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Conforming fleetingly to their standard
January 15, 2011 3:33 AM   Subscribe

On the afternoon of November 1, 2010, Julian Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks.org, marched with his lawyer into the London office of Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian. Assange was pallid and sweaty, his thin frame racked by a cough that had been plaguing him for weeks. He was also angry, and his message was simple: he would sue the newspaper if it went ahead and published stories based on the quarter of a million documents that he had handed over to The Guardian just three months earlier. [. . .]

In Rusbridger’s office, Assange’s position was rife with ironies. An unwavering advocate of full, unfettered disclosure of primary-source material, Assange was now seeking to keep highly sensitive information from reaching a broader audience. He had become the victim of his own methods: someone at WikiLeaks, where there was no shortage of disgruntled volunteers, had leaked the last big segment of the documents, and they ended up at The Guardian in such a way that the paper was released from its previous agreement with Assange—that The Guardian would publish its stories only when Assange gave his permission.
"The Man Who Spilled the Secrets," by Sarah Ellison, documents the tumultuous relationship between The Guardian and Wikileaks.
posted by Weebot (136 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
What was that character that was in that batman movie that always tossed a coin?
posted by dougrayrankin at 4:08 AM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


But I thought he needs to be brought to justice for indiscriminately dumping documents without thought of the consequences? I guess this means we'll be extraditing the editorial staff of The Guardian now?
posted by mek at 4:12 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


What was that character that was in that batman movie that always tossed a coin?
Two-face.
posted by delmoi at 4:54 AM on January 15, 2011


In a second or two from now, that coin, likely a penny, will drop for delmoi.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:55 AM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


In a second or two from now, that coin, likely a penny, will drop for delmoi.
What?
posted by delmoi at 4:59 AM on January 15, 2011


What?

I think you answered a rhetorical question.
posted by sunshinesky at 5:12 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Release the bank documents, Julian.
posted by Ritchie at 5:14 AM on January 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's amazing how fast the Wikileaks things is damping out. In the last 30 days the overall search volume has dropped to less than a fifth of what it was at the start.

It's roughly the same rate of decay that happened when Michael Jackson died.

People just don't pay attention to very much for more than a month. Some things, like Sept. 11, have recurring spikes of interest on their anniversaries or for some other reason. But for the most part, things are forgotten within a month or two.

This to me is scarier than anything Wikileaks could have leaked; the idea that you could have the most staggering weirdness happen and then... a month or two later it has been forgotten.

But life goes on...
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:19 AM on January 15, 2011 [20 favorites]


This to me is scarier than anything Wikileaks could have leaked; the idea that you could have the most staggering weirdness happen and then... a month or two later it has been forgotten.

I'd be more sympathetic to that position if the leaked documents contained anything we didn't already know. Ongoing prisoner abuse in Gitmo? Not news. Diplomatic staffers saying candid things about foreign dignitaries? Salacious perhaps, but not exactly news. Arab nations freaked about Iran going nuclear? Interesting, but long suspected.

Really though, the only real news here is that the government wasn't doing a very good job securing its networks, and even that didn't really come as much of a surprise to anyone who had thought about it for more than five minutes.

I'd say that the Wikileaks cables will probably go down as the biggest news story in 2010 that wasn't.
posted by valkyryn at 5:26 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I continue to see Wikileaks as a huge dangerous con because:
-Despite its supposed belief in the virtues of free information and open governance we know very little about its own governance and controls. Bylaws, elected officers, a budget, a board of directors, a voting membership, designated executive staff, and an audit comitee.
-It is not a clearing house for leaks, but instead manipulates the leaked information to pursue a political agenda. What are they holding in their vaults? We don't even have an inventory of documents in the backlog. How do we know they arnt blackmailing corporations and governments in exchange for hiding things in the queue.
posted by humanfont at 5:30 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


An unwavering advocate of full, unfettered disclosure of primary-source material

Patently untrue.
posted by sidereal at 5:33 AM on January 15, 2011


Valkyryn, did you honestly know that your government kidnaps the citizens of friendly countries, flies them to Afghanistan, has them raped, and then dumps them by the side of a third country when it decides they've raped the wrong guy? Because I didn't.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:39 AM on January 15, 2011 [27 favorites]


the Wikileaks cables will probably go down as the biggest news story in 2010 that wasn't.

But there was such a deliberate and conscious effort to sustain interest. Assange knew better than to drop the whole thing at once. Give it out in little pieces, build interest through media partners, play up the weirdness. I mean, there was a real effort to keep people from ignoring what little news they had and yet... people are ignoring it now, a little over a month later.

I have pictures of Osama Bin Laden having tea with George W. Bush on an alien spacecraft piloted by Elvis, but I won't release them. Not because I'm worried about my safety, but because I know people will tune them out fairly quickly anyway. That's scary.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:39 AM on January 15, 2011


Probably already seen by all and sundry, but relevant nonetheless. Assange walks out of an interview when asked about his own private life.
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:44 AM on January 15, 2011


But there was such a deliberate and conscious effort to sustain interest.

So? The big story here was the leak itself, not the contents of it. Not sure that story has legs beyond the month or two of coverage that it got.

did you honestly know that your government kidnaps the citizens of friendly countries, flies them to Afghanistan, has them raped, and then dumps them by the side of a third country when it decides they've raped the wrong guy? Because I didn't.

Was I consciously aware of that specific set of facts? No, I wasn't. Does it surprise me? Not all that much. Sort of falls into the "Government does bad stuff. Film at eleven," category, don't it? I don't know anyone who was under the impression that it was completely impossible for that kind of thing to happen. Trust in government is at an all-time low. And is it the kind of story that's going to sustain concerted public interest for more than a few weeks? For good or ill, not really. If we're going to be outraged at every violation of civil rights, even the really bad ones, we'd never get any sleep. Knockless SWAT entries, the incarceration state, local police departments that may as well be the county's third organized crime ring, the list goes on.

So yes, there were bad things revealed in the cables, but they weren't really of a kind that people were surprised by. More of the same, really. Those sort of revelations are generally only of lasting interest to that small group of people that has a professional interest in them.
posted by valkyryn at 5:51 AM on January 15, 2011


I suppose said tumultuous relationship could be used to explain why The Guardian is blaming Wikileaks for the fallout over a cable that The Guardian itself had personally selected and published. Never start a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel and all that.
posted by indubitable at 6:09 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


This to me is scarier than anything Wikileaks could have leaked; the idea that you could have the most staggering weirdness happen and then... a month or two later it has been forgotten.
You have read THE BOOK, Goldstein's book, or parts of it, at least. Did it tell you anything that you did not know already?'

'You have read it?' said Winston.

'I wrote it. That is to say, I collaborated in writing it. No book is produced individually, as you know.'

'Is it true, what it says?'

'As description, yes. The programme it sets forth is nonsense. The secret accumulation of knowledge--a gradual spread of enlightenment--ultimately a proletarian rebellion--the overthrow of the Party. You foresaw yourself that that was what it would say. It is all nonsense. The proletarians will never revolt, not in a thousand years or a million. They cannot. I do not have to tell you the reason: you know it already. If you have ever cherished any dreams of violent insurrection, you must abandon them. There is no way in which the Party can be overthrown. The rule of the Party is for ever. Make that the starting-point of your thoughts.'
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:09 AM on January 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's kinda good that Assange is attracting this much attention. It means that when, say, Licky-Weeks pops up about 3 months from now, led by a raven-haired South African hacker, with servers based in Tahiti, the powers that be will be looking in the other direction.

