computers into shivs
Monday, October 22 2007
Today I would be attending a meeting up in Albany as part of my new job as technology consultant for the Bard Prison Init!ative. I'd be leaving from Bard with Max, the founder and visionary of the program, so I caught a ride to Bard with Gretchen, since she would be teaching a class there today. She showed me her office, introduced me to various people, and then we went to the faculty cafeteria for coffee (which proved to be shockingly bad, though the atmosphere there was very pleasant and collegiate). Since today's meeting would be a strictly professional one, I'd dressed up a bit and, what with my long hair and brown corduroy jacket, looked like just another liberal arts professor, a thing with which Bard is lousy.
Just before class Gretchen and I stood at the end of a hallway looking down at the Bard students streaming in through a door. She pointed out how carefully the young women were dressed and how this contrasted with the young men, nearly all of whom seemed content to appear in public wearing jeans and teeshirts.
The ride up to Albany took a little less than an hour. Our destination was a squat grey building behind an anonymous parking lot in Albany's least-lovely fringe. It was the perfect location for New York State's correctional system's administration offices. We signed in and found our way down a hall to the meeting, a cramped room with an enormous table around which a dozen or so people would eventually be seated. The people we'd be meeting with were various tech people from two different prisons, the head of New York State's prison educational department, and various others. Strangely, our table had been covered with a cheap plastic tablecloth decorated in a harvest motif, the kind used when setting up a spread of vittles for a children's Thanksgiving party.
I won't bore you with the details, since these details would interest no one. Suffice it to say that Max and I had come with the idea that technology (in the form of new computer labs connected to massive stand-alone databases of academic articles and other documents) would increase the intellectual freedom and the academic quality of the classes offered through the Prison Init!ative. For the others in the room, the concern was the exact opposite. Might the huge database of Bard documents and journal articles contain material of salacious interest to a pedophile? Or might they include references to the Art of War (contraband in the New York State prison system)? Was there any way to pre-filter or monitor this content? And wouldn't it be a disaster if the prisoner students could just print this material out at will, take it back to their cell, and use it to "get their jollies"? Some in the room, not really understanding how academic research works, wondered if perhaps students could be restricted to accessing just documents pre-approved for their specific class. Other concerns were with regard to what could be done with the computer hardware, up to and including the bits of loose plastic or metal which could be removed and honed into a shiv. But in the end, despite all these concerns, it was clear that Max was going to get to have his computer labs with his databases anyway. Obviously the go-ahead had already happened at a much higher level and this meeting had been provided so everyone could raise their concerns. Unfortunately, though, it now seemed likely that policies concerning the use of printers were going to be much more restrictive than had been initially hoped.
It had been a soul-sucking meeting, so on the ride home we mostly talked about politics instead. Who can stop Hillary? Is there anyone on this planet more useless than Barack Obama? Is Chris Dodd as worthy as his leadership fighting the FISA bill implies? And what exactly is Joe Lieberman hoping for? Max thinks Joe is angling to run as a vice presidential candidate with Giuliani or whatever fascist Neanderthal wins the Republican nomination to form a sham "unity" ticket. "Al Gore created a monster," he added.
Max was going to drop me off at the traffic circle but then decided to come with me to Picnic Pizza for a couple of slices, and Gretchen met us there to pick me up.
Gretchen had also brought the dogs, so before we drove home we walked back behind the Holiday Inn along the Esopus, back to the edge of a field (41.941259 N, 74.030868 W) where a huge billboard advertising Woodstock Harley Davidson stood. From the back it looked like it might actually be an abandoned drive-in movie screen, which it might have once been. Beyond the sign and the field, perhaps 600 feet away, was the NY Thruway. I found it a little startling to see how abruptly Kingston ended.
Meanwhile Eleanor had discovered the delicious rib cage of some smallish animal under the bushes at the edge of the Holiday Inn Parking lot.
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