The Howard Beale Moment

Although we didn’t explain it, our Sunday tweet — Allah O Akbar, or “God is Great” — is one of the legendary chants from the Iranian revolution. We ran it because we read reports that people were shouting it from Tehran rooftops last night, in a “deafening” chorus of protest. How deafening? Now we know.

(Update: No we don’t — video’s from June 9, as updated at niacINsight, and which we could have easily checked before posting. But while we’re here, latest reports have police going door to door and marking buildings where they hear the second night’s shouts.)


Their god is not going to help them. Overthrowing those old greybeards is what is required. If only we’d had such courage when Bush was debasing our fundamental values. If only …

How do you say Death to the Fucking Mullahs in Farsi?

@FlyingChainSaw: It may not be the mullahs — or not all of them. The high-level complications of this story are fascinating, and I’m still trying to make sense of them.

CNN: The most trusted source for uninformed talkradio bloviators sucking up airtime that could be better spent on, how you say, news.

My pet theory is you can’t push people too far or its over, and you gotta do everything you can to keep them busy and occupied.

Remember Tank Man? He had bags of groceries in his hands. Did you see the slide show from Iran? One guy was holding a briefcase and had a nice watch on, while he was throwing stones at the police.

Two rules:

1. Clamp down too far and its just a waiting game. Watch out cuz the pressure will build and build. And be ready to near-total brutality from all sides when the bubble bursts.

Iran, China?

2. If you can’t give people stuff to do, then expect protests. When a protest is the most interesting and productive thing you do in a month, you have problems.


@RZ: This is a regime that has pretended some degree of popular legitimacy over the years, and they just blew that off for a very young, very large generation. That will have consequences.

And until this weekend, that generation was very active online — Facebook and texting weren’t around in 1989, or 1968. Normal communication will have to be restored sooner or later, and then things will get interesting.

Presuming they don’t get interesting enough over the next few days.

@RZ: They didn’t think to at first — all the notable traffic was at Facebook and via texting. But when those two got shut down, focus shifted to Twitter on Saturday. They’ve now blocked Twitter, narrowed bandwidth to a straw, and even ping-bombed the Tehran Bureau news website to keep it offline at times Sunday.

So they’re not idiots. Just catching up.

@nojo: I wonder if they have fax machines still?

Oh, and “Allah u Akbar” is a fairly standard chant amongst the faithful, whether you’re saber rattling, stone throwing or bombing down a single track without brakes outside of Provo. It’s the “Yankees Suck!” of Islam, really.

@Nabisco: I see I’m not the only one old enough to remember the key role fax machines played at the time of Tiananmen.

@Nabisco: True dat about the chant — but the very fact it’s standard is what makes it safe to shout, as opposed to, say, “Death to the Mullahs.” I find myself wondering what would have happened if Vietnam protesters sang “God Bless America.”

As far as the fax machines, those would certainly bypass the throttled Internet connections. (I think shortwave radio is being jammed, to pull up another old-school technology.) Something to bear in mind, next time you’re planning a revolution.

Fax machine update, via a Sully reader:

The other important use of Twitter has been distribution of proxy addresses via Twitter. This would be how most video and pictures of today’s rally have gotten out.

From a geek perspective, this is fascinating. (Fascinating from any perspective, of course, but bear with me.) The kids switched to Twitter on Saturday after the government shut down texting and blocked Facebook, which had been the communications of choice.

And while the government has tried to block Twitter as well, not to mention throttle Internet speeds, the fact it’s a low-overhead service (140-character messages) with a number of offsite means to read and submit text, makes it very “decentered” — like the Internet itself, which after all was originally conceived to survive a nuclear blast.

And then you have all these ad hoc “proxy” addresses, which are basically relay sites for Internet traffic — you can block the Twitter IPs directly if you control the pipes like in Iran, but you can’t keep up with all the “alternate” addresses being set up willy nilly. (China tries its best, but it’s still cat & mouse over there — but RZ can tell us more about that.)

