Nick Freiling

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WikiLeaks spreads truth

This piece was published in The Collegian (Grove City College) on December 10, 2010. I was 19 years old when I wrote it. I’m 25 now, and it has once again become relevant.

WikiLeaks.org, media organization of journalist Julian Assange, came under harsh criticism last week for its recent and ongoing release of sensitive United States diplomatic cables. Firmly condemned by several prominent politicians, some called for Assange’s arrest, as secrets of American foreign policy are being made available to every Internet user in the world.

At first glance, it is easy to condemn the methods WikiLeaks employed as it exposed sensitive government material. Echoing the world’s most powerful political figures has always been the easy way out when faced with this sort of moral dilemma.

But the mark of the exceptional man has always been to look beyond first impressions to the underlying truth. In this case, even the most basic investigation of the WikiLeaks’ vision should be enough to convince the strongest critic of the vital importance of preserving and encouraging this new species of journalism.

A healthy free press has historically been the common man’s most powerful defense against the abuses of oppressive government. Indeed, the unique liberty enjoyed by the modern journalist has brought the poorest of people a medium of expression unparalleled in all world history. The dignity of the individual, human rights, and a vicious hate of injustice have no roots in despotic government or powerful regimes, but in the pens of sincere and concerned activists.

Julian Assange recognized this when he formed WikiLeaks in 2006. “The aim of WikiLeaks” he said, “is to achieve just reform around the world and do it through the mechanism of transparency.”

In this he has been very successful. WikiLeaks has received praise from such organizations as the Index on Censorship and Amnesty International for its work in exposing underground human rights violations. It has also served as a blueprint for other journalists seeking to use the Internet to breach the confidentiality of fraudulent establishments to protect human life and dignity.

But when WikiLeaks turned its sights toward the U.S. last week, revealing dishonesty at the federal level, its credibility as a media agency went down the drain. Almost unanimously, Western politicians condemned WikiLeaks, some even going so far as to call for Assange’s assassination. They argue that his efforts endangered innocent lives. Sarah Palin, for example, named him “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands,” and she was joined by others calling for his eventual execution.

But what is the press worth if its operation is subject to government regulation? If government is allowed to silence the press with the force of law, accountability is lost and the government becomes their own interpreter.

Many will argue, however, that secrecy in diplomacy is necessary to ensure an efficient international system. This is a reasonable argument in the modern context; the status quo rests on an intricate network of secrets and political back-dealing.

But as reformers, these journalists’ vision transcends boundaries, seeking a society free from dependence on fragile confidentiality. “It shouldn’t really be ‘should something be kept secret?’” Assange said. “I would rather it be thought, ‘who has a responsibility to keep certain things secret, and who has a responsibility to bring matters to the public?’ Those responsibilities fall on different players. And it is our responsibility to bring matters to the public.”

Just as international politics evolves, so must investigative journalism. WikiLeaks represents the next step in the evolution of the press to maintain its role as the guardian of truth in a world of increasingly intricate politics. If the national interest overrides the role of truth in the world, we are very hopeless indeed – the common man most of all. In this age when the plight of the individual can appear exceedingly insignificant amidst the web of excessive political activity, the free press is desperately needed.

It is only to be expected that the world’s most powerful regimes would condemn the revelation of truth. But it is up to us whether we will consider the facts as they exist, or refuse to accept all who might expose our faults. If we cannot compete with the truth, are we to kill its messenger? Truth is worthless if accepted selectively.

Congressman Ron Paul put it this way: “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”

This is Hillary’s Waterloo

Isn’t Hillary the most capable person on the planet of “putting it all out on the table,” as she’s demanding of Comey and the FBI with regard to the renewed investigation into her emails? These emails are either hers or her personal aide’s. Why wait for the FBI to couch the situation in their terms, scandalous or not, versus get ahead of the announcement and anticipate what the FBI will find?
 
I would bet money that the reason is she knows there is damning evidence lying around, but she doesn’t know for sure if the FBI has found it. She cannot say, like any sensible public relations pro would advise, that she’s confident the FBI will find nothing seriously wrong – that there is nothing to worry about or, at the very least, that Huma is on leave until this matter is settled, and that she will be fired if she is found to be in violation of the law. There is, frankly, no way Huma doesn’t know what’s on the devices she failed to turn over. If I’m wrong, then it simply shows gross negligence on her part – yet another Hillary operative who will be forced to resign.
 