Can't stop the information, folks, no matter how much of a douche the messenger might be.
posted by Jimbob at 6:14 AM on January 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


did you honestly know that your government kidnaps the citizens of friendly countries, flies them to Afghanistan, has them raped, and then dumps them by the side of a third country when it decides they've raped the wrong guy? Because I didn't.
That particular story was well known before wikileaks leaked anything. He actually sued the US and won, I believe. What we didn't know was that there were higher level people involved who didn't want to release him because they felt he "knew too much" IIRC.
-Despite its supposed belief in the virtues of free information and open governance we know very little about its own governance and controls. Bylaws, elected officers, a budget, a board of directors, a voting membership, designated executive staff, and an audit comitee.
Well first of all the finances are being handled by the Wau Holland Foundation which is an ordinary non-profit, subject to whatever laws they have in Germany. And according to the wikipedia article I just read they've raised $1.2 million for wikileaks. It's true that we don't know that much about their internal structure, and it's a fair point that maybe we should know what the information wikileaks actually has is.
Probably already seen by all and sundry, but relevant nonetheless. Assange walks out of an interview when asked about his own private life .
What they've said is that their goal is justice, and their method is transparency. They are not advocating that everything should be knowable by everyone, but rather that light be shined on injustice. Presumably Assange doesn't think his personal life, or the structure of wikileaks is covering up any injustice (although others obviously disagree)
posted by delmoi at 6:18 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is a real issue of cognitive dissonance on the part of WikiLeaks critics. On one hand, critics claim that Cablegate says nothing of importance, while simultaneously call for Assange's prosecution (and in some cases, execution) by the United States for treason and similar crimes. Critics want to have it both ways, it seems.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:20 AM on January 15, 2011 [19 favorites]


I suppose said tumultuous relationship could be used to explain why The Guardian is blaming Wikileaks for the fallout over a cable that The Guardian itself had personally selected and published.

Don't expect the correction to the record to be acknowledged by WL critics. The narrative must be maintained.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:27 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The narrative must be maintained.

Once upon a time it was a dark and stormy night...

the idea that you could have the most staggering weirdness happen and then... a month or two later it has been forgotten.

... but seriously, I would have said it was all due to the rapid turnaround of information electronically but now I wonder how it can happen in the real world as well. Is it a generational thing or a cultural one?
posted by infini at 6:47 AM on January 15, 2011


There is a real issue of cognitive dissonance on the part of WikiLeaks critics. On one hand, critics claim that Cablegate says nothing of importance, while simultaneously call for Assange's prosecution (and in some cases, execution) by the United States for treason and similar crimes. Critics want to have it both ways, it seems.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:20 AM on 1/15


Way to build up a strawman, Blazecock. I'm extremely critical of Wikileaks and in particular of the way it appears to select documents that suit its (rather obscure) agenda. I'm also on the side of those who consider Cablegate to be pretty shallow. But I'll never, ever call for the prosecution of Assange for those leaks. Not only because they've hardly revealed any secret, but because I think that would be an intolerable attack on freedom of speech (Manning, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter: he completely breached his duties. It's one thing to be a whistleblower, and another thing to organize a mass data dump).
posted by Skeptic at 6:49 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Joe in Australia: Valkyryn, did you honestly know that your government kidnaps the citizens of friendly countries, flies them to Afghanistan, has them raped, and then dumps them by the side of a third country when it decides they've raped the wrong guy? Because I didn't.

If you're talking about the US: Yes, a lot of us did. It's been pretty widely reported, in reputable publications and by journalists with good reputations. There have even been a few pretty high-profile cases. Which is not to say there's not value in having US State's corroboration.
posted by lodurr at 6:54 AM on January 15, 2011


Way to build up a strawman, Blazecock. I'm extremely critical of Wikileaks and in particular of the way it appears to select documents that suit its (rather obscure) agenda.

Decisions on which cables to publish are made by the Guardian and other newspapers who possess the material, not Wikileaks. How that came to be is part of the topic of the post. Of course, more generally, you are correct to some extent.
posted by mek at 6:55 AM on January 15, 2011


I'm with Skeptic. I think Wikileaks' behavior is frankly irresponsible; but the rush to prosecute and railroad Assange really troubles me. I would love to see a less charismatic-leader-focused version of Wikileaks, and would probably even grin & bear it if a more democratic, less demagogic Wikileaks did irresponsible stuff. But much as Assange rubs me the wrong way, prosecuting him seems to be much more about publicly stomping on the transparency movement* than about preventing harm or punishing actual crimes.

--
*of course that will just even more fully radicalize hacker-ethos transparency advocates, and people driving the strategy have to know this. Which would be convenient for the people trying to put them down: "Look how radical and dangerous they are!"
posted by lodurr at 7:00 AM on January 15, 2011


But I'll never, ever call for the prosecution of Assange for those leaks.

I think you're probably in a small minority of critics who don't think the US should set up its secret tribunals. Most of the vocal critics — some in a position to do Assange harm — maintain the cables say nothing damaging, while arguing for Assange's arrest (and, in some cases, execution) because the cables are damaging to American interests.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:01 AM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm extremely critical of Wikileaks and in particular of the way it appears to select documents that suit its (rather obscure) agenda.

Wikileaks is essentially a technical solution. It seems to me that it is time for some other project to hijack the technology and put it to more noble purposes than as a vehicle for the self-promotion of Julian Assange (for what seems to me the not so obscure agenda of meeting women.)
posted by three blind mice at 7:05 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


BP, probably most of us agree with you about the cognitive dissonance if the people you're talking about are the governmental actors and the people who are calling for Assange's public flaying etc. Are those the "majority" of wikileaks' critics? Technically, maybe. But among people I know and talk about this with, most take the position that Assange is a dick and they wish he would STFU and not draw so much fire, but that his prosecution is a Really Bad Thing.
posted by lodurr at 7:07 AM on January 15, 2011


(for what seems to me the not so obscure agenda of meeting women.)

But that kind of thing is usually about power, really, not sex. Sex with a lot of partners is just a convenient way to convince yourself you're powerful. (also insert any discussion of alpha male mating behavior you'd care to.)
posted by lodurr at 7:11 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can you actually sue someone for releasing information to which you arguably have no rights in the first place? I mean, I can see the breach of contract angle, but as TFA points out, the guardian managed to get the leaks without going through Assange, thus making their arrangement moot.
posted by pla at 7:41 AM on January 15, 2011


Julian Assange is a journalist. He is a journalist swimming in a sea full of compromised non-journalist advertising pushers who love money more than they love the truth. Making matters worse, these non-journalists absolutely think they are real journalists, only they happen to be hopelessly ignorant. Journalists are supposed to be protected in the United States. In a perverted twist of "What's Right", the non-journalists are protected, and the real journalists are prosecuted. Julian Assange is a journalist. He received information about a war that is horrendous and almost impossible to understand because of the sea of non-journalist advertising pushers who have failed at their job. Assange received information anonymously and published it in a journalistic effort to uncover and urge people to start repairing various egregious violations against mankind.

That's courageous. There is no other way to frame this issue.
posted by pwally at 7:44 AM on January 15, 2011 [23 favorites]


I haven't followed much of this saga. My assumption is that various journalists will sift through the info and, over the next 5 to 10 years, various scandals will emerge. Seems a bit to early to call it a non-story.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:45 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no other way to frame this issue.

There's never no other way to frame an issue. And "frame" in general use has the connotation of arranging truths for presentation to others or to support a specific view.
posted by lodurr at 7:47 AM on January 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


There is a real issue of cognitive dissonance on the part of WikiLeaks critics

It's just a multi pronged attack, marginalized existing leaks and prevent him from leaking in the future. Even if particular leaks aren't damaging, leaking in general is damaging.

For the record I don't think these leaks are damaging, and I don't think Assange should be prosecuted, unless it can be shown he actually committed a crime.

