Google and Gaming, the Navy’s E-Reader, and the Original Meaning of Cultural Appropriation


What’s on the Navy’s secure e-reader? Robinson Crusoe and The Odyssey. Also: Tina Fey’s Bossypants. “Commercially available e-readers are not suitable for the submarines of the United States navy because of various security and technology issues. But sailors like to read and there is limited storage for books, so the solution is the Navy e-Reader Device – known rather unfortunately as the NeRD – produced in conjunction with audiobook technology specialists Findaway. Each submarine has five NeRDs, produced at a cost of $3,000 each, and with familiar basic features such as adjustable typefaces and sizes, as well as a carrying case. Every NeRD can hold around 300 books but has no internet on the move capability, no camera and no removable storage.”

Is Google getting into gaming? “Over the past few months—most notably, and most recently, on the gaming site Kotaku—rumors have been circulating that the search giant is working on a multi-pronged games initiative that would involve both hardware and a streaming platform, codenamed ‘Yeti.’”

The phrase “cultural appropriation” used to make sense. Not anymore: “Originally derived from sociologists writing in the 1990s, its usage appears to have first been adopted by indigenous peoples of nations tainted by histories of colonization, such as Canada, Australia and the United States. Understandably, indigenous communities have been protective of their sacred objects and cultural artifacts, not wishing the experience of exploitation to be repeated generation after generation. Although one might be quizzical of complaints about a girl wearing a cheongsam to her prom (the United States has never colonized China) even the most tough-minded skeptic should be able to see why indigenous peoples who have historically had their land and territories taken away from them might be unwilling to ‘share their culture’ unconditionally. Particularly when it is applied to the co-opting of a people’s sacred and religious iconography for the base purposes of profit-making, the concept of cultural appropriation seems quite reasonable. Nevertheless, the concept quickly becomes baffling when young Westerners, such as Mr. Lam, of the cheongsam tweet, use the term as a weapon to disrupt the natural process of cultural exchange that happens in cosmopolitan societies in which culture is, thankfully, hybrid. When controversies erupt over hoop earrings or sombrero hats or sushi or braids or cannabis-themed parties, the concept of cultural appropriation appears to have departed from its formerly understood meaning—that is, to protect sacred or religious objects from desecration and exploitation. It appears that these newer, more trivial (yet vicious) complaints are the modern-day incarnation of sumptuary laws.”

The Times Literary Supplement has started a map of writers’ homes. Check it out here and email them with updates.

Ugh: “Is it mere coincidence or the beginning of a trend? First, former president Bill Clinton co-writes a potboiler (with some guy named James Patterson) about an embattled Democratic president with a kick-ass résumé (Army Ranger, POW, minor-league baseball player and loving single dad) who saves the United States from annihilation. Now, former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden have been reimagined as a dynamic detective duo in a thriller about the opioid epidemic called Hope Never Dies.”

Stolen W. B. Yeats letters returned to Princeton: “John Kelly, who has spent decades tracking down thousands of Yeats’s letters, discovered the collection as he was concluding research for the latest volume of his work on the Irish poet and dramatist. Kelly was browsing the catalogue of Princeton University Library, where he had pored over Yeats’s holdings some years earlier, when he spotted a file of 17 letters to the poet’s publisher he had not seen before. He discovered from the librarian it had been stolen in the 1970s, disappearing without trace until it turned up recently, delivered anonymously in a brown package.”

An interview with the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Essay of the Day:

Is it best to place foster children with extended family? Maybe not argues Naomi Schaefer Riley in National Affairs:

“The decades-long debate over kinship care in America seems to have been settled. The once-prevalent belief that only the most caring, stable families should be prioritized as placement options for foster children has been replaced with the assumption that relatives of foster children should always be looked to for assistance first.

“This might appear sensible; for most of human history, the preference for keeping children with extended family need hardly have been articulated. Yet in many cases, the results of placing children with their kin have been mixed at best. Often, such placements exacerbate the problems that foster-care policies are meant to correct.

“To better answer the question of whether prioritizing kinship care is preferable to other methods of determining foster-care placements, it will be useful to assess how we got here, to grasp the role that racial considerations have played in the rise of kinship care, and to appreciate the costs as well as the benefits involved. In some important respects, the turn to kinship care is a return to prior norms, but with some consequential differences.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Supercell

Poem: John Foy, “The Payment Plan”

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