Monday, July 24, 2017

Top Ten Things You Won't Find in Today's Local Newspaper

Working in local history, I spend a lot of face to face time with our microfilm machine. We have reels for papers as far back as the mid-1800s, and there's no decade in the 20th century I haven't spent weeks in, looking for obituaries and specific articles.  This is an absorbing experience, one which makes the past more personable:  my mind is taking in the same material as readers decades before me, though in a different form.   While the basic experience doesn't change, the kinds of things newspapers report on has.

1. Society gossip

In contemporary papers, social reporting is limited to wedding announcements -- but in older papers, even tea parties register entries.

2.  Serial Stories

Readers may be aware that a lot of "novels" were originally published as newspaper  or magazine serials. A lot of authors like Dickens and Asimov got their starts writing serialized novels or short stories for literary magazines.

3. Train and Ship schedules

I don't know if cities in Europe with train service still carry timetables, or if the internet has taken over the role. These are a treasure for realizing how dominant trains once were, though. (Steam boats were still offering twice-weekly passage from Selma in 1906:  the Nettie Quill upriver to Montgomery and the Queen Mary  downriver to Mobile.)

Care for a tren ride down to old Mexico?

4, Radio logs

When I first started visiting radio websites in the early 2000s, I thought finding lists of the music played during a given hour was an innovation. Nope -- that was  being done in the 1930s, by my local paper.

5. World News

When I first began looking through the local newspapers of 1906, attempting to establish when my hometown trolley system ended service (1926),  I discovered that local news was buried within the pages, with national and global news taking priority. This continued at least through the 1970s. There are even weekly quizzes to see how many news stories from around the world the reader recognizes -- as he ought, if he is a daily reader of the paper. Today, national news rarely appears, except in the case of disasters and presidential elections;  radio, television, and the internet  provide all of the general news, and the newspaper is left to fill a local niche. Opinion pieces on the news still provide a glimpse of what's going on outside, however.

6. Discretion

Take a look at this political cartoon of FDR. By 1940 it was known that Roosevelt was partially paralyzed, but the cartoonist doesn't dwell on it. These days, every detail about people's personal lives becomes a national obsession if they become newsworthy.

7. Girls Only

Look at that, ladies, your very own page!

8.  Personal Ads

I'd give her a call, but she probably found a beau by now. I don't know if I'm cut out to be a step-great-great-grandfather. 

9. Yesterday's News

Perhaps the oddest consistency in the papers I've surveyed is that until the 1970s or so, they feature -- on a daily basis -- tidbits from the news thirty years ago. (Except the one I discovered below, which was thirty-one years ago.)

10. The use of "solons" to refer to legislators

Solon derives from an ancient Greek lawgiver who is remembered for beginning democratic reform in Athens.  Ah, for the days of literacy, when casual references like this were normal. (I've seen this use as far as the 1970s.)

I hope you enjoyed these little looks back in time -- and here's a few extras. 

Giant airships! deposits? Sure, why not?

Where's Hoffa nowadays? Nobody knows...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Crime, private and public sector

Let's start the week off with two birds and one stone!    

Earlier in the week I was finally able to get access to No Place to Hide, by Glenn Greenwald, on his encounter with Edward Snowden and the stories that led to.  For those hiding under rocks,  Edward Snowden was a civilian contractor working for the NSA until he exposed part of their globe-spanning surveillance apparatus in 2013/2014. While employed by the CIA and NSA, Snowden became increasingly concerned with the scope, ambition, and dubious legality of his employers' programs, and decided to begin documenting what he was seeing.  After methodically collecting reports for months on end, throughout several assignments, Snowden contacted a reporter with an established reputation for criticizing both the government and a complicit media.    Greenwald, after  recounting his first contact with Snowden,  then shares information from the stories he filed with The Guardian before switching into an argument against the surveillance state, and a condemnation of the establishment media, particularly the Washington Post and the New York Times.