These leaks are just a random dump of whatever Manning could grab. So far it has been like like leaking every coca-cola memo except the secret recipe. I also think his drip feed of leaks might harm his cause, people just get numb.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:52 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's never no other way to frame an issue.

There is always the truth though.
posted by pwally at 7:53 AM on January 15, 2011


Assange received information anonymously

Not so sure about that. In the chat logs with Poulsen Manning lets it drop that one can contact Assange through the ccc XMPP servers so it stands to reason that Manning had been in continuous contact with Assange. There is some speculation that Assange did more than just find a box CDs on his doorstep, and whatever help Assange provided is detailed in the missing chat logs. Speculation is just speculation though.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:03 AM on January 15, 2011


So you're saying, pwally, that the truth in this case is that a courageous journalist wanted to sue people if they printed the truth.
posted by koeselitz at 8:05 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Assange's actions are the result of his analysis. Flaws in that analysis turn into flaws in the execution.

He starts from the assumption that authoritarian states are enabled by cliques of conspirators who are dependent upon secret communications in order to function. This presupposed that there are contending elites who would control or moderate the authoritarian conspirators. Otherwise, the authoritarian conspirators could do whatever they wanted and not give a rip who knew what they were doing.

There are some obvious problems so far, but the implementation of a stateless anti-authoritarian conspiracy (Wikileaks) that functions by breaking down state secrecy through the publication of leaks has some serious problems. Problems that were apparent before the leaks Manning is being investigated for.

The essential problem with Wikileaks is that it ignores that hidden assumption about the existence of contending elites which are somehow anti-authoritarian. It turns out that where these do exist (mostly in the form of non-governmental organizations), they are not able to check the power of the supposed authoritarian conspirators.

For instance: in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, the lies about WMD were widely questioned. There was sufficient information out in public showing that the ostensible reasons for the invasion were fabrications. In the US, there was about 30% very strong opposition to starting a war with Iraq. However, there was not corresponding power and will within the legislative branch to oppose the criminal authoritarian conspiracy in the executive branch.

Raw information is not raw power. Knowledge is not power. Power is power.

What is necessary to restrain power is countervailing force of some sort. It could be opinion, legal, legislative, electoral, even military. But in the absence of that countervailing force, information and knowledge alone will not be sufficient. This is the fallacy at the heart of the cypherpunk libertarianism: suppose we had a leak and nobody could do anything about it?

That is sort of the problem here. The knowledge of the wrongdoing existed, but the power to act on it did not.
posted by warbaby at 8:11 AM on January 15, 2011 [39 favorites]


For the record I don't think these leaks are damaging, and I don't think Assange should be prosecuted, unless it can be shown he actually committed a crime.

I've no desire whatsoever to see Assange prosecuted in the US for publishing any of the Wikileaks info.

I'd like to see him extradited to Sweden on the rape charges though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:11 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


There was sufficient information out in public showing that the ostensible reasons for the invasion were fabrications.

This is simply not true. There were allegations, rumors, insinuation, a few small leaks here and there and a lot of competing storylines in the lead up to the war. If you wanted to believe that the administration was telling the truth, it was easy enough to dismiss the few leaks that made it out. A massive dump on the scale of the Manning leak at the right time would have absolutely changed things.
posted by empath at 8:16 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not so sure about that.

Going from what we know, wikileaks is set up to receive material anonymously. Their website is consciously designed for anonymous leaks in order to protect whoever is leaking things. That's how I believe Manning leaked the information.

koeselitz, no. That's not what I'm saying.
posted by pwally at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2011


It is not a clearing house for leaks, but instead manipulates the leaked information to pursue a political agenda. What are they holding in their vaults? We don't even have an inventory of documents in the backlog. How do we know they arnt blackmailing corporations and governments in exchange for hiding things in the queue.
If they release all the documents without editing, they've got blood on their hands. If they release too many documents too QUICKLY, they're irresponsible. If they release them slowly, they're manipulating things for political purposes. If they don't cooperate with existing organizations and news outlets, they're rogues. If they do, they're just part of the system.

There's a pattern...
posted by verb at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'd like to see him extradited to Sweden on the rape charges though

Right, in connection to the wikileaks issue.

The more that I think about it I'm not sure what I expect from these leaks or what it would take to constitute a real bombshell. My expectations of the US government are so low that probably nothing short of evidence that the majority of people in power are reptiles would phase me at this point. I have to keep reminding myself most evil is accomplished one small action at a time, and evidence of evil is rarely a smoking gun, but a trail of small descisions.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:21 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


And "frame" in general use has the connotation of arranging truths for presentation to others or to support a specific view.

I should have put my use of frame in quotations because it was meant to be tongue in cheek.
posted by pwally at 8:21 AM on January 15, 2011


humanfont I continue to see Wikileaks as a huge dangerous con because:
-Despite its supposed belief in the virtues of free information and open governance we know very little about its own governance and controls. Bylaws, elected officers, a budget, a board of directors, a voting membership, designated executive staff, and an audit comitee.


I have a feeling WikiLeaks would like to publish that information however, certain governments have a regular practice of kidnapping and torturing people. The situtation is ironic, but not unexpected.

-It is not a clearing house for leaks, but instead manipulates the leaked information to pursue a political agenda. What are they holding in their vaults? We don't even have an inventory of documents in the backlog. How do we know they arnt blackmailing corporations and governments in exchange for hiding things in the queue.

That's certainly possible. WikiLeaks could also be taking orders from space aliens that ride magical purple ponies. It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

delmoi That particular story was well known before wikileaks leaked anything. He actually sued the US and won, I believe.

If you are talking about Khalid el-Masri, the innocent German citizen that was kidnapped by the CIA and sent off to Afghanistan to be raped and tortured, his case was dismissed. There was also Maher Arar, the innocent Candian citizen who was sent to Syria to be tortured at the behest of the US government. Arar's case was also dismissed. With all of the US sponsored kidnapping, torture and rape going on, it's easy to get confused.

Luckily, thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know the US State Department pressured the German government to not prosecute the CIA agents that kidnapped an innocent German citizen and sent him off to be raped and tortured in Afghanistan.
posted by ryoshu at 8:24 AM on January 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


Raw information is not raw power. Knowledge is not power. Power is power.
Indeed. I'm always frustrated by the naive belief that access to large data streams will -- in and of itself -- help or free anyone. Twitter's co-founder Ev Williams was interviewed at last year's SXSW, and he repeated that idea several times. Big Data isn't the answer -- it's a potential tool, but by itself it often makes the situation worse, because the only people with the capacity to filter, analyze, and interpret are the ones who already had resources and (to some extent) power.
posted by verb at 8:34 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


A massive dump on the scale of the Manning leak at the right time would have absolutely changed things.

I wish that was true. A massive dump would have created a political force out of thin air, one able to oppose the Bush/Cheney/Blair juggernaut? Who could that have possibly been?

Once the facts came to the surface - and they did quite quickly - that American actions in Afghanistan were responsible for massacre and torture, the debate wasn't over the fact of these actions, but whether or not they were allowed. It's been the same all down the line.

The fundamental error by Assange, the cypherpunks and other advocates of technofixes is the false assumption of the existence of necessary political power. It's a shortcut around the problem of organizing that political power and making it real. Wishing it won't make it so.
posted by warbaby at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Probably already seen by all and sundry, but relevant nonetheless. Assange walks out of an interview when asked about his own private life yt .

Why do you think this is relevant? It's perfectly reasonable to take a position that individuals have a right to privacy whereas governments do not. This is not a contradictory position.
posted by odinsdream at 8:56 AM on January 15, 2011 [28 favorites]


It's perfectly reasonable to take a position that individuals have a right to privacy whereas governments do not. This is not a contradictory position.

