Assange, Assad, Manning, Wikileaks, VEPCO, PEPCO – and Nuts

Friday of last week, two million people in the Washington DC metro area lost electrical power.  As I write this, eight days later, half a million still have none.  Oh, and by the way, the temperature every day in between has been around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s the ambient, dry-bulb, actual temperature, not including humidity. Taking the humidity into account using the official, nine-term double quadratic parametric equation which has additional factors for the relative humidity measurement, the heat index for each of those days has handily exceeded one hundred degrees, hitting such notable values as 105, 108, 110, 115 and so forth.  This demonstrates the venerable local proverb that the difference between Hell and Washington DC in the summer is that Hell has dry heat.  The cause of this catastrophe was a derecho, a type of large, nasty thunderstorm.
This particular derecho was muy macho, indeed.  It spanned most of the United States east of the Mississippi river, north of Tallahassee, Florida and south of Portland, Maine.  Since, unlike a hurricane or a snowstorm, it basically came up out of nowhere in the course of a few hours, there was no time for the responsible local electrical utilities to prepare.  Hence a national disaster of epic proportions gripped Northern Virginia, where I – and also some other members of my family – happen to live.
My home is located in a part of Northern Virginia called Great Falls, and many of the folks there are both affluent and intelligent enough to own emergency electrical generators.  Not all of them do, however, and the major constraint seems to be intelligence, since you have to posses some serious bucks to live in Great Falls.  So immediately after the lights went out on Friday, my first guests were just such neighbors of mine.  The next wave of “heat refugees,” as the local parlance styles them, were my relatives from Falls Church and Fairfax proper (technically, both Falls Church and Great Falls are in Fairfax County, Virginia, of course).  For logistical reasons, the first to arrive were my younger brother, Rob Roy, his wife Katje and their adult son, Jason.  There are only three of them, so it made sense that they were on my doorstep a mere two hours after the authorities announced on the radio that power would be out for several days.
Some four hours later, the combined families of my dear older sister Rose, her husband Hank, Hank’s brother, his wife Shannon and their large, tumultuous broods of children arrived in what looked like a scene from some postmodern remake of The Grapes of Wrath, driving a latter day wagon train composed of a car, two SUVs and a minivan.  They’re Catholics, as am I and Rob Roy, as regular readers of this Web log already know – we’re Italian Americans.  My full name is Tom Collins Martini.  Our father was a bartender.  My sister’s maiden name was Rose Lotus Martini.  Now, thanks to Hank, it’s Rose Martini Palikowski.  And Shannon’s Chicago Irish, by the way.
Having realized that being completely dependent on electricity is not a good idea, I made sure to equip my house with a gas fired air conditioner, hot water tank and clothes dryer (and furnace, for when the electricity goes out during a winter snowstorm).  Therefore, if I have enough electricity to operate their control mechanisms and spark igniters, I’m fine – not even our recent earthquake did anything to interfere with underground delivery of natural gas.  So only a two kilowatt gas fired electric generator (with a three hundred gallon diesel backup capability) is necessary to run the lights, televisions, computers, video games, kitchen appliances, freezers and so forth necessary for the comfortable maintenance of what I counted to be, by four o’clock on Saturday afternoon, some thirty one people.
As regular readers also know, Hank shares his home in Fairfax with his brother’s family, who lost theirs during the mortgage meltdown.  So, by virtue of having visited them, I am familiar with what amounts to sheer, unadulterated cheek-by-jowl howling, screaming juvenile pandemonium, and they, naturally, are completely inured to it, having been surrounded by the stuff for years.
Not so, however, with my neighbors, my brother Rob Roy and his small family, nor, I might add, with my girlfriend Cerise, whose domicile had also lost power and, consequently, air conditioning.  And by Monday morning, I can attest that all of the adults whose last name was not Palikowski, including myself, were exceedingly glad that we had quiet, cool offices to which we could go and work very, very late.
As electricity was slowly restored over the week, my neighbors and Cerise were able to return to their homes.  But as of today, both Rob Roy’s house and the Palikowski residence were still dark and sweltering.
