Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Word of the day and a technical vocabulary

Today's word is Caledonian antisyzygy. I'll come to it shortly.

Today we also feature a technical vocabulary. and thank you to Christopher Brookmyre: "sleights and subtleties, shuffles, false cuts, drops and palms, vanishes, transpositions, penetrations." Put these words into the Google books search engine, and you do not find a book, even though the words are a quote from Brookmyre's A Snowball in Hell (Little, Brown, 2008). Put them into Google web search, and you find a new world of conjuring and its vocabulary.

Brookmyre is, of course, one of that loose group of writers described as tartan noir, contemporary Scottish crime fiction. According to the Wikipedia entry, "These works dwell on the duality of the soul; the nature of good and evil; issues of redemption, salvation and damnation amongst others. "Caledonian antisyzygy" - a Scottish phenomenon of the duality of a single entity - is a key driving force in Scottish literature, but appears especially prominently in the Tartan Noir genre."

So I'm taking an Ian Rankin and a Christopher Brookmyre on holiday with me, and a couple of Val McDermids. With best wishes to all of the readers (the reader?) of this fairly occasional blog - enjoy your holiday in your own way, too.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Happy Birthday John Milton

Yesterday is the 400th birthday of John Milton - or today for the American readers of this blog . Why a mention in a library-focused blog? Because Milton, one of our greatest poets, was also the great pioneer of freedom of speech.

Milton's Areopagitica, written in 1644 during the English civil war, is an articulate and passionate case for the liberty of speech. The ideas were not new when Milton published them: the title comes from the name of a hill in Athens, and from a speech by Isocrates in the 5th century BC.

Many of the statements about freedom of speech that we all half-know are from this book, like this one

"As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye."

and this one

"I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat."

Milton believed that right will out, and access to good and bad argument was integral to this. He believed that freedom and choice we central to what it means to be human - "religion, if not voluntary, becomes a sin".

Areopagitica was written in the contest for freedom of religion that was fought between the armies of Parliament and of the King. Milton was a republican, a supporter of the "good old cause", the uprising of Parliament in the 1640s. He worked for the government of the Commonwealth in the 1650s, and was arrested on the return of the king in 1660. He was imprisoned for a time, but released. And went on to write his great poetic works.

Others are celebrating, too, although the Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball would seem to miss the point of Milton. The program at Christ's College, Cambridge is more tasteful, quite reasonably, since Milton studied there 380 years or so ago. And for the domain name afficionados, Milton-L is there for you too. I guess for the rest of us, reading Milton is the best way to celebrate, and it is all online.

Happy birthday John, we owe you lots.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Censoring the Internet

There is growing opposition to the plans of the Government to censor the internet. Almost twelve months ago, following a statement by the Minister for Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy, ALIA issued a press release. It was headed ALIA's Ten questions on censorship for Senator Stephen Conroy. But we still don't know the answers to ANY of the questions.

Senator Conroy said in a recent interview on Radio National's The Media Report (30 October) that the government will first determine what kind of filtering or blocking of internet content is feasible, and then decide what will be blocked. He said ". . . a whole range of people have said, 'Hey, lets expand this', That's a debate that we will come to. What we're trying to establish at the moment, we're no further than establishing at the moment, whether it's technically feasible." So we don't know what the government plans to censor, and neither yet do they.

In the meantime, a number of organisations have taken up the issue. The No Clean Feed website and blog is organised by Electronic Frontiers Australia, which also covers internet censorship on its own site. Another site is the blog Somebody Think of the Children: discussing censorship and moral panic in Australia, and another very thorough personal site is Irene Graham's long-established site. Australians Against Internet Censorship, a Facebook group, is planning a nationwide protest on 13 December. There is also a Getup! campaign on this issue, and 89,000 people have signed their petition. Getup! has an interactive widget you can embed on your web page or in your blog. So there is a lot of action.

ALIA is a player in this, and we have an online content site. Let me know what you think ALIA should be doing. This is an issue which is very important to us, because libraries have always taken a strong stand in opposition to censorship.