My Own Private Guantanamo

Pranks, Power and Pop Culture

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“You’re much more beautiful than your profile picture.”

December 28, 2010

Nicely done. (h/t Tanja Laden.)

Related: Why Aren’t We on Facebook?

Ugh.

December 19, 2010

This is bad. Assange has got a lot of explaining to do. No doubt, many Wikileaks supporters will see this as a betrayal. Damn.

DADT’s all folks!

December 18, 2010

Hooray! (Seriously)

But how is gay soldier Bradley Manning being treated these days?

Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

Happy belated birthday, Bradley.

#doyleandme

December 16, 2010

UPDATES BELOW

Sady Doyle is one of my heroes. She’s one of the sharpest, funniest and most tenacious bloggers we have. Today, she launched a Twitter campaign to shame Michael Moore for his comments about the Julian Assange rape allegations. Doyle’s argument is strong on its face, but there are some serious problems with it too.

First, contrary to her statements today, Doyle is not simply angry at Moore’s dismissive and inaccurate remarks about the rape charges. Instead she’s angry at the very notion of offering Assange financial assistance for his bail. Yesterday, in her opening salvo against Moore, she wrote:

God damn, dude. You pledged bail to help a dude avoid a sexual assault investigation. YOUR PROGRESSIVISM HAS BEEN INVALIDATED.

Doyle is conflating Moore’s financial assistance for Assange’s legal costs with being a rape apologist. These are not equivalent. In any event, one wonders why Doyle hasn’t extended her contempt to Jemima Khan, who also helped with Assange’s bail.

There are, of course, very good reasons why leftists and feminists might want to support Assange’s release from solitary confinement at this critical time, when the US appears poised to have him railroaded for conspiracy.

Doyle is clouding the issues here. She refuses to allow that one can be an agnostic on the charges against Assange, while also advocating for his fair and humane treatment during a truly extraordinary and disturbing campaign of political persecution.

The second and more critical observation is that Doyle herself is no agnostic on Assange’s guilt. Last Thursday, she wrote:

“I really, really, do tend to believe that he raped those girls.”

And:

“he (Assange) — in my opinion, probably, allegedly — happened to be a repeat rapist…”

I point out these statements because Doyle is positioning her #mooreandme campaign, solely as an effort to speak out against rape apologist discourse, and to shame Michael Moore for lying about the charges against Assange. Doyle demands that we should all be agnostics on the rape charges, while she asserts without evidence that Assange is “probably” a “repeat rapist.”

When I asked her today on Twitter, to substantiate that claim, she responded with:

“Since statistics consistently report only 8% of rape allegations are unfounded, there’s a 92% chance.”

Got that? According to Sady Doyle, there’s a 92% chance that Julian Assange is a rapist.

I responded with a link to statistician Nate Silver’s New York Times piece on the Assange case, which cautions that we must put these allegations in context, in order to weigh their probability. Is Silver simply mansplaining away the prevalence of rape? Maybe. But if Doyle is going to employ statistics in such a dubious manner, then it is fair to consider another perspective, from a statistician.

Doyle disregarded my question, responding:

“You are interested in maintaining that Assange is innocent. I’m interested in eating chicken wings now. Please go away.”

I responded that I did not know whether Assange was guilty. This has always been my position. It is instead Doyle who claims to know (with 92% certainty) what happened between Assange and his two accusers.

Doyle apparently lost interest in her chicken wings, long enough to respond with:

“From where I’m standing, you look like yet another Assange fanboy slash rape apologist. I can see why #Mooreandme bothers you.”

With all due respect Sady, where are you standing?

UPDATE 12/18

Yeah, I’m aware that Doyle has claimed that I’m “trying to launch a #doyleandme campaign.” Not true. It’s just the name I gave to this post. Also, to be very clear, since Doyle wasn’t, I am not the author of the misogynist tweets in the screenshot above the paragraph referencing me. I have not accused her of “bias,” but I have pointed out that she believes Assange is guilty. It is her right to believe this, of course, but it’s also my right to point it out. I read Sady’s Tumblr because I am a fan of Sady Doyle’s (though admittedly, less a fan these days) not because I’m a troll or a stalker, or anything else. She’s a writer, a very good one and her writing is available to the public. I agree that Moore and Olbermann should be held accountable for spreading misinformation about the rape accusations, but I am not a fan of the tone of her campaign, nor of some of its underlying assumptions.