I daresay no one will be surprised to learn that I'm far more a supporter of Snowden than the NSA -- not because I believe the NSA is  part of some evil conspiracy, but because I have certain strongly-held believes on the nature and consequences of power, and know that the construction of an inescapable surveillance apparatus is Bad News. When Greenwald says global, he means global;   the book mentions numerous programs, not just the email-tapping ones, and between them they cover pretty much everyone but the crew of the International Space Station.   It can't all be to fight terrorism: what do terrorists have to do with Brazilian gas companies, and why is NSA surveillance being shared with US agricultural departments?   Those who believe that the NSA are swell chaps who wouldn't countenance abuse of their data may sleep soundly, but what happens when someone with less scruples is in charge?  As the current administration demonstrates, we no longer require even the pretense of civility from those those who want to operate the beastly machine that is DC.

More recently I read through Kevin Mitnick's The Art of Intrusion.  Mitnick was partially featured in Cyberpunks, a teenage telephone 'phreaker' turned pioneering computer hacker. Since his release from prison Mitnick has used his reputation and experience in intrusion to sell himself as a cybersecurity consultant. The Art of Intrusion collects 'true crime' stories of computer-based or related intrusions;   ranging from illicit exploration to digital skulduggery.   A lot of data is omitted for the protection of the persons and companies mentioned, but a lot of the stories seem dated, for the book's publication year, and others are so technical I am not sure who would be reading them. I did find quite a bit of interest, however, in the chapters on penetration testing and social engineering. I still do not like Mitnick's term for an art he and his friends practiced, and one which remains a security threat:  obtaining information and access through human, instead of technological, means. Mitnick shares the stories of  analysists, who -- performing audits on companies, and attempting to breach their security -- were able  access highly sensitive areas within buildings simply by chatting up coworkers and 'acting' like they belonged there.  This also involved technical assistance, like a fake id that security guards didn't vet too closely.    Mitnick claimed in his trial that he relied on social engineering, not computer programs, to access as much as he did, and he has previously authored a book called The Art of Deception that documents the psychological strategies used in this kind of 'engineering'.  As someone with a work-related interest in security,  I may look around for a copy.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Midnight's Furies

Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition
© 2015 Nisid Hajari
352 pages

Although greater India has rarely remained united in its long history, there was every reason to hope that it would emerge from the centuries of British dominion in one piece. Instead, the people of India erupted as two -- then three -- nations,  with armed borders and bloodbaths between them.   Midnight's Furies is a history of how the Partition happened, and a full account of the massacres on every side until the United Nations was able to meditate a cease-fire.  Although its pages are bloodsoaked, no less  than a history of the fighting and civilian slaughters between Hitler and Stalin's empires in WW2,  it does deliver a sad understanding of why tensions between India and Pakistan continue to haunt the region and the world.

The two most prominent personalities of this tale are Jawaharlal Nehru, a key figure in both the independence movement and India's Congress Party, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah,  also a leading voice in the movement but one who relied on Muslim support.  Although both Nehru and Jinnah supported a future for India as a secular state,  the long road to independence and personal quarreling made them feuding allies at best, and rivals at worse.  Gandhi gave the Indian independence movement a strong populist flavor; his supporters were not middle-class Indians, but India's poor masses, and the Mahatma and his followers channeled their desires and energy through Hindu religion. This was exceptionally  off-putting to Jinnah, who not only feared Hindu nationalism given his Muslim background, but had a marked distaste for the underclass, reluctant even to shake hands with his followers. As the movement grew larger and more populist, Jinnah was marginalized and found relevance only by doubling-down on his Muslim background and becoming an stubborn voice for a Muslim state that would protect its citizens' wishes against the Hindu majority.

