I was all ready to start posting about the strange joys of celebrating Christmas on the west coast of Florida, including the epic head to head battle that went down at Christmas dinner between a pre-stuffed vegan Tofurkey and a Hawaiian-style, 1950s kitsch brown-sugar basted ham, complete with pineapple ringlets. Then the phone rang with the news that yesterday's flight, the homeward leg from Dulles to Newark, had been canceled.

On Christmas evening my family and I were blissfully walking on St. Petersberg beach, watching pelicans diving into the azure Gulf of Mexico; the next morning I battled my way back to Red Hook, flying via Chicago to Philly and then training, subwaying, and bussing my way back to the 'nabe. Just in time to wake up to this:


Priceless original art, found in my truck

After dinner tonight in Bay Ridge I walked back to the trusty Toyota pickup, parked on 67th St. As I was turning the key in the door lock, I spied two pale disks like sand dollars in the bed, apparently placed with care, one in each of the two forward corners. Once home, a moment's googling revealed them to be examples of the prolific oeuvre of Brooklyn artist Beriah Wall.

As revealed in this New York Times article, Wall works in a studio in his Red Hook basement, making me wonder if these delightful little coins hadn't been rattling about in the back of my truck for some time. He churns them out by the thousands and dots them about the urban landscape. But, again, they really seemed to me to have been placed with care in the back of my truck. The way they were sitting they sure didn't appear to have been driven over the bouncy BQE.

One says "Tweet" on one side, and "Twit," on the other. The other says "For" on one side, and "Ever," on the other. The Tweet / Twit one has Christmas colored glaze. Both have Wall's initials, "bW" on them; before googling I wondered if this wasn't short for "backed with," the old terminology for describing the flip side of a 45rpm record. As in Tweet, backed with Twit.

I was smiling all the way home. What makes this great art is its demonstration that a random act of unsolicited charity is irresistible. Less than a penny's worth of baked clay, mass-produced in a spirit of love and anarchy; a different kind of currency, something to cherish.


Swedish court case documents leaked to Guardian UPDATED

In a rather ironic public revelation of private information, all the sordid details in the official Swedish proceedings against Julian Assange have apparently been leaked to the Guardian newspaper, so you can be your own judge of whether or not the complaints against Assange, which include accusing him of "the worst sex ever," merit the involvement of Interpol, an international manhunt and nine days in a British prison arguing for bail.

What's interesting to me is the second sentence in the story:

The case against Assange, which has been the subject of intense speculation and dispute in mainstream media and on the internet, is laid out in police material held in Stockholm to which the Guardian received unauthorized access.

This certainly sounds like an admission that someone in Sweden leaked documents to the Guardian, yet another demonstration of the central and essential role of leaking in journalism....

UPDATE: I will say it shows poor judgment that Assange allowed himself be photographed wearing these sunglasses, given that they make him look like a two-bit pimp or an aspiring pornographer....



I'm hoping putting "wikileaks" in the title of my blog post will prevent anyone in the government from reading it. UPDATED

The current hoopla over the latest gigantic stock of documents made public by Wikileaks is remarkable for a number of reasons, but there are two I find especially interesting. One is that the current divulgation of more than a quarter of a million diplomatic cables has been met with an exponentially higher level of political outrage and media attention than resulted from their significant releases of US military documents over the last year. Even the devastating "Collateral Murder" video demonstrating an American helicopter crew's callous and casual disregard for Iraqi life made only a small ripple in the general consciousness in comparison to "cablegate." Are the diplomatic cables just the proverbial  straw breaking the camel's back? Or is there something fundamentally different about the diplomatic cables versus the military papers? The other interesting aspect of the current episode is the pseudo-Chinese attempt at censorship on the part of my government, unequivocally totalitarian in its effort, and entirely retrograde in its willful ignorance of the realities of the very digital information technology that makes Wikileaks possible.

Profiled in the New Yorker as recently as last June, Julian Assange, the public face and founder of Wikileaks, expressed his frustration that journalists had not done the necessary legwork to exploit previous leaks. Cablegate represents an evolution of Wikileaks' strategy; unsatisfied with the muckraking impact obtained by simply leaking the documents, the organization seems now actively to be assisting the media in finding the stories buried within these vast piles of digital paper. The Guardian, and the New York Times through them, as well as Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El Pais (interesting that the chosen outlets are all in staunch western democracies, but that's probably a subject for another time) are described as Wikileaks' "media partners," and in this round of leaks they were given access to the documents well in advance of their release to the public via Wikileaks.org.

This strategy may have something to do with the extraordinary level of attention being paid to Cablegate, but equally important is the way that people choose their news. The internet lets people decide exactly what they want to read, and the fascination with the cables is not unrelated to our celebrity obsession. Depending on your perspective, war in Iraq and Afghanistan is either a horrifying misuse of American power or a necessary but unpleasant part of the global struggle against Islamic terror. Either way, there's nothing remotely sexy about its inner workings. We don't know the people involved, and we are apparently numb to the spectacle. Not so #cablegate, in which the personality quirks of famous world leaders are revealed and analyzed. Sarkozy, we learn, really is a shallow egomaniac, vulnerable to flattery. Putin and Berlusconi are not only gangsters, in case you didn't know, but they're close buddies, gangsters bro'. René Preval really is aloof and introverted and probably drinks too much. (Okay, he's not exactly Brad Pitt on the celebritometer, but he is the president of Haiti). We love imagining what the iron-jawed and un-cuddly Hillary Clinton is saying in all those apologetic telephone calls she's been making to offended world leaders.

