Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Constitution, Cory Doctorow, Emergency, Failure, Government, Marketing, NYT, Politics, Predictions, Press, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Terrorism | Tags: blogging, free, jim downey, NPR, predictions, science, Science Fiction, technology
While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007). This item first ran on November 12, 2007.
Over the weekend, news came out of yet another “Trust us, we’re the government” debacle, this time in the form of the principal deputy director of national intelligence saying that Americans have to give up on the idea that they have any expectation of privacy. Rather, he said, we should simply trust the government to properly safeguard the communications and financial information that they gather about us. No, I am not making this up. From the NYT:
“Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,” Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, told attendees of the Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s symposium in Dallas.
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“Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity,” he said, according to a transcript [pdf]. “But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past.”
The future, Mr. Kerr says, is seen in MySpace and other online troves of volunteered information, and also in the the millions of commercial transactions made on the web or on the phone every day. If online merchants can be trusted, he asks, then why not federal employees, who face five years in jail and a $100,000 fine for misusing data from surveillance?
Or, from the Washington Post:
“Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,” Kerr said. “I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn’t empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere.”
This mindset, that allowing the government to just vacuum up all of our personal information, to monitor our email and phone communications, or whatever else they are doing but don’t want to tell is, is somehow equivalent to my posting information on this blog or giving some company my credit card number when I want to buy something, is fucking absurd. First off, there is a fundamental difference between what I willingly reveal to someone in either a personal or commercial exchange, and having my information taken without my knowledge or agreement. To say otherwise is to say that just because my phone number is listed in the phone directory, everyone who has the ability to do so is free to listen in on my phone conversations.
Even worse, it shows how we are viewed by this individual, and our government: as their subjects, without rights or expectations of being in control of our lives.
And the notion that we can just trust governmental employees with our private information is patently ridiculous. First off, saying that we should because we already trust commercial businesses with our private information is completely specious – how many times in the last year have you heard of this or that company’s database having been hacked and credit card, personal, and financial information having been stolen? This alone is a good reason to not allow further concentration of our private data to be gathered in one place. Secondly, think of the many instances when hard drives with delicate information have been lost by government employees in the State Department, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, or even at Los Alamos National Laboratory – and those are just the things which have actually made it into the news. Third, and last (for now), anyone who has had any experience with any government agency can attest to just how screwed up such a large bureaucracy can be, in dealing with even the simplest information.
I recently went round and round with the IRS over some forms which they thought I had to file. I didn’t, and established that to the satisfaction of the office which contacted me. Yet for six months I was still being contacted by another office in charge with collecting the necessary fees and fines – three times I had to send a copy of the letter from the initial office which cleared me of the matter, before they finally, and almost grudgingly, admitted that I owed them no money (for not filing the documents I didn’t need to file). These are not the same people I want to trust to handle even *more* information about me.
Allowing the government to take this position – that the default should be that they can just take whatever information about us they want, so long as they promise not to misuse it – is to abandon any illusions that we are in any way, shape, or form a free people. It would turn the entire equation of the Constitution on its head, saying that the government is sovereign and we its subjects. That such a thing is even proposed by a government employee is extremely revealing, and should cause no little amount of concern.
Filed under: Art, BoingBoing, Book Conservation, Cory Doctorow, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, Predictions, Publishing, Science Fiction, tech, Writing stuff | Tags: art, blogging, direct publishing, humor, jim downey, Kindle, literature, predictions, science, Science Fiction, technology, writing
While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007). This item first ran on March 29, 2007.
Some 14 years ago, a full five or six years before I even thought about writing Communion of Dreams, I made the following “artist’s book”. Full images are hosted on my website. The following essay was bound into the ‘book’, as well as on the floppy disk in the still-functional disk-drive.
A bit of whimsy.
I’ve always loved books, as far back as I can remember. Even though the shock of my parent’s death ended my childhood early, and left me with only fragments and dreams of my pre-teen years, I do remember reading, reading, reading. Books were part of my life, too much so for my parents, who were intelligent but uneducated, and who wondered about my fascination with almost anything written. Often I was told to put down the book and go outside to play, or turn out the light and go to sleep. Even the black & white television given to me at Christmas when I was 8 (the year my sister was born…I suspect my parents splurged to offset my disquiet at having a sibling at last) couldn’t take the place of the books I constantly checked out of the library.
