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Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

May 3, 2010 | 34 Comments

Goodbye Ownership & Privacy: Apple, Amazon, the Government Have Your Numbers

Brian Hogan, 21, of Redwood City, California found a prototype Apple iPhone 4G accidentally left in a German Beer garden by a (soused?) Apple employee.

Hogan recognized the phone for what it was. He knew that any news of what Apple does is devoured more voraciously than a teenage girl’s diary found in a locker room by the cheerleading squad. Hogan sold the phone, probably illegally, to the website Gizmodo, a part of Gawker Media.

Jason Chen at Gizmodo blogged about the iPhone, to the shivering delight of fanboys everybody. We learned, among other things, that the next generation phone was “3 grams heavier.” Fascinating, no?

An explosion of debate hit the net. About whether Hogan was a thief or public servant (thief), about whether Gawker should have paid or immediately returned the phone to Apple (they should have returned), whether Chen was an unethical journalist or ethical one (unethical), even whether Chen is a real journalist or “just a blogger” (real journalist).

None of this debate is of more than transitory interest. Missing almost completely from the many analyses was the most important fact of all.

When Apple discovered the loss of the phone, it remotely “wiped” out its contents, so that those contents, of course, could not be readable by the likes of technicians at Gizmodo.

At best, there was a resigned sigh over this remote wipe out. Just think of the delicious secrets we could have learned! (None.)

But we did learn the tastiest secret of all! Apple has remote control over iPhones. This includes the iPhone that you bought, that you supposedly own, on which contains a wealth of your personal information.

If Apple can wipe out data remotely, it is not a stretch to suggest that they could capture data remotely. Your data. This includes those special pictures you have. Many apps already communicate your actions to ad servers or other third parties.

The numbers you called, how long you talked, and even where you were when you made the calls was already known by AT&T, iPhone’s exclusive carrier.

All cell phone carriers have already worked with police in revealing call records. And it must be admitted that these relationships have been useful in apprehending and convicting criminals.

Cell phone calls used to be open for all to hear until Congress passed a law banning sale of equipment that could tune into the relevant frequencies (a silly law, like most: any radioman can overcome this, and now technology has changed so that calls themselves are not sent in “in the clear”). And, of course, it is no stretch to imagine that cell phones can be engineered to transmit surreptitiously, and thus be turned into bugs.

Switch to Amazon and its Kindle. Everybody by now knows that in July 2009, Amazon remotely wiped out copies of Orwell’s 1984 from all Kindles. Why they did it is not interesting (a contract dispute), but what is is that they could do it.

Many Kindle owners were surprised to learn that they did not own the material stored on their devices, but that they merely licensed it. The Kindles allow users to make annotations on its licensed material. Can Amazon retrieve this information remotely?

Google captures and stores your searches. All the websites you visit know what you’re up to. Email is no more secure than a postcard. You internet carrier has a complete record of the material you downloaded (at the household level, and possibly at the browser level).

Facial recognition software, which has reasonable error rates, is installed in an increasing number of locations.

In short, and obviously, the nature of ownership and privacy has changed. It will continue to do so and not in your favor. Less of what is in your possession will be legally yours, and more of what you do will be available to public scrutiny.

It is about here that the undead argument “Why worry if you have nothing to hide?” is trotted out. If you’re truly an innocent, why care if some government bureaucracy thumbs through your old emails, personal files, and listens in on your calls?

The answer to this is obvious: it is easier than dropping an hammer on your foot for someone to take your actions out of context and insinuate evil motives. It is the full majesty, power, and unlimited resources of the government against pathetic, weak, finite you. Almost any mundane event can be turned into a sinister-sounding plot by a mustache-twisting government lawyer.

Solution? None, really. Restraining the government appears to be beyond our will. And nobody wants to be a, or be accused of being, a Luddite. Practically, you should realize that anything done on-line or over-the-air is public domain.

Once this knowledge is assimilated, will it lead to a more civil society?

April 28, 2010 | 10 Comments

Pajamas Media: The VAT Man Cometh: It Will Happen. How Bad Is It?

