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WikiLeaks (and a kiss stolen in the 13th century)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — Assange, WikiLeaks, Google Ngrams, impact assessment — and a digression ]


Charles, duc d’Orleans


Let’s start with Julian Assange; we’ll get to Charles d’Orleans later.

In the movie Julian Assange: a Modern Day Hero? Assange claims for WikiLeaks‘ massive Afghan / ISAF leak

It’s the most detailed history of any war that has been made, ever. It’s significant.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that WikiLeaks has had some impact in many areas of our complex world — but as I was watching the film the other day, I found myself wondering just how small its cumulative impact is, in comparison to that immense complexity.


Assange makes various claims for WikiLeaks in the movie, but perhaps the most instructive one comes at the tail end of his statement describing the WL project as a whole:

WikiLeaks is a project of Sunshine Press; Sunshine Press is a collaboration between journalists, technical people, cyberpunks, some anti-corruption people, and some fairly famous civil rights activists, to try and get as many documents as possible out onto the internet that have never been released before that will produce positive political reform.

Let’s take Assange’s expressed hope that WL will “produce positive political reform” as the benchmark here.

Has it done that? Are there any signs that it will? What positive political reform, precisely?

Have, for instance, the Afghan WikiLeaks influenced the outcome of the war in Afghanistan?


Or – to put the same question slightly differently – is or was WikiLeaks all a bit of a nine-days-wonder?

Google’s Ngram Viewer allows users to search for the frequency of uses of specific terms across a large volume of books over a specific time frame. It cannot have escaped the attention of folks at Google (or no such agency) that an Ngram-style timeline of mentions of names and terms of one sort or another in news articles from the leading news sources would be of similar interest.

A promo page on the movie notes that “WikiLeaks and Assange have been one of THE news stories of 2010” and suggests “There is a new WikiLeaks story in the media every week and the next wave involves the big banks in 2011” – not to mention “Julian Assange will remain in the news all year as his controversial sex crime charges come to a head later in 2011” – no doubt a popular selling point…

Is there a new WikiLeaks story in the media every week? I’m wondering what a Ngram of news mentions of WikiLeaks across the last two or three years would show.


What’s a “nine days wonder”?

I had to use Google myself to verify that “a nine days wonder” (as opposed to “a seven days wonder”) was the phrase I should be using.

I was delighted to find that an old hero of mine – the poet Charles d’Orleans – was among the first to use it:

For this a wondir last but dayes nyne, An oold proverbe is seid.

I have always liked d’Orleans since I first ran across his poetic “confession” to God and his priest:

My ghostly father! I me confess,
First to God, and then to you,
That at a window, wot you how,
I stole a kiss of great sweetness!

To steal is sinful, to be sure, and kisses carry their own moral burden – but confession and penitence purifies the soul.

The thing is, reparation must also be made — and so it is that d’Orleans continues by vowing to God:

But I restore it shall, doubtless…

— the stolen kiss, that is.

He’s willing to give it back — always assuming that particular “window of opportunity” is still open…


But I digress.  Which raises the question: is there a purpose to digression, do you suppose?

Plus ça change I

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — backstory of Google+ ]



Herrad von Landsberg seems to have corralled seven of his best friends — the Septem Artes Liberales— into his “Hortus deliciarum” on Google+ back in 1180.

Here’s a larger version, for your viewing convenience:liberal-arts-med.jpg

Google Ideas SAVE conference

Friday, July 8th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted with brief intro from Alix Levine‘s blog — topic: Google’s Summit Against Violent Extremism ]


Google Ideas — the Google “think/do tank” — recently co-hosted (with the CFR and Tribeca Film festival) a conference on countering radical extremism in Dublin, with a mix of “former extremists, activists, academics, survivors, executives and public sector officials” in attendance.  Blog-friend Matt Armstrong was there, live-tweeting with enthusiasm. Dr William McCants of Jihadica and CNA wasn’t terribly impressed with the outcome, and posted at Foreign Policy:

I am not ready to give up on the enterprise of countering violent extremism just yet, but I am less sanguine about its chances of success than I was before I started working on the problem. Google Ideas’ summit has not increased my optimism, but its resources and potential do.

Alix Levine of Cronus Global attended the event, and reported back on her blog. I’ve commented briefly on McCants’ piece on FP, but wrote a longer piece as a comment on Alix’ blog, and am cross-posting it here in the hope that it will stir further discussion…

I’m comparing Will McCants‘ response to the Google Ideas conference on FP with yours, and I’m glad you wrote as you did.