What you end up with is the digital-age equivalent of faxes: the means and breadth of communication is just so much more broad than twenty years ago, and once something slips through, it’s immediately available worldwide.

On the other hand, governments still have guns and tanks. What we can witness, and what we can do, are very separate things.

@nojo: All of this is silly. As long as FTP and HTTP work, people can post stuff. I think a big part of the comms shut down is to slow the formation of murderous mobs. Brilliant. They’ll end up with huge teaming seas of insanely enraged rioters who will never leave the street for fear of being cut off from each other.

@FlyingChainSaw: You can’t post stuff if the government firewall blocks access to the IP address you need, and it’s difficult to post photos and video if speeds are throttled to the equivalent of first-generation modems. That’s what makes Twitter — and the number of alternate means available for using Twitter — interesting in this case. It takes very little to get a message through, and very little is what’s available.

But yes, the government is trying to shut down communications as a means of organization, with counterproductive consequences. That big rally today? Supposedly it was called off, but who would get the message?

@nojo: Right but they can’t block ’em all. You can call any ISP with a credit card and sign up for a website account and start loading it with videos of mullah’s guards machine gunning day care centers. What are they going to do? Call up every ISP in Pittsburgh and San Diego and tell them to talk down the site? If you can have a staging server outside of the Iran that doesn’t show up on their scans they’ll be left in the dark about where the content got posted from. Every revolutionary should learn how to use an SSH client and an IRC client. Good luck to those jamokes trying to kill IRC and encrypted FTP.

@nojo: Exactly. In this vacuum of communications, the only thing to do is riot All The Time.

Amazingly and weirdly, WordPress knows the protocol already and for some reason placed the HTTP protocol prefix in front of it.

@FlyingChainSaw: If you can have a staging server outside of the Iran that doesn’t show up on their scans

Bingo. And thus the ad hoc proxy servers springing up. If they can get the bits outside the Iran firewall, the rest takes care of itself. As we’re seeing.

Every revolutionary should learn how to use an SSH client and an IRC client.

Then again, nobody expected to be a revolutionary on Friday. They were just kids doing what kids do, texting and checking Facebook. The government is doing a bang-up job of radicalizing the population.

@nojo: commercial idea: “Crypto Anarchy” T-shirts in Farsi.

@FlyingChainSaw: Paging Manchu: “My Girl Wants to Riot All the Time”.

@redmanlaw: Is that a song? Or are you making stuff up again?

@FlyingChainSaw: I think it was Eddie Murphy who did “My Girl Wants to Party All the Time” back in the ’80s.

@redmanlaw: Ah!, so you are improvising. Yes, let’s see if this riff inspires MC MC.

@nojo: @FlyingChainSaw: I understand about three words in your computer geek-out there, my contribution is that per an Iranian coworker, phone lines in and out still work if you’re willing to spend some cash. And there are expats around the world who have money.

@SanFranLefty: No biggie. Just means the mullahs can stop stuff that gets stamped and mailed locally (like a browser calling out to a local DNS server which has had wiped off its records base) but there is nothing to stop a electronic pneumatic tube from punching through the censor’s perimeter defense.

@FlyingChainSaw: Again, my ladybits and my lawyerbrain have no idea what you said, although the words “pneumatic” and “punching” got me kind of tingling.

For some reason, I can picture you in a cafe in Tripoli or Beirut (not anywhere in Israel b/c baked would take you out for some fun in an instant) hunched over a laptop managing this computer revolution and aiding and abetting. As well you and all others who have the capability should do.

@SanFranLefty: I’m sending a cake and a bible, plus a case of stingers.

@SanFranLefty: When I did work in Tel Aviv, as soon as work was done for the day, I was out in the bars and in the streets, as far away from a computer as I could get. I still regret not taking time for the beaches. Oh, boy, the beaches did look good whizzing by. . . Let’s just say all the tools to get around obstacles placed on the Internet by a tyrannous government are free and plentiful and all in the hands of increasing numbers of Iranian patriots

@redmanlaw: A cake, a bible, and a case o’ stingers.


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