The ACLU/Federal Protection Services settlement whereby FPS agreed that people may photograph federal facilities from public locations has not percolated to troops on the street. Notwithstanding (promised) distribution of an FPS Information Bulletin clearly stating the foregoing, agents confronting photographers in the street either haven’t read it or are ignoring it. No surprise there. Two recent incidents:
- A previously harassed, detained young photographer, Jerome Vorus, was accosted for photographing the District of Columbia Superior Court. He was wrongfully forced to identify himself, wrongfully told it was illegal to photograph or record both the Court building (Vorus was on a sidewalk at the time) and the officers themselves, his video camera illegally seized, and the video recording illegally deleted.
- Back in November a Santa Ana, California, photographer was similarly accosted by security personnel outside the Santa Ana federal courthouse. He was wrongfully told it was illegal to photograph the courthouse. He was pressured to hand over his ID. Other than handing over the ID, this incident doesn’t appear to have resulted in other more egregious acts on the part of the feds as described in the first incident. The incident is important, however, because now the Orange County chapter of the ACLU has directed questions to the local U.S. Marshall’s office, which should get some attention.
You Betcha Department
The NY Times wrote yesterday explaining how Egypt shut down the Internet for five days in an attempt (futile, as it developed) to shut down organizing efforts for the protests that eventually drove Mubarak from power. Of course, as we know, the shutdown only infuriated Egyptians more, leading to even larger and more intense protests. I mention this in light of proposals coming from some quarters that the President be given a “kill switch” for the Internet in case of emergency. The proponents say he’d never use it improperly.
Uh huh. You betcha.
More Egypt Department
I’ve generally stayed clear of the whole thing, reading and watching like the rest of you, mostly with amazement at events and their consequences. However, I do wish to take a moment here to commend to you Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed from yesterday, “Pharaoh Without a Mummy.”
As I kept walking to my hotel, … I looked down at the Nile embankment — and this was central Cairo — all I saw was garbage strewn about, a crumbling sidewalk and weeds sprouting everywhere. I thought: If this were Sydney, Singapore or Istanbul, the government would have built a beautiful walkway along the banks of the Nile where Egyptians and visitors could stroll with families in the afternoon. Not here.
And that in my view was Mubarak’s greatest crime against his people. He had no vision, no high aspiration, no will for great educational attainment. He just had this wildly exaggerated sense of Egypt’s greatness based on the past. That is why I feel sorry for those Egyptians now clamoring to get back money they claim the Mubaraks stole. That is surely a crime, if true, but Mubarak is guilty of a much bigger, more profound, theft: all the wealth Egypt did not generate these past 30 years because of the poverty of his vision and the incompetence of his cronies.
Dog Bites Man — Or Was It Man Bites Dog — Department
The papers and news programs will be full of it this morning, but of course yesterday between 4:30 and 5 p.m. IBM scientists proved once again that a computer could be built that would defeat humans at something that seems quintessentially human — i.e., the ability to answer open-ended questions on a vast variety of subjects and in many cases using subtleties of language that sometimes will even confound a highly intelligent person.
In other words, Watson won. And by a substantial margin.
The win garnered for two IBM-designated charities $500,000 each, but more importantly it garnered for IBM another milestone in the evolution of machine intelligence. I predict it will have great impact for computer-assisted decision making far into the future, in fields like medicine, engineering, and academia.
Less Sex, More Violence Department
Manohla Dargis wrote in Sunday’s NY Times on “The Closing of the American Erotic,” with the thesis that violence is what achieves more “R” ratings these days, not sex and nudity, and that no one seems willing to push the limits with an NC-17 rating for actual explicit erotic content. For Dargis, the question came to mind following deaths of Maria Schneider and Lena Nyman (written about here last week), who of course starred in two very sexually explicit movies:
The recent deaths of the actresses Lena Nyman and Maria Schneider were poignant, useful reminders that there was a time when Americans used to troop in droves to go watch serious or serious-enough movies, domestic and imported, in which sex mattered as much if not more than violence. Ms. Nyman, a theater student turned screen siren, starred in the notorious 1969 Swedish film “I Am Curious (Yellow)” and its less popular sequel released three years later, “I Am Curious (Blue).” Ms. Schneider remains best known for holding her own, sometimes naked, against a more coy Marlon Brando in“Last Tango in Paris,” the Bernardo Bertolucci landmark (and French-Italian coproduction) that forced audiences to regard butter in a new light much as Hitchcock’s “Psycho” had forced them to reconsider the shower.
Dargis does mention the current movie, Blue Valentine, which is on my list to see shortly and which almost achieved NC-17 rank. She then concludes:
Seen now, “Last Tango in Paris” — which centers on strangers who become something else after having sex every which way in an empty apartment — scarcely seems the landmark it was heralded as, including by a breathless Pauline Kael: “This must be the most powerfully erotic movie ever made.” What’s striking about the film, beyond that it was an American (X-rated and then R) hit, beyond Brando’s beauty and Ms. Schneider’s too-tender youth, is its blissfully unselfconscious sexism, its celebration of maudlin masculinity and warmed-over crazy chick clichés. If Ms. Schneider holds her own against Brando it’s largely because she’s at times full-frontal naked. This cinematic revolution was, like so much of art, built on the bared backs — among other fetishized body parts — of women.
The movies still exploit female bodies, though today American actresses working in the commercial mainstream rarely strip down past their undies. If they tend not to bare it all it isn’t because of feminist progress. Neo-Puritanism and the mainstreaming of pornography have played a role, as have corporate blockbusters aimed at teenage boys, with their sexless superheroes and disposable pretty women smiling on the sidelines. Mind you, there isn’t much for women to smile about when it comes to American film, where for the past few decades, the biggest hits have starred men in stories about and for men. Though every so often there is something for us too; after all, women helped make a success of “Brokeback Mountain” a few years ago. At last, a film with sex and romance, pretty boys and no Jennifer Aniston.
Abigail was another model at ease with dramatic poses. She called them “implied motion.”