28 April 2008

The Foliage Guide to Little Brother, Vol. 2 Issue 6

I. The Official Foliage Review of Cory Doctorow’s Latest Novel, Little Brother

As a disclaimer, let me first inform you of my love for all things containing pirates, video games, cryptography, and spicy food. Little Brother, blogger Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, contains all these elements of a fantastic piece of literature... and more. Doctorow is a co-editor of the blog Boing Boing, a Fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and author of several Creative Commons-licensed books, including the Nebula Award-nominated shortstory, “0wnz0red.”
Little Brother, Doctorow’s latest novel, and his first aimed at teens, is the story of Marcus “w1n5t0n” Yallow, leader of a small group of gamers and hackers. When “the worst terrorist attack since 9/11” hits San Francisco, Marcus’s hometown, Marcus and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, hauled off by the Department of Homeland Security, and forced to prove they aren’t terrorists. The teens endure harsh imprisonment, and even treatment that may (or may not, if your American family values level is set to “Severe” today) be called torture. Once released, Marcus sets his sights on the entity that deprived him of his liberty, disappeared his best friend, and turned his city into a police state: the DHS.
One part Bible for the tech-aware teen, and one part gripping dystopian drama, Little Brother manages to found its exciting storyline in more fact than the average work of historical fiction. Filled with detailed descriptions of modern technologies like public-key cryptography, DNS servers, and school security systems, this book shows how fine a line we walk between “safe” and “sheep.” Reading it, I felt by turns inspired, aghast, and paranoid.
Little Brother asks tough questions like “Who are the terrorists? The ones who bomb, or the ones who exploit the fear?” Cory Doctorow has created a work potentially as influential for this generation as Orson Wells’ 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the classic dystopian predictions, were for the last generation. Technology is the next frontier in security and privacy, with implications ranging from the political and social to the religious and cultural. The modern American dystopia this book projects is just one possibility that could be realized in the very near future.
I love and recommend Little Brother, not just because its story was so enthralling that it kept me up until two in the morning, but because it contains very real truths about American society today and where we are headed tomorrow.

Little Brother is available April 29 in bookstores everywhere.

II. A Foliage-Exclusive Interview With Cory Doctorow

Foliage: Tell us a little about yourself.
Cory Doctorow: I’m 36, a Canadian who lives in Britain, and I write novels when I’m not playing with my newborn daughter or blogging.
F: Why did you write Little Brother?
CD: Because we need to start talking, NOW, about how we’re going to keep computers from turning into systems that control us, rather than systems that empower us.
F: What experience do you have in privacy and security matters?
CD: I served as the European Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization devoted to upholding traditional liberties (especially the First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments) in the online world.
F: How did you ensure that your characters would resemble real modern teens?
CD: Well, I guess I’m a real modern adult, which means I inhabit the same world as the characters in the book, albeit a different strata of it. Teens through the ages have had a lot in common when it comes to their concerns, cadence and voice, so I just winged it!
F: Why should today’s teens care about this?
CD: We’re on the verge of an era when computers no longer help us, but rather serve to control us. When that happens, we’re in big trouble, because we’ll lose the ability to use the Internet to organize movements to challenge authority, and without it, authority will grow and grow.
F: Could the scenario played out in your book every really happen?
CD: Would the US ever treat its own citizens as presumptive criminals and terrorists? Sadly, I think the answer is yes. The DHS and US Attorney’s Office are already treating people like animal rights protestors and others as though they were Jihadis bent on crashing airplanes into buildings, as opposed to legitimate participants in political discourse.

If you would like a pdf of this issue (it includes several pictures and a new, spiffy layout!) then please contact the Foliage General Secretary at ahsfoliage@gmail.com.

