Todorov, In Defence of the Enlightenment

In defence of the EnlightenmentTzvetan Todorov ; translated from the French by Gila Walker.; Atlantic Books 2009WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder

I almost bought this book when it came out in December 2009, but I had read at least one review which was not very positive. I wish I could find whatever I had read to see whether I agree with it. I have tried but I failed.

I have read at least three other Tzetvan Todorov books that I am certain of: Facing the Extreme, Imperfect Garden, and Hope and Memory. I have enjoyed them all, even when I have not entirely agreed with him.

I decided to pick this up now as I am taking a class this semester in Enlightenment Literature, or, more specifically on Anglo-American Enlightenment literature. Todorov focuses on the French Enlightenment, understandably; he has lived in France since 1963. Certainly, a few other thinkers from Germany, England, and America crop up but the vast majority of references are to French thinkers.

I read this book, in essence, twice between 3 February and 5 March 2012. I read a chapter or two and then I went back and reread and took my notes, leapfrogging slightly ahead with my reading over my note taking.

I have decided to count it as a Two-Thirds Book Challenge book as it is directly applicable to my current interests, it is a fairly meaty book for its length, and, as I said, I read it twice.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s not bad but it seemed a little narrow-minded, or defensive, perhaps. And, yes, I am fully aware that it is supposed to be a defense; but, there is a fine line between making a defense and being defensive.


  • Introductory Note
  • 1 The Project
  • 2 Rejections and Distortions
  • 3 Autonomy
  • 4 Secularism
  • 5 Truth
  • 6 Humanity
  • 7 Universality
  • 8 The Enlightenment and Europe
  • A Note of Conclusion
  • Notes

The physical book (hardbound) is a nice artifact, well edited, no typos, with good margins, but no index.

§ Introductory Note

“… I set out here to outline the key points of Enlightenment thought, without losing sight of our times, in a continual back-and-forth movement between past and present” (2).

§ The Project

Trying to define the Enlightenment project is difficult for two reasons: (1) It “was a period of culmination, recapitulation and synthesis, not one of radical innovation”; and (2) “Enlightenment thinking was formulated by a great many individuals who, far from agreeing with one another, were constantly engaged in bitter discussions, from one country to another and within each country” (3-4).

Three ideas form the basis of the Enlightenment project, according to Todorov:

  1. autonomy
  2. the human end is the purpose of our acts
  3. universality (4-5)

“[W]hat we need today is to re-establish Enlightenment thinking in a way that preserves the past heritage while subjecting it to a critical examination, lucidly assessing it in light of its wanted and unwanted consequences. … [I]t is through criticism that we remain faithful and put its teaching into practice” (23).

§ Rejections and Distortions

Enlightenment thinking was the subject of much criticism, particularly from the civil and church authorities that were being challenged (25). Many criticisms were directed against caricatures of Enlightenment thought, while some simply misread its spirit, Todorov tells us.

But this is one of the weak points of the book; Todorov told us earlier that many different and disparate voices vehemently disagreed about what exactly was the Enlightenment project but throughout the rest of the book he gives us a pretty straightforward account, claiming that such-and-such is the Enlightenment view of each topic that he covers. But it simply is not that easy. While I agree with him in general outline most of the time, the discussions he provides really need to be more complicated and nuanced. Perhaps that would lengthen the account but if one is going to defend the Enlightenment then one should do it well and not use an oversimplified caricature of Enlightenment thought.

I do think he does a decent job of showing how various ideas that pass for a fairly mainstream view of the Enlightenment are actually distortions of it, and how these ideas were often bastardized in the employment of dubious, and much worse, ends.

§ Autonomy

Twofold movement: “a negative movement of liberation from norms imposed from the outside and a positive movement of construction of new norms of our own devising” (41).

Discusses various forms and kinds of autonomy, such as collective vs, individual, of thought, opinion, etc., and its abuses by thinkers such as de Sade. Some of the possible conflicts between demands for collective autonomy and individual autonomy discussed include:

  • education as indoctrination (50)
  • economic globalization (51)
  • international terrorism (51-2)
  • mass media (53)
  • influence of fashion / spirit of the age/place (53-5)
  • public opinion (54-5)
  • advertising (55)

 § Secularism

Discusses various forms of temporal vs. spiritual power and what exactly secularism is. Other threats discussed are the family, Communism, Nazism and fascism. As Todorov tells us, “The enemies of a secular society are many” (70). Several pages discuss the role of the sacred in a secular society, and it does have one.

§ Truth

Distinguishes between two types of acts and discourses, those that aim for the good and those that aim for truth (77). Also discusses dangers to truth.

“The political life in a republic and the autonomy of its citizens are threatened by two symmetrical opposing dangers: moralism and scientism. Moralism reigns when the good prevails over truth and, under the pressure of the will, facts become malleable materials. Scientism carries the day when values seem to proceed from knowledge and political choices are passed off as scientific deductions” (82-3).

The scientism that arose, and is still with us, was opposed by some Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, Rousseau (85). Some of the dangers of scientism discussed include:

  • 20th-century totalitarianism and the elimination of ‘inferior’ races and/or reactionary classes (86)
  • the temptation to rely on ‘experts’ to formulate moral norms or political objectives (86)
  • the sociobiological’ project (86)
  • heterogeneity in the paths to knowledge (87-8).

Moralism is, of course, much older than the Enlightenment and its dangers are also discussed.

Todorov writes, “Truth cannot dictate the good but neither should it be subjugated to it. Scientism and moralism are both alien to the spirit of the Enlightenment. But a third danger exists, and that is that the very notion of truth be considered irrelevant. … [The challenge to truth in totalitarian regimes] is that the very distinction between truth and falsehood, between truth and fiction, became superfluous in light of the purely pragmatic considerations of usefulness and convenience” (91-2)

He then goes on to show several examples in the US where truth is subjugated to “usefulness and convenience” in the very late 20th-century/early 21st (92-4). We would do well to think about these kinds of issues. And, yes, he slams present day France repeatedly throughout the book, too.