Today’s post is at Pajamas Media: “The VAT Man Cometh: It Will Happen. How Bad Is It?

Pajamas Media

I have a ghost of an old song—big band days—hiding in the back of my head into which I know I can insert

    The VAT man’s on his way.

Got it!

The Lullaby of Beltway

Come on along and listen to
The lullaby of Beltway,
The hip horray and ballyhoo,
The lullaby of Beltway.
The rumble of a Harry Reid,
The rattle of Pelosi,
The pols who make us bleed
The Obamas and Hillarys.

Goodnight baby,
The VAT man’s on his way.
Sleep tight, baby,
Sleep tight,
There goes all our pay.

Listen to the lullaby of old Beltway!

Thanks, as always, to editor David Steinberg at Pajamas.

April 26, 2010 | 12 Comments

Harvard Classes: Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball

Yesterday, we pointed out that Cornell has some odd courses on its books, subjects which are not consonant with typical expectations of a classical education.

So, in the interest of fairness, we now look at what your tax and tuition dollars bring you at Harvard, that eminent institution of higher learning.

Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 96-ABL. Off the Page and Into the World: Feminist Praxis in the Community. “This course will involve students in experiential learning in community agencies that serve women, girls, and/or gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The course will require students to apply feminist theory to the challenges of organized social change.”

Sorry straight men: no “communities” for you. Barring the recent output from Washington, have you seen more frightening words than: “apply feminist theory to the challenges of organized social change”? Brrr.

Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1154. I Like Ike, But I Love Lucy: Women, Popular Culture, and the 1950s. “Taught from a cultural studies perspective, the course focuses on gender politics in print media, film, television, and rock of the early cold war era. Topics include: the bomb and TV…early civil rights movement, beat generation, Hollywood dreams of true love, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball…”

True love! But, wait: no news anchor hairdos?

African and African American Studies 163. Beats, Rhymes, and Life: Hip-Hop Studies. “Class begins with a history of hip-hop’s four elements: DJing, MCing, break dancing, and graffiti art.”

Ah, yes, criminal vandalism as “art.” I don’t advocate this—because it’s wrong—but it would be justice if the professors who use non-ironically the term “graffiti art” had their houses, cars, and other property tagged indelibly with gang emblems or words such as “Joni Suckz!”

Sociology 24. Introduction to Social Inequality. “Examines individual and structural explanations for the generation and maintenance of inequality in the US with comparisons to other societies.”

You, not yet having developed a tolerance, probably read that fast and missed the key word “maintenance.” Perhaps not coincidentally—I swear this is true—as I write this airs a radio commercial in which a teacher, or an actress portraying one, whines that unlike other classrooms she does not use “grades that labels kids winners and losers.”

Hers is a smaller classroom where she can take home a bigger paycheck. The ad is to encourage signing of a petition or to vote in favor of a teacher’s union or organization. I apologize that I missed which (on KSFO about 6:24 am PDT). If I hear it again, I’ll update this page.

Sociology 98B. Race and Crime How “and why criminal justice policy in the US has such a powerfully differential negative impact on African American communities.”

Say! It looks like all we need do is make a few tweaks in “criminal justice policy” and the discrepancy in criminal activity between the races will disappear. We can ignore behavior, and the influence of classes like this, altogether.

Sociology 140. The Sociology of U.S. Foreign Policy “US actions toward other nations since the World War II, then explore…the consequences of US actions for issues of class, race, and gender in the affected nations.”

This presupposes that the US is a big bully, sadistically pushing other countries into lockers as it slumps down the hall. That is obvious in the use of the word “affected.”

Its the influence of the bully on class, race, and “gender” that is important. Economics aren’t in it; neither is security. Or science, or true culture, and on and on.

It’s difficult to find a class at Harvard that doesn’t fret furiously over these standard leftist tropes (I should say, standard reason-enthroning, state-loving tropes).


Update I originally had a discussion of the word “gender”, which I have removed; mostly because it distracts from the main point of this article. Including it forced a tedious, and very long, digression into genetics and certain genetic abnormalities and syndromes.