Thanks to a loan from me, Rose and Hank’s brother were able to take all of the children out to a series of various movies playing at theaters in local malls, every one of which they had taken care to verify had functioning air conditioning.  Hank, Rob Roy, Katje, Jason and I had retreated to the game room in my finished basement, where, thanks to the underground location and my cavalier attitude with respect to the gas bill, it was a crisp and frosty sixty eight degrees.  Yes, Jimmy Carter was right – “sixty eight feels great” – especially when it’s over one hundred outside, although something tells me that’s probably not what he meant.
Being currently unemployed, Hank and Shannon were stuck all week looking after the kids.  This included making sure their brats didn’t break any of my equipment, collectables or furniture, none of which is cheap.  In addition, since all the summer schools, camps, and various other centers of youth activity had been closed by the disaster, it also entailed keeping that mischievous pack of devils sufficiently busy from Monday through Friday so as to avoid any potential incidents of  fratricide and/or sororicide which might otherwise arise.  To say that Hank and Shannon were relieved to be free of their progeny and to be able to hear themselves think again would be a considerable understatement – more accurately, they were like torture victims just released from CIA rendition and installed in a luxury suite at the Ritz-Carlton.  Not that it kept them, after a few drinks, from talking politics; I’m pretty sure even CIA rendition would fail at preventing that.  So it was no surprise to me when, during our second eight-ball tournament of the afternoon (and Hank’s third beer), Hank blew up at a comment Rob Roy made about Julian Assange.
“How dare you,” he indignantly demanded, “stand up for a traitor like Julian Assange?”
“Traitor?” Rob Roy challenged.  “What are you talking about?  Assange is an Australian.  What’s he done to betray Australia, huh?  Nothing, that’s what!”
“Ah, you know what I mean,” Hank grumbled.  “So okay, he didn’t post Australian secret diplomatic cables on Wikileaks, he posted secret American diplomatic cables, but what difference does that make?  We and the Aussies are allies, right?  Outback Steak House, Crocodile Dundee, the GEICO lizard – all that stuff!  So what’s the point of splitting hairs about it?  I say, treason is treason, damn it!”
“The real traitor to the United States isn’t Julian Assange,” Katje interjected.  “If you feel compelled to accuse somebody of treason, it would be private Bradley Manning.”
“Who ought to be strung up by his nuts!” Shannon proclaimed as she bore down on the eight ball shot.  “Side pocket – this one – two cushions.”
“For what?” Jason implored as he racked the balls for another game.  “All Bradley Manning did was reveal US hypocrisy and lies for the world to see.”
“Hey, now wait just a minute there,” Hank insisted.  “That was top secret hypocrisy and lies, okay?  Top secret!  You can’t do that!  It gives aid and comfort to America’s enemies!”
“Sure,” Jason snorted derisively as he broke the rack of balls with a sharp crack, driving the one ball into the upper left corner pocket.  “Enemies like university history professors and journalists.”
“All I said was,” Rob Roy pointed out, “that now Assange has posted Syrian secret correspondence on Wikileaks, too, it proves he’s impartial.  The guy’s not necessarily anti-American, he just pro-truth and pro-transparency, that’s all.”
“Exactly the kind of thinking,” Shannon responded as she sank the nine ball, “I’d expect from a Starbucks-drinking, tattooed, pierced-eared liberal hipster like you.”
“Oh, I see,” Katje sarcastically shot back, racing to the defense of her husband (and, presumably, her own piercings, tattoos and espresso habit), “so revealing Syrian government e-mails that prove Asma Assad was on high-end luxury shopping sprees while her husband directed the murder of thousands of Syrian citizens somehow serves the needs of America’s adversaries?  Anyone care to explain how?”
“Apples and oranges,” Shannon calmly replied as she sank the ten and eleven balls in rapid succession.  “What if Secret Service e-mails referred to Michelle Obama’s shopping trips at Saks Fifth Avenue while her husband directed drone strikes in Yemen?  What would that prove?”
The twelve ball just missed its intended pocket.  Jason chalked his cue and drew down on the two ball.  “Well,” he needled, “how about the e-mails that prove Italy supported the Assad regime?”
“Not the Italian government!”  Shannon protested.  “Just some defense contractor… Finmeccanica, I think the name was.”
“Sure,” Jason snickered as he sank the two, three and four balls.  “As if Finmeccanica could export communications equipment from Italy to the Syrian military without the Italian government’s knowledge and permission.”
