Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How Switching Languages Can Change Your Personality

From Jerome Marcantel:

A sketchy article on sketchy science, but what I find particularly interesting is the claim that "women classified themselves and others as more assertive when they spoke Spanish than when they spoke English." The English language, shaped by our interaction with technology, has become largely a passive-voiced language. If this research is valid, its not merely true of the language, but the cognitive framework as well.

You can read the full article from New Scientist here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Praise of the Fifth Amendment

reposted from J.D. Tuccille's Disloyal Opposition blog.

In the following video, Prof. James Duane of the Regent University School of Law (yep, the university founded by televangelist Pat Robertson in 1978) explains why even angels devoid of the slightest moral blemish should never speak to police officers, tax collectors or other law-enforcement agents investigating crimes. Duane assumes no malice on the part of the police -- just human failings and motivations. In a 27-minute lecture, he details the legal pitfalls people can wander into even by telling the absolute truth.

Of course, "innocence" is relative. At the very beginning of the video, Prof. Duane addresses the -- literally -- unknowable extent to which federal laws and regulations have grown, so that even the government itself has no idea how many punishable offenses there are. It's very easy for people with clean consciences to admit to violating laws and regulations they never knew existed.

But hey, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Right?

What about the other side of the debate?

Responding in the same classroom to Prof. Duane, Office George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department says ... the professor is absolutely right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Since this falls under the classification of intellectual property, I will call this a philosophically-related post.

The American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy recently created a slide-rule to help determine if a particular work is copyright protected. Pointing the red arrow to the date of first publication of the work provides information on the copyright status of the work.

Codex Sinaiticus: Digitally Reunited

The oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, a 4th century version that had its Gospels and epistles spread across the world, is being made whole again — online.

The British Library says the full text of the Codex Sinaiticus will be available to Web users by th end of July, digitally reconnecting parts that are held in Britain, Russia, Germany and a monastery in Egypt's Sinai Desert.

A preview of the Codex, which also has some parts of the Old Testament, will hit the Web on Thursday — the Book of Psalms and the Gospel of Mark.

"Only a few people have ever had the opportunity to see more than a couple of pages of the (Codex)," said Scot McKendrick, the British Library's head of Western manuscripts. The Web site will give everyone access to a "unique treasure."

Discovered at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai by German Bible scholar Constantine Tischendorf in the mid-19th century, much of the Codex eventually wound up in Russia — just how exactly the British Library won't say, citing lingering sensitivity over the circumstances surrounding its removal from the monastery.

You can access the project here

You can access the full report from the AP here

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DJ Spooky and Rhythm Science

Jerome passed along this cool lecture by DJ Spooky aka Paul D. Miller giving a lecture at the European Graduate School about technology, music, video, and his work - a database remix expanding our notions of time and space.

Paul D. Miller also known as DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, delivers a manifesto for rhythm science-- the creation of art from the flow of patterns in sound and culture, "the changing same." Taking the Dj's mix as template, he describes how the artist, navigating the innumerable ways to arrange the mix of cultural ideas and objects that bombard us, uses technology and art to create something new and expressive and endlessly variable.

Technology provides the method and model; information on the web, like the elements of a mix, doesn't stay in one place. And technology is the medium, bridging the artist's consciousness and the outside world. Miller constructed his Dj Spooky persona ("spooky" from the eerie sounds of hip-hop, techno, ambient, and the other music that he plays) as a conceptual art project, but then came to see it as the opportunity for "coding a generative syntax for new languages of creativity."

For example: "Start with the inspiration of George Herriman's Krazy Kat comic strip. Make a track invoking his absurd landscapes...

What do tons and tons of air pressure moving in the atmosphere sound like? Make music that acts a metaphor for that kind of immersion or density."

Or, for an online "remix" of two works by Marcel Duchamp: "I took a lot of his material written on music and flipped it into a DJ mix of his visual material -- with him rhyming!"

Tracing the genealogy of rhythm science, Miller cites sources and influences as varied as Ralph Waldo Emerson ("all minds quote"), Grandmaster Flash, W. E. B Dubois, James Joyce, and Eminem.

You can see his entire lecture + many others including: Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, John Perry Barlow, Victor Burgin, Judith Butler, Sophie Calle, Hélène Cixous, David Cronenberg, Michel Deguy, Manuel DeLanda, Atom Egoyan, Tracey Emin, Peter Greenaway, Donna Haraway, Michael Hardt, Michel Houellebecq, Jean-Luc Nancy, Quay Brothers, Bruce Sterling, Paul Virilio, John Waters, Slavoj Zizek,Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard,and Jacques Derrida. Check out the European Graduate School Collection here.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Recently I watched the film Sharkwater, a documentary by Rob Stewart about the mythology of sharks, importance of sharks for the marine ecosystem, and the dangerous proliferation of shark finning. Why are shark fins so valuable? Succinctly, the high-priced delicacy known as shark fin soup.

