• There’s an old urban legend called “the water engine,” which tells of the discovery of a way to turn water into fuel. There are variations to the story – sometimes it’s tap water, sometimes sea water; in recent versions it’s specified the fuel is nonpolluting – but the ending is always the same: the invention is suppressed by the oil companies, either by buying the invention and burying it or by forcing the inventor into ruin and suicide.

  • Since at least the days of Birth of a Nation (1915), Hollywood has turned to history for material. A quick survey of this year’s Academy Award nominations shows that this is as true now as ever, with five out of the nine nominees for Best Picture – Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and odds-on favourite Lincoln – based in history in some way. Their approaches vary, of course, with the history-as-backdrop approach of Les Miserables, the revenge fantasy of Django Unchained, the academic character study of Lincoln, the docudrama of Zero Dark Thirty and the history-as-thriller of Argo.

  • Like it or not, if you use the Internet you have an online identity. Some people call this your “brand.” What’s a brand?

  • The new movie Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the story of the tracking and eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden, has received several Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), but it’s attracting another kind of attention as well: several writers, including Jane Meyer at The New Yorker and Peter Maass at The Atlantic, have accused it of condoning or even glorifying the use of torture by US intelligence agencies.

  • Despite what many adults believe privacy matters to youth. More and more, though, youth are finding that their actions online are monitored – by parents, teachers, and corporations. A high school principal creates a fake Facebook profile page and adds over 300 of her school’s students as friends; a Texas middle-school plans to introduce ID cards with microchips that its students will be required to carry at all times; an Indiana high school student is expelled after a profane tweet (sent in the middle of the night from the student’s home computer) alerts his school’s monitoring system.

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