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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Syrian Television Journalist Announces Defection

A photograph of Ahmad Fakhouri, a former Syrian state television anchor in disguise, was on the Web site of the Saudi mews channel Al Arabiya on Thursday. A photograph of Ahmad Fakhouri, a former Syrian state television anchor in disguise, was on the Web site of the Saudi mews channel Al Arabiya on Thursday.

In a telephone interview shown on Thursday by the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, a man who identified himself as Ahmad Fakhouri, a prominent Syrian state television anchor, announced his defection.

In the interview, which was summarized in English on the c hannel's Web site, Mr. Fakhouri said that he left his position, and Syria, because of restrictions placed on him by state media officials. He also said that he and other journalists at the station were not allowed to stray from scripted questions when guests appeared on the program, and that “most” of the news employees at the station opposed the regime but were under constant watch by security agencies.

Video of an interview broadcast by the Saudi satellite channel Al Arabiya on Thursday, in which a man identified as a prominent Syrian state television journalist announced his defection.

According to the article on Al Arabiya's Web site, Mr. Fakhouri left his job and lived in disguise in Damascus for six months “until he was able to smug gle his wife, daughter, parents, his sister, and one of his two brothers through Beirut airport to Cairo, then followed them to Cairo where he lives now without work.”

Fakhouri told Al Arabiya in a telephone interview this week that he succeeded so well in disguising himself that nobody but his own family could recognize him. He rented an apartment close to his old neighborhood in Damascus and used many disguises, fearing that the intelligence forces would recognize him.

“Once, I shaved my hair to become bald, and then I grew a mustache and wore dark glasses. Another time, I grew my beard so nobody could recognize me,” he said.

A resignation letter in Mr. Fakhouri's name, published on the All4Syria Web site, said he had been accompanied by rebels while fleeing to Turkey. The letter began:

To the great Syrian people and to all the honorable journalists (or med ia people) in my country. I waited a long time to write these words…. I didn't think I'd make it out of Syria alive - ever since I left my job at the Syrian television channel which was more than eight months ago - because of the harassment and the investigations that I endured from the political security bureau and the state security, the most irritating and insulting of which was Branch 215, where most of my colleagues working in radio and television were also interrogated. All of this because of my public stances vis-à-vis the Syrian revolution and the ruling regime.

In the text, the journalist said that he was helped to escape by a longtime friend and thanked rebels in Hama and Ahrah al-Sham, who helped him to travel to Turkey through “liberated” areas of Syria.

All my gratitude to the people of Idlib, especially the village of Haas, the battalions of al-Qadissia and the revolutionary heroes there. I was sure that they were no t terrorists as the regime claimed. They are the best and most noble people. May God grant them victory. I would also like to ask all rebels and opposition members, inside and outside, not to be unfair toward all those who work in Syrian media by judging them before you know the whole story. A lot of them oppose the regime and are not O.K. with its crimes. But they have no power because in that place every breath is calculated and sins are doubled.

The news was received with some incredulity by writers and activists who blog about Syria.

Awaiting the End in a Small Turkish Town

Telegraph TV video reports people have gathered in France and Turkey to await the end of days.

ISTANBUL - Despite assurances from leading Islamic and Christian clerics and the global skepticism based on scientific facts, as many as 10,000 people are expected to descend on a small Turkish town in the Aegean region in hopes of being among the few to survive the Dec. 21, 2012, doomsday supposedly predicted by the Mayan calendar.

Said to be identified in ancient Mayan hieroglyphs - at least by those who cannot read them, and are not Mayan - as one of only three places on earth that would escape the predicted Apocalypse, Sirince has been flooded by visitors hoping to ride out the disaster.

At first, Sirince residents were pleasantly surprised, but also a bit uncomfortable in case there could be some possible truth to the myths, to learn that their village - along with Mount Rtanj in Serbia and Bugarach, in the Corbières Mountains of southern France - was pinpointed as the safe locations for humanity to survive.

Discussions of the end of times in Mexico and Serbia, on the eve of the expected apocolypse.

In France, as my colleague Ellen Barry reported, “the authorities plan to bar access to Bugarach mountain in the south to keep out a flood of visitors who believe it is a sacred place that will protect a lucky few from the end of the world.”

B ut, like hoteliers in Serbia, the merchants of Sirince have been finding ways to make the best out of the influx. The limited number of hotels in the township, which is normally home to fewer than 1,000 people, have been totally booked at record rates as high as $1,000 for a room, and extra security measures have been taken to maintain order as the predicted end neared.


The ancient Greek town, which is only 12 kilometers from Ephesus, a leading ancient historical site in Turkey and a biblical location where the Virgin Mary is said to have once stayed, offers an authentic Aegean experience with good local wine, fine olive oil and traditional handcrafts.

This month, however, doomsday predictions added a humorous and profitable twist to the tourist trade. Ozon Winery came up with the Doomsday wine that sells for around $11, local shops carry T-shirts reading “Doomsday 2012,” snack shops offer Doomsday Pancakes and clairvoyants offer coffee cup readings advertised as Doomsday Fortunetelling.

The Artemis restaurant prepared a Doomsday Menu for visitors, including Doomsday Soup as a starter, Hell Kebab With Fire Rice as the main dish and Forbidden Apple as the dessert, to be followed with the Final Brew Turkish Tea.

On Facebook, Turkish followers have developed a humorous doomsday itinerary to share online that starts with a breakfast at 10 a.m. on Dec. 21, followed by several events, including viewing the meteor at 8 p.m., a seminar at 11 p.m. to discuss why not everyone has come to Sirince and the actual doomsday at midnight - followed by “Meeting in the Afterlife” and a debate asking, “How Come Sirince Was Not Saved?”

