Tuesday, August 31, 2004

10 Reasons to Vote Dem

The Village Voice:

When this attacked city was selected to host the convention way back in January 2003, Bush might have believed he'd come here as a hero, with bin Laden's head in tow, a new tower rising, $20 billion in thank-you's awaiting, and a landslide on the way, beginning in NY. Instead, along the same westside route where Bush was cheered lustily on September 14, 2001, protesters may gather by the hundreds of thousands, a revolution in receptions marking the ugly shift in national spirit that's infected Bush's years. A president who came then to our battlefield as a unifier is returning as a user—turning our city into a carnival rationale for his war and re-election.

Read about The 10 Ways Bush Screwed New York.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Live (Via Satelite) Protest Blogging

I'm not in New York. I have Grad School starting tomorrow and besides it's really hot out there today.

But flipping through the channels on this Sunday afternoon, I came across C SPAN's live coverage of the protesters in New York (you know, all those bomb throwing Anarchists we're supposed to be so afraid about). I haven't seen a wide shot yet... Oh, there's one. Wow. That's a lot of people. It's hard to judge crowds but that looks like several thousand. How many protesters marched at the Democratic convention in Boston? Not nearly this many and they aren't rounded up behind razor wire fences. Yet.

But I understand how the Republicans might be scared about violence. I mean, I just saw two of the scariest looking elderly people pass the camera. They looked like they were hiding Molotov cocktails in their fanny packs. Seriously though, this is pretty peaceful protest. I guess the fear-mongering is just that: BushCo. trying to scare the crap out of Ma and Pa Kent, who might have heard about those unruly Anarchists congregating in New York City, trying to undermine the Republicans undermining of our Democracy.

Ooh! Security! Search that Woman with the fiddle! There's probably a machine gun concealed inside!... OK, Not very likely.

I think my favorite sign so far is the one with the red elephant shitting bombs. That's a vivid image, one that sums things up nicely, I think.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 15

Christian writes:

Athens, Greece - August 24, 2004

That's right. I am currently in Greece spending my first R&R and hitting the Olympics. I left Baghdad for Kuwait last Friday and arrived in Athens Saturday morning. Although I have been enjoying my work there, it is certainly good to take a break. Before I left, things were coming to a head with Sadr and the situation was getting tense. Now, it seems so far away although I will be back soon enough.

Presently, I am visiting close friends from my graduate school days at Carnegie Mellon. It is a great joy to relate to good friends in person the adventures I have been having. One of my friends, Alejandro, just arrived from Kabul where he is working with the UN to reestablish the customs services. There are vast differences between our work and the respective situations but there are also tremendous similarities! For instance, both operations face the challenge of dealing with multiple stakeholders and competing claims of interest. Additionally, we also both face the fact of dealing with governments that are very limited in their control of their respective countries. It also seems that the creation of the both governments is a similar process. In Afghanistan, they held the Loya Jirga. In Iraq, we recently held the National Conference. Both bodies were made up of a large number of representatives from throughout the country and both were responsible for providing legitimacy to the present government. Both governments face the challenge of insurgents and armed groups unwilling to take part in the political process. Although Iraq has dominated the news for the last year, we cannot forget Afghanistan. Failure there will have consequences for Iraq and likewise the other way round.

Read the rest.

A Night at the Movies

Last night, I saw Hero. It's a briliant, moving and superbly done Martial Arts Opera. But for the love of Lao Tzu, it's not a Kung Fu movie! I would have thought people would have learned this lesson from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: that when you see the preview of Jet Li flying slowly throught he air, sword dancing, this means that it's going to be operatic, not action/adventure. So, all you jackasses last night who snickered at the melodramatic love story and were bored by the philosophy, take a hint. I've sat through two of these movies with you uncultured swine and I'm not doing it a third time. So in two or three years, when another Martial Arts Opera comes out and you think it looks like a cool kung Fu movie, just stay home and watch Jessica Simpson make a fool of herself on MTV. If she isn't divorced and in rehab by then.

Update: I just spoke with my wife, who also went to see Hero last night and she had the same experience. I think this disrepectful, swinish attitude relates to al arger issue, one we've all seen in politics and in the media lately, That willful ignorence and disdain that the gung ho, Love It or Leave It crowd has towards anyone who tries to appreciate something forign and different. The attitude that says being respectful of other cultures is Un-American (and don't even think about trying to understand root causes in terrorist actions. That's fucking treasonous). And we wonder why no one likes us. Or, sadly, we as a country don't but I do.

