From Hypatia to Victor Hugo to Larry and Sergey

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imagesA lecture by visiting professor Jane Ginsburg.  Hypatia is the Librarian’s utopia, the Library of Alexandria with every text freely accessible.  Victor Hugo is the Author’s utopia: the author is renumerated for his or her work.  And the Google Brothers are the current personification of the clash of two Utopias, Google Books: Universal Library or Bookstore?

The Library of Alexandria has become our idea of the comprehensive library that embraces all knowledge.  Probably because it is lost in time and now irrecoverable.  Since the Sixteenth Century we have been trying to create the themetic catalogue, the universal book of all books: all knowledge, all information, accessed on a desk, an exodermic appendage of the mind.  Have we heard this before: the Internet, or the Matrix?

On the way we passed through the index card, and the micro-filme.  Seeing the plans for a Memex brought to mind the character Angleton from Charles Stross’s Laundry Files.  That helps to imagine that character.

As the metaphor of the memory supplement sits on our desks, and equally as often nowadays, carried in our pockets between two glass slides, the Library of Alexandria is superceded by the Digital Public Library.

The author wants to get paid for her work.  In the Nineteenth Century authors and other luminaries worked together to create multi-territorial privilege to publish.  The right of authorship extended to one territory and outside of that territory a publication’s protection was fair game.  This led to the first production of the Pirates of Penzance being performed in New York so its publication would not be pirated in America.  After 1878 the Berne Convention agreed on copyright protection in all but a handful of states around the world.

So is Google Books fair use or public benefit.  It can be an enhanced card catalogue of the world’s books.  Google is not a charitable institution.  No digital lending library yet.  We are still waiting for the balance between a universal free public library and authorial dissemination and renumeration.

Standing in this Place

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A report of the the Quaker lecture for 2014.  The Quaker lecture can be found here.  This was a smaller lecture than last year’s lecture from Jeannette Fitzsimons and was perhaps more in house.

All stories teach, whether it is the intention of the story teller, or not.  They teach about the world that we create, how it is meant to be, how we perceive it.  Story telling teaches more effectively than instruction on moral precepts, or challenges.

We have yet to give recognition to Papatuanuku, the bountiful earth, in our constitution.  It’s probably not necessary to personify her as Mother Earth.  However there has to be advantage in recognising our environment and ecology, in how it nurtures us, as a legal citizen.  It’s prefectly acceptable for corporations to be legal citizens, why not our environment?

The long one hundred year sleep of the Treaty is over, between its declaration as a legal nullity in 1877 and its re-awakening in 1975.  It has a place in the political and legal life of this country.

I wondered if there is any understanding between the regional bodies of the Presbyterians: the Synod of Otago and Southland, and the Southern Presbytery; and the local iwi, Ngai Tahu?  Both groups exist in locality.  I doubt if it is a relation that has been considered.  How to begin?


A Type of Improvisation

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I J  K  L


Q  R S  T


Y  Z  1  2

3  4  5  6

7  8  9  0

A tear-off number enters another life.

Scale alters context and meaning.


A E I O U, or is it I LOVE U?

Murder as a fine art

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Professor Ruth MorseA lecture by visiting Professor Ruth Morse.  The Morse reference was noted in the introduction, Come on, Lewis!

Crime fiction is not my genre.  I’m reading more of it nowadays as after 40 years of reading speculative fiction those genres are beginning to pall for me now.  This means I’m new to the motifs.

Crime fiction is escapist.  It’s fantasy fiction set in a just universe.  The first successful crime fiction may be younger than Genesis chapter IV, the plotting is insufficiently advanced, the antagonist still bears the mark of Cain.

The protagonist is the wonder-kid.  With the exception of Inspector Clouseau the protagonist cleverly out-thinks the antagonist.  The great detective needs his, or her, counter-balance, the master-mind of crime.  They exist for each other.

The detective story looks backward, the motive is in the past.  Given half a dozen characters the detective will find out whodunnit.

The thriller is the older form of the crime novel, the cinematic boy’s own adventure, the combination of crime and melodrama.  The story unfolds around the central character, a languid chap who is unaware that he is slowly starting out on a dangerous adventure.  Nothing is straight forward in black or white, or neutral in nature.  Gray lies await to trap him.  Fortunately he is the right sort of chap for this struggle of light against darkness.  With wit and courage a single man can make a difference for what he believes in.  In English language literature quite often it is the combination of the stolid Anglo-Saxon and the imaginative and indisciplined Celt.  Together they are up against the unimaginative Germans and their cunning masters.

For the thrill we snap the suspenders of disbelief and hope the plot does not catch around our ankles and trip us up.  Nobody makes you read it, and nobody makes you put it down.

What’s Happening to Universities

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Stefan ColliniI’m starting on my catch-up after a week of going to public lectures.  The first was an address by Stefan Collini.

Was there ever a time when universities were an alternative to business, dedicated to pure learning and art, apart from the Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz?  Universities have always served the practical preparation of  students for a working life.

Market economies have become market societies.  Market societies demand that public services, like universities, are accountable.  How satisfied are you with your experience of the University: Satisfied?  Very satisfied?  Not satisfied? B -.

In a society that is results-driven you are more likely to be satisfied with a cure for cancer than a thesis on tonality in sixteenth century poetry.

