Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 15, 2005

Libraries without Books?

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:21 pm

The New York Times reports that:

HOUSTON, May 13 – Students attending the University of Texas at Austin will find something missing from the undergraduate library this fall.


By mid-July, the university says, almost all of the library’s 90,000 volumes will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country.

“In this information-seeking America, I can’t think of anyone who would elect to build a books-only library,” said Fred Heath, vice provost of the University of Texas Libraries in Austin.

No, but there is a big difference between a “books-only library” and a “no-books library.” I’m as big a fan of online information as you’ll find anywhere (especially online journal articles), but the fact is, unless and until they scan in and make available online every book ever published, there will still be a legitimate need for books in libraries, and therefore a real loss of information if you get rid of books.

And even if they do that, there is still some sort of loss. Sure, scanned books might have searchable text (like the scanned journals in the JSTOR collection, and that would be a gain, and you could retrieve any scanned book you want (without worrying if someone else has checked it out) which would also be a gain. But sometimes it’s just easier to flip the pages of a book and “see what’s there” if you don’t know what words to search on, and sometimes it’s nice to browse the stacks and see what other books are available on the same or related subjects, which you might not have thought to search for. (When I was an undergraduate, a professor told me they had once considered closing the stacks in the university library to undergraduates — they’d have staff retrieve whatever books you asked for, but not let undergrads browse the stacks. They rejected the idea in part because they thought the ability to browse the stacks was valuable from an educational and research point of view.)

But even so, we’re a very long way from having every old book scanned in, and they are already moving the books out.

I think this is part of a larger trend, which is the devaluation of any piece of information that was published more than a few years ago. This is not a good trend.

Wheelchair Pageant Winner Gets New Crown

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:03 pm

Chana Meira brings us this update of this story of a woman who was stripped of the title “Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin” after it was discovered that she was not disabled enough — that is, she can stand for short periods of time and was pictured in a newspaper photo doing so. Now:

In response, the World Association of Persons With Disabilities has established a new competition and titled Janeal Lee Miss disAbility International. Ms. Lee likes the new competition’s outlook, as symbolized by the small ‘d’ and capital ‘A’. She stated “It tells you the focus of the program is on people’s abilities and I think that is excellent.

Who Killed the Dinosaurs?

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:54 pm

Toby Katz brings us this gem:

Well, time for something a little lighter than my usual fare. Let’s read the New York Times this morning for our amusement and enlightenment.

From an article about a new dinosaur exhibit:

The final section is, appropriately, on the dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago. Much is made, of course, of the asteroid or comet that struck Earth at that time and contributed to a mass extinction of life. But other things were going on, including global climate change….

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE killed the dinosaurs!? So it was the Republicans. I suspected it all along. They wouldn’t sign the Kyoto Treaty, and look what happened. Well, maybe we should all vote Democratic next time and see if we can bring the dinosaurs back.

After all, voting for Kerry was allegedly going to cure paralysis, as John Edwards said: “If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

Edwards said this the day after Christopher Reeve died. Which is much less of a delay between the demise of the dinosaurs and the Kyoto protocol. I wonder if there are time limits on the Democrats’ power of resurrection.

NOT What a Bar Mitzvah is Supposed to be About

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:42 pm

I just want everyone out there to know, whether you are Jewish or not, that this is not what a bar mitzvah is supposed to be about. (Summary of the the linked story: Some rich guy hired the group “Destiny’s Child” to perform at his son’s bar mitzvah party. He also chartered a plane to fly 200 guests (from Britain? to the French Riviera for the bash.) (Hat tip: Matt Drudge.)

I really mean no disrespect to this fellow, or the business acumen that enabled him to go from high-school-dropout to billionaire-three-times-over, but a bar mitzvah is supposed to be a celebration of the fact that the boy, having attained the age of 13 years (or girl, 12 years, bat mitzvah), is now obligated to keep the commandments of the Torah. (“Bar” means “son of,” “Bat” means “daughter of” and “mitzvah” means “commandment” or “good deed” depending on context. Here it means “commandment” in the sense of “obligation.”) It is not supposed to be about having the biggest birthday party you can throw — but it has become that, in many cases for people who have no real intention of keeping the commandments anyway. The most obvious manifestation of this is the “bar (or bat) mitzvah” party where the food is not kosher. The boy or girl is now — from a Jewish standpoint — legally responsible for eating only kosher food, but in their ignorance or apathy, they throw a party with non-kosher food. (Keep in mind, I have no idea if this particular item applies to the “Destiny’s Child” bar mitzvah — maybe it’ll be totally kosher; I don’t know. Aside from the entertainment, which I know some people would regard as non-kosher.)

This has come to a height in the trend, in certain upper-class circles, for non-Jewish children to have a big party modelled on these (inappropriate) bar and bat mitzvah parties. It’s being called a “faux mitzvah” — and it’s basically the big extravagant party without the religious component. (The cantor who tutored me for my bar mitzvah called these parties “too much bar and not enough mitzvah.”)

Which, sadly, is what a lot of bar/bat mitzvahs for Jewish kids have become in effect, even if they do still have some sort of religious ceremony before the party. The “faux mitzvah” is really an indictment not of the non-Jews who imitate the Jewish parties, but of the Jews who have bar/bat mitzvah parties in which the “mitzvah” or religious component is so hidden that non-Jews see no contradiction between their own religions and imitating this “Jewish custom.” Non-Jews are not obligated to keep Jewish commandments upon attaining the age of 12 or 13 (nor any other time), so there’s no basis to have this sort of celebration. But the Jews who are celebrating are often completely ignorant of that obligation, but they celebrate it anyway, and nobody knows what they are celebrating, so how is this really different from, say, a Baptist having a bar mitzvah? It isn’t — and that’s a real problem.

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