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Remembering D-Day, the Problem with Big Data, and The Naomi Wolf Method

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Here’s a chronology of the landings with rare photos [1], and here is a selection of letters between Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall leading up to June 6th invasion [2]. Lance Morrow remembers the day and less noble events that followed [3]: “They did not come, as invaders usually do, to loot and plunder and conquer. They came ashore, you might say, altruistically. A lot of them died on the beach. Always at the heart of America as a moral experiment has been the question of how to make the nation’s power virtuous. Can power ever be virtuous? It’s an almost theological riddle. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the two—power and virtue—were neatly aligned. Good confronted evil; such clarity gives courage . . . D-Day gives us the Greatest Generation in its youth and inevitably stands in bitter contrast to Vietnam—Good War, Bad War. Last year was the 50th anniversary of 1968, a calamitous year that marked the baby boomers’ coming of age. They experienced Vietnam and all that it brought with it—including the Tet Offensive, My Lai massacre, and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The year exhausted people’s appetite for recapitulation. But 1969 had its dramas, too. Saul Bellow captured the logic of these anniversary observances: ‘Everyone needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.’” Last, here’s a video of 97-year-old veteran Tom Rice parachuting again into France [4].

Michael Dirda recommends [5] Marjorie Bowen’s Black Magic: “When Black Magic first appeared in 1909, Marjorie Bowen was 24. At that time the young Englishwoman had already brought out five books, including The Viper of Milan, The Glen O’ Weeping (a.k.a. The Master of Stair) and The Sword Decides. These remarkably accomplished novels — focusing on struggles for political power in, respectively, Renaissance Italy, late-17th-century Scotland and the so-called Dark Ages — earned Bowen acclaim from such literary eminences as Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle.”

The acceptable prejudice [6]: “Contemporary universities are doing their best to eradicate prejudice and bias. Yet one remaining prejudice—against white men—is not only tolerated but encouraged. While we are told that diversity of skin color and gender is an unmitigated good, people in faculty meetings and job searches joke about the undesirability of white men. They look forward to the time when all the “old white men” shall disappear from campus. Job performance? ­Publications? Pedagogical skill? These are now less important than a faculty that reflects the demographics of the school, or the general population, or . . . we’re not quite sure what. But everyone knows the first principle of academic life: Diversity is a moral imperative.”

Parul Sehgal explains the Naomi Wolf method [7]: “Naomi Wolf’s long, ludicrous career has followed a simple formula. She audits herself for some speck of dissatisfaction, arrives at an epiphany — one that might contravene any number of natural laws — and then extrapolates a set of rules and recommendations for all women. Predictable controversy ensues; grouchy reviews and much attention. Over the years her batty claims have included that a woman’s brain can allow her to become pregnant if she so desires, even if she is using birth control; that women’s intellects and creativity are dependent on their sexual fulfillment and, specifically, the skillful ministrations of a ‘virile man’; and that writing a letter to a breech baby will induce it to turn right side up. That her advice can contradict itself from book to book doesn’t appear to distress her . . . Always the books are lit by a strange messianic energy, shored up by dubious data and structured around a moment of crisis and revelation as some veil — some long-held notion — falls away.”

Essay of the Day:

In The Nation, Matthew Longo writes about the haves and have-nots of Big Data [8]. I think the problem is a little more complex than he admits, but Longo raises some interesting questions:

“The use of facial recognition in airports has long been controversial, with citizens expressing outrage over the abuse of their privacy. This confrontation came to a head recently when San Francisco voted to ban facial-recognition software in law enforcement.

“But why do state agencies like Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration have the right to take this data in the first place? What will they do with it—and what delimits their usage? Do we as citizens have the right to refuse?

“These are important questions. But they only scratch the surface of the problem, which is the increased use of data—so-called Big Data—in statecraft writ large. Today, states see data as the best (and perhaps only) road towards guaranteeing security. This has led to a virtual land grab with states scrambling for more and better data. As one analyst put it: ‘Data is the new oil.’

* * *

“The global dimension of Big Data is written into the very nature of the system. Because data-analysis systems need data on noncitizens, they require extensive data-sharing—after all, the whole point is to stop threats before they arrive at your door. This generates networks of exclusion. One data analyst, David Coleman at Novetta Mission Analytics, described this new kind of division to me in an interview as a global firewall—i.e., a virtual wall between states that share data and those that don’t.

“‘The question is what is the perimeter of what you consider trustworthy?… [In the West] there is truly a cloud of identity artifacts out there that holds you accountable for who you are.… We are basically setting up [a] firewall. It is not quite as free as the Schengen region, but it is a little bit broader. If you are in this [domain] you can move pretty easily; but it is really hard to get into it if you are coming from [some] place where your identity is purely social, and it is not stored in any electronic media.’

“Inside the firewall, there is verifiable data. Outside it, there is unstructured data that isn’t placed into a defined model (think of Twitter: Words with hashtags are structured), or no data at all, as is common across the developing world. These lines of division exist between states, creating a Cold War–style bipolarity, but also between citizens themselves. A person’s ability to work and travel abroad is increasingly contingent on the data networks into which they were born.”

Read the rest. [8]

Photos: 250 miles above Earth [9]

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