Wikileaks – an enemy of the State, just like Little Brother

April 7, 2010

The semi-underground Wikileaks site has become a news story in the last 48 hours thanks to the disturbing video of two Reuters staffers being gunned down in Baghdad in 2007.

Last year the site was named as the Amnesty International new media site of the year.

The April 2010 video released by Wikileaks [available at EM here] shows a group of Iraqis walking in a neighbourhood where the American military was staging a large “counter-insurgency” operation.

The Reuters men were there to cover the story on the ground. Unfortunately two trigger-happy Apache pilots mistook a telephoto lens for an AK47 and opened fire. Twelve people were killed, two children were wounded.

Wikileaks used a crowd source of hackers to decode the encryption on the Apache “gun camera” footage that was leaked to them by whistleblowers.

Now the US military and its Washington think-tank apologists are trying to hose down the story and imply that the Apache pilots were only doing their jobs.

No surprises there; but I didn’t know that in 2008 the American military machine has also listed Wikileaks as an enemy of the State.

This document is a classified (SECRET/NOFORN) 32 page U.S. counterintelligence investigation into WikiLeaks. “The possibility that current employees or moles within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government are providing sensitive or classified information to WikiLeaks.org cannot be ruled out”. It concocts a plan to fatally marginalize the organization. Since WikiLeaks uses “trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers or whistleblowers”, the report recommends “The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the WikiLeaks.org Web site”. [the document is no longer available at Wikileaks]

This is bizarre and shows just how twisted the whole concept of “homeland security” is. It reminds me of the plot in a great Cory Doctorow novel I’m reading at the moment: Little Brother.

In this book, the hero Marcus Yarrow faces down the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist bomb destroys the Oakland Bay bridge in San Francisco. The DHS locks down the city and ups the surveillance in school classrooms, on the street and via electronic devices so that everyone is under their gaze 24/7 (almost).

Yarrow is a 17 year-old school kid who’s into online gaming and computer coding. After his illegal detention by DHS agents, Marcus and his friends organise a jamming campaign using darknet software that plays on the Xbox.

In an interesting twist, Marcus and his family seek the help of a dead trees “investigative journalist” to expose the DHS clampdown on civil liberties.

I find this interesting because it possibly shows the limits of social media in terms of making a really big story public and driving public opinion.

It’s probably also a comment on the age gap. Yarrow’s father is old school so doesn’t understand the jamming culture of his kid.

I haven’t quite finished Little Brother yet; but I can’t wait to get home and read the last 80 pages.

You should get hold of a copy; it’s an interesting book and an important statement about how Homeland Security has become a war against the American people. You can also check out a fan page for the book on Facebook.

Writer, blogger and cool geek Cory Doctorow

Doctorow is behind the technology and culture blog Boing Boing and I like him even more now that he’s just published an anti iPad manifesto.

In particular there’s this biting swipe at the dead tree media:

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.

The parallels between the military’s attitude to Wikileaks and the DHS crackdown on civil liberties is eirie.


An aetheist and his Bible

March 26, 2010

It’s not very often I go searching for my copy of the Holy Bible. But whenever I find it in my brief moment of need I always say a heart-felt “Thankriste”.

Last night was one of those rare moments: it took me a while too, I had to search through acres of groaning shelves to find my barely touched King James authorised version. In this edition the actual words of Jesus himself are helpfully colour-coded.

But it wasn’t Jesus I was after last night, rather the bloody and mercenary Moses. In particular the various points in the Old Testament where he receives the absolutely must obey rules from a vengeful and jealous God.

I was seeking out the various passages in Exodus – the bit that explains Bob Marley’s drug habit –  and Dudedontneuterme – the bit where the Levi-wearing Midianites beg Moses not to cut their bits off (in vain it turns out) – where the Ten Commandments are explained.

“And, as a level 7 aetheist, you are doing this why?” At least that was the reaction from a disbelieving Mrs Martini. She didn’t even know we had a Holy Bible in the house and she was most amused that I would choose it as my bedtime reading.

“Well actually, Moac,” I carefully explained, “I’m reading Vanity Fair and the Bible’s only here as a reference guide.”

Moac gets this; while doing her BA she was told to read the Holy Bible (I always feel there should be an exclamation mark here, like this: “Holy Bible! Batman.”) as it was the foundation for a lot of literary references. I pointed out to her that the late, great HST swore by the Bible. He swore at pretty much everything, but that’s another story.