Finally, I shouldn’t have to point out that nothing on my website, and nothing in these articles I have linked to is “rape apologism” and I really wish Doyle would get some perspective on this. Feminism is not solely hers to define.

I also want to recommend two other articles. Aaron Bady is a much more thoughtful, careful and less combative writer than myself, and he has a very civil discussion on #mooreandme happening here.

This comment from Dan C. gets at the heart of my concerns about our discourse around rape, Assange and Wikileaks:

“From the standpoint of political rhetoric, the real danger here is that the narrative of rape will become metaphorically conflated with the narrative of wikileaks. The assholes in our mediasphere seem all too eager to imply that the violation of state secrecy is something like the sexual violation of real human beings.”

This was my primary criticism of Amanda Marcotte’s framing of the accusations against Assange. I am encouraged to see that Marcotte has begun to defend Wikileaks itself in a subsequent post.

There is also a very measured critique of #mooreandme by two feminist lawyers here.

I am also disturbed by comparisons some are making between Roman Polanski and Julian Assange. The former is a fugitive child rapist, with a lot of celebrity defenders, who could use a public shaming themselves. The latter has not even been charged with a crime. Jezebel makes the Polanski comparison, and then proceeds to tell its readers that they don’t need to worry their pretty little heads over cablegate.

Despite Michael Moore’s rhapsodizing about the importance of WikiLeaks, the most recent cables have mostly been of the “Berlusconi parties too much” variety.

This is seriously lame. Jezebel is telling its readers both that the news is gossip, and that gossip is news. Jezebel’s readers might benefit from a discussion of stories likes these:

US contractor Dyncorp procuring adolescent boys for Afghan police

The Vatican ducking an Irish investigation into clergy sex abuse

Obama pressuring Spain to drop torture prosecutions

Hilary Clinton ordering diplomats to spy on leaders at the UN, collecting email passwords, credit card info and other private data (ie. state-sponsored stalking).

In dismissing these issues,  Jezebel is no different from the mainstream press, or the “liberal” media. (Torture apologist Jon Stewart dismissed cablegate as “chit chat.”)  The stories emerging from cablegate are worthy of serious feminist discussion. Unfortunately, it seems the only discussion many want to have about Wikileaks is a conversation about sex and rape. Sex and rape sell. War crimes do not.

UPDATE 12/19

We learn today that Israel Shamir, a representative for Wikileaks is a Holocaust denier. He also co-authored the Counterpunch hit piece on one of the accusers, connecting her to the CIA while scarily intoning against feminists. That article formed the basis for the story by Kirk James White that appeared on Firedoglake and was then subsequently tweeted by Bianca Jagger, and later by Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann. It seems very likely that Shamir was given either tacit or explicit approval by Assange to write that story. Whatever the case, he’s still employed by Wikileaks. And did I mention the dude’s a Holocaust denier? This is pretty damning stuff.

This could turn the tide of liberal public support for Assange, if not for Wikileaks itself. Very disturbing. What a way to sabotage your own organization.

I am now and truly Wikifatigued.

From clicktivism to infowar

December 15, 2010

You have likely heard about Julian Assange’s embarrassing OK Cupid profile and online diary entries, recently dredged up by Gawker, and dutifully splashed across the front page of MSNBC.com. They reveal what many have suspected– that Assange (circa 2006 anyways) is arrogant, sexist and more than a little grandiose. Assange apparently thinks girls suck at math, a view, one should note, that he shares with ex-Harvard president, and recent Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers. Assange also makes gratuitous reference to his “asian teengirl stalkers,” an objectifying remark, that reminds me of evil twin Mark Zuckerberg’s similarly embarrassing Friendster profile (which I dredged up a few weeks ago.)

What’s not found on OK Cupid or in Assange’s smutty online musings is any proof that he’s a rapist. And while I understand that some liberal bloggers who are already predisposed to assuming Assange’s guilt or “creepiness” find validation in these latest discoveries, they only confirm that Assange is a male chauvinist– much like Mr. Summers and Mr. Zuckerberg.

What if we were to  judge these men by their works, and not by their neanderthal views on women? Summers played a decisive role in ruining our national economy, and was rewarded with a powerful post in the Obama administration, from which to enrich his friends on Wall Street. Zuckerberg has repeatedly invaded the privacy of his 500 millions users for financial gain, used his bully pulpit to rehab George W. Bush’s image, and sought to trademark the word “face.” Julian Assange? He founded an organization that is revolutionizing journalism, challenging authoritarian governments and giving hope to social justice movements around the world.

