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Retarded metadata

My brother and I bought a used boat this winter — fifteen feet of leaky fiberglass, with a 90 horsepower motor that assumes that 15 of the horses in harness are dead and being dragged by the others — so I went downtown to register it with the authorities. If you have assembled the right set of treasure hunt collectibles, including a hand-rubbing of the vehicle identification plate, it all goes smoothly. But…

One of the checkboxes on the registration form asks if I’m “retarded.” I thought we were done lumping the various ways our intelligences fail us into that particular bucket, but I also wondered whether the state had minimum intelligence requirements for boat ownership. No, said the state employee on the other side of the counter. They also provide hunting licenses at the boat registration offices, and to get a permit that lets you carry a gun, the state does want to know if you’re “retarded.” They only have the one form, so they have collect the information for boat owners as well.

Inevitably, we read backwards from the metadata that’s asked of us. Had the form asked for prior felony convictions, known allergies or political party affiliation, we would have tried to make sense of the intentions behind the form. Requests for metadata are expressive. Which is one good reason you should bother to print up separate damn forms for boat owners and hunters.

What do the two have in common anyway, except that they both show up jutting their manly jaws forward in outdoor-wear catalogs? [Tags: ]

7 Responses to “Retarded metadata”

  1. Perhaps you shouldn’t discount the possibility that the metadata request is actually a communication to you?

    “Retarded? Y/N” might actually mean “Clearly you are not retarded, but in order to save the expense of wasteful litigation by either of us, this question brings to your attention the matter of our unassailable defense against it, vis the fact that we do indeed take precautions to protect you against harm by preventing alleged retards to enjoy control of dangerous vehicles or weapons.”

    In other words, it matters not that retards will also answer ‘No’. The point is that a precaution against retarded use is taken – despite its complete ineffectiveness.

    Just as US immigration forms ask “Are you a terrorist? Y/N”

  2. OK, you know I’m trying to quit my concern over the (mis)uses of the word “metadata,” but:

    If the fields that you fill-out / check on a form aren’t collecting the stuff that we call “data,” is “data” a useful word for refering to data in any context, any longer?

  3. “Cultivate and practise the arts.”

    PS: That is a command, not a request.

  4. are you retarded if you can’t spell boat? ;) I’m just boggling at “they only have the one form” I’m dying to go register a boat in MA now so I can make a big federal case out of this.

  5. What I don’t understand: Is being retarded a prerequisite to being a hunter in the US? ;-)

  6. Jay, I acknowledge I am a “metadata” abuser and appreciate your keeping me on the straight and narrow. But, in this case, isn’t the label “retarded” metadata indicating the data they want to collect?

  7. “isn’t the label ‘retarded’ metadata indicating the data they want to collect?”

    Specifically: maybe–it depends on whether or not they have a system that uses the questions / label data as metadata. But, generally, it’s fair to assume that they have such a system. So, yes!: each form question / label can be called metadata!

    It had actually crossed my mind that you were refering to the form labels, but I posted my comment because of the phrases you wrote that seemed to refer to what one entered in the form, like:

    “we read backwards from the metadata that’s asked of us”


    “Requests for metadata are expressive”

    But, ok, it all makes more sense now.

    New question: is this an issue with metadata or with labels / questions? E.g., the phrase above could be restated:

    “we read backwards from the questions on the form”

    We do.

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