Germany's interior ministry has announced sweeping new surveillance powers ahead of the coming national election, which would include the right to infect residents' computers with malware in order to spy on their encrypted communications (shades of the illegal Bundestrojaner program), ordering tech companies to deliberately introduce defects into their cryptography, and fingerprinting children as young as 6. Read the rest
Britain's Great Firewall of Cameron has just made the jump from "voluntary" to "mandatory." The UK government has announced that the demand that all ISPs offer an opt-out "adult content" filter will soon be a requirement, covering even small ISPs and ISPs that advertise themselves as censorship-free. ISPs will be required to operate filters that do not "unintentionally filter out legitimate content" -- effectively, this is a mandate to go shopping for magic beans. Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group sez: Read the rest
Gone are the wild tight curls, relaxed now into auburn waves. Her waist is cinched, her bust inflated: skinnier and sexier is the new Merida, star of Brave. And gone, in some of the new art, is that troublesome weapon: no fit thing for a Disney princess, after all. Fans and websites lamenting the changes, chief among them A Mighty Girl, have spearheaded a change.org petition seeking to convince Disney to change its mind.
The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model ... In an interview with Pixar Portal, "Brave" writer and co-director Brenda Chapman stated, "Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess — a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn't be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they'd be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”
There seems a deliciously vile bait-and-switch element to it all: design a character that will attract parents resistant to the traditional messaging, then recast it in same old mold once they've sold it to their daughters for you.
But you can see the problem in that Chapman quote, which is never really about the character. When "marketing" is the first principle of your art, even something opposing its dictates is doomed to gravitate around it in fast-decaying orbit. Read the rest
The UK Home Secretary has announced changes to the "Life in the UK" immigrant test. Instead of containing information on human rights, the nature of the political structure of the UK and the EU, and who has the legitimate right to access benefits, the test will focus on useful things that everyone in Britain really cares about: Shakespeare, Christianity, the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Trafalgar.
I sat this test before I established my UK residence (I later became a citizen) and a large part of it is about UK culture: the history of women's suffrage, the law and norms around childrearing and work and tax, and more. Much of it is a bit tedious. Is it necessary to be able to rattle off the number of seats in each regional assembly? The multiple choice answers for Scotland were something like: a) 131, b) 130, c) 120, d, 100 -- surely knowing the number plus or minus 20 percent is enough for daily life. The legendary difficulty of the test is largely down to this sort of fine-grained multiple choice answers; it's important to know that women got the universal franchise in the late 1920s and the tradition is firmly established in the UK, but being able to name the exact year is beside the point, something that the test-designers clearly missed.
Being able to name the plays of Shakespeare, or the dates of Trafalgar are also beside the point. As a naturalised immigrant, I'm here to tell you that this sort of thing is an ocean away from the sort of knowledge that one needs to become a part of UK society. Read the rest
In an attempt to secure their place as the proving ground for Google's 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic broadband, the leaders of Topeka, Kansas temporarily changed that city's name to "Google, Kansas".
The leaders of Duluth, Minnesota—another would-be broadband guinea pig—think that's pretty smart.
In order "to prevail in the Google pandering arms race" they're now offering to rename all first-born Duluthians "Google Fiber" (or Googlette for girls). Says the mayor, "Just because Topeka was da first to make an obnoxious symbolic gesture to suck up to da good folks der at Google doesn't mean dat we can't suck up even more."
It's worth noting that the apology to Topeka and assurance that this is just a joke that both precedes and follows the video is almost as funny as the video itself. Hopefully, two apologies will be enough to keep war from breaking out.
Oh, Topeka. Don't ever change. Read the rest