Unwanted attention

Photos of 18-year-old Allison Stokke are all over the internet, and she doesn’t like it. Did she pose naked for a boyfriend who made the images public? No, Stokke’s conduct was entirely innocent.

The Washington Post is sympathetic to Stokke’s point of view:

In her high school track and field career, Stokke had won a 2004 California state pole vaulting title, broken five national records and earned a scholarship to the University of California, yet only track devotees had noticed. Then, in early May, she received e-mails from friends who warned that a year-old picture of Stokke idly adjusting her hair at a track meet in New York had been plastered across the Internet. …

The wave of attention has steamrolled Stokke and her family in Newport Beach, Calif. She is recognized — and stared at — in coffee shops. She locks her doors and tries not to leave the house alone. Her father, Allan Stokke, comes home from his job as a lawyer and searches the Internet. He reads message boards and tries to pick out potential stalkers.

Here is a montage of images that I found on the internet:

Allison Stokke photos

The photo that created the initial stir is second from the left. It was taken by a journalist and posted on a track and field Web site. Some time later, it was picked up by a sports blog which receives about a million hits per month. The Post writes, “Within days, hundreds of thousands of Internet users had searched for Stokke’s picture and leered.”

But surely that characterization of the public response is excessively negative. Admittedly, some people leered:  the sports blog commented, “Meet pole vaulter Allison Stokke. … Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds.” But some of us — even the males among us — can appreciate the photograph without leering.

Have Stokke and her father overreacted? I’m curious what other people think.

I can see why Allison worries that some disturbed “fan” will track her down and approach her. It’s also important to emphasize that Allison didn’t voluntarily give up her privacy. She isn’t a movie star or a professional athlete making millions of dollars per year from her celebrity. She’s just a high school athlete who participated in public track and field events, without soliciting this kind of attention.

On the other hand, Stokke’s reaction says something about her own temperament:

Stokke read on message boards that dozens of anonymous strangers had turned her picture into the background image on their computers. She felt violated. It was like becoming the victim of a crime, Stokke said. Her body had been stolen and turned into a public commodity.

This is such a negative interpretation. Stokke is receiving the sort of attention that other people actively court, eschewing the risks:

More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would — and yet they seem mysteriously healthy and normal, save for an entirely different definition of privacy. From their perspective, it’s the extreme caution of the earlier generation that’s the narcissistic thing. Or, as Kitty put it to me, “Why not? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Twenty years down the road, someone’s gonna find your picture? Just make sure it’s a great picture.”

And after all, there is another way to look at this shift. Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones. For someone like me, who grew up sealing my diary with a literal lock, this may be tough to accept. But under current circumstances, a defiant belief in holding things close to your chest might not be high-minded. It might be an artifact—quaint and naïve, like a determined faith that virginity keeps ladies pure.

(ht, Shifted Librarian, for the link to the New York Magazine article)

Bottom line, I am sympathetic to Stokke. She didn’t ask for the attention (unlike the youth profiled in NYmag) and no one likes to feel that events are spinning out of their control.

But the attention is positive, except in the minority of cases where it is crudely sexual. Stokke isn’t in the same position as (for example) the chubby teenager doing a Star Wars light saber routine, who became the object of worldwide ridicule.

In Allison’s position, the healthiest response would be to make your peace with all this attention (since you can’t stop it anyway) and look for the upside. Opportunity is knocking at Allison’s door — or so it seems to me. But I’m open to other opinions.

iTunes Adapts

Pressure from open programs has once again won a small but considerable victory over a large corporation. This article points out the new development in the world of the iPod and iTunes: iTunes Plus!

And, I have to admit, it’s a good idea, although I personally am not ready to bother with it. A short summation of the program’s benefit is that it gets rid of the security portion of AAC files, which, in and of itself is a good sign for the industry, as well as being a good thing for people like me, who don’t run an iPod. The iTunes AAC has a built-in encryption that makes it difficult to play it on any player aside from an iPod, as well as limiting the number of computers that have the rights to access the file. iTunes Plus removes these features, making it possible for people like me to simply slip the file on to my memory card and play away!

The other feature that many audiophiles may be interested to see is that the quality limitations are virtually nonexistent in iTunes Plus, with the ability to download songs in AAC format at 256 kbps. Haven’t tried it out yet, personally, but the thought is automatically that that must be pretty darn potent music! When you consider that a 128 kbps AAC is about the same as a 160 Mp3, then it is suggestible that those lovers of truly overwhelming detail in their files will love this change.

