Ai Weiwei ordered to stop spying on himself

Bad news if you get your kicks from watching a rotund, bearded man work on his computer in real-time. On Monday, Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei set up four live webcams throughout his home studio, streaming real-time images of himself working at his computer, sleeping, and interacting with his cat.

The WeiWeicam was a clever commentary on the constant surveillance the artist has been under since he was apprehended and held in detention for three months last year. Evidently, the authorities would prefer to be the only ones watching Ai go about his daily routine: 

On Wednesday, less than 48 hours after Mr. Ai announced the launch of the live feed, the cameras — one of which had been installed on the ceiling of his bedroom — went dark. “4 minutes ago the cameras have been shut down,” the artist wrote on his Twitter feed. “byebye to all the voyeurs.”

Mr. Ai indicated to his Twitter followers on Wednesday that the decision to kill the cameras had not been his, later telling CNN and other media outlets that the cameras had been turned off on orders from public security officials

Christina Larson interviewed Ai for FP in December. 

Image via Al Jazeera


Iran Watch: The 80/20 rule

The "Pareto Principle" posits that, for many phenomena, 80 percent of output comes from 20 percent of input (you can apply this "80/20 rule" to everything from the large share of business a company derives from its small base of dedicated customers to, more depressingly, the short period of time you spend getting most of your work done at the office). 

As the world's top powers prepare for nuclear talks with Iran in mid-April (today's over-heated sideshow: Iran is dithering about whether to hold the summit in Turkey, Iraq, or China), we should keep the 80/20 rule in mind. Particularly the fact that much of the initial disagreement between negotiators may stem from one thorny number: 20 percent.  

On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak revealed that Israel is asking its allies to pressure Iran at the talks -- wherever they take place -- to transfer all uranium enriched to 20 percent to another country. "Israel is prepared to wait for the negotiations' results before it decides on a course of action," he explained. "It's not a matter of weeks, but not of years either."

Iran meter: Barak may not have a difficult time convincing Western powers to pursue his goal. Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association recently told Reuters that the White House may focus "on halting 20 percent enrichment of uranium as a first-step confidence-building measure." (Other experts predict Washington's opening salvo will also include an attempt to suspend work at the Fordow enrichment facility.) 

Why 20 percent in particular? "Nuclear bombs," Reuters explains, "require uranium enriched to 90 percent, but much of the effort required to get there is already achieved once it reaches 20 percent concentration, shortening the time needed for any nuclear weapons 'break-out.'" 

But the 20 percent goal may be a hard sell. Iran began enriching uranium to 20 percent in 2010 -- after previously enriching it to the 3.5 percent level required to fuel nuclear power plants -- and it's been doing so in earnest. Tehran now has roughly 250 pounds of 20 percent enriched uranium and has nearly tripled the number of devices producing the higher grade uranium in the past three months, according to the Associated Press.

And while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested in September that Tehran would stop refining uranium to 20 percent if it received fuel for a medical research reactor (which requires higher-level enrichment than power plants), there are signs that Iranian negotiators may be less amenable to such a fuel swap this time around. In March, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei boasted that Iran's 20 percent enrichment had "surprised the enemies," while the Iranian lawmaker Aladin Borujerdi declared that "the parliament will never allow the government to go back even one step in its nuclear policy."

Sure, it could all be bluster. But we shouldn't underestimate the power of that 20 percent figure to cause big problems -- and undercut confidence before it has a chance to take root.

IIPA via Getty Images