Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mapping banned books

From the Maps listserv, here's a Google Maps plotting of banned books ( as compiled from the ALA's "Books Banned and Challenged 2007-2008," and "Books Banned and Challenged 2008-2009," and the "Kids' Right to Read Project Report"). How does your neighborhood compare?

I notice that not every item on the source lists seems to be plotted, so maybe Utah isn't as clean as it looks. Still ... didn't you think there'd be a few markers there? Maybe I should give more credit where credit is due.

Despite a certain incompleteness, someone has made the map pretty informative. As you mouse over the markers, it pops open some copied-and-pasted text that describes the incident behind the listing. Some of the usual suspects are there, including Philip Pullman and JK Rowling; also, someone considered Craig Thompson's Blankets too sexy and had it moved from a young adults section. Someone else thinks Of Mice and Men is an offensive load of crap and shouldn't be read. In general, bad books are those that mention sex, contain swear words, and don't flatter Christianity.

Of course, I'm not always completely on-board with the banned books lists, as they tend to lump every type of "challenge" together in a single category. Some parents question whether a books is age-appropriate, not whether it has any value. I might disagree, but it's a fair question.

I'm also slightly open to complaining when books are assigned reading. I'm not really opposed to children being forced required to read things they might not otherwise encounter, but even a schoolteacher doesn't have complete authority to override parental wishes. I think it's a bad impulse to complain - giving a child a book is not an effective brainwashing technique, but shielding them from any message but your own is. So I disapprove , but the parents aren't necessarily outside their rights.

Then there are the demands that books be removed from library shelves. That's entirely wrong, period. You don't have the right to demand that no one else's child be allowed to read a book.

Court case regarding evidence on computers

Here's an interesting court decision that came down recently: investigators who are searching a computer under a search warrant may not seize files that provide evidence of a different crime than the warrant provided for.

It's another example of established law running into confusion when it encounters new technology. Search warrants are made out for specific purposes, so if the police come to search for evidence of one crime, they can't seize on evidence of a different crime - unless the evidence of that other crime is in "plain view." Its a fuzzy standard, but the purpose is clear enough - if the searchers happen to see a corpse in the hall or drugs on the coffee table, they're not obliged to ignore them; but they aren't supposed to use the warrant as a pretext for a fishing expedition to see if they can find something, anything, to charge a person with, either.

So the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has slapped down an attempt to claim that every file on a computer is in "plain view" when it is being searched. Otherwise, any computer search would automatically acquire unlimited scope, regardless of the warrant. That seems like a reasonable application of the law. However, the article hints that the Justice Department might consider appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court, which might be deferential to police claims that constitutional rights interfere with their jobs. So maybe nothing has been settled yet.

(via the Archives listserv)

Friday, September 25, 2009

More trouble for the Google Books settlement

French publishers have brought suit in Paris to stop the Google settlement, because the newly-digitized collection certainly contains many French works without their publishers' permission. The rhetoric is a wee bit hyperbolic: the president of the publishers group Syndicat National de l’Edition refers to the settlement as a "cultural rape," from which you would think scanning books is comparable to, oh, Napoleon filling the Louvre with the pillaged treasures of Europe or something. Ridiculous.

I had to search several articles before I could discover that Google is scanning books from a French library, which is the only avenue I can see for thinking French courts would have any jurisdiction at all; my (shallow) understanding of the Berne Convention is that French books in America fall under American law (the main point of the convention is that they do get the protection of the other country's laws and are not fair game for plagiarism and republishing). So I dunno - it might be a stretch to have Paris courts weighing in on the settlement. But in any event, the challenges are mounting and we may be much farther from that wonderful electronic library than we need to be.

Friday photo

Canada Goose, Livingston, Montana, April 2005

This photo was taken in a city park, so I was a bit closer than the geese in Yellowstone would normally allow me. It's a nice example of that watchfulness typical of geese - anytime you see a flock, there will be two or three standing watch with their heads high in the air, while the rest have their heads down in the grass eating. I have no idea how they decided who eats first and when to trade shifts, but somehow they have that cooperation stuff all worked out, which means my siblings and I were much sillier than geese.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This seemed worth commenting upon: in Des Moines, Iowa, which witnessed a small to-do over atheist signs appearing on city buses awhile back, someone has decided to respond with their own pro-God signs on the same buses.

Let's compare the slogans. First, the atheists: "Don't believe in God? You're not alone."

Now the Christians: "Only fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.' " That is a slight, but tellingly less restrained, paraphrase of Psalm 14:1.

On the live-and-let-live scale, I'd say the atheists win by a huge margin. No person insults, no mockery, just a little statement that "we exist," far more respectful of others' viewpoints than the several church signs I pass on the way to work every day.