§ Humanity

Discusses how the shift of the human to the center was practically Copernican; “Not surprisingly this reversal elicited strong opposition from those who defended the existing hierarchy, from Bonald to John Paul II” (103).

de Sade is again mentioned in this chapter for his distortions of Enlightenment views.

§ Universality

Discusses equality and human rights, along with challenges to them such as the death penalty, political correctness, and relativism.

§ The Enlightenment and Europe

Discusses why the Enlightenment happened where and when it did considering that none of its ideas were particularly new, and some went back thousands of years.

“The lesson of the Enlightenment consists in saying that plurality can give rise to a new unity in at least three ways: it encourages tolerance through emulation; it develops and protected a critical spirit; and it facilitates self-detachment, which leads to a superior integration of the self and the other” (143-44)

§ A Note of Conclusion

On why the Enlightenment still holds relevance today:

“The reason for its topicality is twofold: we are all children of the Enlightenment, even when we attack it; at the same time, the ills fought by the spirit of the Enlightenment turned out to be more resistant than eighteenth-century theorists thought. They have grown even more numerous. The traditional adversaries of the Enlightenment — obscurantism, arbitrary authority and fanaticism — are like the heads of the Hydra that keep growing back as they are cut. This is because they draw their strength from characteristics of human beings and societies that are as ineradicable as the desire for autonomy and dialogue. … Added to this are modern distortions of the Enlightenment, in the form of scientism, individualism, radical desacralization, loss of meaning and wholesale relativism, to name a few” (149-50).

The Enlightenment may be history but it is still extremely relevant today. Enlightenment thinking was highly complex, and it was disputed by those within and without the project. It deserves not to be oversimplified.

This is a decent book and it was worth reading, but it is flawed by simplification where there should have been complexity.

Some things seen around the Internet lately

Drinking with the Troops

From a local blog, Urbanagora, comes “Drinks with a Soldier.” I just love how some jackass commentor tries to hide behind the shield of anonymity and call the post author a liar. Certainly there are all sorts of views on this war, including those of the troops fighting it.

Perhaps if you ever get the chance—you could try arranging the chance—you, too, should have drinks with a soldier (or sailor, airman or marine) and find out a bit about what it is like on the ground in this war.  Of course, don’t forget the millions of servicemembers still living who served in our previous wars. A patient, caring ear would do many of them a world of good.

The value of a liberal arts education

For an interesting discussion on the value, or lack thereof, of a liberal arts education and liberal arts colleges see “On Liberal Education” at the Academic Librarian blog. Wayne Bivens-Tatum critiques the views of the author of a new book on the subject, as presented in The Kansas CW.

A spirited back-and-forth between Bivens-Tatum and the book author follows in the comments. I should state up front that I agree entirely with all of Bivens-Tatum’s points and his larger argument. The book author tries to point out some flaws in Bivens-Tatum’s arguments which simply are not there. I found that rather humorous.

But the one point I was hoping Bivens-Tatum would take up was the author’s insistence that some immediately practical subjects should get substituted for liberal arts classes because students are incurring too much debt, can’t pay their student loans, have to take high paying jobs vs. the job of their dreams, have to move back home with mommy & daddy, etc. because colleges are financially predatory.

So the solution is immediately practical vocational training? Wouldn’t better financial counseling for students, laws barring credit card companies from preying on students, educational finance reform, and so many other things be helpful, too, and perhaps even more ethically important? Have a look and see what you think.

Early Mike Wallace interviews with “important people”

Via Resource Shelf comes The Mike Wallace Interview.

In the early 1960’s, broadcast journalist Mike Wallace donated 65 recorded interviews made in 1957-58 from his show The Mike Wallace Interview to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. The bulk of these were 16mm kinescope film recordings, some of the earliest recordings of live television that were possible, and that survive today. Many of these have not been seen for over 50 years, and they represent a unique window into a turbulent time of American, and world history.

See interviews with jockey Eddie Arcaro, stripper Lili St. Cyr, actress Gloria Swanson, Steve Allen, Frank Lloyd Wright, birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt, novelist Pearl Buck, and many others.

Doing the dirty fictionally

Via 3 quarks daily we get a book review in the New York magazine of Robert Olen Butler’s Intercourse: Stories. Find it in a library near you via WorldCat.

Robert Olen Butler’s new story collection, Intercourse, is, as its title suggests, totally about doing it. It imagines the thoughts of 50 iconic couples as they knock the proverbial boots, beginning with Adam and Eve copulating on “a patch of earth cleared of thorns and thistles, a little east of Eden,” and ending with Santa Claus blowing off postholiday steam in January 2008 by doing the nasty with an 826-year-old elf in the back room of his workshop. But, as the clinical tone of Butler’s title also suggests, Intercourse is very much not a work of erotica. It tends to ignore messy fluids and crotch-logistics in favor of wordplay and psychological nuance.

Civilization and cultures

Also via 3 quarks daily we get Tzvetan Todorov in the Pakistan Daily Times thinking and writing to his usual standard of quality.

But if you look at this line of argument more closely, the flaw in Barnavi’s argument is immediately apparent. The meaning of the words civilisation and culture is very different when they are used in singular and plural forms. Cultures (plural) are the modes of living embraced by various human groups, and comprise all that their members have in common: language, religion, family structures, diet, dress, and so on. In this sense, “culture” is a descriptive category, without any value judgement.

Civilisation (singular) is, on the contrary, an evaluative moral category: the opposite of barbarism. So a dialogue between cultures is not only beneficial, but essential to civilisation. No civilisation is possible without it.

[There, S, I did it. And no, neither linking to the Academic Librarian nor WorldCat invalidates my effort. 😉 ]

Some things read this week, 28 October – 3 November 2007

Sunday, 28 Oct

Davis, Hayley, and Talbot J. Taylor, eds. Redefining Linguistics. London: Routledge, 1990.

