Blogosphere kneedeep in Wikileaks

In the last few days Wikileaks has dominated the blogosphere. Even the XKCD comic has gotten into the act.

If you want to read something uplifting, go straight to Study Hacks, and read about how to use recent research into extrinsic motivation to help you do work that matches your deeply-held values and to make the Romantic Scholar lifestyle a reality.

Otherwise the rest of this is about Wikileaks.

I finally read the Wikipedia article about Wikileaks–interesting background reading, especially the part about it being started by Chinese dissidents who can face long jail terms or even death for writing about for instance Tiananmen Square.

Over and over, progressive bloggers are linking to Anglachel’s article, which points out the current round of selective leaks was done to a Democratic administration, and looks for Republicans hiding under the bed:

The fact that the cables are now in the open allows the Neocon noise machine to safely reference them to beat the drum for war with Iran, secure in the knowledge that contrary information of comparable validity cannot be provided because of diplomatic concerns. How can contrary information be leaked and to whom without it blowing up in the face of whomever tries to engineer that release? The release of the documents into the wild means there is a “source” for “Oh, look what we just now found!” kinds of revelations. The partial release on the wikileaks site itself always ensures that more can be found when there is a need for a strategic leak. The cables that identify security interests – which are of concern to more than the US – turn into fodder to gin up more domestic fear about terrorism, and to request more money for that purpose.

There is no down-side for the right with the release of these documents.

Iran, huh? Zogby also focuses in on Iran, and finds Israelis under the bed:

From the day the first batch of WikiLeaks appeared in the international press, the Israelis were crowing “this is good for us”. Seizing on documents demonstrating that some Arab leaders bear ill-will toward Iran, the Israeli spin machine went into action. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that “Our region has been hostage to a narrative that is the result of 60 years of propaganda, which paints Israel as the greatest threat”, claiming that Iran had, in fact, eclipsed the Palestinian issue as the number one concern of the Arab World. Another prominent Israeli official gloated that “Iran was now ten times more important than Palestine” and that it was now time to shelve the “peace effort” and focus attention on Iran.

Liberals were not the only ones unhappy with Wikileaks. Merriam-Webster’s “Word Well Used” feature showcased the word “frisson”, used by conservative Theodore Dalrymple, writing about Wikileaks in the City Journal. Dalrymple’s concerns are more generic:

The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness. WikiLeaks will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be increasingly unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but also in the private sphere, which it works to destroy.

Not all conservatives have something abstract, obscure, and negative to say about Wikileaks. This circumlocutory video from The American Conservative is unambiguously positive about Wikileaks.

There is some general agreement that the one good thing to come out of Wikileaks was the leak of the Apache helicopter attack video. Glen Greenwald focuses on the inhumane prison conditions of the presumed leaker, Bradley Manning. While high profile Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, possibly the creepiest boss since Dov Charney, was released from jail after only a week, for the last 7 months Manning has remained locked away by himself 23 hours a day without recourse and  without so much as a trial:

Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months — and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait — under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. …
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.

The last word about Wikileaks goes to myiq2xu, writing at the Confluence:

Ever seen a puppet show? While Punch and Judy might appear to be fighting and arguing with each other, if you peek behind the curtain you’ll see one puppeteer with a hand up each puppet’s ass.

I know a puppet show when I see one, and this whole Wikileaks affair is a big one with lots of puppets, bells and whistles. What I don’t know is the identity of the puppeteers and what their goals are.

Make no mistake, they DO have goals, even if it’s only to distract and entertain while pickpockets work the crowd.

So before you decide anything, take a peek behind the curtain.

Two news items

Glen Greenwald has been following the progress of an investigation into the origin of two bombs intercepted in England and Dubai–bombs that had been mailed to the U.S.  He castigates U.S. government sources for not being accurate enough in identifying the senders of the bombs. First, “officials said evidence was mounting that the top leadership of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki”, a man who is on the list of people the government is trying to assassinate, then today it became “officials still have little hard evidence about who was involved”.  I appreciate Greenswald’s political stance–we need more like him, and yes it could be a case of, as the Red Queen would say, “sentence first, verdict later”.  Or the information could have come from intelligence that can’t be revealed–always convenient, that.