Groups are then scheduled to prepare for divine questioning at 4 a.m. on Dec. 22, take a tour around the pearly gates at 5 a.m. and depart for Heaven and Hell as listed at 6 a.m.

“I haven't met anyone here taking this seriously, and it's all about having a fine weekend,” said Engin Vatan, owner of Mistik Konak, a small guesthouse, which was fully booked from weeks before. Having moved to Sirince three years ago after visiting the village for more than 20 years, Mr. Vatan said that he had never witnessed such frantic preparations for such a large crowd in all these years.

“Only 24 hours left, there are no signs of Apocalypse yet,” said Sevan Nisanyan, one of the best-known residents of Sirince, who introduced the village to international tourism 20 years ago with a 60-room hotel. “Our own doomsday house party took off with friends visiting from Toronto, Istanbul and all other world cities.”

Life sparkled in the village on Thursday, the coldest day of the month in years, when shops remained opened until late hours, young people filled the streets and residents enjoyed the company of people from all over the world, wishing such rumors would find them every year.

“Many religious experts bash people coming here, saying that only God would know the date of the doomsday,” Mr. Vatan said. “So how can they be so sure that it's not Dec. 21 if it's only the God that knows about it?”

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Assange Addresses Dozens in London

Video of Julian Assange's complete remarks to supporters on Thursday in London.

As my colleague Michael Cieply reports, six months after Julian Assange stepped into the small Ecuadorean Embassy in London, seeking political asylum, several Hollywood filmmakers are at work on dramatic treatments of the WikiLeaks story.

None of those films is yet in production. So, in this brief pause before fact is replaced by fiction in the public consciousness, Mr. Assange took to the balcony of the embassy in London on Thursday night to read some prepared remarks to read some prepared remarks to about 80 supporters and a large number of police officers gathered on the street below the first-floor balcony.

Juian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, addressed about 80 supporters and a large number of police officers from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Thursday.Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Juian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, addressed about 80 supporters and a large number of police officers from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Thursday.

Video of the complete speech, posted online by Britain's Channel 4 News, showed Mr. Assange assuring his followers that, despite what he described as threats against his life, he would continue to press on with the release of “over a million” new documents obtained from whistle-blowers and hackers. In a mangled turn of phrase that will perhaps resonate with critics who say that Mr. Assange has erased the line between the organization and himself, he promised his supporters, “My work will not be cowed.”

Inigo Gilmore, a reporter for Channel 4 News, explained later that he had been responsible for a brief disruption at the start of the address, when he tried to get an interview with Mr. Assange by shouting questions into a megaphone as soon as the WikiLeaks founder appeared.

Video of a reporter for Britian's Channel 4 News failing to interview Julian Assange by megaphone on Thursday night.

Updates on Connecticut Shooting Aftermath

Correction Appended

A woman bowed her head in Newtown during the 9:30 a.m. moment of silence observed across Connecticut and much of the country.Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images A woman bowed her head in Newtown during the 9:30 a.m. moment of silence observed across Connecticut and much of the country.

A week after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., people around the world observed a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. Church bells rang 26 times for each of the victims who died inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. At least five more victims from the shooting, including three children, were buried on Friday. After a weeklong silence, the National Rifle Association made a case this morning for armed police officers to be stationed at every school. Click to read Thursday's updates.

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Correction: December 22, 2012

An earlier version of this post misspelled the surname of a behavioral therapist who was a shooting victim at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She is Rachel Marie D'Avino, not Davino.

A Dissident Egyptian Blogger\'s Visit to Israel

Maikel Nabil, an Egyptian blogger who was jailed for eight months last year by Egypt's military for expressing his views on politics and religion, began a tour of Israel this week.

In a post on his blog, Mr. Nabil, 26, called his trip, which is sponsored by an arm of an American Jewish group, the culmination of “years of calling for peace.”

Mr. Nabil's detention in Egypt last year became an international cause célèbre after he was given a harsh sentence for criticizing Egypt's military on his blog. In the post that offended the generals who ruled Egypt after Hosni Mubarak was forced from power, Mr. Nabil drew on his own experiences as a participant in the 2011 uprising as well as news media and human rights reports to argue that the military had tortured protesters and worked to undermine the revolution it claimed to support.

After a long campaign by Egyptian and international activists, Mr. Nabil was released in January, but public sympathy for him in Egypt was tempered by distaste for his political and religious views.

Mr. Nabil, who comes from a Christian background, is a strident atheist and has professed strong support for the state of Israel, positions that stand far outside the mainstream of Egyptian opinion. He left Egypt to live in Germany in May.

The blogger arrived in Israel on Thursday to begin a tour organized and paid for by U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based group affiliated with the American Jewish Congress, which describes U.N. Watch as its Geneva branch office. Hillel Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Watch, posted an update on Twitter advertising the group's role in Mr. Nabil's trip. He described Mr. Nabil as an “Egyptian hero of Tahrir Square and pro-Israel peace activist.”

During his visit, Mr. Nabil is scheduled to speak at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and the World Union of Jewish Students. He also sat down for an interview on Israeli television and plans to visit Ramallah in the West Bank.

On the first day of his tour, Mr. Nabil visited some of Israel's most somber memorials, including the Isra eli Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, and the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated after signing the Oslo Accords. He documented his time there in updates posted on Twitter.

Mr. Nabil also posted updates to Twitter that were sharply critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and what he called Israel's “racist government.” He also expressed his support for conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

In an essay posted on his blog in 2010, titled “Why Am I Pro-Israel?” Mr. Nabil wrote:

In reality, my support to Israel isn't a support to Israel itself more than it's a support for the values which the state of Israel represents in the region… Because the case in my view is that this is democratic and that is tyrannical, this is liberal and that is totalitarian… Therefore my bias to Israel is a bias to the democratic and the modernist values which the state of Israel represents - whether we like it or not - in the region.