From now on, whenever I travel overseas I'm telling people I'm Canadian.

Update: The Missing Monkey

Following up on a post from earlier in the week re: the Victorian sex ed manual for children: My wife e-mailed a friend of ours who works at the Library of Congress, asking about their copy of Sammy Tubbs, the Boy Doctor, and Sponsie, the Troublesome Monkey, only to find that alas, their copy was recently stolen.

Stealing books from Libraries is wrong, kids. I don't care if you steel books from Barnes & Noble or Waldenbooks, after all they're corporations and probably deserve it. But libraries, especially the Library of Congress are valuble institutions, promoting literacy and the free spread of knowledge. And they don't have a very large budget. So if you stole this book, please return it. Just slide it in the book return slot or leave it wrapped in paper on the front steps in the middle of the night. Heck, if you just walked in and handed it to the first librarian you came across, I doubt they'd even care that you stole it, so happy would they be to have their book back.

Fear of an Open Source World

One of the first things we learn in Librarian School is that, when doing reference work, always make sure to consult a reliable source. But how do we know a source is reliable and authoritative? That's the big Existential question that haunts many a reference librarian. After all, their is no simple way to determine a resources authenticity. God does not come down from the mountaintop with a little rubber stamp and declare every worthy almanac, journal, encyclopedia or thesaurus "Authoritative" and cast the rest into burning pits of doubt. The only way to find the holy grail of authoritative resources is by doing research (usually with some metaresource designed to verify authenticity, which in turn requires consulting a meta-metaresource and so on) or, as is most often the case, simply using a resource that others find useful. This is really what determines a resources authoritativeness: weather or not you can turn to it repeatedly and get the same accurate results.

E-reference takes this authoritative uncertainty to a whole new sphere of paranoia. No online resource has been around long enough yet for their to be any way to gage its authoritativeness beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sure, The Oxford English Dictionary is online, as is Bartleby's full line of reference works, including the Columbia Encyclopedia. These are wonderful sources, full of much poured over articles, all of them vetted to the highest standards. They aren't complete though. They have holes, sometimes very large ones, especially when it comes to evolving social trends in popular culture or technology1. By the time the article is written, verified and posted, the subject has ceased to be relevant and is now something that happened, back then. That is simply the nature of our wired world. Which is why Wikipedia has become such a valuable resource. It's a free, open source encyclopedia, which means that anyone can write an entry. The genius of this is that instead of having a few specialized lexicographers and researchers (who are often out of touch, being academics and not all that comfortable with this whole computer thing), Wikipedia has at their disposal the potential knowledge of everyone on the web. Facts can be checked by numerous sources, notes compared and articles on cutting edge topics written, posted and updated within hours, instead of months.

However, the entrenched Authoritarians among us are shocked and dismayed by the audacity of such a concept. Just ask Al Fasoldt of the Syracuse Post-Standard:

In a column published a few weeks ago by my companion Dr. Gizmo, readers were urged to go to the Wikipedia Web site at www.wikipedia. org/wiki/Main Page , an online encyclopedia, for more information on computer history. The doctor and I had figured Wikipedia was a good independent source.

Not so, wrote a school librarian who read that article. Susan Stagnitta, of the Liverpool High School library, explained that Wikipedia is not what many casual Web surfers think it is.

It's not the online version of an established, well-researched traditional encyclopedia. Instead, Wikipedia is a do-it-yourself encyclopedia, without any credentials.

"As a high school librarian, part of my job is to help my students develop critical thinking skills," Stagnitta wrote. "One of these skills is to evaluate the authority of any information source. The Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. It even states this in their disclaimer on their Web site."

Wikipedia, she explains, takes the idea of open source one step too far for most of us.

"Anyone can change the content of an article in the Wikipedia, and there is no editorial review of the content. I use this Web site as a learning experience for my students. Many of them have used it in the past for research and were very surprised when we investigated the authority of the site."

