Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stumbled upon

Historical revisionism ...

Why Germany lost the war

PS. Oops, the link is dead now. Well, the joke was a picture of Churchill flashing 'V' and Hitler with his open-palm salute, with the caption "Scissors beats paper." Pretty lame joke when you have to explain it ....

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wolf population shrinks

Wolf population shrinks

No one's entirely sure why, but some folks are pretending astonishment that the voracious varmints don't reproduce without limit.

Another perspective on "focus"

Dan Payne's take on McCain's announcement that he was suspending his campaign to address the financial crisis: "Multitasking is part of the job."

What I'm paranoid about

[I was originally going to title this post, "Why I'm paranoid," but that may not be the same question.]

Via Millard Fillmore's Bathtub:
Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they’re training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

... snip ...

The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.

Now put this side by side with this event from Inside Iraq:
Yesterday, a force from the Iraqi army came to my neighborhoods to evacuate the governmental flats where about 600 families live in. One of my neighbors tried to inquire about the evacuation order. He asked the army force "why does the army implement the evacuation orders? This is not the duty of the army". The question developed into an argument and the soldiers lost their mind because they didn't use to listen but they used to beat, fight and kill. They beat my neighbor violently to give a lesson to others to obey and execute only "Execute and then discusses"

I know, I know, I shouldn't be comparing the American army to the Iraqi. But I keep seeing (and I'll continue posting) too many similar events from American police who react with only moderately more restraint if they're asked to explain their actions and commands. "Execute and then discusses." When authorities don't believe they should be bothered with questions, violence isn't far behind.*

And now we're going to have Army brigades especially trained to operate in US cities the way they operated in Baghdad. If I'm supposed to sleep better at night, it isn't working.

* And, yes, there are extreme cases when this has to be done. Army authority is built on the needs of the battlefield, where committees might not live long enough to pass a resolution. But dealing with reporters or escorting a student out of a library just aren't that kind of emergency.

The Elgin Marbles in the news

Italy returns piece of Parthenon Marbles to Greece

The British Museum still hasn't given up their holdings, which represent the majority of the marbles.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Boring writing

So, several weeks ago I stumbled across a site advertising 10 Awesome Fantasy Series That Are Not Potter or LoTR. Hmm, thunk I, fantasy fiction other than Potter or LoTR hasn't appeared on my reading list in many an age. Maybe I should give one or two of these a try.

Knowing that I will not be reading this entire list, I jumped straight to #1 and began reading Modesitt's The Magic of Recluce. And here is what I found:

Perfection, especially for a youngster learning about it from cheerfully sober adults, has its price. Mine was boredom.

A price Modesitt is happy to share ... and spread. Because that word keeps showing up, over and over again:
"But why does it have to be so flaming boring?

Besides, pots and vases bored me.

But I was still bored, even as I continued to learn.

"Just because I'm bored?" ... "No, because your boredom reflects a deeper lack of commitment."

[B]ut it was boring.

"... probably get more bored with each day.

Mind you, that's just the first 14 pages. A little while later, the writer does manage to come up with the word dull, but immediately defines it as "almost boring."

Since all fantasy novels have to be compared to The Lord of the Rings, let's see how Tolkien handles a similar concept:

So it went on, until his forties were running out, and his fiftieth birthday was drawing near: fifty was a number that he felt somehow significant (or ominous); it was at any rate at that age that adventure had suddenly befallen Bilbo. Frodo began to feel restless, and the old paths seemed too well-trodden. He looked at maps, and wondered what lay beyond their edges; maps made in the Shire showed mostly white spaces beyond its borders. He took to wandering further afield and more often by himself; and Merry and his other friends watched him anxiously. Often he was seen walking and talking with the strange wayfarers that began at this time to appear in the Shire.

I don't have time for such unimaginative writing. The Magic of Recluce may not be a book to be hurled with great force, but it will be tossed aside with a light flick of the wrist.

P.S. On the same trip to Border's, I also picked up Ender's Game, about which I kept hearing great praise. I join the chorus; it's a terrific book.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mixing politics with religion

In case you haven't heard, the Pulpit Initiative is scheduled for this Sunday in churches all across the country, possibly in one near you. The strategy is to boldly violate the IRS regulations against tax-exempt organizations engaging in partisan political activity by endorsing candidates during Sunday sermons, provoke an IRS investigation, and have the rule overturned in a lawsuit.