It's like this is a pure crystal of truth shining in a dark cave. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.
posted by hippybear at 9:00 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fundamental error by Assange, the cypherpunks and other advocates of technofixes is the false assumption of the existence of necessary political power. It's a shortcut around the problem of organizing that political power and making it real. Wishing it won't make it so.

I thought it was based on some sort of pseudo-leninist idea that exaggerating the contradictions of the system brings about it's collapse. Leaks spur tightened secrecy which further isolates the governing classes until they live in a closed loop of information, disinclined to test what they hold as facts lest they be divulged. You can see the 'debate' over the invasion of Iraq in those terms. There was a pervasive sense among at least the chattering classes that the Bush administration had secret information conclusively linking Iraq to Al-Qaeda/WMD/etc and the Iraq invasion was and is a huge disaster for U.S. power.

You can see this dynamic in the whole WikiLeaks/Assange media circus. If the information being leaked actually threatened the actions of the governments involved they wouldn't be drawing so much media attention to the issue. You can look at the extreme and extremely public reaction of US politicians and government officials to WikiLeaks as an attempt to take advantage of the publicity to push through heightened information security i.e. secrecy in the US. Thus, in effect, Assange and the US government are necessary accomplices.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:09 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


pwally: “koeselitz, no. That's not what I'm saying.”

Then what exactly are you saying when you call Julian Assange a journalist among non journalists? It's clear that that's what Assange did - he threatened to sue The Guardian for publishing the cables; so it's weird that you're insisting we see him that way, I think. I'd even be willing to consider Daniel Schmitt a journalist in a way; but Assange I have severe doubts about.

In any case, I think it's worth reading and thinking about the linked article, which is actually quite good. It makes a good case, I think, that there are two distinct notions of journalism here. The Guardian is indeed an example of a newspaper of conscience and ethics; but they're traditional journalists, journalists who believe in the worth of their newspaper as an institution and as a didactic tool to educate the public. Assange (along with many at Wikileaks) doesn't seem to share the notion that the public needs information summarized and presented carefully to them, or that some things probably shouldn't be published, like, for example, the names of Afghan civilians, about the publication of which there was some controversy within Wikileaks. He's intent on releasing all of this information, in its entirety, total and complete transparency.

In that context, I think it's interesting that you'd blithely dismiss the Guardian (along with The New York Times, Der Speigel, et al) as non journalists, and say Assange is the only journalist here. You seem to feel that journalism doesn't actually involve presenting information to the public in a thoughtful and didactic way at all; it just means "leaking" data by any means necessary. I think that's an odd definition of the word journalist, to say the least.
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Journalists are supposed to be protected in the United States.
Just to be clear, the constitution grant's freedom of the press. They mean that literally: freedom to print whatever you want on printing presses. The concept of "The press" has sort of become a term to mean the institution of journalism, which, I guess leads people to believe that "freedom of the press" means "freedom for journalists". But there were no "neutral journalists" when the first amendment was written, that's something that cropped up later on.
I'd like to see him extradited to Sweden on the rape charges though
Well, they would have to charge him first. Right now, they just want to extradite him for "questioning"
I'm always frustrated by the naive belief that access to large data streams will -- in and of itself -- help or free anyone. Twitter's co-founder Ev Williams was interviewed at last year's SXSW, and he repeated that idea several times. Big Data isn't the answer -- it's a potential tool, but by itself it often makes the situation worse, because the only people with the capacity to filter, analyze, and interpret are the ones who already had resources and (to some extent) power.
Yeah exactly. It "empowers" huge corporations (or governments) to analyze you and profile you automatically
posted by delmoi at 9:17 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


How many Henri Garnets' will come falling out of the walls.

I thought it was based on some sort of pseudo-leninist idea that exaggerating the contradictions of the system brings about it's collapse.

ok then.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 AM on January 15, 2011


odinsdream: “It's perfectly reasonable to take a position that individuals have a right to privacy whereas governments do not. This is not a contradictory position.”

True. But I'd wager that it's a contradictory position to argue that you have a personal right to privacy whereas Afghan civilians do not.
posted by koeselitz at 9:22 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd say that the Wikileaks cables will probably go down as the biggest news story in 2010 that wasn't.

The funny thing is that the press wasn't that interested in the information released about torture and abuses of prisoners and gunning down of civilians. In fact, if you're part of the press or a talking head, you could prove your "toughness" by arguing not just that this information isn't new but that Assange deserves to be assassinated for releasing that information.

But the cables, that was something different-- it provided all the sort of gossip that the press just ate up and enjoyed hearing about, which is why it made a bigger (and weirdly less controversial) story than the other dumps. The original dumps about Afghanistan and Iraq were basically regarded as an insult to the press, but the cables was something every had a good time with.
posted by deanc at 9:26 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why do you think this is relevant? It's perfectly reasonable to take a position that individuals have a right to privacy whereas governments do not. This is not a contradictory position.
The documents were not written by governments, they were written by people.

The release of these documents not only affects governments, it affects people.

The idea of a government without privacy is just like the idea of communism. It might work on paper, but not in the real world. In fact, I can think of next to no institution of any kind that can function effectively (save perhaps a garage sale) without some form of privacy.

Assange is acting exactly like the Film Actors Guild in Team America. In fact I cannot watch an interview with him without thinking "You really did it, didn't you FAG?"
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2011


just to continue....

The victory of Cheney's policy wrt Iraq i.e. war, is a nice case study for how secrecy works in the US government. The issue is really not about information being divulged to the public but about controlling information within the government. Cheney was a master of compartmentalizing facts and people to achieve his aims. Policy is rarely the outcome of one person's decisions but is the result of debate and conflict within government. Think about the TV show, 'The Office.' Every bureaucratic fight comes down to controlling information. The outcome is of course that the government does something colossally stupid but Cheney stands victorious over Colin Powell, even getting him to repeat Cheney's lies in public to his eternal disrepute.

The public was probably better informed about Iraq than government officials.

How many Henri Garnets' will come falling out of the walls.

Remember, Remember... I don't get it?.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:29 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


In fact I cannot watch an interview with him without thinking "You really did it, didn't you FAG?"

I get the joke, but this is pretty ugly.
posted by hippybear at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Every time this subject comes up, I have to wonder (and this is not rhetorical) if the people who really support WL and Assange really agree with his political/social views. Open question for his supporters: do you share his essential anarchistic views regarding governments? Am I way off-base to interpret his stance as being that any effort to keep any piece of information from being public is inherently the machinations of conspiratorial government? Do you agree with that?

It all strikes me as circa-2007 Ron Paul, where many people I know became excited because he took stances on things they agreed with (opposition to the Iraq War, for example), and seemed to be offering a sincerely different choice. And that difference was all many people needed, so they didn't really bother to think about very serious disagreements that they should have had with him (is, what a return to the gold standard might actually mean).

I really don't intend for this to derail into a Ron Paul discussion, but it seems to be a fair analogy. Perhaps I'm underestimating the level of fundamental distress of governments and institutions as such, but I can't shake the feeling that many people haven't considered the motivations and agendas behind WL, blinded by the fact that it does address numerous isolated issues of importance.
posted by graphnerd at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2011


How many Henri Garnets' will come falling out of the walls.

oh the jesuitical dialectical...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:39 AM on January 15, 2011


heh
posted by clavdivs at 9:45 AM on January 15, 2011


The documents were not written by governments, they were written by people.

The release of these documents not only affects governments, it affects people.
Won't somebody think of elite bureaucrats and corporate CEOs!?!?!?! They're people too! They deserve the right to subvert the rule of law in privacy, just like everyone else!!!
posted by delmoi at 9:46 AM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Am I way off-base to interpret his stance as being that any effort to keep any piece of information from being public is inherently the machinations of conspiratorial government?
Yes, you're way off-base.

