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Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

Stanisław Barańczak’s “This Is Not a Conversation for the Telephone”

January 5, 2015 | by


Barańczak in a photo from Ostatni wiersz z Widokówki z tego świata, 1988.

I’ve been thinking today of Stanisław Barańczak, the Polish poet and translator who died last month at sixty-eight. He was known for flouting state censors with poems that mocked the euphemistic language of communism, and his work was seditious enough that in the seventies he was barred from publishing in Poland, though he continued to publish underground. By the early eighties, his politics had cost him his job as a professor in Poznan, and he decamped to the U.S. to lecture at Harvard. In a famous speech he likened life as a dissident to breathing underwater, with a nod to a science-fiction story by Stanisław Lem:

Bubbling sounds were the only acceptable means of communication, the official propaganda emphasized the advantages of being wet, and occasional breathing above water was considered almost a political offense—although everyone had to do it from time to time …

I wonder what Barańczak would’ve made of the new PEN International report, published this morning, on writers and government surveillance. It suggests that free expression around the world—even in the U.S., where what we’ve come to call “content producers” aren’t in the habit of fearing violence from the state—is in some ways more embattled now than it’s been since the Cold War.

It’s worth reading the report in full, though it will make you gnash your teeth and hurl invective at various institutions, chiefly the NSA. (And why shouldn’t you? You’ve already got their ear.) PEN International polled 772 writers from fifty countries, with some classified as “free,” some as “partly free,” and some “not free.” But those gradations hardly matter, it seems, when it comes to freedom of expression. Of the respondents, 75 percent in free countries, 84 percent in partly free countries, and 80 percent in not free countries said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about surveillance. Some were so worried that they were afraid to say how worried they were:

As a final indication of the way the current “surveillance crisis” affects and haunts us, I should say that I have had serious misgivings about whether to write the above and include it in this questionnaire. It is clear to me from the information I have given you that my responses to the questionnaire, and presumably also therefore this statement, can be traced back to me. It may be that this information will be hacked by security agencies. Surely anyone who thinks thoughts like these will be in danger—if not today, then (because this is a process) possibly tomorrow.

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The World’s Tiniest Comic Strip, and Other News

May 15, 2014 | by

hair comic

Detail from “Juana Knits the Planet,” a comic strip etched onto a single strand of human hair by the artist Claudia Puhlfürst. Image via Beautiful/Decay

  • St. Marks Bookshop has signed a lease on a new location: 136 East Third Street, near Avenue A. The plan is to move sometime this fall; “the owners are exploring a transition to nonprofit status.”
  • Philip Roth gave a talk at Yaddo yesterday—it will probably be his last. “After he gave a reading at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, Roth insisted that it was ‘absolutely the last appearance’ … Roth did not refer to those remarks on Wednesday. But when the Associated Press emailed his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, and asked whether Roth had given his last public talk, Wylie responded, ‘That’s his last.’”
  • The smallest comic strip in the world has been laser-etched onto a single strand of human hair.
  • A thought on International Conscientious Objectors’ day: “It occurred to me that conscientious objectors are underrepresented in the literature of war. There are many references to conscience: to soldiers who signed up but later doubted the rightness of the cause and to deserters, to those who were, by our standards, wrongly accused of cowardice. But references to actual conchies, as they were (not always affectionately) known, are thin on the ground.”
  • How does a work of art come to be considered great? The latest research in canon formation suggests that the “mere-exposure effect” and cumulative advantage play a larger role than intrinsic quality.
  • To the NSA’s growing list of offenses, we can now add “hideously outmoded graphic design, especially in PowerPoint presentations.”



Edgar Allan Ho, and Other News

October 31, 2013 | by


  • This would either confuse an alien who had just set foot on Earth, or maybe explain everything: the NSA haiku generator.
  • Along similar lines: Edgar Allan Ho, which BoingBoing has anointed Best Sexy Costume 2013. (As the creator of the admittedly theoretical Sexy Struwwelpeter, I respectfully disagree.)
  • The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Novel comes to Kickstarter.
  • According to the Common Core guidelines, The Hunger Games is more complex than The Grapes of Wrath. (But, plotwise, it sort of is, no?)


    The Knight’s Tale, and Other News

    June 12, 2013 | by