June 13, 2010
John Allen Paulos is a mathematician who writes books about numeracy for a popular audience. The New York Times Magazine published a brief but insightful essay by him about the dangers inherent in relying on numbers without looking at how they are arrived at (my basic issue with Wolfram Alpha). Here is the starting paragraph of that article, “Metric Mania“:
In the realm of public policy, we live in an age of numbers. To hold teachers accountable, we examine their students’ test scores. To improve medical care, we quantify the effectiveness of different treatments. There is much to be said for such efforts, which are often backed by cutting-edge reformers. But do wehold an outsize belief in our ability to gauge complex phenomena, measure outcomes and come up with compelling numerical evidence? A well-known quotation usually attributed to Einstein is “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” I’d amend it to a less eloquent, more prosaic statement: Unless we know how things are counted, we don’t know if it’s wise to count on the numbers.
June 9, 2010
A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement’s Adaptation into Cyberspace
Author: Adam Klein
Published: June 2010
A Space for Hate speaks to the media and information topic of hate speech in cyberspace, but more specifically, how its inscribers have adapted their movement into the social networking and information-providing contexts of the modern online community. While many books in recent years have addressed the notable ways that popular internet culture and cyber trends such as blogging have democratized the community of information seekers and providers, little research to date has addressed the darker element that has emerged from that same democratic sphere. That is, the huge resurgence and successful transformation of hate groups across cyberspace, and in particular, those that promote white supremacist ideas and causes. In 2009, hate speech and white power movement organizations in the United States are on the rise once again, fueled by new issues but with familiar themes. Among them, the nomination of the first African-American president of the United States, a national economic crisis that has triggered ethnic scapegoating, and an immigration debate centered largely on illegal Hispanic immigrants. These are just some of the emerging social issues by which today’s hate groups have framed familiar messages of blame, anger, fear, resistance, uprising and action.
The author’s interest in this book project evolved from examining the powerful effects of what many media scholars commonly deem the “hypodermic needle” of mass communication – propaganda. Being the grandson of two Auschwitz survivors who documented their stories through oral and written tradition, his research in the modern day forms of hateful propaganda emanates from a desire to pursue the unanswered question of how the fever of racist sentiment can sweep over a civilized society as it has done so brutally in the past. A Space for Hate focuses on the white power movement, in particular, by using hate-based websites as a concrete and measurable field for examining racial and ethnically targeting messages in the age of information and technology. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more widespread today than within the unguarded walls of cyberspace. The increasingly acceptable domain of racist and anti-Semitic expression within such commonplace websites as Wikipedia, an “information” tool, and YouTube, the younger web community’s digital hub, initially suggested the need to further research the way that cyberspace was allowing blatant hate speech to once again flourish within mainstream popular culture. That investigation led to an investigation of white power movement websites where the new face of hate, in fact, does not resemble the book burning rallies of the neo-Nazi banner but rather the popular forums, media convergence centers, and information tools of social networking websites.
A Space for Hate speaks to the interests of readers of media and information studies material by focusing on three central spheres of hate speech in cyberspace: the legal/ethical concern, the cultural context, and the information aspect, each of which leads into the main body of the study of a series of hate group websites. First, any work on hate speech must begin by addressing the ‘free speech versus hate speech’ debate that has always surrounded the issue of hateful rhetoric in the media, and is further currently being tested on new ground in the World Wide Web. Tied into the legal debate of hate speech on the web are the ethical issues of the internet space itself such as its unregulated content, decentralized and unaccountable domain, and limitless exposure to younger audiences. Second, and perhaps most relevant to this topic is the cultural youth element of cyberspace, specifically those popular trends that have allowed hate-groups to adapt and flourish often under the camouflage of a “user-friendly” social network community. Finally the book investigates exactly how these hate groups are entering into the mainstream media culture by playing on traditional formats which convey their movements as tools of information – educational, political, spiritual, and even scientific in nature.
May 7, 2010
Lawsuit Challenges Police and Secret Service Crackdown on Journalists Covering Protests at Republican National Convention
May 5, 2010, Minnesota and St. Paul, MN —Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) with co-counsel De Leon & Nestor and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, filed a federal lawsuit against the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments and officers, the municipalities, the Ramsey County Sheriff and unidentified Secret Service personnel. The lawsuit challenges the policies and conduct of law enforcement during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in 2008 that resulted in the unlawful arrests and unreasonable use of force against the plaintiffs, three Democracy Now! journalists: Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar.