Mike, a contributing writer at Techdirt tried explaining to poor, blinkered Mr. Fasoldt the intricacies of Wikipedia:

While I can understand why, at first, the concept of Wikipedia seemed a little scary to those who hadn't seen it in action, I figured the reporter in question might want to know a few more details about it, and perhaps correct some of his misperceptions. My main problem was that he seemed to write off Wikipedia based solely on how it was created and maintained, and not at all on the actual content. Along with my post, I sent an email to the writer, Al Fasoldt, giving him some additional information about Wikipedia, and wondering why, after telling us how you can't trust any random info online, he trusted the email from a random librarian claiming Wikipedia was somehow untrustworthy. The ongoing discussion with Mr. Fasoldt has been quite a lesson in watching how a journalist (a) continues to make unsubstantiated allegations (b) seems to prefer insulting me and putting words in my mouth to actually responding to my points or questions and (c) sticks steadfastly to his belief that only "experts" can be trusted with information -- and, in his case, only experts that he chooses. Yet, somehow, we're supposed to find him more trustworthy than a self-correcting community. Figuring he might appreciate the views of others in his profession (you know, "experts"), I sent him links to Dan Gillmor's article on Wikipedia and Steve Yelvington's recent realization of the power of Wikipedia. However, rather than actually look at that information, Mr. Fasoldt accused me of wanting "students to trust a source that's not trustworthy." After some back and forth of this nature, where Mr. Fasoldt responded to my request that he do a little more research by saying: "I'm glad you're not the publisher of a newspaper" (apparently, his publisher lets him do no research at all) and then telling me that anyone who wrote for Wikipedia obviously knew nothing (his phrase was: "100 times zero is still zero"), I suggested an experiment. I pointed to the Wikipedia page on Syracuse, NY where he apparently lives, and suggested he change something on the page, to make it provably, factually incorrect -- and see how long it lasted. Rather than take me up on the experiment, or suggest an alternative, he complained simply that the whole idea of Wikipedia was "outrageous," "repugnant" and finally (in another email) "dangerous,"

I've run into similar attitudes concerning not just online resources like Wikipedia but also search engines. You should see the sneers I've gotten from some professors when I tell them that I found some piece of information on Google (in only five minutes of searching) as opposed to using the high end and laborious subscription database like Dialog or Factiva. Apparently, there are still Librarians and information professionals who think that authority does come from on high, and if it doesn't bare the stamp of approval from the OED or the ALA (or a high subscription price), then it isn't worth our time and might even be dangerous. Regardless of the fact that it works, which ultimately, is the only true test of a resources Authoritativeness.

Update: Bryan, in comments, sums it up nicely:

Wikipedia uses the peer review standard of all scientific journals. While the base value of "peer" is more extensive and inclusive on Wikipedia, the procedure is exactly the same.

The "established" reference works that have been ported to CD have still not been debugged primarily because the established institutions simply don't have the staff to do the job in a timely manner.

Update: 8/30

While Mr. Fasoldt dismissed Mike of Techdirt's Wikipedia Challenge, someone else didn't:

He [Alex Halavais] made 13 changes to 13 different Wikipedia pages, ranging from obvious to subtle. He figured he'd give them a couple of weeks and then fix the ones that weren't caught. Every single change was found and changed within hours.

Thanks for the link goes to Corry Doctorow at the ever useful and authoritative Boing Boing.

1. As an example, here is the entry in the Columbia Encyclopedia for "blog". And here is Wikipedia's entry.

Friday, August 27, 2004


A press release from PRKA. By George Saunders:

Last Thursday, my organization, People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction, orchestrated an overwhelming show of force around the globe.

At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man's penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.

During Phase IV, just after lunch, we were able to avoid bulldozing a single home. Furthermore, we set, on roads in every city, in every nation in the world, a total of zero (0) roadside bombs which, not being there, did not subsequently explode, killing/maiming a total of nobody. No bombs were dropped, during the lazy afternoon hours, on crowded civilian neighborhoods, from which, it was observed, no post-bomb momentary silences were then heard. These silences were, in all cases, followed by no unimaginable, grief-stricken bellows of rage, and/or frantic imprecations to a deity. No sleeping baby was awakened from an afternoon nap by the sudden collapse and/or bursting into flame of his/her domicile during Phase IV.

Please read the whole thing. Then, If you're already a member, keep doing absolutely everything. If you're thinking of joining, continue to do so. We'll be here when you decide. If you read these words and your only reaction is to mumble something under your breath about "Dirty Peaceniks" or "Traitorous Lefties," then you may want to have that ulcer checked out.

Thanks to Scout at And Then... for the link.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library

Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library:

At the time of their inception in the nineteenth century, public libraries were seen as critical institutions in the creation of a free and democratic society. The public library was conceived as a "people's university": a university that was open to everyone. But the purpose of this people's university was not, as has come to be the case today, to merely train people to become more productive workers, let alone to entertain them. The purpose was to educate people to function responsibly as free and equal citizens in an enlightened democracy. Thus, the current decadent state of our public libraries reflects the state of the culture at large. In writing about the condition of public libraries I mean to open discussion on broader social and cultural issues as well.

