Mar 31, 2011

Julian Assange: dance moves in Reykjavik

assange,wikileaks

A video of Julian Assange dancing at a club in Reykjvik became available recently.

When DJ Seth Sharp spotted a silver haired dude on the dance floor back in 2009 he couldn't resist recording the action. At the time Sharp had no clue that the dancer was none other than Julian Assange. As Sharp recalls it the music that inspired Assange's routine was a Benny Benassi remix.

You can link to the site candyday that gives some additional background on the visuals - also to sethsharp.com.

Sharp:

Julian was really letting go and all over the dance floor and I was really impressed at his lack of shyness... I found his ability to let go on the dance floor very inspiring and I thought it would be interesting to let other people see it...

A friend of the DJ named sebbi liked Julian's unique style: "...I have to agree that although Julians dancing style is quite strange it also kicks ass and I will confess that I have stolen quite a few moves from him."





Assange's dancing style was also commented on by former WikiLeaks associate Daniel Domscheit-Berg. In his memoir titled "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World's Most Dangerous Website" Domscheit-Berg offers a mixed review of Assange's skills on the dance floor.

Julian took up a lot of space when he danced — almost like a tribesman performing some kind of ritual. He’d spread his arms and gallop across the dance floor, taking huge steps. He didn’t look very rhythmic or coordinated, and he didn’t seem to have that much feeling for the music, but he did possess a certain cool. He didn’t care what other people thought of him. You need space, he once told me, for your ego to flow.


Course there's more to Julian Assange than dance moves and the speculation about his personal life that's been doing the rounds on the web. Beneath is a video titled "Julian Assange: Why the world needs WikiLeaks."







More from New Statesman, Guardian

Also link to the article "The Shameful Attacks on Julian Assange" in The Atlantic

Mar 28, 2011

US military sock puppets to target social media

centcom,sock puppets,internet

In an apparent effort to win hearts and minds in unfriendly cyber territory, the US Central Command aka Centcom has plans to launch an army of patriotic sock puppets.

Centcom has awarded a $2.7 million contract to LA based Ntrepid with the aim of creating online "personae" to help get out pro-US spin in the social media sphere. The software will enable a given service operative to work up to 10 sock puppets anywhere in the world. The project would be based out of MacDill Airforce Base in Florida.

Guardian:

The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".


Operators looking to avoid detection will likely use tactics such as traffic mixing in order to provide cover and deniability. But no matter how 'authentic' they make it appear, this is a really dumb plan. For one thing it's nothing new and playing the fake ID game doesn't exactly add to your online credibility. Centcom's sock puppet software mirrors a favorite pastime of trolls and geeks with no lives. Kind of ironic since the cyber venture is believed to be part of a program with the high sounding name - Project Earnest Voice.

Aside from the ethics of running a pro-American sock puppet show online do the people behind this really imagine the fake id's won't be unmasked? High tech abilities aside, a sock puppet on an Urdu-speaking site is liable to be viewed with suspicion when its pro-American commentary keeps coming irrespective of back-up "supporting details."

There are a few related concerns.

Guardian:

The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.


As of now Centcom says it has no plans to target English language or US based sites. Of course that could change. The faking of social media profiles for info gathering purposes isn't anything new as the war between HBGary Federal and Anonymous demonstrated.

Link also to: Toronto Star, TG Daily, Digital Journal

Centcom sock puppet offensive

Palestinian chat rooms targetd by Centcom

Mar 23, 2011

Berlusconi and Gaddafi: no more bunga bunga

berlusconi. gaddafi,libya

Muammar Gaddafi says he feels betrayed by Europe. He told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale that he feels especially dismayed by the defection of Silvio Berlusconi: "I’m really shocked by the behavior of my European friends, in the first place by Silvio Berlusconi... I’m so shocked. I feel betrayed. I don’t know what to say to Berlusconi." Understandable... the two have had a working relationship over the years.

Berlusconi has worked with Gaddafi in attempting to keep migrants from their mutual shores. The Italian government's treatment of so-called "boat people" has been harsh to say the least. Gaddafi played a role in keeping the 'undesirables' out.

