Monday, August 31, 2015
Windows 10 — Spyware Disguised as an Operating System
by Gaius Publius
If you're like me and work on a Windows-based system, you get these popups from time to time offering to "upgrade" you to Windows 10, Microsoft's latest and greatest, for free. Normally these upgrades cost $100 or so.
Me, I'm still on Windows 7, since like many I consider Windows 8 both half-baked for professional use and a data-suck for entertainment use. About the first, it was clear when Windows 8 first came out that you couldn't do serious work using that "tiles" screen, and the "Desktop" screen was so like Windows 7, why not just stick with Windows 7, which, after the Vista disaster, actually worked?
About the second, it was also clear that almost everything the casual user wanted to do from that "tiles" screen required (or strongly encouraged the use of) a "Microsoft account" — clearly an attempt to jump-start a massive Microsoft database to compete with Steve Jobs' "Apple account" database.
Most large businesses I work with have avoided Windows 8, and most new systems, like the one I'm using now, can even today be bought with Windows 7. In short, Windows 8, like Vista, was a failure. Windows 7 "fixed" Vista. Would Windows 10 "fix" Windows 8?
I decided to find out. And it didn't take long to discover that Windows 10 is not only worse than Windows 8, it is worse in a worse way. It's one thing to install an application that spies on you. It's another when that spyware application you just installed is the operating system, and controls the whole machine.
Is Windows 10 Worth Installing?
The answer is No, if you're asking me. In fact, it's worth never installing. I'd avoid it until the final minute you're forced to change, and even then, you should hesitate to upgrade. Reason? Under its default settings, Windows 10 is widely reported to be spyware, an operating system that watches you work, even offline, and reports back to Microsoft anything it feels like reporting. If you approve the licensing agreement — and how can you use any software without clicking "I Agree"? — you're giving Microsoft permission to collect any data they can get (based on your settings) and share it in any way they want.
Windows 10 is the ultimate privacy violator — an operating system that wants to watch everything you do and send back whatever it finds or figures out about you.
Windows 10: A Microsoft Spy That Runs Your Computer
I have no direct evidence of this, since I've not seen the OS, nor will I ever attempt to install or use it. But the reports are many. Here's one, posted to LinkedIn (a LinkedIn account may be required; my emphasis except where noted):
Windows 10 – Microsoft’s Big Data-grabbing (or spying?) OS
It’s been a couple of weeks since the launch of Windows 10 and the numerous voices raising concerns over privacy and how it uses personal data are not getting any quieter.
Many of the concerns stem from the fact that if users follow the software’s recommendations and stick to default settings while installing their free upgrade, they are effectively giving Microsoft permission to directly monitor pretty much everything they do on their machines. This includes offline activity such as editing files stored locally in private folders on your computer, as well as everything you do online.
It doesn’t stop there, though. As well as monitoring and storing records of this activity, people installing the upgrade are - perhaps unknowingly if like many they have become complacent about reading privacy policies – giving Microsoft permission to share it with unspecified “partners”, for unspecified reasons.
Although the terms and conditions are incredibly vague about why they are doing this, it’s become clear there are several reasons. These include collecting personal data for targeted advertising purposes (by Microsoft or their partners) as well as to gain a deeper understanding of how their products are being put to use by their millions of users.
Privacy in the cloud
Windows 10, running under its default settings, is clearly designed to learn as much about us as it can. The rapid spread of cloud-based software-as-a-service platforms, such as Microsoft’s own Office 365 and Adobe’s Creative Suite, has introduced us all to the idea of software providers gathering data on how we use their products. However integrating this kind of monitoring into the core of the OS (Operating System) takes things to a whole new level. We might have got used to the idea that our activity within the container of a certain program or service is being analysed somewhere, by someone, for some reason. But the fact that this level of scrutiny is now applied to everything we do on our computers is causing many commentators and online security experts to issue warnings.
Even the contents of your emails and documents stored in private, offline folders can be subject to scrutiny and “disclosure” (to unspecified parties), according to the wording of Microsoft’s privacy policies. Of course, it’s quickly become apparent that this is why Microsoft, which has traditionally charged users around $100 to upgrade to the latest version of their OS has, in an uncharacteristic act of generosity, given it away for free. $100 multiplied by the 14 million who updated in the first day alone is clearly a lot of revenue for them to pass up on. However, while the strategical soundness of some of Microsoft’s recent actions have been questioned, this was far from a stupid move on their part. And there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Of course Microsoft want payment for using their services, only this time they are happy to take it in personal data rather than cash.
There's more, including information about the Personal Advertising ID, a unique identifier that will follow you onto any MS system you use, including Xbox:
One new concept users are becoming aware of is the Personal Advertising ID. Every user on every installation of Windows 10 is assigned one of these, and if you use other Microsoft devices such as a phone, tablet or Xbox games console, your data will be scooped up from those too. By default, details on every web site you visit, your physical location, every command you type or speak to the computer and countless other data points are recorded and uploaded to Microsoft. From there, they will be shared with producers of apps you download and give permission to run on your system, as well as advertisers.