I'll be reading the whole thing over the next few weeks and commenting on it as I go But what I've read so far is spot on.

Thanks to Siva Vaidhyanathan for the link.

A Journey Through the Forbidden Zone

Via BoingBoing, I found this intriguing little gem: a re-edit of Planet of the Apes as an episode of the Twilight Zone:

When I first started gathering information about POTA, I was surprised to learn that Rod Serling co-wrote the screenplay for Planet. Then suddenly it all made sense. "Of course! Planet is a two-hour episode of The Twilight Zone!"

That idea stuck in the back of my head ever since. Then with the recent advances in digital filmmaking technology and especially after reading about fan edits (particularly the couple of Star Wars: Episode I edits that surfaced), another thought struck me: "Wouldn't it be cool to take Planet and edit it down into a thirty minute episode of The Twilight Zone, complete with Rod Serling narration?" I knew the project would take a lot of patience to assemble the pieces, but once I got them together, it would be great fun to create the final product.

Technology is letting us do some really interesting things. Sure, they violate copyright laws but those laws are the sorts of things that are just begging to be violated. They're draconian, stifling and all serve the corporate mass marketers rather than the creators they were originally designed to protect. So, if being an artist in the 21st century means being a pirate too, well then all I have to say is, "Argh, Matey!"

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A Traditional Sex Ed Program, Victorian Style

The Village Voice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Everything Is Funnier With Monkeys. If J. Fred Muggs, Lancelot Link, or zoo-house fecal tossing have taught us anything, it is that every human endeavor is enriched by the addition of a screaming, leg-humping, ass-biting primate. Even, say, sex education. I beg your pardon? you might ask. Clearly you're not acquainted with the strangest children's book of the 19th century-- Sammy Tubbs, the Boy Doctor, and Sponsie, the Troublesome Monkey (1874). Written by health crusader and mail-order magnate Dr. Edward Bliss Foote (1829-1906), it's the five-volume Manhattan saga of the 12-year-old son of freed slaves. It does indeed also feature a sidekick monkey named Sponsie--and yes, as promised, he is troublesome.


It's a Victorian sex-ed manual. For children. Starring a monkey.

"Encountering Sammy Tubbs was a eureka moment, like a shot of a very powerful, very pleasurable drug," Michael Sappol, curator at the National Library of Medicine, tells the Voice. Sappol's metaphor is apt: The Sammy Tubbs series mixes nearly every progressive and fringe element of 19th-century physiology and politics into a sort of patent-medicine speedball. There are lectures against tight-fitting clothes, against tobacco and alcohol, and for phrenology and animal magnetism; there are thrilling showdowns between bigotry and the rights of women and minorities. And there are, courtesy of illustrator H.L. Stephens, hundreds of drawings of everything from shrub-like capillary diagrams to flying monkeys and animated kitchen appliances. Rather more down to earth--if not downright earthy--illustrations include those of genitalia. One set of these occurs on page 180 1/2-- the publishing netherworld equivalent of Floor 7 1/2 in Being John Malkovich—so that mortified parents could razor out the drawings without Junior noticing a break in pagination. But even razored copies still contained a drawing of a vagina with a tiny musical note tooting out of it--a sly touch by Stephens removed from later printings.

Sappol first encountered Tubbs in the early days of researching his recent book, A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth Century America (Princeton University Press, 2002), newly published in paperback and featuring a chapter devoted to Tubbs.

I'd love to get a hold of a repro copy of this book. So far, I haven't been able to track one down though. But I'll find it. Oh, yes. I will find it.

Political Ennui

I'm tired of reading about the slowest Swift Boats this side of Mai Lai. Seriously. I'd say let's move on to more important matters but apparently there are no such thing. We have always debated the meaning of "bled" and forever more, will we debate what Kerry did 35 years ago in some river in Vietnam (but let's not talk about what Bush did or didn't do-- that would be lowering the discourse).

I've made my Political Views known here. I'm a borderline socialist. I think that if we are going to have a government, it's sole purpose should be to promote the welfare of the citizenry. I'm anti-war, pro-choice, pro-drug legalization, pro-gay rights, anti-religion, anti-stupid and I prefer cats to dogs. I think George W. Bush is a miserable failure and my opinion is only solidified every time the dingbat opens his sneering little mouth. I'm voting for Kerry in November but i don't like him much either, I just think he'll be not as fucking horrible as Bush and his little cadre of anarcho-capitalist/ borderline fascists have been.

