2014 And Limits Of New Romanticism

2014 And The New Romantics

We’re witnessing another New Romantic historical moment end. We see it wind down in domestic American politics, including L’Affaire Snowden. And in Kiev’s Streets. We turn our gaze from Syrian killing fields. Spontaneous, unorganized mass sentiment failed to create real change anywhere.

1848 Europe’s revolutionary, democratic moment and its lessons come to mind. Europe saw its widest ever democratic revolutionary wave quickly collapse into a Continental reactionary resurgence. Historical analogies should always be suspect, especially here. Yet, we can’t help but ask, “What comes next, now?”

The New Romantics Aren’t A Pop Group

Our last 15 years constitute a Romantic Moment. First it flourished with the Colored Revolutions’ early promise. Even elements of Americans’ manipulated arc in Iraq and Afghanistan floated on misguided sentiment. Mass sentiment erupted in Tehran, ignited the Arab Spring, Syria, rock both Thailand and now Ukraine, again. Obama’s improbable 2008 presidency and aftermath are part of the tableau, too.

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Schizophrenic Facebook Nation

Who would want current or potential non-sensitive employers gaining access to Facebook, Twitter and other accounts? For the express purpose of judgment?

Infant remedial legislation aside, Facebook finds itself ironically a centurion for privacy. The site offers to sue those employers demanding access to users’ accounts. Kafka’s page must be getting lots of likes.

The genesis of today’s issue lies with Americans’ Faustian bargain made long ago: the notion that privacy can and should be traded. After 2001, for protection from fear and terror. By 2012 Americans happily surrender it daily for services, coupons, games, searching Google, etc. As the saying goes, if you can’t figure out how they’re making money, it’s off of your usage and ‘privacy’.

So what is too far? After all, Facebook and others track users across the Interwebs off site, unless one specifically blocks it. Google and others were exposed as deliberately evading Apple’s iOS privacy settings to obtaining user private information. A retraction and press release later, the issue forgotten. Facebook reset its privacy settings several times, potentially making public what users thought was private. All for the social graph.

And all rather arcane, too. Someone demanding your password? Relatable. Nothing really is too far as long as it’s not perceived as explicitly violative.

And that’s the American schizophrenia. Our privacy is a currency except when we say it’s not.

Law enforcement and employers, of course, have long used Google and Facebook to check up on people. The Rubicon is employers requiring the password to see if there’s more. Mortifying enough for them to see those I Can Haz Cheezburger memes.

How this plays out in the current legal environment remains to be seen. Not all employers making the request are the same. Significant analytical distinctions exist among local, state and federal government intrusions and acts by a private entity. Complicating matters might be claims that third party interests are involved – i.e., anyone who sent a message privately to an accessed account. Do they have a reasonable expectation of privacy from accessing employers? What will happen to information? How long will it be kept? To whom will it be passed? Facebook tried to raise the bogeyman of age discrimination potential liability as well – rather silly if they physically met a candidate and had their resume but only learned their age from Facebook? It might be fling everything at a wall and see what sticks time.

It’s early in the controversy. We think Facebook’s initial offer to sue requesting employers is on shaky ground. One has to ask does Facebook have standing to sue at all? Facebook says employer requests violate its user terms and conditions. That could be a slim reed. If the employer doesn’t use the site, they’re not bound by them anyway. The only violating user would be the job applicant.

As you know, Dear Reader, we are long time proponents of privacy and guarding against its infringement. None of the above should be construed as in anyway accepting employer intrusion into an applicant’s account. At the same time, Americans overall have to start taking privacy seriously. There’s something vampiric about the tech industry now standing up for user privacy, especially Facebook.

The Tea Party Zombie Game

Rightists have such glass jaws. Can’t take a punch. As you doubtless know by now they’re in a hissy fit over a zombie game about the Tea Party.

The news hit a fit days ago. You may be asking why write about it now? When the news hit, one senior Republican of our acquaintance asked us privately if we did it. Nope. But we can say anything that gets that thin skinned crowd up in arms must be doing something right.

