... in wikileaks


16 Dec 2010 | 472 words | conspiracy feminism wikileaks media

It is pretty obvious than there is much more to the whole #cablegate/wikileaks story than i was willing to concede in my last post (i might even be a bit embarrassed about it). anyway below are some pointers to some of the more interesting writings from the last couple of days. Also it seems that the pakistanis (who are not commonly known for their sense of humor) are really enjoying the whole wikileaks thing: Ad for sanitary napkins close to Tariq Road in Karachi via kabobfest. A good place to start if you want to put the rant from my last post into perspective is this post at zunguzungu that analyses Assange’s 2006 paper on ‘State and Terrorist Conspiracies‘ (pdf). If you are so inclined you can read this paper as an attempt to argue that reporting on the non-news contained in the cables will (or at least could) have a lasting impact on the operational capacity of nation states (which, of course would be a good thing).

Not directly related to the release of the cables are two articles that try to shed some light on the drama surrounding the sexual assault allegations against Assange. Naomi Wolf has a furious piece in the Huffington post in which she puts the international arrest warrant for and subsequent arrest of Assange in the context of how poorly nation states normally deal with sexual violence against women. Based on this she comes to the conclusion that ‘Sweden, Britain, and Interpol Insult Rape Victims Worldwide‘. Over at 538 Nate Silver applies bayesian reasoning to arrive at pretty much the same conclusion.

update 22.12.10: here is another one, ‘the blast shack‘ a really long writeup by Bruce Sterling that is full of absolutely delightful observations and analogies. Here are two of my favorite ones, a description of Assange as the personified internet…

If the Internet was walking around in public, it would look and act a lot like Julian Assange. The Internet is about his age, and it doesn’t have any more care for the delicacies of profit, propriety and hierarchy than he does.

… and a comparison between Bradly Manning and Jerome Kerveil:

Instead, he’s very like Jerome Kerveil, that obscure French stock trader who stole 5 billion euros without making one dime for himself. Jerome Kerveil, just like Bradley Manning, was a bored, resentful, lower-echelon guy in a dead end, who discovered some awesome capacities in his system that his bosses never knew it had. It makes so little sense to behave like Kerveil and Manning that their threat can’t be imagined. A weird hack like that is self-defeating, and it’s sure to bring terrible repercussions to the transgressor. But then the sad and sordid days grind on and on; and that blindly potent machinery is just sitting there. Sitting there, tempting the user.


29 Nov 2010 | 715 words | media wikileaks

So twitter (and the CNN programming in this generic bar in the European Quarter of Bruxelles that i am currently sitting in) are abuzz with #cablegate (twitter) / U.S DOCUMENTS EXPOSED (CNN) and nobody really questions if this whole affair (the leaking of those documents) is even remotely relevant. me thinks it is not. if this ‘unprecedented leak’ has any significance at all that would be that it illustrates (once more) that the news media have completely lost it and that signal has definitely lost it to noise.

So what is at stake here? an ‘unprecedented leak‘ of formerly secret (or better: not freely available, since something that 3 million people have access to can hardly be called secret) diplomatic communications between the US state department and the diplomats working for the state department. for the news media there are two triggers-words here that make this a irresistible target: ‘secret’ and ‘unprecedented’ both of them attract media like shit attracts flys on beautiful summer days.

The substance of that leak? almost nothing, at last not anything that the public has a good reason to want to know. this is where this leak differs from the iraq and the afghanistan files that predominantly dealt with facts many of which had been willfully kept secret from the public.

Instead of dealing with descriptions of facts the leaked diplomatic cables are consisting of opinions communicated internally among the people working for the state departement. it is highly absurd to see the media (and many activists) get all wound-up about the fact that the internal style of communication of the state department is different from how the organisation communicates with the public1). happens all the time2. yes there is some interesting stuff in there, but it is hardly newsworthy by itself. most of what has been disclosed so far is of the nature ‘that soandso has told me that soandso thinks thisandthat about soandso’. this can hardly be called news and any serious news outlet should have probably limited its’s coverage of the leak to noting the fact that the cables have been posted online, explaining the circumstances and pointing the audience to the URL of the cables.

Yes there are some interesting statements in there and there are some juicy characterizations to be found, but on the other hand it is not exactly news that Guido Westerwelle appears to be3 incompetent (to the credit of wikileaks this simple statement finally can be made on wikipedia in accordance with wikipedias editorial guidelines), that berlusconi is4 vain and that the behavior of arab leaders can be at times questionable.

None of this really challenges how we should look at the world around us and if the past performance of the the news media gives us and indication, all of it will be forgotten well before xmas. unlike the spiegel claims this is not how america sees the world: the cables are individual observations by state department employees and they surely contribute to americas worldview, but so do a lot of other things like satellite images, telefone taps and analysis of publicly available facts such as economic growth or percentage of GDP spend on military equipment…

In the meanwhile this ‘unprecedented’ leak will have made it much harder for real whistleblowers to gain the attention of the news-media (or wikileaks) for some time to come. also, personally i would have preferred not to know that ghaddafi uses botox

  1. Which makes me wonder what the media and the twittervesre assumed to be contained in diplomatic cables before these cables became public? ↩︎

  2. This morning a i had a meeting with two representatives of another organisation. after the meeting i reported back to my colleagues who were not present at the meeting making statements about the intentions and demeanor of the people i had met with that i would never make in front of those people. i am pretty sure their report to their colleagues contains statements about my intentions and demeanor that they would not make in front of me either. ↩︎

  3. Now here we have an issue that would warrant some serious journalistic inquiry: is there any evidence that he is indeed incompetent? ↩︎

  4. By contrast this clearly is a factual statement, the real question being, why does the italian electorate accept his conduct? ↩︎

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

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