Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tunisia, Twitter, Change, and Staying Sane

This post isn't about the War on Terror so much as it's about what I think is behind what Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded folks are trying to do.

It looks like they've seen today's world: and don't like it. (February 6, 2009, October 8, 2007) That's understandable, I think:
"...Ishmael to Internet in One Lifetime

"I've made the point before, that many Muslims have been dragged across several thousand years of history and cultural change in one or two generations. Stable cultures, carrying on traditions which had been ancient when Abraham moved out of Ur, were relatively isolated until Western civilization needed petroleum.

"Then, the world of individual rights, Barbies, beer, bikinis and Mickey Mouse dropped into their quiet world. It must have been like a retirement community suddenly having a frat house near the golf course...."
(September 24, 2009)
I do not think that justifies flying airliners into skyscrapers. Like I've written before, understanding does not mean agreeing. I think it's a good idea to understand why someone is doing something - not to find excuses for inexcusable behavior, but to make reasonable decisions when considering how to act.

Like it or not, there's another election coming up in a couple years - and I intend to be an informed voter. And that's almost another topic.

Osama bin Laden isn't the only person who doesn't seem comfortable with change.

Take the former president of Tunisia, for example. He's out of a job now. In part, it seems, because of some newfangled technology and new social structures that developing as people use it.

Tunisia: Times Change

Tunisia is in the news again. Or, rather, still.1

I've noticed a few developments:
  • Zine el Abidine Ben Ali seems to have arrived safely in Saudi Arabia
    • Some of his family didn't
      • Maybe they didn't notice the changes fast enough
  • The General Tunisian Workers' Union (UGTT) want more change
    • They're not the only ones
  • People were killed during anti-presidential demonstrations
    • 78
    • Or over a hundred
    • Depends on who you ask
  • Tunisia isn't carrying on with business as usual
    • Which, in my opinion, is just as well
My guess is that Tunisia won't be having nice, polite, uncontested elections - ever. That doesn't seem to be the way things work: just look at America's last few election cycles. Then there were those "hanging chads." And that's another topic.

Now that a government that sounds a bit like Chicago's old-style political machines is (most likely) on its way out, though, I'd say that folks in Tunisia have a good chance of improving their country.

Today, Tunisia; Tomorrow, the World?

The idea that Twitter - and other online communities and media - brought down the former permanent president of Tunisia is wending its way through the digestive tract of traditional news media.1

My guess is that this latest apple cart upset by Information Age culture and tech is causing no small degree of indigestion along the way.

That's because I don't think that the powers-that-be in Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen are the only ones threatened by folks with Twitter accounts and blogs.

I think America, and the western world in general, is experiencing changes on a scale we haven't seen since Gutenberg started printing with movable type.

As I've said elsewhere, change hurts. And change happens.

Hello Internet; Goodbye Editorial Control

I think that when folks stopped having to depend on traditional information gatekeepers2 for knowledge of what was going on outside their circle of friends and acquaintances: the established order lost a major tool for controlling 'the masses.'

Not that east coast newspaper editors, American educators, and media executives thought about it that way. I find it quite hard to believe that there's some sort of vast conspiracy 'behind the scenes.' Although I think that sort of thing can make a pretty good story. (January 14, 2009)

Conspiracy? No: Cultural Blind Spots? Maybe

America is, in my opinion, just what the CIA World Factbook says it is: a "constitution-based federal republic; [with a] strong democratic tradition." That's lower-case "democratic," by the way. I don't think the CIA is a tool of the Democratic party; the Republicans; or the space-alien, shape-shifting lizard people.

I also prefer to believe that many senior news editors, studio executives, and college professors mean well. I do, though, get the impression that quite a few of the 'proper sort' feel that they have a profound understanding of the world - and that it is their burden to manage what the 'common' people see and read. Sort of an upgrade of the old "White Man's burden." Only more "tolerant," in a politically-correct way. And since these folks seem convinced that they, and they alone, are "tolerant," they don't see that they're filtering out facts they don't like.

Or they think that it's the right thing to do.

I think it may seem 'obvious' to someone with letters after his name, or who has an executive secretary taking his calls, that he and his good buddies can handle the grim realities of the world: and that the rabble can't. Or, rather, that they might come to the wrong conclusions: conclusions that aren't consistent with what he decided should be so.

Sometimes it's a "she:" that's one change that came out of the '60s that I think made sense. Which isn't another topic.

