Anyone who cares about libraries, newspapers, or history—and I care about all three—would be disturbed by Nicholson Baker’s book Double Fold, which describes how libraries around the world came to replace thousands of pristine volumes of newspapers with inferior microfilm.
What’s more, I’ve experienced one of the worst problems of microfilm—the occasional missing page, section, or entire issue of a publication—more times than I can remember. Several months ago, I went looking for a New York Times article from September 1959 describing the previous decade’s problem with juvenile gang violence; Jane Jacobs cited the article in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and I was quite curious to read it. After some searching, I found it in the Times‘ subject index for that year. When I looked at the microfilm, though, the section it appeared in was missing entirely. Most daily newspapers no longer keep a print run of their own papers, so it’s quite possible that the article no longer exists anywhere at all.
But none of that disturbed me half as much as this passage:
The railroad from Cairo to Alexandria, imposed on the Abbas Pasha by the English in the early 1850s, runs through several bustling necropolises; Egypt had no indigenous coal and very little wood. A small item in the September 27, 1859, edition of the Syracuse Daily Standard reads: “Egypt has 300 miles of railroad. On the first locomotive run, mummies were used for fuel, making a hot fire. The supply of mummies is said to be almost inexhaustible, and are used by the cord.” Dard Hunter’s Papermaking cites an informant’s report that “during a ten-year period the locomotives of Egypt made use of no other fuel than that furnished by the well-wrapped, compact mummies.”
A geologist by the name of Isaiah Deck decided it would be better to remove the mummies’ linen shrouds and use them to make rag paper. There is evidence that American paper manufacturers took his advice.
The mind reels.
My brother asked a friend in Japan about the heating oil trucks that play music. His friend wasn’t familiar with them, but he told my brother something horrifying:
In the city where he lives (between Tokyo and Osaka), when trucks back up, they don’t beep to warn others. Instead, they play “It’s a Small World.”
February 22nd, 2003 § Comments off § permalink
In Japan, heating oil trucks solicit customers the same way that ice cream trucks do in the United States: They play music as they drive past people’s houses.
Okay, that’s it: No posting about current events until March 31. I have a serious case of outrage overload, and if I keep writing about how awful the Bush administration is, I’m only going to make it worse.
If you enjoy reading about the sorry state of America’s leadership, I recommend Tom Tomorrow‘s weblog. It’s leftlicious.
Also, I reserve the right to rescind this ban if circumstances warrant it. Even if that happens, I’ll try to write something more thoughtful than a pithy comment followed by a link to a newspaper’s Web site.
President John F. Kennedy, 1963: “What kind of peace do I mean? …I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. …I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so.”
New Scientist, 2003: “A leaked Pentagon document has confirmed that the US is considering the introduction of a new breed of smaller nuclear weapons designed for use in conventional warfare. Such a move would mean abandoning global arms treaties.”
February 15th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink
The weblogger Rebecca Blood has summarized my thoughts on the coming war more eloquently than I would have:
…Saddam is a monster. But the United States adopts a policy of preemptive attack against its real or perceived enemies at its peril.
Whatever moral authority we may have to allow or disallow other nations to possess weapons of mass destruction rests on our inviolate commitment to use our weapons only in self-defense. Whatever safety we have in this world derives not from our military might, but from whatever good will and trust we have earned from other nations and their people. If, by our actions, we sanction a policy of attacking whomever we deem to be dangerous, we open ourselves to the same. Our nation will be less safe if we attack any other sovereign nation, except in response to a direct attack.
Even the Bush Administration, in its unending attempts to link Saddam with al Qaeda, recognizes this most basic principle: that it is wrong to kill others, except in self-defense. The American government, the one I grew up believing in—the one I believe in still—does not attack other countries except in self-defense, or in the defense of its allies. I know it’s more complicated than that, but at the bottom, that’s the principle.
February 14th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink
President Bush, October 2001: “Ultimately, one of the best weapons, one of the truest weapons that we have against terrorism is to show the world the true strength of character and kindness of the American people. Americans are…united in our concern for the innocent people of Afghanistan.”
BBC News, February 2003: “The United States Congress has stepped in to find nearly $300m in humanitarian and reconstruction funds for Afghanistan after the Bush administration failed to request any money in the latest budget.”
Before the bombs start falling on Iraq, let’s get one thing straight: Osama bin Laden’s latest message to his Iraqi supporters does not prove that Saddam Hussein is in league with Al Qaeda. If anything, the tape discredits that theory. Bin Laden refers to Iraq’s leaders as “infidels” and “hypocrites,” and he tells his supporters, “[F]ighting should be for the sake of the one God. It should not be for…championing the non-Islamic regimes in all Arab countries, including Iraq.”
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Bush administration from claiming otherwise. Yesterday, Colin Powell cited the tape as evidence of a connection, saying it proved that bin Laden is “in partnership with Iraq.” Ari Fleischer, the President’s press secretary, told reporters today, “If that is not an unholy partnership, I have not heard of one. …This is the nightmare that people have warned about, the linking up of Iraq with Al Qaeda.”
I have no idea whether Iraq has official ties with Al Qaeda; surprisingly enough, the CIA hardly ever sends me its classified intelligence briefings. If there’s a case to be made, though, I wish the Bush administration would make it through means other than lying.
From the New York Times: Britain Admits That Much of Its Report on Iraq Came From Magazines.
The British government admitted today that large sections of its most recent report on Iraq, praised by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as “a fine paper” in his speech to the United Nations on Wednesday, had been lifted from magazines and academic journals.
But while acknowledging that the 19-page report was indeed a “pull-together of a variety of sources,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair defended it as “solid” and “accurate.” …
But critics of the government said that not only did the document appear to have been largely cut and pasted together, but also that the articles it relied on were based on information that is, by now, obsolete.
The report’s title, incidentally, is “Iraq—Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation.” Replace “Iraq” with “Britain” and you’ve just about summed up the matter.