Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Hedgehog’s Array: March 25, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Something Big,” Geoff Dyer
“Rodia’s ambition was merely “to do something big.” It wasn’t even an ambition — those are usually underpinned by a desire for acclaim, recognition, fame, money. Instead it was more like a hobby, something he pursued in his free time, albeit with unswerving single-mindedness.”

“Human Error,” Jennifer Jacquet
“That humans have helped bring on other species’ end times is not an easy feeling to deal with. Survivor guilt in the Anthropocene may describe how we respond to harm done by human­kind’s ever-increasing dominance.”

“How Do You Say ‘Life’ in Physics?,” Allison Eck
“The arrow of time points in the direction of disorder. The arrow of life, however, points the opposite way. From a simple, dull seed grows an intricately structured flower, and from the lifeless Earth, forests and jungles. How is it that the rules governing those atoms we call ‘life’ could be so drastically different from those that govern the rest of the atoms in the universe?”

“Amidst of the Rubble of Bedrock City,” Amy McKeever
“Bedrock City was a theme park whose main attraction was a glimpse into what the Flintstones’ hometown would have looked and felt like, if only it were real.”

 

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The Hedgehog’s Array: March 18, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the past week:

“Homelessness and the Politics of Hope,” Sydney Morrow
“At what point ought we cease to hold people to a standard that they do not seem able or willing to maintain?”

“Viktor Shklovsky and the Horror Behind Ostranenie,” Alexandra Berlina
“When a scholar claims that ‘acute experience’ of the world is to be found in literature, one might suspect that his real life consists largely of book dust. Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of Shklovsky.”

“Home Economics,” Heather Boushey
“Today’s families need a new contract with their employers, one that provides stability in a world where we are interacting with the economy in new ways.”

“We Other Puritans,” Michael Robbins
“Successful genre work often recycles old tropes—the demons of adolescent sexuality have haunted folk literature for centuries. But The Witch is about as subtle as a jack in the box.”

“A Life in Letters,” Doris Grumbach
“Remember when, years ago, the waiter in an upscale restaurant would come to the table between courses and clear the cloth with a little plate and brush? Now I am doing this between memories, and the crumb I find there concerns a book I never wrote.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Polling the Soul,” Jeff Guhin
“Yet there’s another curious problem with Inventing American Religion, which is Wuthnow’s insistence that the problems of polling are somehow utterly separate from the broader problems of social science.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: March 10, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Fair Usage,” Elisa Gabbert
“Descriptivism can quickly succumb to its own kind of smugness; it forms its own set of shibboleths and rules.”

“A bookseller’s guide to book thieves,” Emily Rhodes
“Stealing books is not, I think, wholly bad.”

“Everybody Freeze!,” Corey Pein 
“Thanks to all this high-profile backing, a true transhuman miracle has occurred: Alcor, a preposterous operation built on the unethical sale of false hope, remains in business.”

“A Century of Fakers,” Sasha Chapin
“It’s hard to know what to do with the fact that you can buy shoes studded with over four hundred diamonds in a world where hundreds of thousands of people are dying of diarrhea.”

“‘The less I can see, of the world, the more I can focus,” Susie Steiner
“Someone once told me, at great length, how losing his sight would be the absolute worst thing he could imagine. He’s dead now. There really are worse things.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Between the Hipsters and the Hasids,” Matthew Schmitz
“Starry-eyed longing for a binding community can become yet another way of surrendering to this world. Rather than living and working where we are, we dream of where else we might be.”

“The Counter-Desecration Phrasebook,” Alan Jacobs
“It is language, McFarlane reminds us—as we are constantly reminded by the writers who attend to place—that builds the vital bridge between the mountains out there and the mountains of the mind.”

“What’s Pro-Life About an AR-15?,” James Mumford
“Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should do it.”

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Why Trump?

Trump photo: Michael Vadon; THR composite

Trump photo: Michael Vadon; THR composite

Why Trump? The commentary class is rightly obsessed with the question. In the New York Times, Thomas Edsall provides a socio-economic explanation, highlighting the anger of a shrinking middle class. In the New Yorker, David Remnick offers a “coming home to roost” argument, noting how Trump is “the beneficiary of a long process of Republican intellectual decadence.” The comedian Louis CK weighed in with this: “[He] is a messed up guy with a hole in his heart that he tries to fill with money and attention. He can never ever have enough of either and he’ll never stop trying. He’s sick. Which makes him really really interesting.” John Oliver says it’s because the word Trump is a brand that invariably connotes power.