  • Ch. 4: Talbot J. Taylor. Normativity and Linguistic Form. (Sat-Sun)
  • Ch.5: Paul Hopper. The Emergence of the Category ‘Proper Name’ in Discourse. (Sun)

The Taylor chapter was particularly excellent.

Zwicky, Arnold M. and Ann D. Zwicky. “Register as a Dimension of Linguistic Variation.” In Kittredge and Lehrberger, Eds. Sublanguage: Studies of Language in Restricted Semantic Domains. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1982: 213-218.

Harris, Roy. The Language-makers. London: Duckworth, 1980. [Re-reading]

  • Ch. 1.
  • Ch. 2

Harris, Roy, and George Wolf, eds. Integrational Linguistics: A First Reader. 1st ed, Kidlington, Oxford, UK: Pergamon, 1998.

  • Ch. 5: Toolan, Michael. A Few Words on Telementation.

Monday, 29 Oct

Hampsher-Monk, Iain, Karin Tilmans, and Frank van Vree, Eds. History of Concepts: Comparative Perspectives. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1998.

  • Intro: Iain Hampsher Monk. Karin Tilmans and Frank van Vree. “A Comparative Perspective on Conceptual History – An Introduction.”
  • Ch. 1: Pim den Boer. “The Historiography of German Begriffsgeschichte and the Dutch Project of Conceptual History.”
  • Ch. 2: Reinhart Koselleck. “Social History and Begriffsgeschichte.

Downey, et. al. How to Think Like a Computer Scientist, 2nd ed. [For LIS452]

  • Ch. 17: Linked lists
  • Ch. 18: Stacks
  • Ch. 19: Queues
  • Ch. 20: Trees

Harris and Wolf, Eds. See above.

  • Ch. 6: Harris, Roy. The Dialect Myth.
  • Ch. 7: Love, Nigel. Integrating Languages.

The Love was highly similar to his other article I read last week, The Locus of Languages in a Redefined Linguistics. In fact, whole paragraphs were the same as was the gist of the argument. If I were to recommend one over the other it would be one I just read. It is shorter and perhaps even clearer.

Tuesday, 30 Oct

History of Concepts: Comparative Perspectives. See above.

  • Ch. 3: Iain Hampsher-Monk. Speech Acts, Languages or Conceptual History?

Harris and Wolf, Eds. See above.

  • Ch. 11: Farrow, Steve. Irony and Theories of Meaning.
  • Ch. 12: Taylor, Talbot J. Conversational Utterances and Sentences

Wednesday, 31 Oct

History of Concepts: Comparative Perspectives. See above.

  • Ch. 4: Hans Erich Bödeker. Concept — Meaning — Discourse. Begriffsgeschichte Reconsidered.

I’ve read 4 chapters of this book now and I’m still not really any closer to understanding what Begriffsgeschichte is. Perhaps reading one of the chapters that are supposedly examples will help. I’m not sure why I’m not getting it. Much of the writing is not very clear but then most has been translated into English also.

I only have the book for a few more days. I’ll have another look at the intro and see what I perhaps ought to read next that might help. Then I think I’ll copy 2 or 3 of the chapters I’ve already read for re-reading in the future. It seems as if something is important here but I’m not getting it right now. I’m also feeling ill again, so maybe it’s just my stupid brain not dealing with it as it should.

Harris and Wolf, Eds. See above.

  • Ch. 13: Taylor, Talbot J. Do You Understand? Criteria of Understanding in Verbal Interaction.

Thursday, Nov 1

History of Concepts: Comparative Perspectives. See above.

  • Ch. 6: Terence Ball. Conceptual History and the History of Political Thought.

López-Huertas, María J. Challenges in Knowledge Representation and Organization for the 21st Century. Integration of Knowledge across Boundaries. Proceedings of the Seventh International ISKO Conference, 10-13 July 2002, Granada, Spain. Advances in Knowledge Organization, 8 (2002).

  • Poli, Roberto. “Framing Information.” pp. 225-231.
  • Smith, Terence R., Marcia Lei Zeng and ADEPT Knowledge Organization Team. “Structured Models of Scientific Concepts for Organizing, Accessing, and Using Learning Materials.” pp. 232-239.
  • Carlyle, Allyson and Lisa M. Fusco. “Equivalence in Tillett’s Bibliographic Relationships Taxonomy: A Revision.” pp. 258-263.
  • Mai, Jens-Erik. “Is Classification Theory Possible? Rethinking Classification Reserach.” pp. 472-478.

Poli – hard to say from such a short overview but I don’t think I’m agreeing with some of his ontological thinking and/or his relationships.

Smith, et. al. – sounds very interesting but would like to see more examples.

Carlyle and Fusco – “He laughed, he cheered, he cried.” I wanted to like this paper. They point out an issue with Tillett’s original methodology, which is there to be recognized if one only reads her dissertation. And while this is an issue of method, I do not know that it really impinges much on her results. Validity of the results would be strengthened if she had done it as pointed out, but would they be different?

The aim of the revision [which is a small part of a larger revisiting of Tillett’s relationships by the authors and David M. Levy] is to suggest “that equivalence be determined syntagmatically; that is, that it be defined relative to the use of documents” (260).

They spend a fair amount of space showing that the substitutability of one document for another is context dependent; that is, based on the user’s context. I fully agree that this is the case. Sometimes edition is irrelevant to the user. It is possible that one book by an author is as good as any other by the same author for the user. These are just a few possible examples. But then they just forget about the importance of context dependency.

Equivalence relationships hold among document representations in which one or more document properties described in the representations are shared (262).

First off, that should be “ER potentially hold ….” Even then it is still too broad. And did you notice that they are talking about the equivalence of document representations and not of documents. I’ll let you read the article and figure that bit out for yourself.

While we ought to have a concept of the equivalence relationships between document representations—is that simple DC record equivalent to that full MARC record and is it equivalent to that full VRA Core record for that Corinthian amphora?—this paper is talking about the documents (broadly construed) that users want to retrieve and use based on their interactions with library catalogs and other knowledge organization tools.

