Wikileaks…dousing the Information famine drop by drop…

Another take on Wikileaks

Anna Ardin, political secretary of the Swedish Christian SocialDemocrats, one of the rape claimants against Assange

We are now irrevocably in the era of information activism thanks to info evangelist Julian Assange, who has been variously described as an information saint, a digital fugitive and a rapist. Accused by Anna Ardin, political secretary of the Swedish Christian SocialDemocrats of riding her ‘bareback’ as they say here in Jamdown–after the condom being used broke–he now faces charges of rape in a Swedish court. The founder of Wikileaks foiled by a leaky condom. There’s a kind of poetic justice to it; the question however is what will the quality of Swedish justice prove to be?

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks has spoken to the BBC about fighting extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations. He believes he won’t be treated fairly. Should he go back? http://bbc.in/hHeZlR asked BBC World Have Your Say today.

Would the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, get a fair trial in China? Is the Pope Catholic? Do bears shit in the woods? Is ganja grown in Jamaica? Of course he wouldn’t be treated fairly.

As long as Assange and Wikileaks were exposing secrets about non-Western countries like Kenya and Korea Julian was a hero. The conservative UK Economist magazine even gave him the 2008 Economist Index on Censorship Award. But by the time it was time for Time magazine to decide its Man of the Year award a couple of weeks ago things had changed considerably. By this time Wikileaks had released top secret and embarrassing classified documents about the US Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, showing the wanton killing of civilians and a disregard for human rights as blatant as the supposed abuses that provoked those wars in the first place. The United States’ cover as a crusader for universal human rights, democracy and transparency was forever blown.

Bob Englehart, copyright 2010 Cagle Cartoons

Consequently although Time magazine readers voted overwhelmingly for Assange as Man of the Year, its editors opted to award the title to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. According to a December 15 article in thinq.co.uk:

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, blatantly disregarding the wishes of the magazine’s readership, who voted in their droves to put WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the top spot. The award is doled out annually to the person regarded by the magazine as the “most important” figure of the preceding 12 months. Readers are asked to vote for their favourite among a long list of nominations, but the final decision is left to the editors.

When the poll closed yesterday, Assange – who is currently in police custody in the UK – topped the chart with a whopping 382,024 votes, nearly a third of all those counted. Über-nerd Zuckerberg, by contrast, appeared to garner little support within the ranks of his 500 million ‘friends’ on Facebook, only just scraping into the top ten with a measly 18,353.

The 26-year-old CEO was beaten on the leader board by public figures including Steve Jobs and Barack Obama. Even Lady Gaga shimmied past him in her rubber pants to take number three spot.

We can only assume the editors must have employed the so-called ‘Florida method’, first witnessed in the 2000 US presidential election, in their final decision.

And in The man who knows too much, Tehelka, an Indian investigative magazine observes:

What’s funniest about the WikiLeaks bashing is that up until the middle of this year, Assange was being toasted all around. Two of the many awards his organisation has won are the 2008 Economist magazine New Media Award and a 2009 Amnesty International’s UK Media Award. The latter was for its publication of a report titled Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances in 2008, which led to a regime change in the country.

Then, in April this year, WikiLeaks posted a video of Iraqi civilians and journalists being killed by US forces, followed by the Afghan War Diary in July and the Iraq War Logs in October – both showing up the US in dismal light. Since then, many bouquets have turned into brickbats.

The consequences for Wikileaks have been dire. As Economic and Political Weekly noted in their article The Brave New World of Wikileaks:

The manner in which the leading “democracies” of Europe and North America have responded to these revelations has been acutely revelatory about these regimes themselves. Despite there being not a single criminal case against Wikileaks it has had its website shut down, its payment gateways with Paypal have been closed, Visa and Mastercard have refused to transfer funds, its bank accounts have been frozen (including the one meant for its Julian Assange’s legal defence) and, worst of all, elected representatives have called for the murder of Assange. And there is no certainty that he will not meet an untimely end as various people have, whenever they have crossed Uncle Sam’s path.