And yes, there's even more bad news than that.
Windows 10 Wants to Share Your Wi-Fi Connection with Your Contacts
Here's another intrusion. Windows 10 wants to give users near you access to your Wi-Fi connection. This comes from Krebs on Security (emphasis in original; some links removed so as not to encourage upgrading):
Windows 10 Shares Your Wi-Fi With Contacts
Starting today, Microsoft is offering most Windows 7 and Windows 8 users a free upgrade to the software giant’s latest operating system — Windows 10. But there’s a very important security caveat that users should know about before transitioning to the new OS: Unless you opt out, Windows 10 will by default prompt to you share access to WiFi networks to which you connect with any contacts you may have listed in Outlook and Skype — and, with an opt-in, your Facebook friends.
This brilliant new feature, which Microsoft has dubbed Wi-Fi Sense, doesn’t share your WiFi network password per se — it shares an encrypted version of that password. But it does allow anyone in your Skype or Outlook or Hotmail contacts lists to waltz onto your Wi-Fi network — should they ever wander within range of it or visit your home (or hop onto it secretly from hundreds of yards away with a good ‘ole cantenna!).
I first read about this over at The Register, which noted that Microsoft’s Wi-Fi Sense FAQ seeks to reassure would-be Windows 10 users that the Wi-Fi password will be sent encrypted and stored encrypted — on a Microsoft server. According to PCGamer, if you use Windows 10’s “Express” settings during installation, Wi-Fi Sense is enabled by default.
“For networks you choose to share access to, the password is sent over an encrypted connection and stored in an encrypted file on a Microsoft server, and then sent over a secure connection to your contacts’ phone if they use Wi-Fi Sense and they’re in range of the Wi-Fi network you shared,” the FAQ reads. ...
There's a yes-but noted further in the article — Yes, but you have to opt in on a network-by-network basis. However, as the original writer notes, "many users are conditioned to click 'yes' to these prompts, and shared networks will be shared to all Facebook, Outlook, and Skype contacts (users can’t pick individual contacts; the access is shared with all contacts on a social network)."
Here's my yes-but to Microsoft — Yes, but why in god's earth do you want this information in the first place?
The Functionality of "Cortana" Comes With a Privacy Price
"Cortana" is Microsoft's name for its Siri-like "digital assistant." The problem is, to "serve" you better, Cortana learns everything it can about you (my emphasis):
Cortana is a personal digital assistant, a kind of silicon secretary who can help make your life easier. Instead of searching for things you ask Cortana - so if you want to know what the weather forecast is, how many pounds are in a kilo, who's winning the football or when Jim's birthday is, you'll ask and Cortana will give you the answer. ...
To disable all that data collection, you apparently have to disable Cortana, though I'm not sure even that will disable the spying — and given Microsoft's history, I would never trust them to tell me the truth anyway.
Cortana is designed to learn about you and store what matters in her Notebook. That means she'll silence your phone during your favoured quiet times, warn you about travel issues and remind you that your friends owe you money. ...
Cortana won't just listen to you, she'll understand you, and she'll be aware of everything from your location to your personal preferences.
So when you ask her to book a hotel, she'll find the kind of hotel you like in the kind of area you like to stay in at the kind of price you want to pay. If you're in an airport she'll anticipate that you need a boarding card and will have it ready when you unlock your phone.
Edward Snowden's famous PRISM slide. Notice the date of Microsoft's collusion.
There were even stories, unsearchable now, of Microsoft using Windows 3 to spy on its beta-test customers, to read their hard disks and report what it found. I can't verify those stories today, but I can verify that I heard them at the time.
Paying a Price for the iHipster Life
Will the current generation of Steve Jobs–loving, faux-hipster iCool people surrender all that privacy for a little "convenience" and some implied in-crowd self-branding? According to the original article above, 14 million people updated to Windows 10 in the first day alone. At $100 per registration, Microsoft surrendered almost $1.5 billion to get something from them.
What did Microsoft give back? Something like this?
My entirely personal advice? The hipsters are paying a very heavy price. Never use Windows 10 until you know for sure it can never spy on you. And even then give it a second thought. Make Microsoft and the NSA work to find out every fact of your online and offline life. If they want to know what days you sleep in and why, make them come to the door and ask.
(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)
Gaius Publius 8/31/2015 07:30:00 AM
How y'all doin'?
by Tom Sullivan
Axel Foley: What? Y'all the second team?
Detective McCabe: We're the first team.
Eat black-eyed peas? Sure. Grits? Occasionally at Waffle House. Collard greens? Never. Say y'all? Once in a blue moon. Maybe. A lot of things you pick up over time. Y'all wasn't one of them.
