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Rethinking GDP

GDP
On March 12th, before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, hearings were held on “Rethinking the Gross Domestic Product as a Measurement of National Strength.” The testimony contains some very interesting historical background on the evolution of GDP as an instrument for measuring national wealth. Look especially at the testimony of Jonathan Rowe, of the West Marin Commons. Parts of his statement were reprinted in the June issue of Harpers, p.17, under the title "Our Phony Economy".

Librarians discuss how to store world's data


Mike Keller is at a conference this week in San Francisco on digital archiving.

At a briefing between conference sessions, Stanford University librarian Michael Keller outlined the two-pronged challenge - preserving and digitizing the wisdom of the past, and deciding what to keep of the new facts, photos and videos being created at accelerating rates. Keller said preserving and cataloging the past, though no small feat, is the easier of the two tasks, and conferees in San Francisco heard some of the successes in that category, notably the new National Audio-Visual Conservation Center of the U.S. Library of Congress. The center, which houses more than 5 million recordings, films, videos and entertainment industry records, was donated to the government last year by the Packard Humanities Institute. Gregory Lukow, the library's audiovisual chief, said the foundation spent 10 years and more than $150 million to create a facility that includes dozens of climate-controlled vaults to preserve precious films and equipment to digitize recordings, videos and other cultural artifacts. When foundation officials gave the government the new facility last year, it was the largest private gift ever received by the Library of Congress, which named the new center after Silicon Valley icon David Packard, the primary benefactor.

"A tremendous amount of material is born digitally every year," said Keller, the Stanford librarian, adding that even a big institution like his can only collect 2 or 3 percent of the new knowledge created annually. And while the sheer volume of digital information being produced is daunting, the bigger headache is that e-knowledge keeps changing its wrapper, jumping into new programs, operating systems and hardware that provide new and more engaging ways to communicate.

How will librarians keep pace? Well, that's what the conferees will spend all week discussing. But Keller pointed out some main thrusts. Today, the tried-and-true method is migration - converting old digital data formats into newer ones on a case-by-case basis, which is costly and aggravating, especially given how formats change so frequently, he said. Down the road, technologists might discover how to present older digital creations in emulation - like running Windows software on a Macintosh computer. Alternately, libraries might store both the hardware and software for playback - like an old phonograph that plays wax records - a tactic called encapsulation. Whatever the approach, it should have started yesterday and now must run faster to keep up with tomorrow because, as Keller said, "everybody's a creator, everybody's a publisher."

Errol Morris on Abu Ghraib

Errol Morris

"A major problem [about the Abu Ghraib story] is that few people have been willing to look past the photographs into the reality of Abu Ghraib. Sabrina Harman was not involved in al-Jamadi’s death. I know this from hundreds of documents and sources. Someone in a blog wrote: “Who cares about these people?” Quite simply, I care. In learning about Sabrina Harman and the death of al-Jamadi, we can learn more about Abu Ghraib. I believe that the failure to prosecute any C.I.A. personnel for the death of al-Jamadi may lead to the highest echelons of the government. Investigating small things can often teach us about the big things that stand behind them."
-- Errol Morris, New York Times, May, 19, 2008

Errol Morris has recently released a documentary of Abu Ghraib, based on the thousands of snap shots taken by those involved. Yesterday he published an essay in the New York Times, called The Most Curious Thing, on one murder that happened at Abu Ghraib, and the photographic record that was kept of it. It's a long, hard read, but worth it for anyone interested in how the truth works. It would make good background material for a seminar or discussion with Donald Rumsfeld, when he visits the Hoover Institution, in his capacity as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow.

The book version of the documentary, Standard operating procedure, is on order in the Law Library. The film is currently in theaters and the video will be released later in the year. We also have several books, other videos, and government documents dealing with the subject of Abu Ghraib Prison .

Stephen Jay Gould's Papers are coming to Stanford Libraries


"Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness. Rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny — and also in a willingness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do)." Stephen Jay Gould

Stanford University Libraries announced Wednesday that the papers of famed evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould are coming to Stanford and will be housed in Special Collections.

Rhonda Shearer, Gould's widow, said that Stanford was chosen because "Stanford was the only institution really prepared to make a commitment to digitize and cross-link all of Steve's work, and this is something that Steve wanted. Even though he called himself a Luddite and really had anxiety about technology, he saw that for ideas to compete, they really had to be out on the Internet."

Mike Keller, Stanford University Librarian, said that the plan is to digitize Gould's articles, as well as the sources from which he drew both inspiration and information, and cross-link the source materials to the endnotes and citations in his writing. The goal will be to make all of Gould's papers freely available over the Internet to anyone who wants to see them, whether schoolchildren or scholars.

Anyone who found inspiration in items as disparate as a small piece of wood riddled with termite holes or the eye lenses of a flying fish (still stuffed into a small black tube with a tissue stuffed in the open end) probably had an interesting way of looking at things.

There is a great deal of interesting background material on Professor Gould at the Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive.

Here is a list of Stephen Jay Gould's books at Stanford.

Errol Morris is still at it on ZOOM

Errol Morris is still at it.
Today, December 11th, in the New York Times online, Errol Morris continues his blog ZOOM, beginning the "crazy" process of answering the over-1000 entries from readers of his blog on the nature of images and truth. It's all great stuff, even if a bit nuts, by the cynical standards of our times. You'll enjoy it, if you like reading and thinking. It's perhaps the exact opposite of what one would normally expect from our blog culture of Instant Truth. Just goes to show: One can think critically anywhere.

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