Said award-winning journalist and plaintiff Amy Goodman: “We shouldn’t have to get a record to put things on the record. This is not only a violation of freedom of the press but a violation of the public’s right to know. When journalists are arrested, that has a chilling effect on the functioning of a democratic society.”
Goodman v. St. Paul seeks compensation and an injunction against law enforcement’s unjustified encroachment on First Amendment rights, including freedom of the press and the independence of the media. Attorneys say the government cannot limit journalists’ right to cover matters of public concern by requiring that they present a particular perspective; for instance, the government cannot require journalists to “embed” with state authorities. Goodman further asserts that the government cannot, in the name of security, limit the flow of information by acting unwarrantedly against journalists who report on speech protected by the First Amendment, such as dissent, and the public acts of law enforcement.
“The media are the eyes and ears of the American people—that is why there are laws to protect them,” said CCR attorney Anjana Samant. “Law enforcement and Secret Service agents are not exempt from those laws in their dealings with un-embedded journalists who are documenting peaceful protestors or law enforcement’s use of force and violence against those protestors.”
“The protests on the streets outside the convention center are just as important to the democratic process as the official party proceedings inside,” said journalist and plaintiff Sharif Abdel Kouddous. “Journalists should not have to risk being arrested, brutalized or intimidated by the police in order to perform their duties, exercise their First Amendment rights and facilitate the rights of others to freedom of speech and assembly.”
“The video of my arrest and of Amy’s mobilized an overwhelming public response,” said journalist Nicole Salazar. “The public has both an interest and a right to know how law enforcement officials are acting on their behalf. We should ask ourselves what kind of accountability exists when there is no coverage of police brutality and intimidation.”
For more information on the case, visit CCR’s legal case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.
April 4, 2010
Today’s New York Times has an informative little item comparing the environmental impact of producing an ipad versus that of a paper book: “How Green is My iPad?“
November 8, 2009
Welcome support for intellectuals who are making the choice NOT to go for a Ph.D.:
The Ph.D. Problem: On the professionalization of faculty life, doctoral training, and the academy’s self-renewal, by Louis Menand, Harvard Magazine, November-December 2009.
October 25, 2009
This post is a presentation of two lists of priorities – first, priorities of the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), and second, a list of the kind of issue that I think SRRT ought to emphasize instead. The first list is as complete a list as I was able to compile of the subjects of SRRT’s official resolutions from mid-2002 to mid-2005 (the time during which I was SRRT Action Council Coordinator). The second is a list of many of the important progressive issues in librarianship according to the way I personally see things. They are the issue areas that have given me my motivation as an activist and now a publisher in librarianship. Because those issues have been my priorities but not always SRRT’s or the Progressive Librarians’ Guild’s, I often felt out of place in those groups even as an insider.
First, the list of topics addressed by SRRT’s official resolutions between mid-2002 and mid-2005 (at least the ones I was able to find):
- Health insurance
- The Iraq war (a number of these)
- The war in Afghanistan
- Freedom to travel to Cuba
- Workplace speech
- Disinformation in the public sphere (this one was actually initiated by me)
- Cultural democracy as a core value
- Racist training materials used by the U.S. Military
- ALA partnerships and sponsorships
This is a very partial list, but based on my own memory I think it gives a fair representation of the scope and proportion of SRRT’s resolutions. I personally agreed with a lot of these resolutions.
The resolution on disinformation, which had to do with Bush administration tactics, arose from a discussion within Action Council in which I complained that too many of SRRT’s resolutions were not directly related to library issues or even issues of information ethics in general. In answer to the question, “What do you propose we do instead?” I drafted an earlier, unused version of that resolution. Part of the fallout of that discussion was that some members of action Council began encouraging me to try the Intellectual Freedom Round Table as a better place to pursue my priorities.
Here is my own list, not exhaustive, of the kind of issues and topics that I would like to see addressed from a progressive perspective and in an organized way. Some of them concern intellectual freedom, but most do not. They could all be said to be in the realm of information ethics, and in most cases have a political angle that can be drawn out through a bit of intellectual work.
