Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for February 8th, 2007

Share your Wi-Fi, go to jail

Posted by metaphorical on 8 February 2007

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. You’ll pay a fine, not go to jail.

Westchester County has a law against owning an open Wi-Fi hotspot. While it’s great that it doesn’t have a law against using an open hotspot, this law nonetheless seems out of line.

Last month Network World reported on this and a similar law in California.

Mounting worries about the dangers of too-easy access to wireless LANs have prompted government officials in New York and California to put new laws on the books aimed at preventing network “piggybacking” and exposure of sensitive data in both businesses and homes.

Last October, the local government in Westchester County, N.Y., began enforcing a countywide law requiring all commercial businesses to secure their WLAN access or face fines.

The law, which has the Westchester IT department periodically driving about the county with WLAN probes to test whether businesses have failed to adequately secure their WLANs, was enacted because “we saw piggybacking on Wi-Fi nets,” says county CIO Norm Jacknis. “On these networks, there’s unfettered access to confidential data, and we have a problem with that.”

I don’t know which is more outrageous, that Westchester County would have such a law, or that Network World lets such statements through, apparently unchallenged.

I heard tonight that South African history doesn’t include personal narratives of their slavery era the way the U.S. has because at the time, there was only one printing press in the whole country, and it was thoroughly in the control of the head of state. Westchester’s absurd (and hopefully unconstitutional) law seems like a heavy-handed attempt to ever so slightly diminish our access to the universal printing press of our time.

I sent the following letter today:

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Running for the presidency with art, style, and grammar

Posted by metaphorical on 8 February 2007

In one sentence, with no more than two dependent clauses, tell me why you would make a great president. —Maureen Dowd, to Joe Biden

Maureen Dowd gave Biden a gentle tweaking yesterday, letting him off the hook, at least for one interview, on the Obama business (see this blog’s prior discussion of it here, and a nice job by Jupiter9 here).

What she gently gets at, though, is another important question: how much do we we want to hear from a presidential candidate on the great issues of the day, and how should it be expressed?

Biden is known for being prolix; he further has a difficulty keeping his answers from slipping into the reliably soporific dialect of English known as Beltway-speak. It was this latter problem that got him into trouble on the Obama matter; he was analyzing his opponent in much the same way a campaign media advisor would. That’s just not how you want to talk to national journalists who are going to be quoting you in general-circulation publications.

But the first problem is worth considering as well.

“We’re in a political culture where everything is reduced to bumper stickers and sound bites, and it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Biden told Dowd. That’s when Dowd wittily tried to restrict the number of dependent clauses in his answer to the question of what would make him a great president.

“I really believe the American people get the fact that with the next president there’s no margin for error. He’s going to inherit a world and a nation where this guy is going to leave him in a deep hole. The next president should get us out of Iraq without ruining the Middle East, so Americans should be looking for the person with the most experience.

Biden failed the test of answering in one sentence, and that’s a problem. Politics isn’t so different from literature, where it’s important to be able to express the one thing a work is most centrally about. This was effectively satirized by Woody Allen when he joked, “I took a course in speed reading and was able to read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It’s about Russia.”

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