Getting much less attention than Assange’s singles ad are two brilliant essays he penned shortly after he stopped logging in to OK Cupid. Headlined The non linear effects of leaks on unjust systems of governance” these writings offer a window into the ideas that created Wikileaks, and that will no doubt, fuel the many similar organizations emerging in its wake.

In brief: Assange explains how the invisible government– the actual ruling power in our society– is a conspiracy. (He means this literally, not in any speculative or paranoid sense.) The conspiracy thrives off of secrecy, but in order to function efficiently and communicate with itself, it needs paperwork. This paperwork leaves the conspiracy susceptible to leaks. Leaks force the system to become more secretive, and thus less efficient, leading to a breakdown in its function. This breakdown shifts the balance of power. It’s a brilliant, heady essay, carefully explored in detail here. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Also worth reading is this thoughtful essay defending Wikileaks from a feminist perspective. With the rape allegations threatening to tear apart an already fractured left, it is refreshing to read a trenchant feminist argument for Wikileaks and the issues it raises.

Finally, here’s an inspiring story about how prisoners in Georgia are using cellphones and text messaging to coordinate and get their message to the press. No violence. This, like everything else we’ve seen lately, is a mixture of civil disobedience and bloodless infowar. It’s inspiring stuff.

In the past several months, with the Wikileaks story, the actions of Anonymous and events like the prison protests, we’re seeing the emergence of technology as an effective tool for challenging powerful institutions. Are whistleblowing websites, crowdsourced DDoS attacks and text messaging the methods which will reinvigorate activism? Perhaps we’re moving beyond feel-good “clicktivism” and discovering the revolutionary potential of of our digital media.

In response to these new threats, the political establishment simply orders crackdowns and bans, trying to rewrite laws in an effort to make the problem go away. It’s all reminiscent of how the music industry waged war on Napster. In that case, the industry won the battle, but lost the war. As Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker says in The Social Network: “Want to buy a Tower Records?”

Is Wikileaks the Napster (or the Friendster) of whistleblowing websites? It’s likely that one of Wikileaks’ imitators will learn from Assange’s mistakes and build a 2.0 model, that will be able to withstand the kind of attacks coming from the political and financial establishment. If Wikileaks is the Friendster of whistleblowing sites, what will the Facebook equivalent look like? And how, short of switching off the internet, will our government then “protect” us from its secrets?

Cablegate is “The Wire” of news events

December 12, 2010

Cablegate is fascinating (and validating) to those of us who want to see the machinery of the American empire laid bare. This reminds me of The Wire, which used the city of Baltimore to explore with journalistic precision, the intricacies of power relationships and make a systemic critique of capitalism. Both Cablegate and The Wire have a cult-like following among a handful of liberals, and are ignored by nearly everyone else. Like The Wire, Cablegate is also threatened with cancellation. Hopefully, its fans will be able to keep it on the air.

Facebook just Wikileaked all your comments on friends’ walls to your own wall

December 10, 2010

UPDATE: It looks like the text of your comments is only viewable by mutual friends or on content which is set to be viewed by everyone. But still, could they give their users a warning?

Yup. Take a look Facebook users. If you post a comment on your friends’ wall, the text (or the first few words of the text) of that comment now appears under “Recent Activity.”

Formerly, when you commented or posted on a friend’s wall, your wall would simply post a notification saying something like this:

Matt Cornell wrote on Joe Blow’s wall.

With the recent change, the text of your post or comment appears on your own wall. Or, like this.

“What’s up Joe? Dude, you were wasted last night.” on Joe Blow’s wall.

Oh, and it’s retroactive! So, the text of every post that you’ve ever made to a friend’s wall is now showing on yours! Try it out for yourself!

Can we prosecute Mark Zuckerberg under the Espionage Act for this?


A smear for a smear

December 8, 2010

I was disturbed when I saw this story by Kirk James White published on Firedoglake over the weekend. Of course, I’d heard about the talk of connections between Assange’s accuser and the CIA, but I was troubled by other aspects of the article. Most of its information comes from this shoddy, sexist Counterpunch article which claims that Assange is under siege by “castrating feminists and secret services alike.” Ugh.