“So maybe they didn’t,” Hank hypothesized.  “Maybe this… uh… Fin-meka-whats-it company faked up the papers so it looked like the equipment was going to… I donno… Turkey or someplace like that.”
“In which case,” Rob Roy suggested, “Wikileaks publishing the fact that the equipment went to Syria instead should be a good thing, shouldn’t it?  Because if what you’re saying is true, now the Italian government will have to investigate Finmeccanica for circumventing its export laws.”
“On the other hand,” Katje picked up, “if the Italian government knew about it, then we know that Monti hasn’t been much of an improvement over Berlusconi, now don’t we?  Because nobody whose opinions I respect would be the least bit surprised to find out that Silvo Berlusconi approves of Bashar Hafez al-Assad.  Talk about apples and oranges – if we’re discussing produce, I’d say Berlusconi and Assad are two peas in a pod.”
“Eight in the corner, straight up,” Jason called, by now having run the table from two through seven.  His prediction immediately proved correct.  “But how about those e-mails that prove Syria hired a US public relations firm named Brown Lloyd James to improve Assad’s image?”
“The Syrians can hire anybody they want,” Hank objected as he began to rack the balls.  “It’s a free country… I mean… it’s a free world or whatever, isn’t it?”
“They apparently gave Assad some fairly sober advice, too,” I noted.  “They encouraged him to emphasize reform…”
“Yeah,” Rob Roy acknowledged, “but they accepted money to set up a puff piece on Asma Assad in Vogue magazine.  Sheer propaganda, that’s what it was – all about how glamorous, classy and charismatic she is.”
“Oh, hell, they only got five thousand dollars for it,” Shannon objected.  “Piddling peanuts, right, Tom?”
“It’s not entirely clear what they got the five thousand dollars for,” I cautioned.  “Further e-mails may reveal they received considerably more…”
“Or not!” Shannon loudly insisted, just as Hank attempted to break.  The cue ball lamely nicked the side of the rack and veered off into the upper right corner pocket.
“We don’t know!” Shannon continued.  “And we won’t know until all of those two million e-mails are released – and even then we can’t be sure, because who knows what things Wikileaks is making up and what’s actually true, anyway?”
“How can you possibly make an argument like that?” Katje asked with an astonished tone.  “Of course those e-mails are real!”
“Prove it!” Shannon retorted tartly.
“Hank scratched on the break, I win.” Jason dryly announced.  “Your turn, Dad.”
“Oh, great,” Rob Roy sneered as he racked up the balls, “next I guess you’re going to argue that Bradley Manning forged all those State Department cables!”
“Well,” Hank wondered, rhetorically, “how do we know he didn’t?”
“What?” Katje exploded.  “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard since…”
“No more ridiculous,” Shannon shrieked, “than thinking it’s some kind of personal moral imperative to steal the material from our country and post it on the Internet in the first place!”
“If they hadn’t been released,” Katje shouted back, “then Julian Assange would never have been…”
“Julian Assange and Bradley Manning should be strung up by the nuts!” Shannon screamed as she confronted Katje.  “And so should whoever revealed NATO’s secrets about Syria, too!   They should all be strung up by the nuts!”
“I’ve got a better idea!” I interrupted as I slid between the two fuming women.  “How about you send your friends on Facebook some e-mails suggesting the chief executives of our local electric power utilities be strung up by the nuts?  Katje can use the computer in my den and Shannon can use the laptop that’s lying on the couch in the home theater room.”
“All right,” Shannon agreed as she polished off her glass of Old Bushmill’s Black and stalked up the stairs.  “It’s about time somebody said it.”
“Damn straight,” Katje growled as she walked into the home theater room and closed the door.
“Tom,” Rob Roy averred as he deftly broke the rack, sinking the one and the two, “that was a truly formidable feat of diplomacy.”
“A very important key to which,” I told him, “is being able to find at least one single, solitary point upon which two diametrically opposed parties can agree.”
“Yeah, but I don’t,” Rob Roy confided as he sank the three, four, five, six and seven.
“No?” I queried as I watched him line up on the eight and indicate the opposite side pocket with his cue.
“After this week, absolutely not,” he assured me.  “Being strung up the nuts is way too good for them.”