He continued his outreach to Israelis at a particularly fraught time, in a YouTube video posted at the height of Egypt's 2011 Revolution, in which he called on his “Israeli friends” to support the uprising and reassured them that it was not an Islamic revolution.

In Feb. 2011, Mikael Nabil recorded a video calling for his “Israeli friends” to support the Egyptian Revolution

In an essay published this month by The Times of Israel, Mr. Nabil explained the reasons for his trip and compared himself with legendary peacemakers including Willy Brandt, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King Jr., King Abdullah I, Anwar Sadat and Mr. Rabin.

After years of calling for peace, I have realized that practicing peace is more important than talking. My visit is a message from the Egyptian peace community that we have had enough violence and confrontation and we want this to end. We want to live together as human beings without violence, racism or walls.

I'm aiming with my visit to end the monopoly which governments have over peace processes. Our governments held this portfo lio for decades, and obviously they have gone from one failure to the next.

Bahrain Welcomes European Delegation, Not Delegates\' Calls to Free Dissidents

Last Updated, Saturday, 10:34 a.m. As The Lede reported on Wednesday, a delegation from the European Parliament visited Bahrain this week to discuss human rights, just as the kingdom jailed a rights advocate for documenting a protest on Twitter.

Bahrain's state news media presented the visit as evidence that the kingdom is committed to human rights. One report showed the delegates meeting with the head of an official human rights organization established by royal decree, another their briefing by the royal who oversees the police force “on human rights reforms that have been implemented within the interior ministry.”

What the country's official news agency did not report, however, is that the head of the delegation, Inese Vaidere of Latvia, called for the release of all “prisoners of conscience” currently being detained for their role in the protest movement.

Ms. Vaidere's call was joined by at least two other members of the European Parliament who made the trip, Richard Howitt of Britain and Ana Gomes of Portugal. At the end of their visit, those members issued a joint statement calling on the government to immediately release up to 800 “political prisoners” and begin direct talks with the opposition.

Like the New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, who was denied entry to Bahrain last week after reporting on human-rights abuses on previous trips, Ms. Gomes was stopped at the airport in April, the last time she attempted to visit the kingdom to meet with rights activists.

Throughout their three-day visit, Ms. Gomes and Mr. Howitt posted a stream of updates on their Twitter feeds as the delegation met with Bahraini officials and detained opposition members. They both reported questioning the treatment of human rights activists like Said Yousif al-Muhafda, who was jailed on Monday for tweeting about a protest.

Acting C.I.A. Director Disputes Depiction of Torture in \'Zero Dark Thirty\'

The trailer for “Zero Dark Thirty” says, “This is how it happened.”

“I would not normally comment on a Hollywood film,” reads the first line of a statement released Friday afternoon by Michael Morell, the Central Intelligence Agency's acting director, directed at employees but posted on the agency's Web site, “but I think it important to put ‘Zero Dark Thirty,' which deals with one of the most significant achievements in our history, into some context.”

The film, a dramatization of the years-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, which ended with his death in a house in Pakistan in May 2011, has caused significant controversy focused on scenes that depict vital intelligence being gained through torture.

Mr. Morell joins senators briefed on the intelligence gathering in condemning the idea that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were central to killing Bin Laden.

Although the C.I.A. “interacted” with the filmmakers, Mr. Morell said, he wanted to draw attention to the “significant artistic license” the film takes “while portraying itself as being historically accurate.”

It would not be practical for me to walk through all the fiction in the film, but let me highlight a few aspects that particularly underscore the extent to which the film departs from reality.

- First, the hunt for Usama Bin Ladin was a decade-long effort that depended on the selfless commitment of hundreds of officers. The filmmakers attributed the actions of our entire Agency - and the broader Intelligence Community - to just a few individuals. This may make for more compelling entertainment, but it does not reflect the facts. The success of the May 1st 2011 operation was a team effort - and a very large team at that.

- Second, the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false. As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from t hose detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.

- Third, the film takes considerable liberties in its depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including some who died while serving our country. We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them.

In a brief interview with my colleague Scott Shane, the film's screenwriter, Mark Boal, defended the treatment of torture.

“I'm trying to compress a program that lasted for years into a few short scenes,” he said. The film, he said, attempts “to reflect a very complex debate about torture that is still going on” and shows brutal treatment producing both true and false information.

The film, released nationally this week, has reignited a debate over torture. In 2009 Ali Soufan, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent involved in investigating Al Qaeda who had objected to “enhanced” techniques, wrote in an Op-Ed article for The New York Times that the techniques had not yielded the vital results their proponents had claimed.

Rorschach in Hebron: Grainy Footage Fails to End Arguments Over Fatal Shooting

Video of a fatal shooting last week at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron, released by Israel's military.

When the Israel Defense Forces released 49 seconds of grainy, black-and-white video this week, showing some of what happened at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron before the fatal shooting of a Palestinian teenager by an Israeli officer, a military spokesman expressed confidence that the security-camera footage proved that the killing was justified.

As The Lede reported last week, the officer who shot and killed Muhammad al-Salameh on his 17th birthday said that the boy had subdued her partner and pressed a real-looking toy gun to his head, leaving her no alternative but to fire. An I.D.F. spokesman, Capt. Barak Raz, said that the video left no doubt that the young female officer had acted correctly.

Looking at the footage posted on the I.D.F.'s Arabic-language YouTube channel, though, some Palesti nian activists and skeptical Israeli journalists asked why the video had been edited, omitting part of the encounter, and seemed not to match the initial account provided to the Israeli media by the officer who fired the fatal shots.

