books seeks to analyze, promote, and exemplify:

Odeo @Jack @Ev @Biz & SMS 2006.  @SxSW @MTV 2007.  @FailWhale then @BarackObama 2008.  Mumbai.  Hudson.  @Oprah.  #Iran


@Dom’s exemplification of the short form that he is writing about is perhaps a sign that he practices what he preaches.  I’ll be updating on the experience of reading 140 Characters as time allows.

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Two takes on Twitter: one thoughtful, one less so

Thanks to several links provided by folks I follow on Twitter, I’ve been able to catch up on some reading today:  two articles that take Twitter as their topic, one published on New Year’s day in the New York Times, the other on January 29 in The New Yorker.  Taken together, they provide insights into why Twitter has become a feature of so many lives, and into the resistance that others maintain in the face of its burgeoning popularity.

“Why Twitter Will Endure”:  The title of David Carr’s article for the New York Times does not pretend to disguise the author’s enthusiastic embrace of the service.  He recalls the initial roll-out of Twitter at the SXSW conference in 2007, and his initial reluctance to add “one more Web-borne intrusion into my life.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/weekinreview/03carr.html

And then there was the name.  Twitter.

In the pantheon of digital nomenclature…brands within a sector of the economy that grew so fast that all the sensible names were quickly taken – it would be hard to come up with a noun more trite than Twitter.  It impugns itself, promising something slight and inconsequential, yet another way to make hours disappear and have nothing to show for it.  And just in case the noun is not sufficiently indicting, the verb, “to tweet,” is even more embarrassing.

Beyond the dippy lingo, the idea that something intelligent, something worthy of mindshare, might occur in the space of 140 characters – Twitter’s parameters were set by what would fit in a text message on a phone – seems unlikely.

Carr then returns to the present, to ask himself whether Twitter has, over the course of the past year, turned his brain to “mush.”

No, I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible, and instead of spending a half-hour surfing in search of illumination, I get a sense of the day’s news and how people are reacting to it in the time that it takes to wait for coffee at Starbucks. [He is not ordering brewed coffee at Starbuck’s, I’m guessing, but something involving espresso and steamed milk. – Ed.]  Yes, I worry about my ability to think long thoughts – where was I, anyway? – but the tradeoff has been worth it.

Carr goes on to explain that, nearly a year after opening a Twitter account,

I’ve come to understand that the real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice.…  At first, Twitter can be overwhelming, but think of it as a river of data rushing past that I dip a cup into every once in a while. [Does he use his Starbuck’s cup, I wonder? – Ed.]  Much of what I need to know is in that cup:  if it looks like Apple is going to demo its new tablet, or Amazon sold more Kindles than actual books at Christmas, or the final vote in the Senate gets locked in on health care, I almost always learn about it first on Twitter….

The expressive limits of a kind of narrative developed from text messages, with less space to digress or explain than this sentence, has significant upsides.  The best people on Twitter communicate with economy and precision, with each element – links, hash tags and comments – freighted with meaning.

Carr goes on to cite Clay Shirky:  “Anything that is useful to both dissidents in Iran and Martha Stewart has a lot going for it; Twitter has more raw capability for users than anything since email….It will be hard to wait out Twitter because it is lightweight, endlessly useful and gets better as more people use it.  Brands are using it, institutions are using it, and it is becoming a place where a lot of important conversations are being held.”

It may be, as Clay Shirky suggests, that it will be hard to wait out Twitter.  But George Packer, author of “Stop the World,” will be one of the hold-outs.  http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2010/stop-the-world.html  [I should note at the outset that I find it passing strange that such visceral resistance to micro-blogging should come to us via a blog for newyorker.com.  Jay Rosen was on target in a tweet that pointed to an earlier piece by Packer for Mother Jones, “The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged” (2004), as a precursor to “Stop the World.”]

Packer is responding to Carr’s “Why Twitter Will Endure” at least as much as he is responding to Twitter “itself.”  His agitation – his “fear” – runs through almost every line of his post.

The truth is, I feel like yelling Stop quite a bit these days.  Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop.  The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell.  I’m told that Twitter is a river into which I can dip my cup whenever I want. [This unattributed partial citation from Carr precedes Packer’s direct invocation of “Why Twitter Will Endure,” which comes in the next paragraph. – Ed.]  But that supposes that we’re all kneeling on the banks.  In fact, if you’re at all like me, you’re trying to keep your footing out in midstream, with the water level always dangerously close to your nostrils.  Twitter sounds less like sipping than drowning.

