Ever wanted to thwart those increasingly pervasive Big Brother surveillance cameras? Worried that thieves or retail stores (or both!) are using high-tech gadgetry to collect data from your cell phone, iPad, or credit cards while you shop? Consult the Sentient City Survival Kit blog (survival. sentientcity.net/blog) for tips and products aimed at retaining some modicum of privacy and anonymity in the wired age.
You can don underwear wired to alert you when you're bombarded with radio waves, carry an umbrella embedded with infrared LEDs designed to confuse closed-circuit cameras, or sip from a travel coffee mug that, when combined with similar mugs toted by trusted confederates, can establish your own off-grid Wi-Fi network.
The blog is an offshoot of Toward the Sentient City, an exhibit by architect and artist Mark Shepard that ran in late 2009 at the Urban Center in New York. The exhibit "critically explored the evolving relationship between ubiquitous computing, architecture and urban space."—Radley Balko
Anarchy in the USA
The FX television series Sons of Anarchy entered its third season in September. The crime drama stars Charlie Hunnam as Jackson "Jax" Teller, vice president of the Sons of Anarchy, an outlaw motorcycle club whose violent exploits are loosely based on those of the Hells Angels.
Despite its title, the show doesn't deal with anarchist ideas. But abusive government officials do loom large. The first season featured a rogue federal agent who stalked and assaulted Teller's girlfriend. Season 3 opened with Teller's mother Gemma, played by former Married With Children star Katey Sagal, on the run after being framed for murder by a lawless FBI agent. Meanwhile, the Sons have grown so powerful that they've essentially taken over law enforcement in their California hometown.
Like The Godfather, Sons of Anarchy examines the business of organized crime, focusing on the club's gun running, drug dealing, and brief foray into adult filmmaking. It's a compelling world with heroes and villains on both sides of the law.—Damon Root
William Gibson, the novelist who coined the term cyberspace in a 1982 short story, has been hailed as an Internet-age prophet. His early work so thoroughly built the linguistic landscape of the digital era that he finally gave up science fiction to write contemporary novels. The future had caught up with his ideas.
Frequently overlooked is Gibson's penchant for describing societies driven by the dual forces of mass commerce and individual aesthetics. He didn't merely predict a world in which everyone was online. He also foresaw one in which everybody had something to sell.
Gibson's newest book, Zero History, is a high-tech thriller constructed out of information-age detritus: secretive social networking, obscure couture, high-end marketing firms, and military contracts. Gibson's present, like his future, is in the details. When he describes the traits of a professional trend spotter, he could be describing himself: "The ability to distinguish one thing from another. The eye for detail. And knowing where to sell it."—Peter Suderman
Civic Art Theft
When Albert C. Barnes died in 1951, he bequeathed his art collection, which includes 180 Renoirs and is estimated to be worth $30 billion, to a foundation, on the condition that it become a resource for students, not a museum for the public. The Philadelphia authorities then conspired to break the will and bring the collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which Barnes despised.
The villains of The Art of the Steal, director Don Argott's polemical documentary charting the fate of Barnes' collection, are fairly easy to spot. When viewers are introduced to Walter Annenberg, the late owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer and an outspoken advocate of opening the collection to the public, the music turns foreboding and the narrator announces that Annenberg was a Republican friendly with the Reagans.
Yet the film is essentially a vigorous defense of private property rights against Philadelphia's government. Argott has unwittingly made a libertarian documentary.—Michael C. Moynihan
An Aerobic Remix
Years before YouTube, rogue editors were creating collages of curious found footage and calling the results video mixtapes. Fans prized these semilegal movies both for the odd moments that composed them and for the ways those moments were cut up and juxtaposed for horrific or comic effect.
Derrick Beckles has been producing TV Carnage, a series of satiric mixtapes, since 1996. His most recent effort, Let's Work It Out, scrambles years of home fitness programs and related material, mostly from the 1980s, into a cabinet of wonders—a free-associative workout tape populated with refugees from the worlds of sports, soaps, sitcoms, Scientology, and porn.
Many themes emerge in the DVD, but Beckles is especially interested in the sexual side of the source material: the voyeuristic vibe that sometimes bubbles just under the surface and sometimes is acknowledged overtly. Not that anything can be very erotic with all that '80s hair in the frame.—Jesse Walker