Parsing the clip on the Israeli news blog +972, the journalist Noam Sheizaf observed that the video appeared to show that the boy who was killed did throw the first punch in a fistfight with an officer at the checkpoint. But, he added, that officer seemed to have broken free of the boy before any shots were fired by the second officer, identified in Israeli media accounts as N.

It is hard to tell what's going on â€" Muhammad and a soldier can be seen exchanging blows, and it seems that the Palestinian is the first to try and hit the soldier (0:33). The alleged gun cannot be spott ed, but the clip â€" which is slightly edited (0:24) â€" is very dark. The second soldier comes out to the street and when the soldier and the Palestinian are away from each other, she shoots Muhammad (0:48). Unless the teen was indeed holding a gun, the soldiers don't seem to be under threat at that moment.

A Palestinian blogger, Abir Kopty, argued that the video appeared to show that the fight between the young Palestinian and the officer at the checkpoint was also different in several respects from all of the accounts provided to the Israeli media by the military.

The army claims that at one point Salaymeh was pointing a gun at the soldier, in another he knocked the soldier down and pointed a gun at him, and in a third version that he placed the gun at the soldier's temple. The video does not show any of these versions. It seems like Salaymeh was fist fighting with his hand s without any gun.

Another Israeli journalist, Larry Derfner, catalogued the questions not answered by the clip:

We don't know if Salameh pulled a realistic-looking cigarette-lighter gun during the fight, which was N.'s stated justification for shooting him; you can't see such an object in the video, although again, the video is dark and not very distinct, as if done in “night vision.”

We don't know what happened just before Salameh went up to a border policeman and attacked him with his fists â€" there's a cut in the 54-second video at 0:24. We also don't know why the I.D.F. waited four days before making the video available to the public.

Although no one doubts that the video was recorded during the encounter, ques tions have been asked in the past about the Israeli military's use of editing in footage uploaded to YouTube.

Mr. Derfner also reported that a Palestinian witness told the Israeli rights group B'Tselem “that the border policemen saw Salameh approaching the checkpoint with a gun that looked real, and either confiscated it or tried to, and that Salameh was shouting, ‘It's mine, it's mine' during the fight, and was either trying to grab the gun back from the border policeman or stop him from taking it.”

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, told The Lede in an e-mail that a witness “told us that Salameh had the gun-shaped lighter on him (not drawn). The checkpoint is near his family home. The Border Police officers discovered the gun, tried to or did indeed confiscate it, which sparked an altercation, and he managed to get it back. Tha t's when he was heard shouting ‘mine.' Our witness described a fight between Salameh and the officers, in which they exchanged blows, and was then shot.”

She added:

The fight is seen in the security camera footage but the confiscation is not. The footage released is an incomplete film though, a sequence was cut out of it. I haven't seen an official explanation of what was cut and why. It seems like a very odd decision to me, releasing edited footage is only bound to spark more controversy instead of quashing it.

Video of the tense scene at the checkpoint just after the shooting, which includes a brief glimpse of the dead boy's body, was posted on YouTube by B'Tselem last week.

A second Palestinian witness, who arrived at the checkpoint shortly after the shooting, provided B'Tselem with photographs of the young man's body and the toy gun. The boy's father told reporters from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he had never seen the toy gun before but that it might have been given to his son that day as a birthday present.

A toy gun on the ground near the spot where a 17-year-old Palestinian was fatally shot by an Israeli officer last week in the West Bank city of Hebron. A toy gun on the ground near the spot where a 17-year-old Palestinian was fatally shot by an Israeli officer last week in the West Bank city of Hebron.

While reports said the boy had been shot in the chest and a hip, no bullet wounds were visible on the front of his body in the photograph taken by the witness at the scene.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

Snapshots of the Instagram Debate, Through the Lens of Professionals

At a movie theater within the City Hall in Newtown, Conn., on Monday.Mark Peterson At a movie theater within the City Hall in Newtown, Conn., on Monday.

“During Hurricane Sandy, I was on assignment in Arizona. At the hotel where I was staying, they had really bad cable. The best way I could follow what was going on with the storm was by seeing the photos being posted to Instagram. It was amazing.”

That's how Mark Peterson, who has photographed many stories for the magazine over the past 20 years, described to me his regard for Instagram. But now Peterson is one of many professional photographers, many of them Times contributors, who are upset with the photo-sharing service for changing its terms of service on Monday to allow for the possible use of posted pictures in advertisements. Though Instagram has since clarified that posters retain rights to their work, Peterson and others still worry that their photos may be appropriated for advertisements or other uses in the future.

Yesterday, Peterson told me he had put up a black picture on Instagram. And, he said, “I won't post anything more until I hear more news.” As a result, the picture above, taken in Newtown, Conn., where Peterson was reporting last weekend, did not appear on Instagram; he said he would have posted it there but for his frustration with its policies.

That same impulse led Benjamin Lowy, an early adopter of iPhone photo technology, to refrain from posting this picture on Instagram:

Benjamin Lowy also reported in Newtown, Conn. He took this photograph of his son after returning home on Monday.Benjamin Lowy Benjamin Lowy also reported in Newtown, Conn. He took this photograph of his son after returning home on Monday.

Lowy, who reported his Afghanistan photo ess ay for the magazine last year with Hipstamatic, another iPhone app (when we saw its results, we switched our plans to use shots from his 35mm camera), explained that Instagram is a “community of like-minded individuals” and that photographers flocked to it for that reason.

“Professional photographers can be cagey about their work,” Lowy told me. But Instagram provides an unusual forum where they feel more comfortable being open and, he said, are “able to inspire each other.” Also, there is “less of a barrier” when it comes to taking pictures with an iPhone, as opposed to a large camera with a long lens. “You shoot with both eyes. That's unusual in the photo world.” Lowy added that he has been able to find work based on the photography he posts to Instagram. (The magazine itself has turned to Instagram for new photography; in August we published a photo essay of Instagram photos readers sent us from their rooftops.)

