Sorry Powers-that-Be, but that’s just the way the Wiki leaks…

Rape charges against Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks are irrelevant to the ground-breaking nature of this whistle-blowing phenomenon.

Be it resolved that in 2011 I shall do shorter posts more often; failing that i shall post at least once a week on a matter of global/regional/local/site-specific interest without being parochial or provincial.

Jerry Holbert

I think the single most important thing to have happened globally last year was Wikileaks.

On the matter of Julian Assange’s culpability as a rape-accused I respectfully maintain that it has nothing to do with the sensational success of Wikileaks as a groundbreaking phenomenon. Assange may or may not be a rapist, but that is a parallel matter that does not impinge on the systematic publishing of leaked documents or whistleblowing and their effects. If we were to discover that Albert Einstein was really a Jekyll and Hyde personality and a mass murderer by night would it have affected the theory of relativity one way or the other? Not at all. E = mc2 would still be E = mc2. Scientific discourse would still have been completely reformatted by the new knowledge Einstein contributed to it.

Similarly Wikileaks remains the revolutionary intervention it is and may prove to be just the shove needed to push us out of the undemocratic rut we’re all stuck in. No one can take that away from Assange, not now, not ever. Sorry Powers that Be, but that’s just the way the wiki leaks…US Press advocate Jay Rosen calls Wikileaks the first stateless news organization, and berates the American media for its reticence on the subject in a post titled From Judith Miller to Julian Assange. According to him:

It takes “the world’s first stateless news organization” http://jr.ly/5jnk to show our news organizations how statist they really are.

And in an excellent article titled “Why EL PAÍS chose to publish the leaks” editor Javier Moreno presents a lucid account of why Wikileaks is rocking the foundations of what Peter Tosh called the global ‘shitstem’:

The incompetence of Western governments, and their inability to deal with the economic crisis, climate change, corruption, or the illegal war in Iraq and other countries has been eloquently exposed in recent years. Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, we also know that our leaders are all too aware of their shameful fallibility, and that it is only thanks to the inertia of the machinery of power that they have been able to fulfill their democratic responsibility and answer to the electorate.

The powerful machinery of state is designed to suppress the flow of truth and to keep secrets secret. We have seen in recent weeks how that machine has been put into action to try to limit the damage caused by the WikiLeaks revelations.

Given the damage they have suffered at the hands of WikiLeaks, it is not hard to see why the United States and other Western governments have been unable to resist the temptation of focusing attention on Julian Assange. He seems an easy enough target, and so they have sought to question his motivation and the way that WikiLeaks works. They have also sought to question why five major news organizations with prestigious international reputations agreed to collaborate with Assange and his organization. These are reasonable questions, and they have all been answered satisfactorily over the last four weeks, despite the pressure put on us by government, and worse still, by many of our colleagues in the media.

If nothing else Wikileaks has generated a priceless stream of cartoons some of which can be seen in the video below.

Here’s to a leaky new year!

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:

Julian Assange: Nuff Balls…

Julian Assange’s predicament. Where to go?

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange leaves a news conference on the internet release of secret documents about the Iraq War in London October 23, 2010. Reuters.

Could a nice, normal guy have started and run Wikileaks? asked @jeffjarvis today, sarcastically replying ‘No‘ to his own question.

Nice, normal guys don’t have the balls to blow whistles I tweeted back. And that’s the truth. As poor Julian Assange tries to cope with the consequences of outing the most advanced and powerful military regime in the world stories are appearing about how ‘weird’ he is. I had previously cited one such article which i found persuasive but now I’m beginning to wonder…

It seems entirely predictable to me that anyone daring to expose damning military secrets pertaining to the United States’s disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be subjected to severe ‘demonization’ as a first step toward damaging his credibility. After posting 77,000 classified Pentagon documents on the Afghan conflict on his website three months ago, Assange has now posted 391,832 secret documents on the Iraqi war. His critics say that he has endangered the lives of many secret intelligence sources (compare their numbers to the number of lives lost in both wars and let’s see if there’s still a serious complaint here) and are withdrawing support from him. We are told that he’s imperious, erratic and delusional, none of these are crimes mind you, and that he may have also molested two women in Sweden. Assange maintains that the sex was consensual.

Since posting the incriminating documents poor Assange has been forced to move from country to country looking for a safe haven without much luck. According to the New York Times article which provoked the above tweet:

Underlying Mr. Assange’s anxieties is deep uncertainty about what the United States and its allies may do next. Pentagon and Justice department officials have said they are weighing his actions under the 1917 Espionage Act. They have demanded that Mr. Assange “return” all government documents in his possession, undertake not to publish any new ones and not “solicit” further American materials.