The brains, loosely speaking, behind this ploy is one Erik Stanley of the Alliance Defense Fund, who argues that the rule itself violates the First Amendment by giving the government censorship powers over religious speech.

Barry Lynn, of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, points out the delusion: Stanley seems to believe that the First Amendment mandates tax-exemption for churches. It does no such thing.* The IRS rules are entirely religion-neutral, because they cover any organization which has been granted tax-exemption for performing a public service. Any pastor is free to say anything he wants from the pulpit - he just has to choose between being neutral and having to pay taxes. Every other organization in America has to make exactly the same choice.

Oh, and from Christianity Today, here's your moment of zen:

"If we can tell you what to do in the bedroom, we can certainly tell you what to do in the voting booth," said the Minnesota minister [Gus Booth], an evangelical leader of a nondenominational church, who expects to endorse Republican John McCain during his "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" sermon.


* (In fact, if tax exemption were granted solely to churches, for no other reason than that they are churches, that would raise serious First Amendment issues. But churches are lumped together with other public-service organizations, so the church-state entanglement is considered minimal.**)

** (Possibly unwisely, if the Pulpit Initiative is any indication.)

Animal training

Operant conditioning at the NC Zoo

Teaching history in US colleges

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute is out with the results of another quiz on college students' knowledge of American history and institutions and the report, as you might guess, is highly critical. I tend not to get into the sky-is-falling nature of these annual reports, especially when you attach letter grades to the percentages. I recall being a teaching assistant for two history classes one semester, both of which relied on multiple-choice tests. In once class almost everyone got a C or better, while in the other no one could get an A; the questions were just that much harder. Some of the questions here should be common knowledge, but others are certainly more obscure.

This is what caught my caught my eye [sorry about the formatting, but I just copied the table from the HTML]:

2006 NATIONWIDE RESULTSAverage Percent Correct by Subject and Class Year
Test Section Freshman Mean Senior Mean Value Added
Overall 50.4% 54.2% +3.8%*
American History 56.6% 58.8% +2.2%*
American Political Thought 52.0% 55.2% +3.2%*
America and the World 46.8% 50.8% 4.0%*
The Market Economy 44.9% 51.1% 6.2%*
* The difference between the freshman and senior means is statistically significant with confidence of 95% or greater across the 50 schools surveyed.

In other words, after four years of college, few students have learned significantly more than they knew coming out of high school. No matter how much you might want to praise the high schools, that's still a miserable performance.

You can take the quiz yourself. I scored a 95% (57/60) and was embarrassed about one of the errors (won't say which one).

New developments in the copyright wars

Bush administration opposes RIAA-based copyright bill
George Bush and I agree on something? Huh.

In other copyright news, a mistrial has been declared in the RIAA's high-profile lawsuit of a filesharing individual. The defendant, Jammie Thomas, had argued that it was true that she had uploaded copyrighted songs, but unless the RIAA could prove that people had downloaded them, she couldn't be found guilty. The trial judge had explicitly instructed they jury that this argument was invalid, but now he has changed his mind; thus the mistrial. It seems a patent fantasy that you could upload songs on a peer-to-peer filesharing system and not have other people download them, but the burden of proving that just shifted back to the RIAA. As IP owners have feared, it's loopholes like this that could make their copyrights worthless.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

$700,000,000,000 grant request

Fred Clark at Slacktivist is outraged at Treasury Secretary Paulson's request for lots of money + lots of discretion - any oversight at all. Well, many people are, but I especially enjoyed Clark's slant on the issue:

I'm not usually in a position to say that I have more experience, knowledge and know-how than Ben Bernanke, but he really should've talked to somebody like me before heading to Capitol Hill yesterday to help Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson present a three-page memo asking for $700,000,000,000 of the public's money.

Three pages. Seriously.

... snip ...