In addition to being visually stunning, the documentary renewed my convictions of the ethical constraints involved with the human participation in the natural life cycles of life and death. To me, philosophers such as Paul Taylor and Albert Schweitzer crystallize the idea of compassion and respect towards nature to which we should be striving. Ethics, according to Schweitzer, consists in the compulsion to show toward the will-to-live of each and every being the same reverence as one does to one's own. With this simple statement in mind, watch Sharkwater and judge for yourself whether we fulfill or fall short of this goal.

What is Shark Finning?

Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discard at sea of the carcass. The shark is most often still alive when it is tossed back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish.

Shark finning takes place at sea so the fishers have only the fins to transport. Shark meat is considered low value and therefore not worth the cost of transporting the bulky shark bodies to market.

Any shark is taken-regardless of age, size, or species.

Longlines, used in shark finning operations, are the most significant cause of losses in shark populations worldwide.

Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored.

Shark finning has increased over the past decade due to the increasing demand for shark fins (for shark fin soup and traditional cures), improved fishing technology, and improved market economics.

Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually.

One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It's a multi-billion dollar industry.

Impacts of Shark Finning

Loss and devastation of shark populations around the world. Experts estimate that within a decade, most species of sharks will be lost because of longlining.

Unsustainable fishery. The massive quantity of sharks harvested and lack of selection deplete shark populations faster than their reproductive abilities can replenish populations.

Threatens the stability of marine ecosystems.

Loss of sharks as a food staple for many developing countries.

Local waters are invaded by large industrial, foreign fishing vessels that threaten traditional sustainable fisheries.

Threatens socio-economically important recreational fisheries.

Obstructs the collection of species-specific data that are essential for monitoring catches and implementing sustainable fisheries management.

Wasteful of protein and other shark-based products. Up to 99 per cent of the shark is thrown away.

Are there laws against shark finning?

Each country with a coastline is responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in their waters.

A number of countries have shark-finning legislation. Many stipulate that fins must arrive in a 5 per cent weight ratio of the shark carcasses onboard. Only a few countries demand that sharks arrive in port with fins attached.

According to the IUCN Shark Specialist group, the easiest way to implement a ban is to require that shark carcasses be landed with fins attached. The possession of fins alone on vessels would thus be illegal.

Shark finning violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Shark finning is contrary to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's International Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.

The United Nations Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists the whale shark, basking shark, and great white shark as species that could become threatened if trade is not controlled. To date, 169 countries have agreed to be legally bound by CITES.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Battleground God

The Philosopher's Magazine has created a pretty nifty little game that tests the logical consistency of your beliefs about religion and God.

Can your beliefs about religion make it across our intellectual battleground?

In this activity you’ll be asked a series of 17 questions about God and religion. In each case, apart from Question 1, you need to answer True or False. The aim of the activity is not to judge whether these answers are correct or not. Our battleground is that of rational consistency. This means to get across without taking any hits, you’ll need to answer in a way which is rationally consistent. What this means is you need to avoid choosing answers which contradict each other. If you answer in a way which is rationally consistent but which has strange or unpalatable implications, you’ll be forced to bite a bullet.

Rules of the game

The aim of the game is to get across the intellectual battleground unscathed. There are two types of injury you can suffer.

A direct hit occurs when you answer in a way which implies a logical contradiction. We have been very careful to make sure that only strict contradictions result in a direct hit. However, we do make two caveats.

First, because you only have choices between pre-selected and carefully worded statements, you might find that you have taken a direct hit because the statement closest to your own conviction leads into a contradiction. However, had you phrased the statement yourself, you may have been able to avoid the contradiction while expressing a very similar belief.

Such possibilities are unavoidable given the constraints on the game. We merely ask that you do not take it personally if you suffer a direct hit and don't get too frustrated if the choices we offer you sometimes seem to force you into a choice you'd rather not make.

You have to bite a bullet if your choices have an implication that most would find strange, incredible or unpalatable. There is more room for disagreement here, since what strikes many people as extraordinary or bizarre can strike others as normal. So, again, please do not get too upset if we judge you have bitten a bullet. Maybe it is our world-view which is warped!