I got lost in science fiction as a youth, first as a feast for my imagination, later as an escape from the harsh realities of my world. All through high school, where the demands my teachers made on my time and intellect were modest enough to be met with a few minutes study, and even through college, where I would reward myself with a new book by a favorite author after studying hours and hours of Russian history, economics, or German. Always I would turn to science fiction as a release, maybe even as a guide to how I could bring myself through my own rebirth. It took a very long time.
I even wrote a little, now and then. Starting with a junior high school fiction class, graduating to the novel I wrote while suffering in traction in the hospital in ‘78. After college I thought I would try and be a writer, with my old diesel-powered IBM Model C. But struggle though I did, I knew that I needed help with my writing that I couldn’t get from friends, or from the contradictory text I could find on the subject. A gentle man, an acquaintance I knew through work, was kind enough to read some of my stories and point to the University of Iowa. “The Writer’s Workshop,” he said, “an old friend of mine from grad school is the head of the program.”
I went to Iowa City, took a few courses. I was rejected for the Workshop by the ‘old friend’ because he didn’t like science fiction, but was stubborn enough to get into the English MA program, where I was allowed to take some Workshop classes on the same basis as those admitted to the program. I learned a lot, and the bitter taste of rejection was replaced by the realization that the Workshop thrived on angst, and that I had had enough of that to fill my life previously and didn’t need more.
I gathered together the credit hours needed to complete the degree, though I was in no particular rush to finish. And one day while looking for a signature for a change to my schedule I stumbled into the Windhover Press. Wonderful old presses and bank upon bank of lead type. I spent the next couple of semesters learning how to build a book, letter by letter, page by page, from those little bits of lead. I got a rudimentary course in sewing a book together, in pasting cloth, in terms like “text block” and “square”.
Then I met Bill. He led me through the different structures, and was tolerant of my large, clumsy hands. I spent hours just watching him work, watching how he moved with a grace that I could only dimly understand, as he slipped a needle onto thread, through paper, around cord. Trimming leather to fit a corner or a hinge. Working with the hot brass tools on a design that those magic hands formed seemingly without effort. But I didn’t spend all the time with him that I could, distracted by other things I thought needed doing. I squandered my time with him, not knowing what gifts I was passing up, what opportunity I allowed to slip from my hands.
But in spite of my best efforts to the contrary, he made an impression, and taught me a lot. Without quite realizing it, my hands became less clumsy, my understanding a bit brighter. I learned a few things, and came to appreciate much, much more. Somewhere in there my need for the refuge for science fiction diminished, though it was never completely left behind. Like a man who has long since recovered from an injury, but who still walks with a cane out of habit, science fiction stayed with me, occasionally coming to the fore in my interpretations of the world, in the ways that I moved from what I was to what I became.
Bill left us, in body at least. Part of his spirit I carry with me, and it surprises me sometimes, in a pleasant way. Now I am at home with paper, cloth, leather, and thread. I make and repair books for friends and clients.
The book is a mutable form, reflecting the needs, materials, and technology of the culture that produces it. Broadly speaking, a “book” is any self-contained information delivery system. And any number of ‘book artists’ have taken this broadly-defined term to extremes, some more interesting than others.
For me, the book is a codex, something that you can hold in your hand and read. From the earliest memories of my science fiction saturated youth, I remember books becoming obsolete in the future, replaced by one dream or another of “readers”, “scanners”, or even embedded text files linked directly to the brain. Some say ours is a post-literate culture, with all the books-on-tape, video, and interactive media technology. I think I read somewhere recently that Sony (or Toshiba or Panasonic or someone) had finally come up with a hand-held, book-sized computer screen that can accommodate a large number of books on CD ROM. Maybe the future is here.
Maybe. Lord knows that I would be lost without a computer for all my writing, revisions, and play. The floppy drive that is in this book was taken from my old computer (my first computer) when a friend installed a hard drive. It is, in many ways, part of my history, part of my time at Iowa, and all the changing that I did there.
So, in a bit of whimsy, I’ve decided to add my part to the extremes of “book art”. Consider this a transition artifact, a melding of two technologies, for fun. Black & white, yes and no, on and off. The stuff of dreams.
