News from 1984



The New Light of Myanmar is a government-owned newspaper, published by the Ministry of Information in the country formerly known as Burma. Yes, the above page is dated September 28, 2007. But at the Ministry of Information in “the peaceful and stable country,” it’s 1984.

I’ll let the text speak for itself. One note though: if you click for the larger version, be sure to read the last paragraph, concerning Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, shot and killed at point-blank range. Note the passive voice: he was killed. But by whom?

The New Light of Myanamar (.pdfs for download)
The New Light of Myanmar (Wikipedia)
Video shows Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai “being shot deliberately” (Times Online) (Graphic content)
“Politics and the English Language” (George Orwell’s essay)
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News from 1984

Overreactions and decisions

The SILS MSIS curriculum requires a master's paper or project and the professors of even the core required classes encourage the students to begin thinking early about likely topics. Fortunately, it's possible to review a database of previous master's papers from SILS graduates so you can gauge the scope and treatment of the topic areas. As a result, I'm always on the prowl for good topics, for others if not for myself (I may have my own gem of a topic, but it's too early to talk about it now). Earlier this year, I ran across the following Schneier on Security blog posting, on the public overreaction to rare risks, in response to the Virginia Tech shootings. It's a sobering testament to how human we are--which is a mixed blessing, in this case.

I was especially struck by the following comment on the post:

As a student of behavioral decision making, I see irrational decisions made on a regular (and unfortunately, in many cases, predictable) basis. And as you alluded to, the reactions to these can often lead to ridiculous policies and unproductive debate over preventing the effects, not the causes. However, there is something so human about these errors that seems to be impossible to overcome. The real next frontier, in my opinion, is to understand these biases better, and to use them (perhaps through policy) to aid in productive, positive decision making.

The world of economics has its own problems with this, since so many of its models assume rational consumers. Define "rational." (Today, I spent a half hour in Circuit City looking at stuff so I could spend a $25 gift certificate, only to find at the counter it was a Best Buy certificate.)

So, in relation to research for a master's paper, think about how much information does a user need to absorb before making a decision? But that topic has surely been done to death. However, even if you take in just enough information, not too much, when would information overrule emotion in the decision-making process? Can it ever? How can you measure the before and after of an emotional (ie, unconscious or reactive) decision? Or could you build an interface or algorithm that either allowed for users' unique mixes of rational/irrational, naive/experienced, emotional/logical, etc. or confronted them with the results of their choices? How to build in bias when the user wants it but leave it out when the user needs it to be left out?

ARTISTS IN LOVE, part twelve



Pierre Bonnard was a part time law student and a part time painter. A man of diverse interests and little focus, he also considered a career as an interior decorator, or possibly a set designer. But mostly he enjoyed an active social life, spending much of his time at the theatre or chatting with friends at the cafes.

Then one day Pierre saw a striking young woman getting off a trolley. He followed her to a small shop where she worked stringing beads on wreaths. Friends later described Marthe de Moligny as a “washed out Ophelia type…unstable and eccentric and morose.” But Bonnard saw something special in her and persuaded her to leave the shop to become his model, his mistress, and ultimately his wife.

Pierre and Marthe were two very different people. They quarreled bitterly at first. Pierre was unfaithful to Marthe. Marthe was melancholy, a reclusive hypochondriac and a scold. When Pierre invited his friends over, Marthe would slam the door in their faces. And yet, Pierre and Marthe held on, gradually working out their differences. Each surrendered the things that were less important to them. Bonnard gave up his mistress and his social life for the reclusive Marthe. They made a home together in a small apartment with almost no furniture. There, they retreated to their inner sanctum, the tiny bathroom where Marthe loved to take long baths every day while Pierre watched and painted her again and again.