Another appeal of Instagram among professional photographers is that it's a good platform for experimentation. Peter van Agtmael told me he finds himself photographing things he wouldn't otherwise photograph, like still lifes and scenes from the street. Van Agtmael's most recent work for the magazine was for an article on recording the sounds of nature.

Red Hook, Brooklyn, Dec. 19, 2012.Peter van Agtmael Red Hook, Brooklyn, Dec. 19, 2012.

No one I spoke to assumed that the technology would remain free forever. “I would pay $100 a year for the app,” said Kathy Ryan, the director of photography for the magazine. “It gets me looking at things more closely. It's this graceful, liberating escape from the day where you can quickly make a picture.” Alex Prager, who was responsible for last year's Hollywood portfolio, suggested that Instagram require users to pay a subscription fee. Lowy, for his part, proposed that Instagram charge users a set amount and then divide that money between Instagram, which would keep a certain percentage, and photographers, who would collect a fee every time someone “liked” one of his or her photos.

For now, many photographers are waiting to see how Instagram revises its legal terms before making a decision about whether to use the app in the future.

In the meanti me, photographers are still taking Instagram-worthy photos, even if users may never see them on the app. Below, such a photograph from Damon Winter, who captured Venus and Serena Williams for the magazine earlier this year.

Juneau, Alaska, Dec. 18, 2012.Damon Winter Juneau, Alaska, Dec. 18, 2012.

The Fall of Apple\'s Shares

James B. Stewart points out he was right, so far, about Apple stock peaking in his latest Common Sense column.

Instagram Reversal Doesn\'t Appease Everyone

Instagram Reversal Doesn't Appease Everyone

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Kevin Systrom, right, co-founder of Instagram, with employees in the company office in San Francisco last year.

SAN FRANCISCO - Facebook may have quelled a full-scale rebellion by quickly dumping the contentious new terms of use for Instagram, its photo-sharing service. But even as the social network furiously backpedaled, some users said Friday they were carrying through on plans to leave.

Kevin Systrom, Instagram's co-founder, said the company would complete its plans, then explain its ad policy.

Ryan Cox, a 29-year-old management consultant at ExactTarget, an Indianapolis-based interactive marketing software company, said he had already moved his photos to Flickr, Yahoo's photo-sharing app, where he could have better control.

Mr. Cox said the uproar this week over whether Instagram owned its users' photos was “a wake-up call.”

“It's my fault,” he continued. “I'm smart enough to know what Instagram had and what they could do - especially the minute Facebook acquired them - but I was a victim of naïve optimism.”

“Naïve optimism” is as good a term as any for the emotion that people feel as they put their private lives onto social networks.

Companies like Google, Twitter, Yelp and Facebook offer themselves as free services for users to store and share their most intimate pictures, secrets, messages and memories. But to flourish over the long term, they need to seek new ways to market the personal data they accumulate. They must constantly push the envelope, hoping users either do not notice or do not care.

So they sell ads against the content of an e-mail, as Google does, or transform a user's likes into commercial endorsements, as Facebook does, or sell photographs of your adorable 3-year-old, which is what Instagram was accused of planning this week.

“The reality is that companies have always had to make money,” said Miriam H. Wugmeister, chair of Morrison Foerster's privacy and data security group.

Even as Instagram was pulling back on its changed terms of service on Thursday night, it made clear it was only regrouping. After all, Facebook, as a publicly held corporation, must answer to Wall Street's quarterly expectations.

“We are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work,” Kevin Systrom, Instagram's youthful co-founder, wrote on the company's blog.

Instagram's actions angered many users who were already incensed over the company's decision earlier this month to cut off its integration with Twitter, a Facebook rival, making it harder for its users to share their Instagram photos on Twitter.

Users were apprehensive that the new terms of service meant that data on their favorite things would be shared with Facebook and its advertisers. Users also worried that their photos would become advertising.

Instagram is barely two years old but has 100 million users. Last spring, Facebook announced plans to buy it in a deal that was initially valued at $1 billion. The deal was closed in September for a somewhat smaller amount.

For some users, Mr. Systrom's apology and declaration that “Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did” was sufficient.

National Geographic, which suspended its account in the middle of the uproar, held a conference call with members of Facebook's legal and policy teams. Afterward, the magazine, which has 658,000 Instagram followers, said it would resurrect its account.

Also mollified was Noah Kalina, who took wedding photographs earlier this year for Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. In a widely circulated post on Twitter, Mr. Kalina said the new terms of service were “a contract no professional or nonprofessional should ever sign.” His advice: “Walk away.”

On Friday, the photographer said he had walked back. “It's nice to know they listened.”

Kim Kardashian, the most followed person on Instagram, said on Tuesday that she “really loved” the service - note the past tense - and that the new rules were not “fair.” She had yet to update her 17 million Twitter followers on Friday, but since she is pushing her True Reflection fragrance it is a safe bet that she has forgiven and forgotten.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 22, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Instagram Reversal Doesn't Appease Everyone.

Pogue\'s 12 Days of Gadgets

Ho-ho-ho, people! Time to rack your brains to come up with cool gifts for the tech nuts in your life. Most “holiday tech gift idea” lists are full of suggestions like “iPod Touch, $300” or “Surface tablet, $500.” Really? Hundreds of dollars? Beyond your parent/child/love interest, how many people on your list really get that kind of outlay? What the world really needs are cheap gifts that real-world people can give to real-world friends, bosses, employees and family members. One offbeat tech gift idea a day - and nothing over $100. - David Pogue

Day 1: Monopoly, the Zapped Edition

We all know and love Monopoly; it's been breeding real-estate lust since 1904. But for generations, we also all know what's been slowing down the game: that gol-durned phony cash. Counting. Adding. Making change. Collecting it into little piles. Arguing over whether the transaction is complete.