The rhetoric was ratcheted up a few notches when radical Iman Anjem Choudary stated on an interview program,

“When you send bombs over there, what do you expect them to send back to you? What did you expect to find in a package? You know, chocolates? Of course you’re going to find bombs. They’re going to give you a taste of your own medicine”.

But, um, weren’t we over there in the first place because we had bombs, not chocolates, arrive on our own shores? And because various Middle Eastern governments are either unable or unwilling to stop them?

Buried in the fine print is the information that the bombs were mailed to a synagogue in Chicago. Let me repeat that.

The bombs were mailed to a synagogue in Chicago.

Hey! That’s where I live!

I can’t believe this imam is getting a free pass on the idea that Jewish civilians in Chicago are somehow responsible for White House policy and it’s okay to send bombs to them in “retaliation”.  If Greenwald is going to talk about unchecked pronouncements, lack of evidence, and mindless subservience to a political line, he needs to add this Iman Anjem Choudary character to his list.

[This may also explain why a large plastic envelope I received from the Middle East a few weeks ago was very efficiently slashed open, then retaped with clear packing tape.]

[via the Confluence]


Since that was pretty depressing, and since today is election day, here is a more upbeat story.

Washington DC was testing a new voting system that would allow people to cast absentee ballots online, and invited the public to find any bugs in the program.  (Are you listening, Diebold?)  Within 36 hours the program had been hacked by University of Michigan students, who obtained passwords, changed votes, and programmed the system to play the Michigan fight song after each ballot was cast.  Here’s my favorite part:

And they changed all the votes to write-ins for famous robots and computers such as Johnny 5 (from the movie “Short Circuit”), HAL 9000 (from “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and Deep Thought (from “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”).

[via Organizations and Markets]

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Politics is still local

If you think school finance meetings are boring, take a look at this one.  This is what democracy looks like.

First, everybody onto the bus.

bus-with-sign busses-waiting1

At the meeting, each school gets two minutes if they want to speak to the finance committee.  Seven or eight schools have already made their presentations. This school’s needs are explained by a Chicago alderman. At the end of the alderman’s presentation, everyone supporting the school is asked to stand and there is prolonged spontaneous cheering, probably not part of the original two-minute deal.

Then the state rep tries to speak, and is drowned out by boos.   Finally they let him speak, sort of, but he is again interrupted by the same group that booed him initially.  The woman standing up is yelling, “They didn’t tell us we had to bring our state representative.”

Their part in the meeting finished, everyone gets back on the bus, and the buses drive off into the sunset.

back-to-the-bus busses-leave

Of course this represents a lot more than just a finance meeting.  What is at stake is competition for scarce resources. The backdrop for the competition is the desertion of the city centers by the tax base in the 60’s followed by the deterioration of the infrastructure of the city and now the first-tier suburbs. Somewhere in the mix is racial and ethnic politics.  There is as yet no comfortable language for speaking about this publicly, although you might see something if you look hard enough in the endnotes of 300-page municipal reports. What does speak volumes is the possibility of not being re-elected; even school administrators are at risk if they do nothing.

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Presidential Oath of Office Tag Cloud is a website that will create tag cloud art from a group of words. Since today is inauguration day, the phrase that comes to mind immediately is the presidential oath of office. Here is the official oath from Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

presidential-oath-of-office-screen-cloud2And here it is in a tag cloud. The font is “Kenyan coffee”. The color combination is “blue meets orange”.

Here is a video of today’s  oath of office, administered to Barack Hussein Obama by Chief Justice John Roberts. Does anyone seem to be a bit nervous?  And isn’t it supposed to be “the office of President of the United States”?

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Anti-bailout demonstration in Indiana

As the stock market dropped 770-some points today, the blogosphere trembled with rhetoric. Citizens called their elected officials by the droves, and most expressed opposition to a bailout–at least 80% and maybe more, depending on who you ask.  In Indiana today I saw the following impromptu demonstration and stopped to see what was going on.