In the cramped space, his own hand or leg sometimes ended up in the picture:


But it did not matter. Bonnard had found his focus, and was on his way to becoming a great painter. The couple shed friends, entertainment and other distractions as they went deeper and deeper. As Norman MacLean once noted, Everything gets smaller on its way to becoming eternal. Pierre worked on one painting of Marthe in the bath for two years. Altogether he is reported to have made 384 pictures of her. The couple stayed together for 50 years, and when Marthe died Pierre was disconsolate.

Marthe never cared much for material possessions, but she did always covet a grand bathroom, one with windows and running hot water so she wouldn’t have to heat water in a pan on the kitchen stove. For most of her life, her bathroom had just an iron bathtub, cracked plaster and wooden floors. So I find it very revealing that Pierre painted her bathroom as very large, with shimmering rainbows of color and beautiful tiles, mirrors, luxuriant towels and sunlight streaming through big windows.



I imagine that’s what he saw, and that’s what he gave her.


ARTISTS IN LOVE, part twelve

Proustian advice for students

My friend Stefan Hagemann has observed that so many students on a college campus seem to be elsewhere. As I walk around my university’s campus, I understand what he means: phone conversations, text-messaging, and iPod management can take precedence over attention to one’s surroundings. Even without the distractions of a gadget, the sidewalks and quads of a campus sometimes turn into nothing more than empty yardage to be traversed, as quickly as possible, on the way from one class to the next.
That’s the start of a post I’ve written for Lifehack with some Proustian advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite. Don’t go too fast. Therein, five ways to slow down and pay attention to one’s campus present and campus past:
Advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite (Lifehack)
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Proustian advice for students

Another new WP theme

I went to plaintext.org, looking for something clean and minimal, and so am trying out the Barthelme template. I figured out that one reason I wasn't posting more often was that I didn't think the Chameleon look was really "my blog" (though I did like the two small administrivia columns to the right of the main column). Another was that I was busy getting work done and so chose not to blog.

Another was that I really needed a better tool than Scribefire, which, though it worked fine, just didn't click with me.  I'm looking at some offline tools or -- I think there's a way to use email to post, which I would prefer to do.

Another is that managing this site is still a little scary for me, though I can't imagine why, so I usually stay away until I think I have enough time to mess with it. I think more regular visits will make me less shy of logging in.

Thomas Merton and a snapshot

I love reading Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and writer extraordinaire. (You don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to love reading Thomas Merton.) In his journals, he is unguarded, funny, impatient, and introspective, always open to the possibility of discovery as he thinks aloud on the page. Here’s Merton at the age of fifty, looking at an old photograph:

A distant relative sent an old snapshot taken when he and his wife visited Douglaston thirty years ago. It shows them with Bonnemaman [Merton’s grandmother] and myself — and the back porch of the house, and the birch tree. There is Bonnemaman as I remember her — within two years of dying. And there am I: it shakes me! I am the young rugby player, the lad from Cambridge, vigorous, light, vain, alive, obviously making a joke of some sort. The thing that shakes me: I can see that that was a different body from the one I have now — one entirely young and healthy, one that did not know sickness, weakness, anguish, tension, fatigue — a body totally assured of itself and without care, perfectly relaxed, ready for enjoyment. What a change since that day! If I were wiser, I would not mind but I am not so sure I am wiser: I have been through more, I have endured a lot of things, perhaps fruitlessly. I do not entirely think that — but it is possible. What shakes me is that — I wish I were that rugby player, vain, glorious, etc. and could start over again!! And yet how absurd. What would I ever do? The other thing is that those were, no matter how you look at it, better times! There were things we had not heard of — Auschwitz, the Bomb, etc. (Yet it was all beginning, nevertheless.)

