Wikileaks – Who Cares?

Glenn Greenwald builds the case that bad boy hacker Adrian Lamo deliberately duped and betrayed Spc Bradley Manning, the young soldier notorious for having leaked the ‘Collateral Murder‘ video depicting an Apache helicopter crew gunning down unarmed civilians as they tried to aid a wounded journalist in Baghdad.

In the discussion on Slashdot, someone asks if this isn’t just a distraction from the real story?

That’s what’s bugging me here as well. Who cares how the footage was released? The important thing is WHY we have soldiers killing unarmed civilians.

I do. I care a lot. Why does someone have to face a lifetime in prison just to allow us to discuss ‘WHY we have soldiers killing unarmed civilians’?

Greenwald posits that ‘distractions’ like Manning’s may actually be deliberately manifestations of Pentagon Policy.

Whatever the merits of that argument, the fact that someone had to break the law to show a commonplace incident in the so-called War on Terror can be viewed as a sad commentary on the state of censorship in our time, or (if you’re an optimist) an affirmation that, despite a culture of secrecy, information really does want to be free.

In either case, Greenwald’s conjecture is that Manning really was genuinely motivated by his conscience and that his ‘confessor’ Lamo rewarded his honesty with lies, venality and betrayal. I find his case as presented compelling but not conclusive.

Greenwald’s larger point about wikileaks, however, is, I think, irrefutable:

The reason this story matters so much — aside from the fact that it may be the case that a truly heroic, 22-year-old whistle-blower is facing an extremely lengthy prison term — is the unique and incomparably valuable function WikiLeaks is fulfilling. Even before the Apache helicopter leak, I wrote at length about why they are so vital, and won’t repeat all of that here. Suffice to say, there are very few entities, if there are any, which pose as much of a threat to the ability of governmental and corporate elites to shroud their corrupt conduct behind an extreme wall of secrecy.

As others will no doubt suggest, whistle blowers should understand the consequences of their actions, accepting the sometimes inevitable retribution that follows in order to serve the public good. That does not, however, excuse what Greenwald characterises as ‘despicable’ behaviour by Lamo. If this account proves true, then Lamo really is a sick, sorry individual.

I find this whole story compelling precisely because it demonstrates the stakes involved in something as simple as telling the truth. Secrecy and Transparency both are costly and dangerous when we wander too far towards either end of the continuum.

Stories like Manning’s allow us the opportunity to gauge where we are in that continuum and the price of remaining there.


I came across something all too rare these days – a viewpoint well expressed, cogent and thought-provoking:

“We are turning into the society Burke feared. One dominated by emotive, shallow views which applies naive levelling reason to all problems it encounters. This is why our prisons are filling up as crime goes down; why our internet is being censored even as our society becomes more tolerant; why our politics becomes more polarised even as our political parties become more homogeneous. And it is why we seek to gather vast, unprecedented amounts of data about ourselves without bothering to really try and use it, or to consider the consequences of doing so.”

The context is interesting as well: a discussion, cutely titled “The Data-Driven Life“, about the prevalence – and often-unintended influences – of surveillance and data-gathering in modern society. I don’t ever expect much from a Wired writer – or from most commentators on technology – but if nothing else, it provided the catalysis for that plump little gem above.

Nothing is Ever 'Good Enough'

There’s a long, rather drawn out thread on Slashdot right now, wherein an apparently endless queue of geeks are lined up to take Wired to task for their discovery that Good Enough trumps Excellence every time. Quelle Surprise.

But not one of them has observed something that was recently made obvious to me: As technology advances, quality inevitably improves. The world, pace Microsoft, is not so awash in the mediocrity that Wired’s editors have decided to tout as the next big thing. Nothing is ever Good Enough.

What matters more than anything else is Convenience.

My eyes were opened to this a couple of months ago, when, in the course of pillaging my landord’s extensive library of books of and about photography, I came across a truly startling collection of photos from Papua New Guinea taken in the early 1920s. The almost liquid tones and gorgeous, lush light in his portraits capture the smoky, dusky interiors of village huts better than anything I’d ever seen before.

When I voiced my admiration to Ben, he observed, “Photography hasn’t significantly improved since the early years. It’s just become more convenient.

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