Protestors were holding up signs that said “No bailouts for banks”, “Constitution R.I.P.”, and “Capitalism Works”. Quite a few cars were honking as they passed by. I asked one of the demonstrators about how they came to be out there together. They first met at a political meetup for Ron Paul supporters. The crisis is real, they told me, but it’s not up to the government to rescue someone who makes a bad financial decision, especially if it’s a big company. People shouldn’t borrow money they can’t pay back, they said. People who got mortgages with balloon payments made a mistake. There should be consequences for bad decisions.

Also they said I should look up Davy Crockett and “not yours to give”. The “Davy Crockett” speech, which apparently he never gave, is basically a rehash of the Libertarian position that the government is not authorized by the Constitution to tax. Of course it’s not true.  The 16th amendment settled that one, if there ever was any doubt, and the Constitution also says the federal government can provide for the “general welfare”. So those highway appropriations will just keep on coming. And Libertarians don’t really mean all that stuff about taxes anyhow.  Libertarians like Ron Paul manage to inserted earmarks into bills they know are going to pass, even if they maintain political “purity” by later voting against those bills.

But taxation isn’t my biggest beef with the Libertarians.  It their dogma-based approach to government.  Libertarians start with a premise about how the world should be–and based on what?–then work backwards to how the government actions should be in accordance with the premise.  I’m a bit more pragmatic.  Instead of trying to decide who should be punished in this economic mess, and how many innocent people have to suffer in order to punish the ones who violated a certain political code that no one explained in advance, I prefer to look ahead to what results might be achieved and the steps to make those results happen.  As soon as I figure out what that is, be sure that I will post it right here first thing.

Is our food safe yet?

This is just WRONG.

First they thought it was the tomatoes.

Then after months and months of seeing letters about Salmonella in tomatoes posted in supermarkets and fast food chains, they decided it wasn’t the tomatoes after all.  But not before the tomato industry was destroyed for the season.  Now they say it was the jalapeno peppers.  Really?  No matter, I have both tomatoes and jalapenos in the garden.

It used to be that America had safe food and safe water.  That’s what made us different from other countries.  Anyone who has ever gotten a dose of Montezuma’s revenge while enjoying Mexico’s beaches, or a touch of fever after eating the wild boar in Kathmandu can appreciate America’s tradition of eating food without having to take antibiotics afterwards. But all that has changed now.

Where is the government that used to protect our food?

Oh, yeah, that’s right. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Secretary Mike Leavitt is busy these days trying to get contraception redefined as abortion.

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West Nile Virus speads under Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt

Last night my neighbor told me she was keeping the children inside because West Nile Virus had just been discovered in several of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, including this one.  Just a few streets over, they still didn’t have electric services restored after the heavy storms and rains that have swept through in the last few days.  And now, with more  standing water in the alleys and nearby nature preserves, we’re in for even more mosquitoes.  Sick, diseased mosquitoes.

Getting infected with West Nile isn’t like catching a cold either. Since the first two dead cows in 2001 confirmed that West Nile had entered the state, 94 people have died from the disease, just in Illinois.  While the epicenter of West Nile deaths has move westward form Illinois to Colorado to California, a hot spot remains in urban Chicago.

When I lived in Jordan back in 2000, there was an outbreak of West Nile virus in Israel just across the border, a 40-minute cab ride away.  I saw notices in the newspaper, films of mosquitoes on channel 2  (the only channel I could pull in), and after dusk chemical trucks spraying the streets on either side of Abdali bus station in central Amman.  Nobody died from West Nile in Jordan.

In the last 7 years, West Nile virus has entered this country and spread like wildfire, killing 94 people and preventing children from playing outdoors in the summer.  Where is our government?  In the past we have seen the federal government take the lead in controlling and even wiping out numerous diseases like influenza and polio.  It used to be that fearing mosquitoes was something that happened in third world malaria prone areas like Africa.  Where is the federal government now?  Oh, yeah, that’s right.  They’re busy trying to impose their religion on everybody else by trying to redefine contraceptives as abortion.

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