Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, June 01, 2005

eaders will have noticed some additions to the sidebar / blogroll thingie, and if all goes well after posting some actual writing today, there will be some even newer stuff over there. I'd been feeling like sprucing the place up a bit with some features, and managed to get some of it into the template before heading upcountry again last weekend. Tweaking this stuff always takes longer than I expect, making sure it looks ok -- not only with the standards compliant Firefox, but also with the old legacy browsers like Internet Explorer (which, frankly, still just renders a lot of things just plain wrong). In fact, the first thing that I wanted to add was the image link to Firefox, something I'd been procrastinating about (while they released four security upgrades in rapid succession following the official release of version 1.0). The javascript feed for Firefox download count (coming up on 61 million!) was duly discovered in this process, whetting my appetite to look around for other such goodies.

If any of this stuff causes problems for anyone, such as unbearably slow loading, just let me know. They seem to be loading reasonably well for me so far. I'd originally included two headline feeds from feedroll -- BBC was chosen (despite my tedious carping about their bias) because it was the only choice offering an Asia Pacific News feed (and their web stories seem a lot more balanced than BBC World anyway), as well as Yahoo International News. Today I was looking at The Scotsman, which I've always found to be a good paper, and discovered that they offer javascript feeds as well. So I've added one for Indonesia headlines (unfortunately, they have no category for the wider Asia, or Thailand either). They don't have particularly frequent coverage though, so that the 10 headlines takes us back more than six weeks.

I tried out 3 or 4 different weather stickers before settling on Weather Underground, difficult to find something that combined lots of info, dynamic image (it changes according to conditions), and narrow enough to fit. What I'm using here is just a part of a composite that was nice, but just way too big. Seems to work ok on its own, the only thing missing is the weather station's reporting time (which came up on a separate, but too wide image). But from checking it throughout today, reporting times seem to be never more than 15 minutes old.

And finally, the addition which I'm concerned might cause a loading slowdown for some, which is the Seismic Monitor. I must credit Kate at Small Dead Animals for the idea, though I had to code it a little differently here. The link above the thumbnail (which isn't really one...) will take you to the actual and interactive IRIS Seismic Monitor (IRIS: Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology), which is constantly updated 24 hours a day. I recommend to visit there just to be familiar with the colour codes and intensity legend on the quakes. Beneath the thumbnail which isn't, are links to IRIS and USGS homepages. Clicking on the image itself will bring it up full size in a popup window, and although the image file is just over 100 kbytes, it will come up instantly, as your browser has already loaded it. In other words, the small image is the full size image, reduced in your browser. So this does have the potential to make the loading of our spiffy new sidebar somewhat slower. So as I said, if people are having problems due to this, I'll take it off. It is pretty cool though, and I like the earth's night / day display too.

Comments, suggestions or beefs about any of this are welcome.


big wai to
Roger L. Simon for noticing that something is going on in Syria, and that we all have a very excellent correspondent there to unravel things for us. Ammar Abdulhamid views himself as a "heretic", and apparently the Great Opthamologist's regime agrees. He has been hauled in for interrogations, had travel bans imposed (then lifted), but now Amarji says that it's finally the time for outside pressure.

In Freedom for the Atassy 8!, he writes:
At one point a couple of months ago, when I was going through that period of interrogations and travel ban, some of my fellow bloggers offered to flood the Syrian Embassy in DC with emails on my behalf, now I urge them to do it on behalf of the Atassy 8 and all the other prisoners of conscience in Syria. On the [eve] of the Baath Conference, the President, and other elements in the regime, are trying to play it tough. I think we should do so as well.

