You know WikiLeaks is a big deal when …

M.I.A. has taken up the fight on Twitter.

The world’s favorite trashpop Tamil Tiger sympathizer posted this gem this morning. The tweet (lyrics?) sort of made my day.

Sentiments echoed by my friend Eryk, who along with Zach Dionne I quote way too often, who said: “We’re in the middle of an enormous, high-profile Internet War between groups of anonymous civilian hackers, US intelligence agencies and foreign governments. Unless WikiLeaks is a big promotional stunt for the Tron remake, we’re looking at the first time the Internet has been used, publicly, as a battle zone.”

In other news, Julian Assange was arrested this morning. No word yet on whether the arrest, and denial of bail, will trigger his suicide pill of cables on Guantanamo Bay and the BP oil spill.


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Longfellow Gets Some Holiday Spirit

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Portland’s Bird Whisperer


Portland's bird whisperer and some of his friends.


So I’ve been here in Portland for about two months. When I first moved here, I blogged about the sort of people you need to get used to if you’re going to live in Maine’s biggest city. Since then, I guess I’ve gotten used to most everything and everyone I see on my daily jaunts around town. It’s getting easier to walk by the bums asking for change (to be fair, I’m usually being honest when I say I don’t have any) or the disheveled couple arguing loudly while they walk down Congress Street together.

But then there’s the Pigeon Man. Or the Bird Whisperer.

The bird whisperer, I'm told, is named Star. Here's Star with some of his many confidants.

I first caught sight of the Bird Whisperer riding his bike in circles in front of the Portland Museum of Art. He was wearing fire-engine red shorts, a fire-engine red T-shirt and a fire-engine red backward baseball cap. He was riding with only one hand on his handlebars and on his other outstretched hand was perched a pigeon. On his face was a huge, childlike smile.

“Huh,” I thought. “That’s a guy who gets along with the pigeons.”

I didn’t give it much more thought. But I kept seeing Pigeon Man, every time I walked past PMA or Congress Park. And every time, I mean always, he was communing with the rock doves. And he always had the same big, goofy, honest smile he had the first time I saw him.

I asked him today if I could take  his picture.

“Sure,” he said. “We love when people take our picture.”

I started to get my camera out and he starts talking to the birds.

“C’mon guys, don’t be shy. We’re gonna get our picture taken!”

I engaged him in some small-talk that wasn’t really noteworthy. He was a surprisingly normal guy. He told me he’d been hanging out with the pigeons for a few years.

He gave me a 4-by-6 photograph with his e-mail emblazoned on it (the same one I later saw hanging at Material Objects with a holiday greeting printed on it). The guy clearly knows he’s a character around town. If you ask me, that just makes the whole thing even better. I asked him why he did it, to which he replied: “I don’t know. I guess I’m just having a feathered love affair.”


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The Street No. 4 — Live from Hyrule

I know it’s not Friday, and I know I’ve been lacking in the whole keeping-up-with-The-Street thing, but I had to post this ASAP. Link came all the way from Hyrule and was kind enough to translate his name from Hylian for this tag on a dumpster in the Old Port.

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On the WikiLeaks manifesto and network theory

Warning: This post is not about journalism, Portland, my job or even me. Well, not really, anyway.

So, little known fact about me: My senior anthropology capstone at the University of Maine was a 27-page paper about network theory, the strength of weak ties and grassroots political organizing. For the paper, I did fieldwork and research on network theory, which is really fascinating. Promise.

Anyway, Eryk Salvaggio shared with me today a link to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks Manifesto. He said he was reminded of my capstone and asked what I thought of the manifesto. Below is a slightly modified e-mail response. I think these things are interesting to think about. I promise I won’t blog about these things often, so if this isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry.

(A note on terminology: What Assange calls “nails” are referred to in network theory as “nodes.” Similarly, “strings” are “links” and “weight” of a link is not really mentioned, so far as I’ve seen. Instead “fitness” is discussed, which relates to the efficacy and utility of individual nodes. If I’ve done my writing well, you shouldn’t have to know anything else about network theory a priori to read on. You do, however, need to read the WikiLeaks Manifesto, linked above.)

Assange’s manifest covers a lot of the same ground as my capstone. The big difference is where I was concerned with constructing the most efficient networks for action, he’s concerned with dismantling efficient networks. But the same principles should apply.