When as a kid I moved South, the mannerisms, food, and culture (and religion) were pretty foreign. As were the accents. Over time, though, like Henry Higgins I could pick out what part of town people were from by their accents. There are few things more annoying than hearing some blond-haired, southern Californian actor attempting one of those one-size-fits-all, made-for-TV southern accents. The variations are too rich and subtle for that. Although inmigration has watered down accents somewhat overall, occasionally you can still hear one like this from a feisty friend of mine. (Underestimate her because of her accent at your peril.)
Writing in Salon yesterday, Cameron Hunt McNabb examined theories of how the ubiquitous Southernism y'all came into being. Commonly thought a contraction of "you all," that doesn't exactly work:
In academic circles, many subscribe to Michael B. Montgomery’s suggestion that “y’all” descends from the Scots-Irish “ye aw” and not directly from “you all.” He cites a 1737 letter by a Scots-Irish immigrant in New York as an example: “Now I beg of ye aw to come our [over] here.”
Montgomery’s argument relies on two observations about “y’all’s” unique place among English contractions. First, contractions in English place stress the first word and contract the second, such as in the case of “they’re,” where “they” is stressed while “are” has been shortened. But “y’all” does not conform to this pattern. Instead, it stresses the second word, “all,” and contracts the first, “you.” Secondly, there are no other contractions that involve “all” in English, whereas we have lots of contractions involving “will,” “not,” and “are.” These irregularities suggest a more complex origin, such as a cognate word, like “ye aw.”
Except no one really knows. But when you hear Brooklyn-born Eddie Murphy playing a cop from Detroit saying "y'all," as well as a few non-southern attendees at Netroots Nation, it has clearly spread beyond its southern roots. Would that other cultural exports from the South were as harmless.
Undercover Blue 8/31/2015 06:00:00 AM
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Trump and stopped clocks
He's right about Club for Growth. They are a pack of thieves.
“They’re a pack of thieves,” Trump told Breitbart News as he was leaving Nashville’s Rocketown facility. He had just finished delivering a high-energy speech to an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people.
Trump was attending the annual convention of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, which describes itself as “the grassroots Republican wing of the Republican Party.”
“They [the Club for Growth] came to my office looking for money. I turned them down. That’s why they’re after me,” Trump told Breitbart News.
Earlier in the week, the Club for Growth attacked Trump for his proposal to penalize Ford Motor Company for putting a car manufacturing plant in Mexico rather than Tennessee.
“Donald Trump’s threat to impose new taxes on U.S. car companies will hurt the American economy and cost more American jobs,” David McIntosh, President of the Club for Growth, said in a statement.
“It should thrill liberals and Democrats everywhere that Trump wants to create new taxes and start a trade war to force American companies to work where he demands,” McIntosh added.
Yeah, I don't think the Club for Growth understands Trump at all. He's not about ideology. He's about America winning victories and getting rid of all the bad people. Well, actually tha is an ideology but we're not supposed to talk about it.
digby 8/30/2015 06:00:00 PM
Bush's heckuva week
CBS White House reporter Mark Knoller shared his reporter's notebook from the week Katrina hit:
sun aug 28 CRAWFORD, Day 27 of ranch vacation (26 days at ranch)
Pres Bush summons reporters to the Marine One hangar at his ranch (adjacent property, really) to make 1130am/ct [central time] statement on the forthcoming Hurricane Katrina - promising to do everything in the federal government power to respond and minimize suffering. He also spoke of the completed draft constitution in Iraq. And its importance. No questions.
At Camp Casey, protests hold a prayer service. Rev Al Sharpton arrives late, but takes part. Later in the day, actor Martin Sheehan [sic: should read "Sheen"] arrives to support Sheehan.
mon aug 29 CRAWFORD. Day 28 of ranch vacation (27 days at ranch).
***HURRICANE KATRINA MAKES LANDFALL, SPREADING DEATH AND DESTRUCTION THROUGH LOUISIANA, MISSISSIPPI AND ALABAMA***
Bush and FLOTUS [first lady] depart ranch to TSTC Airport and AF-1 [Air Force One] en route: EL MIRAGE, AZ: Arrive Luke AFB [Air Force Base] and m/c [motorcade] to the RV Park to try to drum up interest among senior citizens for the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that goes into effect in January. Urges seniors to fill out the forms required to qualify for the plan. Also uses his remarks to offer prayers and pledges of aid to those hard hit by Hurricane Katrina:
"I want the folks there on the gulf coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you when the storm passes."
Also uses speech to trumpet draft constitution in Iraq and US determination to see the mission through. Declares "I am very optimistic" about Iraq.
Also uses speech to offer assurances to border states that he shares their concern about border security and illegal immigration. Back to airport and AF-1 to:
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA: Arrives Ontario Intl Airport and m/c [motorcade] to holding room. Then to the James L Brulte Senior Center for another "conversation" on Medicare. Then back to airport and AF-1 to:
CORONADO, CA: Arrives Naval Air Station North Island and m/c to the Hotel Del Coronado for RON [remain overnight]. Some anti-war protestors demonstrate nearby.
tue aug 30
***WH ANNOUNCES BUSH TO CUT SHORT RANCH VACATION BY TWO DAYS TO RETURN TO WH TOMORROW****
CORONADO, CA: After a morning conference call briefing on Katrina, Bush m/c to Naval Base Coronado for speech marking 60th Anniversary of VJ Day. Begins remarks with words of concern for Katrina victims.
