2013 Is a Defining Year for WikiLeaks
Edward Snowden is currently acting out his own real-life version of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? as he jumps from exotic locale to exotic locale, leaving a trail of American state secrets and public dissent over the whole “The US government is spying on everyone” thing in his wake. Accompanying him as he attempts to evade both the media the clutches of the American security state is Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks. Now WikiLeaks has taken the step of announcing that Edward Snowden is safe and sound (and not in the hands of the Russians, as some have suspected), and the international anti-secrecy nonprofit is going to continue to help him seek political asylum anywhere that will have him.
Meanwhile, Bradley Manning, who before Snowden’s emergence was the most famous government whistleblower associated with WikiLeaks, remains behind bars after pleading guilty to a host of criminal charges stemming from leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents as well as videos, including the infamous “Collateral Murder” video that shows an American military helicopter firing on, and murdering, three journalists. For his WikiLeaks-aided information dumps, Manning spent over three years in prison without going to trial, during which time he was tortured.
Paula Deen Is Exhausted from Being So Racist All the Time
Welcome to another edition of This Week in Racism. With the assistance of my friends at the @YesYoureRacist Twitter account, I’ll be ranking this and other news stories on a scale of 1 to RACIST, with “1” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
-Paula Deen, America’s Sweetheart and expert chef of all things deep-fried, finally came clean about her use of the “N-Word” in a court deposition tied to a discrimination lawsuit filed by one of her former employees. Deen claimed that her Southern upbringing made use of the word natural. That’s totally true. I’ve been to the South. They use the “N-Word” like I use semi-colons; liberally and without regret.
Paula’s “Sorry for Being Racist” press tour was supposed to start this morning on the Today show, but she chose not to make her scheduled appearance, citing “exhaustion.” If I weighed 300 pounds, ate Twinkies for every meal, and had millions of people calling for me to be deported to a desert island for eternity, I’d be “exhausted” too.
Fear not Deeniacs, Paula released a video statement today that will clear up this whole mess. I haven’t watched it yet, but I heard that in the video, she hands out free watermelon and fried chicken in Harlem to show her support for the African-American community. Big ups to my girl, Paula, for being so generous to my bruthas and sistas. Also, for calcifying my colon through her delicious “cooking.”
Nazis Were Once Tortured in the Heart of Kensington, London
All things considered, the London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea are not places for frumpy ironic T-shirt wearing tourists like you. It’s for sultans, sheikhs, oligarchs, and people who sit atop other power structures that British people don’t really understand. It’s a place where the dogs are better fed than you and the cats have their own televisions. It’s a place where everyone carries around a thousand in every major currency at all times because they never know which country they’re going to go to bed in. But did you know it also used to be home to a gargantuan torture facility?
The London Cage, as it came to be known, was situated inside three buildings that are now used as part of the Russian Embassy, neighboring the current homes of the Sultan of Brunei and Roman Abramovich. Sixty years ago, it served first as one of several British War World II interrogation centers, then as the War Crimes Investigation Unit’s post-1945 HQ.
Within the walls of Kensington Palace Gardens, the British paid little regard to the Geneva Convention and treated captured Nazi war criminals to some Gulag-level torment and Guantanamo-style interrogation. That the buildings once held a vast prisoner-of-war facility that you probably didn’t know about (mainly because, weirdly, that information has been omitted from its tour itinerary) says a lot about Britain and its secretive practices since the Second World War.
A Teacher and Her Student
Marilynne Robinson was my fourth and final workshop instructor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is an intimidating intellectual presence—she once told us that to improve characterization, we should read Descartes. When I asked her to sign my copy of Gilead, she admitted she had recently become fascinated by ancient cuneiform script. But she is also generous and quick to laugh—when she offered to have us to her house for dinner, and I asked if we ought to bring food, she replied, “Or perhaps I will make some loaves and fishes appear!” Then she burst into giggles.
After receiving my MFA this May, I left Iowa believing that there’s no good way to be taught how to write, to tell a story. But there is also no denying that Marilynne has made me a better writer. Her demands are deceptively simple: to be true to human consciousness and to honor the complexities of the mind and its memory. Marilynne has said in other interviews that she doesn’t read much contemporary fiction because it would take too much of her time, but I suspect it’s also because she spends a fair amount of her mental resources on her students.
Our interview was held on one of the last days of the spring semester. The final traces of the bitter winter had disappeared, and light filled the classroom, which now felt empty with just the two of us. My two years at Iowa were over, and I selfishly wanted to stretch the interview for as long as possible.
Stop SWAT Raids
How many dead and injured cops and civilians will it take for police to reevaluate how SWAT raids are conducted? There are almost 150 such raids a day, mostly over drugs, and many take place in the wee hours and include potentially lethal flash-bang grenades, military-like tactics, and plenty of chances for violence to escalate. Unless it’s a true hostage situation, using SWAT teams, especially against people in their homes, means you’re either scaring the hell out of a nonviolent person or making a violent one believe he’s being attacked. Bloodshed can occur in either case.
When these raids go wrong, lives are destroyed. One example is Matthew David Stewart, who committed suicide in his jail cell last month, apparently to avoid potentially facing the death sentence over his killing one officer and injuring five more in a 2012 Utah marijuana raid (he said that he opened fire on police because he thought he was being robbed). In the last decade, other cops have died at the hands of other targets of similar operations like Cory Maye and Ryan Frederick, both of whom plausibly claimed that they didn’t know who was busting down their doors.
AARON SWARTZ AND BRADLEY MANNING: HOW THE US GOVERNMENT CONTAINS THOSE WHO WOULD FREE INFORMATION
“Remember how they outlawed acid soon as they found out it was a channel to something they didn’t want us to see? Why should information be any different?”
So says paranoid, stoner gumshoe Doc Sportello to the protohacker Fritz in Thomas Pynchon’s stem-winding psychedelic noir novel Inherent Vice. Doc’s referring to ARPANET, an early form of the internet. Pynchon may just have been playing to countercultural nostalgia, but then again, as any Pynchon nut will tell you, the hermetic author has always been on the side of misfits, running his subversive types through a gauntlet of endless Menippean carnivals.
But here’s the thing that Pynchon misses (maybe it’s just a function of Doc’s stoned operating filter): information has always been, in some form or another, outlawed. Did the good doctor forget prepsychedelic human history? Perhaps Doc’s naïveté is irrelevant when we consider that the internet and psychedelics—likened to one another by Tim Leary, Terrence McKenna, and others—blow information and consciousness wide open.
When Doc asks Fritz when the government is going to outlaw ARPANET and thus information, Fritz responds, “What. Why would they do that?”
Western civilization’s democracies will likely never outlaw the internet (they need it for the free market, you see)—but they have declared war on those who would use it to free once-secret information. And so it was with Aaron Swartz, and thus shall it be with Bradley Manning, the young Army soldier suspected of supplying WikiLeaks with its diplomatic cable dump. One is dead, the other contained (for now).
Manning knows the dimensions of his prison cell well. Since his arrival in 2010 he’s probably surveyed every dimple and crenulation of his cell’s concrete walls during his daily 23-hour isolation sessions.