MonthJune 2012

The Right Pushes Back on Drones

The AP ran a story recently on the use of drones on U.S. soil by civilians. I’m interested in the examples Republicans Rand Paul and Austin Scott give for curbing the use of drones in the U.S.:

“I just don’t like the concept of drones flying over barbecues in New York to see whether you have a Big Gulp in your backyard or whether you are separating out your recyclables according to the city mandates,” Paul said in an interview, referring to a New York City ban on supersized soft drinks.

He acknowledged that was an “extreme example,” but he added: “They might just say we’d be safer from muggings if we had constant surveillance crisscrossing the street all the time. But then the question becomes, ‘What about jaywalking? What about eating too many donuts? What about putting mayonnaise on your hamburger?’ Where does it stop?” […]

Discussion of the issue has been colored by exaggerated drone tales spread largely by conservative media and bloggers.

Scott said he was prompted to introduce his bill in part by news reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has been using drones to spy on cattle ranchers in Nebraska. The agency has indeed been searching for illegal dumping of waste into streams, but it is doing it with piloted planes.

Full Story: AP (via NPR): Drones At Home Raise Fear Of Surveillance Society

On the one hand, maybe I should welcome whatever it takes to get conservatives concerned about civil liberties. But I worry about this sort of nanny state fear mongering, especially since it seems to obscure some of the more serious issues regarding policing and invasion of privacy by private corporations – not to mention the questionable use of weaponized drones by the military in the first place.

See also:

Sea Shepherd Uses Surveillance Drone to Locate Whaling Ship

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

John Metta: Our soldiers should die in war

Interview with a John

Antonia Crane has been doing a series of interviews with sex workers for The Rumpus. Now she’s trying to find johns (the customers of prostitutes and other sex workers) to share their stories. Here’s a bit of the first one:

The negative experiences were usually when I found myself in a situation where I felt I was doing something wrong, dangerous or exploitative. I think my situation is not uncommon, and I think most of us do not want to hurt anybody. Not wanting to participate in anything that’s harmful, that’s wrong, that’s cruel. But like a lot of other industries, both black-market ones like drugs or gambling and legit industries like food processing or farming, there are abuses. And so you go into it navigating through the abuses.

You’re in this for a connection. Physical—but also emotional. And a shadow of the dark side of sex work kind of hovers around in the background.

It’s like with drug use. You just smoke pot once in a while, and then one day you find yourself buying a little more weight, from a guy who’s got a gun in his car, and you realize there is this whole other big scary reality behind the little bit that you can see.

The Rumpus: Paying to Play: Interview with a John

See also: “Do-Me” Feminism and the Rise of Raunch

10 Hand to Hand Combat Myths That Writers Need To Stop Using

Andrew Jack lists his top 10 fighting myths:

  • You Can Kill Someone by Shoving Their Nose Back Into Their Brain
  • Getting Knocked Out Is No Big Deal
  • Pressure Points Work In Real Fights
  • A Kick To The Groin is Game Over
  • A Kick To The Groin Is Just Painful
  • Grappling Beats Everything
  • Grappling Is Useless In Real Fights
  • You Can Punch People In The Head With Impunity
  • Complex, Esoteric Martial Arts Are Better
  • Martial Arts Guarantee A Win

Full Story (with more detail for each myth): Andrew Jack Writing: 10 Hand to Hand Combat Myths That Writers Need To Stop Using

(via Cat Vincent)

Synesthesia May Explain Aura Reading

From Science Daily:

In basic neurological terms, synesthesia is thought to be due to cross-wiring in the brain of some people (synesthetes); in other words, synesthetes present more synaptic connections than “normal” people. “These extra connections cause them to automatically establish associations between brain areas that are not normally interconnected,” professor Gómez Milán explains. New research suggests that many healers claiming to see the aura of people might have this condition. […]

Many local people attribute “paranormal powers” to El Santón, because of his supposed ability to see the aura of people “but, in fact, it is a clear case of synesthesia,” the researchers explained. According to the researchers, El Santón has face-color synesthesia (the brain region responsible for face recognition is associated with the color-processing region); touch-mirror synesthesia (when the synesthete observes a person who is being touched or is experiencing pain, s/he experiences the same); high empathy (the ability to feel what other person is feeling), and schizotypy (certain personality traits in healthy people involving slight paranoia and delusions). “These capacities make synesthetes have the ability to make people feel understood, and provide them with special emotion and pain reading skills,” the researchers explain.

Full Story: Science Daily: Synesthesia May Explain Healers Claims of Seeing People’s ‘Aura’

(via Matt Staggs)

I’ve long suspected this to be true. I’ve met a couple of people who claimed to be able to see auras and didn’t seem to be liars or crazy.