Insightful explanations. But they don’t directly account for the essential feature of the Trump phenomenon: the unnerving way the man’s rhetorical vulgarity drives his ascendency. Consider a brief hit list of Trump’s brashest moves. On national television, he said that Megyn Kelly, a Fox News reporter, had “blood coming out of her whatever”; he mocked Marco Rubio as “little Marco”; he said John McCain was “not a war hero” (because he was captured); and he characterized Mexicans crossing the US border as “rapists.” But it’s on Twitter where Trump has best streamlined the art of the insult, reducing McCain to a “dummy,” Bernie Sanders a “wacko,” Glenn Beck a “mental basketcase,” Frank Bruni a “dope,” Jeb Bush a “pathetic figure,” Karl Rove a “total fool,” Cokie Roberts “kooky,” and Frank Luntz a “clown.” That’s a very small sample.

My students—budding historians—tell me exactly what budding historians are supposed to say: It has always been like this. And in a way they’re right. Go back to the Early Republic and consider how Burr, Adams, Hamilton and the like went after each other. It was vicious. Adams was the worst. He famously called Hamilton “the Bastard brat of a Scotch peddler”; Paine’s Common Sense, a “crapulous mess”; and Jefferson’s soul, “poisoned with ambition.” But the difference with Trump is that, unlike past political mudslinging, his insults are divorced from political reality. Trump isn’t hissing out insults to underscore his political position, or to denigrate the political position of another. He’s doing it to bully for the sake of bullying. Trump issues taunts apolitically, all over the place (against Republicans and Democrats), and with abandon. He’s often compared to a third grader on a playground. But, honestly, that’s not fair to third graders, most of whom seem to understand that you don’t behave that way. Continue reading

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Joseph E. Davis on the Zika Virus

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Our publisher, Joe Davis, has a blog post on the Zika virus over at NYU Press’s From the Square. Check it out:

While there is no Zika vaccine, work on the related viruses for West Nile and dengue may provide valuable leads and vast resources are rapidly being repurposed in search of a medical response. Yet, the very fact of Zika—and dengue, and chikungunya, and Ebola, and all the rest—should be a sobering reminder that medicine and technology can accomplish less than we hope. Through the 1970s, leading experts argued that the era of infectious disease was over and that anything unexpected could “presumably be safely contained.” But even by then change was afoot. Marburg, Ebola, yellow fever, and then HIV/AIDS drove home a new reality.

As with these other modern epidemics, the spread of Zika has little do with the changes in the virus itself. After 60 years of inactivity, the virus is spreading because social, political, and technological developments made its spread possible, even likely. The ease and frequency of global travel, for one, enabled a string of infected travellers to carry the disease from Africa to Micronesia to French Polynesia to Brazil. By far the hardest hit areas are urban slums, where overcrowding and inadequate public services have created the stagnant pools, raw sewage, and garbage dumps that are natural breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread the disease. Not only was Zika’s original ecological niche disrupted but other environmental factors now play a role, from deforestation to climate change. It is even possible that pesticides (indirectly) bear some of the blame: the explosion of transgenic soy crops, and their accompanying pesticides, has decreased biodiversity in large swaths of Latin America, and mosquitoes may have benefited from the disappearance of natural predators.

Read the rest here.

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The Hedgehog Review Featured In Adbusters

We were flattered to discover that three articles from our fall issue—“Naming the Modern Discontent,” “Sacred Reading,” and “We Have Never Been Disenchanted”—were re-purposed for the most recent issue of Adbusters. Check out some spreads from that issue below (click on the images for a larger version).

Continue reading

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The Hedgehog’s Array: March 4, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Dissolving the Dead,” Graeme Bayliss
“Bio-cremation is the funeral industry–approved term for alkaline hydrolysis, a method of corpse disposal in which lye and water are heated under pressure, dissolving flesh and leaving only bone fragments and whatever surgical oddments the body contained. The process is often faster than traditional cremation and costs about the same, and the end product takes up less space than a standard burial.”

“The Pyrrhonian Skeptic,” Richard Marshall and Katja Maria Vogt
“In the end, I guess the fact that we want knowledge and find it valuable doesn’t go away, even if knowledge is elusive.”

“As a God Might Be,” Meghan O’Gieblyn
“Among the modern-day Gnostics, says Gray, are the techno-futurists who believe that technology will usher in a state of spiritual perfection and emancipate us from our mortal forms. Many have contributed to this dubious gospel, but its chief prophet is Ray Kurzweil, who for several decades has been heralding the day when technological enhancement will facilitate unlimited knowledge, transforming humanity into an immortal and essentially divine super-race.”

