Life Sentence

Random thoughts about publishing, stamp collecting, politics, popular music of the 60s and 70s, mooses, and my motley other obsessions.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Libraries as repositories

There's an interesting issue raised in a press release called British Library predicts a switch to digital publishing is imminent.

Our aim at the British Library is to develop the infrastructure to store, manage, preserve and provide access to digital material in the same way as we do for the ‘physical’ national collection that we and our predecessors have stewarded for the last 250 years.

Our national libraries are no longer the repositories for everything that is copyrighted. As publishing becomes increasingly digital, the libraries become increasingly irrelevant. Do we actually need libraries to become "digital legal deposits"? I'd argue that existing systems for archiving web content already serve the purpose sufficiently.

In fact, do we need national libraries at all once their existing collections have been totally digitized? What possible purpose could they serve? Rather than becoming redundant digital legal repositories, I think that they should be engaging in the first steps of a planned, orderly shut-down. Rather than forcing new technology into old structures, we should be rethinking -- and in many cases discarding -- the old structures.

I'm not arguing against libraries. I think local libraries and school and university libraries serve essential educational functions. But I do think the era when we needed libraries to serve as repositories of record is very nearly over, and that we should be planning for their replacement.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Althea Rhooms

Virtually every day, the kids bring home at least one printed announcement from school, and I have to admit I often don't pay much attention to them. Yesterday there were two from Seth's school. One was an announcement of "important dates" in the next school year: the barbeque in the fall and other essential events.

The other one has left me shaken and upset.

Dear Parent/Guardian

It is with deep sadness and regret that we inform you of the sudden death of Ms Althea Rhooms, past principal of Humewood Community School. We want to advise you of this sad event in case your son or daughter wishes to talk with you tonight about his/her feelings and thoughts.

Seth didn't seem to want to talk about it. I don't think he understands what "the sudden death of Ms Althea Rhooms" really means. I'm definitely feeling a need to talk about it. It's about 5:30 in the morning as I write this. I'm upset enough that I can't sleep.

Althea was someone I probably wouldn't have had much time for in another context: she usually dressed very formally, was deeply religious, and was strict almost to the point of caricature. She also cared very deeply about the kids in her charge, and spent an incredible amount of time and energy making sure her school was the right place for my often-difficult son.

In my childhood, the principal's office was somewhere I avoided rather energetically. In Seth's life, Althea's office seemed to be a place where he felt totally comfortable (as well he might -- he spent far too much time there), a place he went immediately and instinctively if he needed help.

One of my many meetings with her particularly stands out in my memory. I won't go into the details of the unlikely sequence of Seth's misdeeds that had caused me to be hauled before the principal -- they were like something you'd see in a sitcom or one of the Captain Underpants books. I remember sitting in the school office, waiting for the meeting, feeling 10 years old all over again, thinking how unfair it was that I'd been hauled before the principal for someone else's misdeeds.

She started the meeting talking with Seth, making sure he understood how badly he'd misbehaved, but being sure to find out why he did it. I remember him sitting in his chair, abjectly looking like he was trying to disappear as she spoke -- then hopping up and hugging her when she was finished. Then she and I talked, for well over an hour, about my son and his needs, and how best the school and my family could work together to make things work better. I left the meeting knowing that in Althea I had a friend and ally -- and quite an impressive one.

When I first met Althea, I remember thinking (grossly unfairly) "great -- the school's new principal is a young black woman. I wonder what quota system got this job for her?" It took only a few seconds of seeing how effective she was to establish that she'd won her promotion completely on merit. I was really disappointed when she transferred to another school last year. (Yes, the new principal is equally wonderful. But still...)

A tragic-events team from our school board was brought into the school to assist students and teachers in dealing with this tragic news, students were counseled to talk with one another, with their teachers, or the special support team members.

I have real problems with this whole approach to grief, but I'm not going to spoil this with a rant. Another time perhaps.

When we have further information regarding funeral arrangement, it will be made available. Should you have questions or need our assistance in helping your child in handling this sad news, please call the school.