Mother Jones:


In 2009, Qaddafi and Berlusconi made an agreement that became part of an open and often vicious campaign against migrants: Libya would try to keep them from leaving in the first place; if they got out, Italy would send them back to Libya without providing them a chance to make asylum claims.


Italy has a lot of business interests in Libya, particularly in the energy and construction sectors. Italy's Eni is the largest foreign operator and takes roughly a third of Libya's oil production. Business ties have also emerged that more directly connect Berlusconi and Gaddafi.

In a 2009 Guardian article John Hooper shed light on some of the connections:

But the two leaders are connected by something other than political expediency. Their families have a common (and highly debatable) business interest.

In June, the small Italian news agency Radiocor reported that a Libyan company, Lafitrade, had taken a 10% stake in Quinta Communications, a cinema production company founded by a Tunisian-born but French-based entrepreneur, Tarak Ben Ammar. Lafitrade is controlled by the Gaddafi's family's investment vehicle, Lafico.

So far, so uncontroversial. Except that a) one of the other firms invested in Quinta Communications, with a stake of around 22%, is a Luxembourg-registered investment company owned by the Berlusconi family investment vehicle, Fininvest; and b) Quinta Communications and Mediaset, the Berlusconi-founded TV empire, each own a one-quarter stake in a new satellite TV channel for the Maghreb, Nessma TV.

Hooper points out that the deal amounts to "a pretty staggering conflict of interest."

The last contact was a call from Berlusconi denying Gaddafi's claim that Italy had supplied rockets to the rebels. Gaddafi for his part told Il Giornale that he would only be prepared to do future business with Italy once Berlusconi leaves office. The betrayal of Gaddafi by Berlosconi and the western attack on Libya is typical of the old colonial attitude. I'm surprised Gaddafi is surprised.

My first instinct would have been to defend the colonel if he had served his own people better and not become a pawn of interests he should have kept at arm's length. It seems as though it is now too late to reverse the outcome which the colonel himself, unfortunately, is to no small degree responsible. It's impossible to defend the imperial assault on Libya, but equally hard not to see how it has been facilitated. 

Check out a video tribute to a great love... gone... but not forgotten:






Link also to Guardian

Mar 19, 2011

Ark Music Factory's awfully great YouTube sensation

rebecca black,friday,youtube

LA based vanity label Ark Music Factory represents a depressing trend in popular music. The Factory is a magnet for rich parents who are eager to promote their wannabee-pop-star teens. It puts out casting calls, makes low-budget videos (a number of them unintentionally hilarious), then ships the vids around in the hopes that something will catch fire. Rebecca Black's massive YouTube hit "Friday" did exactly that.

In a Bohemian.com article music journalist Gabe Meline describes how Ark gets the job done:

The formula is simple: They’ll fly your child between the ages of 13-17 to Los Angeles, write her a “hit,” record it in super-compressed Autotuned production, shoot an edge detection-overlay video and BAM! Maybe your kid can notch up a couple thousand YouTube views while you watch your dreams of being a pop-star parent percolate.


Black's lo-fi video performance is riveting for all the wrong reasons. You can't resist watching as she delivers inane lines with an assist from pitch-correcting software aka Auto-Tune... "yeah ah ah... yeah aha ah... gotta have my bowl... gotta have cereal...gotta catch my bus... gotta get down on Friday..." etc.

Gabe Meline:

...My friend Trevor puts it best: “It’s like everyone involved was given cat tranquilizers and then forced at gunpoint to make a video. The expression on her face when she’s saying the “fun fun fun fun” line is somewhere between ‘I’m saying “fun” but that word means something different on our world’ and ‘Help me I am being held hostage by Kim Jong Il and forced to do this.’


The video has the look of an SNL skit - a bit like a Lonely Island digital short poking fun at tweens. If you view it with a sarcastic eye as vacuous fun it kind of works. It's difficult to listen to lines like "Tomorrow is Saturday, And Sunday comes after ... wards" or "Yesterday was Thursday, ThursdayToday i-is Friday, Friday" and take it seriously.

Seems though that Ark Music is entirely serious. It appears to be attempting a Bieber type sensation, only difference being that Rebecca Black's appeal for a lot of viewers is equivalent to watching a train wreck .