We’ll be back to regular blogging this week.

Friendship And Tragedy Remembered

The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won’t work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship. . . .

In 1967, both men [Komarov and Gagarin] were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn’t back out because he didn’t want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

The whole thing.

U.S. Demands Internet Lifeline Abroad While Seeking Kill Switch At Home

It’s encouraging to see State work with private enterprise and NGOs to create alternative networks should authoritarian governments seek to shut down access and social media.

The State Department has been working furiously and mostly behind the scenes to cajole and pressure Arab governments to halt their clampdowns on communications and social media. In Tunisia there seem to have been real results. In Egypt, it’s too soon to tell.

Ever since the State Department intervened during protests by the Iranian Green movement in June 2009, convincing Twitter to postpone maintenance so opposition protestors could communicate, the U.S. government has been ramping up its worldwide effort to set up a network of organizations that could circumvent crackdowns on Internet and cell phone technologies by foreign governments. That effort faced its first two major tests over the last few weeks and the State Department has been working with private companies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions to activate this network and put it to use in real time.

Wise policy. State clearly did its best to get ahead of curve. What a shame then that Congress and the Obama Administration continue to promote the infamous Internet kill switch bill here at home.

The news of Egypt’s crackdown on Web access is raising new concerns over a comprehensive cybersecurity bill that critics claim gives the president a “kill switch” for the Internet.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has recently indicated she plan to re-introduce the bipartisan legislation she crafted last year with Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which passed the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year only to get mired in a standoff with Senate Commerce Committee members over which panel should have oversight of civilian cybersecurity.

Civil rights advocates such as the ACLU also raised concerns about the bill, which they claim gives the president the ability to shut down the Web in the event of a catastrophic cyber-attack. Specifically, observers are concerned the new version of the bill will reportedly not allow for judicial review when the administration shuts down a network under attack.

After Using iPhone 4: Great Device, Weak Phone (With Update)

After playing with a new iPhone 4 for some time here’s our take. It’s a wonderfully designed portable multi-media device that needs a new phone. Phone problems go beyond the well-known antenna flaw.

We got ours just by walking into an Apple Temple and simply asking for it. They handed one over, no wait time, no pre-order. Apple and AT&T still usually quote a 3 weeks wait. We upgraded on the spot because of Apple’s 30 days no questions asked return policy. Like everyone, we’ve seen the antenna stories.

Our earlier iPhones worked well with AT&T in the D.C. area, unlike NYC or SF. This new phone drops calls more often than wide open Redskins receivers. It’s not the ‘kung fu’ grip antenna problem, either. Even when a call is going well with the phone sitting untouched on a table using speakerphone, it drops a call more often than not. Untouched.

At home, earlier iPhone 3 series reception with AT&T was flawless. Now, walking down a hallway 10 feet will drop a call repeatedly. Moving from one end of a room to the other will drop a call. No matter how delicately one holds the jewel-like device. Rocking in a rocking chair (seriously) suddenly dropped a call with the first rocking movement. All while holding the phone awkwardly with just two fingers on the top and bottom to placate radio propagation deities.

It’s one thing to read frustration like this in say Engadget comments. Experiencing it another. A call to AT&T technical support confirms we’re near 4 network towers. The iPhone 3 series worked flawlessly with them. Out of all the phone calls we’ve made on the new device, maybe 5 didn’t drop, requiring a call back with the other party saying ‘that was weird’. Whether to a landline or cell. We’re careful holding the phone to avoid antenna problems.

It’s a shame. The other functions of the device are beautifully executed. Build quality as always is excellent. Web surfing using WiFi is noticeably faster as well. The pixel density provides a truly crisp, readable display. The camera, Face Time, and hi def video capture are easy to use.

AT&T says they can roll back to the earlier 3G phone (but not give back unlimited data, naturally – no surprise). One AT&T customer service rep earlier tried to talk us out of trying an upgrade, urging wait for a new iteration. He was right. Who knew?

