Monday, August 24, 2009

Follow-Up: Hurricane Katrina, No New York Times Correction, and Pres. Obama Makes the Same Mistake

Yesterday's New York Times Book Review didn't contain any correction or mention of the mis-statements that Timothy Egan made in his review of Dave Eggars' Zeitoun that I wrote about the other day. I searched both the NYT web page and the relevant database on Lexis and found nothing. (And, apparently, you can't leave comments on book reviews on the Times' web page. Huh?)

But I guess that the New York Times' error in this doesn't matter since President Obama is saying basically the same thing:
"I think that Katrina was really a wake-up call for the country...that all of us can fall prey to these kinds of natural disasters". Rebuilding New Orleans Still a Priority, Obama Says, New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 23, 2009, page A-21. (Emphasis added)
Oh, the shitstorm that would rain down in some parallel-hell of a universe where a President McCain made a statement referring to Katrina as just a natural disaster. The New York Times, President Obama, and the entire country may have forgotten this, but we in New Orleans still remember an important detail about Katrina: the catastrophic flooding wasn't due to the hurricane overtopping the levees, but resulted from the breeching of floodwalls that we now know were improperly designed and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers over the past forty years.

Are the Times and the President glossing over this because now, all of a sudden, they don't want to draw attention to the inefficiencies and ineptitude of the federal government because the current administration is proposing that a big, new bureaucracy be created to provide a federalized health insurance option for one sixth of our population and take its place besides other great government success stories like Amtrak, the Post Office, and, yes, the Corps of Engineers?

Full blog post...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hurricane Katrina and Sloppy Errors in the New York Times Book Review

I guess with the increase in corrections in the New York Times, spotting errors isn't hard, but getting the date and details wrong on Hurricane Katrina is pretty egregious. Yes, its just in the Sunday NYT Book Review of Dave Eggers' Zeitoun, but saying that
"Katrina hits on Sunday, Aug. 28 2005" and that "[i]t's a Category 5 storm..."
as reviewer Timothy Egan does, is like talking about the 9/10 Terrorist Attacks.

Yeah, OK, on Sunday those still in town were definitely feeling the effects of Katrina, but it didn't make landfall until Monday morning; though that's the correct meteorological meaning of "hit", we can let that one slide. But though Katrina had been a Cat5 storm, it was down to a Cat3 by the time it made landfall in Louisiana; Egan just plain got that wrong in his review. (The Saffir-Simpson scale categories are based solely on wind speed; though Katrina's winds had decreased when it came ashore, it still packed a record storm surge and was one of the largest hurricanes ever. Maybe Egan and his editors just .... know, no excuse for this sloppiness, but OK - it was a powerful, big damn storm, Cat5 or not.)

Perhaps these are only things that locals would care about, but in what sounds like perhaps the best book about Katrina so far (haven't read it myself yet), and even perhaps the best book that Eggers has written out of his entire oeuvre, I think these oversights only serve to sour us in New Orleans on this otherwise great review. We're perfectly willing to forgive his sloppiness in specifying what neighborhood the Zeitoun family lived in (a lot of us can't keep some of those straight), but for us, 8/29 is just as evocative of the date our tragedy took place as 9/11 is for the entire country.

But what is unforgivable is the dilettantesque mistake that the reviewer makes in attributing New Orlean's deluge to just the shear force of nature. In describing the second day after the storm, Egan says:
"Day 2, the world changes. Zeitoun wakes to a sea of water, after the levees have been overtopped. He’s neck-deep in a city of a thousand acts of desperation."
If the New York Times and the rest of the country has forgotten that the catastrophic flooding wasn't due to Katrina overtopping the levees, but to the failure and breeching of the levees due to their improper design and construction, then we've learned nothing and made no progress in how we allocate resources and plan for risks such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters. (On the other hand, Eggers, apparently, gets it right - the local reviews and discussions of the book I've seen would definitely mention it if he had botched that critical point.)

So this Sunday I'm look for a big, fat, kiss-ass apology to New Orleans in the New York Times Book Review.