There is a lot going on with regard to this investigation, if only you are willing to consider that possibility. I’m talking to my liberal friends who openly support Hillary on Facebook daily yet have made almost no mention of this scandal whatsoever, or have spun it up to be a political move on behalf of Obama-appointed Comey. Consider that House Republicans have yet to move in response to several concerning emails revealed by Wikileaks or several FEC violations exposed by James O’Keefe. You may not like those sources, but their documents and video are real, and they’ve led to resignations. The reason Republicans have yet to move on these is because they are waiting – if Trump wins, they drop it; if Hillary wins, investigations commence immediately. This is such an obviously advantageous course of action for them – I think any intelligent person can understand that.
 
Consider Comey’s letter in light of that. If you really believe he was politically motivated and working with DC Republicans, then why would he do this now, when House Republicans and the DOJ obviously are not interested in investigating Hillary? Why not wait until after she wins (unless you believe he wants Donald Trump to be the President – a fair enough position)?
 
I don’t believe Comey was politically motivated. In fact, I’m more inclined to believe he was influenced not by Republicans, but by Democrats who are concerned about what will happen after Hillary wins – what new rigorous investigations into the plethora of new evidence that has yet to be brought up will reveal about Hillary and how she won. This would be devastating for Democrats in 2018 and beyond.
 
The biggest issue here, though, is that I think those with real influence believe Hillary is done. I think Obama, Biden, Senate Democrats, Comey, etc. believes she’s done, win or not. She’s become a joke, and her supporters are not enthusiastic. Of course, some of her supporters love her, but the fact is that her rallies are tiny. Her running mate is canceling rallies because of low attendance. She is generally disliked, even by a large portion of those who plan to vote for her. This is indisputable. And she has unfortunately shown no ability to refresh her connection with the American people – her speeches have become very stale, she rarely takes questions, she appears sickly. She will enter office as one of the most disliked people in America, and if history is any guide, her approval rating will go only south from there. She’s called half the country “deplorable” – millions of people she expects to govern. She has made some big mistakes that, whether she wins the vote or not, have irreparably damaged her ability to govern effectively. And this new email scandal, about which her campaign is so obviously worried, is the final blow.

Daily Show: It’s too easy to be a (pretend) bigot

Scott Shackford at Reason on a horribly ironic, self-defeating Daily Show segment:

If there were a serious, widespread problem with discrimination against gay people, they wouldn’t have had to set up a fake food truck, would they? They’d be able to just go down to North Carolina and go to one of the existing businesses who were discriminating against gay people and do one of those interviews where they get people to say stupid things so the viewers can feel superior.

But they didn’t. They had to fabricate a Seinfeldian Soup Nazi-style environment to try to present an exaggerated possibility. It’s an attempt at satire. It’s an attempt to comically present a potential logical conclusion. But the flaw is that it actually highlights how little interest there is in widespread discrimination against gay people. There are no scenes of Jim Crow-style behavior targeting LGBT folks. Yes, discrimination exists, but there is no widespread conspiracy to exclude gay and transgender people, and there is so much more cultural pressure that can resolve it positively without getting the state involved.

The irony here is that they’re exaggerating the potential threat of a problem to justify legal intervention controlling individual behavior, which is … exactly what Gov. Pat McCrory and supporters of monitoring public bathroom use are doing. There is little actual justification for the state telling transgender people which facilities to use because the potential threats to others are significantly exaggerated. This is what happens when you try to use laws to fight cultural issues. Every problem must be overblown in order to justify using legislation and courts to punish your cultural opposition.

Me on the “uber of giving”

Me at FEE.org yesterday:

That’s the key here—the difference that makes DonorSee an actual revolution in the way people give to the overseas poor. The app crowdsources fundraising and rewards aid workers who devise the most rewarding and effective ways to raise money. Almost like Reddit, users promote posts and projects they like the best—a function of the uploaders’ creativity and the details of the project itself.

Read the full article.

How to find a lost Android phone

Ever lost your phone? It’s the worst. So frustrating.

Google to the rescue (at least, for Android users).

Next time you lose your phone, go to myaccount.google.com. Scroll to the bottom and click “Get started” under Find your phone. Select your phone from the list, and you’ll see what to do next. You can have it ring on full volume even if muted. You can locate it (though if it’s in your house, that’s about as specific as you’ll get). You can even lock your phone or erase the data. It’s amazing, really.

That’s it. Don’t lose your phone. If you do, find it this way.

Just a helpful hint!