Although Nehru comes off much better here (confronting the leaders of mass violence, dreaming of a united India)  Hajari does delve into his culpability. As the day of withdrawal grew closer and Indian leadership became a fact, not a proposal,  Nehru targeted his critical energies against Jinnah's partisanship with the same zeal he'd once thrown at the British.  In treating Jinnah  and his followers like the enemy, he aided the two countries' downward spiral of accusation, attack, and counterattack.  The bloodbath that overtook the country  when the Partition came into effect -- as majorities tried to push minorities out -- was not exactly their 'fault', but their inability to work with one another set the stage. (Jinnah's call for "Direct Action" to effect Pakistani independence from India kicked off the blood feud, however, so he seems more culpable than Nehru.)  The violence was not a simply Hindu v Muslim feud;  in the Punjab, where the new state line split the militant Sikh community in two,  it involved Sikhs and Muslims.   The ever-present spiral of violence is obvious here: one community attacks the other ,who attacks the first in self-defense, who attacks the other in reprisal, etc.  The aggression and violence simply keep ratcheting up, until the streets are literally filled with broken bodies, including children, and air is filled with the smell of  blood and the cry of wounded and raped victims.

This is not a book for the faint of heart, though it's not as gruesome as The Rape of Nanking.  Although ending in 1947,  the spasm of brutality documented here continues to effect Indian and Pakistani relations, and particularly Pakistan's foreign-policy worldview. For it, India remains the existential threat and the priority -- not cold wars or terrorism.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas
© 2012 John Scalzi
320 pages
Audible presentation read by Wil Wheaton, runtime 7 hrs 41 minutes.

"I'm not even supposed to be here! I'm just Crewman #6. I'm the guy in the episode who dies to prove the situation is serious!" ("Guy", GalaxyQuest)

Redshirts is not what you think it is.

To be sure, it's mostly what you think it is, what you've heard it is; a spoof of Star Trek that mixes it in with concepts from The Truman Show and Stranger than Fiction, and comes within a few words of quoting that other great Star Trek spoof, GalaxyQuest. As far as spoofs go, it lives up to its reputation for being hilarious and meta. We have self-aware redshirts who avoid interactions with the bridge crew of a Federation , having realized that those guys go on away missions with crewmen and come back with bodybags. One member of the crew believes that the good ship Intrepid is in fact a TV show, and that when strange things happen, that's the Narrative at work. A lot of the silliness of shows like Star Trek is played with, particularly plot implausibilities, and the ability of battered characters to heal overnight, like the much-abused Miles Edward O'Brien. After a couple of ensigns begin to that they're living in a conspiracy, they go on a mission to put things to rights, and it involves time-travel, doppelgangers, and other such hijinks. If that were everything, I'd put this book up on the shelf having gotten my laugh, and think of it fondly from time to time as I do Night of the Living Trekkies. But that's not the entirety of Redshirts. Buried at the end are three codas, titled "First Person", "Second Person", and "Third Person" respectively. These three codas transform an amusing novel into one which is profoundly moving. I can't say if the conclusion's effect on me is merely a consequence of the author's writing, or if it was Wil Wheaton's delivery. Suffice it to say, I never thought Wil Wheaton could move me, but he did.

Consent of the Networked

Consent of the Networked; The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom
© 2012 Rebeca MacKinnon
352 pages

A couple of weeks ago I read Who Controls the Internet, which covered in part nation-states’ role in reasserting national boundaries in cyberspace. Consent of the Networked  examines threats to the open internet, both from states and corporations.  The threats are not always overt, like the Chinese state apparatus that keeps the Chinese internet connected to the global net only through a half-dozen filtered gateways, or the common suppression of social networks in times of social unrest, as we witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt during their respective revolutions, and in Iran during the controversial reelection of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   The author also examines more indirect threats to an open internet; the  irresponsible privacy policies at Facebook, for instance, which  issue updates that change privacy settings without giving appropriate forewarning. In some countries, a policy update that exposes bloggers, tweeters, etc’s real identities can lead to imprisonment or worse.  Other threats include the end of Net Neutrality,  an end which might channel people into using particular social networks. If those networks are as cavalier about user info as places like Yahoo and Facebook have been,  activists and others could be compromised all too easily. MacKinnon also sees overly-aggressive attempts by companies to protect their intellectual property as a threat to free expression.

