Entrepreneurship Survives, Even in Mogadishu

  In Mogadishu the nose of one of the two Black Hawk helicopters that were were shot down in 1993.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sept. 23 — They call her the “Black Hawk Down” lady.

And in the corner of her dirt yard, beneath rags drying in the sun and next to a bowl of filthy wash water, she keeps a chunk of history that most Americans would probably like to forget.

It is the battered nose of a Black Hawk helicopter, from one of the two that got shot down in Mogadishu on Oct. 3, 1993, in an infamous battle that killed 18 Americans, led to a major foreign policy shift and spawned a big movie.

The Black Hawk Down lady stands fiercely at her gate and charges admission to see it.

“You, you, you,” she said on a recent day, jabbing her finger at three visitors.  “Pay, pay, pay.”

. . .

Ecstatic Somalis ransacked the wreckage, stripping the helicopters and melting down the metal. Some people even ripped insignia patches off the bodies of the soldiers to keep as grim souvenirs.

. . .

But Ms. Elmi had a different plan.  Her husband had died a long time ago, and she had six children to feed.  Two of her older sons were killed, she said, when the helicopter crashed.  She dragged the cracked nose piece, about five feet across but actually pretty light because it was made of fiberglass, back to her house.

. . .  

Ms. Elmi began humbly, charging neighborhood boys the equivalent of a few cents to get a peek at her one exhibit, the last known chunk of wreckage from what Somalis refer to as Ma-alinti Rangers, the Day of the Rangers.

But after the movie “Black Hawk Down” came out in 2001 — and pirated copies found their way to Mogadishu — business boomed.

“So many people came, I cannot count,” she said.  “White people, brown people, black people.”

When asked why they come, she snapped:  “How should I know?  Do you think I am mind reader?”

The entrance fee is now around $3 for foreigners; locals get a discount and pay 75 cents.

. . .

Some people say they fear the Islamists will impose a draconian version of Islam in Somalia, which up until recently had been relatively secular.

But Ms. Elmi said she loved the Islamists.  And she has her own reasons.

“They bring peace,” she said.  “And peace brings tourists.”

 

For the full story, see: 

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN.  "MOGADISHU JOURNAL; From the Ashes, a Chunk of America Beckons in Somalia."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 28, 2006):  A4.

(Note:  in the print version, but not the online version, there is a subheader placed in the center of the article that reads:  "An entrepreneur feeds a family, thanks to the remnants of a battle.") 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

Taking the Red Pill in China

Surfing the Web last fall, a Chinese high-school student who calls himself Zivn noticed something missing.  It was Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that accepts contributions or edits from users, and that he himself had contributed to.

The Chinese government, in October, had added Wikipedia to a list of Web sites and phrases it blocks from Internet users’ access.  For Zivn, trying to surf this and many other Web sites, including the BBC’s Chinese-language news service, brought just an error message.  But the 17-year-old had had a taste of that wealth of information and wanted more.  "There were so many lies among the facts, and I could not find where the truth is," he writes in an instant-message interview.

Then some friends told him where to find Freegate, a tiny software program that thwarts the Chinese government’s vast system to limit what its citizens see.  Freegate — by connecting computers inside of China to servers in the U.S. — allows Zivn and others to keep reading and writing to Wikipedia and countless other sites.

Behind Freegate is a North Carolina-based Chinese hacker named Bill Xia.  He calls it his red pill, a reference to the drug in the "Matrix" movies that vaulted unconscious captives of a totalitarian regime into the real world.  Mr. Xia likes to refer to the villainous Agent Smith from the Matrix films, noting that the digital bad guy in sunglasses "guards the Matrix like China’s Public Security Bureau guards the Internet."

. . .

(p. A9)  . . . , with each new version of Freegate — now on its sixth release — the censors "just keep improving and adding more manpower to monitor what we have been doing," Mr. Xia says.  In turn, he and volunteer programmers keep tweaking Freegate.

At first, the software would automatically change its Internet Protocol address — a sort of phone number for a Web site — faster than China could block it.  That worked until September 2002, when China blocked Freegate’s domain name, not just its number, in the Internet phone book.

More than three years later, Mr. Xia is still amazed by the bold move, calling it a "hijacking."  Ultimately he prevailed, however, through a solution he won’t identify for fear of being shut down for good.

Confident in that solution, Mr. Xia continues to send out his red pill, and users like Zivn continue to take it.  The teen credits his cultural and political perspective to a "generation gap" that has come of having access to more information.  "I am just gradually getting used to the truth about the real world," he writes.

 

For the full story, see: 

Geoffrey A. Fowler.  "Chinese Internet Censors Face ‘Hacktivists’ in U.S."  The Wall Street Journal  (Monday, February 13, 2006):  A1 & A9.

