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:

Buju: Voice of Jamaica?

The lighter side of the Buju Banton saga

Clovis, Jamaica Observer

*Please note that God as portrayed by Clovis in the cartoon above does not appear to be black. #justsaying

Well, Tropical Storm Nicole tittupped across the length and breadth of Jamaica like a woman scorned, ripping the country’s attention away from it’s favourite Rasta to matters of life and death. But not before a couple of hilarious Buju-inspired exchanges on Twitter that ranged from the sublimely funny to the ridiculous. The latter first. I got into a lengthy exchange with Queen Sheba1302 who was sending out anguished tweets from Germany asking why there was a worldwide ‘media blackout’ on Buju. Perhaps the rest of the world had more urgent matters to attend to i suggested? To which i got this response:

  1. FREE BUJU Banton queensheba1302
    No, only jamaican newspaper report about Buju, there is a worldwide mediablackout, and i dont know why….
  2. FREE BUJU Banton queensheba1302
    yes, there is a media blackout worldwide, why?? Do u know why only local newspaper report about Buju Banton?
    12:30 PM Sep 27th via web in reply to JamaicaGleaner.

Well, it’s a pressing matter here in Jamaica where Buju comes from i said, so naturally he would receive coverage here, the rest of the world however… No, no, insisted Queen Sheba, he’s an international celebrity, why they even devoted so much time to the likes of Dudus, and Buju is much bigger, much bigger.

But 73 people died in the process of extraditing Dudus, that’s why he was awarded so much international coverage, I tried to suggest, but the Queen wouldn’t be persuaded. The Jamaican media doesn’t cover Bollywood i said, but i can assure you it’s not because of a ‘media blackout’, its just lack of interest, after which i gave up because it was clear that nothing would appease Queen Sheba. I urged her to organize a worldwide Twitter campaign on Buju’s behalf and left it at that.

Of course the other fallout from the Buju saga is a certain amount of nervous paranoia expressed in jokes about the situation (A key piece of evidence produced against the singer was a conversation he had had with the passenger seated next to him on a flight from Madrid to Miami in which he bragged about his coke deals). Peter Dean Rickards, headed to the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival, vouchsafed on Twitter that he was keeping his lips zipped on his flight to Trinidad and Tobago; another tweep @Grindacologist found himself trapped on a bus next to a garrulous Israeli. The following flock of tweets he issued that morning had us convulsed with laughter:

  1. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Bredda a chat aff mi ears bout all di inventions that israelis did… Thu Sep 30 07:53:14 2010
  2. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    …wtf do I care…u see me bragging bout how blacks invented the hot comb & s curls kit… Thu Sep 30 07:54:31 2010
  3. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    …brown man invented mathematics enuh… Thu Sep 30 07:56:21 2010
  4. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Wonda if dah bredda yah a Feds? Why him ah ask mi bout Jolly Roger’s Cookbook… Thu Sep 30 08:17:03 2010
  5. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Dem a try get mi out like Buju… Thu Sep 30 08:17:30 2010
  6. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Nooo…him a talk bout El Al airlines now…gad help me… Thu Sep 30 08:18:28 2010
  7. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    Mek mi jus gwaan smile and nad mi head… Thu Sep 30 08:24:05 2010
  8. Grindacologist Grindacologist
    RT @djflashTRINITY: @Grindacologist an him a jew it a setup grinda, dont tell him anything <— bredda a mossad enuh…him a try draw mi out Thu Sep 30 08:23:07 2010

Meanwhile the US courts seem determined to keep the Voice of Jamaica captive even though the jury was split down the middle (like Barbican Road) and couldn’t deliver a verdict. A new trial is slated for December. Sigh. It doesn’t look good for Jamaica’s beloved Rasta. He seems to have bad kismat. Hope he lives to rule his destiny once again.