- Privacy (of library users, web users, and citizens)
- Copyright and the Open Access Movement
- Workplace speech
- Deprofessionalization and deskilling
- Librarians’ pay and status
- “Next generation library catalogs”
- Cataloging trends
- Market effects on intellectual freedom (media monopoly)
- Academic Freedom
- Internet filtering
- Net neutrality
- Information as a public good
- Government secrecy
- Privatization of information and information services
- Trends favoring casual users over researchers
- The dumbing down of culture and of educational institutions
- Funding crises / library closings
- The decline of publishing / changes in the publishing industry
- Digitization as a funding priority
- Conflict over the foundations of the library profession
- Education 2.0 and critical thinking
- Critical perspectives on multiple literacies and media shift
- The digital divide
- The literacy divide
- The middle class bias of public libraries
- Serving the underserved
- Racism and sexism and libraries
- Capitalism and trends in the information landscape
- Library of Congress priorities
- American Library Association priorities
- OCLC priorities
- Library education and the iSchools
- Media, information overload, and the educational psychology of reading
- Critical pedagogy and library instruction
- Queer theory, information access, and information organization
- Neutrality and advocacy
- Bias in systems of information organization
- The crisis in journalism and its meaning for the public sphere
- Change in the nature of the public sphere
- The digital preservation crisis
- The role of local perspectives and local needs
- Commercialization of libraries
- Corporate funding (of libraries, of ALA)
- Indigenous knowledge and Intellectual Freedom
- Intellectual Freedom and hate literature/hate speech
- Research standards in the profession / bias in research
- Google Books settlement
First, to be fair to the Progressive Librarians’ Guild, I should say that they have often done a better job than SRRT of addressing many of these big-picture issues. Also, to be fair to SRRT, I should mention that many SRRT members are not interested in the resolutions that SRRT Action Council passes and do their work within the issues-based Task Forces that are a part of SRRT, and I have not represented their activities here.
To me, the issues on the second list have as much urgency as the war in Afghanistan, and are within a sphere which we can claim as our own by virtue of being librarians. I would like to see SRRT do more to address these kinds of issues and less to address issues that are not related to libraries. That is not to say that ALA has “no business” addressing non-library issues. I think ALA has a right to talk about the war in Afghanistan and may see the need to make statements on such issues from time to time. But I don’t think it should ever be our primary focus, not when there are urgent matters to address within our own sphere. And just because these issues relate to our professional qualifications does not make them apolitical. Part of the point of addressing these issues from a political angle would be to demonstrate the ways in which our profession is tied up with politics in various ways.
So is this a call for action? I suppose I could make it one:
- More issues of information ethics and information politics in SRRT
- More talking and thinking and writing about these issues
As always, Library Juice Press is accepting manuscripts and book proposals…
October 22, 2009
From Salon: “Is the Internet melting our brains?” “No! The author of “A Better Pencil” explains why such hysterical hand-wringing is as old as communication itself.” By Vincent Rossmeier.
From The Australian: “Specialist Pleading,” by Frank Ferudi. “ONE of the most influential contemporary cultural myths is that our era is characterised by the end of deference. … Commentators interpret the declining influence of traditional authority and institutions as proof that people have become less deferential and possess more critical attitudes than in the past. However, it is less frequently noted that deference to traditional authority has given way to the reverence of expertise.”
From the L.A. Times: “The lost art of reading,” by David L. Ulin. “The relentless cacophony that is life in the 21st century can make settling in with a book difficult even for lifelong readers and those who are paid to do it.”
From Policy Review: “Orwell’s Instructive Errors,” by Liam Julian. “The edifying commentator is also a flawed one.”
September 24, 2009
This is not library-related, but I would like to pass on a link to an article on the career of the late Polish intellectual Leszek Kolakowski by Tony Judt, in the New York Review of Books. I read a book of his in college (titled, simply, Religion) that influenced my thinking. I admired Kolakowski for his independence and depth when I read the book, and I appreciate Tony Judt’s article.
August 28, 2009
Yes, I know I’m supposed to be user-centered and all that, but I think the great wave of populism we’re seeing now is going to lead to bad things. Some friends say it’s a time of opportunity, that maybe the blind rage of the common man can be directed toward support of progressive policies. Perhaps, but with everyone’s attention spans diminishing and few people actually looking into details or questioning assumptions (progress to some of you out there), I tend to think that things are unraveling. And “the people” are only going to get angrier when the middle class tax increases come in a couple of years (as though there was an alternative to transferring debt to the public sector to bail out the global economy).