According to Assange's theories, authoritarian conspiracies cannot operate effectively without secret communication. That doesn't mean that he thinks all secrets are authoritarian conspiracies, and more than all fuzzy things are bunnies. Assange also believes that the more authoritarian and conspiratorial a government or organization is, the more its operational efficiency is impacted by a climate of constant, pervasive information leaks.

You can agree or disagree with that, but it's definitely different than "any secret is by definition authoritarian conspiracy."
posted by verb at 9:47 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


do you share his essential anarchistic views regarding governments?
What are those?
Am I way off-base to interpret his stance as being that any effort to keep any piece of information from being public is inherently the machinations of conspiratorial government?

Well, WikiLeaks mantra these days is "The method is transparency, the goal is justice". So their idea is to leak information that they think furthers the cause of justice.

I don't think WikiLeaks would have any interest in leaking, for example, medical records stored by government agencies, which would be a 'government secret' but not anything that covers up anything nefarious.
posted by delmoi at 9:53 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


verb: I see what youre saying, and I probably worded all of that inelegantly. But I don't see the difference between saying that "all secrets are authoritarian conspiracies" and That "authoritarian conspiracies cannot exist without secret communication". Presumably, the whole point of the project is to prevent any and all secret communication from existing.

Would it be more fair to say that no secrets should be allowed to exist because of the danger that they can help authoritarian conspiracies to coalesce? I suppose there is a philosophical distinction there, but they seem to be identical in practice.
posted by graphnerd at 10:00 AM on January 15, 2011


Presumably, the whole point of the project is to prevent any and all secret communication from existing.

That's just not true. You're making it up.
posted by enn at 10:10 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, WikiLeaks mantra these days is "The method is transparency, the goal is justice". So their idea is to leak information that they think furthers the cause of justice.

Indeed. I guess my initial point was that their (or at least Assange's) notion of justice seems to informed largely by the notion that institutions and governments stand naturally in opposition to it.

My own opinion is that WL, along with many other descendants of 80s hacker culture has a very strong strand of paranoia and dogmatic anti-authoritarianism that I find troubling.

Of course, that doesnt mean that I'm correct by any means. But I do believe that there are many nominal WL supporters out there who would agree with me on that if they gave that more focus.
posted by graphnerd at 10:10 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Enn, I meant allowing governments to engage in secret communications. (at least those that WL disagrees with). That should have been made more clear.
posted by graphnerd at 10:13 AM on January 15, 2011


But I don't see the difference between saying that "all secrets are authoritarian conspiracies" and That "authoritarian conspiracies cannot exist without secret communication"
Well, it's just simple logic. Given that A implies B, and given that B is true, we cannot say that A is true. An example would be

"Suzie is only interested in men" (i.e. For all people: Suzie liking someone (A) implies they are a man (B)
"Lothario is a man" (it is true that Lothario is a man (B))
"Therefore Suzie likes Lothario" (A)

Another example would be fuzzy bunny one. All bunnies are fuzzy, This this is fuzzy, there for it's a bunny. That's faulty logic.

With wikileaks you are saying that wikileaks is saying (for all people X and Y)
1) Authoritarian conspiracies require secrets. authoritarian conspiracy (A) implies secrets (B)
2) if X and Y have a secret. (B is true)
3) then X and Y are involved in an authoritarian conspiracy. (A is true!)
posted by delmoi at 10:20 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you're right that a lot of Wikileaks supporters would probably not agree that institutions are terrible things in general. And you could argue that Assange believes that they are, although, based on interviews I've read with him, I don't think that you'd be correct — I think that's a straw man that people like the author of the linked article have been pushing because it lets them marginalize him. After all, "they're crazed bomb-throwers who believe in nothing but chaos" is a line that's been used against— well, it would be shorter to make a list of social justice organizations against which it hasn't been used. But even if you're right, I don't understand what larger point you're trying to make. Because I am not in accord with every opinion held by an institution's leadership I should oppose its existence? Or, if not that, then what?
posted by enn at 10:21 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


(that was in response to graphnerd)
posted by enn at 10:21 AM on January 15, 2011


authoritarian conspiracies cannot operate effectively without secret communication

yes, telling someone your going to do something wrong is never a good idea.
posted by clavdivs at 10:27 AM on January 15, 2011


The documents were not written by governments, they were written by people.

The release of these documents not only affects governments, it affects people.


To put the problems with this more directly: First, his produces a very convenient workaround for just about any hypothetical corporate/governmental transparency regime; second, it's contrary to how corporate entities work in western countries.
posted by lodurr at 10:40 AM on January 15, 2011


For all the talk of Assange's self-promotion, all I've really seen to date is character assassination. I mean, they put a story about his old online dating profile on eTalk Daily FFS (the Canadian equivalent of Entertainment Tonight). Maybe I'm just not paying enough attention and he's just using Wikileaks to get famous. But honestly, who fucking cares about Assange? While everyone is pretending to care about the information and how it should be getting out, all they're talking about is this guy and his sex life and how he's so full of himself. This is a huge "win" for whoever stands to lose anything because of the leaks.

The documents were not written by governments, they were written by people.

The release of these documents not only affects governments, it affects people.


People that are paid to represent us and are paid by us. If you're working in public office in a democracy, you can expect people will want to know--and feel they have a right to know--what you're doing in an official capacity. I happen to agree in many cases.

The idea of a government without privacy is just like the idea of communism. It might work on paper, but not in the real world.

Ugh. No. No, it's not anything like the idea of communism.
posted by Hoopo at 10:56 AM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


My own opinion is that WL, along with many other descendants of 80s hacker culture has a very strong strand of paranoia and dogmatic anti-authoritarianism that I find troubling.

Dogmatic anti-authoritarianism? How does that work?
posted by krinklyfig at 10:59 AM on January 15, 2011


But honestly, who fucking cares about Assange?

Well, yes, exactly. Which is why this would be so much cleaner if Wikileaks weren't so publicly associated with Assange, and he hadn't made himself such a big target.
posted by lodurr at 11:00 AM on January 15, 2011


In exposing the secrets of the sausage factory don't forget the people that love the product. Unless the product is force raw fed at 2am by some blond haired Aussie who is staying the night. Then expect public outrage at the Aussie, not the product.
posted by humanfont at 11:00 AM on January 15, 2011


Dogmatic anti-authoritarianism? How does that work?

Go read some Stallman. That should make it clear for you. If that doesn't work, I'll dig up the standard clip from Life of Brian.
posted by lodurr at 11:01 AM on January 15, 2011


Well, yes, exactly. Which is why this would be so much cleaner if Wikileaks weren't so publicly associated with Assange, and he hadn't made himself such a big target

I'm not so sure. People will always come up with the most ridiculous justifications for ignoring things that don't jell with their worldview. I've heard groups like the ACLU or Amnesty International written off as "having an agenda" or "naive" and the entire UN as "anti-Semitic." There's no scenario I can imagine where people will accept Wikileaks as an objective institution.
posted by Hoopo at 11:08 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dogmatic anti-authoritarianism? How does that work?

Also, magnets.
posted by ryoshu at 11:09 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Enn,

You're right that you needn't be in agreement with everything that wikileaks stands for to agree with some of it. That being said, my point here is to add concerns about the motivations of wikileaks as a political entity. Too often, people here and elsewhere (not you) are unwilling to look at it as such.

Assange and wikileak's political views are extremely pertinent to any discussion about the organization. And as you said, I think that there's plenty of room for legitimate disagreement there.

Again, not that this proves that the organization is bad or wrong, but I think that if nothing else, it can be be fairly called a radical political entity. And given the technological and social moment we're living through at the moment, it might just have a tremendous potential for influence in world affairs.