"The federal state and local governments are working side by side to do all we can to help people get back on their feet. and we have got a lot of work to do."
Uses body of speech to draw parallels between WWII and the War on Terrorism.
"I made my decision: we''ll stay on the offensive, stay with the people of iraq. and we will prevail."
Sits for interview with Armed Forces Radio and TV and then visits with wounded military personnel at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Presents Purple Heart to one wounded navy corpsman. Also meets with doctors from the USN Hospital Ship Mercy to salute their service to victims from last year's tsunami.
Back to NAS North Island and AF-1 back to: CRAWFORD, TX: Day 29 of ranch vacation (28 days at ranch)
Arrives TSTC Waco and Marine One back to the ranch.
wed aug 31 CRAWFORD, TX: Day 30 of ranch vacation (29 days at ranch)
***Bush ends working vacation and departs for DC***
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush ends his ranch vacation two days early, departing about 1010am/CT by Marine One to TSTC Waco and boards AF-1.
On the way back to DC, AF-1 flies over New Orleans, Gulfport, Biloxi and Mobile, giving mr bush a aerial view of some of the flooding and destruction.
He spends 35 minutes looking out the left side of the aircraft.
Back at the White House, he meets with his task force on the hurricane response, and then in the rose garden, makes a statement vowing a massive relief operation. But he says "this recovery will take a long time. this recovery will take years."
thu sep 1 WH. [White House]
Bush has usual briefings. His schedule dominated by Katrina response including a 10a meeting with DefSec Rumsfeld and Gen Myers. Bush discusses the economic impact in a lunch meeting with Fed Chairman Alan Greespan. Then discusses it with his economic team.
At 2p, Bush meets with his dad and former Pres Clinton - who agreed to help raise private contributions for hurricane relief, as they did for the tsunami that struck Asia late last year.
Bush makes statement and discusses gasoline shortage and soaring prices - urging americans to use energy prudently declaring "don't buy gas if you don't need it."
Later in the day, WH announces Pres Bush is asking congress for a supplemental appropriation of $10.5 billion for hurricane relief including ½ billion for DOD.
Senate voting late tonight. House tomorrow.
fri sep 2 WH.
On the way to Marine One for a trip to the hurricane zone, Pres Bush makes a 9A statement to reporters in which he concedes that the results of the federal response so far "are not acceptable." But he believes the response itself has been good.
But he also says: "I want to assure the people of the affected areas and this country that we'll deploy the assets necessary to get the situation under control."
Further, he says, "we'll get on top of this situation. and we're gonna help people that need help."
Boards Marine One for Andrews AFB, boards AF-1 en route:
MOBILE, AL: Arrives Mobile Regional Airport and takes part in briefing on Katrina's impact from FEMA Director Mike Brown, Gov. Bob Riley of AL, Gov. Haley Barbour of MS and others.
Bush says: "my attitude is if it's not going exactly right we're gonna make it go exactly right. If there's problems, we're gonna address the problems. and that's what I've come down to assure people."
But he doesn't blame FEMA, telling director Michael Brown - "Brownie, you've done a heck of a job."
Boards Marine One for aerial tour of hard hit areas of Alabama and Mississippi, landing in:
BILOXI, MS: Bush boards m/c for ground tour of hurricane ravaged neighborhoods. On a debris strewn street, Bush encounters two sisters, sobbing about the loss of their home and belonging, the older woman looking for clothes for their son. Bush hugs them and offers comfort. Bush walks further down the street to a Salvation Army canteen truck to talk with aid givers and recipients.
During a chat with reporters, he says:
"we're gonna clean all this mess up. the federal government is gonna - will spend money to clean it up." Bush calls the destruction "unbelieveable."
He disputes assertions that the US military commitment in iraq hurt the disaster response along the gulf coast:
"We've got a job to defend this country in the war on terror, and we've got a job to bring aid and comfort to the people of the Gulf Coast, and we'll do both. We've got plenty of resources to do both."
He clarifies his "unacceptable" statement of earlier in the day: "I am satisfied with the response. I'm not satisfied with all the results."
He is clearly awestruck by the level of devastation: "these are tough times. This is a storm the likes of which, you know, I pray I never see again."
Back to the airport and Marine One to:
NEW ORLEANS: Arrives Louis Armstrong Intl Airport in Kenner, LA., for meetings with Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin. Then boards Marine One for aerial tour of the flooding and destruction.
Lands at Hammond Street Bridge to view work being done to repair 17th Street Levee that collapsed and allowed the flooding of the city. Offers attaboys to workers. The same to personnel at the nearby Coast Guard station. Then Marine One back to the airport and final statement of the day.
Says he knows people are suffering.