Slight changes in the interface make it slightly less appealing visually, as well as the new interface being substantially more difficult to work your way through initially, in my mind (see my screenshot below)… but when these little glitches in the interface are weighed against the advantaged of Plus, it’s hard to think that little things like a slightly less feature-filled interface make much of a difference.

iTunes Plus’ slightly toned-down interface.

How does one go about activating this feature? While I don’t think it’s important, one of the first things an iTunes user may do is to download the newest version of iTunes. This is done easily by clicking the help menu at the top of the screen and moving to the “check for updates” option, as shown below.

Download iTunes 7.2 while you’re getting ready to use Plus!

After the successful update, you can head on in to the iTunes store, where you hit the new “iTunes Plus” button.

Look for the Quick Links on the Right-hand side and hit “iTunes Plus”

And there you have it! The iTunes plus screen should pop up with the option to set it as your default location upon entering the store. The rest of the interface is fairly self-explanatory, although the fewer sections and the lesser emphasis on moving around the new songs and such makes it slightly less suitable for finding those tunes you want and testing new ones, as far as I’m concerned. Have a blast looking through. Oh wait. One last thing you should note:

The price increase! 😉

I mentioned I wasn’t ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. Well, the plain and simple reason is that the songs in the new format are 30 cents more expensive. Piddly amount considering the new features, I admit, but nonetheless when you are going to be buying a dozen songs, that’s a hefty price jump. Rather, I think for now I’ll stick to the use of the regular AACs and the CD burning/ripping capabilities built into iTunes. Burn it on, rip it off in Mp3, and voila! All protection removed.

More important than the new price tag attached to open files, however, is the fact that iTunes is clearly feeling the pressure of other sites that are willing to provide sharable music, as well as file-sharing programs such as Limewire. Because there’s still a higher cost, it would seem the war is not yet won… but the battle has pushed a closed enterprise to the defensive! Let’s hear it for iTunes Plus… and the victory that it represents for the Web 2.0!

Pretty Sweet Table

Watch the movie here to see one of the neatest toys ever!

Oh wait, sorry… pieces of technology. Not toys. Bad Knotwurth!

Firefox Hacks

Ever wondered how to make your Firefox pages load faster? How about taking up less memory? These, and other handy tricks, can be found here, although admittedly the task is not quite as simple as it sounds. But, changing the registry isn’t as difficult as it sounds! Just make sure to follow the instructions on this page to the letter and you’re golden!

Yet another reason why open-source programs whoop Microsoft any day! 😉

A new, neuroscientific window on ethics

Aaron called this Washington Post article to my attention:

Neuroscientists are using brain imaging and psychological experiments to study whether the brain has a built-in moral compass.

Neuroscientists scanned the brains of volunteers as they were asked to consider a scenario:  should they donate a sum of money to charity or keep it for themselves?

When the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

What does the research reveal about ethical dilemmas? They manifest as competing centres of electrical activity in the brain. According to Joshua D. Greene, a Harvard neuroscientist and philosopher,

simple moral decisions — is killing a child right or wrong? — are simple because they activate a straightforward brain response. Difficult moral decisions, by contrast, activate multiple brain regions that conflict with one another, he said.

But what does that mean? Is the electrical activity the origin of moral confusion, or a consequence of moral confusion that originates elsewhere? In effect, the article argues that what we call “conscience” reduces to a physiological process. Guilt feelings reduce to two conflicting physiological responses.

Theists regard the human conscience as something separate from and prior to those physiological responses. I don’t see how the brain scans constitute evidence to the contrary.

Experiments with other animals arguably present more of a challenge to the theistic account of conscience.

According to the article, if morality is hard-wired in the brain, it is “most likely the result of evolutionary processes that began in other species.” For example,

one experiment found that if each time a rat is given food, its neighbor receives an electric shock, the first rat will eventually forgo eating.

Joshua Greene maintains that morality is “handed up”:  i.e., an outgrowth of the brain’s basic propensities. Theists regard morality as “handed down” — conscience as a God-given faculty.

Does the rat illustration count against the theistic account, suggesting that naturalistic evolutionary processes led to the development of conscience and morals? Does the research prove that morals are “not a superior moral faculty” bestowed by God on human beings, one of the characteristics that sets us apart from other animals?

One more interesting observation from the article, plus a question of my own:

  • The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy (being able to recognize — even experience vicariously — what another creature is going through).
  • Don’t these experiments imply a (limited) universal morality of the sort that moral relativists deny?

Wedding Stuff… a week late!

So, I’ve been slogging away at improving my hockey blog blog throughout the week, but that’s not to say that life does not go on! A full week ago now (Wow! Time really flies!!!) my father and his long-time partner finally decided to tie the knot. The ceremony took place in Patty’s Pub on Bank street, and the environment was surprisingly suitable to the level of ceremony that they had.