This is it. I'm not blogging any more about politics. Oh, sure, I'll have words to say about the Patriot Act, freedom of speech issues and the occasional pro-Gay rights post. But no more dissection of the daily political minutia will be found on this site. I'm tired of reading it and I certainly don't want to write any of it. So, from now on, it's all writing about writing/ librarian issues/ cats/ books/ movies/ existential meanderings/ assorted mental gymnastics and whatever else I feel like. But not politics. I'm not dropping out of the Liberal Coalition, mind you but form now on, if the mood strikes and I feel like ranting about Bush or Kerry or what have you, I'll do it over on the LC site, not here.

Friday, August 20, 2004

National Security Archive

Human Rights Archives: The first in a series of blog entries.

The National Security Archive is one example of a human rights archive, a place that collects materials documenting the ongoing struggle for human equality.

Internet access to archival material is changing the way archivists and researchers work. Remote access to materials makes it possible to reach a far greater number of people, and archives like the NSA that track the patterns of use of its visitors are one step ahead of those who do not.

E-mail counts and web statistics are a great place to begin. NSA, for example, hosted more than 11 million successful visits and fielded 2,137 e-mail research requests in 2003, almost double the number of requests by telephone in the same year. Researchers downloaded more than 7.5 million pages, or almost 1.5 gigabytes of material.

Some archives offer documents such as finding aids in searchable format by use of Extensible Mark-Up Language (XML) offering another level of physical and intellectual control over the material. While labor-intensive, some experts predict XML is the future of complex sharable electronic documents.

The NSA, founded by scholars and journalists in 1985, reports that it operates on a $2.3 million annual budget and cares for more than two million pages of material. Their published statistics boast 2,500 annual public service requests. No government funds support the NSA, according to the organization website, but its support comes from private donors and royalites from its publications. The website lists a staff numbering more than 30 people.

Over the next couple of months, I will continue to feature archives and archivists who work to tell the amazing story of political,legal, spiritual struggle.

Here is an example of the important work of the National Security Archive. It is taken from material written by the NSA.

"On March 14, Archive executive director Thomas Blanton, general counsel Meredith Fuchs, FOIA coordinator William Ferroggiaro and research associate Barbara Elias released results from the first-ever government-wide audit of federal responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in a presentation at the 2003 International Freedom of Information Day, hosted by the Freedom Forum. The audit showed dramatic variations in agency reactions to the restrictive FOIA guidance issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in October 2001—a handful thought the guidance in effect overturned the FOIA, another handful didn't even notice the guidance, and most made few tangible changes to their FOI programs. Requests to the 35 agencies handling 97% of the FOIA load for records relating to any guidance, regulations and training resulting from the Ashcroft memo revealed a system in disarray. A lack of central oversight within the agencies resulted in lost requests, response times failing to meet the statutory standard and inability to track the progress of requests."

Edited to correct formatting-- Keith

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

"What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?"

Via Patrick Neilsen Hayden, I found this fascinating essay entltled, What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?:

From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives.

The tactics of conservatism vary widely by place and time. But the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocracy are better people than they are. Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality. Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats. More generally, it is crucial to conservatism that the people must literally love the order that dominates them. Of course this notion sounds bizarre to modern ears, but it is perfectly overt in the writings of leading conservative theorists such as Burke. Democracy, for them, is not about the mechanisms of voting and office-holding. In fact conservatives hold a wide variety of opinions about such secondary formal matters. For conservatives, rather, democracy is a psychological condition. People who believe that the aristocracy rightfully dominates society because of its intrinsic superiority are conservatives; democrats, by contrast, believe that they are of equal social worth. Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years.

It's rather long, but worth the read, if for no other reason to use it as a resource for arguing with your Republican neighbor or coworker.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Zombis Vs. Super Sharks

If you thought Jason Vs. Freddy was a good idea and are thinking of seeing Alien Vs. Predetor, then you need to check out Defective Yeti's March Madness-style Cinematic Supervillain Showdown sheet.

Five bucks says Darth Vader makes it all the way.

Monday, August 16, 2004

A Virtual Libray

From my wife (passed on from our friend, Shane) I bring to your attention Manybooks.com, a website that offers free access to more than 10,000 ebooks by such authors as Charles Baudelaire and L. Frank Baum (I only got as far as the Bs but there's plenty more). All of the copyrights on these books have expired and so they are now in the public domain, which means you can download them and print them out, make colages out of them or wear them as hats. You can also read them, if that's your thing, too.