"I'm not going to forget what I've seen. 084 I understand the devastation requires more than one days' attention. it's gonna require the attention of this country for a long period of time.
"This is one of the worst natural disasters we have faced with national consequences. and therefore there will be a national response.
"I believe that the great city of new Orleans will rise again and be a greater city of new Orleans."
Boards AF-1 for flight back to Andrews.
Arrives WH around 830p. Heads to Oval Office to quickly sign the $10.5-Billion emergency funding bill for hurricane relief.
sat sep 3 WH
***Chief Justice William Rehnquist Dies tonight at age 80***
With Rumsfeld, Myers and Chertoff at his side, Bush delivers his Saturday radio address live from the Rose Garden. He announces he's dispatching 7000 more active duty troops, army and marines, to the disaster zone.
Admitting that some victims are not getting the help they need, Bush vows to change that: "In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need. And the federal government will do its part."
sun sep 4 WH.
Bush begins day attending 8A Sunday worship service at St. John's.
At 10a, Bush makes a statement in the Roosevelt Room, paying tribute to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who died last night.
"He was extremely well respected for his powerful intellect. He was respected for his deep commitment to the rule of law and his profound devotion to duty. He provided superb leadership for the federal court system, improving the delivery of justice for the American people, and earning the admiration of his colleagues throughout the judiciary."
Bush departs via m/c at 1021am for the American Red Cross to tour their disaster relief operation. Makes statement of support, urging contributions. Is back at the WH by 1110a.
Keep in mind that there were bodies floating in the flood waters all over New Orleans.
digby 8/30/2015 03:00:00 PM
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Saturday that if he were elected president he would combat illegal immigration by creating a system to track foreign visitors the way FedEx tracks packages.
Mr. Christie, who is far back in the pack of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, said at a campaign event in New Hampshire that he would ask the chief executive of FedEx, Frederick W. Smith, to devise the tracking system.
Immigration has become a top issue in the Republican campaign, with the front-runner, Donald J. Trump, having vowed to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country and to build a wall along the United States’ southern border.
“At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane,” Mr. Christie told the crowd in Laconia, N.H. “Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them.”
He added: “We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in.”
Fed-ex bar codes all it's packages and puts them through scanners everywhere they go.
Is he suggesting that we tattoo bar-codes on humans and put them through scanners everywhere they go? I don't know what else he could be talking about.
There's a history of tattooing people to keep track of them. Not a good history.
digby 8/30/2015 01:00:00 PM
Funny headline 'o the day (to me anyway)
It's a good article. But anyone who's been reading me over this past decade knows that I've been writing about that problem for a very long time so this revelation falls into the "you don't say" category.
I consider them nothing more than torture devices more that 90% of the time. And police seem to be reluctant to use them in the situations they are designed for. So, they're useless.
digby 8/30/2015 11:00:00 AM
Ten years ago today
This was how it unfolded:
11AM CDT — BUSH SPEAKS ON IRAQ AT NAVAL BASE CORONADO [White House]
MIDDAY — CHERTOFF CLAIMS HE FINALLY BECOMES AWARE THAT LEVEE HAS FAILED: “It was on Tuesday that the levee–may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday–that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city.” But later reports note that the Bush administration learned of the levee breach on Aug. 29. [Meet the Press, 9/4/05; AP]
PENTAGON CLAIMS THERE ARE ENOUGH NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS IN REGION: “Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs.” [WWL-TV]
MASS LOOTING REPORTED, SECURITY SHORTAGE CITED: “The looting is out of control. The French Quarter has been attacked,” Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. “We’re using exhausted, scarce police to control looting when they should be used for search and rescue while we still have people on rooftops.” [AP]
U.S.S. BATAAN SITS OFF SHORE, VIRTUALLY UNUSED: “The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore. The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents. But now the Bataan’s hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty.” [Chicago Tribune]
2PM CDT — PRESIDENT BUSH PLAYS GUITAR WITH COUNTRY SINGER MARK WILLIS [AP]
BUSH RETURNS TO CRAWFORD FOR FINAL NIGHT OF VACATION [AP]
Here's what the right had to offer that day:
ATTN: SUPERDOME RESIDENTS [Jonah Goldberg]
I think it's time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you're working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he's not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It's never too soon to be prepared.
And then this:
Doc Bainbridge chastises me for my insensitivity and implores my more mature colleagues to take me to task. He even goes so far as to call me Taranto-esque, for what that's worth.
Perhaps Professor Bainbridge — of whom I am a fan — thinks something really awful will befall the denizens of the Superdome and therefore making a joke at their expense is wrong. My guess is that it will simply be a really unpleasent time for the remainder of the day, but hardly so unpleasent as to sanctify them with refugee or some other victim status. I assumed the reference to gill-growing and whatnot made it clear where I was coming from. I'm sorry if we don't always fulfill the good professor's expectations around here. But it can't be all brandy-snifters and Latin puns in the Corner.