McCants – whose work I generally admire — opens his comments by quoting Jared Cohen to the effect that the purpose of the conference was to “initiate a global conversation”. McCants then more or less dismisses the conference itself a couple paragraphs later with the words “If these are indeed the conclusions of the conference, Google Ideas needs more thinking and less doing in its approach”.

Conclusions? How does he get so quickly from “initiate” to “conclusions”?

Okay, we all know that a conference can lead to a volume of proceedings read mostly by the authors themselves and a few aspiring students eager to follow-my-leader and dead end there – but this conference was very clearly intended to be the start of something, not the wrap-up.

So your comment, Alix, “Instead of critiquing Google’s effort, it will be more productive and valuable to work in unison with Google on their mission to ‘initiate a global conversation'” seemed to me to bring us back to the actual intent Google had announced for the conference, and you reinforce that when you write, “I hope that more people will join in on the conversation in a meaningful and (gasp) positive way.”

My questions are: how and where do we do this?

There will have been contacts made at the conference that will lead to an exchange of emails, no doubt – but that’s not a global conversation.

Here are some of the problems I foresee:

(a) siloing: the conversation limiting itself to a few constituencies, each of which talks mainly among its own members, leading to

(b) group think: in which the widely assumed gets even more firmly entrenched as “wisdom”, with

(c) secrecy: meaning that potentially relevant information is unavailable to some or all participants, all of which add up to

(d) blind spots: topics and approaches that still don’t get the attention and exploration they deserve.

The solutions would need to include:

(a) networked diversity: by which I mean a structured means of getting the unpopular or minority opinion front and center (compare business brainstorming in which a facilitator ensures even the “quiet ones” get heard, and that even poor ideas are expressed without critique until a later, evaluative stage),

(b) contrariety: meaning that whatever ideas are “easily dismissed” get special attention, with

(c) transparency: meaning that whatever could be redacted and made partially available is made available, not (as in US Govt “open source” material, closely held), so that

(d) oddballs and outriders get to participate…

Jami Miscik who was Deputy Director for Intelligence at the time, caught my attention when she said in 2004, “Embrace the maverick”. Oddballs aka mavericks make the best contrarians, because they start from different premises / different assumption bases. Miscik accordingly invited science fiction and film writers to interact with her analysts at CIA, and found that when they did, they produced 80% already known ideas, 10% chaff, and 10% new and “valid” scenarios. But even then, “science fiction and screen writers” is a box…

Cross-fertilization, questioning of assumptions, passion, reverie, visualization, scenario planning, play – the number of strategies that could be employed to improve the chances of a successful new insight emerging are many and various – unkempt artists probably know some of them better than suits with high IQs and clearances, and Google clearly knows this, too…

But where?

I mean, what Google+ circles do any of us join, to join this global conversation? What twitter hashtag brings us together under one roof? When’s the follow up in my neck of the woods, or yours?

What’s the method for getting the conversation widespread, well-informed – and scaleable, so the best of the grass roots and local ideas can find their way to the influential and informed, and the best insights of the influential and informed can percolate through to the grass roots and local?

Lastly, I’d like to thank Google for getting a dialog going between those with a range of subjective experiences of radicalization, and those whose job it is to understand and thus be able to interdict it. Demonization never got the situation in Northern Ireland anywhere near peace – listening did.

And thank you too, Alix, for your own contribution. Let’s move the conversation onwards.

The tightly woven web of Jarret Brachman

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted with minor alteration from SmartMobs ]

Jarret Brachman is one of our brightest analysts of jihadist behavior on the internet. He was the first Director of Research with the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and is the author of Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice.

His blog today featured an extraordinary post titled My One Fan in Abottabad.

First he writes:

Out of sheer curiosity, I ran a google analytics search to see if I’ve ever had any hits from Abbottabad, Pakistan to the blog.

Then he shows us the map his research produced :


and then he comments:

Sure enough, I’ve got one fan there who has been checking the blog randomly over the past couple years.


As my Watchmen-hip son might say, … Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


Sunday, February 20th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

It’s riveting to follow the tweets on protests in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya or Iran on Mibazaar in real-time to be sure — but mash that capability up with the one Shloky found and Zen just mentioned with video


As Zen says, I mean, “automatic face-recognition and social media aggregation raises serious concerns about the potential dangers of living under a panopticon state”.

Two dots, two data-points, two apps connected.

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