Great Moments In the History of Technical Services

Greatest History Ever:

537 B.C.
The National Library of Babylon, finally switching to papyrus, ceases maintaining its clay tablet shelflist, but is unable to discard it for nostalgic reasons. Two years later, under seige by the Persians, the city finds a new use for the old tablets and manages to inflict severe losses on the beseiging army by pelting them from the ramparts with large quantities of shelflist tablets.

43 B.C.
First attested use of an ISBN (for the special collector’s edition of Caesar’s Gallic Wars with an introduction by Marc Anthony): IXIVVIIXVIIIVIIIVIVII.
81 A.D.
Second gospel of the Christian New Testament becomes the first document written in MARK format.

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light.

Old Time Family Values

Today, Elvira and I celebrated our Seventh Wedding anniversary in that tried and true way couples have for years: we bought Guitar Hero III for the Wii and spent most of the afternoon making really loud (and bad) music. It was great! I have a whole new respect for CC Deville and Dave Peverett. Poison and Foghat songs are far more complex than music snobs like myself give them credit.

Last night we saw Across the Universe (another tradition; did you know that the Seventh Anniversary is Psychadelic Musicals featuring Beatles songs? Me either. I thought it was flatware or cotton sheets).  It was excelent. But then I’m always impressed by Julie Tamor, she has a really solid ans unique visual language and brings a lot of innovative staging technique from the theater. The scene with Max being drafted is amazing stuff. Highly recommended.

I think tonight I’m making dinner. That should be fun. Spaghetti and meatballs, all around!

Welcome to Fantasy Island

China Mieville has a great article over at In These Times about Floating Utopias and the sinister, libertarian shadow, the tax-free micro-nation. It’s a fun read* but the best part is his summation of Libertarianism:

Libertarianism, by contrast, is a theory of those who find it hard to avoid their taxes, who are too small, incompetent or insufficiently connected to win Iraq-reconstruction contracts, or otherwise chow at the state trough. In its maundering about a mythical ideal-type capitalism, libertarianism betrays its fear of actually existing capitalism, at which it cannot quite succeed. It is a philosophy of capitalist inadequacy.

Libertarians have always struck me as either extremely naive or excessively callous. They don’t want to be part of society if they have to share burdens and responsibilities or contribute (other than goods and services that they get cash money paid for). They want to drop out of society and be like hippies, only they still want to drive Hummers and have that leather couch they’ve always wanted.

Continue reading “Welcome to Fantasy Island”

Bask In the Glow of My Crapulant Halo

On this, the 6010th anniversary of the World’s supposed creation, the Barma Group releases a poll saying that 60% of Americans believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis. At least, they say they do. The problem with this and most religious polls is that they suffer from the Halo Effect.

Americans are raised form the time they are toddlers to say they believe in God because Saying You Believe in God is a signifier. It’s like a Galactic Hitchhiker’s towel; if you have a towel, most people will assume you also have a toothbrush, soap, space suit, etc, or had them at one time and simply misplaced them and so will gladly lend you whatever you’re lacking. Say You Believe in God and most Americans will assume, without any evidence, that you are a good and decent human being who sends their mother Birthday cards and is kind to puppies and children.

So, most people say they believe the Bible, Jesus, God or whatever will make you think they are a good person. They tell pollsters what they think they want to hear, not what is true. Truth is, most Americans don’t really believe any of these things. They just say they do. Probably about 20-30% really do believe these things to some degree but if pressed on the matter, will admit that OK, yeah, a talking snake is a little far fetched and maybe Geologists have a point and the Earth is really 4.5 Billion years old but still they Believe! Every other Sunday. For an hour. Maybe an hour and a half if the Sermon runs long.

The fact that + or – 25% of the population still believes this nonsense is anything but bronze age poetry is a problem and means that we nasty, vociferous atheists aren’t being loud enough. Thing is, it doesn’t take much to convince most people. You just have to ask questions gently, get them to think about how absurd religion is, which most people have simply never bothered to do and they’ll come around on their own. That little hard knot of Fundies and True Believers, well, they’re never going to learn, which is why we make fun of them. because it’s easier than breaking your forehead on a brick wall.

Via: PZ at Pharyngula.

Checking Out a Library Ghost

Via a commenter over at Phil Plait’s blog (where he’s discussing a wing ding of a doomsday prophet) I found this story of a Spooooky Library Ghost:

MOREHEAD CITY –There are strange things happening in the stacks of the Morehead City library.

Large books inexplicably leave the shelves and wind up on the floor. A light bulb fell from a fixture and landed upright, unbroken.

“It’s really interesting,” says Sandy Bell, director of the Webb Library and Civic Center. “None of the staff has felt threatened.”

Bell has no explanation for the incidents, but she says the building “does have an aura.”

According to Bell, a former library employee reported seeing spectral images of fishermen walking through as if on the way to the waterfront nearby.

She said unusual things seem to happen whenever the staff makes changes. For example, she said, she decided to move the children’s section from its longtime home upstairs to a new room downstairs. Soon after, she said, the staff left the library in perfect order and returned the next day to find large art books on the floor with the pages balled up.

“They were very expensive,” Bell said. “It was really kind of attention-getting when they started ending up on the floor with the pages all scrunched.”