[W]e wrote a lot of grants. And the thing is that every one of those grants was longer, more detailed and better documented than the sorry excuse for a memo that Paulson threw together to request $700 billion from the public coffers. It means your $15,000 grant application gets turned down. Why? Because $15,000 is a lot of money, and if you're going to ask someone to hand over that kind of cash, then you're going to have to do your homework. You're going to have to explain, in detail, what the money is for, where and when it's going to be spent. You're going to have to explain how you intend to report back, with detailed documentation, after the money is spent. And you're probably going to have to describe a detailed plan ensuring that you won't need to come back six months later to ask for another $15,000 for exactly the same thing.

Fail to provide that kind of documentation and detail and your grant application will be rejected. Not only that, but you'll be lucky if you're ever allowed to come back and re-apply with the same foundation.

Clark helpfully provides this link:

Jose Perez

I came across a book of Jose Perez paintings this morning and thought I would share them. Rather Norman Rockwell-like, with more of a fantasy element..

This is the orthopedist:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bears fight back!

Matthew McLean sends me this video protesting Stephen Colbert's anti-bear crusade:

Cheney's records

Cheney must keep records, judge orders

From the ruling, it appears that attempts to negotiate a settlement failed because the OVP insisted on using their own private definition of Vice-Presidential records, which could exclude any activity which was not "specially assigned to the Vice President by the President in the discharge of executive duties and responsibilities." That's a loophole large enough to shovel any number of documents through, so the judge rightly concluded that there was a risk of irreparable harm if the OVP was allowed to operate as they see fit.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Stumbled upon

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lost Mozart music

Unknown Mozart fragment found in French library

Wind map

The Atlantic has a nice map showing wind speeds in the United States:

Notice how, with fine enough data, the wind shows you where topological features are. I was especially fascinated by how well-defined the river valleys on the northern plains are on this map.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Academic journals

Imagine that a movie studio just spent $100,000,000 on a terrific new movie, but if they want anyone to see it, they have to give it to a movie theater. Not just the film itself, but all rights to the movie forever and ever. And the theater owner says this is perfectly fair, because the studio doesn't pay for the screening or provide any popcorn.

Now you understand the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” and can appreciate the gall of an executive from the Association of American Publishers claiming, “Government does not fund peer-reviewed journal articles — publishers do.”

More at Au Courant.

[P.S. James asks the source for that last quotation. It was buried in the Au Courant posting and can be found here.]

Hacked email

This is a great thing, not because I admire the hacker or think he's striking any sort of blow for democracy.* But having such a high profile person fall victim to their own bad security habits is a terrific attention-getter and I'm all for that. It's also a good illustration of why I prefer sites that let me make up my own challenge question, rather than forcing me to choose from "What is your mother's maiden name," "What street did you grow up on," etc.

Hacker impersonated Palin, stole e-mail password

* (By his own description, he's a prankster who bailed out when he realized how much trouble he was getting himself into and not a political operative)

Computers in the movies

User interfaces in film are more exciting than they are realistic, and heroes have far too easy a time using foreign systems.

"Conservative" support for gay marriage

This is interesting: Support for Calif. gay marriage ban slipping

The interesting part is that the original description of the measure relied on the proposed text of the constitutional amendment: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." But since the Cali Supreme Court has already overturned legislative bans, the state attorney general decreed that the description must be changed to indicate that an existing right would be taken away. This seems to make a difference in how people react to the measure:

Among the 70 percent of likely voters who already were familiar with Proposition 8, the modification appeared to make little difference. Among those who knew about the amendment, 56 percent said they opposed it when they heard the original wording and 53 percent opposed it they were given Brown's revised version.

But among the 30 percent of those surveyed who were not previously aware of the measure, the ballot language appeared to matter. Within that subgroup, 42 percent of the respondents said they were inclined to vote 'no' with the original summary, a share that climbed to 58 percent under the new wording.

Which suggests that voters are suspicious of change, no matter what the buzzword in the Presidential campaign might be.

Gandalf in the archives

This is a couple years old now, but in case you missed it:

Gandalf in the Minas Tirith Archives

IA: WHAT do you think you’re doing?

Gandalf: Preparing my pipe. I always smoke when I am doing research.

IA: Not in my archive, you don’t.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bush Admin - The Most Secretive Govt Ever?

In its “Secrecy Report Card 2008,” released Sep. 9, the group concluded that the Bush administration “exercised unprecedented levels not only of restriction of access to information about federal government’s policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and their underpinnings and sources.”