Black's parents paid $2,000 to get the video made. She has been stung by the online criticism of her video and has complained of being "cyberbullied". In a recent radio interview she claims she has stopped going online. It's understandable that she feels that way but the video IS funny (for the wrong reasons) and so attracts sarcastic commentary.

YouTube and iTunes have increasingly become promotional venues of choice, not just for wannabee-stars but also for labels looking to hit the musical jackpot. Some of the time it seems more about catchy, gimmicky appeal rather than the quality of the actual music.

The Friday video has gone viral in spectacular fashion - 16 million views on last check. It has also made it into iTunes Top 100 singles chart.

For more on the story link to: Daily Beast, bnet, Rolling Stone

Funniest Ark videos - here

Friday song amnesia spreading


Mar 14, 2011

'Air Miles Andy' under fire

prince andrew,envoy,uk

What's most surprising about Prince Andrew's questionable judgment calls in his role as British trade envoy is that anyone is surprised. Much like his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, duke-junior has a tendency to put his foot in it. A few people saw it coming. When word first got out that the prince was slated for the trade position a Guardian article warned of "an accident waiting to happen". Prophetic as it turns out.

There have been no shortage of indicators that suggest the duke is somewhat challenged when it comes to diplomatic skills. In a cable published by Wikileaks the US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatania Gfoeller, described the duke's speaking manner at a 2-hour brunch as 'cocky'... 'verging on rude'. She also commented on his apparent tolerance for corruption and 'almost neuralgic patriotism'.

Following the Wikileaks revelation Simon Wilson, the UK's deputy head of mission in Bahrain from 2001-2005, said that Prince Andrew was known as "HBH: His Buffoon Highness" among people in the Gulf diplomatic community. Just last week Stephen Day, former head of the UK Foreign Office's Middle East section described Andrew as the "worst person" to represent the UK in a country' such as Qatar where his royal presence is viewed as "crass".

The duke's personal connections have also come under fire. He had a 16-year friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, an American billionaire who was convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution. As many as 40 young women have made allegations against Epstein. Nadia Marcinkova, an occasional girl friend of Epstein's and a PA named Sarah Ellen were questioned about whether the duke had been involved sexually with any of the young women that were present in Epstein's entourage. Both opted to take the Fifth. The duke was photographed with an arm around Virginia Roberts, a 17 year-old masseuse who has since claimed that she was sexually exploited by Epstein.

The list of the prince's friends and associates reads a bit like a who's who of the rich and infamous. It includes Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and convicted Libyan gun smuggler, Tarek Kaituni. Also on the list one Sakher al-Materi - son-in-law of deposed Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. A former British ambassador described al-Materi as "notorious"... "a crook"... "the worst of them all". Al-Materi's sketchy resume didn't get in the way of an invitation to lunch at Buckingham Palace.

The prince has also had a friendship with Ilham Aliyev and his family. Aliyev is the autocratic ruler of Azerbaijan. International observers report that elections in Azerbaijan have been marred by voter intimidation, unequal campaign opportunities and widespread violations of the electoral laws and process.


aliyev,azerbaijan,prince andrew
Prince Andrew and Ilham Aliyev


In 2003 Andrew sold Sunninghill - a home that was a wedding gift from the Queen - for 15 mllion pounds. The purchaser was a Kazhak billionaire named Timur Kulibayev, son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan. The house went for 3 million above the market value and has since remained unoccupied and poorly maintained. It's being reported that the duke used a complicated tax avoidance scheme to save up to six million pounds on the profits he made from the sale of the home.

Some of the recent revelations have involved his debt-ridden ex, Sarah Ferguson. Fergie was secretly videotaped trying to sell access to the prince. The 'businessman' involved turned out to be an undercover reporter. It has also come to light that she accepted 15,000 pounds from Jeffrey Epstein to pay down her debts... a move she now describes as a "huge mistake". Given her other missteps and 'lapses of judgment' Fergie is in danger of becoming a parody of herself.

A financier named David Rowland - once described in the British parliament as "shady" - paid 40,000 pounds off Fergie's debts. The money has the appearance of a cash-for-favors arrangement. In 2009 the duke made a special trip to Luxembourg in his role as British trade envoy and personally opened Banque Havilland - a Rowland bank in Luxembourg. Buckingham Palace has denied that the duke's visit was "connected with, or conditional on, any other arrangement”.