So as an antidote to the present populist fervor, three quotations that I hope mean something….
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).
- Mark Twain, Notebook, 1904
Most people are not liars. They can’t tolerate too much cognitive dissonance. I don’t want to deny that there are outright liars, just brazen propagandists. You can find them in journalism and in the academic professions as well. But I don’t think that’s the norm. The norm is obedience, adoption of uncritical attitudes, taking the easy path of self-deception.
- Noam Chomsky, in an interview with James Peck, found in the Chomsky Reader
History is the present. That’s why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.
- E. L. Doctorow, in an interview in Writers at Work (1988)
June 24, 2009
The Baffler is coming back! The Baffler was my favorite magazine during the years it was being published. Thomas Frank has announced he is bringing it back, and is involving some really great people.
This is great news, especially for smart, critical, non-trendy Gen-Xers, whom I think the magazine really spoke to.
June 16, 2009
It’s easy to think that politics has no place in the production of reference materials and that objective reference works are by nature apolitical. Yes, solid reference sources tend to work against ideologically and rhetorically-based thinking and in favor of fact-based reasoning and questioning, that is true, but one should not conclude from that than an apolitical position is the result.
Case in point: the role of a Greek-Macedonian Dictionary (and attempts to destroy it) in the fight for and against Macedonian statehood….
May 1, 2009
New from Litwin Books
Forty Years in the Struggle: The Memoirs of a Jewish Anarchist
Author: Chaim Leib Weinberg
Translator: Naomi Cohen
Editor: Robert Helms
Published: May 2009
Printed on acid-free paper
This story, told by one colorful figure among the anarchists of Philadelphia, does not tell the entire story of the city’s movement, nor does one man’s experience with anarchism present the long and dramatic saga of the idea and its believers. The memoirs of Chaim Leib Weinberg offer an interesting sliver of a larger picture, holding to an exclusively working class, folkloric niche. The author was an incredible orator and story teller: these were the talents that set him apart from most of his contemporaries. Because he devoted half a century to practicing his oral craft, he left a clear mark on the radical culture he lived within.
April 15, 2009
The following obituary for Franklin Rosemont was written by Séamas Cain, a writer I know here in the Duluth, Minnesota area.
Franklin Rosemont, surrealist poet, artist, historian, street speaker, & labor activist, died of an aneurysm on Sunday, April 12th in Chicago, Illinois. He was 65 years old. With his partner & comrade, Penelope Rosemont, & lifelong friend Paul Garon, he co-founded the Chicago Surrealist Group, a remarkable presence in the art & activism landscape of Chicago for forty years.
Rosemont did not separate scholarship from art, or art from political & social revolt. His books of poetry include “The morning of a machine gun” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions, 1968); “The apple of the automatic zebra’s eye” (Cambridge, Massachusetts : Radical America, 1971); “Lamps hurled at the stunning algebra of ants” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions & Black Swan Press, 1990); & “Penelope” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions, 1997).
Rosemont was a leading figure in the reorganization of America’s oldest labor press, the Charles H. Kerr Company. Under the mantle of the Kerr Company, Franklin edited & printed the work of some of the most interesting & important figures in the development of the political left: C.L.R. James, Martin Glaberman, Staughton Lynd, David Dellinger, Cornelius Castoriadis, Sam Dolgoff, Paul Goodman, Grace Lee Boggs, Paul Avrich, Augustin Souchy, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Benjamin Péret, Utah Phillips, Paul Buhle, T-Bone Slim, George Woodcock, and, in a new book released just days before Franklin’s death, Carl Sandburg. In later years, Franklin Rosemont created & edited the Surrealist Histories series at the University of Texas Press, in addition to continuing his work with the Kerr Company & Black Swan Press.
Franklin Rosemont was a friend & valued colleague of such persons as Studs Terkel, Mary Low, the poets Philip Lamantia, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dennis Brutus, the painter Leonora Carrington, & the historians David Roediger, John Bracey, & Robin D.G. Kelley.
I first encountered Franklin Rosemont face-to-face during the Chicago protests of August 1968. Then & since, I found him to be an amazing blend of contradictions, at once cordial yet cantankerous, amiable yet dismissive, spontaneous & enthusiastic yet grim, social yet unmistakably self-absorbed, creative yet singularly overpowering. Indeed, he was a unique personality.