Lawsuit to Ask That Cheney's Papers Be Made Public
Their lawsuit contends that President Bush sought to improperly narrow the scope of the records law in a 2001 executive order that declares, in part, that the statute "applies to the executive records of the Vice President."

Scholars say "executive records" is a term that is not found in the original act, and that seemingly opens the door to withholding some documents on the grounds that they are "non-executive" records -- legislative records, for instance. It raised red flags because Cheney has frequently argued that his office is not part of the executive branch but rather is "attached" to the legislative branch by virtue of the vice president's role as president of the Senate.

So what I keep wondering is ... what happens if the White House passes to the Democrats? Unless everything the Bush Administration has done is legal and legitimate (and supposing Michigan wins the BCS championship game this year), the Bushies have a dilemma on the secret activities they've taken in the name of national security. Can they afford to let a Democratic President know everything they've done? Nothing in their history suggests that they believe they can tolerate exposure. Do they try to hide any illegal programs we might not have heard about yet?* When word leaks out , then they face a new dilemma: either the program was never essential to national security, or they sabotaged national security in order to protect their image.** Blundering into the second dilemma is the fool's choice, but the Bush/Cheny history strongly suggests they'll do exactly that.

* (Or, more likely, the full extent of programs we only know a little about)

** (The talk radio crowd, of course, will simply claim that Democrats are not real
Americans, cannot be a legitimate government, and so hiding national security matters from them is the only safe and honorable thing to do.)

Here we go again

Yellowstone snowmobile plan thrown out by judge

Friday, September 12, 2008

Stumbled upon

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bring the love

Duke sucks. The university's lawyer says so in no uncertain terms.

National Security Letters

[Note: an earlier version of this post was accidentally zapped out of existence]

Via Library Juice, Mother Jones magazine on the Connecticut librarians' resistance to national security letters. My favorite part:

The Supreme Court subsequently ordered the Justice Department to unseal the court documents in the case. Among the evidence the government had tried to keep secret were quotes from previous Supreme Court cases; copies of New York Times articles; and the text of the Connecticut law that guarantees the confidentiality of library records. The Justice Department had also sealed arguments made by the ACLU attorneys, including this passage: "Now that John Doe's identity has been widely disseminated, the government's sole basis for the gag has wholly evaporated."

Omigod, i would have slept so much better not knowing that ....

Cheney's records

A story I'll be watching. Yeah, I'm partisan, but Cheney has a history. I'd sooner expect a snake to fly than for this dude to ever let people see what he was really doing and thinking.

Scientific gaming

From the Shifted Librarian:

“A few years ago, Constance Steinkuehler — a game academic at the University of Wisconsin — was spending 12 hours a day playing Lineage, the online world game. She was, as she puts it, a ’siege princess,’ running 150-person raids on hellishly difficult bosses. Most of her guild members were teenage boys.

But they were pretty good at figuring out how to defeat the bosses. One day she found out why. A group of them were building Excel spreadsheets into which they’d dump all the information they’d gathered about how each boss behaved: What potions affected it, what attacks it would use, with what damage, and when. Then they’d develop a mathematical model to explain how the boss worked — and to predict how to beat it.

Often, the first model wouldn’t work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they’d collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. ‘They’d be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive,’ Steinkuehler recalls.

That’s when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.



[I started to post on this article, then pulled it because it was unfair to make critical assumptions about Sarah Palin's knowledge before she'd had the chance to show what she's learned. After seeing the first clips of Palin's interview with Charles Gibson, where she displayed her understanding of foreign policy, I'm confident that my thought were right on target.]

E.J Dionne asks The Right and Wrong Questions for Palin

Here are two important paragraphs buried at the bottom of a story in today's New York Times:

"Aides traveling with Ms. Palin have reported back to associates that she is a fast study -- asking few questions of her policy briefers but quickly repeating back their main points -- who already has considerable ease and experience before cameras.

She asks few questions but likes to parrot back answers? She prefers “light preparatory materials” to “heavy briefing books?” And this is the person we want next in line to be president? It sounds as if she makes our current president seem hugely informed and intensely curious.

Sounds like she's prepping for a Bible Quiz, I thought.