Much has been said and written to decry Assange’s claims of being a journalist. He certainly is not a journalist in the traditional sense of the word, but his Wikileaks intervention has definitely altered the prevailing paradigms of journalism forever. Accusations of data dumping and lack of analysis of the data dumped miss the point completely. In Invisible Leaks Aaron Bady aka zunguzungu, a California-based blogger who has attracted a lot of attention recently, explains the significance of the ‘scientific journalism’ that Assange is proposing. Pointing out that it isn’t only Wikileaks that is leaking documents he examines a story in the UK Independent based on a leak showing that government “Ministers believe most graduates will spend their whole working lives making monthly payments to cover their loans and interest – without ever being able to settle their debts.” Yet the government went ahead and raised university fees regardless provoking the massive student riots and the near lynching of Prince Charles and Camilla we saw in early December. As zunguzungu points out:

…the entire story is nothing but a leaked document, and yet who leaked it? You barely even notice that there even was a leaker. And you don’t notice that The Independent’s role here has not been to propagate and disseminate the leaked document, but in fact, to obscure it. They read it and decided which parts were worth emphasizing, and then they excluded those which were not (the author of the report, for example, or other budgetary details). Such details might be much more damning. Yet standard journalistic procedure here is to excise such details, making an editorial choice (and taking the interpretive license) to tell you what the document says. Which is where Wikileaks’ “scientific journalism” comes in, the idea that all leaked documents should be fully released, so that conclusions can be independently checkable (not just checked by The Independent). Which is, of course, Assange’s real sin, and the reason he could be tried for espionage for publishing classified material, while the NY Times and Guardian never will be: he deigned to let us read the news ourselves.

Zunguzungu’s blog itself is an extraordinary one that shows the volatile and fast-shifting nature of the current media environment. According to Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic:

When historians look back at WikiLeaks and how the world’s pundits tried to make sense of what was happening, they’ll see a familiar list of sources: Foreign Policy’s Evgeny Morozov, The Guardian’s John Noughton, The New York Times’ David Carr, several people from the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, and various long-time digital leaders like Geert Lovink and Larry Sanger.

But among that list you’d also find Aaron Bady and his blog zunguzungu.wordpress.com. His probing analysis of Julian Assange’s personal philosophy and possible motivations became an oft-cited piece of the global conversation about what WikiLeaks might mean. Before Bady’s November 29 post, Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”, only a few hundred people a day found their way Bady’s blog. In the days afterward, tens of thousands of people swarmed to the site — and Bady ended up linked by some of the most influential media outlets on the planet.

This article explores how that happened because it shows that in today’s media landscape, an act of journalism can spread quickly to the very highest levels of the culture and news industry, no matter where it comes from.

Interestingly it was via the tweets of one of the tweeple i follow, ethnomusicologist  @wayneandwax {the twitter handle of Wayne Marshall–not the Jamaican DJ–though Wayne has actually written about Jamaican music extensively (wayneandwax.com), even publishing an article in a special Reggae Studies issue of the journal I edit, Social and Economic Studies} that zunguzungu’s fascinating blogposts on Assange came to wider attention.

I end with a couple of tweets from my timeline: At what point does information become knowledge? asked @dmccaulay. When data is organized it becomes information. When it finds a potential application, it is knowledge, responded @damienwking.

Nuff said. For more info on Wikileaks, Assange and the history of the organization watch the videos below. The first one ends abruptly before the end, but the second one has the final clip:

Blogging in a World without Peace

I’ve been frittering away my time finding creative ways to do nothing the last few days; I don’t know– it seems a suitable way to wind an old year down. Frustrating though because I really wanted to write this blog a day or two ago. Actually the day Harold Pinter died. His death reminded me of a speech Gunter Grass made in Berlin at the PEN International Congress there in May 2006.

It was a mere few weeks before the World Cup was to begin in Berlin when I had the good fortune to be sent to that city with Niki Johnson to represent Jamaica in its bid for membership of this august body. The keynote address was by the celebrated German author and Berlin resident, Gunter Grass. In keeping with the theme of the Congress Grass called his talk “Writing in an unpeaceful World.” Grass’s speech was an eloquent disquisition on war and the lack of peace through the centuries; he quoted Pinter’s scathing critique of the United States only recently delivered during his Nobel address the previous year. Pinter’s sentiments were so strongly expressed, so uncompromisingly critical that the American and British media had panned it and if Grass had not lingered on his words i would have been unaware that the Nobel Laureate had been so outspoken.

The Israeli strike on Gaza today makes it a particularly apt occasion to recall Grass’s heartfelt rumination on war and the role of writers in times of war. His speech pointed the finger at the United States and the unjust and protracted war it was conducting in Iraq. Within the year Grass found himself accused of being a Nazi sympathizer. Coincidence? Who knows?