Full blog post...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Astroturfing via Twitter in Support of “Health Care Reform”?

This is really a brilliant idea, and its essentially a Twitter-based version of the “grass-root” campaign results I found that both supported and opposed proposed FCC rules on “Broadcast Localism” and which resulted in thousands of comments to the FCC web site that were identical to the form letters that different advocate groups urged their supporters to send.

Now to drum up support for health care reform, this blogger has provided easy cut-and-paste Tweets that users can Twitter themselves without having to think of an original thing to say, complete with the URLs to the White House “Reality Check” web pages.
But yet it’s the opponents of current “health care reform” efforts that get accused of astro-turfing this issue when they swap messages and post notices about how and where to voice their concerns.

One thing I’m really just understanding about’s url-shortening service is that it will let you track the hits for the web site through ANY URL, whether yours or someone else’s. So I plugged in those pages and see that he’s apparently had several of his Tweets propagated by as many as two thousand people, but some of the others only have two-three hundred hits. So either folks are being very selective about the dozen or so Tweets he provides. And at the bottom of this post he says this is something similar to what he, and others, I guess, did during the Iran election in July.

Good use of Twitter to get your message out via other people who can’t communicate in 140 characters on their own without help!

Full blog post...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dead Blue Dog Graffiti

Great graffiti, presumedly somewhere here in the city:
Dead blue dog on Twitpic

Finally something useful from Twitter! Thanks, NolaMaven! For my many readers not from New Orleans, the target of this is New Orleans artist George Rodrigue's ubiquitous Blue Dog motif/mascot/moneytrain.

Full blog post...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Twitter Over Capacity? Did I Miss Some News Story?

Maybe I don't use Twitter enough to have seen this before, but I was logging out and had this screen come up:

Twitter over capacity message

There isn't even any big breaking news story? I thought when Michael Jackson's death fried Twitter they learned how to "upscale" their servers on the fly. Guess it was just a glitch, or someone is doing another DOS attack on it. But the fact that they have this nice graphic ready to go means they know they're not up to the task of handling all the traffic they're getting these days, right?

Full blog post...

Monday, August 10, 2009

CALI, AALL, Social Media, and the Coming Backlash (Hopefully?)

Feels like I lost late June and most of July to the annual CALI and AALL meetings, and mostly to the bathroom renovation from hell, and now its August and school is ready to start again.

This year both the CALI and AALL meetings will big on Web 2.0 and social media - Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc. But the question I had at the CALI "unconference" session - a big, open free-wheeling discussion about anything - is still unanswered: what mission-critical tasks can these things do for us that we aren't already doing with the tools we've had for a good while now. In law schools, the two primary mission-critical tasks are educating our students to be lawyers and supporting our faculty in their teaching and scholarship.

I've had a lot of fun with Facebook getting in touch with old friends - though learning what they got on any one of the dumb surveys that propagate like weeds on Facebook or that they need help in whatever Mafia Wars task they're doing isn't my idea of "getting in touch", but I've had a few worthwhile exchange with some of my fellow high school alum and its looking like Facebook is going to be very useful in organizing our 25th reunion next year. (And our dog's campaign for the Mayor of New Orleans is making good use of Facebook and is going gangbusters so far.)

And Twitter is a blast during the conferences - very useful at CALI and very snarky at AALL since everyone could Tweet anonymously via @aallsecrets. Yes, there were a few useful Tweets at AALL about simultaneously scheduled programs and some folks posted some useful related resources live during the program, but less so than at CALI, which makes sense given who goes to each.