Immediate reactions to tragedy are always telling. And it only got worse as the week wore on.
digby 8/30/2015 09:00:00 AM
Playing Washington for a sucker
by Tom Sullivan
Nicholas Kristof offers a reverie this morning on "our extraordinary national inheritance, one of the greatest gifts of our ancestors — our public lands." Visionaries such as Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot fought to preserve them for the enjoyment of all:
Their vision reflected a deep belief at the time, among Republicans as well as Democrats, in public services that transcended class. The result was the world’s best public school system at the time, networks of public libraries, public parks and beaches, and later a broad system of public universities and community colleges.
Those are at risk today in a venal culture driven more by bottom lines than common goods. One half expects any day to hear a plan to sell off Yellowstone or Yosemite as "weekend homes for Internet tycoons," as Kristof suggests. The Midas cult has not yet taken drills and sledgehammers to our heritage the way ISIS has to the cradle of civilization. But while our financial cult's methods are more subtle, its goals are similar: to erase the very memory of a culture. Here, monuments to collective achievements dim the gleam of personal shrines erected to Self.
Public universities accessible to all are under threat from the cult's policy drills and sledgehammers. Washington Monthly profiles LSU Chancellor F. King Alexander, whose fight to preserve public higher education puts him at odds with efforts to remove the public from higher education. At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing this summer chaired by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, LSU's King Alexander argued for more federal regulation:
The “greatest challenge facing public universities,” King Alexander explains, is that states today spend about half as much on higher education on a per capita income basis as they did in 1981. This is a direct result, he says, of a regulatory failure built into federal law. In other areas of federal policy, such as transportation and health care, federal dollars come with strings attached—states have to pitch in a set amount of money too. That’s not the case for higher education, where money follows the student to private and public colleges alike, and states have no requirements to fund public universities at a certain (or indeed any) level. The result is that when states are under budget pressure, as they have been in the years since the financial crisis, they slash spending on higher ed. The burden of those cuts then gets shifted to students, in the form of higher tuition, and to the federal government, in greater spending on grants, tax credits, and subsidized student loans.
Pouring more money into federal higher education support, argued Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, will do no good so long as states keep disinvesting in it. Freshman Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana reluctantly agreed, “I’m against states being mandated to do something, but it appears unless states are mandated to do something they’re not going to do so.” The hearing did not go in the direction Lamar Alexander had wanted. He hopes to rewrite the Higher Education Act (HEA) to remove "costly and burdensome federal red tape imposed on states and colleges."
To that end, King Alexander wants federal dollars to come with strings requiring states to live up to their obligation to provide adequate public funding as so many state constitutions (and statehood enabling acts) require. He believes "that as a condition of federal higher education aid, states should be required to provide a minimum amount of their revenues to their public colleges and universities." King succeeded in getting a “maintenance of effort” provision into a piece of 2008 federal legislation that set a floor for state funding as a qualification for federal support. While many states cut their funding to within 1 percent of the floor, they did not go below it. Not until the law expired.
The disagreement over maintenance of effort is one over the proper role of the federal government. Lamar Alexander reflected the Republican Party’s view on states’ rights when he told me that maintenance of effort “usurp[s] the prerogative of the constitutional authority of governors and legislators to decide how to spend state dollars by, in effect, being coercive.” King, for his part, describes himself as a “federalist” when it comes to education policy and says “states’ rights is George Wallace standing in front of the Alabama admissions office not letting anybody in.” To King, the debate over maintenance of effort is nothing less than a battle over whether Americans of modest birth will have anything like the same opportunities as the affluent to better themselves through higher education. Spend enough time around King, and you get the sense that he became a public university president less because he wants to run a school than because it provides him a parapet from which to fend off the hordes trying to destroy public higher education.
King has been making his arguments for twenty years, but until recently Democrats were more focused on expanding the direct student aid program to help poor and middle-class students by increasing Pell Grants and middle-class tax credits, and creating generous repayment plans for student loans. But as student loan debt has risen and governors like Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker in Wisconsin cut higher education budgets, Democrats are increasingly realizing that their unquestioning advocacy of federal direct aid has allowed states to play Washington for a sucker. That’s why they chose King Alexander as their witness.
There is a cost to maintaining a country and its character. Not just in blood, but in treasure. Too many of our leaders quick to spend the former are more miserly when it comes to the latter.
Undercover Blue 8/30/2015 06:00:00 AM
Saturday, August 29, 2015
Saturday Night at the Movies
The Death Hour: How Hollywood tried to warn us
By Dennis Hartley
I love it. Suicides, assassinations, mad bombers, Mafia hitmen, automobile smash-ups: “The Death Hour”. A great Sunday night show for the whole family.
-from Network, screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky
There is an oft-repeated lament that Hollywood and/or television has “run out of original ideas”. Which is (mostly) true, but not necessarily indicative of a dearth of talent or creativity in the business. The blame for this particular writer’s block, I believe, can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of…Reality. Short of plundering Middle Earth or the comic book universe for ideas, it’s getting harder to dream up a scenario as “outlandish” as, say, having to undergo a security check before taking your seat at a movie theater, or as “unthinkable” as switching on the local TV news and witnessing the horror of what happened to the 2 WDBJ reporters and the interviewee while live on air last Wednesday.