The Christians, on the other hand, went immediately to belittling, personal insults. And probably expect us to admire their restraint in not threatening eternal hellfire.

Now who would you rather try to build a civilized society with?

About cloning

A colleague just forwarded an email conversation about bad health information on the internet, in which someone had included a link to this wonderful spoof site about custom cloning services.

This site is very skilfully done and some poor students have been taken in by it*. The testimonials are terrific, but you really should read the FAQ's, because the authors have gone to a lot of effort to correct some common misperceptions, such as:

- no, you can't clone yourself and live forever
- if you make your clone a slave, you're violating his/her human rights
- if in-vitro-fertilized babies have souls, there's every reason to think your clone will have a soul, too
- no, your copy of a celebrity's genetic material will not produce someone who is exactly like that celebrity; environment and experience play a part in development, too.

[PS. The company services for surrogate mothers to carry the clone to term, but to me, the use of the expression "surrogate birther" suddenly calls to mind images of someone attending one of these right-wing Tea Parties because his crazy buddy has a conflicting appointment.]

* Okay, that's not huge praise, I know. But when you see the site, you'll be less surprised.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Archivists on Wikipedia

This came through the archives listserv a few days back and I meant to blog it, but it slipped my mind. ArchivesNext has the story.

In sum, Wikipedia has a policy against organizations filling their articles with links to themselves; that sort of self-pimping is deeply frowned upon and the links usually get deleted rather promptly. Unfortunately, this entirely reasonable policy was also sweeping up some well-meaning archivists who were trying to improve the documentation in Wikipedia by linking to the sources they knew best - their own archives. Their work was being deleted as illicit self-service.

The good news is that the Wikipowers-that-be have granted a desirable exception to their rules against self-promotion, which can only improve Wikipedia's reliability. Assuming they don't abuse their new privileges, archives will be allowed to link to their own relevant holdings. Thank goodness! The reference section of your average Wikipedia article tends to be an utter embarrassment, a small collection of links to random websites with dubious credentials. Letting archivists in on the act can only make the product stronger.

Your 2-minute giggle

Via The Scholarly Kitchen, "apple-polishing at Apple:"

Monday, September 21, 2009

Yellowstone grizzlies back on the list

Two years after federal officials announced their "amazing" recovery, grizzly bears near Yellowstone National Park have been given renewed federal protections by a federal judge who expressed concern that climate change, among other factors, could impair the bears' hopes for survival.
Only a short announcement, but you can read a little more here. And a longer article here.

The grizzly bears in Yellowstone seemed to be in real trouble in the early 1970's, when a crash program of closing the garbage dumps that they loved to frequent, plus a hyper-aggressive program of removing bears that spent too much time in campgrounds, combined to eliminate some 88 bears in the years 1970 and 1971. This was out of population that numbered somewhere from 150 to 300, depending on whose numbers you believed*; either way, those kinds of losses were clearly unsustainable and the Yellowstone grizzlies went on the Endangered Species List in 1975.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem now contains some 500 bears, the target level for considering grizzlies to be "recovered," and that is indeed a great success story. The bears were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007. However, the judge agrees with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the corresponding state agencies, have failed to establish a plan that has any legal teeth to it, should the bear population start to fall again. So back on the list they go, at least until a more solid management plan can be devised.

* The dispute over the most accurate bear census was extremely bitter. You can read about the whole fracas in Paul Schullery's The Bears of Yellowstone and Frank Criaghead's Track of the Grizzly.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday photo

Yellowstone Lake, April, 1998

Yellowstone Lake, lying 7733' above sea level, is covered in ice for about half the year, unseen by summer tourists. This photo was taken in front of Lake Lodge, where I worked that summer; however, at this time we were probably six weeks from opening and no one but the maintenance staff was around. There must have been a recent snowfall, because even animals haven't marked the snow here, and the clouds hint at another storm to come - although I don't recall whether one did. Between the snow cover and the clouds, you wouldn't even know the lake was there except for the lines created by the lighter-colored ice.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On helpfulness

I'm back at a certain small Midwestern University and we have a new stats-tracking database - no more check marks on paper. During the summer,when things were slow, librarians were careful to record their transactions in some detail, and my coworker has pointed me to this one:

Q: Best question ever - "Do you have books on vampires?"

A: "Novels or more like non-fiction history?"
"Non-fiction. I've been bitten by a vampire"
"When was this?"
"A couple weeks ago in my room"
"Did you have it checked by a medical professional?"
"No, I have not"

That was recommended, along with a few books in GR830.

(GR830, btw, is where you would shelve books on folklore and magical creatures; I'm guessing it takes up more shelving at Hogwarts than it does here.)

