‘Misha,’ Man Accused Of Radicalizing Bombing Suspect, Speaks Out: ‘I Wasn’t His Teacher’

As more information (and, inevitably, more speculation) has emerged about the Boston bombing suspects, some reports emerged about “Misha,” a man who allegedly played a role in radicalizing Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two suspects. “Misha,” whose real name is Mikhail Allakhverdov, spoke out to New York Review of BooksChristian Caryl, denying any involvement in the attack.

Allakhverdov, 39, is of Armenian-Ukrainian descent and lives with his elderly parents in a lower-middle class neighborhood in Rhode Island, according to the report. While he told Caryl he did convert to Islam, he denied radicalizing the suspect.

“I wasn’t his teacher. If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this,” Allakhverdov said.

He also added that he’s been interviewed by the FBI and is cooperating with officials:

“I’ve been cooperating entirely with the FBI. I gave them my computer and my phone and everything I wanted to show I haven’t done anything. And they said they are about to return them to me. And the agents who talked told me they are about to close my case.”

Allakhverdov said he lived in Boston until three years ago, which is how he knows Tamerlan Tsarnaev. But, he added, he hadn’t been in contact with him since then — and furthermore, did not know the Tsarnaev family members who were making the accusations against him.

Caryl pointed out that some reports have also said the FBI hasn’t found a link between Allakhverdov and the bombing and alleged bombers. The Allakhverdov family was described as “welcoming” but “very nervous.”

“We love this country,” his father told Caryl. “We never expected anything like this to happen to us.”

Read the full story here.

Pocket readies for a paywalled world with new site subscription feature

If you’re a fan of reading on the Internet, it’s hard not to notice there are more walls going up around the stuff you want to look at. Publishers are putting up paywalls and registration gates, which can make it difficult to find and read stories even if you’re a subscriber to a site. Login credentials are turning into a kind of unwieldy and easy-to-forget baggage.

Pocket (née Read It Later) wants to make it a little easier for users to keep reading their favorite saved stories from around the web, even the ones tucked behind a paywall. The time-shifted reading app recently relaunched a feature called site subscription allows users to keep their login info within the app, making it easier to save and read stories from a site with subscriber content.

At the moment, The New York Review of Books, Matter, and Virginia Quarterly Review are the only publishers partnering with Pocket. But sites like The New York Times, The Economist, Financial Times, The Washington Post, and ESPN’s Insider are available under the site subscription feature. That means subscribers can avoid the hassle of having to enter their credentials multiple times: They don’t have to sign into both the news site and again in Pocket when they want to read a story.

It’s a small move meant to make jumping between the discovery and reading of new material less difficult. But Pocket’s new trick may prove useful as an increasing number of newspapers and magazines are paywalling their work.

“We want to make it easy for Pocket users to save the content that interests them, and this should work if they also subscribe to paywalled sites,” Mark Armstrong, Pocket’s editorial director, told me over Gchat.

Handing off authorization information to Pocket isn’t a terribly difficult task. As Pocket CEO Nate Weiner told me, it’s roughly the same as when you tell Chrome or Firefox to remember your email password. The net effect is the same, creating a seamless, “set it and forget it” functionality that makes life easier for the user and encourages deeper use. Pocket wants to have the kind of ubiquity of an email client, or, another example Weiner is fond of, a DVR. “Pocket is essentially an empty vessel people are putting things into,” he said.

As a kind of intermediary, Pocket is only useful if you have stuff to read, and increasingly people are finding things on social channels. Like a number of delayed reading services, Pocket is already integrated into services like Facebook, Twitter, but also apps like Flipboard and Zite. Those kind of connections have helped Pocket grow to 7 million users and 1 million items saved daily in the same year the app went from paid to free.

Working with publishers is a step towards making delayed reading a frictionless affair, but also demonstrating a direct connection with people who produce stories, videos, and other digestible (and savable) content. Services like Pocket take criticism for leading eyeballs away from publishers sites, not to mention their ads, and into an isolated 3rd part app. But at the moment the benefits of a publisher partnership with Pocket mostly fall to the reader by making their life a little easier. Weiner said publishers who collaborate with Pocket don’t receive any analytics or other data on readers at the moment. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be perks in the future, he said. Though Weiner didn’t go into specifics, he said the referral traffic to publishers from Pocket exceeds pageviews within the app itself. “This is the tip of the iceberg in a sense,” he said.

Weiner and Armstrong said another way Pocket can help support publishers is by providing a phone-friendly reading experience for sites that don’t have dedicated apps or mobile sites. Since Pocket is available on iOS and Android, it could act as a mobile reading alternative for some publishers. Matter is a good example, Armstrong said, because the company is putting its focus on producing long-form stories, not technology. “The added benefit for a publisher is that there’s no dev work or cost on their side, so it solves a pretty big problem almost immediately: How can I make my stories available to the widest audience across iOS, Android, and beyond, both online and offline, if I’m not going the app route yet,” he said.

Though Pocket could provide a stripped down, device-friendly method of reading, the company still lacks an incentive for publishers to hand-off their mobile experience. Site subscription is the first of what the company hopes are many new features that will entice publishers. Weiner and Armstrong said their goal in the next year is to increase collaboration with content producers. “Save-for-later has become a critical piece of the user experience, especially when it comes to reading long form content or watching long form video. So they’re very complementary when you’re talking about premium content like this,” Armstrong said.