An Inconvenient Truth About “An Inconvenient Truth”


   Al Gore.  Source of photo:  http://in.news.yahoo.com/051008/137/60gzj.html

 

(p. A25) If Al Gore’s new movie weren’t titled ”An Inconvenient Truth,” I wouldn’t have quite so many problems with it.

. . .

Gore shows the obligatory pictures of windmills and other alternative sources of energy.  But he ignores nuclear power plants, which don’t spew carbon dioxide and currently produce far more electricity than all ecologically fashionable sources combined.

A few environmentalists, like Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, have recognized that their movement is making a mistake in continuing to demonize nuclear power.  Balanced against the risks of global warming, nukes suddenly look good — or at least deserve to be considered rationally.  Gore had a rare chance to reshape the debate, because a documentary about global warming attracts just the sort of person who marches in anti-nuke demonstrations.

Gore could have dared, once he enticed the faithful into the theater, to challenge them with an inconvenient truth or two.  But that would have been a different movie.


For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY.  "Gore Pulls His Punches."  The New York Times  (Tuesday, May 23, 2006):    A25.


Static Versus Dynamic Pictures

Schumpeter distinguished the static picture of capitalism in the textbook model, with the dynamic reality captured in the process of creative destruction.   Apparently Ronald Reagan also understood that a dynamic view is better than a static snapshot.   Michael Deaver recounts:

(p. 75) . . . I told him that I noticed his aversion to sitting for photo shoots.  He looked at me surprised.  "That’s funny, in all these years, nobody’s ever noticed that."   I asked him to elaborate.  "Well, you can never recover from a still shot."

Reagan was most comfortable with moving film, he went on to say.  He truly believed the television camera was a friend, a device that would separate the real from the phony.  Still cameras could always be used to make a candidate look like a fool.  When he explained this to me in the (p. 76) late 1960s, he said, "You know how I sometimes touch my nose before I make a point?  Well, a still shot would show me picking my nose, while a live shot would show me making my point."

 

Source:

Deaver, Michael K.   A Different Drummer:   My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan.  Reprint ed.  Harper Paperbacks, 2003.

 

Protecting the “Dots”

Is it the free market, or big government, that is most likely to treat individual human beings as expendible “dots”?

One of the best conspiracy movies ever made is the perfect British classic, “The Third Man.” In the most haunting scene, the villain, played adroitly by Orson Welles, takes Joseph Cotten, the good guy, up in a Ferris wheel. The villain, named Harry Lime, has been selling adulterated penicillin in postwar Vienna, making a fortune and causing children to become paralyzed and die.
Mr. Cotten’s character, a pulp fiction writer named Holly Martins, asks him how he could do such an evil thing for money. The two men are at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the people below them look like tiny dots. Mr. Welles’s villain looks down and says, “Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”

BEN STEIN. “Everybody’s Business; When You Fly in First Class, It’s Easy to Forget the Dots.” The New York Times, Section 3 (Sunday, January 29, 2006): 3.

Real Heroes in King Kong

My favorite lines from the new King Kong movie are spoken by the preening B-movie action actor Baxtor.

The fictional screenwriter says:  "I just never figured you for a coward."

To which Baxtor replies:  "Hey pal; hey, wake up!  Heroes don’t look like me; not in the real world. 

In the real world they got bad teeth; a bald spot; and a beer gut."

"I’m just an actor with a gun; who’s lost his motivation."

(Entry revised/corrected on July 5, 2006)

Dobby’s Absence Tarnishes Goblet of Fire

Source of image: Warner Brothers photo posted at: http://www.newsday.com/features/booksmags/sns-potter-movie-jpg,0,7776280.photogallery?coll=ny-homepage-bigpix2005
You can’t make a long and complex novel into a movie, even a long movie, without cutting and simplifying. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a good movie, but not as good as the book. Much has been said of the movie’s dark side. The book had a dark side too, but what is missing from the movie is a key element of the book’s light side: Dobby, the rascally, loyal, house-elf with the mismatched socks. For those who have seen the movie, without having read the book, here is one of my favorite (albeit serious) Dobby passages:

“Dobby has traveled the country for two whole years, sir, trying to find work!” Dobby squeaked. “But Dobby hasn’t found work, sir, because Dobby wants paying now!”
The house-elves all around the kitchen, who had been listening and watching with interest, all looked away at these words, as though Dobby had said something rude and embarrassing. Hermione, however, said, “Good for you, Dobby!”
“Thank you, miss!” said Dobby, grinning toothily at her. “But most wizards doesn’t want a house-elf who wants paying, miss. ‘That’s not the point of a house-elf,’ they says, and they slammed the door in Dobby’s face! Dobby likes work, but he wants to wear clothes and he wants to be paid, Harry Potter. . . . Dobby likes being free!” (p. 378; ellipsis in original)

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4). New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.