Change Hurts: Change Happens

I've said this before, quite a bit. Change happens: Deal with it.

I remember the '50s. "Happy Days," it wasn't - except for folks like Mr. Cunningham. And even white, male World War II vets had their troubles. Think The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Which I've mentioned before. (November 10, 2010)

I remember the '60s, too. I don't think the Timothy Leary/Jimi Hendrix thing was a good idea - at all. But the social revolution was more than encouraging bright, talented people to scramble their brains.

Back in the 'good old days' that I remember, for example, quite a few folks were convinced that women should know their place: barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Some still believe that.

But that changed for a great many Americans.

Folks who had grown up thinking that the "Happy Days" lifestyle was the only possible way to live - or at least the only one that decent people should want - were not happy when they stopped being at the apex of society. Or seeming to be, at any rate.

They complained. A lot. But change happened, anyway.

I Don't Want the '50s Again

I've been called a conservative. I can see why. There seem to be three major currently-recognized philosophical positions: Liberal; Moderate; Conservative. Four, if you count apathy. My views are least unlike "conservative" of that triad - or quadrad.

And yet, I don't think that women are entertaining sex machines and household appliances: more useful than a toaster, but less indispensable than high-definition television. Go figure. I'll get back to that.

I certainly do not want a return to the 'good old days' when women were considered odd if they showed an interest in power tools, or men if they were good at graphic design. Partly because my wife is the one with power tools, and I once made a living doing graphic design.

The '60s saw changes in a lot more than just what folks expected men and women to be like.

It's a good thing, in my opinion, that the United States is finally making reparations for a shameful history of treaty violations: but again, that's a family thing for me. I'm related to folks of the Lakota.

It even looks like America may be sorting out how do deal with the idea that people shouldn't be evaluated based on who their ancestors were - even if those ancestors came from northwestern Europe. Which is a good thing. Again, in my opinion.

The changes of the last five decades have been - and are - painful. But I think many were for the better - and anyway, change happens.

New Technology, New Social Structures: Dangerous, Sort of

Maybe I'd be more worried about this here newfangled Internet, and online communities, if I hadn't been through this sort of thing before.

I remember when the telephone was destroying the youth of America. According to some terribly serious folks, anyway. Same with television.

Then, as broadcast television was being supplanted by cable: cable television was feared and reviled as that which would destroy America's cultural unity. In a way, the hand-wringers had that one right. Before cable, just about everybody had either seen the latest "Leave It to Beaver," "Bewitched," or "M*A*S*H" episode: or had heard about it. We had something besides the weather to talk about.

Now, with hundreds of channels, you can't count on someone else having seen the same thing you did the night before. Divisive? Maybe. I prefer having more choices: including skipping television entirely and seeing what's online.

The Internet was, and is, seen as a threat, too. I've mentioned the time when the Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority tried - together - to get a Federal agency that would manage what Americans were allowed to see. (March 9, 2008)

I think that ideological odd couple shows how frightened at least some folks in the establishment are, of the power that most Americans now have. We no longer depend on a relatively small number of the 'right sort' to decide what we're allowed to see and read. If we're interested, we can go online and do our own research: and draw our own conclusions.

Not everybody comes to the same conclusions I do: But I'd much rather live now, when each of us can learn something besides what the established order thinks we should - than back in the 'good old days.'

Not everybody feels that way, so we're hearing about how Twitter twists the youth - and that's a topic I've posted about before. (see Related posts)

Sex Machines, Toasters, and High-Definition Television

I said I'd get back to philosophical positions, women, and toasters. This is the last section of this post, and is more detailed look at my views of a set of cultural values that I think are still in a state of flux: the position or women, and men, in society.

I am not all that sympathetic with the bra-burning set. I've been called a male chauvinist pig too many times. But weird demands and assertions aside - it's my considered opinion that women and men are people, and should be treated as such.

The two halves of humanity differ from each other, and exhibit a vast range of individual differences - we've got upwards of 6,768,000,000 distinct versions of humanity as of July of last year. (CIA World Factbook (updated on January 13, 2011))

Back in my "good old days," the problem was that women weren't recognized as being 'as good as men.' Or, from the point of view of guys who like things just the way they were, some women didn't 'know their place.'

Now the problem, from some points of view, is that some women don't know their place - behind whatever liberal notion is in fashion at the moment. And, again, that isn't another topic.

