Disclosure and Rage

I’ve been resisting the temptation to write about Wikileaks and Julian Assange for quite some time, not least because every blogger north of Antarctica has said all that there is to be said and more. The two camps’ flags are fairly obvious and battle lines quite sharply delineated, so there’s little to add. A number of so-called Internet activists bang on about the Freedom of Information Act and the government’s widely suspected non-compliance, non-disclosure of things we should be allowed as citizens to know, blah, while others hold the view that diplomatic discussions held in camera have a right, if not to privacy, but to be decently clad in proper diplomatic language before being paraded before a largely gullible public. Additionally, it’s almost impossible for people to form accurate opinions given an avalanche of data so labyrinthine and presented so far out of context. We may have a right to information, as long as we accept responsibility about what to do with it. Mr Assange himself declared, however, that in reference to Britain’s Official Secrets Act,  “The dead hand of feudalism still rests on every British shoulder; we plan to remove it.”  Perhaps a spot of the old feudal spirit aka loyalty might not go amiss.

It appears that there is a rather lonely individual at the vortex of all the ballyhoo. I am reminded of a quote from Orwell ” He was an embittered atheist, the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him”. For ‘God’, read ‘government’. Perhaps atheism and anarchy are bedfellows, or at least, uneasy allies. I thought that both Christopher Hitchens and Julian Assange had similarly defensive facial features; both look either secretly enraged or as if they’re trying hard not to cry.
The possession of a physics and mathematics degree confers automatic intellectual superiority frequently without the wisdom to deal with it, and this, together with spectacularly inventive programming skills, does make Assange something of a loose cannon, a force to be reckoned with. Which, I rather suspect, is what he wants. “Notice me!” he shouts.  But, is he a cyberterrorist or Internet freedom fighter? Some people seem to think that he’s really done rather well and got A grades for his homework. He received the 2008 Economist Freedom of Expression Award and the 2010 Sam Adams Award. Utne Reader named him as one of the “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World”. In 2010, New Statesman ranked Assange number 23 among the “The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures”. Others less inclined to leap on a journalistic runaway express are more candid, pointing out his almost nomadic lifestyle and at least one former associate described him as ‘weird”. I wonder if the population in Wandsworth nick would agree?
But, what of the reclusive Mr Assange himself. He doesn’t present well to the cameras, having as he does these days, something of a hunted look about his eyes, as if he’d been remorselessly bullied at school for being a clever-trousers. It’s interesting to observe that he’s so ticked off some awfully important people that they’ve stopped his pocket money and want to keep him in detention for quite a long time. It would seem that some of his friends have been caught scrumping as well; crashing MasterCard’s server is no mean achievement. But, of course, that had nothing to do with him. Of course not.
It remains to be seen whether Wikileaks will unearth some private emails from top persons speculating as to the best way of giving Mr Assange six of the best, trousers down, without making it look as if his First Amendment rights were being violated.


“Holy Rollers” was a derisive term coined to describe Pentecostal Christians who became ecstatic during worship. It’s also the title of a film with the unlikely storyline involving the recruitment of young Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn to smuggle Ecstasy tablets from Europe into the USA, which happened to be true.  In their black hats, dark suits and side-curls, the stream of young Hasidic men flying home from Europe seemed unlikely to raise the suspicions of United States Customs officials. Hasidim means literally “loving kindness” and, ironically, is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as fundamental aspects of the faith. The hero is Sam Gold, a young Hasidic Jew growing up in Brooklyn and being trained as a rabbi. His father hopes to arrange a excellent match for him, one that will raise him above the poverty his family has known. As the boy grows older, he shows an aptitude for business which his family firmly discourages.

As Sam begins to show signs of resenting living up to his family’s expectations, he is approached by the older brother of his best friend, who persuades both cloistered innocents to take an exciting trip overseas to bring back ‘medicine’ to those denied it in the US. His innocence is his protection at airport security desks and he becomes adept at muling large quantities of illegal substances. He  becomes captivated by the lure of the life he has glimpsed and begins to form new relationships with the fast, exotic criminal world, starting to lead a double life. His business instincts prove valuable and are applauded by his Israeli dealer. Eventually Sam himself is recruiting innocent Hasidic kids and experimenting with the drug he smuggles. His parting words to his new recruits are..”mind your business and act Jewish.”