Not anymore. For $25, Hasbro is happy to sell you the Zapped edition of Monopoly. There is no paper money in this game. You put your iPhone or iPad in the middle of the board - and each player gets, I kid thee not, a fake credit card. (Read More...)

Day 2: The Zooka Bluetooth Speaker

There are all kinds of Bluetooth wireless speakers these days. They're a huge help - when you want music for a gathering, when you're watching a movie, when you're giving a presentation for people who are farther than 18 inches from the screen.

Carbon Audio's Zooka speaker is much the same idea, with a twist: it's designed like a foot-long tube, made of hard silicone rubber in your choice of eight bright colors. There's a speaker at each end. The best part: there's a slot running down the Zooka's length, which lets it wedge onto the edge of a tablet or laptop. That way, it's not a separate piece.(Read More...)

Day 3: CardNinja Cellphone Case

You know those guys who, in lieu of a wallet, carry around a big wad of credit cards and cash wrapped in a rubber band? They're the kind of person who might like the CardNinja.

It's a clever, stretchy-silky backpack for your cellphone. It holds cash and credit cards. Choice of colors, $18.

The point is to reduce the amount of stuff you have to carry around by eliminating the wallet. You get away with carrying only one bulky pocket item instead of two. (Read More...)

Day 4: Pop Bluetooth Handset

We love how slim and tiny our modern cellphones are; why, you could practically use ‘em as windshield scrapers! But the truth is, they do much better as hand-held computers than as phones. Ever try cradling one of those things between your chin and your neck as you do the dishes? It'll twist your spine into a Figure 8.

The ingenious Pop Bluetooth phone ($50) is the solution. It's a full-sized handset, looking like it's been freshly snipped from the cord of some rotary phone of old (except that it's available in a choice of bright colors).

Here's the twist: It connects to your cellphone over Bluetooth. (Read More...)

Day 5: PowerTrip Charger

Everyone in your gift-receiving circle probably knows the heartbreak of Dead Battery Syndrome. It's barely dinnertime, and your iPhone, Android phone or tablet is giving you the “10 percent remaining” sign.

This white plastic brick, about the size of a deck of cards, nips that problem in the bud. There are plenty of backup battery gizmos available, of course, but this one is interesting because you can charge it from three different sources: a wall outlet, a computer's USB jack or - get this - the sun. Yes, there's a solar panel on the back for topping off the charge. (Read More...)

Day 6: Sound Oasis Sound Therapy Pillow

The Sound Oasis Sound Therapy Pillow ($50 list, $38 at target.com) is just what it sounds like: A regular, 20-by-26-inch, washable pillow (“soft brushed cover and hypoallergenic polyester fiberfill”), with two compact speakers inside. And a very long cord.

When the speakers are in the pillow, you don't feel them. The idea, of course, is that you can drift to sleep with music playing. (You plug the cord into your phone or music player.) The other idea is that you can listen to music or podcasts in bed, without disturbing whoever is trying to sleep next to you. (Read More...)

Day 7: Tagg Pet Tracker

GPS is already in our cars and phones - why not on pet collars? The Tagg Pet Tracker ($100, plus $8 a month after three months) snaps onto your dog or cat's existing collar. (The company notes: “The tracker should not be used on spiked, jeweled or metal collars.” That means you, Brutus next door.)

Now you can track Fluffy's wanderings. If the animal leaves the yard (or any other “geofence” that you create), the 1.1-ounce tag sends you a text message. And you can use the pettracker.com Web site to find your pet again on a map, using your phone or computer. (Read More...)

Day 8: Prank Packs

In this holiday season in particular, we could use a little joy. Prank Packs (three for $20) will bring it. They're the boxes for screamingly funny, hilariously awful, but scarily plausible products that don't really exist. New this year, for example:

- The Crib Dribbler. It looks like a giant water bottle, like the kind that clings to the side of hamster cages - but it's for baby cribs. “With the Crib Dribbler feeding system, baby will have the alone time it needs, and its parents can enjoy some quiet time without having to tend to a hungry baby.” “For use with milk, formula, stew and cocoa.” (The testimonials are priceless. “I really like that it's made from recycled plastic syringes!”) (Read More...)

Day 9: The Leash Camera Strap

Kickstarter.com, as almost everyone knows by now, is a Web site where inventors present their brainstorms to the public, in hopes of raising enough money to move forward with production. Sometimes truly great new products are born. Sometimes they flop.

The Leash is in the first category. It's exactly the sort of thing Kickstarter projects are so good at: updating or revisiting some mundane object in our lives that hasn't been redesigned since 1723.

In this case, it's the camera strap. (Read More...)

Day 10: Cirago iAlert Tag and Cobra Tag

Why can't somebody invent a little beeper for your key ring? If you walk away from your smartphone (iPhone, Android phone or BlackBerry), your key chain beeps to alert you.

And it could work the other way, too. If you leave your keys somewhere, the phone beeps to alert you as you walk away!

That's exactly the point of the Cirago iAlert Tag ($50) and the similar but more polished Cobra Tag ($70). (Read More...)

Day 11: The Touchfire iPad Keyboard

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Thumpity thump-thump - that's the sound your fingers make on an iPad screen when they try to type. It's not an efficient process. You sort of have to keep looking down at the glass to see where your fingers are. In short, typing is not, ahem, the iPad's shining moment.

One solution is to buy yourself a real keyboard - a Bluetooth one, for example. But that's an expensive and bulky proposition. It's another whole gadget to carry around.