The most frightening picture of the future that I’ve read thus far in the new decade has nothing to do with terrorism or banking or the world’s water reserves – it’s an article by David Carr, the Times’s media critic, published on the decade’s first day, called “Why Twitter Will Endure.”  “I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible,” Carr wrote.  And:  “Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people.”  And:  “The real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice…the throbbing networked intelligence.”  And:  “On Twitter, you are your avatar and your avatar is you.”  And finally:  “There is always something more interesting on Twitter than whatever you happen to be working on.”

This last is what really worries me.  Who doesn’t want to be taken out of the boredom or sameness or pain of the present at any given moment?  That’s what drugs are for, and that’s why people become addicted to them.  Carr himself was once a crack addict (he wrote about it in “The Night of the Gun”).  Twitter is crack for media addicts.  It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it.

The analogy with addiction also figures in “The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged” (2004) which begins “First, a confession:  I hate blogs.  I’m also addicted to them.”  What is also curious about Packer’s quasi-hysterical reaction to Twitter is the complete failure to recognize that it’s called a “service” for a reason, that it is what you make it, in the very specific sense that you choose, or curate, the accounts you follow.  You have a lot to say about your incoming. The more time and thought that goes in to this process of curation, the more useful Twitter becomes.  It’s pretty simple to tailor it to one’s own purposes, whatever they may be.  And if Twitter will indeed endure, it is largely for that reason.


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fledgling’s archive, september 2009

09/30/2009 Red-letter day 


Perhaps this will go down as a red-letter day of some sort: I just noted my fledgling blog’s first batch of visitors arriving via Google. And it showed up on my own search. Now I really must make these posts presentable.  

For the moment, though, I just want to (red) flag a matter for future consideration: the ascendancy of the term ‘friend’ in the context of social media. It is an easy thing to overlook, or simply take for granted, but given the richness and variability of the writing on friendship in the history of philosophy, this certainly warrants further scrutiny.  

Posted at 05:00 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4)    


09/29/2009  Hectic presumptions 

In the belief – a wager, certainly – that thinking can proceed in part via stepping-stones of thought made accessible by those who have gone before (even just before), let me cite (as I have more than once) an account provided by my friend and mentor Werner Hamacher in an incisive essay entitled “Journals, Politics”:  

Many years ago – it might already be twenty – Max Horkheimer recommended a little experiment during a television interview. He suggested reading newspapers a few weeks or months after their publication. With this he bent over to pick up a stack of rather gray papers that lay next to his chair. I cannot recall his comments on this piece of advice. But one can imagine that the effect he had in mind was supposed to be both philosophical and political. Indeed, the effect of this small postponement on the reader, on his perception of time and on his attitude to news and published opinion, should be considerable. The reader of these old papers will notice that the imperatives, attractions and threats heralded in them reveal themselves as such only to the degree that they no longer directly affect him. The judgments that the newspapers imposed on him at another time can now be dismissed as hectic presumptions. In the future he will no longer so easily obey the regulations of the newspapers and their time…. Horkheimer’s is a piece of political advice that looks forward to the suspension of coercion and to its transformation for another way of life.  

Users, students and teachers of social media stand to gain, philosophically and politically, by conducting for themselves an analogous experiment that would introduce a small postponement in the hectic reverse chronology and “real-time” updates that govern these media, and exercises their own forms of coercion.  

Posted at 12:01 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  


09/28/2009  ‘The pulse of the planet.’ Perhaps.


 Twitter’s coveted prize is its real-time search engine and its global collection of users. What Twitter has done is add a new and important variable into the dissemination of information equation [Man this is badly written – Ed.]. When the user experience is centred around receiving information, they want that information to be relevant, and that’s what search engines are good for. But Twitter’s contribution is to introduce the variable of Time into the equation. With the integration of Twitter’s engine and its users, who provide a stream of real-time data, consumers will get answers to their queries that are relevant – Now. That’s why, as Twitter positioned it, they’re going to have the “pulse of the planet.”  


Posted at 12:13 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

09/25/2009  Pray for – make that on – the newspapers


In my last post I touched in a preliminary way on the materiality (and hence biodegradability) of newspapers over against the virtuality (and reverse chronology) of Twitter.  From the first, this blog has been dedicated to thinking through the temporal and material aspects of these media as instruments of historiography in our time.  

As it happens, the materiality of newspapers made them serviceable on at least one recent occasion, duly reported by Robin Wright for Time.com on July 27, 2009 under the title “Iran’s Protesters: Phase 2 of their Feisty Campaign”:  

‘The new cameraderie of resistance was visible at the July 17 [2009] prayer sermon given by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at TehranUniversity. Non-religious Iranians turned up for political reasons. The devout showed them how to carry out the rituals, with strangers handing out newspapers as substitute prayer mats for overflow crowds.’  


