Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Reading

The Republican Flying Monkeys Triumph — Charlie Pierce on the defeat of the farm bill by the GOP.

They do this to demonstrate that government cannot work. They do this so that they can go home and talk at all the town halls and bean suppers to audiences choking on the venom that pours out of their radios and off their television screens about how government doesn’t work, and how they stood tall against it, and against Those People who don’t want to work for a living. (When Stutzman says he’s a “fourth-generation farmer” who doesn’t want the Farm Bill to be a “welfare bill,” the folks back in LaGrange County don’t need an Enigma machine to decode what he’s saying.) They do this out of the bent notion, central to their party’s presidential campaign last fall, that anyone on any kind of government assistance is less entitled to the benefits of the political commonwealth. And they all believe that; the only difference between Paul Ryan and Marlin Stutzman is that Ryan has been a nuisance for a longer period of time. That the country rose up and rejected that notion in a thundering manner is irrelevant. What does the country matter in the Third Congressional District of Indiana? There, they believe government cannot work, and they elect Marlin Stutzman to the Congress to demonstrate to the world that it cannot.

Our Congress is now a cut-rate circus with nothing but eunuchs as performers. Some of these people, like Stutzman and his colleagues in the flying-monkey caucus, become eunuchs by choice. Some of them, like John Boehner, are drafted into the position. Their job is to be forcibly impotent so that the government itself becomes forcibly impotent. They are proud of what they do. They consider it a higher calling to public service that they decline to serve the public. They sing a soprano dirge for democracy in Jesus’s name, amen.

Smartphones Underground — Gerry Smith of the Huffington Post on the trade in stolen smartphones.

Before a federal SWAT team descended last summer, one storefront in a Detroit suburb attracted so many people bearing shopping bags stuffed with iPhones and iPads that managers installed a port-a-potty on the sidewalk.

Once inside, people deposited their electronic wares into a rotating drawer below a bulletproof glass window and waited for the cashier to deliver stacks of cash.

So much money changed hands in this fashion at the Ace Wholesale storefront in Taylor, Mich., that an armored truck arrived each morning to deliver fresh bundles of cash, according to an undercover investigator for the wireless company Sprint and an employee at the Mattress World outlet next door.

“It was like Fort Knox over there,” said the Mattress World employee, who asked not to be named for fear of making enemies inside what police say was a locus of criminal activity.

Many of the mobile devices swapped for cash at Ace Wholesale had been stolen at gunpoint in an escalating wave of gadget-related robberies, police say. Ace Wholesale had become a key broker in the underground trade of stolen phones, a global enterprise that often connects violent street thieves in American cities with buyers as far away as Hong Kong, according to law enforcement and the wireless industry.

“These companies fence the stolen phones for them, no questions asked,” said Jerry Deaven, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security, which is tasked with preventing the trafficking of stolen goods. “You can walk right into one of these storefronts and sell all the phones at once and walk out with $20,000.”

The Hut Where The Internet Began — Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic traces the web back to 1945.

Let’s start at the end point: what you’re doing right now. You are pulling information from a network onto a screen, enhancing your embodied experience with a communication web filled with people and machines. You do this by pointing and clicking, tapping a few commands, organizing your thoughts into symbols that can be read and improved by your various correspondents.

There was a beginning to all this, long before it became technically possible.

Well, actually, there were many beginnings.

But one — maybe the most important one — traces back to Douglas Engelbart, who died last week, and his encounter with a 1945 article published here at The Atlantic, “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush, an icon of mid-century science.

The essay is most famous for its description of a hypothetical information-retrieval system, the Memex, a kind of mechanical Evernote, in which a person’s every “book, record, or communication” was microfilmed and cataloged.

“It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory,” Bush wrote. “It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.”

Bush did not describe the screens, keyboard, buttons, and levers as a “user interface” because the concept did not exist. Neither did semiconductors or almost any other piece of the world’s computing and networking infrastructure except a handful of military computers and some automatic telephone switches (the latter were, in fact, one of Bush’s favorite examples).

A crucial component of the Memex was that it helped the brain’s natural “associative indexing,” so “any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another.” The Memex storehouse was made usable by the “trails” that the user (another word that did not have this meaning at the time) cut through all the information, paths that could later be refollowed or passed onto a friend.

Texas Bans Women — Andy Borowitz reports on the Lone Star state’s latest move.

Republican lawmakers in the Texas State Senate are proposing a precedent-setting new bill that would make it illegal for women to live in the state.

Senator Harland Dorrinson, one of the many pro-life lawmakers backing the woman ban, crafted his bill after witnessing Senator Wendy Davis filibuster an anti-abortion bill last month.

“That was our moment to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” he said. “This comes down to a choice between life and women, and we choose life.”

Senator Dorrinson said his bill would call for a twenty-foot woman-proof fence to be constructed along the borders of the state.

“Women are great at talking, but not at climbing,” he observed.

But another G.O.P. state senator, Cal Jamson, believes that the total ban on women goes “too far” and is proposing a less draconian bill that would allow some women to remain in the state as guest workers.

“Texas needs women to cook, clean, and cheerlead,” he said. “If they show that they can do those things and stay out of politics, there could be a pathway to citizenship.”

Doonesbury — Bringing in help.

3 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

      • Nope. It sure is disheartening. Women are like Sisyphus, pushing that wheel to maintain our rights. I don’t think we’ll ever have to stop fighting.

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