Sam is unable to keep his clandestine actions from his family and his community. As the ordered life pattern of his childhood begins to unravel, he becomes closer to the new, dangerous people in his life, only to realise that they are enmeshed in conflict and despair that neither he nor they can resolve. His own dilemma is whether to turn back to the securities of his former life or continue down a road he now knows leads to destruction.

The film is interspersed by snippets of Rabbinic teaching in Sam’s shul – the Adamic story is presented as a choice – when HaShem (Hebrew for ‘the Name’ – Lev 24:11)  calls to Adam in the Garden, Adam has only two choices, to move closer, or to move further away. Sam struggles to rediscover his God on the quicksand between the temptations of the world and the straitjacket of his ancient traditions. Regardless of the choices he makes, he will hurt others in his life if he wants to save his own. The movie sharply demonstrates Chaucer’s Squire’s maxim that “bihoueth hire a ful longe spone.. That shal ete with a feend”, or,”he who drinks soup with the Devil needs a very long spoon”.

Flyaway Paper

Today, I attended a “winter fayre”. The Old English spelling ought to be a dead giveaway. Lots of fat, aproned butchers carving up ucculentsay oastray orkpay (it’s Pig Latin, people, you’ll work it out), mulled ale, rosy-cheeked matrons, roast chestnuts and happy, laughing children warmly wrapped up in bright hand-knitted scarves against winter chills. Not. Instead, scruffy secondhand goods and kids stuffing themselves on junk food. To one who gets nervous at the Friday Market, this was purgatory par excellence, not least because the upside was that I went through my bookshelves like a devouring flame, removing all the tasteless impulse buys with attractive frontal imagery on Virgin’s bestseller stall bought in moments of cerebral meltdown, as well as titles which were letting the side down by having become dog-eared. I insist on a tidy library. It is now refreshed, cleansed, leaner and meaner. What was surprising to me is that I did not instantly find another stall and restock the shelves with more hundreds of pages of pulp. After disgorging the books I left almost immediately, which was only right since I hadn’t paid to get in, simply barged unchallenged to the front of the queue, shoving people to right and left with a large shoulder bag.
I’m not good with incompleteness, tasks unfinished, or tasks waiting to be finished. I get fretted if I have something to do that I haven’t really prepared for properly mentally. In consequence when I went through the bookshelves, I did so at high speed, knowing that I needed to leave the house in ten minutes  and if I actually gave thought to whether or not a particular book was to leave home for good, I’d be lost in a welter of indecision and they’d all get put back on the shelves, as if handling them would confer some kind of sentimental attachment to them. I felt like a guard at Auschwitz.
So, job done. The books melted like snowflakes in May – I revisited the stall a few minutes after depositing them and almost everything had gone. Perhaps my cast-offs aren’t quite as unreadable as I’d thought.

Crookt Age

It’s winter. Change is in the air; I can smell it, like a faraway sea breeze that just catches the edge of the senses. It’s too easy here to let the ebbs and flows and predictable routines sing the lullaby that things are just going to carry on, just as they are, and tomorrows will blur into others without a wrinkle on the smooth broadcloth of our lives.
And yet.
There is a cloud. Not a large one – just the size of a man’s little finger at present, gathering momentum, perhaps. And then again, could be that I’d like the cloud to be there, imagining it growing before my eyes into a real perfect storm, carrying me – wherever.
Perhaps I’m responding subliminally to the unpredictable weather in Northern Europe – 40cm of snow on December 1st on Kielder Water is unheard-of.  I wonder when people are going to start talking about “when records began”?
I was reminded of Britten’s impossibly difficult ‘Spring Symphony’, set to lyrics from George Chapman’s ‘Masque of the Twelve Months’ Perhaps I’m beginning to feel my own crookt age…
“Shine out, fair Sun, with all your heat,
Show all your thousand-coloured light!
Black Winter freezes [to] his seat;
The grey wolf howls, he does so bite;
Crookt Age on three knees creeps the street;
And eats for cold his aching feet;
The stars in icicles arise.”