On an administrative note, work is sucking time and classes are starting soon, so posting will be light for the next week, and non existant this weekend. Kevin is planning some great posts so keep checking back.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Things I didn't Know

I've just acquired a copy of both Schott's Original Miscellany and Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany. I had hoped that they would be invaluable references but I was not prepared for the sheer mass of fascinating trivia contained in these slender little volumes. The two page spread of presidential facts is worth the price of the Original Miscellany alone.

Until yesterday, I didn't know that the first 7 presidents were all born "British," or that Buchanan was the only bachelor president (and that Tyler, Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson were all wed while in office), or that Garfield was the first left handed president. Bush 41 is a Gemini while Bush 43 is a Cancer.

Most fascinating, is that the salary for every President from Washington to Grant was $25,000, which is surprising, considering how much money 25 grand was in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The Presidential salary has periodically increased over the decades, upped to 50K (by Grant), 75K (by Taft), 100K (by Truman) and 200K (by Nixon). The 200K salary stayed until Bush 43, who gave himself a 100% raise, to $400,000. Apparently, the president gets a raise in direct proportion to how bad a job he does (see: presidential careers, Grant, Nixon). Who knew?

The Miscellanies also have other info, besides presidential facts: Cuban Cigar sizes, the different types of curries, a handy diagram for measuring spaghetti (which I used last night and works quite well), a list of poker hands, the 33 degrees of Freemasonry, a table of the unusual deaths of various pop stars, Shakespearian insults, a list of chatroom abbreviations and various and sundry other bits of interesting notions. One of my favorites is also contained in the Original Miscellany, the "Certain Chinese Encyclopedia" invented by Borges, entitled Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge, which states that all animals can be catalogued thusly:

[a] belonging to the Emperor - [b] embalmed - [c] tame
[d] sucking pigs - [e] sirens - [f] fabulous - [g] stray dogs
[h] included in the present classification - [i] that shake like a fool
[j] innumerable - [k] drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
[l] etcetera - [m] having just broken the water pitcher
[n] that, if seen from a distance, look like flies

I hope Mr. Schott continues to compile these delightful Miscellanies, as they have become invaluable resources for this Librarian 1.

1. He adds a disclaimer that some of the information is subject to dispute, such as the red headedness of Andrew jackson, and goes on to note what we reference librarians have known all along: that facts are neither cold, nor hard but tend to amend themselves, or be amended over time.

Friday, August 13, 2004

And Now, a Word from Mr. Vonnegut

In These Times:

I Love You, Madame Librarian

By Kurt Vonnegut

I, like probably most of you, have seen Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Its title is a parody of the title of Ray Bradbury's great science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451. This temperature 451 Fahrenheit, is the combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are composed. The hero of Bradbury's novel is a municipal worker whose job is burning books.

And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

We love you too, Mr. Vonnegut. Click on the link and read the rest.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Our Eye in the Sky

The Guardian:

Nasa has decided to try to save the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope by sending a Canadian-made robot to fix it, say agency officials.


"Everybody says, 'We want to save the Hubble' - well, let's go save the Hubble," O'Keefe was quoted as saying by the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. "Rather than just sitting there and talking about how we think we're going to do it, we've got an option we're ready to go with."

It will cost up to $1.6 billion (about £0.9bn) to save the telescope, which has peered back to the very beginnings of the universe, found planets outside our solar system and taken dramatic pictures of stars being born.

Unlike the dubious and thankfully forgotten Mars mission, the Hubble telescope has proven its scientific worth a hundred fold. In the years it's been in orbit, it has seen farther than humans ever dreamed possible. The knowledge we've gained about the origins of the Universe have expanded our understanding of the cosmos beyond what we ever thought it could. As one of the few remaining international outlets for cooperation left for the US, it's worth extends beyond the scientific, into the politcal and I for one, am glad that we'll be saving it.

Way to go, Canada!

Edited for Fnords.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

This L Word You Use, I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means

Parable of the Good Weapons Inspector

Fellow LC member, Scout at AND THEN... has a great post concerning latant UN hatred on the right:

But it seems like maybe the UN would have saved us a lot of misery if only we listened to it. And so it reminds me a bit of the parable on the West Wing a while back, when President Bartlett had to consider commuting a death sentence? You might remember it.