Mr. Assange has responded by going on the run, but has found no refuge. Amid the Afghan documents controversy, he flew to Sweden, seeking a residence permit and protection under that country’s broad press freedoms. His initial welcome was euphoric.

“They called me the James Bond of journalism,” he recalled wryly. “It got me a lot of fans, and some of them ended up causing me a bit of trouble.”

Within days, his liaisons with two Swedish women led to an arrest warrant on charges of rape and molestation. Karin Rosander, a spokesperson for the prosecutor, said last week that the police were continuing to investigate.

In late September, he left Stockholm for Berlin. A bag he checked on the almost empty flight disappeared, with three encrypted laptops. It has not resurfaced; Mr. Assange suspects it was intercepted.

Things are so desperate that Assange jokes that he’s beginning to look at going to prison as the safest option open to him:

“When it comes to the point where you occasionally look forward to being in prison on the basis that you might be able to spend a day reading a book, the realization dawns that perhaps the situation has become a little more stressful than you would like,” he said over the London lunch.

I wonder whether our kindly hotelier Butch Stewart might be persuaded to offer Mr. Assange an extended vacation at Hedonism 1, 2 or 3, along with the Chilean miners to whom he so thoughtfully extended such an invitation. Or perhaps a shack on Wicky Wacky Beach could be made availabe? We could rename it Wikileaki Beach and take cruiseship passengers there for years to come. But then again would we have the balls to stand up to Uncle Sam? I think not. Methinks Julian had better start brushing up his Spanish as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the feisty Hugo Chavez may be his best bet. He better take up he money, like Matilda, and run Venezuela…

A Few of my Favourite Posts/Essays/Tweets

Picks from my weekly archive of favourite articles, blogposts, tweets and random texts and images including articles on or by Arundhati Roy, Andrew Ross, Hazel Dooney, tweeting and Tunku Varadarajan

Arundhati Roy: Photo taken from http://noliesradio.org/archives/6572

A few days ago @Arundhati_Roy tweeted the following:

Men have become the tools of their tools. – Henry David Thoreau

There were many retweets (RTs) and responses to Roy’s update of her timeline with Thoreau’s dry observation; there was one brief rally that aptly illustrated the essence of Thoreau’s  point, and being Twitter, did so with economy:

but is there any escape from that ? asked @sreecube.

certainly not with an iPhone 4 came the answering stop volley from Roy, irrevocably staunching the conversation. One-love.

Novelist and  political critic Arundhati Roy recently came in for some sledgehammer criticism from a reviewer in The New Republic: The New Republic excoriates Arundhati Roy as a ‘reactionary’ tweeted @harikunzru; others also remarked on the harshness of the critique lobbed at the petite activist and writer.

Titled ‘The Reactionary’ the review of Roy’s latest book Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers aimed to take apart the Indian writer’s ‘assault on democracy’, and what it called the ‘righteous hyperbole’ enlisted in her often cogent critique of the free-market capitalism-sponsored ‘democratic’ rituals we live daily. There have been many times when i’ve thought Roy has gone overboard in the tone and strategy of her critical project  but she remains one of the most active voices raising questions and casting doubt on our ‘corporate present’, as Andrew Ross neatly terms the contemporary obsession with ‘enterprise’–literally the zeitgeist of buying and selling–to the detriment of true democracy.

Her Twitter bio playfully proclaims her outlook:

I’m bored with globalisation. You can see it in my face. I, alone, am Moral, lest, Moral-Less, More or Less. Amor, alas…

I’m deliberately not linking to The New Republic article in this post because i don’t see why i should promote it; you can google and find it if you really want to read it.  Roy is obviously hitting her mark if the conservative mainstream US media find it necessary to use such demolition tactics. Go deh Arundhati!

In the rest of this post i’m going to share links to some excellent articles i came across last week.

Taken from Digital Inspiration

First there was I Tweet, Therefore I Am, a New York Times magazine article about how tweeting changes you, how it alters the way you look at things but also the way you present yourself to the world; Twitter as performance. It reminded me of the frustration i felt some months ago when trying to persuade a friend that she needed to get on Twitter asap if she was interested in promoting the research she was doing. “Oh, i’ll just get my assistant to do it for me,” was her response. Do you send your assistant to the gym when you want to get fit i asked, after which i relapsed into silence, because i didn’t have the words to describe the range of effects Twitter has on one. Well this article makes the argument i would have tried to make, while adding several insights really worth sharing. Read it if you’re interested in exploring the new ‘ways we live now’ (or the way some of us live now, i should hastily add, having no desire to incur Arundhati Roy’s wrath here).