Filed under: BoingBoing, Bruce Schneier, Civil Rights, Constitution, Cory Doctorow, Government, Society, Terrorism, Travel | Tags: BoingBoing, bruce schneier, jim downey, kip hawley, travel, TSA, Xeni Jardin
Man, sometimes I think the TSA exists solely to provide me something to write about when other news is slow. To a certain extent, it’s just too easy to rant about the ongoing farce. And constantly harping on the idiocy does nothing for my blood pressure.
But sometimes there’s a run of things which just require you to at least point to it and laugh. First, some items from Xeni Jardin over on BoingBoing (all links have a lot more content):
After picking on the elderly, today the TSA is bullying children. A 4-year-old girl who was upset during a TSA screening at the Wichita, KS airport was forced to undergo a manual pat-down after hugging her grandmother. Agents yelled at the child, and called her an uncooperative suspect.
Four present and past security screeners at LAX took 22 payments of up to $2400 each to let large shipments of coke, meth, and pot slip through baggage X-ray machines. Oh, we are so very, very shocked.
The Transportation Security Administration launched the “TSA Cares” program to assist disabled fliers just four months ago, but a story making the rounds today proves that the TSA definitely does not. The Frank family was traveling from New York City’s JFK airport to Florida, and were abruptly pulled aside after a dispute over how their 7-year-old daughter Dina was screened. The child is developmentally disabled and has cerebral palsy. She walks with crutches and leg braces.
You can guess what happened next, of course.
Then there was this item from Cory Doctorow earlier this week:
Omer Petti is a 95-year-old USAF veteran with artificial knees and a heart condition. Madge Woodward, his partner, has an artificial hip. They recently flew home to Detroit from San Diego, and were humiliated and robbed at the San Diego airport TSA checkpoint. The metal in their bodies set off the TSA magnetometer, and Petti was instructed to put his $300 in cash in a bin. Then he was further detained when a swab detected the nitroglycerin residue from his heart pills. He and Woodward were subjected to humiliating patdowns, and then discovered that their $300 had gone missing. When Petti asked where his money had gone, the TSA agent required he and Woodward to remove their shoes again and empty out their pockets, and asked if they were “refusing his request” when they objected. The TSA manager checked the security footage, but reported that it was “too blurry” to see what had happened to the money. The two elderly people were loaded into their wheelchairs and taken to their plane at full tilt, barely making it. They never got their money back.
In each case the response from the TSA is some variation on the theme of “TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper screening procedures…”
No surprise there.
And lest you think this is just BoingBoing’s obsession, how about this article from Kip Hawley, former head of the TSA, who has decidedly changed his tune:
Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How To Fix It
You know the TSA. We’re the ones who make you take off your shoes before padding through a metal detector in your socks (hopefully without holes in them). We’re the ones who make you throw out your water bottles. We’re the ones who end up on the evening news when someone’s grandma gets patted down or a child’s toy gets confiscated as a security risk. If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably hate us.
More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.
The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.
Any bets on whether or not this will change anything in the slightest?
“Welcome to the TSA checkpoint. Hand over your valuables and grab your ankles, please.”
Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Constitution, Cory Doctorow, Failure, Government, Privacy, Travel
Two items to share about the agency everyone loves to hate.
First, a state legislator has come up with a great idea down in Texas:
Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) introduced a package of bills into the Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday that would challenge the TSA’s authority in a number of ways. The first bill, HB 1938, prohibits full body scanning equipment in any Texas airport and provides for criminal and civil penalties on any airport operator who installs the equipment. The second bill, HB 1937, criminalizes touching without consent and searches without probable cause.
In theory, Texas may be able to do this, under the 10th amendment of the Constitution. In practice, I bet the federal government would threaten to pull all funding support for airports and other transportation options, as well as challenge the law in the federal courts under the Commerce Clause, and the Texas legislature would cry "uncle" in short order. Shame, really, because it would be nice to reclaim our privacy rights and stop the groping.
But not only will we not be allowed to reclaim those privacy rights, the TSA wants us to pay even more for the privilege:
To avoid bag check fees, travelers are routinely opting to carry on their bags, but the TSA says that the cost is just getting shifted to tax payers, to the tune of $260 million a year. That’s because the more bags that don’t get checked, the more bags the TSA has to inspect by hand at security checkpoints. Now the TSA is looking to get a cut of some of the checked baggage fees the airlines collect.