“1916: The funeral of the Master,” Philip Horne
“James’s niece Peggy arrived in the first week in January. Her impression, she later told Edel, was that her uncle did have lucid intervals, but that whenever he said something characteristically Jamesian such as ‘“Now I must rest from my sensibilities and discriminations,” the nurses thought he was delirious.“‘

“Both Sides, Now,” Sam Sacks
“There’s no arguing with any of this because no argument has been made in the first place. Scott positions himself on both poles of each proposition so that he’s everywhere and nowhere at once, the Schrödinger’s cat of critics.”

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Public Displays: FBI, Apple, and Preserving Open Debate on Cybersecurity

Garsya; Shutterstock.com

Garsya; Shutterstock.com

It happened first with the 2014 Sony Pictures hack. In the aftermath of the hack that leaked the names and personal information of studio employees, threats of terrorist attacks were made against theaters scheduled to release the Seth Rogan–Evan Goldberg comedy The Interview. As it became clearer that North Korea was behind these incidents, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement encouraging businesses to evaluate their cybersecurity practices in cooperation with the Cybersecurity Framework, a best practices tool developed by government in consultation with the private sector.

A little over a year later, US government officials are again encouraging cooperation—or, perhaps, compliance is the more accurate word—of a California-based media and technology company in relation to an internal corporate cybersecurity decision. In response to government requests, Apple has refused to decrypt iPhones in the service of the FBI investigation into the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. Taken together, the Sony and Apple incidents point to a troubling trend: the public use of the issue of national security as a tool to extend unwarranted control over media and technology companies.

Both the Sony hack and the Apple-FBI imbroglio demonstrate that cybersecurity jurisdiction is fuzzy. Government overreach is growing. Consumers are caught in the middle both as stakeholders and as audience.

Like the Sony hack, the Apple-FBI debate is playing out in public. The FBI is making the case for why all of us should want Apple to open its (back)door to regulators. When industry surrogates shoot out public missives supporting government intervention into technology firms, they are putting legal protections for new technologies in the crosshairs. Bill Gates weighed in on the importance of compliance with government requests. He speaks as a respected figure in technology. Yet Gates also benefits directly from Microsoft’s government contracts of more than $1 billion, a much larger exposure than Apple’s. But because of the publicness of the debate, Gates’s stake becomes clear.

Public debate is necessary because the rights involved in the Apple-FBI case are fragile. In 2014, University of VIrginia media studies professor Jennifer Petersen pointed out that the limited legal decisions related to code indicate that the bar for protecting this type of communication is low—so far restricted only to internal communications between programmers. Apple’s refusal to open encrypted phones without a legal order because of its free-speech rights could establish new important precedents. As author and attorney Jonathan Zittrain notes, asking the judiciary to weigh in on complex issues like whether or not to decrypt phones for FBI cases is precisely the point of the rule of law. The fact that the case will now play out publicly further magnifies its importance.

More civilian oversight of US cybersecurity policy is essential. But this is not only because establishing coherent legal standards is important in this still inchoate area of law. It is because, as the FBI’s pleas to Apple have demonstrated, our most advanced knowledge of key cybersecurity issues like encryption is located in the civilian world. Therefore, paradoxically, private sector involvement in cybersecurity is likely to produce better policy than the government could produce without public or corporate scrutiny. (The question of public and private domains in relation to Apple’s fight with the FBI was also recently examined by Ned O’Gorman at The Infernal Machine blog.)

As the Snowden PRISM leak demonstrated, individual liberty is often secretly sacrificed on the altar of national cybersecurity. Fortunately, through Apple’s—admittedly self-serving—media extravaganza, FBI access to personal iPhones will never be an obscure technical question again. Just as the Sony hack brought attention to US cybersecurity policy via the marketing team for The Interview, Apple has brought government cybersecurity practices into public debate by revealing a threat to our beloved devices.

Public attempts to define the relationship between individual and corporate freedoms in relation to government protection do not provide the final answer for US cybersecurity policy. However, they are a substantial improvement over private negotiations between corporate and government stakeholders to the exclusion of other citizens. The news cycle surrounding the Apple-FBI events may be a circus, but it shines light on an important problem. Ultimately, our collective obsession with entertainment media and the devices that deliver it will create more open debate about the intersection of the media and technology industries and cybersecurity.

Aynne Kokas is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, and a non-resident scholar in Chinese Media at the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy at Rice University.

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