Suffice to say that I prefer the term “sex” to indicate “biological sex” and that “gender” is best kept to describe the declension of nouns.

April 25, 2010 | 23 Comments

Cornell University to Offer Degree in News Anchor Hairdo Studies

Ezra Cornell, a generous man concerned deeply about his country and its culture, when he created his eponymous university in 1868 said, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

Professors at Cornell (my grad school alma mater and partial source of rent) have stretched old Ezra’s words to the limit. How? The “English department will begin offering a new concentration in cultural studies to English majors. The concentration will allow students to study different mediums and forms of culture, including literature, film, the Internet and music in terms of ‘historical, social, and political contexts’.”

That’s the problem with words, isn’t it? People are apt to interpret them too freely. This is why lawyers give over their lives to writing nauseatingly precise contracts. Failing to specify what “pay in full” means in less than three pages ensures some clown will find a loophole.

Old Ezra—and academia in general—now has to suffer the consequences of failing to be exact in what he meant by “any study.” For Cornell will indeed offer Bachelor’s of Arts in “English” with concentrations in the study of news anchors’ hairdos.

Parse this:

“The field of cultural studies examines how culture makes a difference in how we live, and how differences in how we live make culture,” Prof. Debra Fried, English, said in an e-mail. “If you take an active interest in how any form of culture shapes your response to everyday life, you’re already beginning to think and question as cultural studies invites you to do.”

Hey, cultural studies has issued invitations! It would be boorish to turn it (them?) down. Thus, “English” majors who opt for the concentration may “study nearly anything that impacts society and the cultures of different regions and time periods.”

Examples include “comparing Ithaca’s coffee shops to how a ‘news anchor’s hairdo and clothing can contribute subtly to how the news is ‘spun’ on a TV news report,’ Fried said.” The emphasis is added to be ensure readers don’t miss the hairdos.

Parenthetically, Ithaca (by my memory) has about three or four coffee shops: applying scholarly rigor to them won’t take long.

Anyway, why put in all those long hours studying engineering, when you could write a thesis on how the transgendered interact with their iPhones in coffee shops?

Why indeed? Word is out: students are “excited ” and are already lining up to enter the program. How will Cornell be able to handle the influx?

To start, two new professors were hired: Jane Juffer, a specialist in “Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies” and ex-Director of Penn State’s “Director, Latina/o Studies Initiative,” and Grant Farred, a specialist in “Africana Studies” and presenter of the talk “Yao Now: The New Racism in the Age of Globalization.”

Juffer will teach “Theories of Popular Culture”, which she says is often “perceived to be unworthy of academic study.” This is false, she claims, because popular culture is important “for the production of both pleasure and politics.” (She neglected displeasure.)

She’ll explore “television, film, the porn industry, baseball, popular music, and Starbucks coffee shops.” And she’ll ask, “what feelings of desire, pleasure, fear, and disgust does popular culture generate?” Anybody have an answer for that one?

The popular “Food, Gender, Culture” course will also count towards the new concentration. The catalog says, “In addition to nourishing the body, food operates as a cultural system that produces and reflects group and individual identities.”

Food also—you knew this was coming!—helps “shape our sense of gender, race, sexual orientation”. Makes you think about “carrot cake” in a while new way, doesn’t it?

Where else can you earn credit for asking, “How do factors such as gender, class, race, and religion shape the foods we eat and the circumstances in which we eat them? How do writers use the language of food to explore issues such as gender, sexuality, class, and race?”

It’s unclear whether the important course “Body as Text: Pleasure and Danger” will be an elective. Did you know that we ” experience our bodies as so much a part of who we are that we take them for granted”? It’s true. “This class looks at how the idea of ‘the body’ gets constructed over time…[and] What makes bodies pleasurable and dangerous?”

To discover these important matters, the films “Freaks” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will be screened.

The best news is that students will largely be spared the horrors of actual reading. Do you have any idea how much time it takes to read a book? That time could be much better spent remarking on the hairstyles and sexual proclivities of reality show contestants and their relation to racist salad bars (my proposed thesis).