Wiki-Extortion: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange attempts to blackmail Rupert Murdoch

By now, most people know the Wikileaks story.  It is a website that purports to be all about openness and freedom of information.  They’ve released, over the internet, thousands and thousands of leaked tidbits of information on many things, the most damaging being a cache of 250,000 U.S. Embassy diplomatic cables that have set the world in a tizzy.  The U.S. Government wants to try founder Julian Assange for espionage, and there has already been a concerted effort to compel or otherwise force Wikileaks “off the air”, as it were, by pressuring companies to cut ties with the site, including dropping their site hosting and even companies like Mastercard and Paypal no longer accepting donations to the site.  Cut off their hosting and bleed them out financially, that’s the plan.

There’s also some issues with Assange, namely he’s wanted in Sweden for some rather nasty doings with two Swedish women.  Assange says the Swedish charges are trumped up to get him into their system where it will be easier for the U.S. to have him shipped stateside and wind up in Guantanamo or worse yet, executed as a spy.  Sounds a little melodramatic, doesn’t it?  But it gets worse.

Now Assange is purported to have held back what he calls “an insurance file” filled with damning secret information on the the U.S. Government’s activities in Iraq, among other things, and, perhaps most interestingly, Rupert Murdoch.  Assange claims to have 504 embassy wires relating to “one specific news organization” and some files about Murdoch and News Corp. The files will be released “if something happens to him.”  Sounds like the plot of a bad thriller, doesn’t it?

This is a perplexing situation that I’m a little torn over.  On the one hand, I have no problem with the exposure of untoward things any government does, even our own.  In fact, in that regard, what Wikileaks has done is a positive thing.  I also have no issue with exposing untoward things various corporations have done.  In fact, if we still had an actual functioning press, would we even have needed a Wikileaks in the first place?  As the media has been sucked up more and more into a small little nest of giant conglomerates, the kind of investigative reporting and holding people in governments and businesses feet to the public fire, as it were, has fallen by the wayside.  Unless, of course, you’re a celebrity or an athlete, in which case we’ll hound every person you’ve ever spoken to trying to find a quote that makes you look bad.

But holding back information in order to save his own ass?  Now that’s a little too much like blackmail for my taste.  In fact, it is straight up blackmail.  If I get this right, Assange and Wikileaks has information so damning that major news organizations and governments should be shaking in their boots.  But, he’s going to hold on to it until he gets out from under the criminal charges he’s facing, and then what?  He destroys it?  He turns it over to the people in question?  What, exactly?  If this information is as damning as he says, then it needs to be out there.  We need to know why, exactly, the U.S. Embassy was talking so much about a particular news organization, and what, exactly, he has on Murdoch that would make him look like more of a self-serving scumbag than the media mogul already does?

What happens if we find out that members of the press and the U.S. Government were working in conjunction spreading information as independent news that was really just propaganda?  Oh, wait, we already know that goes on.   I would definitely like to know what he has that could possibly make the mainstream media look worse than we all already know it is.

Assange started this fight when he knowingly released documents that the authorities all around the world don’t want out there.  He had to know that he would be the object of scorn, derision and possibly trumped up charges like espionage.  In an ironic twist, lawyers for Assange have recently thrown a fit about confidential police files relating to the sexual assault charges in Sweden being released over the internet. What’s good for the goose, I suppose.  But my point is, if you going to be the champion of openness and the enemy of secrecy, face the music.  Put the information you have out there if you really believe it’s in the public’s interest to know.  But don’t blackmail someone with it to get your way.  That just makes you the same kind of hypocrite jerk that you’re purporting to want to expose.

That’s the funny thing about revolutionaries, they may be charismatic and they may have an important or valuable goal to strive toward, but too often, they’re also extremely flawed and insecure people.  Some of the elements of Wikileaks are very important for the future of communication and information, but Assange needs to go before he takes the whole ball down in flames with him, good and bad.  If that happens, it’ll be a huge setback for openness, freedom of the press and our ability as citizens to hold those in authority accountable for their actions.

Release it all, Assange, on your way to turn yourself into the Swedish police.  Any other way and you undermine the very purpose Wikileaks was founded for in the first place, making it and you just another footnote in history, if that.

Published in: on January 13, 2011 at 9:26 am  Comments (2)  
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Coming Soon to a DVD Player Near You: A Review of 2011’s Movies

So in my internet perusing this morning, I ran across a preview of the big movies coming out this year.  First off, let me say that very few of these look like they could be really great films, they are almost all throw-away entertainment.  But you know what, there is definitely a place for those, especially with the now-prevalent $1 rental kiosks from Redbox, Blockbuster and others, as well as the online versions and Netflix.  It’s cheaper than ever to rent a movie these days and, honestly, a movie has to be really, really bad to not be worth a buck.  The end of 2010 saw two movies, coincidentally both starring Jeff Bridges, that I’d like to see, the long-awaited sequel to Tron, and the Coen Brothers remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit.  Both have gotten some pretty solid reviews, but they belong to 2010.  These are the movies I’d like to see in 2011.  And no, there will be no mention of boy wizards or shimmery vampires, so please look elsewhere if that’s what you’re in to.