One of the things I’m surprised Assange didn’t get to is the relationship of hubs to conspiratorial networks, or action sets. (Action sets are networks with purpose). I would imagine that in a conspiratorial action set as he’s describing it, the model is one that theorists call “scale-free.”

A scale-free network is one that contains many nodes, and links that are not evenly distributed. Efficiency is created through a small number of hubs, which are really well-connected links through which most communications or actions must go if it wants to reach all parts of the network.

I’m not familiar with whatever network he’s talking about, but I would imagine state department communication networks are scale-free ones. I doubt most memos from Burundi about diplomatic relations there end up at the embassy in Rio. Most memos are probably between the individual embassy, the Secretary of State’s office and maybe a few other embassies with a pressing interest, thought I don’t really know. Similarly, the embassies in hotbed areas are probably also hubs, albeit smaller than the Clinton hub (Think Jerusalem, Baghdad, Beijing, Tokyo, London; but not Quito, Sofia, or probably even Prague).

If that’s the case, and I think it is, I don’t know why Assange is so focused on splitting networks into equal halves. In constructing an efficient action set, you should be looking to link with those well-connected hubs. In the same way, I’d imagine, if you want to destroy an action set, you target the hubs. In abstract terms, when you destroy the hub you should, theoretically, render many nodes completely isolated because they were only tapped into the network through the hub. (Imagine how many fewer people would find their way to our blog posts if you were able to target Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr).

At any rate, the point is his theory seems sound and in practice has worked well to his ends. But his manifesto doesn’t really outline what I would think was the best strategy for dismantling a conspiratorial action set.


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Also: Quotes of the Day from Jonathan Safran Foer, via Zach Dionne

I’m finally getting around to reading “Everything is Illuminated” and have been talking with Zach Dionne about how great JSF is and how many people apparently disagree on his greatness. The level of literary geekiness has devolved to sharing favorite quotes. Here’s the latest from JSF, via ZD.

I hope you one day have the experience of doing something you do not understand for someone you love.

Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.

Those are both from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a next-up on my reading list. That’s it for now.

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Live from Coyle Street

Raccoon Raccoon from Minneapolis, Minn.

Last night was a show at Coyle Street, Portland’s punk house institution since before I can remember. If you’ve never been to Coyle Street, picture it this way: A three-story house in Oakdale full of bike parts, dirty dishes, art, music, skateboards, zines and a certain kind of tough-as-nails love that just can’t be faked. It smells vaguely of vegan caserole, chain lubricant and b.o.

The guestbook is a hand-bound cardboard tome filled with adoring praise for Coyle Street and the kids who have lived there from every busker, vagrant, crustpunk, anarchist, traveler, circus performer, or band worth their salt that’s come through Portland and stayed on the floors and couches of this bohemian treasure by the Back Cove. Shows like the ones at Coyle Street are enough to make me love Portland again when I start to think I might hate it.

The venue is the basement. It can comfortably accommodate about 20 people, but Coyle Street isn’t really about being comfortable.  It’s about cramming in as many people in the tight space as possible. It’s about standing shoulder-to-shoulder and nodding your head emphatically while a band that could fill the stage at Genos, or SPACE or anywhere else stuffs themselves into a roughly 10-feet by 6-feet space at the head of the crowd.

Like all the best things, it’s about being close. It’s about sweat.

Three bands played but the hands-down standout were Raccoon Raccoon, pictured above, all the way from Minneapolis. When they took the “stage,” most of the kids in attendance sat down, a quick departure from the atmosphere created by the previous band, Hey Pauly Shore, who played that early-aughts brand of hardcore that when played honestly appealed to scenester-teens and die-hard punks alike.

Raccoon Raccoon were different: a cello and guitar/uke  duo who played a kind of haunting, beautiful fugues that left at least this reviewer in a trance, staring as the bow slid over the cello’s strings and fingers plucked. The pair had that kind of musical and lyrical sincerity that differentiates the best bands in the world from the worst even if they play the same songs. They played maybe eight songs, one of which I recorded and you can listen to here.

From what I can tell, Raccoon Raccoon — like most underground bands — online existence is limited to their myspace page. Buy their stuff. I did. You won’t regret it.

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