One commenter to Dionne's article has this to say:
I've been in compressed learning environment, and that's exactly how I would respond. Why? Asking too many questions is a sign of someone who gets side tracked, and isn't a good use of time. Compressed briefing notes are much easier to absorb.

So how much has she absorbed? Take a look:


Yeah. We've seen this before - the student who hasn't been to class all year and stayed up all night trying to cram at the last minute. There are times when you can skate by with a few names and slogans - sales meetings and political campaigns, for example. That "compressed learning" is sufficient if you, a) will never have to revisit the topic, or b) already have a grasp of the topic. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

On a more political note, take a look again at the third clip. About 0:59, Palin visibly brightens when she says, "You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska!" Women's equality may have been set back 15 years - we pass up a competent woman like Hillary Clinton and then present someone who's hard to take seriously as a grownup.

More seriously yet, Palin says war should be a last resort, but seems to embrace military conflict in every tight situation that Gibson actually raises. Iran? Israel can bomb 'em any time they want. Russia? Of course we might have to fight 'em; why not? You have to suspect that she's not ad-libbing here and that worries me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick again

One of the great follies that George Bush perpetrated in Iraq was to give the entire world a detailed lesson in how to discombobulate the US military. The GOP has just done exactly the same thing for Sarah Palin and the Dems don't get it. The "lipstick on a pig" flap isn't playing particularly well for the GOP, but everyone is criticizing them for faking their outrage.

"Spare me the phony outrage. Spare me the phony talk about change," Obama said at the start of an education event in Norfolk, Virginia.

True, but wrong. Here's the better response: "If Sarah Palin is so sensitive that she's going to burst into tears at trivial comments that weren't even aimed at her, what chance does she have to kick any butt in Washington? Can you imagine her dealing with Vladimir Putin? Whiners are not ready to lead."

Don't dismiss their outrage as phony; accept it as real and turn it against them. Democrats should encourage GOP whining at every opportunity, because they'll fall for it hook, line, sinker, rod, and reel. The GOP has built an industry around complaining about the media, while talk radio and Fox News have given them a critic-free cocoon that Dems don't really have. And they've become whiners. You don't even have to fling real mud to make them squawk. Encourage that squawking, because you can't claim to be a kick-ass maverick while you complain about everything in sight and Americans are not going to elect crybabies.


J.K. Rowling wins copyright infringement case

"The proposed book took an enormous amount of my work and added virtually no original commentary of its own. ... Many books have been published which offer original insights into the world of Harry Potter. The Lexicon just is not one of them.“

I'm happy to see Rowling make this positive nod toward fair use. You can talk about her work; you just can't appropriate it for yourself.

Political discourse

Lipstick on a Pig

'Cause Sarah Palin may be a tough pit bull who's gonna go to Washington and kick some pansy liberal ass, but if you even hint at calling her names, her people are gonna squeal like a stuck ... well, you know.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


People will say they like a maverick; here's what they really mean:

[I]t was interesting in talking to a lot of people at the Republican convention. One woman told me, "You know, McCain is a maverick and that's a good thing, but we never quite know where he is going to come out except on military matters."

Political ads

On the heels of this post about an Obama ad in Michigan, I run across this portion of an interview with the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz:

[Caller:] "The Daily Show" seemingly has patented a technique of finding old video clips of politicians directly contradicting themselves and highlighting those contradictions. It's especially illuminating to see the words coming out of their mouths -- that's harder to refute than a printed story. Why don't we see this more on actual news shows? Isn't that a good way of finding truth in a world of spin -- or at least of pointing directly at the spin and making it more obvious?

Howard Kurtz: We are starting to see more of that on actual news shows, which are taking a page from the "Daily Show" playbook. Jon Stewart didn't invent the technique, but he's used it to great effect. It helps to have a small army of TiVo researchers, as he does.

What I'd like to hear more of

Obama to Palin: 'Don't Mock the Constitution'

"The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting," Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. "Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years."

He finished with a dismissive comment about his opponents.

"These people."


Back in the days before email and cell phones, my siblings and I used to send a lot of snail mail, often with 10-page letters, always with newspaper clippings. We had a lot of Big Thoughts back then. But part of the fun was decorating the envelopes, usually with irreverent headline clippings and similar odds and ends. Good ol' post office - they'd deliver a letter to my address, even if it was addressed to Dan Quayle or the Knight of the Living Dead or whatever other random thought had popped into someone's head.