I'm the one having trouble handling "this sad news." I wonder what happened to poor Althea. I hope her end was painless. I'll miss her.

Later: this morning's Star had an obituary.

"She could be strict in some ways, but there was always love for the students and lots of hugs," said Mike Timotheou, father of one of her students.

Rhooms, who loved the outdoors, rowed Saturday in the Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival, competing on the Toronto District School Board team.

The next day, she participated in a practice dive at Stoney Lake near Peterborough with her scuba diving club. She had been diving almost weekly for a year, friends and family said.

But on Sunday, she began having breathing problems under water and never made it up. She was 43.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Iron Knob

There are three good things I don't need in this eBay lot. The first stamp has a Moonta Mines skeleton cancel. Not really rare -- the miners wrote home a lot, I guess -- but nice to find. Row 2 stamp 1 is an Iron Knob squared circle, which is really hard to find. (I will not make jokes about the town's name. I will not make jokes about the town's name. I will not make jokes about the town's name.) And the strip of three officials postmarked in Melbourne is just plain weird. I wish they'd been left on the cover so we could see how that happened.


This is in response to something on This Crazy Industry. Read the "A Flotsam's-Eye View" posting, then the comments to it. Rather than respond at length there to the first comment, I thought it more courteous to post a link there and the reply here.

It's not like past years when (say) Reagan or Bush Sr. were in office, when their policies might be wrongheaded but at least you knew they wouldn't be in office forever. Since before the first inaugural, Bush & Co. have been acting like they don't expect that they and their buddies will ever go out of power. They're going after long-term control, and they're going after it in a coordinated fashion.

It would be difficult to find a political party in power -- or a major party trying to get into power -- that hasn't functioned that way. Politicians in power try to hold onto that power or pass it onto chosen successors. They try to alter both the political landscape and the rules of the game to make it more likely for their power to continue. That is, they go after long-term control. When they do so successfully, that control can last for generations. (Check out the histories of the Canadian and Australian Liberal parties to see how successfully it can be done.)

Ballot tampering has been a major multi-year project. Another project has been putting heavy pressure on established lobbying concerns, threatening them with zero cooperation -- which is death to lobbyists -- if they don't get rid of or refuse to hire lobbyists who aren't right-wingers. That'll be a lasting change. And right now they're threatening to do away with the Senate filibuster -- a very startling change -- so that it can't be used to hold up the appointments of a raft of scarily evil-minded ideologue judges.

Ballot tampering has a long, disreputable history, and it follows a pretty familiar pattern. (Yes, the "good guys" have been known to do it too. Think Boston and Chicago.) To make the discussion unpartisan, think of two parties, the Ins (the party currently in the ascendency) and the Outs (the party that has recently tended to lose).

The Ins tend to use their power to maintain their hold on power. They manipulate electoral boundaries -- for example, see how the electoral boundaries in Canada follow seemingly illogical paths, ignoring natual neighbourhoods. The boundaries are designed solely to maximize the number of seats won by the Liberal Party. The Ins also manipulate the voting process. Pay attention to where people have to join long lines to vote, and where they walk right up with no lines. Voters in the Out areas line up. Voters in In neighbourhoods don't have to. And in some cases the Ins manipulate the vote-counting process. That's been measured in simple ways. For example, more votes tend to get rejected by officials in In-controlled areas than in Out-controlled areas. The vote tampering in recent US elections is vile but it is hardly unprecedented.

And yes, politicians tend to hire their own, and tend to not co-operate with the other guys. The whole point is lasting change -- making sure the Outs stay out.

Go google up "astroturf" plus "social security" or "tort reform" to see how long they've been going after some of their pet issues, how much big-money backing they've had, and how comprehensively they've been lying to their Joe Average supporters.

Yep. The Republicans been really focussed and really organized. The Democrats have been neither, and it has hurt them. The Republicans have been better at staying focussed on a smallish number of manageable issues, ones that will make a long-term difference. They've lined up lots of support and money for those issues. And yes, they've lied to their supporters. Republicans lie. It is part of the political landscape. In Canada and Australia, Liberals lie. (In Canada, the Conservatives lied too, during their brief ascendency.)