Prometheus (the Movie) Deconstructed

I thought Prometheus was an awful movie, but I loved writer Adrian Bott’s analysis of its mythological underpinnings:

Prometheus contains such a huge amount of mythic resonance that it effectively obscures a more conventional plot. I’d like to draw your attention to the use of motifs and callbacks in the film that not only enrich it, but offer possible hints as to what was going on in otherwise confusing scenes.

Let’s begin with the eponymous titan himself, Prometheus. He was a wise and benevolent entity who created mankind in the first place, forming the first humans from clay. The Gods were more or less okay with that, until Prometheus gave them fire. This was a big no-no, as fire was supposed to be the exclusive property of the Gods. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to a rock and condemned to have his liver ripped out and eaten every day by an eagle. (His liver magically grew back, in case you were wondering.)

Fix that image in your mind, please: the giver of life, with his abdomen torn open. We’ll be coming back to it many times in the course of this article.

The ethos of the titan Prometheus is one of willing and necessary sacrifice for life’s sake. That’s a pattern we see replicated throughout the ancient world. J G Frazer wrote his lengthy anthropological study, The Golden Bough, around the idea of the Dying God – a lifegiver who voluntarily dies for the sake of the people. It was incumbent upon the King to die at the right and proper time, because that was what heaven demanded, and fertility would not ensue if he did not do his royal duty of dying.

Now, consider the opening sequence of Prometheus. We fly over a spectacular vista, which may or may not be primordial Earth. According to Ridley Scott, it doesn’t matter. A lone Engineer at the top of a waterfall goes through a strange ritual, drinking from a cup of black goo that causes his body to disintegrate into the building blocks of life. We see the fragments of his body falling into the river, twirling and spiralling into DNA helices.

Ridley Scott has this to say about the scene: ‘That could be a planet anywhere. All he’s doing is acting as a gardener in space. And the plant life, in fact, is the disintegration of himself. If you parallel that idea with other sacrificial elements in history – which are clearly illustrated with the Mayans and the Incas – he would live for one year as a prince, and at the end of that year, he would be taken and donated to the gods in hopes of improving what might happen next year, be it with crops or weather, etcetera.’

Can we find a God in human history who creates plant life through his own death, and who is associated with a river? It’s not difficult to find several, but the most obvious candidate is Osiris, the epitome of all the Frazerian ‘Dying Gods’.

And we wouldn’t be amiss in seeing the first of the movie’s many Christian allegories in this scene, either. The Engineer removes his cloak before the ceremony, and hesitates before drinking the cupful of genetic solvent; he may well have been thinking ‘If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me.’

So, we know something about the Engineers, a founding principle laid down in the very first scene: acceptance of death, up to and including self-sacrifice, is right and proper in the creation of life. Prometheus, Osiris, John Barleycorn, and of course the Jesus of Christianity are all supposed to embody this same principle. It is held up as one of the most enduring human concepts of what it means to be ‘good’.

Seen in this light, the perplexing obscurity of the rest of the film yields to an examination of the interwoven themes of sacrifice, creation, and preservation of life. We also discover, through hints, exactly what the nature of the clash between the Engineers and humanity entailed.

Full Story: Cavalorn: Prometheus Unbound: What The Movie Was Actually About

I still think the movie was terrible (see also: Prometheus in 15 Minutes), but Bott’s analysis shows how much more interesting it could have been. (Ridley Scott, if you’re reading this, it seems you could do a lot worse than Bott as a screenwriter for the sequel.)

And speaking of the Alien franchise, see also: James Cameron’s responses to Aliens critics

Queen of England Names Grant Morrison a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

Invisibles author Grant Morrison has been officially inducted into the Outer Church:

Every year for her Birthday, Queen Elizabeth II names a bunch of people (well, it’s not her, but it’s done through her, she’s the middle man) to honour with various orders of chivalry, she basically dubs them with a sword and gives them a medal.

The Outhouse: GRANT MORRISON GIVEN AN MBE BY THE QUEEN!

(thanks Cat Vincent)

Rev. Ivan Stang Retires as President of the Chuch of the SubGenius

The press release:

Rev. Ivan Stang announced today his retirement from the SubGenius Foundation, citing his ill demeanor and declining patience with internal conflict among the members of the SubGenius Church, appointing long-time collaborator Dr.K’taden Legume to the position of President and CEO of the Foundation.

Rev. Stang will continue to produce his nationally syndicated radio program, “The Hour of Slack”, and attend personal speaking engagements. Rev.Stang later commented, “I’m sick to death of dealing with idiots when my time can be better spent attempting to capture the vicious Jaggi”.

Dr.Legume immediately appointed Priestess Pisces as his VP, and stated that his first order of business is to examine the membership rolls and “weed out the dead weight and the malcontents”.