There's a man in a town where it's been raining for days and days, and so the Mayor says that everyone should evacuate. But one man says no, he'll stay because he has faith in God. And so the rain water gets higher, and kills his sheep, and his wife implores him to leave, and he says no, he will stay because he has faith in God. So then his wife leaves, begging him, but he won't leave, his faith is so strong. So then a rescue boat comes, and says they will save him, but he won't, because God will see him through. They leave, and the rain continues, until he is on his roof and it collapses, and he drowns. He ascends to heaven and he says to God, 'Why did you take me, when I had so much faith in you?' And God replies, 'I sent the mayor to warn you, I killed your sheep to warn you, I sent your wife to warn you and then finally sent a rescue boat to save you, and you turned them all away. So I ask to you, why, when I was telling you all of this, did you refuse to listen to a word I said?'

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Today, I am The Devil's Plaything

The Guardian has an extract from How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson:

For all modern society's promises of leisure, liberty and doing what you want, most of us are still slaves to a schedule we did not choose. Why have things come to such a pass? Well, the forces of the anti-idle have been at work since the fall of man. The propaganda against oversleeping goes back a very long way, more than 2,000 years, to the Bible. Here is Proverbs, chapter 6, on the subject:

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

(I would question the sanity of a religion that holds up the ant as an example of how to live. The ant system is an exploitative aristocracy based on the unthinking toil of millions of workers and the complete inactivity of a single queen and a handful of drones.)

Christianity has promoted bed-guilt ever since. This passage from the Bible is used as a bludgeon by moralists, capitalists and bureaucrats in order to impose upon the people the notion that God hates it when you get up late. It suits the lust for order that characterises the non-idler.

He goes on to sing the praises of being idle, a past time I'm quickly coming to enjoy more and more myself. Currently, I'm housesitting for my aunt and Uncle. Their place is in a festering little suburb and for the last two days, I've been lamenting the fact that I'm a good half hour's drive (at least) from anything to do. Reading this excerpt however, has made me realise that I've got my head all turned around. I blame Grad school which has once again brainwashed me into believing that I should be productive all the time. I should enjoy myself while I have peace and quiet, before school starts up again in three weeks. Maybe I'll lay around and watch a movie, or write a nit. Or perhaps I'll simply do nothing at all.

Thaks to Chris at CT for the link.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Movies They'll Never Make, Part 1 (In a Probably Continuing Series)

I don't know if it's just me being a big ol' film geek or if everyone does this but I dream up ways to improve the plots of movies that have a good premis but are poorly executed. Seeing as how I have rather eccentric tastes, I hardly expect everyone to agree with some of my ideas, and I'm no longer young enough or ambitious enough to believe I'll ever get anyone in Hollywood to pay attention to the ways that they could improve their storytelling abilities. But hay, this is my blog and so I get to write whatever the hell I want.

To this end, I'm starting what will very likely be an ongoing, if somewhat sporadic, series in which I detail the alternate/revised plot outlines for movies I'd love to see, but don't expect to ever be made.

This post got away from me so I put the rest of it up on the Story Time page.

Friday, August 06, 2004

The Father, the Son and the Big Brother

Fred over at Slacktivist has been dutifully dissecting the Left Behind series and postulates an interesting concept that I have often pondered myself:

Despite the book's intended PMD premise, I still haven't ruled out the space alien theory. I'm not thinking of the almond-eyed grays of Close Encounters, but of the powerful creature in Star Trek V who masquerades as God.


Such a malevolent alien creature, one vastly more powerful and intelligent than us, wouldn't have much trouble performing enough "miraculous" signs to convince us it was divine. Those who believe that omnipotence is God's only significant characteristic would be especially susceptible to such a ruse.

Imagine that such a creature has been listening in on the radio signals beaming out into space from our little planet. For decades, those signals have included the prophecy babble of PMD radio preachers like LaHaye and Harold Camping. The creature realizes it has been given a step-by-step blueprint for how to steal away all of Earth's children for use as slaves in some nefarious intergalactic plot...

The evil alien posing as God is a far more interesting story, one I've pondered writing myself. It contains an intriguing philosophical problem: What would the world be like if the Bible were literally true? What would be the psychological effects of living in a society like ours, that is full of so much "Biblical Sin", to suddenly be confronted by a wrathful bearded figure with a host of killer angels at his disposal? How would it feel to live your life knowing that this same bearded control freak was watching everyone, all the time? Which made me realize just now that the world of the Biblical Literalist very closely resembles 1984 just with a a thin veneer of metaphysics.

In fact, such a hypothetical world would be worse than Oceania under Big Brother. Winston and Julia can at least entertain the fantasy, for a little while, that there is a place where Big Brother cannot see. In the world of LB, no such fantasy can be entertained. We all know that God is watching all the time, everywhere. It says so in the Bible. And that the smallest transgression of his neigh whimsical law would bring fireballs and plagues of locusts and Killer Angels to our doorstep.