Yeah, that is spooky. If by spooky you mean vandalism.

What is more probable: ghosts or some homeless guy who hangs out in the bathroom until everyone locks up and then makes himself at home in the stacks? Or better yet, absentminded librarians who just forget to put books away but swear they did, or at least meant to but maybe didn’t get around to it before quitting time?

As for the vandalized art book, having worked in an Art School Library for two years, I can’t tell you how often we find books with crumpled up or ripped out pages. It’s sad really because you’d think artists, or would-be artists would take care of expensive art books. And real artists do, because art books are expensive and most artists are poor. But the entitled twats who pass for students at our school can just get mommy and daddy to pay for it so whatever. Rrrriiiipppp. They at lea st make an effort to hide their vandalism, though.

Anyway, point is: There’s no such thing as a ghost.

Princeton is shutting down their ESP and Paranormal Reasearch program because after decades of inquiry, investigation and theorizing they’ve found… absolutely nothing. Which is good science. They gave it a fair shake, found no evidence to support the dubious claims and so are moving resources to more fruitful areas of interest. Maybe in a few years the gang at TAPS will catch up on the scientific trend and go back to being plumbers, which is at least a useful trade.

As for what these librarians are doing, well, they should be embarrassed. They’re making us sensible, skeptical librarians look bad.

But Did the Midi-chlorians Make Him That Way?

By now you’ve all heard the news that Dumbledore was Gay. Rebecca Traister* talks about how this is not necessarily a good thing:

I am a devoted reader and admirer of J.K . Rowling, and it honestly pains me a bit to say this, but from a literary perspective, she’s out of control here. Her abundant generosity with information is surely a response to a vast, insatiable fan base that does not have a high tolerance for never-ending suspense, ambiguity or nuance. As she told the “Today” show’s Meredith Vieira back in July, “I’m dealing with a level of obsession in some of my fans that will not rest until they know the middle names of Harry’s great-great-grandparents.” Rowling naturally wants to provide answers for these heartbroken obsessives who perhaps are too young to know the satisfying pleasures of perpetual yearning and feel that they must must must know how much money Harry makes and whether Luna has kids.

It would also be understandable if, after more than a decade of telling stories about this world and these characters, Rowling is unable to stop. She has been a great and comprehensive builder of a fictional universe, and she’s famous for keeping reams of folders containing the back stories and astrological signs of every major and minor character ever to appear in her pages. One of the things that made the Potter books so good was the sense that Rowling had utter mastery over every corner of her realm. Who could blame her for wanting to keep the kids happy by doling out bits of it? It’s not as though Rowling would be setting a precedent: J.R.R. Tolkien spent much of his post-Middle-earth life tinkering with the details of the world he created, and delighting and gratifying his adherents by providing them with additional information about it.

But when too much of the back story (and, more disconcertingly, the future story) gets revealed –- especially in an age in which an author is not simply sending letters to readers as Tolkien did, but making utterances that will be disseminated and analyzed by a global network of Web sites — it seems to have not so much a gratifying effect as a deadening one.

On one level, I completely disagree. As Neil Gaiman points out, sometimes, there are these great details and scenes that you want to put in your stories but they just get in the way and so get cut. You want to share them and that’s a good thing. I like the idea of having a novel that, like DVDs, has extras, all those little bits and pieces you wanted to add but couldn’t for the sake of story telling. A blog would be handy for just such a thing.

But. Wizards, like Genni, cannot be put back in the bottle, or the closet. And while the politically active side of my brain says, “Wahoo! Good for Dumbledore! Way to go!” there’s a part of me that sees what Rebecca Traister is getting at. As fun and geeky cool as knowing that Harry and the gang all turn out fine, there’s something to be said about a little wiggle room that feeds the imagination. Spelling out all the secrets removes that wiggle room. Your vast, expansive universe is now a tailored suit that only fits one way and starts popping seems if you breath to hard or gain more than a few pounds.

So, in this instance we have exciting confirmation of a detail that was there in subtext all along, if you know where to look for it. But let’s not go too far and spell out everything. Hopefully, Rowling will leave something for the fan’s to drool over and imagine for themselves. Otherwise, Harry Potter will suffer the same leaden fate as Star Wars and become so bogged down with unnecessary details that the story and characters suffer form too much exposure and it all becomes about the niggling factoids, Midi-chlorians and all.

Eat the Fucking Madeleine Already!

I couldn’t do it. There’s just no way I can say anything intelligent about In Search of Lost Time without coming off as flippant.  the prose is alternately brilliant and claustrophobic, like you’re wrapped in a blanket and being dunked in your grandmother’s perfume. It’s enjoyable, sort of. There’s just so much memory going on that whatever plot there is gets stretched out nearly to infinity. You’d have to read, at minimum, fifty pages a day to keep up with the plot, which I simply don’t have time to do. I can only read 5 maybe 10 pages at a stretch before the sheer weight of the words knocks me over.

Now, here’s the weird thing: I recommend reading In Search of Lost Time.But don’t expect to plow through it in an evening. If you can manage it, jusyt pick it up from time to time, read a few pages and enjoy the florid prose and then move on, come back to it later. Or maybe you’re one of those people who can just dive in to a 4000 page novel and enjoy it as a whole. To which I say you are a better man than I.