Writing

TechPresident: The Uncertain Future of India’s Plan to Biometrically Identify Everyone

Last Sunday an 11-year-old boy in Andhra Pradesh, a state in southeast India, hung himself from a ceiling fan as his family slept. He was allegedly driven to this act after being denied an Aadhaar card—formally known as Unique Identification (UID)—which he was told he needed to attend school. The card is one arm of India’s sprawling scheme to collect the biometric data, including fingerprints and iris scans, of its 1.2 billion citizens and residents, and is quickly becoming practically, if not legally, mandatory, for nearly every aspect of life, from getting married to buying cooking gas to opening a bank account. More than 630 million residents have already enrolled and received their unique 12-digit identification number.

Since its launch in 2010, people have raised a number of questions and concerns about Aadhaar, citing its effects on privacy rights, potential security flaws, and failures in functionality. India’s poor, who were supposed to be the biggest beneficiaries of the program, are actually most at risk of being excluded from UID, and there is no evidence that biometric identification has curtailed corruption. The newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi lambasted the UID program as a candidate but in July did an about-face, calling for the enrollment process to be expedited and supporting a UID-linked social assistance program. In all likelihood, the world’s largest experiment in biometric identification will continue. Read more…

The L Magazine: A Long-Lost Hitchcock Film Resurfaces

It could have been lost forever, buried under layers of grime and rust with the nondescript title Twin Sisters. Instead, Leslie Anne Lewis of the National Film Preservation Foundation (described as a “nitrate sleuth”—whatever that is!) took note of two remarkable stills as they passed over her light table: a close-up of a hand of cards, and a portrait-like shot of a woman framed by smoke. Struck by the artistry of the two frames, Lewis began an investigation into the remaining reels. Knowing the names of the two stars, Betty Compson and Clive Brook, and Selznick, the American distributor, was enough information to deduce what she had: 1924’s The White Shadow—one of the first films bearing the name of Alfred Hitchcock. Read more…

The L Magazine: The Normals: Side Effects May Include Being a Jerk

Billy Schine (Bryan Greenburg) is the ginger-bearded hero of this attempt to capture one man’s experience as a participant in a two-week trial of an antipsychotic drug. He joins fellow green-clad “normals” Gretchen (Jess Weixler), Rodney (Reg E. Cathey), and Lannigan (Frederick Weller) at a secluded testing facility. (They filmed it at Creedmore, an abandoned mental hospital in Queens.) He begins the trial cheerily enough, chatting up the nurse, doctor, and blood technician during processing, much to their institutional irritation. But things take a slow, confusing turn in the dark and bizarre second half of the film. Read more…

The L Magazine: Going Guerilla With the Founder of Williamsburg’s Street Museum of Art

Yet another museum has arrived in Brooklyn, only this one claims to be unlike all those that came before. The Street Museum of Art (SMoA) is completely free, open at all hours and publicly curated (one might say crowdsourced). If you live or work in Williamsburg you might already have stumbled across some of the exhibition, which launched 6 weeks ago, although parts of it have already been dismantled and replaced because the streets don’t have security guards. SMoA’s online description has the intriguing words “guerrilla” and “illegally” in the online description, so of course we had to find out more.

The Founder and Director agreed to an interview but only via email in order to safeguard his or her anonymity. Read more…

Brooklyn Magazine: Parrots And Guide: One Of The Last Unadulterated Quirks of Brooklyn?

In the 1970s a group of Argentinian exiles escaped captivity at JFK airport. They settled down in Brooklyn, built homes from scratch and started families. I speak, of course, of the elusive Wild Quaker Parrots, also known as the Monk Parrot.

Once a month, Steve Baldwin leads a group of bird-watchers and curiosity-seekers on a Wild Quaker Parrot Safari near Brooklyn College. I joined him on his most recent expedition, and the parrots were a riot—the guide even more so. Read more…