NOT SO SECRET AMERICA

Teeth-mashing. Infuriating. Disheartening. Scary, even. Those are only a few words that come to mind after reading the bombshell of a report that came out in the Washington Post today. It’s all over the Web today, trending incredibly high in the Twitterverse and even making Gawker’s list of “be terrified” articles. This is a very big story — a potential incendiary bomb that no one in the White House or the Company wants or needs right now. That being said, it had to be done. It’s confirming what many people have long suspected about U.S. Intelligence — it has gone absolutely bat-shit crazy in its consumption of money, time and resources, ultimately to little tangible or publicized success since 9/11.


Top Secret America
— a two-year investigative journalism project that reminds us a) how essential it is to have great print journalists out there like Dana Priest and forums to publish their work, and b) providing a reminder of how great the Washington Post used to be before it got sucked entirely into the Beltway vortex of power — is a damning series of pieces on the unwieldy nature of the U.S. Intelligence community. The long and short of the series’ thesis is this: government operations are costly endeavours, we know that. But just imagine a government service has grown so big, so out of control and so rife with waste that no one — not even the government itself — knows how much it costs anymore.

Ponder that for a moment. No really, drink that in.

See that picture above? That’s a map of all the operations in the continental United States that involve anti-terror work. You’d think all these projects would be making a difference, right? Nope, not really. Remember the attempted Detroit plane bombing? The attempted bombing in Manhattan? Of course you do — we were all made to feel scared at the prospect of more terror attacks on America.

This report may be 2010’s most essential published document yet. A must-read.

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FOR DAVID, 1979-2010

It’s been a long time since I wrote on here. This is the only way I can work through the news of my good friend David Wink’s passing.

I’ve known David since 1998. He was a frosh, I was a second-year student at Queen’s. I remember chatting with him after a Liberal Party meeting. I took him to the Queen’s Pub, buying him a beer and learning all about a person that would come to have a profound impact on my life and many others.

A Peterborough, Ontario native, David was, is and will always be an extraordinary person. He had the strength of ten men emotionally – a guy with incredible abilities to be giving, cordial and kind. He was an affable gent, always making you laugh with astute observations and hilariously corny references to Yes Minister and stuffed-shirt politicians of yore. He was easily one of the most universally respected people I knew at Queen’s across the ideological and institutional spectrum. In short, he was great.

He was an intellectual heavyweight at a school of smart, driven people. Even though politics was not his major, David knew more about liberalism and political theory than most politics students at Queen’s. He was remarkably versatile in his interests, speaking and writing eloquently on a variety of topics. He got a terrific job with one of Queen’s most respected professors, Dr. George Perlin, at the Centre for the Study of Democracy – a position he held for a number of years. He was a remarkably hard worker in almost everything he did. He was dependable, loyal and giving of his time in ways that would put a lot of people to shame.

But all of this is just a description of a man: how does one pay tribute to a person’s life? How do you give homage to someone?

As I’ve written before, you honour them with memories. You take a piece of that person and make them part of you. I have memories of David organizing a policy conference where jokes were scattered across the floor, people laughing and David trying, in his most endearing way, to keep things orderly and moving. I remember David organizing for Queen’s Model Parliament, even enacting policy agreements between parties — how serious we all were — called The Kymlicka Accord. I remember us getting drunk together at the Queen’s Grad Club, nearly busting a gut with Christopher Currie over red wine and laughing until our chests hurt. Or listening to David when he was sad. Or frustrated. Or deliriously happy. There’s a million memories.

But most of all, I’ll remember David as one of the best men I’ve ever known. He loved his family with intensity unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. His complex relationship to his Catholic faith was one of constant debate in his own mind, a sincere and entirely earnest attempt on his part to know and understand what it means to have a relationship with his God.

And now you’re gone, David. I can’t entirely accept this. Not yet.

You shouldn’t be gone, David. You’re 31. Your Ph.D and marriage were coming up. You were going to be my groomsman at my wedding. We had so much still to do. We still had so much to talk about.

I don’t claim to know anything about God or even have a relationship with faith. I don’t know where you are right now, David. All I do know is that as long as we all love you, which we do, you will never be gone. You will always be around us in our memories. You will be always be a great friend. You will always be respected.

Rest in Peace, my good friend.

IS THE U.S. GOVERNMENT *THIS* SCARED OF WIKILEAKS?

Hope everyone’s having a decent post-Olympics period. Baseball’s coming in a few weeks and the Jays selected Shaun Marcum as the Opening Day starter for the post-Halladay era (get ready for 2010 Jays fans, it’s not going to be pretty). That’s a good reason to be thrilled. Still, not why I’m posting today.

WikiLeaks.org has been an enormous success since it debuted a few years back. It’s broken a few major stories and really pissed off some powerful folks.