So I think that the moment calls for extreme caution. It's certainly possible that this is skewing my own view of the group and it's figurehead, but knee-jerk acceptance or approval does strike me as incredibly imprudent.
posted by graphnerd at 11:12 AM on January 15, 2011


Hoopo, to paraphrase Richard ben Sapir, some people criticize the ACLU or Amnesty for those things. But then, some people sleep with goats. (And some of those same people end up needing the ACLU or the UN or Amnesty International.)
posted by lodurr at 11:13 AM on January 15, 2011


So I think that the moment calls for extreme caution. It's certainly possible that this is skewing my own view of the group and it's figurehead, but knee-jerk acceptance or approval does strike me as incredibly imprudent.

Well, I hadn't really considered joining in any political movement he might represent ... until you brought it up, that is.

From what I understand, the same sort of thing happened when the Pentagon Papers were leaked. People said pretty much the same thing about Assange. Nobody really likes hearing the truth, politically speaking. People tend to react badly to this kind of thing and attack the messenger.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:20 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm still waiting for the part where these WikiLeaks people release something that actually matters. Until then, I'm just sticking with my conclusion that "Julian Assange is a publicity whore," because so far, it's the only thing i believe has been proven about this whole stupid mess. Besides, it's hard to imagine that anyone beyond the 90 people in this thread and their friends will even remember "WikiLeaks" nine months from now.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 12:23 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um, yeah, bullshit.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:27 PM on January 15, 2011


I'm still waiting for the part where these WikiLeaks people release something that actually matters.

Ahem. But then again, maybe being a catalyst for a revolution that topples an autocratic regime doesn't actually matter.
posted by ryoshu at 12:33 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is it that BP, with what increasingly appears to be an abysmal safety record, was allowed to continue operations-as-usual just a year and a half after a disastrous blowout in Azerbaijan?

More exactly, I find it rather disturbing that our local lawyer-types are very much against the public dissemination of information detailing ways in which the US government has (for example) raped and tortured people. Beyond the whole 'why isn't this affecting the public?' question, there's a deeper question of what the contents of the cables say about the state of the justice system in the US, given that its government is allowed to authorize rape and torture with impunity. We're witnessing a clear breakdown of rule of law, and all anyone seems to care about is whether the proles are still distracted by Lindsey Lohan. (Answer: Yes, of course they are.) The legal system has become slowly distorted into a tool primarily for keeping the desperate poor in jail and the jailers themselves well fed; the function as a check on the abuses that the strong inflict on the weak seems to have been totally obsoleted.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:41 PM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


From what I understand, the same sort of thing happened when the Pentagon Papers were leaked. People said pretty much the same thing about Assange.

This is my understanding, too. I recently watched The Most Dangerous Man in America, a fantastic documentary about Daniel Ellsberg's life, his decision to leak the Pentagon Papers, and the fallout of that decision. It made me very grateful for the New York Times, which just barely decided to publish the papers at all (and even then, they only did it because they were afraid the WaPo might scoop them). And yeah, a lot of the things people said about Ellsberg are being said of Assange today, though of course they are not perfectly analogous since Ellsberg had been a bona-fide elite Rand Corp hawk for most of his career up to that point.

People know all about Watergate, and nearly everyone agrees that the publication of those stories was Right and Just and Good, but nobody seems to pay the proper respect to the Pentagon Papers, which revealed FAR more terrible things about America. I would even argue that without Daniel Ellsberg, we might never have even found out about Watergate (indeed, Nixon's "plumbers" were first called into action to stop leaks and to break into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office so they could smear him in the press). The media's relation to the government was so changed (if temporarily) by the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the dismissal of Ellsberg's prosecution - because it was not always a given that he would be treated as a whistleblower - that the WaPo was able to publish the Watergate stories (and again, they published largely because they were afraid of getting scooped by the NYT).

The formation of the plumbers to stop the leaks, followed by the Watergate scandal, is actually a fantastic example of how the exposure of secrets can drive an undemocratic conspiracy to desperation. The publication of the Pentagon Papers scared the living shit out of Richard Nixon, and it could be argued that this was a major catalyst of his slide into total, debilitating paranoia and his eventual downfall as President.

Then again, this was all back when citizens cared even a little bit that their government had been lying to them for decades. Apparently today, we just say "meh, government lies to citizens, news at 11" and go about our merry business. "Is anyone really surprised our government is kidnapping, raping, and torturing the citizens of our allies? Yawn, call me when they say something new" - this is the sentiment that makes me want to weep for America.
posted by dialetheia at 12:56 PM on January 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


Oh, and I meant to add a shoutout to Rick Perlstein's incredible Nixonland - it's one of my favorite books of all time (I went through a serious Watergate buff period), and I'd especially recommend it to young people. My high school history classes always ran out of time at the end of the year, so we would speed through everything after WWII. "Kennedy, yadda yadda Hippies, yadda yadda Vietnam, yadda yadda Reagan" is about all I ever learned in HS about this period, and it's absolutely essential to understand this stuff to have any clue as to why we have the political disagreements that we have today (including these issues of press freedom and government secrecy).
posted by dialetheia at 1:02 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is it that BP, with what increasingly appears to be an abysmal safety record, was allowed to continue operations-as-usual just a year and a half after a disastrous blowout in Azerbaijan?

As compares to say the abysmal safety record of every other oil. See Exxon in Nigeria, Chevron in Ecuador, Pemex in Mexico, and on and on. Furthermore it isn't like the mineral and mining guys in the department d Interior are spending their days reading state department cables. More oil was spilled on the Niger delta last year than in the gulf. It is an ongoing humanitarian disaster, reported in many media outlets. But apparently you only give a shut when wikileaks reports it. Oh by the way there was lots of prior media coverage about the horrendous safety record of BP, Halliburton, etc when the well blew put last year.
posted by humanfont at 1:33 PM on January 15, 2011


Open question for his supporters: do you share his essential anarchistic views regarding governments?

Wanting open, transparent government is not anarchy.
posted by empath at 1:35 PM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


> links to a cable mentioning BP's failures in Azerbaijan, similar to those which plagued the Deepwater Horizon. Fair enough, people ought to be aware of that so BP's pattern of mismanagement and disregard for safety is not forgotten about.

However, just because that information is included in the cables, and many people were previously unaware of it, does not mean that Wikileaks has revealed it to the world. At most, Wikileaks has reminded people about something they had overlooked or forgotten - which is fine, but quite different from being the breakthrough it is often claimed to be.

BP's safety management record in Azerbaijan and in general was problematic even before that gas leak, as this story from January 2007 shows. You know what's a consistently useful tool for tracking the doings of shady corporations and governments? Searching on a timeline. And most stories billed as big Wikileaks revelations turn out either as something I already knew about (just by reading quality news resources) or easily researchable, had I been interested in the particular person/company/country. Overselling their significance undermines rather than underscores their value as input to public debate; it would be interesting to see a statistical analysis of WL cables weighted by novelty.

As I've said before, I'm not against the idea of whistleblowing, and up to quite recently I thought WikiLeaks was doing a great job in providing a platform for that. But you can't submit to Wikileaks right now, Openleaks isn't up and running yet, and half the ___leaks sites that have sprung up in the last 8 weeks are probably traps for the unwary.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:49 PM on January 15, 2011


Ugh. No. No, it's not anything like the idea of communism.
Ideology that works on paper, doesn't in real life... I think it is. Tell me, how do you imagine things would change if the US government made everything public, fully accessible for anyone to see?
posted by dougrayrankin at 1:54 PM on January 15, 2011


Tell me, how do you imagine things would change if the US government made everything public, fully accessible for anyone to see?