This regime needs to be isolated like never before. While dissidents need to be empowered. We are the source of legitimacy and credibility of any regime, without us, without an active and vibrant dissent movement, no regime in the region should have any credibility whatsoever.
Read on for more on who are the Atassy 8, but be sure to hit his front page for latest developments, and more extensive contact info for Syrian embassies around the world:
So, flood the embassies with your emails, this is the least that we can do. Student groups that can hold vigils for their sake are more than encouraged to do so. Those who can write articles, op-eds or blog entries about them, go ahead and do so. Freedom for the Atassy 8 and all prisoners of conscience in Syria should be our rallying cry from now on. No reform package will be accepted from this regime if it does not include strict guarantees for our basic freedoms. We will not live at the whim of anyone.
The other Syrian blog I wrote about recently, Syria Exposed, hasn't been updated since exploding Myth #10 on May 2nd. Oh dear, I do hope that Karfan and his friend are alright.

UPDATE: That was quick! I hadn't checked Amarji's page again before writing the above, but evidently internal and external pressure has been quite effective -- the Atassy 8 have been freed. The release came just hours before Ammar Abdulhamid had his commentary on the situation appear in the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper. This is a make-or-break month for the Assad regime, with the Baath Party congress due to open on Monday, and the situation is very clearly outlined by Ammar-ji in this commentary. Developing!


nyone who might have been gearing themselves up for composing an email, fax or phone call to their local Syrian embassy or consulate -- only to be let down by Agam being several days behind the curve -- HOLD THAT THOUGHT! There is evidently an institute of "higher learning" which could use a reminder about upholding "higher principles".

The Scotsman reports that the University of Aberdeen has removed a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in order to placate Chinese students on the campus. The portrait had hung on a wall of the Regent Walk building for 12 years, to commemorate Dalai Lama's visit to the campus in 1993, when the university bestowed an honourary degree upon the Tibetan spiritual leader. This was the same sort of honour that was given him last year in Vancouver, when he received honourary degrees from both University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.

But evidently they are easily intimidated by fee paying Chinese students over there at Aberdeen. "[A] Chinese student complained that the image was upsetting his fellow countrymen and it was taken down."

This sort of childish pettiness is all too common when it comes to the PRC, and their collective neurosis over Dalai Lama and the Tibet issue. Ever wonder how Yasser Arafat could waltz into the UN building and address the General Assembly with a pistol on his hip, and yet another man who represents a people and a nation (indeed, a unique civilisation) who've been robbed of their country, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, cannot even get through the back door?

There are innumerable examples over recent years of the infant-like tantrums by the Chinese over any reference to Tibet in international fora. A commemorative book being published by UNESCO had to be recalled and reprinted (or cancelled altogether, I forget which), simply because it contained a message from Dalai Lama. An international art exhibition caused another kerfuffle, also sponsored by the Untied Nations, because one of the artists was of Tibetan heritage. It goes on and on. If Tibetan NGO's want to be heard at international conferences, they must stand in as representatives for other, non-Tibet related NGO's, simply to be put on the agenda. The same goes for the UN Human Rights Commission. If some religious institution or university somewhere wants to invite His Holiness to an event... that entire country can prepare for the wrath of China. He wants to transit Russia enroute to visit Tibetan Buddhists of Kalmykia? China will tell Russia who she may, and who she may not allow transit rights, and it definitely doesn't include that guy! Because that lama guy really hurts our feelings!

In situations like the one at Aberdeen University, there are now usually enough PRC students around that a portion of them are willing to go to bat for the Motherland against those treacherous Tibetans (and their supporters), and also willing to intimidate the rest of their Chinese classmates into displaying nationalistic solidarity. Just imagine: "A Chinese student complained..." and the man who was honoured (and that honour commemorated for a dozen years) by this university, is immediately snubbed. Because we wouldn't think of hurting our foreign, fee-paying Chinese students' feelings.

If they hadn't been indoctrinated by a lifetime of PRC propaganda about the "peaceful liberation of Tibet" and how the superior Han Chinese culture has finally civilised the barbaric mountain race, they likely wouldn't have such delicate feelings about a man who most of the rest of the world greatly admires.