Then, if you don’t know him already, let me introduce you to Tunku Varadarajan, who writes for The Daily Beast. “What Does Julian Assange Want?” asks @Tunku inviting us to ‘shower the attention-craving, vainglorious “truth-seeker” with our contempt’. According to Tunku “Assange is the founder and prime mover of WikiLeaks, a shadowy, show-offy little outfit that last week unloaded into the public domain vast quantities of classified American military intelligence stolen from the vaults of the war in Afghanistan.”

Bob Englehart, copyright 2010 Cagle Cartoons

In intent and tactic the article is trying to do just what the New Republic critic attempted with Arundhati Roy. It’s just that Tunku is far more adept at it, and ultimately more convincing i think:

These latest leaks weren’t, of course, Assange’s debut on the world stage. This episode was preceded by “Collateral Murder,”  his own Breitbart Moment, when he infamously edited the leaked video of a gunship attack by U.S. forces in Iraq to make it appear more damnable. How is that different from the editing, by Andrew Breitbart, of the clip of the lady from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the NAACP meeting? The New York Times wouldn’t touch anything Breitbart was peddling, but it gave Assange, who professes not to know where these documents came from, the full Pentagon Papers treatment.

In What’s the big deal about Blogging? Amit Varma, the author of India Uncut, recounts his own engagement with the medium of blogging and its impact on his life:

Over the last seven years, blogging has changed my life. As a medium, it has offered me opportunities I did not have as a mainstream journalist. It has broadened and deepened my perspectives of the world around me. It has sharpened my craft as a writer. It has introduced me to ideas and people I’d never otherwise have known.

I discovered Varma, along with most of the other Indian bloggers and Tweeters, in the wake of the attack on the Bombay Palace hotel in Mumbai a couple of years ago. He is also the editor of the opinion section of Yahoo News India where this post appeared.

Andrew Ross

In The Case for Scholarly Reporting, prolific documenter and critic of American culture, Andrew Ross, writes a really engaging account of his search for a voice and orientation as a public intellectual who has tried to marry ethnography with investigative journalism in his practice. In the process of mapping his own trajectory Ross also fluidly sketches the movement in leftwing scholarship over the last few decades and the history of the field of American Studies.

. . . it took me a long time to work off the habits of my training and find my own voice as a practitioner of scholarly reporting—the genre in which I have come to feel most comfortable. There were particular obstacles in the path. I had been trained, first and foremost, as a “reader,” alert, above all, to decoding the secret life of words. This meant that I was not a very good listener, especially to the spoken testimony of others.

By the way Andrew has written about Jamaican culture and music in his 1998 essay “Mr. Reggae DJ, Meet the International Monetary Fund in which he describes reggae as “the sound of cultural justice worldwide”. The essay documents the rise of ‘cultural’ reggae, and speculates on its emergence at that particular moment. In the process he disproves Ian Boyne’s thesis that it is a clutch of star-struck University of the West Indies academics who’ irresponsibly’ promote dancehall and DJs by focusing benevolent analytical attention on them. But more on all that in a post on the subject at some later date.

A Hazel Dooney watercolour

In a really good post on copyright, new media and artists’ rights blogger Barney Davey republishes a blogpost by Australian artist Hazel Dooney, one of the most outspoken writers i’ve come across. Dooney who blogs frankly about her life as a successful artist operating without a backing gallery, her fragile psychological states, her admission to a medical facility and her escape from it has useful knowledge to impart on how and when to assert one’s copyright in a world mediated by the internet. As Davey says:

I believe what Dooney is stressing is important and that we cannot avoid assessing the reality of how digital media and our interconnectedness truly have changed everything. What was will never be again. Facing what is and making it work for you is the only reality and only way to make headway in the shifting paradigms we face. Sitting still is not the answer. The famous Will Rogers saying hold’s up well here. “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”

And finally a really funny one: 5 things you should know before dating a journalist:

We don’t take shit from anyone, so don’t lie to us or give a load of bullshit. We spend all day separating fact from fiction, listening to PR cronies and dealing with slimy politicians. If you make us do the same with you, you’re just gonna piss us off. And don’t think we’ll be quiet about it. We’ll respond with the vengeance of an Op-Ed page railing against society’s injustices — and we’ll enjoy doing it.

Just tell us the truth. We can handle it.

Hope you enjoy these picks from my weekly archive of favourite articles, blogposts, tweets and random texts and images.