Of course, you may go along with thinkers such as Kierkegaard and believe that religious belief does not need to be rationally consistent. But that takes us beyond the scope of this activity, which is about the extent to which your beliefs are rationally consistent, not whether this is a good or a bad thing.

What happens when you don't agree with the analyses!?

Have a look at our FAQ. It'll give you some idea of our thinking, even if we have got things wrong. I'm afraid that we can't reply to email about this activity - we just get way too much and the issues are frequently quite involved. Sorry! This is purely a question of time, nothing else. [Don't look at the FAQ before you play, that'll spoil the game.]

Don't cheat!

We can't stop you resubmitting your answers, but if you do the game will know - and your scores will not be counted. If you're intrigued by the possibility of different answers, just finish the game and then play it through again.

Access game here

Monday, July 14, 2008

Phaistos Disc A Hoax?

From Kevin Kelly's Blog:

The Phaistos Disc is an archeological object that some have considered the oldest example of moveable type in history. The characters on the clay disc were stamped from a set of "seals" creating a text written in a spiral, although neither the text nor the language of the text has been deciphered. It is presumed to be from the Minoan culture of around 1800 BC, which would put it 2,000 years or more earlier than moveable type in China, and 3,000 years before movable type in Europe.

The Phaistos Disc has been held up as a case of how easily information can be lost in the long term (an entire written language gone!), or how easily a technology ("printing") can be forgotten for millennia, only to be re-invented later. (Jared Diamond used the Phaistos Disc as an example of this argument.)

In the July 12th edition of the Times, Jerome Eisenberg, a specialist in faked ancient art, is claiming that the disc and its indecipherable text is not a relic dating from 1,700 BC, but a forgery that has duped scholars since Luigi Pernier, an Italian archaeologist, “discovered” it in 1908 in the Minoan palace of Phaistos on Crete.

Pernier was desperate to impress his colleagues with a find of his own, according to Dr Eisenberg, and needed to unearth something that could outdo the discoveries made by Sir Arthur Evans, the renowned English archaeologist, and Federico Halbherr, a fellow Italian.

He believes that Pernier's solution was to create a “relic” with an untranslatable pictographic text. If it was a ruse, it worked. Evans was so excited that he published an analysis of Pernier's findings. For the past century innumerable attempts have been made to decipher the disc. Archaeologists have tried linking them to ancient civilisations, from Greek to Egyptian.

Dr Eisenberg, who has conducted appraisals for the US Treasury Department and the J. Paul Getty Museum, highlighted the forger's error in creating a terracotta “pancake” with a cleanly cut edge. Nor, he added, should it have been fired so perfectly. “Minoan clay tablets were not fired purposefully, only accidentally,” he said. “Pernier may not have realised this.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Philosophy of Librarianship: A Journey Towards Discovery

This essay was accepted for publication in the second issue of the Journal of Bloglandia from Wapshott Press.

With the growth in the area of information technology leading to various modes of communication and various ways of accessing the record of human knowledge, the responsibility to manage and organize information has become increasingly complex for the 21st century librarian. As a corollary, the once static chain of products and service to the library patron has been transformed into a dynamic, integrated knowledge base that requires collaboration between user and provider. Through this collaboration, information is not authoritatively given, but mediated between the librarian and the patron. At the personal level, this philosophy of service requires the mediator to focus on the thought process of the patron in such a way that the patron, not the librarian, allocates the information he/she is seeking. At the abstract level, this philosophy of service requires the librarian to mediate the past record of human knowledge to the future record of human knowledge, through the present patron.

Mediation at the personal level falls largely on the shoulders of the reference librarian. As Helen Uhrich points out, “…the reference librarian is the liaison between the school and the library, at the direct point of contact between the student and the book.”[1] As a mediator, the librarian must interact with the patron in a number of ways to facilitate the information exchange process. A reference librarian cannot expect to sit in splendid isolation, simply receiving input and giving output. On the other hand, the reference librarian must enter into a dialogue with the patron – listening, discussing, evaluating, and sharing information resources available to the patron.

A reference librarian’s ability to mediate information will be dictated by their view of the user. Thomas Gilbert views a library’s mission as an extension of evangelical theology: “seeking and saving the lost.”[2] Portraying the patron in this way inevitably posits the reference librarian as a redemptive authority: a savior. Moreover, this attitude implicitly believes that the power of knowledge is bestowed upon the patron. Raymond Morris succinctly described the library’s mission as: “providing the right book at the right time.”[3] Although it removes the redemptive undertones of Gilbert, this description is noticeably absent of patron participation.