You’re television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer.
-from Network, screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky
While just as horrified and empathetic as anyone in their right mind should be when the WDBY story broke, I’m sad to report that I wasn’t necessarily surprised. It was only a matter of time. The on-camera assassination of two TV reporters filing an innocuous story about a mall seemed a relatively tiny jump from the random murders of two theater patrons in Lafayette earlier this month…who likely assumed they weren’t risking violent death by seeking out 2 hours of escapism at the matinee showing of a romantic comedy.
The common denominator of both incidents was all-too-familiar: An extremely disturbed individual with a legally purchased firearm, which they never should have been permitted to own in the first place. But who am I to judge, because, you know…Freedom. And Tyranny. And The Constitution. Never mind that in early August, Amy Schumer (star of the film that the Lafayette victims went to see) and now this week, Andy Parker (father of slain TV reporter Alison Parker) have both made public vows to crusade for stricter gun control. As Mr. Parker was quoted, from an article in the August 27 New York Times:
“I’m for the Second Amendment,” he said on CNN Thursday morning, “but there has to be a way to force politicians who are cowards in the pockets of the N.R.A. to make sure crazy people can’t get guns.” Citing previous killings by people with mental illnesses, Mr. Parker asked, “How many Alisons will it take?”
What is uncommon about this latest tragedy, is that the alleged perpetrator himself was a former TV reporter, adding a chilling layer of irony to the already complex pathology in this case (note all the networks have taken pains to run that file clip of him reporting from a gun shop). This brings to mind a scene from Billy Wilder’s 1951 noir, Ace in the Hole:
Charles Tatum: What’s that big story to get me outta here? […] I’m stuck here, fans. Stuck for good. Unless you, Miss Deverich, instead of writing household hints about how to remove chili stains from blue jeans, get yourself involved in a trunk murder. How about it, Miss Deverich? I could do wonders with your dismembered body.
Miss Deverich: Oh, Mr. Tatum. Really!
Charles Tatum: Or you, Mr. Wendell-if you’d only toss that cigar out the window. Real far…all the way to Los Alamos. And BOOM! (He chuckles) Now there would be a story.
Tatum (played to the hilt by Kirk Douglas) is a cynical big city newspaper reporter who drifts into a small New Mexico burg after burning one too many bridges with his former employers at a New York City daily. Determined to weasel his way back to the top (by any means necessary, as it turns out), he bullies his way into a gig with a local rag, where he impatiently awaits The Big Story that will rocket him back to the metropolitan beat. Of course, he’s being sarcastic when he exhorts his co-workers in the sleepy hick town newsroom to get out there and make some news for him to capitalize on. But the ultimate irony in Wilder’s screenplay (co-written by Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman) is that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy for Tatum; in his Machiavellian attempt to purloin and manipulate the scenario of a man trapped in a cave-in into a star-making “exclusive” for himself, it’s Tatum who becomes The Big Story (and not in the manner he intended).
Could it be that the Virginia shooter was using a similar kind of pretzel logic? Was he surmising that if he couldn’t achieve the notoriety he craved as someone who reports the news, perhaps he’d have better luck by simply grabbing a gun and creating some headlines himself? Was he really that hungry for attention? The fact that his refrigerator door was papered with photos of himself could be a clue that at the very least, we are dealing with a case of narcissistic personality disorder. It’s only a theory, but there’s a film that eerily presages that scenario, Gus Van Sant’s 1995 mockumentary, To Die For.
The film centers on an ambitious young woman (Nicole Kidman, in one of her best performances) who aspires to elevate herself from “weather girl” at a small market TV station in New England to star news anchor, posthaste. A calculating sociopath from the word go, she marries into a wealthy family, but decides to discard her husband (Matt Dillon) the nanosecond he asks her to consider putting her career on hold so they can start a family (discard…with extreme prejudice). Buck Henry based his screenplay on Joyce Maynard’s true crime book about the Pamela Smart case (the most obvious difference being that Smart was a teacher and not an aspiring media star, although it could be argued that during the course of her highly publicized murder trial, she did in fact become one).
There is an even darker, uber-macabre element about the Virginia shooter’s twisted act that, while it boggles the imagination, also has precedent in narrative films. Apparently not satisfied with orchestrating the murder of his victims to full effect in front of a live TV camera, he filmed his own POV version of what the viewers at home saw (it’s almost like he was directing a film, envisioning the different camera angles of the same event). It gets worse. He then proudly posted said video on his Facebook page for the world to see.