And now what kind of a body! An arthritic hip, a case of chronic dermatitis on my hands for a year and a half (so that I have to wear gloves); sinusitis, chronic ever since I came to Kentucky; lungs always showing up some funny shadow or other on x-rays (though not lately); perpetual diarrhea and a bleeding anus; most of my teeth gone; most of my hair gone; a chewed-up vertebra in my neck which causes my hands to go numb and my shoulder to ache — and for which I sometimes need traction; when you write it down it looks like something, and it is true, there is no moment any more when I am not aware that I have something wrong with me and have to be careful! What an existence! But I have grown used to it — something which thirty years ago would have been simply incredible. [December 21, 1965]

From The Journals of Thomas Merton: Volume Five, 1963-1965, ed. Robert E. Daggy (NY: HarperCollins, 1998) 325-26

Related posts
Movie recommendation: Into Great Silence
New year’s resolutions
Odes to autumn
To educe
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Thomas Merton and a snapshot

WorldCat

worldcat.jpg

WorldCat is a publicly accessible online interface to the holdings of all types of libraries throughout the world: currently 57,000 libraries in 112 countries. Tell it what book you’re looking for and your zip code or city, and it will pinpoint the nearest library that has the book. Same goes for magazines and journals, video and audio formats. The ability to locate an obscure book is invaluable; but it’s also tremendously useful for anyone living in a region with more than one nearby library. California’s Bay Area is blessed with an abundance of excellent public and academic library systems and a majority of them are represented in WorldCat, so in my case, it’s a real time saver (I do a lot of sleuthing). The database was originally accessible only by taking a trip to the library, but in 2004, the nonprofit Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) built this interface. Beyond the core location service, WorldCat provides many other helpful services and resources, like citation exporting, list making, and text samples. I haven’t explored these options much, but you can use it to build your own private or public indexes of titles and to search public lists created by other users. You can even read and write reviews of materials - yes, you can actually write in the library catalog! And if you decide you’d actually prefer to purchase the item, there are Amazon and WorldCat purchase links (a portion of every WorldCat sale goes toward supporting a local library of your choosing or to the OCLC). You’ll need to create a WorldCat account to take advantage of these features, but account creation goes really quickly and it’s free.

You can obtain WorldCat results in your preferred search engine by appending the term “WorldCat” to your search. Preceding your query with the phrase “find in a library” also works very well in Google and Yahoo. In my own experience, I’ve found these methods to work best in conjunction with titles or author names. WorldCat also offers a number of browser toolbar extensions and plug-ins to help facilitate searches. Alternatively, you can simply go directly to the WorldCat web site and use it like you would any individual library’s catalog. Search on title/author/keyword/etc., browse by topic or other citation linkages. Item pages consist of basic bibliographic data formatted out like a of virtual catalog card, and below that you’ll find a set of tabs with the holding libraries information, more detailed bibliographic data, subject links, editions and reviews. Finding the exact edition of a book can be a bit tricky, and so can finding an alternative edition that may be even closer to you, so the “Editions” tab is critical. Overall, OCLC does a pretty good job of rolling duplicate catalog entries together, but you do need to watch out for alternate spellings of titles.

The library links from the item page will take you to into the holding library’s OPAC (online public access catalog). You might land on the item page for that work or you might find yourself at the main catalog page for that library. Responsibility for providing accurate “deep links” to item pages falls to the participating library. I have occasionally found that after following a link for a holding library, I end up at a catalog page that says something along the lines of “Your item would be here.” At this point, I go ahead and re-enter my title in the library’s search box on that page and more often than not the item does appear in the catalog. I’m not sure why this happens, but I suspect it may have something to do with links changing or out of date record numbers being used. This is, admittedly, very frustrating, but because the item usually does end up being in the catalog I continue to be a fan of WorldCat. It’s really an excellent resource for all users of various types of libraries with broadly ranging information needs. And its main purpose of connecting patrons with materials housed in libraries near them is further supplemented by new and growing user-specific and community-based features. I couldn’t get along without it. I also look forward to watching the project continue to evolve.

– Camille Cloutier

WorldCat
Available at WorldCat.org

Provided by Online Computer Library Center [OCLC]


Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

nypl-card.jpgDigital Library Cards

sonyreader.jpgSony Portable Reader

tool-library.jpgTool Lending Libraries
WorldCat