White also re-circulates the silly claim that the accuser’s blog article about getting revenge on an ex is proof that she’s not trustworthy. Whatever the substance of the CIA connection, this narrative of the jilted woman turned castrating feminist is dubious crap. Defenders of Wikileaks should not be engaging in misogynist rhetoric or falling back on lazy tropes to defend Julian Assange.

Nor should feminists fall back on their credentials to give their seal of approval to anti-women sentiments to curry favor with the mainstream. Unfortunately, Naomi Wolf didn’t get the memo, and wrote this snarky open letter for the (notoriously sexist) Huffington Post yesterday. Wolf, after announcing her feminist bonafides, characterized Assange’s accusers as jilted women seeking revenge on a narcissistic playboy.

The problem with Wolf’s article is that it dismisses the very serious issues of consent raised by the case. For instance, we learn from the first account of Assange’s court appearance:

The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.

The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on August 18 “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”. The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

If these charges are true, Assange did not have consent, and may be guilty of rape.

The problem, of course, is that we have no idea if the charges are true. (We may never know.) We also have plenty of reason to be suspicious of the timing of the scandal, and of the unusual swiftness of justice.

I was relieved to see various commentators in the feminist blogosphere question the increasingly sexist discourse, which was beginning to remind me of arguments made on behalf of Roman Polanski. Kate Harding’s piece in Salon offered a thorough and fair analysis, challenging the smears, while acknowledging the widely-shared suspicion that Assange’s case is being fast-tracked for political reasons. (Is there anyone who really doubts that?)

Also weighing in on the discussion was Amanda Marcotte, a prolific feminist blogger, who I regularly read and follow on Twitter. Marcotte is a smart and passionate writer, and I often look to her work for a feminist analysis on the culture wars. (She has also, for what it’s worth, blogged on two occasions about my American Apparel spoofs.) Marcotte began her post with a sharp corrective to the victim smearing, rape apologetic rhetoric. But then, mid paragraph, her post shifted gears, from defending Assange’s victims against unfair smears, to making an unfair smear against Assange:

I’m sorry, but why on earth is it so hard to believe that Assange is the kind of guy who power trips on women by promising to use a condom and then slipping it off during sex?  This is one of the most common kinds of sexual assault there is, and a favorite way for guys with power issues to get cheap thrills at the expense of women, who they often feel are contemptible and weak.  Are we to assume that someone who clearly gets a rise out of making the most powerful nation on the planet scramble around in a chickens-with-heads-cut-off manner doesn’t have a tendency to ego trip?  Are we to assume someone who risks life and limb for this isn’t the kind of guy who might get smaller kicks out of smaller, less internationally interesting power trips?  Why are we to assume that?

What is Marcotte up to here? She seems dangerously close to drawing an equivalency between the mission of Wikileaks and a rapist’s desire to dominate a woman. Note her sexualized language about Assange getting “a rise” out of embarrassing the world’s leaders. Perhaps unintentionally, Marcotte is pathologizing the very idea behind Wikileaks, and in the process, smearing its leader. This seems to mirror the very mistake that Kirk James White and Naomi Wolf make. It clouds the important issues surrounding Wikileaks and characterizes the conflict in sexual terms.

And it gets worse. After rightly pointing out that leftist men can be just as sexist as those on the right, Marcotte writes:

We can be grown-ups here.  We can entertain the idea that Wikileaks is performing a valuable service while acknowledging the strong possibility that Julian Assange is himself an asshole who treats women like they’re objects he can exert his massive power issues on.

Later, in a comment thread, there was this exchange between Marcotte and one of her readers:

Reader: I sense some sort of prejudice here.  Yes Julian looks a little creepy and his lifestyle might make him an easy target, but that doesn’t make him a rapist.

Marcotte: It doesn’t for sure, but please don’t be so condescending. You aren’t a woman and you don’t have to always be gauging men for their trustworthiness, and therefore you haven’t developed the skill set here.  Creepiness is a big red flag.  There are others, but while it doesn’t make Assange a rapist, it sure does—in the experience of someone like myself who has been threatened and raped and has to be on guard simply due to my gender—raise the odds.

Got that? Assange is “creepy.” And this assertion is above examination, unless you are a woman. His “creepiness” doesn’t mean he’s a rapist, but it does “raise the odds.”

In a later tweet, Marcotte pushed this subjective impression further, writing:

Assange is “creepy,” and Marcotte doesn’t like his “vibe.” This kind of rhetoric, coming from Marcotte is deeply disappointing.