Legume announced that there will be a huge addendum to the church’s list of banned members prohibited from attending the SubGenius Foundation’s annual X-Day event, to be released to the public on June 30.

“This is the beginning of a new era for the SubGenius Church”, Legume stated earlier today, “My vision for the SubGenius Church is a radical departure from the tolerant policies of the past. While I expect it to be rough at the beginning as the flock gets used to the idea of a more controlled environment and more selective and stringent requirements for membership and participation in the SubGenius community, they will realize, that, as always, my way is the best way…the ONLY way. I expect this will be a new golden age for the SubGenius Church.”

Dr.Legume will be receiving a six figure salary commensurate with his duties and experience.

From: The Office Pulpit of Rev. Ivan Stang

Here’s a sermon from Dr.K’taden Legume at the Baltimore SubGenius Devival 2007

Cyberculture History: French Proto-Internet Minitel to Shutdown at the End of June

Minitel welcome screen

The French are pulling the plug on Minitel, their national BBS system:

Thirty years ago, France led the world into the 21st century, but the world hardly noticed. In 1981-82, two French inventions offered a glimpse of the future. One was the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) or high-speed train. The other was the Minitel. The what? […]

The Minitel was the world’s first large data base accessible to the public. The Minitel terminal – provided free to subscribers – was the first screen-and-keyboard combination widely available in any country. Minitel had chat lines where people could commentate on world events, or their own lives, long before the blogosphere. There was even an abbreviated Minitel language, rather like “text speak”, such as “slt, té ki?” (salut, qui es- tu; or hello, who are you?)

Full Story: The Independent: How France fell out of love with Minitel

I found this via Boing Boing and Bruce Sterling, who both linked to a weird abridged version of the above article that was missing a few paragraphs, including this bit:

Gerome Nox, a veteran male French pop musician, admitted this week to the newspaper Libération that he had in a previous life been “Julie”, an “animatrice” or hostess on one of the first Minitel text-sex lines. Few women wanted the work, he said, so most of the “hostesses”, paid the equivalent of £2.50 an hour, were men.

“(The clients) were like a shoal of starving piranha fish,” he said. “No hello. No polite openings. It was to the point and crude.” After a while he realised that “my Julie” had become “disagreeable, wicked and odious”. He announced online that he was a man “whose job is to inflate all your phone bills. So you’ve all been screwed, just like you wanted to be”. He was fired the next day.

See also:

Before the Web, AOL, and Prodigy, There was Minitel

Cyberculture History: Before the World Wide Web Did Anything, HyperCard Did Everything

New Frontier for Cybercrime: Implanted Healthcare Devices

Chris Arkenberg on giving new meaning to “body hacking”:

In what amounts to a fairly shocking reminder of how quickly our technologies are advancing and how deeply our lives are being woven with networked computation, security researchers have recently reported successes in remotely compromising and controlling two different medical implant devices . Such implanted devices are becoming more and more common, implemented with wireless communications both across components and outward to monitors that allow doctors to non-invasively make changes to their settings. Until only recently, this technology was mostly confined to advanced labs but it is now moving steadily into our bodies. As these procedures become more common, researchers are now considering the security implications of wiring human anatomy directly into the web of ubiquitous computation and networked communications.

Barnaby Jack, a researcher at McAfee, was investigating how the wireless protocols between implants and their remote controllers opened up potential vulnerabilities to 3rd party attacks. Working with instrumented insulin pumps he found he could compromise any pump within a 300-foot range. “We can make that pump dispense its entire 300 unit reservoir of insulin and we can do that without requiring its ID number”, he noted, adding that making the device empty its entire cartridge into a host’s bloodstream would cause “deep trouble”. Previously, independent security researcher Jerome Radcliff, a diabetic and insulin pump recipient himself, showed a crowd at the 2011 Black Hat Security Conference how he could wirelessly hack into his own pump to obtain its profile, then alter it in a way that would modify his prescription when sent back to the device.

Full Story: Big Think: Inviting Machines Into Our Bodies

See also: Ubicomp Getting Under Your Skin? So Are Hackers

5 Essays I Wish I’d Read as a Young(er) Man

Why Women Aren’t Crazy

You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You’re crazy! I was just joking, don’t you have a sense of humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!

Sound familiar?

If you’re a woman, it probably does.

Do you ever hear any of these comments from your spouse, partner, boss, friends, colleagues, or relatives after you have expressed frustration, sadness, or anger about something they have done or said?

When someone says these things to you, it’s not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling—that’s inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed someone else’s bad behavior, is emotional manipulation—pure and simple.

And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It’s patently false and unfair.