And while information professional are users too, and while document surrogates are also used, this is not the type of use being primarily discussed in this article. Thus, who cares whether there are equivalence relationships between “document representations?”

Thus, their proposal to subsume Tillett’s shared characteristics relationship under the equivalence relationship is both hasty and ill-advised. It is the case that only sometimes—that is in some contexts—can documents with shared characteristics be said to be equivalent.

And I doubt that there is ever a real user’s case that would include “the movie Scrooged, based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the children’s picture book produced by Disney, Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (262) as equivalent documents! And even in the rare case that there was they could only be said to be so in that specific user’s context.

Considering that some of the potential shared characteristics that Tillett lists include color and size of binding, date of publication, country of publication, language, format or media (*, 27) how often are these going to truly be equivalence relationships in an actual context of use? Sure, I can dream up a context for each of them. That is not the point. The point is that items are only equivalent in the context of a user’s need and desires in that situation.

“Please Mr. Librarian, may I please have a blue book?” [I am well acquainted with patrons asking for a book by its color. But in every instance that I have ever heard of it is a specific book they are looking for and not just any book of that color.]

The overhasty subsumption of Tillett’s shared characteristics relationship under the relationship of equivalence is not a good move.

Seeing as this article is a couple of years old now I’ll have to see if I can track down anymore on their larger project of revising Tillett’s bibliographic relationships. In my spare time, of course. 🙁

* See Tillett, B. B., “Bibliographic Relationships.” In Bean & Green, Eds. Relationships in the Organization of Knowledge, 2001.

Mai – poorly edited, some bad paragraph transitions, thus hard to follow the argument at times. Perhaps a result of the format of these short articles which are, in effect, synopses of presentations and not entire “paper.” In the end, I’m pretty sure that I concur with the conclusions, which are coherently presented.

Florén, Celia. “The language of the mind: the mental discourse of the characters in Middlemarch.” In Inchaurralde, Carlos (Ed.) Perspectives on Semantics and Specialised Languages. Universidad de Zaragoza, Departamento de Filología Inglesa y Alemana, 1994: 185-195.

Friday, 2 Nov

History of Concepts: Comparative Perspectives. See above.

  • Ch. 7: Bernhard F. Scholz. Conceptual History in Context: Reconstructing the Terminology of an Academic Discipline. [Fri.-Sat.]

ISKO 7 / AKO 8

  • Fernández-Molina, J. Carlos and J. August0 C. Guimarães. “Ethical Aspects of Knowledge Organization and Representation in the Digital Environment: Their Articulation in Professional Codes of Ethics.” pp. 487-492.
  • Anderson, Jack. “Ascribing Cognitive Authority to Scholarly Documents. On the (Possible) Role of Knowledge Organizations in Scholarly Communication.” pp. 28-37.

Saturday, 3 Nov

ISKO 7 / AKO 8

  • Priss, Uta. “Alternatives to the “Semantic Web”: Multi-Strategy Knowledge Representation.” pp. 305-310.
  • García Gutiérrez, Antonio. “Knowledge Organization from a “Culture of the Border”: Towards a Transcultural Ethics of Mediation.” pp. 516-522.
  • Nair Yumiko Kobashi, Johanna W. Smit and M. de Fátima G. M. Tálamo. “Constitution of the Scientific Domain of Information Science.” pp. 80-85.

Priss reviews the successes and failures of AI and NLP as an attempt to determine what the Semantic Web might actually be able to do. Suggests that failures to date are due to the fact that these methods have failed to combine associative and formal structures. Seeing as Semantic Web structures are entirely formal (as of 2002 anyway), what are the prospects?

García Gutiérrez – much of this article is hard for me to understand. I don’t know what register or style or whatever it is mostly written in, but whatever it is is pretty much unintelligible to me. Still, I think he is saying something important. It could just be said much more simply and perhaps even shorter. The last third is fairly clear, though, and I mostly agree. It is a good reminder to us to consider other ways of viewing, categorizing, and organizing the world in mind and to construct more inclusive systems.

Luzón Marco, José. “Creative aspects of lexis in scientific discourse.” In Inchaurralde, Carlos (Ed.) Perspectives on Semantics and Specialised Languages. Universidad de Zaragoza, Departamento de Filología Inglesa y Alemana, 1994: 261-273.

Shows that the “meaning of words is negotiated and liable to constant change” even in scientific discourse (261). My only gripe with this article is that there are several references missing from the reference list. This is something I am noticing more and more. It seems especially prevalent in conference papers.

Harris, Roy. The Language-makers. London: Duckworth, 1980. [Re-reading]

  • Ch. 3.
  • Ch. 4.
  • Ch. 5.

Some things read this week, 24 – 30 June 2007

Saturday – Sunday, 23-24 June

Corry, Richard. “Causal Realism and the Laws of Nature.” Philosophy of Science 73 (3), July 2006: 261-276.

Sunday, 24 June

Smiraglia, Richard P. and Gregory H. Leazer. “Derivative Bibliographic Relationships: The Work Relationship in Global Bibliographic Database.” JASIS 50 (6), 1999: 493-504.

Cited by Tillett, B. B. “Bibliographical Relationships.” In Bean & Green (2001), amongst many other places, which I’m re-reading closely for my Topic Maps work.

Interesting empirical data on extent, prevalence and size of bibliographic families, types of relationships and their prevalence, and some data on characteristics of progenitor works and the correlation of these characteristics on the size and shape of a bibliographic family.

Monday, 25 Jun

Hjørland, Birger, and Jeppe Nicolaisen. 2004. Scientific and scholarly classifications are not “naïve”: a comment to Begthol [sic]. Knowledge Organization 31, no. 1: 55-61.

Beghtol, Clare L. 2004. Response to Hjørland and Nicolaisen. Knowledge Organization 31, no. 1: 62-63.

Nicolaisen, Jeppe, and Birger Hjørland. 2004. A rejoinder to Beghtol (2004). Knowledge Organization 31, no. 3: 199-201.