Rather more interesting and much more disheartening is the US government's response, which seems to me to be a sort of China-lite, #fail, attempt at closing the barn door after the cattle have long since left for the pasture. Pressure on Assange and Wikileaks has come in every imaginable form, from leaning on the private sector in an attempt to cut off funding by getting them booted off of Paypal and inspiring Amazon to stop hosting the website to personal attacks in the form of an extraordinarily coordinated international smear campaign which has in recent months made Assange's name virtually synonymous with the word "rape." (Assange might make for an icky bedroom playmate, but in the rare story that actually presents some of the details of the Swedish "case," it hardly sounds like he's a rapist. And even this story has a misleading headline).

The flacks so deftly coordinating the smear campaign must be not be the same ones handling PR for the government, which has issued directives that federal agencies should prevent employees from accessing Wikileaks. Apparently if you are at the Library of Congress, preserver of the word and the freedom of it, you'll find that their computers no longer offer access to Wikileaks. The fatuous justification for this authoritarian Cuba-style nonsense is essentially the government saying "the documents are still classified until we say they aren't, (and we're going to take our basketball home with us and so nanny boo-boo, there will be no game)." And this regardless of whether or not they have been published or discussed in the New York Times or already exist as torrent files on hundreds of hacktivist hard drives. This is embarrassment mitigation? How embarrassing. The USA certainly must know that there is no putting this cat back in the bag; Assange just asserted that he has already sent out 100,000 encrypted copies of the entire archive, just in case anything foul should befall him. He does that with the press of a button. Welcome to digital distribution.

The frontal assault on the First Amendment just makes us look like floundering incompetents who don't practice what we preach. The whole situation is reminiscent of our new-millenium lack of credibility when it comes to condemning torture; it's a challenge to present your nation as the guiding moral light in a dark and savage world while at the same time preventing librarians from reading the same documents that are on the front page of the world's leading papers. I don't often find myself standing on the same soapbox as Ron Paul, but as he wrote yesterday in a rather poorly articulated tweet, "In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble."

Welcome to the globalization of information. We'd love to grab Assange for treason, except he isn't American. Also there's another major problem, which is that he doesn't appear to have done anything illegal. The US Attorney has dredged up the constitutionally questionable  "Espionage Act" of 1917, which was most successfully used to prosecute unsavory socialists ninety years ago, and which makes it a crime to pass along information with intent to damage the United States. I'm not a lawyer, but anything Assange and Wikileaks have done, the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais and so on have also done. (As recently as last April he was here, and on the Colbert report. If you want a litmus test of how successfully he has been rebranded as a criminal and a pariah, consider how long it is likely to be before Assange is able to sit for another relaxed chat in a major American television studio). The key to the ongoing persecution (not prosecution) of Assange lies in the multi-pronged attack. As long as the "rape" flag can be held flapping in the breeze at the top of the flagpole, nobody needs to engage with whether the leaks themselves are in any way criminal. Despite ongoing attempts to conflate the crime represented by the original theft of the documents with Wikileaks' subsequent dissemination of them, it seems pretty clear that no laws have been violated.

The problem, perhaps, is the unprecedented scale of these leaks, a biproduct of our digital age. In the traditional model, the budding investigative journalist prays for the day when an anonymous disgruntled insider will hand over to them that one single piece of paper that is proof of nefarious government or corporate activity. Nobody goes after them, except perhaps the evildoer. This is the stuff Pulitzer prizes are made of, and it is in exactly this fashion that wrongs from Watergate to Abu Ghraib have historically been exposed. This is why transparency is to be prized. Someone sent Wikileaks 250,000 potential revelations, instead of just one, and they published them. If you're upset about it, go get the leaker. To assault Assange because he created Wikileaks is like refusing to build a bridge because someone might jump off of it.

UPDATE: Assange turned himself in to British authorities today, December 7th to face the Swedish allegations. Here is the hilarious 20th paragraph of the New York Times story:

The charges involve sexual encounters that two women say began as consensual but became nonconsensual after Mr. Assange was no longer using a condom. Mr. Assange has denied any wrongdoing and suggested that the charges were trumped up in retaliation for his WikiLeaks work, though there is no public evidence to suggest a connection.

Assange is being arrested based on morning-after remorse, what we might call "retroactively nonconsensual sex," or "uncomfortable breakfast syndrome." But what's really amusing about this 'graph is the second sentence. Even the most poker-faced of press secretaries would be incapable of denying "that the charges were trumped up in retaliation for his WikiLeaks work" without bursting into giggles. Isn't demanding "public evidence" of the connection a potent argument for the very work of leaking that Assange is dedicated to?

In their editorial about the leaks, El Pais seems to agree with me that the significant difference between these and prior leaks is just a matter of scale. "There is no historical precedent for this in term of scope," they write. And: "We are, in a sense, freer now than we were before, which is as much as journalism can hope to achieve."