Still, this story is definitely sending chills down the spine for an information freedom proponent like me: if it even has a modicum of truth to it, it’s very unsettling (yes, I know, it’s from Gawker so you have to be a bit skeptical, but WikiLeak’s Twitter feed is pretty telling in its revelations about surveillance of the site and its staff).

I don’t know much about the off-site operations of WikiLeaks, although I do know that it is run with a semi-distributed network of secure servers operating in different parts of the world. It’s hard to take it down, in other words. But the fact the U.S. government is this scared of the potential of WikiLeaks speaks volumes. Information always wants to be free, but not if the U.S. government has a say in the matter, apparently.

I’M THINKING 24 MEDALS

Okay, I’ll admit it: I was feeling pretty down earlier this week about Canada’s performance in Vancouver. But man oh man — it’s really turning around now. How could you not love last night’s total and complete ass-kicking of Russia by our men’s hockey team? Unlike in Turin, where they looked, well, horrible, this Team Canada looks very medal-worthy. I’m trying to not get overly excited yet. They face Slovakia tomorrow. No Sweden, either!

As of today, we have 15 medals (including the amazing Clara Hughes’ incredible race yesterday). Here’s where we’re going to medal for sure:

* Women’s hockey today. We’re assured at least a silver medal.
* Men’s curling. Kevin Martin looks unstoppable at this point.
* Women’s curling. Again, Cheryl Bernard? Only China can stop her at this point.

Here’s where we have a good-to-possible chance at a medal:

* Joannie Rochette tonight in the women’s free skate. She’s third now, but she’s probably got something extra special saved.
* Men’s hockey. At this point, the only thing stopping them are Slovakia and possibly the U.S.
* Short track speed skating. Charles Hamelin is looking for some serious redemption now. The women are still strong contenders, too.
* Long track speed skating. Women’s and men’s team pursuit — Canada is fearsome in these. Then again, so are the Dutch and Germans.
* Four-man bobsled. Pierre Lueders has one last shot at the whole she-banga-bang.

I can’t believe there’s just four days left of competition. What a crazy whirlwind it’s been. Still, 24 medals seems very reasonable at this point.

DIGITAL NATION

Since last Saturday’s CAJ conference, I’ve been thinking a lot more (yes, these are the things I do for fun, I’m such a boring nerd) about digital technology and newsgathering. I sit on and stew these things for days on end. Yes, this is what I do in my now-minimal spare time.

Anyway, PBS aired this really interesting documentary series called Digital Nation this week. It’s available online. It’s actually a pretty fresh take on the generational divide that affects people’s perceptions of life on the net. Definitely worth checking out.

And, low and behold, John Gaudi, the Digital Skeptic, informed me of it airing last night. Of course, it was on regular television, so…

NEWS NOSTALGIA

I’m attending the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Innovation conference today. It’s been an interesting look at the future development of journalism and harnessing technologies already available as news gathering sources.

Here’s some of the assumptions that many people — assumptions a lot of people in my age group already know — in the business are coming to terms with:

* A lot of people who work in media still run the business essentially on outdated, false assumptions about the media business that are better placed in the pre-Internet revolution;

* Even though we can reach people 24/7 with media reports now, a lot of ideas about the Good Old Days of media consumption belong in a time of pre-information scarcity;

* Hyper-local is an important feature of any news gathering operation start-up;

* If you don’t embrace applications like Facebook or Twitter now, it’s a real issue for any kind of journalist nowadays in terms of their ability to experiment (and be employable);

* Journalists have a lot of tools to use in reporting, but generally don’t use them especially well;

* The decline of newspaper consumption as a generational activity — specifically, those under the age of 40 — can be correlated to declines in participation in voting, clubs, and other institutions;

* Innovation, especially in the media, is really important to how we think about things on a day-to-day basis, especially in relationship to a brand’s strength and viability;

* In media environments, change and consistently, growing change are the only norms left in the media;

* Mobile is The Future. Period.

* You will not make any money charging for content through paywalls.

Some interesting points to ponder.

OLYMPICS FANDANGO

So, uh, get this: it’s less than two weeks until the Olympics. And in spite of the fact I’m not a licensed sponsor/accredited media/millionaire, I’m going to do something the International Olympic Committee doesn’t like:

Yes, the strange mix of plutocrats, ex-arms dealers, ex-fascists, aristocrats and capitalists that make up the I.O.C. don’t like it when you post the Olympic rings up without their consent, apparently. Well, here’s me doing it. I like the Olympic rings. They’re cool.

CLARA HUGHES: My namesake is Canada’s flag-bearer for Vancouver. Couldn’t have picked a better person for the role. Here’s the story. And here’s another story on the bad-ass Clara was in her youth. Surprised? She loved the Extra Old Stock and smoked a pack a day. Now she probably has the most insanely muscular thighs and most in-shape body. Ever.