May I suggest the Touchfire iPad keyboard? (Read More...)

Day 12: Necomimi Brain-Powered Cat Ears

Today, the weirdest and most memorable of all: the Necomimi Brain-Powered Cat Ears ($100).

It's a headband with fluffy white cat ears attached. They perk up, flop down and otherwise turn, cutely and catlike, in sync with your brainwaves.

> That's the promise, anyway. A slightly uncomfortable forehead arm picks up the echoes of your neural activity from the front, and a clip on your earlobe completes the circuit. As your mental activity rises and falls, as your mood changes, the ears take on a life of their own. (Read More...)

Amazon Culls Its Reviews, Fakes and Real Ones

Giving Mom's Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull Your Review

Giving raves to family members is no longer acceptable. Neither is writers' reviewing other writers. But showering five stars on a book you admittedly have not read is fine.

Harriet Klausner, in 2000, now has over 25,000 reviews on Amazon. “You ever read a Harlequin romance?” she said. “You can finish it in one hour.”

Timothy Ferriss marshaled his social media followers for favorable reviews of “The 4-Hour Chef.”

After several well-publicized cases involving writers buying or manipulating their reviews, Amazon is cracking down. Writers say thousands of reviews have been deleted from the shopping site in recent months.

Amazon has not said how many reviews it has killed, nor has it offered any public explanation. So its sweeping but hazy purge has generated an uproar about what it means to review in an era when everyone is an author and everyone is a reviewer.

Is a review merely a gesture of enthusiasm or should it be held to a higher standard? Should writers be allowed to pass judgment on peers the way they have always done offline or are they competitors whose reviews should be banned? Does a groundswell of raves for a new book mean anything if the author is soliciting the comments?

In a debate percolating on blogs and on Amazon itself, quite a few writers take a permissive view on these issues.

The mystery novelist J. A. Konrath, for example, does not see anything wrong with an author indulging in chicanery. “Customer buys book because of fake review = zero harm,” he wrote on his blog.

Some readers differ. An ad hoc group of purists has formed on Amazon to track its most prominent reviewer, Harriet Klausner, who has over 25,000 reviews. They do not see how she can read so much so fast or why her reviews are overwhelmingly - and, they say, misleadingly - exaltations.

“Everyone in this group will tell you that we've all been duped into buying books based on her reviews,” said Margie Brown, a retired city clerk from Arizona.

Once a populist gimmick, the reviews are vital to making sure a new product is not lost in the digital wilderness. Amazon has refined the reviewing process over the years, giving customers the opportunity to rate reviews and comment on them. It is layer after layer of possible criticism.

“A not-insubstantial chunk of their infrastructure is based on their reviews - and all of that depends on having reviews customers can trust,” said Edward W. Robertson, a science fiction novelist who has watched the debate closely.

Nowhere are reviews more crucial than with books, an industry in which Amazon captures nearly a third of every dollar spent. It values reviews more than other online booksellers like Apple or Barnes & Noble, featuring them prominently and using them to help decide which books to acquire for its own imprints by its relatively new publishing arm.

So writers have naturally been vying to get more, and better, notices. Several mystery writers, including R. J. Ellory, Stephen Leather and John Locke, have recently confessed to various forms of manipulation under the general category of “sock puppets,” or online identities used to deceive. That resulted in a widely circulated petition by a loose coalition of writers under the banner, “No Sock Puppets Here Please,” asking people to “vote for book reviews you can trust.”

In explaining its purge of reviews, Amazon has told some writers that “we do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors.” But writers say that rule is not applied consistently.

In some cases, the ax fell on those with a direct relationship with the author.

“My sister's and best friend's reviews were removed from my books,” the author M. E. Franco said in a blog comment. “They happen to be two of my biggest fans.” Another writer, Valerie X. Armstrong, said her son's five-star review of her book, “The Survival of the Fattest,” was removed. He immediately tried to put it back “and it wouldn't take,” she wrote.

In other cases, though, the relationship was more tenuous. Michelle Gagnon lost three reviews on her young adult novel “Don't Turn Around.” She said she did not know two of the reviewers, while the third was a longtime fan of her work. “How does Amazon know we know each other?” she said. “That's where I started to get creeped out.”

Mr. Robertson suggested that Amazon applied a broad brush. “I believe they caught a lot of shady reviews, but a lot of innocent ones were erased, too,” he said. He figures the deleted reviews number in the thousands, or perhaps even 10,000.

The explosion of reviews for “The 4-Hour Chef” by Timothy Ferriss shows how the system has evolved from something spontaneous to a means of marketing and promotion. On Nov. 20, publication day, dozens of highly favorable reviews immediately sprouted. Other reviewers quickly criticized Mr. Ferriss, accusing him of buying supporters.

He laughed off those suggestions. “Not only would I never do that - it's unethical - I simply don't have to,” he wrote in an e-mail, saying he had sent several hundred review copies to fans and potential fans. “Does that stack the deck? Perhaps, but why send the book to someone who would hate it? That doesn't help anyone: not the reader, nor the writer.”

As a demonstration of social media's grip on reviewing, Mr. Ferriss used Twitter and Facebook to ask for a review. “Rallying my readers,” he called it. Within an hour, 61 had complied.

A few of his early reviews were written by people who admitted they had not read the book but were giving it five stars anyway because, well, they knew it would be terrific. “I am looking forward to reading this,” wrote a user posting under the name mhpics.

A spokesman for Amazon, which published “The 4-Hour Chef,” offered this sole comment for this article: “We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review.”

The dispute over reviews is playing out in the discontent over Mrs. Klausner, an Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer for the last 11 years and undoubtedly one of the most prolific reviewers in literary history.