That’s not to say it wasn’t classy, however. It’s just that there was a lack of “uptightness”, which was nice! The casual air of the pub along with the dressy suits was kind of comical at first, but the more everyone settled into their natural roles, and the more it became clear that this truly suited the bride and groom and their entourage!

Below is a Picasa slideshow… it’s a new feature offered by Picasa that lets you embed the actual show instead of just the individual pictures. It’s experimental, and I’m not sure how I’ll like it. It’s certainly different, so let me know your thoughts on whether I should continue using it!

The Te of Jesus

Older than Taoism is the idea that pride invites a fall, that the axe falls first on the tallest tree. But it was Taoism that first welded these ideas together into a system in which the unassertive, the inconspicuous, the lowly, the imperfect, the incomplete become symbols of the Primal Stuff that underlies the kaleidoscope of the apparent universe.

It is as representatives of the “imperfect” and the “incomplete” that hunchbacks and cripples play so large a part in Taoist literature. To be perfect is to invite diminution; to climb is to invite a fall. Tao, like water, “takes the low ground”. … Water, as the emblem of the unassertive, and the “low ground”, as the home of water, become favourite images.1

Since I enjoyed The Tao of Pooh, I decided to read Benjamin Hoff’s other little book, The Te of Piglet, as well.

Te of Piglet coverTe is a Chinese word meaning “power” or “virtue”. As a Taoist principle, te suggests that the small (e.g. Piglet) are paradoxically more powerful than the big. This is the ideal described in the Arthur Waley quote at the head of this post, which holds up the unassertive, the inconspicuous, and the imperfect as those who possess the Tao in greatest measure.

Christian readers will recognize immediately that this principle is a point of correspondence between Taoism and the Gospel. According to the Tao Te Ching, “The wise may become great by becoming small”; according to Jesus, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Benjamin Hoff holds up Piglet as an example of te:

“What happens when the Heffalump comes?” asked Piglet tremblingly….

“Perhaps he won’t notice you, Piglet,” said Pooh encouragingly, “because you’re a Very Small Animal.”

But Piglet, despite his small size, later emerges as a hero. (Owl’s house topples over one Blustery Day, with Owl, Pooh, and Piglet trapped inside. It is Piglet who squeezes out through the letter slot to obtain help.)

We might similarly speak of the te of Jesus, who is described as meek and lowly:  lowly insofar as he was born into an inconsequential family; meek insofar as his submission to the will of God was perfect — as was his submission to the cruelty of those who executed him.

Personally, I find the parallels between Taoism and Christianity fascinating. I have added a selection of quotes from Taoist literature to my sidebar. And here, for those who are interested, are some more conceptual parallels:

1. Non-resistance:

Tao Te Ching2
Do not conquer the world with force, for force only causes resistance. … Yield and prevail. … Nothing in the world is more yielding and gentle than water. Yet it has no equal for conquering the resistant and the tough. The flexible can overcome the unbending; the soft can overcome the hard.

New Testament3
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. … You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Repay no one evil for evil. … Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

2. Non-violence:

Tao Te Ching
The violent die violently — that is the foundation of my teaching.

New Testament
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

3. Humility:

Tao Te Ching
Displaying self-righteousness, one reveals vanity. Praising the self, one earns no respect. Exaggerating achievements, one cannot long endure.

New Testament
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

4. Contentment / Anxiety:

Ko Hung
The contented man stays in a small cottage and associates with the simple. He would not exchange his worn clothes for the imperial robes, nor the load on his back for a four-horse carriage. … To him the ten thousand possessions are dust in the wind. … He acts in true freedom. What can competition for honors mean to him? What attraction can anxiety and greed possibly hold? Through simplicity he has Tao, and from Tao, everything. … When he looks up, it is not in envy. When he looks down, it is not with arrogance.

New Testament
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow.

5. Social reversal:

Tao Te Ching
Know the masculine, but keep to the feminine. … Return to the infant state.

New Testament
There is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” … [He answered], “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

6. Servant leadership:

Tao Te Ching
Why is the sea the king of ten thousand streams? Because it lies beneath them. Therefore, if the great man would rule the people, he must put himself below them. If he would lead them, he must put himself behind them. Then they will neither feel oppressed by his weight nor threatened by his prominence. The world will delight in pushing him forward, and will never tire of him.

The great man does not strive against others, so others do not contend with him. The ancients said, “Yield and prevail.” Is that a worthless saying? Put it into practice, and all things will come to you.

New Testament
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name….


1Arthur Waley, The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thought, p. 56.

2Quotations from Taoist texts are the translations of Benjamin Hoff in The Te of Piglet.

3New Testament quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.

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