My condolences & solidarity to Penelope Rosemont, the Chicago group & its affiliates.
Elaine Harger, co-founder of the Progressive Librarians Guild, had this to add on the PLG listserv:
Franklin and Penelope Rosemont are tied to PLG’s story in that they organized PLG’s first outing at an ALA conference. They gave us a tour of the Waldheim Cemetary in Chicago, burial place of many leftists. We have a photo of PLGers with the Rosemonts standing in front of the monument erected to the Haymarket Martyrs. Here is a picture of the monument:
The Alternative Press Center is organizing a presentation by Paul Buhle, a friend of Franklins, for this summer’s ALA conference. Perhaps PLG can do something to remember Franklin. He and Kerr publishers have “kept the flame alive” for many years.
February 12, 2009
Since the second half of last year I’ve been reading a lot of financial news, where the major theme of the financial crisis is the “crisis of trust” – banks not wanting to take the risk of extending credit to counterparties. But we’ve been living through a worsening crisis of trust in another sense for decades now.
Simply put, we live in a media environment that constantly surrounds us with messages that are dishonest at their root, and it has a corrosive effect on the glue that holds society together, teaching us that it is prudent to assume that most of what we hear is bullshit. In such an environment of eroded trust, straightforward communication is a challenge.
It would be easy to say that capitalism is the fundamental problem, since the bulk of the lies come to us through advertising and public relations messages, which in turn shape the character of individuals’ own habits of daily spin. But I would not to claim that socialism as an economic system has a tremendous advantage in cultivating honesty.
In our own capitalist society, though, the crisis of trust has been accelerating as our mode of life has grown progressively more submerged in the media sphere. Corporate logos, targeted sensual stimuli, slogans, and vague, untestable claims clustered together in brands form the background against which we live our lives, far more than do rocks, trees, wood, earth, sky, or plants (or text, for that matter). These clusters of stimulation are engineered to bypass our rational faculties, our natural tools for knowing what is true. They are in fact engineered to make us believe things that are NOT true (that product X will make me happy, that company Y is my friend or part of my family, etc.).
We’re half-surprised and half-outraged to learn about new examples of financial or accounting fraud, or Bush Administration or corporate lies, but we also understand them as a natural consequence of a society whose substrate of togetherness has grown sour and untrustworthy.
What are the causes of this crisis? Reagan-Thatcherism clearly had a lot to do with it. Thatcher, after all, made the notorious pronouncement that there is no such thing as society, only individuals. I would resist simplifying things to that degree, however. Altamont was already a symbol of a new distrust and growing bitterness in society in the years that led to the Reagan revolution.
There is another factor that’s unrelated to any transition in social policy. It is the simple fact of media technology producing the potential for a world made up of recycled bits and pieces of the past and present. If you go to a furniture store to buy a chair, you choose from among examples of styles that each represent the “what is” of another time and place. There are no chairs that are simply what they are, only chairs that lie, saying they are “Pompeii Chairs,” when in fact they are not from Pompeii but were manufactured in Shunde (Guangdong province) and designed in Anaheim. To understand the state of present day society it is necessary to understand that in former ages we didn’t make selections from a list of styles representing the feeling we get about another time and place, because design wasn’t a technological process using recorded information. There wasn’t an authenticity gap; there was simply what was here and now. Products, furniture, buildings, and graphics – the stuff that makes up our environment – today are composed of these recorded pretenses of embodiment that evoke values and feelings that we imagine belonged to other places and times, giving our world an emotional character that is manufactured rather than natural. Our present is manifested largely in terms of what it is not (reconstitutions of other times and places), and a whole generation has grown up taking this for granted.
This environment of counterfeited reality has implications for us as information literacy instructors, but in all honesty I’m not sure what they are. What does it mean to teach students who have grown up in this radical new context to be information literate, or to avoid plagiarism?
At another level, what does it imply for the way we talk about our services and libraries in general?
August 28, 2008
Puzzle Me, Puzzle You:
Which is it? The autonomous liberal subject wants to know.
Whichever it is, it’s somebody’s account – mine, yours, Jacques Lacan Jr.’s, the Egg Man’s, the Walrus’s – and the password is not to be shared.
I want to ponder it but I think I’ll just Be Here Now.