Intriguingly, MacKannon does not demonize solely the private sector or the public; both have compromised people, and the free democracies have few bragging rights: just recently, the United States and United Kingdom were both named as ‘enemies of the Internet’ for their intensive surveillance.   (Sometimes public and private work together, as when Cisco became a partner to China in its firewall enterprise, and Yahoo thoughtlessly handed over user info when requested…again, by China.) MacKinnon isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the United Nations, either, but  holds that international agreements are a necessary road forward given the internet’s global nature.  While the only surprise here for me was the degree of European governments' internet surveillance and strictures. Given their constant run-ins with Google over privacy, I'd had the impression they were better about safeguarding private internet security than the U.S.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Unsettled America

Last week I read Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America, on the subject of agriculture and culture. Its title is apt, because Berry believes that the triumph of industrialism -- as it has turned farms into agribusinesses, and America from an agrarian republic into an industrialized, centralized, state --has put on us an unsustainable trajectory. Berry's writings are of interest to me not because I believe in an agrarian revival, or pine for a lost utopia, but because his insights go deeper than the simple defense of family farms.  He views man not as a creature walking across the Earth, but one who has a role in it -- as a steward, a husband.   The care of Earth in Berry's view is not maintaining it in perpetual stasis, but working it as a co-creator, healing the land and aiding in its increase.  This role, destroyed when man simply uses, plunders, or conquers Earth, is to the ruin of man as well.   To abandon creation, to become mere consumers, is to die a slow death.   I've  ruminated over Berry's view in much of his nonfiction, and so would like to leave one of the most provoking passages of the book, one that reminds me of the anomie predicted in Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano.

"The beneficiary of this regime of specialists ought to be the happiest of mortals – or so we are expected to believe. All of his vital concerns are in the hands of certified experts. He is a certified expert himself and as such he earns more money in a year than all his great-grandparents put together. Between stints at his job he has nothing to do but mow his lawn with a sit-down lawn mower, or watch other certified experts on television. At suppertime he may eat a tray of ready-prepared food, which he and his wife (also a certified expert) procure at the cost only of money, transportation, and the pushing of a button. For a few minutes between supper and sleep he may catch a glimpse of his children, who since breakfast have been in the care of education experts, basketball or marching-band experts, or perhaps legal experts...

The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money, and his money is inflating like a balloon and drifting away, subject to historical circumstances and the power of other people. From morning to night he does not touch anything that he has produced himself, in which he can take pride. For all his leisure and recreation, he feels bad, he looks bad, he is overweight, his health is poor. His air, water, and food are all known to contain poisons. There is a fair chance that he will die of suffocation. He suspects that his love life is not as fulfilling as other people’s. He wishes that he had been born sooner, or later. He does not know why his children are the way they are. He does not understand what they say. He does not care much and does not know why he does not care. He does not know what his wife wants or what he wants. Certain advertisements and pictures in magazines make him suspect that he is basically unattractive. He feels that all his possessions are under threat of pillage. He does not know what he would do if he lost his job, if the economy failed, if the utility companies failed, if the police went on strike, if the truckers went on strike, if his wife left him, if his children ran away, if he should be found to be incurably ill. And for these anxieties, of course, he consults certified experts, who in turn consult certified experts about their anxieties...

It is rarely considered that this average citizen is anxious because he ought to be… He ought to be anxious, because he is helpless. That he is dependent upon so many specialists, the beneficiary of so much expert help, can only mean that he is a captive, a potential victim. If he lives by the competence of so many other people, then he lives also by their indulgence; his own will and his own reasons to live are made subordinate to the mere tolerance of everybody else. He has one chance to live what he conceives to be his life: his own small specialty within a delicate, tense, everywhere-strained system of specialties.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

Yokohama Print from Cultural History of Japan

In my "On the Horizon" post, I mentioned a print reproduced in  an art history of Japan which depicted a woman in traditional dress riding a bicycle. The book mentions it only as a Yokohama print, with Fuji in the background.

Source: The Cultural History of Japan, Henri Stierlin.  Printed by Aurum Press in London, 1983.  All photographs and prints were attributed to Stierlin.