Thanks to Kristina for pointing out in a comment on last week’s post that these follow-ups exist regarding Beghtol’s use of the term “naïve.” Always nice to see smart people have already thought the same things that I notice.

Mann, Thomas. “The Peloponnesian War and the Future of Reference, Cataloging, and Scholarship in Research Libraries.” [pdf here]

I think is Mann’s most balanced piece (lately) so far. It has been getting a lot of play including a nice write-up by David Weinberger.

Well worth the read no matter which side of the controlled vocabulary / tagging debate you come down on. [I cannot believe I just wrote that. Perhaps I should say that if you believe there is said debate then you absolutely need to read it. If you are with most of us who believe they both have a time and place, and that may they might even serve to describe the same entity, then reading it is also a good idea.]

Introna, Lucas D. “The (im)possibility of ethics in the information age.” Information and Organization 12, 2002: 71-84.

Cited by Kemp (NASKO 2007) “Classifying marginalized people, …”, p. 59, but I was really more drawn to it by its title and not by its use as a citation.


Written about at length here.

Tuesday, 26 Jun

Tillett, Barbara B. “A Summary of the Treatment of Bibliographic Relationships in Cataloging Rules.” Library Resources & Technical Services 35 (4), Oct 1991: 393-405.

2nd in a series of 4 articles based on Tillett’s dissertation.

Read for Topic Maps and GP cause I’m geeky like that.

Wednesday, 27 Jun

Tillett, Barbara B. “A Taxonomy of Bibliographic Relationships.” Library Resources & Technical Services 35 (2), Apr 1991: 151-158.

1st in a series of 4 articles based on Tillett’s dissertation.

Re-read for Topic Maps and GP cause I’m geeky like that. First read 25-26 Jan 07.

I also read a bunch of articles about Topic Maps, but I will spare you since I want no one as confused as I ended up. I actually thing I have a decent grasp in them conceptually (as a beginner, anyway) but all the articles are using assorted versions of the standard, or the DTD vs. the schema, and so on, which makes it real difficult when you start actually writing syntax and expecting validation.

If you want TM references let me know but most are available on the open Web.

Thursday, 28 Jun

Tillett, Barbara B. “Bibliographic Relationships: An Empirical Study of the LC Machine-Readable Records.” Library Resources & Technical Services 36 (2), Apr 1992: 162-188.

4th in a series of 4 articles based on Tillett’s dissertation.

Read for Topic Maps and GP cause I’m geeky like that. Yes, I skipped the 3rd article for now, “The History of Linking Devices.” I will read it but it serves no purpose for my Topic Maps assignment.

I did bring the following home today, though, to trace some of the references she made in her articles:

Tillett, Barabara Ann Barnett. Bibliographic Relationships: Towards a Conceptual Structure of Bibliographic Information used in Cataloging. Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1987.

Crawford, Walt. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large 7 (8), July 2007 [pdf]

Friday, 29 Jun

Pepper, Steve and Geir Ove Grønmo. Towards a General Theory of Scope. 2002.

For Topic Maps.

Saturday, 30 Jun

Kauffman, Bill. Bye, Bye, Miss American Empire; Or, the sweet smell of secession. Orion July/Augusut 2007.

A very interesting article on the topic of secession as it makes it way back into conversation in the US. [I only mean interesting in the broadest and vaguest of senses; I am making no value judgements with its use.]

Found at 3 quarks daily.

Is the replication of information a form of activism, and can it even be so?

I am assuming that most of you are aware of the current flap over the posting, printing, displaying, and reproduction of the 16-byte hexadecimal number that is one of the cryptographic keys that—with some more knowledge; the number is not in itself magical—can unlock the encryption of HD and Blu-Ray DVDs and, thus, allow for the copying of them. [See Wikipedia article.]

Some of my friends have even participated by posting the number on their blogs, perhaps even ordering a t-shirt.

I would like to ask you to read this [i d e a n t: “Rebellion by Numbers“] before finishing this post. It is not required but it is what shifted my thoughts in this direction. It is also more elegant that I can be, and links to several other writers.

Prime caveat: I do not mean to criticize those who have publicly reproduced this number. In fact, in some way, I applaud you. I, too, do not believe that numbers should be generally ownable property. But it is far more complex than that.

Having worked on a nuclear missile site in my earlier days I do not even want to think about this kind of “activism” getting hold of the PAL keys and spreading them around because someone thinks the military should not “own” these numbers. Now, while I don’t think they would actually claim to own these numbers, that delicacy would not prevent your swift removal to a detention camp or, perhaps even, your execution as a traitor to your country.

“Ownership” is only a small part of the issue here. Nonetheless, that is not my concern.

My concern centers around the last several and, in particular, on the last paragraph of Mejias’ post.

When activism is defined solely in terms of the exchange of information, we are reducing the options available for acting. That is how an encryption key (information in its purest form) was easily converted into a “subversive message” whose replication and dissemination was seen as a revolutionary act. As long as we’ve had media —and I’m afraid emerging “social” media don’t pose a significant alternative— we’ve seen this dynamic: the replication of information has itself come to define what it means to act, has become the source of meaning. The individual goes from being a social actor to an intersection of information flows. She possesses more information than ever before (about global warming, about genocidal poverty, about the false pretenses under which wars are started), but all she can do is replicate and pass on this information. The purer the information (09 F9 …), the more efficient the activism.

I feel that this may be one of the biggest [sets of] questions for our age and, particularly, for librarianship.

When is the replication of information activism?

Can it even be activisim?

If so, is it efficient?

It seems that the replication of information may [or should be] be a necessary condition for activism, but it does not seem to be sufficient to me. Perhaps there are some (small?) sets of circumstances where the simple act of replication of information constitutes activism; perhaps this current case is even one of them. But it seems to me that further action [of certain sorts] would clearly magnify the efficacy of the activism. Perhaps actual letters to your elected representatives, letters to your local newspapers to attempt to bring the issue to the attention of more of the citizenry, …?

