Sunday, March 1, 2009

Books I Been Reading...

(Sidenote: The Best of Tracy Morgan is on my TV right now.  That dude kills me.  He's so weird and hilarious.  I'm glad Tina Fey thinks he's as funny as I do. I'm Brian Fellowe).

So, let me begin this little review with a quick anecdote.  Yesterday, Laney and I went to the Art Institute after our graceful turns on the ice skating rink.  I usually have to drag Laney through the museum, but I got the idea to let her take pictures while we were there, knowing she'd love that.  We were standing by a Jackson Pollack and I was pointing the camera to the floor trying to figure out how to get the flash off.  A kind security guard called over to me (and this is a pretty direct quote): "Ask one of those young people to help you... get a kid!"  She then came over and directed a student who was sketching in front of the Pollack to help me out.  The 20 year old girl took my camera and kindly turned the flash off for me.

I've never felt so old.  And amused.  Old and amused.

I finished reading Cory Doctorow*'s "Little Brother" today.  This might seem like a non-sequitor, but stay with me for a minute.  The book takes place in San Francisco, in the present, during and following a terrorist attack on the Bay Bridge.  The main character is a 17 year old gamer/hacker named Marcus who ends up spending a few days in "Gitmo-By-The Bay." When he is released back into San Fransisco he's been terrorized into keeping quiet about what happened but gradually finds hmself leading the hacker rebellion when he discovers that every citizen is being tracked in some way, via debit cards and transit cards and iPasses and the million electronic ways that we can be tracked now.  The kids launch a full on hackery assault on the Department of Homeland Security.  It's awesome.

The motto of his army is "Don't trust anyone over 25."  I took a subtext of that as "they're too stupid to even master the limited technology of their digital cameras."

If I'd read this in 2007, I think I would have been even more unsettled by it than I was reading it now... and it was pretty fucking unsettling even now.  Unsettling, because it seemed so likely, so honest, the logical end of extraordinary rendition and the overturning of habeus corpus.  We spent a great deal of this decade fighting the notion that trading freedom for security was a good deal.  Countless thousands of Americans (including, I bet, one Joe the Plumber**) told us that if we didn't have anything to hide, it was no big deal for the government to spy on us at will. 

Little Brother does a great job of taking us to the logical end of this.   And it's scary.  And if it's scary to a 40 year old white woman, imagine how scary it would be to a kid or a brown person!

Your goverment cannot guarantee your safety.  But it can manipulate your fears to do whatever it wants: launch illegal wars, cheat on budgets, arrest you, fly you away to Syria and torture you. But, government works for us, and if they continue to shit on us, we can fire the bastards.

Another thing this book preaches is that if you can be bothered to understand technology, it can make your life so much richer.  Technology is not an enemy.  Over the past 20 years or so, there's been an all out assault from the media  on technology: first cell phones were going to be the demise of civilized society to Facebook is going to be the demise of civilized society.  But technology works for you and is only what you make of it. Just like the government.

See what I did there?

It's a great book. Exciting and thoughtful.  And if you have a technonerd inside you (and I confess I do), reading about the technology is kind of thrilling.  So many times I wondered if what he were writing about was real or not.  I didn't look a thing up... but I bet it all is.  

* Cory Doctorow is also the co-editor of a WONDERFUL website called  It really is a directory of wonderful things.
** I got to that link about Joe the Plumber by googling Joe the Dumbass Plumber. I got a lot of results.