That was once only the stuff of horror movies, like Michael Powell’s 1960 thriller, Peeping Tom. The story profiles an insular, socially awkward member of a film crew (Carl Boehm) who works as a technician at a movie studio by day, and moonlights as a soft-core pin-up photographer. He’s also surreptitiously working on his own independent film, which goes hand-in-glove with another hobby: he’s a serial killer who gets his jollies capturing POV footage of his victim’s final agonizing moments. It’s truly creepy; a Freudian nightmare. Powell, one-half of the revered British film making team known as The Archers (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) nearly destroyed his career with this one, which, due to its “shocking” nature, was largely shunned by audiences and critics at the time (thanks to Martin Scorsese, the film enjoyed a revival decades later and is now considered to be a genre classic on a par with Psycho).
Several subsequent films can be viewed as direct descendants of Peeping Tom; most notably Manhunter (1986), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), and perhaps more tangentially, Man Bites Dog (1992) and Natural Born Killers (1994). Like the main character in Peeping Tom, the psycho killer in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (Tom Noonan) also has a day job that involves film; in this case he works in a film processing lab, which gives him access to the private home movies from which he chooses his victims. John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer follows the killing spree of the eponymous character (Michael Rooker) and his partner (Tom Towles). In a particularly chilling scene, McNaughton switches to shaky handheld POV shots of a video gleefully shot by Henry’s partner as they torture and murder their hapless victims.
I feel like I need a shower. If you want a 7th inning stretch...here’s a nice soothing image:
(Deep breath) Both Belgian directing trio Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel and Benoit Poelvoorde’s Man Bites Dog and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers are sly sendups of the Spree Killer as Media Celebrity conflation. While I wouldn’t consider either film a “ha-ha funny” comedy, they both harbor a chewy nougat center of dark satire beneath a candy coating of Grand Guignol. Man Bites Dog (arguably the most upsetting viewing experience of all the films discussed in this essay) takes the mockumentary approach, with a film crew “documenting” the murderous exploits of the protagonist (played by co-director/writer Poelvoorde). Initially, the film crew is objective, but cross the line into becoming criminal accessories. Stone’s film, weirdly enough, actually features a “live on camera” killing of a journalist who has been tagging along with the murderous tag team (like Tatum in Ace in the Hole, he will use any means necessary to snag an “exclusive”).
There are several more satirical films of note containing over-the-top scenarios that reality has sadly caught up with, beginning with Woody Allen’s 1971 comedy Bananas (which cropped up just two weeks ago as one of my Top 10 Films about Cuba). The specific scene that comes to mind in the wake of the Virginia incident involves Howard Cosell (playing himself) doing live TV coverage of a political assassination, as if it were a sporting event (Tom Sullivan beat me to the punch making this connection). Then there is Paul Bartel’s 1975 cult classic, Death Race 2000, depicting a dystopian America where public murder literally has become a popular televised sporting event, in which competing race drivers earn points for each luckless pedestrian they can run over and kill.
The most recent film in this vein is from an artist who specializes in pushing people’s buttons, so be warned that many viewers will undoubtedly find standup comic-turned auteur Bob Goldthwait’s 2012 tragicomedy God Bless America incredibly offensive. His disenfranchised antihero Frank (Joel Murray) is like Ignatius J. Reilly, railing against all who offend his sense of taste and decency (but armed with an AK-47). Already stewing over his ex-wife’s impending marriage, his little daughter’s detachment, his inconsiderate neighbors and his observation that most of his co-workers are obsessed with reality TV, Frank is pushed over the edge when he loses his job and is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Frank’s first target is an obnoxious reality TV star, but his hit list expands to include wing nut pundits, Teabaggers, and the worst of the worst: people who yak on their cell phones in theaters and Yuppies who deliberately take up two parking spaces. On one level, it’s all quite appalling, but in light of recent events, it merely reflects our society.
This now brings us full circle to the most prescient film of them all, Sidney Lumet’s Network. In Lumet’s 1976 satire, written by the late great Paddy Chayefsky, respected news anchor Howard Beale (whose visage graces the banner of this very blog site) has a complete mental meltdown on air, announcing his plan to commit public suicide, on camera, in an upcoming newscast. When the following evening’s newscast attracts an unprecedented number of viewers, some of the more unscrupulous programmers and marketers at the network smell a potential cash cow, and decide to let Beale rant away in front of the cameras to his heart’s content, reinventing him as a “mad prophet of the airwaves” and giving him a nightly primetime slot. Eventually, some of the “truthiness” in his nightly “news sermons” hits a little too close to home regarding some secret business dealings that the network has with some Arab investors, and it is decided that his program needs to be cancelled (with extreme prejudice). And besides, his ratings are slipping. So the network hires a team of hit men to assassinate him, “live” on the air.
Unfortunately, as has dogged me in previous such exercises, I come to the end of this study with no solid conclusion, no pat answers. Perhaps senseless is as senseless does. Some people are just bad machines. If we could just keep them away from the guns…that would be a good start. Otherwise, I’ve not nuthin’…except an urge to echo Andy Parker:
How many Alisons will it take?
Previous posts with related themes:
digby 8/29/2015 05:00:00 PM