The Republicans have been more organized at identifying their supporters, giving them reasons to vote, and making sure they get out and vote. The Democrats' relative disorganization hurt them in 2004. A couple of my political hack friends from Canada went down to help the Democrats in 2004, and came back complaining that the Dems weren't sure who their voters were, and were ineffectual at getting them out to vote. The Republican organization was like a Ferrari compared to Democrats' Ford Pinto.

The Democrats need to get down to basics: identifying their voters; knowing what will motivate them to get out and vote, and making sure every one of them does so; and getting control of every possible elected local position, both to start to get some control of local voting offices, but more importantly to start the careers of the next generation of politicians. Way too many local governments are in Republican hands.

That takes money. The Democrats have been catching up to the Republicans in fundraising, but they still have far to go. The Center for Responsive Government site has lots of info on fundraising, and if you compare 2000, 2002 and 2004, you can see the Democrats catching up. But they are still quite a way behind.

The Democrats are also missing the boat on another fundamental level of politics. Most people vote not on real issues but on symbolic ones. And the Republicans have been defining the symbols of US politics for a generation now.

I wish I could get the Democrats en masse to read the works of Murray J. Edelman. Edelman showed how politicians manipulate symbols to get voters onside. In another series of papers, he showed how they use vocabulary to manipulate the political landscape. (Iraqi "insurgents," anyone?)

The Democrats have powerful ammunition against this Republican regime. They need to focus their approach -- get the public using their vocabulary, not the Republicans' vocabulary, and get them thinking in terms of symbols the Democrats define, not the ones the Republicans have created.

At the moment, the Democrats are thinking like losers, looking like losers, and for the most part losing. Yes, Bernie Sanders' speech at BookExpo was brilliant. I was moved and motivated by it, and was on my feet applauding as soon as he was done. But think about his message: we need to rally all of our forces to be able to perhaps change one part of the Patriot Act? All that is in our power, if we try as hard as we can, is to change one part of one bill? And the Republicans are so powerful that they will get the rest of it through -- and they'll probably steal away our victory even if we do get that one part changed? What does that say about the power balance in Washington? Republicans = all-powerful; Democrats = pathetic (if well-motivated) wimps.

Al Franken hit a different nerve with his schtick on liars -- and I think that's one place where the Republicans are vulnerable. Bush came to power determined to find a reason, any reason, to go after Saddam Hussein. Rather than focussing on making sure 9-11 never happened again, he lied to the American people and went after Saddam rather than after the perpetrators. Bush used 9-11 as an excuse to even an old score. Isn't that pretty fundamentally betraying the people who died that day? How hard can it be to get that message across to the American people? And how rarely has it actually been presented to them that baldly?

But the target, from here in, can't be Bush. He's a lame duck. The criticism has to be focussed on those around him as a group, to discredit them all. It won't be Bush running for president next time.

Basically, these guys don't believe in democracy or the Constitution. I'm not sure they even believe in the social contract. I keep telling my friends who live outside the States that what's happening is nothing they've seen before. I'm telling you the same thing now.

Well yes, of course. But we've seen it before. I've lived through it before. Think Richard Nixon -- who was brought down, in the end, by his lies. That's the way to bring these guys down too. But you can only do so by being fanatically, dogmatically focussed. Al Franken is showing us their vulnerable spot, but he's going off like a catherine wheel, spraying accusations at too many targets -- and mostly at other journalists. That won't work; it never does. The attack has to be focussed, in terms of who is being attacked and in terms of concentrating on a small number of especially vulnerable points.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

This eBay lot might be fun to watch

Can you spot why this one caught my eye? Hint: Status International Auction #206 (24 October 2002) had something just like it, estimated at $80-$120. The lot # was 3221. I'm not going to be bidding on this eBay lot (unless it stays at the current low level). I already have a nicer copy of the rarity.