Next year will be a big one for comic book superheroes.  Admittedly, probably not as big as 2012 when Spiderman, Batman, Superman and the Avengers, among others, return to the silver screen, but there is no shortage of men in tights flying around and smashing stuff up set for this year.  Probably one of the more interesting ones being Thor.  Kenneth Branagh of Shakespearean fame, directs this flick about the Norse God of Thunder and even has Anthony Hopkins as Odin.  If anyone can treat this material right, it’s Branagh, and he could make this into the epic it should be rather than a lame lead-in to The Avengers movie coming out next year.

Speaking of which, Captain America: The First Avenger does kind of look like the aforementioned lame lead-in.  Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of Cap, and his story of genetic engineering to fight the Nazis just seems really, really dated at this point.  Hopefully, they can make this more relevant and not just a simple origin story for yet another character in The Avengers (to go along with Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, etc.)  But I’ll check it out anyway, just to see if they pull it off.  Plus, his nemesis, the Red Skull, was always creepy in the comics.

Over on the DC Comics side, we have the most inexplicable star in Hollywood, Ryan Reynolds, taking the power ring of Green Lantern.  Honestly, at what point has Reynolds ever done something good?  Two of my favorite comics as a kid were Daredevil and Green Lantern.  Well, Ben Affleck totally destroyed any possibility of the dark, complex character Daredevil ever being anything more than a bad joke to anyone not familiar with the comics.  Get ready for the same treatment for Green Lantern from Reynolds.  Certainly, Reynolds is eye candy for the female audience, but this is a superhero movie not a cheesy Rom-Com.  Two thirds of the audience are going to be pudgy guys in glasses with anime-themed tee-shirts, not exactly Reynolds’ core fanbase.  Plus, his suit is entirely CGI.  This one is going to suck mightily, but it could be so bad that it is at least vaguely entertaining.  Or it could be another Daredevil.

In other superhero news Seth Rogan is set to star in a farce kind of update of the ’60s television show The Green Hornet.  Unfortunately, Bruce Lee was unavailable (due to being dead) to play the role of Kato.  This movie could be funny.  Did I mention rentals are only a buck these days?  In yet another relaunching franchise, a new version of Conan the Barbarian is also set to come out this year.  No Arnold in this version, though.  And we won’t get the pleasure of watching James Earl Jones morph into a giant snake.  This time around, Conan is being played by Jason Momoa, who played Ronon on Stargate Atlantis.  I actually think he could be pretty good.  And as cheesy as the original was, I still kinda liked it.  That and The Beastmaster, but don’t tell anybody.

Aliens also make several appearances in theaters this year.  I Am Number Four is a big-screen adaptation of the first book of the Lorien Legacies series (Can’t anyone just write a novel anymore?  Why does everything have to be a series?) written by none other than Pittacus Lore, the ruling elder of the planet the alien babies in the book and movie come from.  Actually, Pittacus is a pseudonym for James Frey.  If you don’t know who James Frey is, he’s the guy who wrote the drug-addled memoir A Million Little Pieces that garnered such rave reviews for its shocking honesty from Oprah Winfrey and others before they found out the book was actually all bullshit.  Hey, if the guy can scam Oprah, he’d gotta have some talent for fiction, right?  Oh, and the movie’s about somebody hunting and killing these alien children on Earth.

In Battle: Los Angeles, aliens surprisingly come to Earth to wipe us humans out and it’s left to a small band of marines to fight off the evil invaders who outclass them in every way imaginable and save the day for humanity.  Sound familiar?  It’s only been the basic plot for every alien invasion movie since film was invented.  But still, spaceships are cool, and I’m sure they’re gonna blow lots of stuff up.  I never said these were going to be classic films.

In Cowboys & Aliens, visitors surprisingly come to Earth to wipe us humans out and it’s left to a small posse of cowboys to fight off…oh, you get the point.  This one might actually be interesting, though.  One, it’s based in the Wild West of Arizona in the 1870s.  And two, it stars Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.  If you could get behind Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith destroying an alien fleet with their laptop, I’m certain watching Indiana Jones and James Bond kick some alien ass from horseback with a Winchester rifle and a Colt revolver will not pose any problem at all.  Hey, I like westerns and I like aliens.  Why not bring them together?  Once I watch this movie, I’ll likely find out.

In the category of reminiscing from my days as a little kid, there are two movies coming out this year that I will definitely watch.  One is a retooling of The Muppets.  In this version, Kermit and the gang have to put on a show to save their old theater from being demolished.  So it’s like a big screen episode of The Muppet Show?  Awesome!  I wonder if they’ll do a Pigs in Space segment?  Or if the grouchy old dudes are still going to be bitching about everything from the balcony?  Hey, as long as The Electric Mayhem make an appearance, I am there!