Is this form of cyber-movement primarily a way to make people feel good about themselves? “I did something. I participated.”

Please. I do not mean to point fingers. I include myself in this—or even a lesser “active” group—as I have done nothing.

But truly—as Mejias and others ask—what other causes are there? What other issues of importance? Perhaps even of far more importance? In some ways this is a “free speech” issue, among others. But what about active police suppression of peaceful protesters for the last several years? Poverty, hunger, lack of medical care, wars of aggression in the name of democracy? All of these seem far more important to me than some DVD encryption key.

I’m not sure I’m even up to the task of engaging in this question; certainly not as well as I’d like. Someone like Rory Litwin or Jessamyn West are far better qualified than me. Nonetheless, I believe that these are some of the fundamental questions of our age, and that as librarians we have a responsibility to honestly and seriously—in a nuanced and critical way—ask, “Is the replication of information a form of activism?”, along with its associated questions.

Schlock! vs. The Atom and Eve

This evening I finished watching a movie I started last night, Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001). Pretty interesting history of exploitation films and larger changes in American society. But on the DVD I rented—in the extras—is something even better:

The Atom and Eve.

By the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, 1966.

Oh. My. Freakin’. God.

It’s a bit over 9 minutes long and is referred to in the notes as “simultaneously hilarious and horrifying, “The Atom and Eve” epitomizes the lethal and consumerist “straight” culture the exploiteers rebelled against.”

Holy crap. No kidding, Batman.

[Oops. Meant to say some more.] If you are (were) from New England, you would be more likely to have seen this consumerist sales pitch for nuclear power [back in the day, anyway]. It was the promo for Connecticut Yankee’s (a consortium of 11 power companies in all New England states) 1st reactor to be built at Haddam Neck, CT. Despite the calming allure of blue-clad Eve dancing around all the consumer goods, all the suits towards the end repetitively telling me they had checks and double-checks and that it was “all good” had me worrying again. But, damn, that floating coffee pot in that fully furnished modern kitchen was an awesome appliance. And God forbid, and Jimmy Carter forgive me, but Eve was looking pretty darn hot sliding up in that refrigerator. Ackk! Gah! Pure unadulterated evilness, it was. Decades of the best psychology could dream up and prove effective simply to market a way of life. A highly suspect way of life. And speaking of the nuclear…

I loved how this film [Schlock!] treats Duck and Cover as an exploitation film. The government has been hard at work at scaring the citizenry for a long time. At least all of my life.

The exploitation of fear is a very powerful tool.

Updates coming…

I am trying to be busier and productive now that I’m a little rested from last week. I am trying to prioritize, and trying not to feel guilty about “owing” various folks here something or other.

I’ve been busy and want to mention some of these things here in more detail:

The Wailin’ Jennys on Wed.

Siva on Thursday

Friday the 13th (I love them!)


Ani DiFranco


Two days of “rest”

Refocused busy time, again

I’ve already started on Ani post. I have some notes from Siva’s talk for a post. I have photos on flickr; not of Siva or Ani though….

But I also have other things to do and other priorities. I end one class on Tuesday afternoon. And as much as I love it and would like to continue it in other directions, I need a freakin’ break and I need to start attending my other class.

For Pauline’s last class, I need to finish my Common Ex. C write-up and turn it in. I also need to prep for leading discussion on the Calhoun Report. That is the easy one of the two, even if the common exercise is technically further along. It has been a few weeks since I looked at the exercise. As for Calhoun, I have written and spoke about this at least 3 times each now and have read lots of commentary covering the spectrum on it. My views have, in fact, moderated much since I first read and wrote about it. I still think that despite the good that is in it, it is an abomination and went a long way to effectively shutting down productive discussion on its and related topics of concern in the cataloging and classification worlds of libraries. [Steve, our discussion from summer LEEP oncampus would be vastly different now. I see some good now, a lot even. But….]

The Wailin’ Jennys were excellent. I got no good photos though. I did get all 3 to sign the liner notes of my 40 days cd.

Siva was good, but I was exhausted [there will be more on Siva]. Besides the exhaustion building up to Thursday, I also woke up at 4 AM Thurs. morning. Yippee! I followed Siva with 2 classes. I gave my “Free the Authorities!” presentation in the last of the two. It started out quite well despite the situation. I did start flagging after a bit, particularly after a few questions and discussions. But I held up reasonably OK. I was proud of it (my performance?) at the beginning….

After class Pauline said something very positive to me. Daunting in a way, but very nice. On Tuesday she had asked me if I was applying for a possible job, because she said if I wasn’t then she was going to twist my arm until I did (paraphrased). I sure wish I could believe in myself like she does.

I’m not sure how driving to Chicago and back in a day and a half is “rest.” But I had a good time and it was as relaxing as it could be. So I am somewhat refreshed.

3rd load of clothes is in the dryer. I may have to go in to GSLIS to look at my thesaurus for Common Ex C. I found all my stuff, but printouts do not a thesaurus make.

OK. Off to do other things. I’ll be working on more details as I can.

Oh, BTW. I’m going to a meeting about that job tomorrow. More in the future, but it is one I hope to do beginning next semester, while hopefully staying in serials cataloging also. So, I’m also studying a 32-page LSTA grant application and finding myself wishing I had the figures and the attachments. I’m asking for a complete copy tomorrow at our meeting.

Where do you go little bird
When it snows, when it snows
When the world turns to sleep
Do you know, do you know
Is there something in the wind
Breathes a chill in your heart and life in your wings
Does it whisper ‘start again’
Start again

The Wailin’ Jennys. “Arlington.” 40 Days.



Originally uploaded by broken thoughts.