* * *
The TSA has also been pushing for an increase in the airport security fee travelers currently pay. Currently passengers pay up to a $5 fee each for a one-way ticket.
Five bucks? That seems low to me – don’t sex workers usually charge more for such hands-on activity? No wonder the TSA wants to increase the charge.
Whoa – this is insane:
From the blog post (where there are a bunch more images):
I had the immense opportunity to see this wonderful paper craft art installation by a genius of the name of Wataru Itou, a young student of a major art university here in Tokyo. The installation is hand made over four years of hard work, complete with electrical lights and a moving train, all made of paper!
Damned impressive. And I say that as someone who is a book & document conservator, with considerable experience in working with paper. Damned impressive, indeed.
The Seattle City Council is expected Tuesday to approve a surcharge on city water customers to help cover the cost of a $22 million court-ordered rebate to water customers.
The rebates are for fire hydrant costs that were wrongly charged to water customers. Fire hydrants are a basic city responsibility and have to be paid for from the general fund, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
OK, read that again. Got it? The city screwed up and charged water customers for basic city infrastructure. So they have been ordered to pay said customers back for the overcharges. And to do so they are going to slap a surcharge onto water bills.
Gotta love it.
As someone in the comments said:
How to put the scr*ws to people four times in a row.
1. Charge some customers for a city financial responsibility.
2. Pay the lawyers to defend the city for wrongfully doing so that will be paid for by all city water customers.
3. Charge the customers for the refunds they have been ordered to pay the customers who were originally charged as well as all city water users.
4. Charge the customers for the legal fees it’s going to cost the city to defend itself from the upcoming law suit for wrongfully charging all water customers for the city being ordered by court to refund the fees it wrongfully charged “some” of the customers.
Filed under: BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, Health, Humor, movies, Politics, Survival
I suppose on some level this would be the perfect food for the end of the Bush era – but you’ll forgive me if I don’t add it to my celebratory smorgasbord on Tuesday:
Casu marzu (also called casu modde, casu cundhídu, or in Italian formaggio marcio) is a traditional sheep milk cheese, notable for being riddled with live insect larvae. Although outlawed there for health reasons, it is found mainly in Sardinia, Italy on the black market. Casu marzu literally means “rotten cheese” in Sardinian and is known colloquially as maggot cheese.
Derived from Pecorino, Casu marzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage most would consider decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly Piophila casei. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down of the cheese’s fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called lagrima, from the Sardinian for “tears”) seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as translucent white worms, about 8 millimetres (0.3 in) long. When disturbed, the larvae can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in). Some people clear the larvae from the cheese before consuming; others do not.
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Casu marzu is considered toxic when the maggots in the cheese have died. Because of this, only cheese in which the maggots are still alive is eaten. When the cheese has fermented enough, it is cut into thin strips and spread on moistened Sardinian flatbread (pane carasau), to be served with a strong red wine. Casu marzu is believed to be an aphrodisiac by local Sardinians. Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in) when disturbed, diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping into their eyes. Those who do not wish to eat live maggots place the cheese in a sealed paper bag. The maggots, starved for oxygen, writhe and jump in the bag, creating a “pitter-patter” sound. When the sounds subside, the maggots are dead and the cheese can be eaten.
It’s a bit late for it, but it has to be said: “They’ll eat your eyes out, kid!”
No, actually, the greatest threat seems to be from ingesting the the maggots, and having them survive in your gut. Charming. Not unlike Bush administration political appointees who are trying to burrow their way into permanent positions in the Justice Department, I suppose. So cheesy.
***Say, someone linked this to some site, or spread it amongst their Twitter friends, or something – there’s been a huge increase in hits. Which is cool, but if someone would be kind enough to let me know how it got out into the wild, I’d appreciate it. I’m used to my posts mostly being domesticated, see . . . JD
Filed under: Art, BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, Humor, Science, Science Fiction
Particularly for someone with a small kid, this would be brilliant:
* * *
Fortunately, we have a solution – a first step, if you will, along the path to mad science proficiency. We are pleased to announce the release of our Young Mad Scientist’s First Alphabet Blocks. These lovely blocks contain many carefully engraved illustrations of the equipment, training, and activities that a budding mad scientist will require, combined with a clever alphabetic introduction to the concept depicted.
More (and images) at the site.