I find it odd that so many Evangelicals fervently wish for this Biblical Tyranny, since that's what the Second Coming amounts to in PMD theology: 1000 years of Jesus in Jack Boots. A world where the mere thought of masturbating brings the flaming sword to bear witness to your physical damnation.

Of course, in my version of the story, there is a small band of Atheists who decide to sneak into heaven and kill God, freeing humanity from his despotic rule. They would have to contend not just with hoards of Killer Angels, but also blinkered Evangelicals who want the sadism of this world to remain, so they can watch with glee as their neighbors and relations are charbroiled alive for eating shrimp.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

When the Boss Speaks, You Listen

Bruce Springsteen has an OpEd at the Times:

Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out.

Through my work, I've always tried to ask hard questions. Why is it that the wealthiest nation in the world finds it so hard to keep its promise and faith with its weakest citizens? Why do we continue to find it so difficult to see beyond the veil of race? How do we conduct ourselves during difficult times without killing the things we hold dear? Why does the fulfillment of our promise as a people always seem to be just within grasp yet forever out of reach?

I don't think John Kerry and John Edwards have all the answers. I do believe they are sincerely interested in asking the right questions and working their way toward honest solutions. They understand that we need an administration that places a priority on fairness, curiosity, openness, humility, concern for all America's citizens, courage and faith.

Connecting the Dots

Julius draws us a little picture of just how the Bush administration has been using terror alerts to distract the public from news that reflects badly on them. It's a big picture, because they've been doing it for more than two and a half years.

The Ghost Tracks of Mission Row

While the Alamo is the most famous mission in San Antonio, it is not the only one. There are four others, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, Mission Espada. The missions follow roughly the path of the Rio Grande, from the middle of downtown San Antonio, all the way out to the countryside. Just beyond the missions there is an old railroad track.

Legend has it that one night, a school bus returning from a field trip stalled on the tracks. No one was around to hear the children calling for help as the train approached, unaware. Ever since then, any car that stalls neer the railroad tracks will be pushed to safety. You don't even have to be in any danger for this to happen and often times, people will come out to the Ghost Tracks, put their car or truck in neutral and enjoy the ride over the tracks and down the embankment.

While I was in SA this past week, my wife and her parents took me to experience the Ghost Tracks. We drove up to the tracks, put the car in neutral and almost immediately, felt ourselves moving forward. we rattled over the tracks and dad steered us down the slope and off to the side of the road. we tried this several times, in various combinations: engine on, in neutral, engine off in neutral, close to the tracks far away from the tracks; once we were about three hundred feet from the tracks and still we were pushed to safety.

While we were there, another family drove up in a pickup truck. They were there to give some visiting relatives a thrill as well, which made us feel better. Camaraderie in silliness is always reassuring. They, however, came prepared with a sack of flower.

Part of the legend says that is you dust the trunk or tail gate of your vehicle with flour or baby powder. you can see small handprints appear after you're pushed across the tracks. so they did and my wife, had her camera handy, so we could photograph the evidence.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Fun With Amazon Reviews

I don't think I've ever mentioned on this blog how much I enjoy the Amazon Customer Reviews. They are some of the most amusing writing around. Often, I'll spend an hour or two at work just cruising around, reading customer reviews for some of my favorite books. The best ones, I think, are the ones written by Evangelicals for books like the Joy of Sex or Ulysses. But this book by Michelle Malkin is one of the best reviewed books I've read in some time. Scan down a few and make sure to read the review by General J.C. Christian. Be sure not to miss the reviews by the defenders of racial incarceration. Priceless.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 14

Baghdad - July 31, 2004

Caught a glimpse of the darker side of the Green Zone the other night. As I mentioned in my previous e-mail, I had started getting to know the Lebanese guards who protect our offices and living quarters. The ones who guard us seem to be decent guys. However, some of the others are into questionable activities.

Read the rest.

One of by Land; Two of by Sea: Student Group to Boston

Today begins a journey to Boston, not one of political campaigns but a road trip of new archivists from the University of Maryland College Park. Members of the group Student Archivists at Maryland (SAM) will leave this afternoon and begin their collective and individual trek into new professional territory--the Society of American Archivists conference.

The meeting will hopefully help the student group build connections with professionals and also contribute to next year's programming, as well as help those students already looking for work and publishing opportunities. For a number of us, this will be our first SAA conference. This blogger anticipates no shortage of topics to report.

Also, upon my return will be the first blog in the human rights series, despite a little reporting difficulty.