I believe that it is better to view the patron as a seeker at various stages of a journey. Utilizing Kuhlthlau’s model of the information search process (Task Initiation, Topic Selection, Prefocus Exploration, Focus Formulation, Information Collection, Search Closure), a reference librarian may interact with a student at any level of the research process.[4] By joining in the experience with the patron, and focusing on their thought process, the reference librarian collaborates in a procedure of discovery. In discussing her own experiences with the research process, a fellow librarian used this terminology in describing her enthusiasm for finding resources in the library, “It was always exciting to discover new things or how things worked.” Discovery is the byproduct of a philosophy of service focused on the librarian as mediator.

As a mediator, the authoritarian model of librarianship that librarians give patrons information should be replaced by an understanding that the more knowledge is shared, the more it grows. This means that libraries – and consequently librarians – are sharing out their knowledge. Not just the knowledge available in the library, but also the librarian’s personal knowledge. This model of mediation requires a more all-round professionalism and dedication. David Faupel, addressing the American Theological Library Association in 1973, touched upon this point by stating, “Continued professional development is no longer a luxury, nor a privilege, but it is an obligation inherent in executing your function as a professional in the contemporary world.”[5] Librarians will have to bridge several gaps with the user (language, computer skills) and many will have to involve themselves in personal development projects and continuing education in order to be able to join in fully and reap the benefit of a philosophy of service focused on mediation with the user.

Whereas mediation at the personal level is a journey of discovery with a patron in a one (librarian) to one (patron) relationship, mediation at the abstract level is a many (past record of human knowledge) to many (future record of human knowledge) relationship manifest through service to the individual patron. Describing the cataloging process in this way, Uhrich states, “[The librarian] is an active participant in a creative process wherein men [and women] are in search of the thought and experience of the past and seek in turn to contribute their interpretation to the extension of this knowledge.” [6] Successful collaboration, through shared knowledge, between the patron and librarian will result in more knowledge for the librarian to catalog, organize, and share with future patrons. David Stewart, acknowledges this idea when he writes, “Whether consciously or not, in this kind of work, each of us builds on the work of those who preceded us, and sometimes we are reaping where others have sown.”[7] This circular structure underwrites the dynamism that is required in a philosophy of service focused on mediation.

Overall, I have come to articulate my own philosophy of service as mediation. Interaction between a librarian and a patron is a dynamic process that requires sharing information and dissolving the authoritarian role of the librarian as the bestower of knowledge. At the personal level, this requires joining the student in the research process and collaboratively taking a journey towards discovery. In order to effectively perform in the role of mediator, a librarian must make a lifetime commitment to personal development and continuing education. Successfully executed, this interaction draws upon the past record of knowledge in an effort to expand and increase its quantity and quality. According to Uhrich, “Life is not static and therefore books are not.”[8] In my opinion, neither is a philosophy of service.

[1] Uhrich, Helen B. "The Community of Learning." A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship. Eds. David R. Stewart and Melody McMahon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 71.

[2] Gilbert, Thomas F. "Circulation in Theological Libraries: Seeking and Saving The Lost." A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship. Eds. David R. Stewart and Melody McMahon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 106.

[3] Morris, Raymond P. "Theological Librarianship as a Ministry." A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship. Eds. David R. Stewart and Melody McMahon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 192.

[4] Kuhlthau, Carol Collier. "Model of the Information Search Process." In Seeking Meaning, 2d Ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004: 44-51.

[5] Faupel, David W. "Developing Professionally on the Job." A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship. Eds. David R. Stewart and Melody McMahon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 25.

[6] Uhrich, Helen B. "The Cataloguer and Instruction." A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship. Eds. David R. Stewart and Melody McMahon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 172.

[7] Stewart, David R. "Parchment, Paper, PDF: The Literature of Theological Librarianship." A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship. Eds. David R. Stewart and Melody McMahon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 188.

[8] Uhrich, Helen B. "The Community of Learning." A Broadening Conversation: Classic Readings in Theological Librarianship. Eds. David R. Stewart and Melody McMahon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 188. 65.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Eye-Popping Editions of Classic Philosophy

Sometimes you pick up a philosophy book with a dull, banal cover and you project the same blandess into the content of the book. Thankfully, David Pearson has designed the new "Great Ideas" collection from Penguin,which reprints dozens of classic works of philosophy and politics. Nietzsche might have been a cocky bastard, but the cover surely makes you want to find out why!

Check out these designs by David Pearson:

Great Ideas Volume I

Great Ideas Volume II

Great Journeys