The other movie in this class (please don’t laugh) is The Smurfs.  That’s right, they are making a live action Smurfs movie (the Smurfs themselves are actually CGI, probably because shirtless little people painted blue would have been offensive, Umpa Lumpa’s notwithstanding.  And they were orange, anyway.)  The best part?  Jonathan Winters, apparently back from the grave (you hear that Bruce Lee?  That’s commitment to the craft) does the voice of Papa Smurf.  I am all over this, unless, of course, the movie includes the late-cartoon-era Grandpa Smurf and his urine stained yellow pants.  Then I’ll skip it.

As ever, there are an array of sequels hitting theaters in 2011, most of which would likely have been better off not being made, but the chance to suck every last dollar out of a concept is just too overwhelming for Hollywood to pass up, I suppose.  We have The Hangover Part II where the boys get back together for another bachelor party, this time in Thailand instead of Vegas.  The first was pretty good, I suppose, but Thailand?  Really?  And after all they went through in the first one, what kind of universe would any of these guys ever go on another group trip again?  I’m getting nauseous just thinking about it.

Checking in this year, we also have Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides or, as I like to call it, Johnny Depp’s Personal ATM.  I guess after struggling along for years doing excellent work in really good films, I can’t begrudge Depp the right to cash in as much as he can.  And this one has Ian McShane, who played one of my all-time favorite TV characters Al Swearengen on Deadwood, as Blackbeard.  Yeah, I’ll be watching this one.  There’s Sherlock Holmes 2, where Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law try to solve the mystery of how the hell this ever got made after the trainwreck that was the first one.  But I do like Robert Downey Jr., and I have read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories.

And then there’s Scream 4. Scream 4 Mercy?  Scream 4 Relief?  Scream 4 someone to please stop Wes Craven before he beats this premise any more to death than it already has been?  However, it is a cheesy slasher movie and I’ve watched a lot worse, so I’ll be plopping my buck down at some point out of boredom if nothing else.  Another interesting one is Mission Impossible: The Ghost of Tom Cruise’s Career…er, The Ghost Protocol.  This is the fourth in a series of films that probably shouldn’t have made it past one.  But it is a spy flick with fancy gadgets and wild action sequences.

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon is the third installment in this series about giant alien robots.  Interestingly, everyone involved in part two pretty freely admits that it sucked and promise to do better this time.  No word on when they’ll be offering refunds on the $400 million box office take they made on it, though.  The really cool thing with this movie is, if you sync it up to The Wizard of Oz, the plot will actually make sense.

The last sequel I plan to check out is Fast Five, the fifth in the Fast and the Furious franchise.  Oddly, there are characters in this movie who died in previous Fast films.  The producers explain it by saying that this movie actually takes place before part three.  That means this is the sequel of a prequel of a sequel.  Confused?  Somewhere in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is an explanation for how the continuity of this franchise actually works.  I’ll be watching to see really cool cars go really fast, and to see Vin Diesel get all up The Rock’s grill.  It’s The Pacifier vs. The Tooth Fairy in a no hold’s barred battle royal.  Who can beat that?

And that leaves me with just four films that might actually be pretty good, and not in a cheesy way.  The first is Red Riding Hood, a dark, gothic retelling of the fairy tale (which, honestly, was pretty damn dark and gothic in its own right) starring Gary Oldman.  I just love Gary Oldman.  He’s had me hooked ever since I saw the drug-sniffing, psycho dirty cop he played in The Professional.  He was pretty good in Dracula, too, which leads me to believe that another dark, horror-type tale is just the vehicle for him.  Another one is Unknown with Liam Neeson, who I think is one of the most underrated actors alive.  He’s always excellent, no matter how lousy the movie.  In this one, he wakes up from a coma to find someone else has taken his life and identity and even his wife doesn’t know who he is.  I just love a good mystery.

Then there’s the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  If you haven’t seen the Swedish version (warning: it has subtitles) go rent it now.  It was an excellent film, start to finish.  I’ll be very interested to see whether it gets neutered in translation.  The original has some rather disturbing things happen that help explain the main character, Lisbeth Salander, that I’m just not certain will make the cut without being toned down for us prudish American audiences.  If they do hold to the story, this could be a Best Picture kind of flick.  If they don’t, it could totally suck.  I just want to see which way it goes.

And lastly, here’s a movie called Sucker Punch. Just read this description:  “A young girl, confined to a mental institution by her stepfather who plans to have her lobotomized in five days time, creates an imaginary world to plan her escape.” That just sounds all kinds of screwed up.  And something tells me that it’s not going to have a happy ending, a la Pan’s Labyrinth where the little girl escaped the Nazi’s in her mind but actually died in the end.  I’m ready for the Jack Nicholson Cuckoo’s Nest moment when he’s drooling on himself after being lobotomized.  I could be expecting too much, as the trailer seems like a big action movie, but considering she’s imagining it all, it could be pretty decent.  After watching the rest of the stuff on this list, let’s hope so.

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