I had a really good trip to the Ani concert in Chicago. The show was excellent and I’ll have more to say, but I wanted to get this sad metaphor posted. It so excellently fits one of Ani’s newest songs that she played.

cuz daddy knows best
yes, this is the news
in 90-second segments
officially produced
and aired again and again and again
by the little black and white pawns
of the network yes men
while the stars are going out
and the stripes are getting bent

while the stars are going out
and the stripes are getting bent

Ani DiFranco. “decree.” reprieve

Something stinks in my country

News from the BBC yesterday:

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali gets 30 years for conspiracy

"Prosecutors had sought a life sentence, but Judge Lee
said that Abu Ali’s actions "did not result in one single actual
victim" and no weapons were found in his possession."

Disgraced former US lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been jailed for nearly six years for conspiracy and fraud.

Oh, the horror!  He’s been disgraced of all things.  In his case we’re talking 10’s of millions of dollars and thousands (at least) of victims.

Please don’t misunderstand me, especially you spooks out there.  I am not advocating terrorism nor assassination.  But if Ali deserves 30 years, so does Abramoff.  Honestly, there’s a far bigger disgrace here than poor Jack Abramoff’s.  Hmmm, I wonder how many politicians (on both sides) butts have been saved by such a light sentence.

Remember kiddies, in theocorporate America it is perfectly OK to steal from and for politicians, and even better if it is from those pesky Indians, but you had best not ever even think about assassinating his Highness the President.

My Neighborhood

The decision to post this came about due to a comment from Angel on my post from yesterday, "One more destroyed life. How many more?"

The following originated as an email to a friend of mine, Gina the anthropologist, after an incident at a discussion forum we attended after Bowling for Columbine.  It was linked to my essay on "Communities" for my first LIS course, which I posted a few days ago.  I am going to put the info in as it was linked to the Communities essay for my class (with a small amount of reformatting).  Then I will expand on it a bit to help clarify and put it in context.

My Neighborhood

Last Friday (May 16 2003) after seeing Bowling for Columbine at the wonderful Normal Theater I attended a discussion group after the movie where a friend of mine asked about the part of town in which I live.  Now, I live in the ‘slums’ of Normal, IL – such a place!  Anyway, I confirmed, rather vehemently, that a mistaken racist, classist view exists of my neighborhood.  I had to write her a few days later to ensure that she knew that I had been considering just what it is about the demonization of ‘our space’ over here across ‘the tracks’ that bothers me so much.  It was not a pretty view of America that I discovered…

<text of the email>

I’ve wanted to make time to write you & say that I hope that you knew that my rather heated commentary on your comments about my neighborhood were not directed at you.  It is just a situation that I am beginning to see for what it really is, & I take it personally.  I’ve been thinking about it & I think I know why I feel that the crime around here isn’t so dramatically bad (other than it’s not – it just helps to sell a culture of fear…).

First though, I want to comment that the new police sub-station hasn’t been open much since most of the students have been gone.  Not quite sure what that says about the racist, classist overtones to the ‘crime problem’ here.  Just something I realized that I had noticed & have watched for since last Friday evening. 

A little after I realized the cops weren’t around near as much (they most certainly didn’t disappear!), I realized that the violence level at most military installations & their surrounds was much the same as here.  Military Police are busy at military housing areas.  Lots of people living below or well below the poverty line just trying to get by in a world stacked against them.  Lots of alcohol & minor drug violations – people cope in lots of ways & lots of domestic stuff; some of this stuff needs to be stopped & maybe punished, but much of it is just inserting a calmer presence before things get out of hand.  Either way it keeps the cops busy, and allows them to grow, expand, hire new officers – don’t let them fool you, they love a good growth industry & somebody had to feed the Queen of Growth for the last couple of decades – the prison industry in America!  They sort by winner & loser, and they need to remove ‘the problem,’ so they jail them!  But you rarely hear this kind of commentary on the military – these expendable people don’t need to be jailed – they serve another purpose, but we’ll still keep them below poverty!  But the general public doesn’t need to know about our little behavior problems – these folks at least have a use!  Look at the shocking rate of rape in the service academies, how about service-wide?

Crime can’t be that horrible around here if we can seriously complain (and rightly so!) about the police shooting of Nathan Rusch and the mentally disabled young man (and this pretty much covers the extent of killings around here – one more non-police related one at the Eagle).

I’m not saying that it is the safest or best place to live but for people with no money & no legit way to make much more it is often home – and I’ve lived with these sorts of people for close to 20 years & my kids were raised in it.  They turned out OK so far by these peoples’ system.  Hell, Jeremy is another perfect pawn – serving their purposes sitting in the desert north of Tikrit!  And Sara is at a premier college, and succeeding wildly by anyone’s standards, and pretty much being paid to do so!  I guess all that this shows is that the environment is not necessarily damning, but it pretty much inherently is.  And it at least usually keeps at least one generation down….

Sorry for running on – I had a pint of beer earlier – and I have been thinking about this…  This in many ways hasn’t been, and isn’t, an easy realization for me.  I still have many ingrained prejudices on occasion, but I now see the vast similarity between two sub-cultures, one of which at least serves a purpose, for a while, the other just needs to be locked away…  "Growth is good!"

</end of email>

18 June 2003
By the way, the sub-station has rarely been open since most of the students left in mid-May.  It wasn’t even open at 11 PM on Memorial Day – the end of a long holiday and it is totally quiet.  Hmmm…

Normal, IL is the sister city of Bloomington, IL and lies in the heart of McLean County.  These 2 cities with a population of just over 100,000 between them are home to Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Heartland Community College, and the outreach campuses of 2 other Illinois colleges.  It is the home of a Mitsubishi Motor plant (yes, the infamous one), and is the world headquarters of State Farm Insurance, and home to Country Companies Insurance.

You can’t get much more mid-American, Republican, or white bread than Bloomington-Normal.  There is little serious crime, although at the point this had been written there had recently been 3 killings; two of which were done by the police.  I do NOT like the way my paragraph about the killings reads at all.  It seems as if I am belittling the issue when that is absolutely not the case, but it is what I wrote to my friend, so it stands.