08 April 2008

The Foliage Guide To Student Rights, Vol. 2 Issue 5

I. Why Students Should Never Be Allowed to Ever Have Any Rights, Because of the Inherent Risks to Our Family-Oriented Society and National Security
by the Foliage General Secretary

This issue of Foliage aims to resolve the question, “Should students have rights?” I grappled with this topic, but I have come to the conclusion that for the safety of our nation, our families, and our society as a whole, the rights of students should be limited to picking their own seat at lunch (which itself should be subject to reasonable and security-minded restrictions).
We realize that many students feel that at the schools they attend, especially our bastion of academic achievement and opportunity, Albuquerque High, there is simply too much room for indecision. Various explanations have been proposed as to why this is, such as “it’s something in the water,” “the field of exploration is too broad and wide open,” or (by far the most common) “Timmy just likes shiny things!” We believe that this is a travesty against the best interests of our national braintrust, our investment as a country, our future televangelists, governors of New York, or mayors of Detroit: our children. Children, especially high schoolers, who are at a turning point in their lives, require structure, order, organization, and discipline in every facet of their lives. School, being the primary activity with which school-aged children fill their days, has an even greater need for these things, if not for the benefit of the child as an individual, then for the benefit of all children.
It is with these issues in mind that I therefore propose the eradication of student rights as a means to provide structure, rigor, and organization to our young people, who will, as they age, become the young leaders, the middle aged blue-collar workers, the elderly MediCare dependants, and the creepy Family Guy-esque guys-down-the-street. Students will only learn if we can eliminate all distractions from their lives. Student rights provide too many degrees of freedom to our students and can limit the ability of school administrators to dictate every aspect of student life and learning.
Moreover, student rights can be a serious threat to our national security. Just because no student has yet attempted a hostile takeover of the military-industrial complex doesn’t mean it won’t happen soon. Simply the fact that it hasn’t happened yet is testament to the superb governance and oversight capabilities of our school administrators and the bureaucracy as a gelatinous, all-encompassing, glob-like whole. For example, the valiant effort to suppress pornography and subversive ideas (by blocking History.com, among other sites) has saved countless young American souls.
Students should never be afforded more rights than is absolutely necessary, for if we give them too much freedom, they may come up with new ideas that challenge the very foundations of our God-fearing, law-abiding, inbred, ingrained society. I think we can all agree that the consequences of such a revolution in political, social, and economic thought would be disastrous for our American society and the global society at large.

II. Free-Range Students, or, the Truth of Freedom and the Right to Fail
by Sir Oreo d'Uh-Oh

Freedom. This word gets thrown around quite frequently by politicians and lawmakers today, but do they know what it means? As a guest writer for Foliage, I was forced to consider the question, “Should students have every right, known or unknown, to man?” My answer is yes. Students have suffered for too long at the hands of corrupt and incompetent bureaucratic officials. Even today there are movements to restrict our students’ freedoms to picking their seat at lunch, so long as the seat they picked was the seat that was assigned to them. The time for revolution is now.
The Students Against Restricted Rights and Stuff (SARRS) is an underground organization founded in the 1950’s that has been brooding over this issue for years now. Critics of the group point out that their philosophy, which embraces complete and unrestricted freedom, has severely limited their ability to organize, but several of their attempts have neared success (In 1970, one of their more well organized coups ended when the leader decided that he felt streaking at graduation was “his right,” and that “the man can’t hold [him] down.”) Regardless, it cannot be argued that their cause is not noble. Well, it can be if someone wants to.
Students today face an especially oppressive situation. Policy has been written in recent years that requires high schoolers in Bulldog City to fill out a “Next Step Plan.” Not only does this “plan” funnel students towards career paths that they may not care for or care to care for, it limits a right that many people overlook: the right to fail. Superintendents and congresspeople have always acted under the assumption that teenagers want to succeed, or that they’ll at least “be thankful later.” This, my friend, is wrong. Many of the teens that I encounter in the hallway would rather be sitting at home watching T.V. or simply “chillin’.” When I ask them what they think about school, many respond with phrases such as, “Flip* school,” or “flipping* school sucks” (* the word “flip” has been used as a replacement for a more vulgar term, a term that we would be able to use freely and eloquently in a truly “free” society.) Should officials be able to determine that these opinions are not valid? More importantly, can they prove that these statements are not valid?
As the years grind on, there is no doubt in my mind that students’ rights will be increasingly limited—The “Next Step Plan” is only the first step. “Core” curriculum is destined to metastasize and eventually replace all electives, even when studies prove that standard classes “boring-ize” (the more accepted term is “standardize”) an education. The time for revolution is now, and every student is obligated to join in. Well, unless they don’t want to. And I’m not saying it should be a quiet revolution, but I’m not saying it shouldn’t, ya dig?