We attempt to measure quality and if a twelve year old thinks the museum captions are ‘ace’ that counts as a pass-mark.

The top universities are rank 1 to 100.  The reputations of those at the top are assured.  What happens to the rest.  They fumble around according to their yearly reputation, an status that only exists in relation to the other universities on the list.  Some rise as others are de-valued.  Those at the top become reserves of social class.

A strong department maintains a good academic reputation.  Good administration cannot compel academic research.  Accountability produces a show of accountability, a verisimilitude.  Academic staff are distinctive of a university, a place to cultivate collegiality, form character, make citizens.  We are dependent on academic discipline to attract students.

So there is reason to be optimistic.  It is always going to the dogs.  It’s not inevitable.  Universities remain custodians of a narrative.

Mis Silvia Reads Like A Great Woman

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A lecture by Jill Shefrin on the reading book of Silvia Cole from 1719.  Sadly I can find no images to accompany this report.  I wish that this charming book would be scanned and made available.  It may be the oldest surviving children’s book in the English language.  The original is now held at Lilly University.

The earliest known books published for children in English are dated to the 1740s, 1750s.  Let’s suppose that 50% of the material survived in some form or another.  So we know children owned books.  Evidence they read these curiosities is thin on the ground.  Our history of literacy is dominated on the literacy of boys and literacy through schools that girls did not attend.  We might get a different perspective if we assume that literacy went without comment among upper class girls because it was commonplace.

Silvia Cole’s book, which I think is preserved in the Jane Johnson collection at Lilly University in Indiana (I haven’t confirmed the reference from their online catalogue).  It is a little hand-made book of 63 pages.  It records her voyage from Holland to London, from her merchant parents to her uncle’s house.  The book mentions the street-sellers of her neighbourhood.  She is accompanied by household members Jack and Isabel to see the building of her uncle’s new house.  When she reads blackamores blow trumpets and play drums because she reads so well.  Pictures are sketched on every page with the words, painted in water colours.  A member of the middle-class Cole household made this book for Silvia.  Somebody preserved it after her lifetime until it was added to a collection.

Imagine if reading was uncommon.  A parent, usually the mother would teach a child her letters from a horn-book.  A citizen needed to read the oath of loyalty to the Hannoverian kings.  Silvia Cole’s book includes her attending the celebration of the Hannoverian succession on the 1st of August.  It could have been that little books made for children like this one was not unusual.  For the most part these things are lost or discarded as a person matures.  This one survived because people valued it.

The Reading Lesson by Nicholas-Bernard Lepicie, from the Wallace Collection, London

The Reading Lesson by Nicholas-Bernard Lepicie, from the Wallace Collection, London

Reverse the Popularity of the Election Poll!

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This is a game I like to play after an election: take a list of results and reverse them; I designate the lowest polling candidate to have won the electorate.  The highest list vote for the electorate is given the value 1, with fifteen parties contesting the list vote the lowest list vote is given the value 15.  I put these into a spread sheet for each election to make a summary for each party.  The results I put through Elections NZ MMP seat allocation calculator.   What kind of results did I get this time?

ACT 10 MPs 10  electorate seats, 0 list

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis 9 MPs 0 electorate seats 9 list

Ban 1080 Party 12 MPs 1 electorate seat 11 (8) list

Communist League 2 MPs 2 electorate seats 0 list

Conservative Party 6MPs 1 electorate seat 5 list

Democrats for Social Credit 22MPs 22 electorate seats 0 list

Economic Euthenics 1 MP 1 electorate seat 0 list

Expats 1 MP 1 electorate seat 0 list

Focus Party 15 MPs 1 electorate seat 14 (7) list

Internet Mana 9 MPs 9 electorate seats 0 list

Maori Party 8 MPs 2 electorate seats 6 list

Money Free Party 4 MPs 4 electorate seats 0 list

Independent Coalition 15 MPs 1 electorate seat 14 (9) list

Patriotic Revolutionary Front 1 MP 1 electorate seat 0 list

Civilian Party 14 MPs 0 electorate seats 14 (8) list

United Future 11 MPs 5 electorate seats 6 list

Independents 19 MPs 19 electorates 0 list

Fifteen parties contested the list vote.  Four parties did not cross the threshold: the Green Party, the Labour Party, the National Party, and the New Zealand First Party.  They suffered from their relative successes in the real election, won no electorate seats in my reversed parliament and fell below the threshold to enter with list seats.  In my Update from Another New Zealand in 2011 New Zealand First, the Greens and Labour were represented in parliament along with the Alliance, the Libertarians, the New Zealand Sovereignty Party, the Youth Party, the Human Rights Party and Nga Iwi who have disappeared from this election.

The parties that remain seem to have some collapse in leadership.  After the last election the leader of the Act Party resigned, probably to the disappointment of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party who could have supported in decriminalisation sentiments toward cannabis.  Their next leader was caught out with legal proceedings.  Their third leader has the dubious honour in being more successful in my election results above.

The silly party MP from Economic Euthenics is joined by the Patriotic Revolutionary Front, neither of whom I understand intended to be in parliament.  My apologies to both of them if they ever find this site.  They are joined by the satirical party the Civilian Party.  Fortunately the Civies have a list of 8 candidates along with other parties whose allocation is higher than their candidates lists, bringing the overhang of parliament down from 150 to 131.

I don’t think I can speculate on the arrangement of government with this list!