Well, Steve Jobs, we tried. We are, after all, a 99% Apple shop across the board. The sole hold out? A second Xbox 360 at home (first one, RIP due to Red Rings of Death). Just didn’t feel the magic or revolution.

What’s your reaction? Have you had similar experiences?

[UPDATE] Apparently our experiences above, like Tugg Speedman in a POW camp, are a ‘rooster illusion’. An August 5th survey tells us all that the new phone means *fewer* dropped calls. Odd given that Jobs himself admits that the new 4 drops more. We just didn’t realize what Jobs’ ‘only 1% more calls dropped’ meant in real life: a functionally unreliable device.

Broadband Debacle: The FCC And The Political Economic Failure Of Trying To Please Everyone

Art Brodsky is right: the FCC lacks gumption simply to do its job regarding Net neutrality. It could, as he notes, follow the EPA’s model with climate change. Side-step entrenched corporate interests and a captured Congress all seeking deadlock. Just get on with a rulemaking. Even if in the EPA’s case it’s an an imperfect solution (substantively and bureaucratically).

At stake is the seemingly simple question: are data on the Internet to be treated equally? Or can corporate owners of pipes/spectrum licenses/transmitters charge different rates for partners, allies or the wealthy?

The FCC broadband quagmire has been more typical than not. The FCC is, however, moving closer to systemic failure by refusing to use its authority like the EPA did for climate change. Trying to placate all its political economic stakeholders is creating a car wreck.

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Inception – Chris Nolan Is Right

One central conceit of Chris Nolan’s movie ‘Inception’ is that an idea, once planted, is unstoppable. No direct spoilers below – unless you follow links. Providing spoilers requires more cognitive commitment than just watching it.

‘Inception’ is supposed to pass for ‘high concept’ science fiction these days. Some compare it to Fellini’s ‘8 1/2’ – seriously. (Bonus points if you knew before Googling where CHUD came from). Remember all those now tenured faculty launching careers ‘revealing’ hidden subtexts in the first three Star Wars movies? Same deal, geekier arena.

People playing the pundit game these days are no different. We remember leaving ‘Attack of the Clones’ with a national security type and spouse. The spouse — whom you may even read on the Interwebs now — was crestfallen, bemoaning all those years studying the VHS tapes . . . wasted. So one might want to wait before writing off the ‘Inception’-Fellini meme. It may have a long half-life.

24, 24, Hours To Go, I Wanna Click To Be Sedated . . .(click above)

If it’s not Fellini, what is it? It’s doing good business for one thing. The movie boasts a remarkable 85% ‘fresh’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes. New Yorker critic David Denby doesn’t buy it. We’ll let you decide. Despite the ads, this movie works as well on a big screen now, Cinemax later or even computer monitor.

We do think Fellini Chris Nolan is on to at least one thing. A week ago we read this review declaring ‘Inception’ to be a calamitous pitch of Clooney’s self-admiring ‘Ocean’s 11’ meets ‘The Matrix’. Clever, actually – and funny if you remember Buck Henry’s pitch meeting in ‘The Player.’

The relevant point? The reviewer kept mocking Di Caprio as ‘fetus face’. Childish. Dismissible.

So it’s a week later. In a movie theater surrounded by people who subscribe to AARP magazine (we ignore the direct mail). They really do reach and turn off their cellphones when told to do so before the previews, etc. Then the movie. And from scene one all we could do was keep thinking ‘fetus face.’ Scene after scene. Until final credits. You see, an idea, once planted really is unstoppable. We were . . . incepted, if you will.

Someone could just say ‘Hey Stiftung, check out this queen of hearts, yo!’ More succinct. Ten bucks saved. No fetal imagery. If ‘Inception’ is the price for at least one future greenlit good sci-fi movie ‘to cash in’, a reasonable down payment. A shame it couldn’t ever plausibly be compared to ‘Satyricon’.

But did you know you are being incepted now as you read this? You *will* remember this exact moment years in the future. When someone turns to explain the deep subtexts within the first ‘Inception Trilogy’. You will wake up. In America.