As I tweeted to her yesterday, her statements, taken together, go far beyond asserting the possibility of Assange’s guilt. They stop just short of calling the man a rapist. Marcotte disagreed replying in four subsequent tweets that I had lied about the content of her post.

“I said I have no idea if he’s guilty. But you accuse me of otherwise, even though the evidence is against you. False accuser.”

“And yet, I said I can’t know if he’s guilty. I said it’s a possibility, and yet here I am, falsely accused.”

“For someone so sensitive to false accusations, you sure like to dish them out!”

“You would think if you’re opposed to false accusations, you would refrain from issuing them.”

Marcotte is correct, insofar as she never directly calls Assange a rapist. Instead she asserts that Assange is the kind of guy who would rape a woman. In the process, she casts the very nature of Assange’s work with Wikileaks not as an idealistic, noble or necessary pursuit, but as a “power trip.” How is this type of argument by insinuation substantively different from the smears against his accuser?

For example: what if White and Wolf had said “Hey, we’re not calling these women CIA honeypot moles and jilted groupies, we’re just saying it’s very possible.”

If Assange is, in fact, guilty of these crimes, then Marcotte’s comments about him (though not about his organization) might be justified. But, what if he’s innocent?

In a subsequent tweet, Marcotte seemed to soften the tone of her attack on Assange, writing:

“My point is one can be grown-up enough to realize that Assange is both being unfairly attacked and may not be a good guy.

This is better. Still, I got to wondering why Marcotte chose not to weigh in on the larger issues surrounding Wikileaks. Why, for instance, hasn’t she blogged about the chilling, authoritarian crackdown on Wikileaks by the political and financial establishment? Or about the outrageous calls for Assange to be designated as a terrorist and murdered? Aren’t these outrages also worthy of her analysis? What about the cables themselves, which reveal the machinery of the American empire, the way we bully smaller nations, and the scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of diplomats as spies? And what about the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Aren’t these also feminist issues?

When I asked Marcotte how she felt about the crackdown on Wikileaks and the policies it has helped to exposed, she conceded that the government was retaliating against Assange and only “using the rape allegations to get him.” Then, I pressed Marcotte to comment on the attack against Wikileaks, and the wars they seek to expose. Here was her response:

This was disappointing. Is it really possible, that Marcotte has no opinion on these issues? That her only comment on the entire Wikileaks saga is to argue that Julian Assange seems like the kind of guy who might be a rapist? We need voices like Marcotte’s in this discussion– not just the hypothetical one about Assange’s sexual character– but the larger discussion about what Wikileaks has revealed about our country, and the powerful forces being marshaled to discredit and destroy it.

Watching the discussion unfold today, I was reminded of a CIA memo, released by Wikileaks (natch) back in March. Headlined “ Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters … But Casualties Could Precipitate Backlash,” the memo revealed the CIA’s plan to manipulate feminist sentiment in Europe to gain support for the war in Afghanistan. It’s exactly this kind of tactic that worries me about the unfolding dialogue surrounding Assange and his accusers. One friend has already observed that the constant association in the media of the words “rape” and “Assange” have an almost hypnotic effect, regardless of your opinions on his case. What is the net effect of this obsession with Assange, his accusers and the murky facts of a case, that we know almost nothing about?

The American left is already fractured enough. The anti-war movement is in tatters. The Democrats have all but abandoned any remaining promises to protect civil liberties, reform the financial system or end our various declared and undeclared wars. It can only serve the interests of the political establishment to continue to speculate on Assange’s character and that of his accusers. What we should be doing instead is proudly defending Wikileaks and the democratic traditions it promotes. At the same time, we should be using this occasion to draw critical attention to the machinery of the security state and the breathtaking force with which it seeks to crush Wikileaks. We live in scary fucking times.

Wikileaks is a feminist issue.


Mark Zuckerberg Has a Posse

December 6, 2010

I’m deactivating my Facebook account tonight. But just in the nick of time, my friend & design wizard Dave Coscia completed my farewell avatar. Thanks Dave! So, should we make stickers?

Update: I deleted my account. Deactivation keeps your account on the servers and ready for immediate login. Here’s the secret link to delete everything permanently (careful).

The final moments felt a little like this.

E Tu, Paypal?

December 4, 2010

And another one bites the dust.

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