James and I certainly didn't have the drawing skills to do this, however. Pity.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Obama in the archives, pt. III

On the SAA listserv, the UIC-Chicagao Annenberg Challenge flap is being kept alive. Conservative bloggers are convinced that the CAC collection is being vetted to prevent researchers from uncovering embarrassing material on Barack Obama. But the emails from Kenneth Rolling, former director of the CAC, actually look pretty innocent to me. Only a very few folders are marked as potentially containing confidential information and the reasons are entirely legitimate: one set contains records of a job search and might contain confidential information on the applicants; the other set relates to research where the subjects were promised confidentiality. Having worked briefly with research and IRB matters, I know that confidentiality of research subjects' private information is a Very Big Deal. So now I'm inclined to think there's much less to the affair than it first appeared, other than to note that archives need to have it all together before things hit the fan.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fishing wolves

Wolves Prefer Salmon to Deer?

Even the authors believed salmon would be an alternative prey, reserved for times when deer were scarce. Darimont said he and his team were "absolutely shocked" to find that the wolves seemed to prefer salmon in the fall, when the fish are migrating upstream to spawn. "The deer are there," he said. "They could persist on deer."

Obama ad

The DNC has produced an interesting tv ad which is playing in Michigan:

The interesting part is seeing the videos tweaked to put the two speakers in synch. Very Youtubeish, DailyShowish, which I don't recall seeing in a mainstream political ad before.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Obama in the archives, pt. II

Following up an earlier post, the UIC Special Collections has replied to a critical editorial.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Library is dedicated to the preservation and transmission of knowledge  for our own community of students, faculty and staff, scholars from other institutions, and the general public. Many rare and important documents, maps, and other materials have been entrusted to the Library's Special Collections department, where they are catalogued, preserved, and made available on a daily basis.

The Library's collections include the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge - more than 50,000 pages of documents and other materials which were donated by the board of directors of the Challenge in December 2001.

On Aug. 11 of this year, a former senior employee of the Challenge contacted the Library, raising a legal question about ownership of the collection and our right to make the documents available to the public. We took the correct and responsible course of action - to temporarily close the collection while researching the legal issues raised. After a thorough review, we determined that we indeed have the right to make the collection open for public inspection. The materials were reopened to the public and press in accordance with the normal procedures of Special Collections on Aug. 26, meaning that the collection was closed for only 11 working days - all the while kept under lock and key.*

Your claims to the contrary, the complaints and attacks from certain quarters had no bearing on any of our actions or decisions. We do not need to be, and were not, bullied into doing the right thing. On the basis of the prudent analysis that was performed, the collection would have been re-opened regardless of the comments that were made. The closing and prompt re-opening of the collection were actions of responsible stewardship, and the suggestion that the University wavered or caved in to pressure is, quite simply, baseless.


Mark Rosati
Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs
University of Illinois at Chicago

More or less what you would expect anyone to say, in that position. It's a bit funny that UIC would be contacted with concerns about this collection right at the time that a researcher (almost certain to be hostile to his subject) wants to use it. Doesn't mean any of this happened at UIC's instigation, but it does sound like someone was hoping to create a barrier to archival research. For shame.

* Stanley Kurtz, the National Review Online writer, has hinted that he suspects documents to disappear to be altered in this time. I have a hard time imagining that the librarians at UIC have enough stake in the matter to commit professional suicide that way.

Handling secret documents

Report Describes Careless Handling of U.S. Secrets
Gonzales Says He Does Not Recall

So does this man ever remember anything?

Gonzales improperly carried notes about the warrantless wiretapping program in an unlocked briefcase and failed to keep them in a safe at his Northern Virginia home three years ago because he "could not remember the combination," the department's inspector general reported.
Ultimately, Gonzales stored them in a safe outside his Justice Department office that was accessible by people who lacked the requisite security clearances to see them ... In one instance, employees searching for material related to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2006 sifted through the sensitive material in the safe "document by document."
Gonzales characterized the amount of material he possessed as limited and said the lapses were unintentional. He said he had followed policies as he understood them during his time at the White House. "He always placed the notes in the most secure place over which he had immediate personal control"

The most insightful comment:
"Because so much information is classified, there's a tendency to treat classified records in a cavalier fashion," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarah Palin, censor

From today's Time Magazine article, via librarian.net:

[Former Wasilla mayor] Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving “full support” to the mayor.