Mrs. Klausner published review No. 28,366, for “A Red Sun Also Rises” by Mark Hodder. Almost immediately, it had nine critical comments. The first accused it of being “riddled with errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation.” The rest were no more kind. The Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society had struck again.

Mrs. Klausner, a 60-year-old retired librarian who lives in Atlanta, has published an average of seven reviews a day for more than a decade. “To watch her in action is unbelievable,” said her husband, Stanley. “You see the pages turning.”

Mrs. Klausner, who says ailments keep her home and insomnia keeps her up, scoffs at her critics. “You ever read a Harlequin romance?” she said. “You can finish it in one hour. I've always been a speed reader.” She has a message for her naysayers: “Get a life. Read a book.”

More than 99.9 percent of Mrs. Klausner's reviews are four or five stars. “If I can make it past the first 50 pages, that means I like it, and so I review it,” she said. But even Stanley said, “She's soft, I won't deny that.”

The campaign against Mrs. Klausner has pushed down her reviewer ratings, which in theory makes her less influential. But when everything is subject to review, the battle is never-ending.

Ragan Buckley, an aspiring novelist active in the campaign against Mrs. Klausner under the name “Sneaky Burrito,” is a little weary. “There are so many fake reviews that I'm often better off just walking into a physical store and picking an item off the shelf at random,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 23, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Giving Mom's Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull Your Review.

The Learning Curve of Smart Parking

The Learning Curve of Smart Parking

PLACE “smart” in front of a noun and you immediately have something that somehow sounds improved.

In smart-parking systems, street sensors tell parking enforcement workers if a space is occupied.

Apps like Parker can track availability and prices.

In its current state, however, “smart parking” is in some ways little different from regular parking. The term refers to a beguiling technology, now being tested in several cities, that uses sensors to determine whether a particular spot on the street or in a parking garage is occupied or vacant. When a car has overstayed its allotted time, the technology can also send the information to a parking enforcement officer with ticket book in hand.

The sensors' data can also be used to adjust parking prices, using higher rates to create more turnover on the busiest blocks and lower prices to draw drivers to blocks with underused spaces.

Smart-parking technology for on-street spaces is expensive, and still in its early stages. The largest examples are pilot projects with costs covered primarily by grants from the federal Department of Transportation. In San Francisco, the SFpark pilot project uses sensors from StreetSmart Technology for 7,000 of the city's 28,000 meters. In Los Angeles, LA Express Park has installed sensors from Streetline for 6,000 parking spots on downtown streets.

Cities are marketing the programs as experiments in using demand-based pricing to reduce traffic congestion - the kind caused by circling drivers desperately seeking parking spots - and to make more spaces available at any specific time. Drivers are encouraged to use mobile apps to check parking availability and pricing, though coverage is not universal. Parker, for example, from Streetline, gives detailed information about on-street parking for Los Angeles, but not for San Francisco.

SFpark is using “smart pricing” to achieve a target of having one parking space available most of the time in the areas it covers, says Jay Primus, the SFpark program manager. SFpark, he says, “de-emphasizes inconvenient time limits and instead uses smart pricing” to achieve those targets. The same spot, for example, may have different parking rates for different times of day. That intraday pricing is adjusted at multimonth intervals, but theoretically, it could be altered on the fly, depending on availability at any given hour.

One way to increase availability would be to use sensor technology to deter drivers from the tactic of staying parked in one place and repeatedly feeding the meter. Or a system might reset the meter automatically when a vehicle leaves a spot, so any remaining time is zeroed out. But meter resetting is “a fairly politically charged issue,” says Zia Yusuf, the C.E.O. of Streetline, and his company doesn't provide it. (Many cities have found that midblock payment kiosks that replace individual meters solve this problem handily.)

In San Francisco, the sensor technology installed by Streetsmart Technology has been bedeviled by electromagnetic interference from overhead trolley lines. Mr. Primus says the vehicle-detection sensing is only about 90 percent accurate.

Daniel E. Mitchell, a senior transportation engineer who manages LA Express Park for the City of Los Angeles, says the accuracy of his program's sensors has been in the mid-90 percent range, but he sees that as inadequate for automatically issuing tickets. Even if the sensors were 97 percent accurate, Mr. Mitchell says, “you'd have 3 percent of your customers experiencing a problem and that would be too many.”

Smart-parking apps aren't as useful as might be expected for drivers seeking open spots. When a parking space is vacated, there is a short delay before a sensor's signal moves through the wireless network, reaches the centralized system and finally arrives on a driver's phone. But if other cars are circling, even a 30-second or one-minute wait can be too long.

As for parking enforcement, San Francisco and Los Angeles have begun to use the sensor technology to dispatch officers to cars that have stayed past their limits. That's far more efficient that having officers roam streets in search of random meter violations.

Program officials in both cities say that they don't yet know how many more tickets are being issued as a result of the new systems. But opportunities for “improved enforcement operations,” as a Streetline promotional video delicately refers to it, seem enormous. Mr. Yusuf says that without smart parking, “no more than 8 to 10 percent of parking payment violations are ticketed.”

AS smart parking spreads, I'll miss the comfort of knowing that when I accidentally stay a few minutes too long in a parking spot, I may get a reprieve. After all, the enforcement officer two blocks away still has to check every meter between us before discovering my mistake.

When I shared those feelings with Mr. Yusuf, he pointed out that the technology could distinguish between those whose paid time elapsed just a few minutes previously and those who have been parked for hours. He argues that cities “want to attract more drivers to the downtown area, and it is the blatant offenders they want to target.”

Making such distinctions would be smart enforcement.

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail: stross@nytimes.com.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 23, 2012, on page BU4 of the New York edition with the headline: The Learning Curve Of Smart Parking.