 

Fact: Obamacare is failing

Some sad facts on Obamacare (that is, this isn’t up for debate):

Average premium increases above 25%, roughly one-third of U.S. counties projected to lack any competition in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges next year, and enrollment less than half of initial expectations provide strong evidence that the law’s exchange program is failing. Moreover, the failure is occurring despite massive government subsidies, including nearly $15 billion of unlawful payments, for participating insurers. As bad news pours in and with a potentially very rough 2017 open enrollment period ahead, the Obama administration signaled on Friday that it may defy Congress and bail out insurers through the risk corridor program.

More from the Mercatus Center.

Online search comes full-circle

From Matthew Capala at TheNextWeb.com.

In his recent takedown of tech culture, Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Startup Bubble, Dan Lyons writes about blogging purely for SEO optimization — basically, great content that is devoid of value but stuffed full of buzzwords to fool Google’s search algorithm.

It’s a funny and probably overblown passage, but it raises a serious point for content marketers; in the past, they’ve had to write around keywords, often at the expense of creating content and telling stories people want to read. The introduction of Google’s Rankbrain could put an end to all this, once and for all.

With it’s honed ability to collect and interpret massive user data from Google.com, Chrome, and Android, Google now allows readers to give feedback — in the form of bounce-backs, click patterns, pogosticking, and click-through-rates — on whether your content piece actually does what it promised to do.

So if you wrote a compelling, educational piece, including a lot of research and diligence, you’re in the clear; but if you wrote a piece that didn’t provide enough value, you could easily lose the top spot if enough readers felt like you were wasting their time.

In short, keyword search is maturing. Google is getting smarter, and “hacking” content to boost its search engine rating isn’t going to work anymore.

In a sense, this is web search coming full-circle. In the very near future, online content creators aren’t going to worry about keywords. They will worry only about providing actual value to real human beings with their content. They won’t think anymore about the medium – AI is taking care of that – and won’t have to optimize their content for anything other than their audience’s preferences.

This is the web, in a sense, becoming “invisible.” The medium of the internet will be harder and harder to detect in the future. I don’t mean we won’t need to connect to WiFi or that we won’t ever have problems logging on. I mean our interaction with web content will be more intimate. There will be less and less “calibrating” that goes on between us and the content we’re consuming. It will speak to us more clearly and more directly.

The effect of this type of AI extends beyond our life online. It affects the evolution of our language and how we communicate with each other. That’s another topic, but suffice it to say that as AI improves our experience consuming web content, which interplays tremendously with language, we’ll see changes (improvements, I think) in language itself. For example, we may search for X, but AI means Google knows that information on Y is actually what we want, even though we don’t know it, and gives us information on Y. This changes the way we think about X and helps us understand better just what it is we’re all trying to get at, and thereby, just what words we really ought to be using.

 

All is speculation

From Philip Carret’s The Art of Speculation:

It is unfortunate that the word “speculation” immediately suggests the word “stocks” to most people. When his neighbors gather at the 19th hole of the local country club and discuss the apparent prosperity of Henry Robinson, the local miller, their natural comment is that Henry is a shrewd businessman. It occurs to no one to say that Henry is a successful speculator, though the flourishing state of his business may be due far more to his correctness in judging the wheat market than to his skill as a manufacturer or merchant. Though the speculation involved in the miller’s operations is incidental to his main business, it is speculation nonetheless.

It’s important to consider the extent of any action’s speculative aspect in light of a risk-reward paradigm. Is something more “speculative” or riskier because it entails a higher likelihood of major loss? It’s likely that such an action also entails a higher likelihood of major gain. This is about expected outcomes – if it’s no lower than alternative, less risky investments, then is it any more “speculative”?

Go with the flow

An interesting selection from Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

For Csikszentmihalyi, the signature experience of experts is flow, a state of complete concentration “that leads to a feeling of spontaneity.” Flow is performing at high levels of challenge and yet feeling “effortless,” like “you don’t have to think about it, you’re just doing it.”

For example, an orchestra conductor told Csikszentmihalyi:

You’re in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. … My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out by itself.

And a competitive figure skater gave this description of the flow state:

It was just one of those programs that clicked. I mean everything went right, everything felt good. …it’s just such a rush, like you could feel it go on and on and on, like you don’t want it to stop because it’s going so well. It’s almost as though you don’t have to think, everything goes automatically without thinking.

Csikszentmihalyi has gathered similar first-person accounts from hundreds of experts. In every field studies, optimal experience is describes in similar terms.

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