So "causing distress" to some students from one authoritarian country where free speech (and freedom in the classroom) is denied, should be avoided. While causing distress to anyone else is unintended, but necessary. An Aberdeen University spokeswoman:
"It was brought to the attention of the university authorities that the photograph was a cause of concern and distress to a section of our student community.

"In acknowledgment of this - and in recognition of the primary purpose for the display - the decision was taken to remove it from its current location. Its removal was in no way intended to cause upset," the spokeswoman said.
The Aberdeen University webpage for Communications and External Affairs has their phone and fax numbers. They can also be reached by email at communications@abdn.ac.uk.


nother wai to Roger is in order here, for pointing me to a new blog by a Norwegian - American called SEIXON. In particular, to an article delving into the [ahem] misstatements made by one George Galloway to a US Senate investigative committee. I can still remember the condescension and contempt that the British MP of the RESPECT Party exhibited when questioned about his business crony Mr. Zureikat's extensive business dealings with Saddam Hussein, and his concurrent position as the "designated representative" for the activities of Galloway's charity, the Mariam Appeal.

Galloway practically spit the words out here, that he was so transparent about all this, that Mr. Zureikat's "vast amount of business with Iraq" and his donations to the Mariam Appeal were all "emblazoned on our literature, on our web site, precisely so that people like you could not later credibly question my bonafides in that regard." Mr. Galloway was so brave with all this stuff, because he knew that the website had long been taken down, and he believed nobody could check him up on it.

Along comes SEIXON who, being a blogger and relatively web savvy, knew how to work the good old Wayback Machine (anybody remember Mr. Peabody?). It seems that Gorgeous George was telling a little bit of a, er, ah, fib... under oath. Or was he? No, not the fib -- that part's for sure. The oath part. I seem to remember that there was something unusual after the opening statements at the hearing, and that (due to being a non-American citizen perhaps?) he never did actually swear an oath to tell the truth! Lucky for him, because no such thing as he claimed was "emblazoned" (or even alluded to in a roundabout way) on the Mariam Appeal's website. Zureikat's name appeared on one news article page, as the representative for a completely different organisation, and nothing at all about his being an "extremely wealthy businessman doing very extensive business in Iraq."

SEIXON is following this up, so if you're interested, be sure to hit his front page for the latest.


his is an example of the strength and vitality of the distributed intelligence that is the blogosphere.

I'm reading neo-neo the other day and she points, in this article, over to Michael J. Totten. He explains that one of his readers had sent him something from the Washington Post, asking his opinion (Michael just came back from spending considerable time there with the Freedom Campers).

Michael decides to send it to a friend in Lebanon because, "...the rest of the piece didn't sit right with me at all. Some stories about Lebanon have a certain, shall we say, smell to them. This story is one of them." The Lebanese friend happens to write the Lebanese Political Journal. Michael's friend fisked it up one side and down the other, it was evidently so riddled with mistakes that there wasn't a single paragraph that was accurate.

Reading this piece was most illuminating after following the developments in Lebanon over the past few months, and the recent first round of elections. As Michael Totten writes, "His critique is worth reading for two reasons. One, you'll learn a lot about Lebanese history. Two, it just goes to show how utterly wrong you can be and still get published in the Washington Post."

On a similar subject, Michael Yon offers us some background on how the media are getting the story in Iraq (he is a freelance journalist there in the field, and not in the hotel bar -- or on the roof all the time like Caroline Hawley). Fascinating to learn how most of these stories are put together from Significant Action reports (SIGACTS) in the field that filter through various channels and are redistributed down the chain, with re-wording taking place at every node until the journalist gets it in hand and takes it back to the hotel for final assembly. This whole process really explains why the bulk of the news sounds the way it does, and why certain kinds of stories (which many people would find extremely interesting, or even an essential part of the overall picture) never make it into even the first node of this information transfer network. By relying on this structure, journalists are guaranteed not to get any of the other stories, due to the fundamental purpose of the structure itself.

That's why Michael himself is out in the field, and why his Online Magazine makes such great reading.

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