While Grass did not explicitly mention bloggers (perhaps in 2006 they were not as omnipresent as they are today) everything he had to say about the responsibility of writers can and should be applied to us. Here are some excerpts from what he said:

There has always been war. And even peace agreements, intentionally or unintentionally, contained the germs of future wars, whether the treaty was concluded in Münster in Westphalia, or in Versailles. Furthermore, preparations for war do not solely depend on weapon systems that have to be continually modernized and replaced: making people dependent and acquiescent by controlled shortages has been a proven method, from biblical times to the globalised present. In his inaugural speech at the United Nations Willy Brandt referred to it in no uncertain terms: ‘Hunger is also war!’ he shouted more than three decades ago, at the time of the Cold War. Patterns of mortality as well as hunger statistics confirm his dictum to this day. Those who are in control of the market for basic foodstuffs and therefore able to manipulate surpluses as well as shortages by price policies have no need to fight conventional wars.

But what about writing in a world permanently without peace? The literati, i.e. all those scribblers and wordsmiths and sound acrobats and tracers of suppressed screams, the poets constraining themselves by rhymes and those using free verse, all of them, the men and women of verbal activity, they carried on, from Troy to Baghdad: lamenting in metre, soberly reporting, pleading for peace here, greedy for heroism there. The platitude ‘Where weapons speak, the muses remain silent’ is easily disproved.

. . . Today we find ourselves at the mercy of the hubris of only one superpower – a fact that has not proved beneficial – whose search for a new enemy has been successful. Armed force is used by this superpower to defeat the terrorism which, as it helped – take Bin Laden – to bring it forth, it is responsible for. Yet the war deliberately started in blatant disdain of the laws of civilized societies produces still more terror and will not end.

This is not only true of the war in Iraq, now in its third year. Dictatorships – and there are plenty to choose from – are referred to, in turn or simultaneously, as rogue states and threatened vociferously with military strikes, the only effect being to stabilize the fundamentalist power systems in those countries. Whether or not the term ‘Axis of Evil’ is used to refer to Iran or North Korea or Syria, the politics could not be more stupid and hence more dangerous. Even the repeat of a war crime, the deployment of nuclear weapons, is threatened.

Meanwhile the world is watching and pretending to be powerless. At most, participation in foreseeable new wars is refused. Three years ago the French and the German governments took an exemplary stand and said ‘No’, and later the Spanish government joined them when they withdrew from their complicity with the United States and engagement in the inevitably criminal activities of the superpower. yet despite lies having been exposed and the disgrace of torture being all-apparent, the British government continues to feign deafness and to act as if the tradition of the British Empire, the merciless colonial rule, has to be adhered to – even under the leadership of a Labour government.

Such submissive loyalty cannot but provoke dissent: in December of last year Harold Pinter’s speech as Nobel Laureate was published. In his admirably straightforward text the dramatist spoke first as a writer, then as a British citizen. When his bitter speech, sparing no one and exposing all our failures and our considerate hushing-up, was made available it gave rise to vehement attacks, originating in this country even in the arts section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Mr Stadelmaier, a renowned theatre critic, tried to ridicule and dismiss Pinter as an old leftie whose plays were a thing of the past. The disclosure of truths that had lain hidden behind mollifications and a web of lies caused serious resentment. Someone, a writer, one of us, had made use, in our unpeaceful world, of the right to accuse.

I quote from Harold Pinter’s speech:

“The United States supported and in many cases engendered every rightwing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

“Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. you have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

In the course of his speech Pinter poses the question: ‘How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?’ This question cannot easily be dismissed as merely rhetorical, for it aims at the West’s established practice and hypocritical method of counting, the body count. Although we meticulously keep count of the victims of terror attacks – terrible though their number is – nobody bothers to count the dead caused by American bomb or rocket attacks. Whether the second or the third Gulf War – the first one was fought by Saddam Hussein with support from the United States against Iran – rough estimates put the figure at hundreds of thousands.

Clearly every single one of the carefully accounted-for 2,400 soldiers killed so far in the present Iraq war is one too many, but this list of casualties cannot serve as the retrospective reason for a war that was started illegally and is fought by criminal means, nor can it offset the untold number of women and children killed and maimed, whose deaths are trivialized from a Western perspective as ‘collateral damage’. In Western evaluation there are first-, second- or third-class citizens not only among the living, but also among the dead, and yet they are all of them victims of the mutual terrorism.

Copyright © 2008 Universal Press Syndicate

Today the United States has a second chance with its new President, Barack Obama, to turn away from war and steer the world toward some kind of peace. I’m not taking bets on whether war or peace will prevail although Barack is the one holding out hope as a very slim lifeline. Let’s see what 2009 brings.

My Man of the Year…Muntadar al-Zaidi

Muntadar al-Zaidi
A shoe in the hand is worth two in the Bush! Congrats my yute! The most inspired (and inspiring) act of the last few years…al-Zaidi shoes Bush on behalf of “the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq“. What an eloquent protest! Bush must also be congratulated for his restrained response…if only he had been as restrained about ‘the war on terror’ and invading Iraq–