The Sanborn fire insurance maps are one of the great treasures of urban history - large-scale (1"=50'), block-by-block maps of American cities and towns, covering the century between 1867 and 1970.

What I didn't know is that they mapped some remarkably small communities, such as the one I grew up in:

Mom & Dad's property is in the upper left hand corner, with exactly the same buildings it had when we moved there in 1969. You can find older maps here, but they don't cover our part of town. Whether that means the maps don't exist, or just that they've not been digitized, I don't know.

Internet maps

Internet maps 'demolish British history'

You might see a headline like that and think the speaker is being overwrought. And you'd be right.

Churches, cathedrals, stately homes, battlefields, ancient woodlands, rivers, eccentric landmarks and many more features which make up the tapestry of the British landscape are not being represented in online maps, which focus on merely providing driving directions, said Mary Spence, President of the British Cartographical Society.

"There is just a hole where the Abbey is," Ms Spence said. "This is tragic. They call this a map but it is so inadequate. It has not been interpreted in any way. It has no landmarks on it."

No kidding. And a maritime map never tells me where any of the motels are. Any decent map is a special-purpose map.

The real story here is not that Google Maps is destroying cartography. Through the magic of mashups, they're letting more people engage in mapmaking.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Crazy fun

Seven bucks for the demolition derby at the Saline Community Fair - very well spent.

Obama in the archives

I see this has finally hit the MSM: "Files linking Obama to '60s radical a hot commodity."

The story is that Barack Obama was president of the Board of Directors for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, public school reform program in the 1990's. Another participant, in a different part of the organization, was one Bill Ayres, who is now a professor at the University of Illinois - Chicago, but was a Vietnam-protesting bomb thrower with the Weather Underground back in the day.

Conservatives would dearly love to link Obama as closely as possible to an admitted terrorist, so the National Review's Stanley Kurz set out to comb the CAC files held in the special collections at UIC's Richard J. Daley Library. According to his account, he was told over the phone that there would be no problem seeing the files. Then, just before he left for Chicago, he received an email stating that the collection was closed; he wouldn't be able to see it either because, a) the donor had alerted the Library that they didn't have a signed deed of gift; or b) the collection hadn't been processed enough to determine what material should be restricted.

Naturally, this got more attention in the Red Blogosphere (example) than in the Blue Blogosphere. It also generated some heat (but not much light) on the SAA Listserv, simply because the story was being tracked by only a couple people, at least one of whom thought the shortage of discussion reflects political bias among archivists. Others replied that it's hard to comment on a situation when you don't know the archives in question - the world of documents, their ownership, their processing, and the potential to invade privacy really is a murky one sometimes. Hard to say. I should think that a 60-page finding aid listing five restricted folders would indicate enough processing had already taken place to adequately address ownership and privacy concerns. So I lean a bit toward suspicion that someone thought they ought to contact someone and let them know that someone was going to search their files for something ....

Anyway, the files are now open and it's rather unlikely that Kurz is going to find anything showing Obama to be a Weatherman Wannabee, so stonewalling him would have been a (*ahem*) counterproductive move. But it wouldn't be the first time anyone made that mistake.

Tidbit from the Trib article:

Television crews hovered at the room's entrance. Librarians scurried to copying machines to fulfill the requests of a roomful of reporters. Two security officers stood guard.

On a typical day, one or two scholars may conduct research there. The library director laughed when asked whether it has had security before.

Tidbit from the listserv:
Commenter 1: "WARNING - I have no knowledge as to the political leanings of the Chicago Tribune, so treat with caution. But as a member of the MSM I would suspect they may lean to the left rather than the right."

Commenter 2: "Actually the Tribune hasn't endorsed a Democrat for president since 1872."

History in Brazil

Interesting news from last week: 'Lost towns' discovered in Amazon

It's a nice reminder of how much history - in this case, major happenings of great consequence - takes place, even among people that we're tempted to think of as just having lived in the same manner for the last 10,000 years. There's no such thing as "pristine," either among societies or rain forests.