It would have less ability to project power, for one.
posted by empath at 2:01 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would have less ability to project power, for one.
The point I was trying to get at, as I always have in these WikiLeaks debates, is that the life that people enjoy is a product of kept secrets. Problem is, most folks don't know that. I suppose I'm saying don't bite the hand you don't know is feeding you.
posted by dougrayrankin at 2:07 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some people benefit. Some don't
posted by empath at 2:21 PM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


It would have less ability to project power, for one.

Then what. Peace love and understanding? LOL
posted by humanfont at 2:39 PM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tell me, how do you imagine things would change if the US government made everything public, fully accessible for anyone to see?

Then what. Peace love and understanding? LOL


The current production of straw men is completely unsustainable, we must find an alternative source of derails if we want our children to have straw men in the future.
posted by dialetheia at 2:49 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Ideology that works on paper, doesn't in real life..."

Seriously? If something works on paper, it automatically doesn't work in real life? You're turning a caution against ideological blindness into a self-devouring silliness. If you think someone is overlooking important questions, point them out and explain the holes.

Simply announcing that their theory works in theory is a tautology.
posted by verb at 3:26 PM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


The point I was trying to get at, as I always have in these WikiLeaks debates, is that the life that people enjoy is a product of kept secrets. Problem is, most folks don't know that. I suppose I'm saying don't bite the hand you don't know is feeding you.
Soylent Green is delicious, you're saying?
posted by verb at 3:28 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Soylent Green is delicious, you're saying?
Particularly bad example given that the need to maintain a secret about Soylent Green was that nobody would eat it if they knew where it came from and that no other food sources sufficient to sustain humanity existed.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:37 PM on January 15, 2011


Particularly bad example given that the need to maintain a secret about Soylent Green was that nobody would eat it if they knew where it came from and that no other food sources sufficient to sustain humanity existed.

That seems like a perfect example -- how many people in our nation would personally torture an innocent prisoner, or sell a child to a pedophile? The argument in favor of keeping those things secret is that the terrible acts are necessary to maintain hegemony, and hegemony is the only way to sustain our nation's way of life.
posted by verb at 4:06 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The point I was trying to get at, as I always have in these WikiLeaks debates, is that the life that people enjoy is a product of kept secrets.

Yeah, but which people? Rich, powerful people? White people?
posted by Ritchie at 4:12 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Particularly bad example given that the need to maintain a secret about Soylent Green was that nobody would eat it if they knew where it came from and that no other food sources sufficient to sustain humanity existed.

Soylent's in house legal and PR teams have long prepared for this discovery. A friendly food scientist from AEI will go on various programs from CNN to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to explain that Soylent Green is made of humans in much the same way that any foodstuff could be claimed to be made of humans. In the old days you buried a corpse in the ground, worms, bugs and vermin devoured it and then they made soil which you grew your vegetables in. In more ancient times protein from downer cows was converted into a protein rich feed for cows. Modern science has just accelerated the process, sanitized the outcome from disease and removed much of the lost energy in the process. Soylent corporation knows that you may have some reservations about the process and offers Soylent Yellow as a non-human sourced bio-engineered food product. Soylent knows that there are long standing cultural taboos against consuming the dead, but in the times we face today these belong on the garbage tuck of history, like prohibitions on gay marriage, global warming denialism, segregation, and restrictions on birth control.
posted by humanfont at 4:19 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seconding dialetheia's shoutout to Nixonland.

For a slightly broader scope, I recommend Godfrey Hodgson's An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968, and his magisterial The World Turned Right Side Up: A History of the Conservative Ascendency in America.

Melodrama has a very detailed discussion of how George Wallace played his hand that year. This is important because Wallace supporters were the prototype of the Tea Baggistas. It would be interesting to get some survey information on what rough percentage of TBistas got their first taste of politics with George. I'm guessing it's a significant number. Melodrama also includes a verbatim account of Gen. George LeMay single-handedly destroying Wallace's campaign in seven minutes. It's hilarious.

World Turned Right Side Up is the best single history of the development of the current American right. No competition. Best political history I've read in twenty years.

Now we resume our regular programming...
posted by warbaby at 4:35 PM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tell me, how do you imagine things would change if the US government made everything public, fully accessible for anyone to see?

The President wouldn't be able to lie.

It's a start.
posted by yesster at 4:40 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another shitty article.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:26 PM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Soylent knows that there are long standing cultural taboos against consuming the dead, but in the times we face today these belong on the garbage tuck of history, like prohibitions on gay marriage, global warming denialism, segregation, and restrictions on birth control.

It is true, the neo-Malthusian good house keepers seal of approval was given in 2016.
posted by clavdivs at 5:37 PM on January 15, 2011


how goes the revolution boffenburg? heh
posted by clavdivs at 5:39 PM on January 15, 2011


remeber the part in 'Eyes Wide Shut' were the good doctor is walking down the street slapping his gloves into his hand...yeah? thats just the self-actualized part.
posted by clavdivs at 5:43 PM on January 15, 2011




My own opinion is that WL, along with many other descendants of 80s hacker culture has a very strong strand of paranoia and dogmatic anti-authoritarianism that I find troubling.

I do agree with that, and think you're right. WikiLeaks is a result of the philosophy and influence of the cypherpunks and hacker thought of the 80s. Paranoia and anti-authoritarianism is a big element of that philosophy.

But you have to remember what was happening at the time in the 80s and early 90s. The federal government was attempting to mandate the user of the Clipper chip in telecommunications products. This would have inserted a back-door in any private communication between individuals. Encryption was controlled by military export restrictions. It's not paranoid to say that the government really did want to read all of your secrets.

Individuals didn't really have an easily available option for electronic privacy until Philip Zimmermann, a cypherpunk, released PGP. And even then, it was illegal to export PGP. As I remember, the source code had to be literally scanned in by people outside the US.

The cypherpunks were amazingly prescient about many of the current laws and policies now in place. NSA mass surveillance of American citizens, pedophilia, drug deals and terrorists being used as an excuse to crack down on privacy, etc. Some of the things they were talking about are still being implemented, e.g. government mandated Internet IDs.

But just because the people behind WikiLeaks are paranoid and anti-authoritarian doesn't mean they necessarily think all public institutions are bad. Some cypherpunks might take that extreme libertarian stance, but I think a lot of the newer ones, Assange included, believe in the goodness of public social services.

And they probably also believe that increased transparency will have a greater impact on corrupt institutions than on non-corrupt institutions. Personally, I think that's one of the biggest weaknesses in this argument. It's ignoring the impact of public opinion on the functioning of public institutions. It's ignoring the power of people like James O'Keefe and Fox News to twist sound bits and clips.
posted by formless at 6:30 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


WikiLeaks is a result of the philosophy and influence of the cypherpunks and hacker thought of the 80s. Paranoia and anti-authoritarianism is a big element of that philosophy.

This is very true, there were many many secret service raids. All leading up to operation sundevil. If you were involved in hacker culture during this time a week never passed without one of your contacts being arrested.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:36 PM on January 15, 2011


As I remember, the source code had to be literally scanned in by people outside the US.

yes, they also got the source into the court records.

In the late 80s I was 13 years old and was raided in a dawn raid by the secret sevice, ATF and postmaster general because I was a primary recipient of the leaked E911 document. For all of the people who were raided during those years "chilling effect" is an understatement many of us went to prison for conspiracy. I did not give anyone up and in fact got all my equipment back years later, all tagged with evidence tags.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:50 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ad hominem: " Assange received information anonymously

Not so sure about that. In the chat logs with Poulsen Manning lets it drop that one can contact Assange through the ccc XMPP servers so it stands to reason that Manning had been in continuous contact with Assange. There is some speculation that Assange did more than just find a box CDs on his doorstep, and whatever help Assange provided is detailed in the missing chat logs. Speculation is just speculation though
"

Eponysterical.
posted by Samizdata at 6:59 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eponysterical.

clever, cept I never use a personal attack to discount anyone.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:09 PM on January 15, 2011


[what would be te consequences..] The President wouldn't be able to lie.