Mr Hitchens carving himself a new one

This story is about the essay in VF by Christopher Hitchens in which he argues that the Ten Commandments should be revised and redacted. The points he makes – which is why I needed the Holy Bible! – are that at the various times in Exodus and Dudedontneuterme where the tablets of stone are mentioned, the wording does indeed change and that the surly and obviously mad-as-a-hatter Moses even smashes the original set in anger. An even angrier God has him go back up the fuckenmountain for another 40 days and 40 nights** to hew some more freakentablets.

I didn’t know, until I read in Hitchen’s piece that the Ten Commandments had changed from one passage to another. The Vanity Fair piece is worth a read; Exodus was a classic piece of reggae-rock;  the book of Dudedontneuterme is worth a laugh, but it’s far too frightening for children.

The New Commandments: Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, April 2010

** I checked: this is not the same 40 days and 40 nights during which the earth flooded and Noah’s ark ended up on another fuckenmountain.


Martini reading: There’s joy in the art of everyday drinking

January 23, 2010

Moac and Em are blessed with some very good friends; the sort who buy you really good books that they know you’ll enjoy.
Over the holidays I’ve been lucky to have friends who care for me and want to help me on my quest to build a good library of drinking books.

I’ve already mentioned, several times, the excellent Martini: A memoir, by the Australian writer Frank Moorhouse. His stories of martini-drinking and avoidance of the dreaded crazy drinks are a real pleasure.

I haven’t mentioned so often the great little book about whisky, Raw Spirit, by Scottish writer Ian M Banks. Banksy is usually known for his sci-fi, or humorous and fantastic novels, but his whisky book is a good read and a handy primer on some of the finer single malts available to the serious tippler.

Raw Spirit is as much a travel story as it is a serious guide to drinking good Scotch. Banks and his fellow-travelers move around the various distilling areas of Scotland in search of the perfect dram. They have fun doing it too.

But this summer my reading has been a little more eclectic courtesy of Kingsley Amis and Victoria Moore.

Amis is well known to most adults who’ve ever read a book in English. He was a British novelist and essayist of some note and one of his most treasured pass-times was sharing a glass with pals. Amis wasn’t a fussy drinker. He pretty much would drink anything, but he hated stingey hosts with a passion.

In 2008 three of his less famous texts on drinking were published together for the first time in one volume: Everyday drinking: The distilled Kingsley Amis. What I like about this book is that it is unpretentious. It’s not all about the most expensive French wines, or the finest Cognacs (though they do get a mention).

This is a book about everyday drinking: the sort we like to do with friends on a Friday after work, or on a weekend. In daylight hours, during the evening, late at night and into the early hours of the following day.

But of course, I’m not advocating binge drinking. Let’s remember, it’s not what you drink, but how you drink that counts.

Amis is advocating educated drinking, without it becoming a form of one-upmanship. Though his tips for how to shill your guests if they overstay their welcome is priceless.

The other great part of this book is the recipes, most of which are not available in modern cocktail books. One that I tried a few times over the Xmas period – with a dozen Clevedon oysters – was Black Velvet. This is a heady combination of champagne and stout. Delicious, refreshing and so, so good with ice-cold oysters on a warm summer evening.

I’ve never been one for self-help books, but Victoria Moore’s How to Drink, was on my Christmas list (thanks Moac) and I’ve really enjoyed it. How to Drink is an updated version of Amis for the noughties. It has recipes too, but the main difference is that it also has sections on coffee, tea and soft drinks. It’s not a soak’s progress, it’s a serious (well, semi-serious) guide to modern drinking etiquette and some historical stuff about gin, brandy, various teas and coffee blends and the all important Armagnac V. Cognac debate.

I don’t have a position on that yet, but I bought a bottle of armagnac this weekend and I’m sure I’ll be comparing notes with Ms Moore soon enough.

Just so you know how things have changed since Kingsley Amis wrote the material that has been collected in Everyday Drinking. If you want to keep up with Victoria Moore, you can join her Facebook page, or follow her blog at The Guardian.

Mr Amis would be growling into his porter, right about now…punk, soul brother, but that’s for later.

Tonight I’m having an Empire State of mind.