Cell Phones Become Star Of Myanmar Revolt

This photo made from video released Friday Sept. 28, 2007 by the Democratic Voice of Burma shows a Japanese journalist as he lays in the street after being shot during a protest in Rangoon, Myanmar, on Thursday Sept. 27, 2007.
AP/Democratic Voice of Burma
The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

The attempt at revolution in Myanmar will be televised, it turns out, largely thanks to footage shot on citizens' cellphone cameras.

The Wall Street Journal reports that even as the country's ruling military junta attempts to keep out foreign journalists and unplug Internet servers, "citizen journalists" armed with cell phones were beaming news of the protests and crackdown to the world.

"Citizen witnesses are using cellphones and the Internet to beam out images of blodied monks and street fires, subverting the Myanmar government's efforst to control media coverage and present a sanitized version of the uprising," the paper reports.

Since the Journal article went to press last night, the Myanmar government has pulled the plug on the country's lone Internet server, yet those cellphone camera images keep coming.

That now-famous photo of a monks' bloody sandals was taken from a blog, the Journal reports. "The AP, Reuters and other media have been retransmitting photos are reports given to them by exile media organizations like Mizzima, Irrawaddy, and the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma," the Journal reports. "Those outfits are acting as a clearinghouse for images and reports produced by people in Myanmar."

The actual identities of the hundreds of people sending out text messages and cellphone images are mostly unknown, and that's the point. In Myanmar, people caught protesting or writing against the government risk years in prison.

These sometimes blurry on-the-scene photos are in stark contrast to the media message the last time there was a protest of this scale in Myanmar. In 1988, when a pro-democracy uprising was crushed by the military and more than 3,000 people died, first reports came from diplomats and official media.

"Technology has changed everything," said Aung Zaw, a Myanmar exile whose Thailand publication Irrawaddy has been covering the protests hour-by-hour. "Now, in a slit second, you have the story."

And Myanmar is hardly a technological hub. Cell phones are expensive, and Internet penetration is less than 1 percent.

Even before the clash, the government took steps to restrict Internet content, but students and activists just used tricks they picked up from the Chinese (which also restricts internet content) to get around them. "These include using proxies, which create a hole in the censorship network by connecting directly to one computer outside the country," the Journal reports.

By the end of the day yesterday, Reporters Without Border said the government had disconnected most of the country's cellphone lines and shut down some Internet cafes to block bloggers. So groups are turning to satellite phones.

"The more they try to suppress information," Zaw said, "the more will come out."

Key Gitmo Detainees Get Lawyers

Fourteen "high-value" terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay - including the crazy guy who's confessed to just about everything from masterminding 9/11 to kidnapping Jonbenet Ramsey - have finally been given a shot at getting legal representation, the Washington Post reports.

The move presents the first opportunity for confession-happy Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 13 other detainees to see human beings other than their captors and representatives from the Red Cross since they were taken into custody.

This bunch of suspects makes U.S. officials lose sleep because they were transferred to Gitmo from secret CIA prisons. U.S. officials have argued in court papers against granting lawyers access to the "high-value" detainees without special security rules, fearing that attorney-client conversations could reveal classified elements of the CIA's detention program and its, ahem, "controversial interrogation tactics."

But in the end the 14 will be given a chance to see lawyers because the Detainee Treatment Act, enacted in late 2005, gives Guantamamo Bay captives the right to challenge their enemy-combatant designations in federal court.

So far, four have filled out the lawyer-request forms offered to the detainees this month. One of them, 27-year-old Majid Khan, who went to high school in the Baltimore area, scrawled a note at the bottom of his form, which the Post got hold of.

"Please send me a lawyer or representative who can brief me on my options," Khan wrote. "Also please, if you can send me basic introduction criminal law books with all law terms, etc. Also I would like to know what the media said about me and full copy of tribunal CSRT about me, which was available on the Internet. (Thanks in advance)."

Launching Start-Ups Like It's 1999

Nevermind that depressing story about the continuing decline - and spread! - of the housing market's woes on USA Todays' front page. Inside the paper's money section, there's talk of another dot-com boom.

U.S. venture-capital investment in the first six months of the year jumped 9 percent from the previous year, according to a study from Ernst & Young. The biggest chunk went to the San Francisco area, where more than 400 companies closed deals with a median size of $10 million.

"You can't find anybody who doesn't have a business plan sticking out of their pocket," saiys Matt Marshall, editor of the VentureBeat blog. "Silicon Valley is back to its usual self."

But don't quit your job to launch your own start up just yet. The frenzy doesn't quite compare to the peaks of 2000. In the first six months of that year, companies raised $52.2 billion in venture capital, compared with $14.5 billion in the first six months of 2007. And relatively few start-ups have cashed out through public stock offerings this time.

Still, some familiar scenes are popping up. At a recent tech conference, a San Francisco hotel ballroom with gilded walls and chandeliers hosted a very dot-com-looking scene: "company-logo polo shirts, khakis or faded jeans and lots of guys with black-rimmed glasses," the paper reports. "As was the case during the previous dot-com boom, an overwhelming majority of the participants were young men."

So while Dot-Com Boom 2.0 may have a new fashion in its start-ups - these days everyone is trying to launch an internet phone company or a social networking site - the basic uniform is still 1.0, circa 1997.

A NOTE TO READERS: The Skinny is available via e-mail. Click here and follow the directions to register to receive it in your inbox each weekday morning.