Those Native American dioramas at UM

I posted awhile back about the UM Museum of Natural History's 50-year-old dioramas of Native Americans and how badly they reflected an earlier era. I've just learned that the museum is finally going to retire them in January of 2010. However, they won't disappear suddenly, with no trace; there will be a transitional exhibit explaining why the dioramas are being removed and how this reflects changing scholarship and sensibilities. Never miss an educational opportunity - nice job.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday photo

Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, August 2002

Of the "grand hotels" of the national park system, none has so spectacular a setting as the Many Glacier.

Copyright Office weighs in on Google settlement - not good

The Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters, testified before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday and she is quite skeptical about the legality of Google's plan to scan books and create a registry of authors for future compensation. The crux of her concern:

Ms. Peters said that in granting something like a “compulsory license,” a requirement that rights owners license works to others, the settlement essentially usurped the authority of Congress and skirted deliberations.

“In essence, the proposed settlement would give Google a license to infringe first and ask questions later, under the imprimatur of the court,” Ms. Peters wrote in her prepared testimony.

This has always been the biggest legal sticking point in Google's digitization scheme - do they need to negotiate approval first (the opt-in position), or can they go ahead with their scanning and then later restrict books whose rights-holders step up and ask them to stop (the opt-out position). Getting prior permission for millions of books is impractical, to say the least, so Google has always preferred opt-out: we'll scan it, but let us know if you don't want us making it available.*

Peters is arguing that, practicality be damned, the law just doesn't allow it. Like it or not, you need permission first.** The Google registry essentially creates a compulsory license system, much like how songwriters get paid but can't make a radio station stop playing their songs. The latter system, of course, came about by an act of Congress and there's the rub - Google isn't Congress, even if they do have a stronger bank account.

You can read my contemptuous views on the so-called Google "monopoly" here, but the registry is a more serious matter. Even if it's a good solution - and I believe, for the most part, it is - it might not be legal without federal legislation. Unfortunately, so long as it appears only one company is in a position to benefit, that won't happen. Amazon may be building a digital library under an opt-in system, but that leaves an enormous amount of literature - the orphan works - untouchable.

So it's entirely possible that, while there's no illegal monopoly here, the fear of one will prevent an allowable solution - Congress stepping in and creating a compulsory licensing scheme. It will be a tragedy if we lose a chance to make all these books accessible because only one company was bold enough to take on the task***, but that could well be the result. Is it really better to have no grand digital library than to let Google be the spearhead?

* Where major publishers are aware of what's going on, though, they don't hesitate to opt-out before the scanning takes place. At the UM libraries, the stacks are festooned with pink slips that read "Not scanned at publisher request."

**Unless, like Bobby Bowfinger, you're lucky enough to catch those publisher in some kind of embarrassing situation....

***Ayn Rand fan should be hearing, "Why should only Henry Rearden be allowed to make Rearden Metal?" Seriously, I've seen suggestions that Google should be forced to give away all the digital files they've made at enormous cost.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The future of innovation

New mint series

Forget health care reform, early release of terrorists, or the flu epidemic: the big news today is that Yellowstone will have its very own quarter!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Via Pharyngula, I learn that Al Franken would know where his towel is, no matter where he left it:

That has to be some parlor trick he developed as a smart-ass kid.

Monday, September 7, 2009

New York prehistory

This month's National Geographic has an article featuring the Mannahatta Project, a recreation of Manhattan's natural environment. The project started by geolocating the still-extant sites on the British map of the island, prepared during the Revolutionary War, and built from there back to 1609, when Henry Hudson became the first European to see the place.

The website is built around the Google map of Manhattan, but with an extra layer representing a visual image of the landscape as it likely appeared in 1609, plus popup descriptions of the local ecosystem. You should definitely try it out.

I've posted a quickie-demo here.

The project was also featured in the New Yorker a couple years ago.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Photo

Elk on Opal Terrace, September 1996

Opal Terrace is a young, but currently inactive travertine flow across the road from the main terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. I wouldn't think of it as a comfortable divan, but this handsome fellow did.

Inspired by this Glenn Beck lecture ....

The Left of right-wing imagination:

The Left of reality:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Vanity plate

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Stumbled upon

This is really weird:

An observation on social media

From The Scholarly Kitchen, an interesting comment on the "narcissism" of Facebook and other social media:

And this is where the real twist comes in — students, in general, don’t have anything other than themselves and their social lives to promote via social media. But once they’ve published books, established consultancies, started careers, invested in hobbies, etc., you can bet they’ll turn immediately to social media to promote aspects of these goods and services ... It might look like narcissism now, but really, it’s just practice.