In Israel, Freedom Of Speech Includes Freedom To Criticize

On August 20, 2009, Neve Gordon, an Israeli who is the chair of Ben-Gurion University’s department of government and politics and a professor at the University, published an op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times. The piece urged “foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions, and citizens” to boycott Israel. Gordon’s support for a boycott of his country was based upon his conclusion that Israel had “become an apartheid state” and that only “massive international pressure” could lead the nation to change its policies.

The president of Ben-Gurion University, Rivka Carmi, responded to intense Israeli criticism of Gordon by issuing a statement strongly disagreeing with him, stating that under Israeli law Gordon could not be dismissed but concluding that in her view “Gordon has forfeited his ability to work effectively in an academic setting.”

The New York Review of Books published an open letter from ten American scholars, which defended Gordon’s initial op-ed, criticized Carmi’s response, and demanded that Carmi “state publically that she would oppose and move to punish or censor” Gordon. (Ed. Note – the original letter is no longer on the NY Review of Books website.)

The New York Review of Books chose not to publish my response which criticized the signatories of the letter, including Tony Judt and Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, for taking a reflexively anti-Israel stance without taking heed of the Israeli culture of free speech which allowed the exchange to occur. Here it is:

To the Editor:

The Open Letter you published by ten academics addressed to and critical of the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev either reflects a crabbed view of freedom of expression, a desire to transform yet another debate into an opportunity to pile on Israel, or both.

The facts are not in dispute. An Israeli professor, Dr. Neve Gordon, published an Op-Ed article in the Los Angeles Times characterizing his nation as an “apartheid regime” and demanding an international boycott of it. Since Israel, unlike all other nations in the region, is a democratic state that not punish such speech, Professor Gordon is secure in his position.

He is not, however, immune from stern criticism including that of Rivka Carmi, the president of the University who wrote that while Dr. Gordon could not be sanctioned for the expression of his views, he had “forfeited his ability to work effectively within the academic setting.”. That phrase, rather mild in the context of Professor Gordon’s advocacy that the world community should treat his nation as a pariah state, was the ostensible basis for your correspondents’ letter.

It is, they say, “chilling” (a familiar First Amendment word) for the president of a university to criticize a tenured professor in such a manner. But a professor willing to ask the world to boycott his own nation should at least be prepared for a sometimes rough-edged bit of criticism. Indeed, more chilling still is the notion that while Professor Gordon should be free to characterize his country as so similar to South Africa in its most outrageous days as to warrant “massive international pressure,” the president of the university at which he teaches must calibrate the tone of her speech carefully lest foreign scholars take offense.

I would have hoped that the ten signatories of the letter, many of whom have been unsparingly critical of Israel in the past, might have praised that nation this time for being a society in which free speech is so protected that such a vibrant exchange could occur. That they have seized upon it as yet another opportunity to express “concern” about Israel is unsurprising but lamentable.

Floyd Abrams

Floyd Abrams is one of the country’s best known constitutional attorneys, father of Mediaite founder Dan Abrams, investor in Mediaite, and a very handsome, smart and generous man.


Does The Huffington Post’s New Book Vertical Make Sense?

palincheneyBooks have had a hard time establishing a profitable foothold on the Internet. In many respects, they’re the anti-blogosphere: they take a long time to read, and thus to form opinions about, most people don’t read very many books (according to a 2007 AP poll, the typical American claims to have read four books in the past year), and the people who do skew older and are not as plugged in.

There are smart folks over at The Huffington Post who know all of this, no doubt, and their decision to launch a new book vertical under the leadership of Dutton Books’ Amy Hertz, suggests that they think it will succeed anyway. Can it, though? More importantly, how does it define success?

All blogs — really, all publications — have to reach a balance between breadth of appeal and depth of audience. Right off the bat, the HuffPo book blog faces a dilemma: The Huffington Post, on the whole, has embraced breadth, while the world of books is a deep, narrow thing.

There are some excellent book blogs out there — Bookslut, The Daily Beast’s Book Beast, and TNR’s The Spine come to mind — but they dig deep in a way that makes a broad base of appeal unlikely. Bookslut has features like “An Interview with Horacio Castellanos Moya” and columns like “Eddy Current was Wrong: Looking Back at the Ted McKeever Library;” according to Compete.com, it had 26,680 unique visitors in August. Even the more accessible Book Beast doesn’t exactly hit The Daily Beast’s “most popular” board very often.

Given that stark landscape, HuffPo deserves praise for even bothering to cover books. At this point, book coverage has been so slashed that really, anyone devoting significant resources to it can be construed as a public service.

>>>>Next Page: But…


The parasitic blogosphere

Faced with accusations that the blogosphere is parasitic and is slowly and methodidically killing its host — mainstream journalism — every now and then someone tries to debunk this theory by trotting out a list of examples of bloggers conducting original journalism. This method feeds on the anecdote, however, and rarely analyzes the millions of blogs in the long tail, which often are parasitic and sometimes get away with posting articles in full without links.

The New York Review of Books decided to tackle the myth of the parasitic blogger, with mixed results.

This image of the Internet as parasite has some foundation. Without the vital news-gathering performed by established institutions, many Web sites would sputter and die. In their sweep and scorn, however, such statements seem as outdated as they are defensive. Over the past few months alone, a remarkable amount of original, exciting, and creative (if also chaotic and maddening) material has appeared on the Internet. The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news. And unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they will hasten their own demise

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