As I've tried to show, I think there's a social revolution going on: one that today's establishment likes as little as the establishment of my teens liked what 'those crazy long-haired kids' were doing.

One of a great many aspects of American culture that's changing is, in my opinion, the role or roles that women are expected to fill. Men, too.

Finally, a clarification about my take on "barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen."
  • Barefoot:
    • I wear shoes as little as possible - even during central Minnesota winters
      • Nothing ideological
        • I have a hard time finding ones that fit
        • The things cost a lot
  • Pregnant:
    • I like babies
      • And the process that gets them started
    • I also think life is precious
      • Even life that has to have frequent diaper changes
    • But I don't think women are just for having babies
      • Or that men are just for getting them started
  • In the kitchen
    • I think my wife's job of job of maintaining our household and being a mother is
      • Demanding
      • Complex
      • Vital
      • Arguably more important than any of my 'real' jobs were
    • I think my job as father is more important than my 'real' jobs
    • Which doesn't mean that women shouldn't have 'real' jobs
      • Just that there's more to life than a 'career' for
        • Men
        • Women
Related posts:
News and views:
  • "Tunisia"
    World Factbook, CIA (last updated January 12, 2011)

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Two allies of Tunisia ousted leader Ben Ali 'detained' "
BBC News Africa (January 23, 2011)

"Tunisian police have detained two politicians close to ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, state media report.

"Mr Ben Ali's former adviser Abdelaziz bin Dhia and former Interior Minister and head of Senate Abdallah Qallal were now under house arrest, they said.

"The news came as a new protest march against the interim government reached the capital Tunis....

"...PM Mohamed Ghannouchi has pledged to quit after elections, which are expected within six months...."

"...The media also said that the police were searching for Abdelwahhab Abdalla - another former adviser to Mr Ben Ali.

"Last week, some 33 members of Mr Ben Ali's family were arrested as they tried to leave the country....

"...On Sunday, a new protest march reached Tunis.

"Some 1,000 demonstrators from Menzel Bouzaiane - the rural area where protests against Tunisia's authoritarian rule began in December - had joined the 'Caravan of Liberation' to the capital.

"The main trade union, the General Tunisian Workers' Union (UGTT), has backed the protest, which set off on Saturday....

"...Mr Ghannouchi has left Mr Ben Ali's ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) party and insisted that figures from the previous regime who have remained in positions of power - including the ministers of defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs - have 'clean hands'.

"But this has failed to satisfy many opposition figures and protesters.

"On Saturday, policemen - who had defended the regime of the ousted president - were among those protesting, which the BBC's Magdi Abdelhadi in the Tunisian capital says marked a very dramatic development.

"The official death toll during the unrest leading to Mr Ben Ali's flight was 78, though the UN says more than 100 people died. Authorities have promised to investigate the deaths of protesters.

"Tunisians mourn protest victims as small demonstrations continue"
Edition: International, CNN (January 23, 2011)

"Tunisia on Sunday ended a three-day mourning period for dozens of people killed in protests that ousted the country's long-term president.

"As the mourning period came to a close, small protests broke out in the capital, Tunis.

"Protesters have decried a new government formed in the wake of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's ouster.

"They have called it a sham, and demanded that officials with connections to the old guard be fired.

"The nation's interim prime minister said that his country would hold its first free democratic elections since gaining independence and vowed to leave politics after the ballot.

" 'We want to make the next elections the first transparent and legitimate elections since independence,' Tunisian Interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said Friday.

"Ghannouchi said he will retire from politics after the elections are held.

"Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956.

"Ghannouchi said upcoming political reforms would 'scrap all undemocratic laws including laws involving political parties, the elections and the anti-terrorism law that was abused by the former regime.'

" 'I lived like all Tunisians, in pain and fear' under the former president, Ghannouchi said...."


Brigid said...

Missing a space: "TheGeneral Tunisian Workers' Union"

Missing a word: "I am not all that sympathetic with bra-burning set."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


Got 'em - thanks!

muondo said...

très bon blog!

Brian H. Gill said...


Je vous remercie.

Everybody else, the muondo link leads to, Mondo Rescue Home Page, "a GPL disaster recovery solution."

I know nothing about muondo/Mondo, apart from what you just read.

Also - I appreciate compliments as much as the next person, but this blog is in English. That's the only language you can count on another reader understanding. Comments in the same language as the blog posts is preferable.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.