Two answers have been offered for what these Web 2.0/Social Media stuff can do for us at law schools - one was at that unconference session and involved publicity and I agree about that - one point made at another CALI session was that at the least every law school should have a presence on Facebook and probably elsewhere if only to serve as the official Joe Blow School of Law Facebook page and thus be able to point folks there if they are confused by ad hoc pages created by the school's students. But with the economy in the tank applications are up across the country and luring applicants to your law school is not like marketing sneaker brands where you better be up to date on every social media site and tool. But I do not believe anyone is losing enrollment because their school isn't on Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

The second answer was from a casual conversation at AALL and involved RSS feeds and using them to aggregate/push/whatever articles and blogs and other information to our faculty and students. I'm an RSS agnostic - a thread on ALL-SIS mentioned RSS feeds and one school mentioned a survey of incoming students that said only something like 15% of them used RSS feeds, which sounds a whole lot more accurate to me than the figure I saw stating that 65-70% of all internet users use RSS feeds; I'd believe that 65-70% of all internet users who happen to take a survey about social media probably use RSS feeds, but that survey sure seems like the respondents were self-selected.

RSS feeds may be neat but roping in some blogs as part of your research probably isn't mission-critical to what our faculty and students need. Faculty are going to be most concerned with the 600+ law reviews that Westlaw and Lexis can provide and for which I can set up a thorough, accurate automatic search and have new matching articles e-mailed to them regularly. (And when I last played with RSS, I clicked on the little orange RSS icon on two different web sites - one seemed to look for newsreader software on my computer, and the other asked me to choice between a half-dozen or so news "aggregator" services that it assumed I would have subscribed to. If I can't figure out RSS in five minutes - and, yes, I'm sure its easy once I spend 10 minutes or so with it - its not ready for prime time for the tens of thousands of students and faculty who would need help with even more basic on-line tasks.

It seems to me we're allowing ourselves to be converts to too much of the hype from the marketing types - where some of the hype may indeed be justified - and trying to be "cool librarians" by applying the lingo and mindset to what we do. But screw Clay Shirkey and his contention that "the tradition of one-way authoritative delivery of information is becoming extinct". Yeah, I thought it was neat that Skittles.Com turned their web site into 100% content other people are putting up about their product on social media sites, but in any field besides trying to sell more people your particular brand of stomach-rotting crap candy - i.e., all fields that really matter and strive to accomplish something to oh, I don't know, improve humanity's lot and more us forward as a species, like law, medicine, economics, whatever - questions need to be answered with a significant degree of authority and not cobbled together by people uploading photos to a communal web site or creating a wiki.

Yes, "authoritative" answers to a question may change over time as we learn more about the universe we're in (or, in law, as judges tease out new principles from the cases before them), and the answer to other questions are often really just another question or two, but we, as librarians, are responsible for getting those authoritative answers, or the means of finding those authoritative answers, or even determining that there is no definitive answer, to our patrons.

Are people getting useful answers via Twitter? Yes, I'm sure. But if you ONLY post an important question on Twitter, you're doing a shit job. Law-lib still answers more question on a day that I've ever seen on Twitter. (And please, you're just trying to show off your "cool librarian" cred if you post a survey question on law-lib and they ask for responses via DM .) Twitter is just a weird chimera that seems like chat, micro-blogging, or even e-mail, depending on how you use it but is it game-changing, paradigm-shifting, chose-your-cliche-here, as Shirkey et al says? Shirkey's Ted lecture on the page linked above is mis-labeled there "How Twitter Can Make History" (ummm, no, it can't - and I've ragged on the grandiose claims made for Twitter a few times already so enough said about that). Its a bit broader and is actually called "How Social Media Can Make History" and I'm still not convinced (guess I should listen to the whole thing). Twitter has only made it even more easier (read: more idiot-proof) for people to post stuff on-line, like blogs did a few years ago.

E-mail and the web itself - those were game-changers. All this Web 2.0 and social media hot-topicalism is just the hype-of-the moment. AALL and CALI both had a hell of a lot of sessions about wikis and blogs when those were the new hot things. OK, having students create a wiki in a faculty member's "banana and the law" course may be neat, but sorry if I didn't read about which Federal Circuit is now allowing pleadings in the cases it hears to be submitted via wikis - like I said, I'm RSS feed agnostic so I may have missed that news story.

