We live in strange times, it’s no surprise by now. The world seems to get weirder with each passing season. The satirists must be despairing at how the world seems to resemble their old crazy-ass tricks of humour but in such a deadpan way that we’re no longer laughing but instead left wondering if the unemployed comedy writers have a new job making government policy. Living in South Africa we’ve made good friends with the absurd over the years. The jokes may change but the weirdness stays the same. There was, of course, that whole thing with the media tribunal and the protection of information act or bill or whatever. (It was all so concerning at the time, whatever happened with that? Did we lose interest after the tiger was on the loose?) And abroad there’s that Kanye West album with Justin Vernon on six tracks and a Harry Potter movie that is heavily indebted to The Searchers. What?
Having taken it’s cues from crazy Japanese movies like Machine Girl the world just keeps upping the weirdness ante. Enter the leaked diplomatic cables. Oh my. For those who don’t know what’s going on, you’re in for a treat. Mmmm. Wikileaks has gotten it’s sticky little fingers on 250 000 US diplomatic cable transmissions. I don’t know quite how they got hold of them but they approached several large newspapers to cover the leaks: The New York Times, The Guardian, De Spiegel, Le Monde and some Spanish paper (I could put their name if I looked for it, but does it matter? It’d still just be “some Spanish paper”). Today is day one or day two. The authenticity of the leaks hasn’t been called into question, in fact some of the papers have been corresponding with the US state department to decide what is suitable to publish and what would be unsafe. I believe that the Wikileaks site has been down most of the day due to distributed denial of service attacks, doubtless the work of at least a few concerned/irritated governments.
Let’s pause here to digest the potential for madness.
It’s early days yet and the full extent of what has been going on and the fallout isn’t clear yet. So far many of the cables covered by the papers haven’t been revelatory. Everyone hates Iran and doesn’t want them to have bombs. US diplomats gather information about their counterparts in other countries and so forth. It’s kinda like we all got to read their bitchy facebook messages about each other. It’s reassuring and terrifying to realise that perhaps the whole world really is just one big high school, turning over on gossip and cliques and trash talking. Go us. Certainly some of the diplomatic practices don’t sound great in the press, but really, is anyone that surprised that most governments get up to these kind of shenanigans?
What interests me most in this whole mess is the response of the public and the governments. Most governments are unamused (which I’m taking as an admission of similar shenanigans and some grumpiness that the backstage ugliness of the international relations is in the spotlight) and have damned the leaks claiming that it will damage diplomatic ties, endanger people and generally destabilise the world. Hardly surprising really.
What is surprising to me is the public reaction, or at least the concerned Americans writing to the NYT. There’s a surprising disdain for freedom of speech and a free press. The arguments suggest that they are in favour of these things but only up to a point. They believe that some information is too sensitive and shouldn’t be disclosed like this. This line of thinking that a free press is only mostly good sounds like the ANC’s recent line of argument with the Protection Of Information thingy. Certain information, they say, is too sensitive and it would be against the public interest to publish it.
The idea is worrying. I don’t know what to think of it. Maybe they have a point there. Should the press be allowed to publish information that would lead to civil unrest? Do people no longer have a right to know this sensitive information? On the other hand you’re in bad waters as soon as you say that the press is only mostly free, provided it doesn’t cross the government’s invisible line of decency.
There again, most of the cables I’ve read about don’t seem to threaten world peace. And if certain individuals are made accountable for the things they have said and done, is that such a bad thing? Shouldn’t we be responsible for our actions?
Anyway. The big question for me is how it plays out from here. What will we hear as the weeks pass and the cables are reported on and our governments are seen more clearly? How will the Americans move to repair their secret network and their damaged ties? Will diplomats hold their tongues in future? Will they hold their tongues around each other, afraid that they diplomatic world just became a wordier and bitchier version of twitter? Will this go down in history or will the world cease to care over the next few weeks as our attention is diverted to more interesting gossip? More interestingly, how will the world top this? What will be the next weirder news story? Maybe Sarkozy will marry Merkel and France and Germany will unite and they will be king and queen of a new superpower. Probably not.
Either way, it’ll be an interesting week, in part because I finally get to watch Scott Pilgrim. And the whole diplomatic squishiness thing. That too. Thanks for reading all this way, I may have tricked you into thinking that this was about Kanye West, tigers and Harry Potter. Sorry about that. Have a picture of a puppy.
The Mississippi Delta is shining like a national guitar
If I had to pick a single album that was the soundtrack to my childhood, it’d have to Paul Simon’s Graceland. I remember that tape playing whenever we went through for an adventure to Hillbrow (then a very different place). My memories of it are vague, but I remember the tape, the station wagon, the double highway of the M1 as it passes the CBD and big streets, grey-green. These trips probably planted the initial seed of my fascination with the Joburg CBD.
Some young mother is out there, driving her kids around the colourful parts of town, playing Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Probably. I hope so anyways. I hope those kids like it. I hope they remember it.
A few weeks back I was at Dance Dance Dance at Kitcheners and Ben came up to me suggested that I go get my dodgy little digital camera to take a few portraits of our friends posing with his records. Go here to see the results.