Full Story: The Good Men Project: Why Women Aren’t Crazy

Why I Resigned from The Good Men Project

One day, Kevin came to class with a duffle bag. I thought little of it, until – in the midst of a discussion about men and feminism – he reached into the duffle and pulled out a football helmet. “I know I’m gonna get killed for what I’m about to say”, he announced dramatically; “I brought some protection.” Kevin then strapped the helmet on as his classmates and I stared in shock. I told him to cut out the cheap theatrics, but not before he’d made a powerful point, though I’m confident it wasn’t the one he intended to make.

Kevin’s gag with the football helmet was designed to send a signal about women and anger. The message he wanted to send was, as he told me later, that “feminists take things too seriously and get too aggressive.” The message he actually sent was that men will go to great lengths to try and short-circuit women’s attempts at serious conversation. The helmet was an effort to label those attempts as “male-bashing” or “man-hating.” The hope was that it would shame uppity feminists into biting back their anger; of course, Kevin only ended up inflaming the situation. In less dramatic ways, I’ve seen men use this same tactic again and again.

Full Story: Hugo Schwyzer: Why I Resigned from The Good Men Project

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Feminism But Were Afraid to Ask

Although we can all agree on the most basic dictionary definition of feminism (the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes), it is rarely ever that simple or straightforward. Despite 150 years of activism in pursuit of women’s rights, and nearly 40 years of modern feminism, “feminism” is still considered by many to be a dirty word. In the mainstream media, when feminism is discussed at all, it’s most often talked about in negative or pessimistic terms: Time’s “Is Feminism Dead?” cover stories; the recent series of New York Times articles detailing how feminism has “failed” because upper-middle-class white women are still struggling with the work/family dilemma; any number of hand-wringing articles about why young women aren’t embracing the label; and so forth. Movie and tv starlets who portray assertive, confident, feminist-leaning characters routinely reject the word—Sarah Michelle Gellar, Drew Barrymore, I’m lookin’ at you—as do female musicians whose work is infused with gender play (Polly Jean Harvey, Patti Smith, Bjork). It’s not that these women aren’t into equality: It’s because they, like many people, are afraid of what the word implies to the rest of the world. Like the current slanderous usage of “liberal,” “feminist” has long been wielded as an epithet—hence many women’s discomfort in adopting it.

You wouldn’t know it from the blanket terms used to talk about feminism, but the movement’s rich history (and current practice) encompasses a slew of ideologies, offshoots, and internal disagreements: radical feminism, cultural feminism, liberal feminism, antiporn feminism, pro-sex feminism, third-wave feminism, womanism—but what does it all mean? A brief primer on the etiology of feminism is sorely needed. The following is hardly exhaustive, and only barely objective, and I must mention that many of the nuances and linguistic turns are still up for debate by and among feminists. So leave your preconceptions behind and join me in this exciting exploration of one of life’s most basic urges: feminism.

Full Story: Bitch: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Feminism But Were Afraid to Ask

Fucking and Feminism

There’s a world of difference between being branded a sex object and choosing to be one under certain circumstances. Recall Tad Friend’s classic 1994 “do-me feminism” Esquire article, in which Lisa Palac said, “Degrade me when I ask you to” (emphasis mine). Women’s true desires may not make for perfect propaganda, but sex is justifiably complex. I may like to get spanked until I scream, but I still deserve to be treated as an intelligent human being. Submitting sexually doesn’t equal becoming a doormat outside the bedroom.

Full Story: Village Voice: Fucking and Feminism

Rise of Raunch

Ariel Levy’s 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture argued that, in fact, women themselves were turning to self-objectification in shocking numbers, noting that the signifiers of what she called “raunch culture” — strip aerobics classes, T-shirts printed with the words porn star, Girls Gone Wild, and more — had been adopted by women themselves. But rather than leading to real freedom, women’s adoption of “raunch culture” simply duplicated patterns of disdain for and objectification of women. Levy’s quest to find out how the new sexual liberation differed from early-model sexploitation involved talking to everyone from the HBO executives responsible for the likes of G-String Divas to the producers of Girls Gone Wild to high-school and college women who have felt pressure to make out with other girls in bars “because boys like it.” Ultimately, Female Chauvinist Pigs yielded far more questions than it answered, and the main one was this: If the standards and stereotypes by which girls and women are judged haven’t changed, could it really be called empowerment at all?

Pamela Paul struggled with a similar question in her 2005 book Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families; a year later, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting took it on in Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women. Along with Female Chauvinist Pigs, these books pointed out the distinction that lay at the heart of many feminists’ discomfort with raunch culture: Liking sex and performing sex are two very different things. And as Levy put it, “If we’re going to have sexual role models, it should be the women who enjoy sex the most, not the women who get paid the most to enact it.”

Full Story: Alternet: “Do-Me” Feminism and the Rise of Raunch

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