What makes you think this? There are plenty of historical precedents for a president opening lying and the Republic going along.
posted by humanfont at 8:26 PM on January 15, 2011


Ad hominem: "Eponysterical.

clever, cept I never use a personal attack to discount anyone
"

I know. 'Cept that makes it anti-eponysterical.
posted by Samizdata at 9:28 PM on January 15, 2011




This type of story brings me face to face with my ambivalence about open-source philosophy and activism. So much rhetoric and expectation around it is wildly inflated with regard to what can actually happen (see notes up thread), that it creates an expectation that simply having information available and simply being able to communicate freely will just make everything free. And yet, being able to exchange information freely does make it easier to resist creeping oppression. (It's not a requirement, but it can make it radically easier.)

My big issue is that this techno-optimistic focus on freedom of information above all* can lead many people to believe that oppression is gone if there's the appearance of transparency.

The breathless techno-optimism of it all makes me mental, but I try to remember that it drives the curve.


(and: ad hominem's contribution is much welcome. next time I read Hacker Crackdown I'll be looking for him.)

--
*(I'm resisting the term "slacktivism" because that has a real meaning to people who really call themselves that, and who as far as I can tell aren't really "slacking.")
posted by lodurr at 7:22 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The breathless techno-optimism of it all makes me mental, but I try to remember that it drives the curve.
Indeed. In a lot of ways it strikes me as similar to people who make campaign finance reform their life's work. Anyone who pretends it will fix everything is delusional, but it's good work. Financo-optimism? Something like that.
posted by verb at 7:25 AM on January 16, 2011




Well, technically she's right: The leaked data could not have come out without someone engaging in espionage. However I would agree that it's one of those cases where being "right" doesn't indicate that someone understands the situation.
posted by lodurr at 1:31 PM on January 16, 2011




Ideology that works on paper, doesn't in real life... I think it is. Tell me, how do you imagine things would change if the US government made everything public, fully accessible for anyone to see?
How do you know whether or not wikileaks ideology will work in real life as it's never been tried? This is a pretty obvious example of confusing your own imagination with reality. You imagine wikileaks won't work, and so you say it won't work in practice. But because it's in your imagination that's basically the definition of something happening in theory, not practice. You are basically saying, "In one theory, this could work. But it won't work in practice because my theory says it won't work"

You're basically assuming that you are so knowledgeable about how the world works that you can predict in advance what the reaction to new types of events will be. It's obviously absurd to imagine that anyone could possibly know in advance what kind of impact Wikileaks will have. It's also profoundly arrogant.


Anyway. I also don't really see how this is much of a criticism of wikileaks. "We can't change anything so why try" doesn't actually address why someone shouldn't try. You have to actually argue that a world in which wikileaks is successful is worse then a world where they aren't.

So the question is: Do you really think that a world where wikileaks is successful would be worse then one where they're not? Of so, why? If not, then what's the problem?
The point I was trying to get at, as I always have in these WikiLeaks debates, is that the life that people enjoy is a product of kept secrets.
Only if by "people" you mean "Not Iraqis" or people in any other country where the U.S. government has caused problems. It's not a moral argument, it's essentially hedonistic: You don't mind if other people suffer if it benefits you, and in order for that to happen the people causing the suffering need to be able to operate in secret.

The other problem with is that it's not really all that clear that it's even true. I don't work for a huge multinational corporation, and if I did I could always just go work somewhere else if it went down due to the U.S. not aggressively fighting for it's right to exploit foreign workers, or whatever.

Personally, I don't care. But it's good for Wikileaks opponents to come out and admit they just like benefiting from other people's suffering. It's very clarifying.
posted by delmoi at 2:33 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


like a cheerleader for the dead
posted by clavdivs at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2011


NBC: U.S. can't link Army private to Assange -- "U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between Bradley Manning and the WikiLeaks founder."
posted by ericb at 6:22 PM on January 24, 2011


Heh. I was just on my way to post a link to that article, ericb. Interesting times.

After all of the smoking gun talk, it's definitely interesting to see that claim walked back.
posted by verb at 6:29 PM on January 24, 2011


"This is a pretty obvious example of confusing your own imagination with reality. You imagine wikileaks won't work, and so you say it won't work in practice. But because it's in your imagination that's basically the definition of something happening in theory, not practice. You are basically saying, "In one theory, this could work. But it won't work in practice because my theory says it won't work" "

This is the same line of thinking that led to an adage amongst my friends: You don't slam your dick in an oven.

There are plenty of things that we know are bad ideas in practice without ever testing the theory. Like slamming your dick in an oven.

Anyway, saw that they can't link Assange to Manning, which means he won't be prosecuted for the leaks, which is pretty much the best outcome. Shame Manning's being dicked with, though. Prosecuting him is one thing, putting him through unnecessary suicide watches is another.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 AM on January 26, 2011


Hm; my reading of it was that he could still be charged with releasing information, though not to Assange directly: "The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure."

It looks more like a statement that the government has nothing on Assange, which is perhaps not so unsurprising.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:07 AM on January 26, 2011


The problem with comparing Wikileaks to slamming your own dick in the oven is that slamming your own dick in the oven is something that only you can prevent.

Wikileaks and things like like it (such as free-marketism, christianity, etc.) are great examples of the fact that your system doesn't have to "work" for it to have a profound and occasionally even desirable effect on the world. E.g., the fact that people believe in f/oss has had a really profound effect on the technological ecosystem, even if the f/oss ecosystem doesn't work at all like people suppose it to.
posted by lodurr at 4:11 AM on January 26, 2011


"Hm; my reading of it was that he could still be charged with releasing information, though not to Assange directly"

Yeah, my editor should have red pencilled that for clarity: the "him" I refer to is Assange. I have much less a problem with prosecuting Manning.

"The problem with comparing Wikileaks to slamming your own dick in the oven is that slamming your own dick in the oven is something that only you can prevent. "

I was responding to Delmoi's belief that total transparency and openness (no secrets at all) is only bad in theory, and that in practice no one has tried it. In theory, slamming your dick in an oven is painful, but I haven't put that theory into practice.

And I'll also say that from my experience, the people who practice radical honesty are generally regarded as dicks.
posted by klangklangston at 10:33 AM on January 26, 2011


Guardian: Gaddafi condemns Tunisia uprising - Libyan leader claims protesters led astray by WikiLeaks disclosures amid reports of unrest in Libya
Man, if I hear one more, just one more claim of "Foreign hands" being behind a "Conspiracy" I will go fucking nuts.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:44 AM on January 26, 2011


And I'll also say that from my experience, the people who practice radical honesty are generally regarded as dicks.

Mine, too, but I'm not sure that's what we're talking about. I think what we're talking about is a belief that institutions and people in which/whom we vest large amounts of power, ought to have special responsibilities regarding openness and truth. (I think most people involved with Wikileaks take it a bit farther than that, but most don't begin to approach "radical honesty.") I do believe, though, that by and large the world is a better place for the efforts of people who do believe that.
posted by lodurr at 5:19 PM on January 26, 2011


[mumble /]

What I intended to say above, but apparently edited myself before saying, was:

I think what we're talking about is a belief that institutions and people in which/whom we vest large amounts of power, ought to have special responsibilities regarding openness and truth. (I think most people involved with Wikileaks take it a bit farther than that, but most don't begin to approach "radical honesty.") I'm not sure how far I take that belief, myself -- the notion that the life we live is built at least partly on lies rings very true for me. I do believe, though, that by and large the world is a better place for the efforts of people who do believe that.
posted by lodurr at 5:24 PM on January 26, 2011


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