I lived in the northwest corner of Normal near the Eagle and surrounding subsidized housing (apartment) complexes.  Many poor people, and many of color, lived in these housing complexes.  My ex-wife and daughter moved into the supposedly worst one right after we got divorced.  I lvied about a 2-3 minute walk up the street from them in a 6-unit apartment building on Northbrook Drive.  There is also a lot of these sorts of apartments in this area, with most of these filled by college students.

Many people around B-N refer to this part of town as the "slums" of Normal.  And while they are no such thing, they are the closest Normal will get for a long time.  Many people (read white people) don’t like going over there.  You can certainly get pulled over for "drivng while black" in that area.  I had several friends pulled over for just that reason.  I lived there for 6 years and never once got pulled over.  But then I was a white guy in a minvan with veteran’s plates….  Seems radically unfair to me.

Anyway, Gina was only repeating something that she had heard from various, supposedly liberal and highly educated, people (humanities and social science profs primarily).  But I had had several strands running through my mind for a while and seeing Bowling for Columbine with its emotional appeal had tied some of them together.  At the discussion afterwards, Gina repeated some comment she had heard repeatedly, more as a question really, about my side of town and I reacted.  I reacted a bit more passionately than I probably should have at the time. 

That incident served as a further catalyst in allowing me to tie so many disparate strands together.  I made some notes, did some thinking and some writing, and then emailed her an explanation/apology.  I also did quite a bit of crying, cursing, and screaming, mostly directed at my government and my nation that abides and institutionalizes these various forms of racism and classism.  Of course, we also talked about it later.  As far as she was concerned, I hadn’t needed to apologize, but I’m glad I did.

Shortly before this incident, the Normal Police Department put in a new police sub-station right across from the apartment buildings where my ex and daughter had lived.  This was the 1st sub-station in Normal and it was needed because of all the scum who lived in the neighborhood.  That was the reasoning anyway.  Lots of drug use, alcohol incidents, some vandalism, some spouse and probably child abuse, and so on.

Well, the new police sub-station opened to great fanfare just a few weeks before the end of the spring semester.  It was open all night and most of the day for a couple of weeks.  There were lots of roadblocks, lots of sweeps through apartment complexes, and large numbers of arrests for minor violations.  But then something happened.  Most of the students left for the summer.  And guess what?  The police sub-station was rarely open, even during the long Memorial Day weekend.

Summer remained rather quiet with the same sort of police presence as pre-sub-station levels.  Once the students came back (overwhelmingly, white students) the sub-station reopened regularly.  Hmmm….  Says something about racism and classism to me considering the "justification" for putting in the police sub-station in the first place.

And yes, I drew a distinct connection between living in military enlisted quarters and my neighborhood then.  And I certainly stand by it today.  The environments are highly similar.  "Lots of alcohol & minor drug violations – people cope in lots of
ways & lots of domestic stuff; some of this stuff needs to be
stopped & maybe punished, but much of it is just inserting a calmer
presence before things get out of hand. "  In one the truth is seriously spun and is used to scare the citizens, while in the other the truth is hidden and kept from the citizenry because "heroes" wouldn’t engage in those sorts of behaviors even if their existential conditions are highly similar.

Just as much of the ethnic non-white in this country needs to be locked away (not my view, but society’s), that is, they are fully expendable, so are the military; they just serve a more useful purpose, for a time.  Take a look at recruitment efforts in poor areas, particularly ethnic areas, since the start of this war.  The All-Volunteer Force is (again) no longer representative of this country.  Only it has gone to the other extreme ethnically.  The poor and downtrodden are always represented.  Integration of the military, once held up as the epitome of an instituion overcoming its racism, has only served to further enslave the poor and ethnic of this country.

I’d like to suggest you see the part of my paper (3 paragraphs) on The Pursuit of Power regarding McNeill’s population thesis that begins "The second of McNeill’s primary theses is that population growth has
repeatedly placed great pressures on social, economic, and political
institutions around the globe and across the ages."  McNeill’s thesis primarily deals with population growth but also touches on demographic changes.  I would extend his thesis more along the demographic change axis in the late 20th/early 21st century.  We can either jail them all or send them off to die.

There is another point, which I didn’t bring out as well as I’d have liked to at the time.  Don’t think the military are expendable?  Certainly I can’t be as crass to suggest that they’d be sacrificed in combat for asinine  and illegal purposes.  Let’s pretend I’m not that crass; what about the sad state of affairs regarding vehicular and personal body armor (still!) faced by our troops?  What about the hundreds of $$ worth of supplies (and hundreds more in postage) that family members of early deployed troops had to send to their loved ones?  Many of these items were basic personal hygiene items not supplied by the military (as they are supposed to be).

More importantly, since combat troops need to be kept reasonably well supplied and healthy to complete their missions, what about those who return?  Do you have any idea about the state of the VA in this country?  Do you have any idea what percentage of homeless persons are veterans and their families?  Do you have any idea how many of them are suffering in the depths of their minds and their souls for the things they experienced?  How many more Doug Barber’s are there going to be?

What about military retirees?  In many ways, we are just as expendable.  There was a national election a year after I retired and my son who had just entered the Army told me I needed to vote for the party that would most support the military.  I told him I did not need to do any such thing as I no longer mattered to them, until, if and when, they needed to call me back to serve seeing as they "own" me for many more years.  I had voted that way for far too long, and I didn’t like what I saw happened to my country in the meantime.  I decided my vote was far more important in the arena of Supreme Court Justices, and related issues.  I was so very right on both counts; and I and my country got done so very wrong on both.

I was also very dichotomized over living in my neighborhood.  Although I didn’t think it was so bad and I bristled at others’ view of it, I certainly would have much preferred that my ex and daughter did not have to live in a subsidized housing area.  I wished that I lived somewhere "better."  But my ‘better’ had to do with living in my own house, not in someone else’s apartment, with having a yard of my own.  In other words, I wanted some little part of the great lie, the American Dream.  While I was busy defending the area I also wanted to live somewhere else.

There is a lot more involved in all this, but then it amounts to a least one dissertation, if not several.