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People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

It Will Take Them Time To Understand

The editors at the New York Times have found out that Google is launching an effort to digitize millions of books and to make their contents available on the internet. The editors are worried. What a shock.

They seem to have two concerns.
The prospect is inherently enticing, especially to anyone who has ever worked in a major research library. Google says it will take six years to scan some 15 million books. It will take even longer to understand the cultural implications of admitting everyone with Internet access to the contents of the world's great research libraries.

But there are some serious concerns. One is about copyright. At the outset, this project will be limited to books that are old enough to no longer be under copyright. This is as it should be. It will serve as a demonstration of the immensity - and the immense cultural value - of works in the public domain, and could well kindle a new appreciation of the
significance of the public domain.


The other is:
Another crucial concern is the well-being of the books themselves. Google has developed a scanning technology that the company claims is not destructive. Clearly, Google will need to work closely with libraries to ensure that no books are damaged. It is an illusion to think that the digital versions of scanned books can replace the books themselves.
When I began reading the editorial, I thought there would be thought-provoking discussion of some weighty problems with the concept of the virtual library for me to ponder. Instead the New York Times is concerned about copyright, even though they say that that problem has already been addressed, and with the possibility of damaging books in the process of scanning them, something that I'm going to have sleepless nights over, I'm sure.

It is not until the final paragraphs that the mindset is revealed behind the effort to bring fear into the discussion of an absolutely benign effort to bring literature into the digital age.

... each library will essentially get a digital backup of a significant portion of its holdings, but it will be critical to remember that printed books are a stable medium, one that has persisted for hundreds of years.

Digital technology is only a few years old, and even in that brief time, the digital world has produced dozens of incompatible, and often unreadable, media formats. The Google project will enhance the usefulness of the books it encompasses, but it in no way will render them obsolete.

In other words, we will still need to kill all those trees and take words from a word processor and print them, only to turn around and digitize them again so that they can be made available on the net. Such foresight. Does the New York Times have a mandatory retirement age for its employees?

Separation of Church and State ... Again

Another issue relating to the relatively new - and ever shifting - concept of "separation between church and state" has come up. This time in California.
At issue is the California Missions Preservation Act, which allots $10 million to restore and repair 21 historic churches in the Golden State. On December 2, two days after President Bush signed the act into law, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit on behalf of Betty, Carol, John and Ronald Doe -- not their real names -- contending that such funding violates the separation of church and state. (link)
These anti-religionists are exercising the power they've gained in the last four decades. Now they want the government to be out of the historical preservation business if it involves anything remotely connected to religion.

The United States Supreme Court created this mess in 1959, starting construction of a wall that had not previously existed, and it has only made the problem worse in subsequent years. It will require the same supreme court to provide a fix now. Or the madness will continue.

Hate Crimes Defined

Incitement to violence has always been against the law if it could be proven that one's advocacy is aimed at "immediate or imminent serious violence." But at this point in time, the cry for "jihad," the call to Islamists to kill all non-believers (as many of us take the word to mean these days), is apparently protected speech. Bruce Fein wants that changed.
The United States should criminalize a root cause of terrorism: hate speech teaching that indiscriminate murders are morally justified to further a crazed religious, racial, ethnic or political cause. Europe has been more perspicacious than the United States on that score. The splenetic epithets heard in many madrassas or mosques or taught in many Islamic textbooks are exemplary of the evil. The grisly carnage and generations of conflict born of such appeals to madness justifies the prohibition.
And what of "free speech" concerns?
Freedom of speech does not include expression that hopes to provoke violence in order to destroy democracy, the rule of law or human rights. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson warned in Terminiello vs. Chicago (1949), the Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact.
Or at least it shouldn't be. The law needs to be rewritten. You heard it from the expert.

George W Bush Disappoints His Critics ... Again

The president held a news conference yesterday and was asked about his much-criticized secretary of defense. The east coast liberal media smells blood. Don Rumsfeld's blood. But George W Bush would have none of it. He supports his defense minister, New York Times be damned. Here is how John Podhoretz frames the man:

After all, this is Washington, where the great sport is the getting of scalps, the forced sacrifice of reputations and jobs as atonement for policies that haven't gone perfectly.
The drumbeat starts. People say things on TV. They say things in op-eds. They are quoted by other people on TV and in op-eds.

The drumbeat is relentless. But the president is George W. Bush. And the one thing you can say about George W. Bush is that he doesn't like it when people try to make him act in accord with a growing conventional wisdom.

I like for my presidents to have backbone. A candidate who calls his wife "lovey" (John Kerry) or a president who feels the need to routinely make apologies to the American people for his moral shortcomings (Bill Clinton) is not my kind of leader. Ronald Reagan would stand before the people in a press conference and endure the rude behavior of a Sam Donaldson, and smile the whole time; George W Bush politely listens to criticism from reporters who obviously think they know more about all subjects than he, and says, "No. Now let's move on."

It drives them nuts.