Will 'Air Miles Andy' be let go as envoy? Well he has a few things on his side. In the UK the royal family is still protected from public accountability by law. An amendment to the Freedom of Information Act makes royals exempt from the public's right-to-know.

Andrew's royal status essentially protects him from appearing before government select committees and fielding awkward questions. A rather bizarre state-of-affairs in an otherwise functioning democracy. After all royals take public money, influence policy but conveniently remain beyond accountability! Nothing like having your cake and eating it too.

Link also to Guardian, Guardian, BBC, CBC

Mar 8, 2011

Usama Hasan: views on evolution targeted by 'fanatics'

usama hasan,islam,evolution,Masjid mosque

Religious extremists of any stripe are off-putting - doesn't matter whether they happen to be Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other brand of hardliner. It's one thing when they preach, but another when they ostracize those who disagree with them even to the point of issuing death threats.

As British imam, Dr Usama Hasan, discovered recently religious zealots are deeply threatened by those who challenge their orthodoxies with rational and scientific arguments.

Dr Hasan is a physics lecturer and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. In January he delivered a lecture at London's Masjid Tawid mosque in Leyton. He put forward the view that the theory of evolution and Islam are not necessarily incompatible. This may sound like a fairly radical proposition but actually other Muslim scholars have taken similar positions. Before the theory of evolution made its mark on western thought, Muslim thinkers such as Ibn Khaldun and al-Jahiz developed theories related for example to the transmutation of species that had much in common with Darwin's later ideas.

Hasan addressed the topic of evolution in an opinion piece that appeared in the Guardian under the title "Knowledge regained":

One problem is that many Muslims retain the simple picture that God created Adam from clay, much as a potter makes a statue, and then breathed into the lifeless statue and lo! it became a living human. This is a children's madrasa-level understanding and Muslims really have to move on as adults and intellectuals, especially given the very serious scientific heritage of the medieval Islamic civilisation.


The mosque lecture in January was interrupted by roughly 50 protesters who handed out anti-Darwin leaflets. They were described by Hasan at the time as "fanatics". He was approached by one of the protesters and warned that he was an apostate deserving of death.

Hasan has been critical of Muslim clerics who have made negative pronouncements about evolution without understanding the science behind it. He said evolution "is not a matter of iman [belief] or kufr [disbelief], and people are free to accept or reject a particular scientific theory."

The campaign against him appears to have been orchestrated by Saudi-influenced hardliners who are out to close down developments in UK Islamic circles that appear to be 'modernist' or 'progressive' in nature. In addition to their issues with Hasan's views on evolution, they were offended by statements he made that were supportive of Muslim women uncovering their hair in public.

Guardian:

A statement from the secretary of the mosque, Mohammad Sethi, that was leaked to extremist websites, said Hasan had been suspended after his lecture resulted in "considerable antagonism" from the community and for his "belief that Muslim women are allowed to uncover their hair in public".

Sethi's letter, dated 24 February, said Hasan's views were in "violation of the constitution of the Masjid Trust" and that the decision had been made for the "safety and security of all parties". But Suhaib Hasan, who is the imam's father and chairman of the mosque, posted a counter-statement on the mosque's website on Thursday. It claimed his son had been the victim of a "vicious and predetermined agenda" by a "faction of trustees" and their decision to remove him was void because their meeting was inquorate.


It can't be easy to stand up for your beliefs in the face of intimidation. Unfortunately the tactics of his detractors appear to have succeeded to some degree. Through his father - chairman of the Leyton mosque - Hasan issued a notice that read in part: "I seek Allah's forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused..." It's difficult to believe this retraction wasn't in part a response to the negative reaction his views stirred up. Perhaps he should consider finding another mosque.

Hasan's views on evolution and Islam are thought provoking, especially given the superstitious beliefs peddled by orthodox scholars in places such as Saudi Arabia. The orthodox hold to the creation myth - the belief that Adam and Eve were the first walking, talking clay people produced by the hand of the great unseen potter. The findings of modern science are so far removed from their thinking many continue to promote discredited ideas - for example the belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth.

For more on the story link to Guardian - Independent - Pickled Politics - Irtiqa - Pharyngula