Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fun Times with Mormons

Procrastinator's Link of the Day: WikiLeaks, a massive online repository of leaked documents from governments, banks and churches all over the world. It's basically Wikipedia combined with the New York Times - a publicly compiled and edited collection of illegal documents. I remember the group that was trying to get this together a couple of years ago, wondering whether there would be enough people willing to risk their careers to keep such a site operational. There was - the site is actually completely flooded on a constant basis. You can get anything here - in the recent past the site has defied publishing bans in various countries, leaked U.S. military instructions on violating the Geneva Conventions, and revealed all kinds of corruption schemes. At some point propagandists may figure out how to use the site for their own nefarious purposes but in the meantime it seems to be just pissing them off.

Naturally this earns considerable indignation from those who feel they have a right to preserve secrets from the public. Unfortunately for them, Wikileaks is also one of the latest examples of Internet data that seemingly exists beyond the rule of law. Like the AACS encryption keys to HD DVD and Blu Ray discs, which were released onto a few geek sites last year, then exploded into an internationally recognized story literally overnight after a horrifically mismanaged attempt by the Licensing Authority to suppress the key turned into a challenge for bandwidth and power between the Authority's legal staff and ten million geeks, activists, and libertarians. The result was predictably one-sided.

Wikileaks had its own trial by fire a few months ago when it posted some corruption-related documents from a Swiss bank, Julius Bear, and as a result was "taken offline" by order of a U.S. court. Its URL was vacated. Wikileaks then revealed a dizzying array of international mirrors, linking to an equally byzantine global network of servers run by anonymous techs. Two weeks after Wikileaks was supposed to have been "killed," the judge ordered its main site brought back online, admitting that the U.S. judicial system wasn't actually capable of suppressing the site. So now Wikileaks is back to pleasing journalists and enraging bureaucrats.

Normally, all of this might seem dull to everyone who isn't either (a) a political scientist with a specialization in government secrecy, or (b) a conspiracy theorist, or perhaps (c) both, but in this case a few recent arrivals on the site are relevant to the Church of the Orange Sky.

Here, for example, is a "Female Beauty Manual" produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It starts with a lengthy "questionnaire" about "what you want in a man," and it goes rapidly downhill from there. "Downhill" like off a cliff. Most of the book is devoted to advice on your clothing and appearance, which, it explains, are essential because if you don't look as pretty as you can you aren't going to meet and marry the best man possible. Starting on p. 53, there are some asinine lists of what "a girl" should know about "mature femininity," which apparently amounts to being a happy, pleasant being without a care in the world, largely because she lacks the intelligence to have such cares. (Men, by contrast, are strong and respectable authority figures, enterprising, firm but still compassionate, and so on and so forth. The usual, basically.) Basically this is a tame version of Cosmo written for Mormon girls.

Somewhat more fun from other perspectives, if also very dry in places, is the 200-page Church Handbook of Instructions, also Mormon. It's apparently intended for possession only by various "presidencies" and "high counsilors" and other authorities within the church. Interesting sections includes those on transsexuals (this is bad, naturally), homosexuality (ditto), living arrangements for missionaries, and so on, but I have to say it was less exciting than I'd hoped.

The LDS, naturally, is fighting like hell to get these documents off the Internet, though if they think they're going to succeed against Wikileaks, I have to think it's not going to work very well for them. They've also started going after websites who host links to the material in question, so I sincerely hope this won't be the last post on Jesus Drives an SUV. If it is, at least we'll have gone out standing in opposition to the tyranny of those who would seek to end the free exchange of knowledge.

An even more frighteningly litigious group, which is far more infamous for defending its doubtful "copyright" claims to all manner of its religious truth, is also in trouble with Wikileaks - a group I'll call the Church of Shmientology. Awesomely, when the lawyers for this group threatened Wikileaks, the latter publicly declared it would retaliate by publishing thousands more pages in secret documents. You can search for them yourself on the site, but evidently some of them describe human and galactic history for as much as the last four quadrillion years. This church is probably one of a very limited number who make converts sign contracts rather than, say, baptism certificates, and Wikileaks has a copy of one of the contracts too. I'm not sure who their Scientology source, but evidently it's a good one. Probably someone associated with Operation Chanology.