Posted at 05:13 PM in Current Affairs, Religion, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  


09/25/2009  #IranElection


I released my first innocuous tweets in April and May. But in June the stakes changed for me (and so many others) with the advent of the Iranian election and its harsh aftermath. To be part of a virtual social network during the unfolding of these events – and their extraordinary chronicling by other participants – could not but galvanize. One of my several “favorite” tweets from this period was authored by @somegirl604 and posted at 12:02 PM on June 20th:  

show a newspaper from the day in films & pictures to verify date VERY IMPORTANT 4 CNN BBC etc #GR88 #IranElection RT  

At the time, after first saving it to favorites – rescuing it from the obscurity all but guaranteed by the hectic reverse-chronological feed –  I replied directly in succinct tweetspeak: “Great practical advice that also speaks volumes about this historical moment.”  I will likely revert to her formulation more than once in the work to come. (By the way, @somegirl604, have you found a job yet?  Thanks again and best wishes.)  

Posted at 12:11 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  


09/23/2009  ‘I tweet, therefore I am.’

It was a journalist’s post-Cartesian musing about Twitter and mortality that propelled me from the relative safety of theoretical interest and observation into the riskier business of practice. In late March, 2009, The Globe and Mail ran a feature by Ian Brown under the title ‘Give Me Twitter or Give me Death’ (March 28, 2009, F1, F4). Zeroing in on what he termed the Twitter dictum – ‘What are you doing?’ – Brown sought to align questions of temporality, language, technology and mortality:  

‘…the discipline of compression is part of Twitter’s charm. Brevity and the management of candour are essential. One must, as Mark Twain advised, “eschew surplusage.”‘  

Or again,  

‘The lure of Twitter is the lure of Right Now. There is no death in the moment of Right Now: There is only where/what/why/who I am. If you are tweeting or tweeted, you are not dead, yet.’ 

While such conceptual claims resonated with my own thinking to date, I was struck by Brown’s readiness to take a further, very practical step: to seek in these terms to initiate a discussion about Twitter on Twitter. And so he did, generating a lively response:  

‘People had a lot to say, it was more like tossing firecrackers than writing…. It was exhausting, like climbing into a dryer for a ride.’  

He also reproduced, among others, a response from participant ‘gordonr’: ‘Twitter is phatic communication: I exist, you exist, the channel is open, the network if flowing.’  

Then and there, I signed up.  

Posted at 11:31 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

09/21/2009  George Clooney and I have something in common  

This post’s sole mission is to reproduce a remark by George Clooney that a) made me laugh and b) is tangentially related to this blog project.  In town last week for TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, Clooney was asked by a reporter why he wasn’t active on Facebook.  According to multiple sources including The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s, he responded that he “would rather have a prostate exam on live television by a guy with very cold hands than have a Facebook page.”  

 As far as I can tell, he had nothing to say about Twitter, to which I will return shortly.  


Posted at 02:54 PM in Current Affairs, Film, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  log   


09/20/2009  Prelude to Twitter 

With zero readership at this stage, I can probably risk an autobiographical start without fear of losing anyone.  Suffice it to say that I have a longstanding investment in matters of language, literature, aesthetics, media, technology and history, in their various permutations.  So I was of course aware of the advent of new social media, even while I kept a certain critical distance in terms of my own practices (I’m still wary of Facebook, truth be told, and monitor it vicariously through my daughters’ accounts).My initial interest in Twitter stemmed from two decades of reading, teaching and writing about literature, and was more formal than material:  What sort of writing could and would emerge within the constraints of 140 characters? This was a version of questions I had considered in the past, for example with regard to the sonnet as form.  I was intrigued, but not yet hooked.  Then, in March 2009, I came across a feature article in my local newspaper, The Globe and Mail, that altered my thinking and impelled me to register and begin tentatively to tweet.  More about that article and its transformative effects in my next post.  

 Posted at 01:40 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  


09/19/2009  Fledgling foray  

Let me begin, as I often do and will, by citing someone else:  in this case my old friend and colleague David Bromwich, who offers succinct advice to fellow bloggers, novice or expert:  “A good post is a single thought or observation or anecdote, clearly expressed and directly conveyed.  An essay may cover several topics; a post easily grows tiresome if it aims for more than one” (The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, 91).   I cleave to this counsel as I ask myself whether cyberspace (to say nothing of any number of situations on the ground) needs another mind brooding in public about the impact of so-called “social media” – and Twitter in particular – on the history and historiography of our time.  My wager is that while my two cents will likely drop unnoticed, they won’t do any damage as they fall.  So I will undertake at least to chronicle my own involvement, practical and theoretical, with Twitter as an example whose value remains to be determined.   


Posted at 11:10 AM in Books, Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)     



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