Blogs were going to make it so much easier for us to reach our patrons but most of the law library blogs I've seen are on-line version of the "books we've acquired this month" newsletters we all used to print and distribute. A blog makes it a lot easier to put that sort of newsy stuff on-line, and at least the students are not throwing away that much paper because they can now not read it on-line instead of not read it when we waste a student worker's time putting a copy in each of their mail boxes. (And I may be baffled about RSS but you can NOT say I don't understand blogs - this post is longer and has more links in it than 90+ % of every other blog I've ever looked at.)

E-mail and the web did revolutionize the way we work and increased exponentially the ways and the ease with which we can connect with our colleagues around the country and around the world. To some extent, Web 2.0 and social media are just tools bringing this more to the masses who couldn't master effective e-mail use and basic html and who, let's admit, don't have that much to say anyway. These new tools aren't paradigm-shifters and in two to three years these annual meetings will have sessions on whatever new tools are being hyped then and which, upon later sober reflection will be seen, like blogs, wikis, social media networks, Web 2.0 collaboration sites, etc., etc., before them, as nifty but non-mission critical ways to get some things done but not the monumental advances they once were thought to be.

I finally had an excuse to put all this down here because I was inspired by an article in the New York Times today, Party On, but No Tweets, about how some social events and some venues are adopting strict no-Twitter, no-cell-phone pics, etc., policies, and people, though uncomfortable at first, are finding its actually enjoyable to just live in the moment and not obsessively share and document the moment. One of the clubs mentioned enforces this by blackballing members if they find Facebook pictures taken during its functions. Another recent article mentioned how membership in Facebook and other sites may have peaked in the under-30 or so demographic. One explanation proposed was that since the over-30 on up to the senior citizen demographics have only recently discovered all this stuff, it was no longer "cool". I don't think kids are going to give up their cell phone texting and Facebook pages, but it soon may be the "cool" trend to actually NOT chat on your phone during half the party and to let your Facebook page go un-updated for a significant length of time. So maybe "backlash" is not what we're going to see in a year or so - maybe "The Coming Ho-Hum" is more accurate.

Full blog post...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Henry Miller, Library Censorship, and a Honky-Tonk Pickup

This was one of the most unlikely movies to find a passing reference to censorship, libraries, and Henry Miller, let alone to find it used as part of a pick-up in a scene at a Texas Honky-Tonk bar:

This is from "A Hell of a Note", the first short film by Glenn "Eagle" Pennell, and is included on the Bonus Materials disc for the recent DVD release of Pinnel's best-known film, The Whole Shootin' Match.

Eagle Pennell was a 1970s independent filmmaker who worked mostly in Texas and was based in what was apparently a huge burgeoning arts scene in Austin in the 60s and 70s. "The Whole Shootin' Match" was made entirely without financial support or creative input from the film industries in Hollywood or New York, and so was an early "regional" film that eventually got national press.

Both "Shootin' Match" and "Hell of a Note" are rough on the edges and are definitely low-budget indie movies, but wow - the characters, stories, and settings ring more true than most current "art-house" type movies with budgets many times more than what Pennell had to work with.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

July Netflix Summary

July 2009 Netflix SummaryArrived at HomeReceived at NetflixDays at HomeMonthly Average Days at HomeCost Per Movie
Vicky Christy Barcelona07/0107/1312
Carnal Knowledge07/0107/098
Days of Heaven07/0107/1413
Honkeytonk Man07/1007/166
I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar07/1407/2410
Tender Mercies07/1507/216
Last Holiday (1950)07/1707/203
Youth Without Youth07/2107/3110
The Whole Shootin' Match07/2508/039

Only made it through ten movies this month, what with the AALL meeting and the bathroom renovation from hell. It was mostly movies I've been meaning to get around to for years - Days of Heaven (really good), and Tender Mercies and Honkeytonk Man, which are a great pair of movies that I wish I had watched as a double feature. I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar is exhibit #1 for why making Netflix choices based on the New York Times' DVD column is a very dicey business - that was the biggest waste this month, with Tideland coming in a very close second. My third favorite after Eastwood's and Duvall's individual turns at country music movies, though, was The Whole Shootin' Match, which also was a NYT DVD column selection, so I guess it all comes out in the balance.

Full blog post...