Mark Twain, Traitor

I really enjoyed an article I found by chance today about Twain’s attempts to narrate and justify his conduct during the US Civil War. From the closing paragraph:

My title, “Mark Twain, Traitor,” hails the Mark Twain who appears as such in his major work, whose text is constantly involved with the question of betrayal, of confused loyalties, not edifying us, giving us resolutions, just describing betrayal’s performance, its reasoning soliloquy. Huck guiltily betrays Uncle Jake in Tom Sawyer. and he desperately strives to betray Jim in Huckleberry Finn. “Mark Twain” is, of course, the key phrase in any letter of denunciation written for some police authority. Someone is not who he or she says he or she is. I report a Mark Twain whose post–Civil War nationalist identification is questionable, a Mark Twain at play with his progressive Unionist/Republican identification, at play with his reactionary Southern patrician identification, a Mark Twain who might be a double agent, or worse, a “free” agent, outside the rules of either comity, outside the several codes of honor, a marker, not the twain, not Southern, not Northern. I report a Mark Twain loose in his loyalties, Northern in his detestation of Southern moral turpitude, Southern in his contempt for the moral rectitude of the hypocritical Northeast, always an unreliable narrator, and for that reason always somewhere in rebellion, defying the positivities of both (particular) Confederacy and (universal) Union, their different disciplines. Mark that fellow. The name itself is a denunciation. How indeed did this transsectional Civil War rogue, migrant in all the sections of the country, never at home, always moving, become the principal icon of post–Civil War patriotic nationality? Mark Twain’s humor, William Dean Howells writes in My Mark Twain (1910), “is as simple in form and direct as the statesmanship of Lincoln or the generalship of Grant” (118). I have no idea what this means. Mark Twain’s humor is never simple and direct. In 1901, telling his Civil War story at Lincoln Birthday Dinner, amid the patriotic pieties, Mark Twain would again directly address the question: why did you desert the Civil War? Why did he not fight for Abraham Lincoln’s noble cause? Great humorist that he is, he tells the truth. It was the weather, Mark Twain says in 1901. You never saw such weather (Mark Twain Speaking 382).1

  1. Neil Schmitz “Mark Twain, Traitor” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 63.4 (2007) 34-35 []

Open Access in 2006

Peter Suber has summed up the Open Access developments for 2006 in the most recent issue of his OA newsletter. You can view the article on his OA blog: Open Access Newsletter 1/2/07. While I haven’t been keeping up with all the changes he mentions in the report, when summed up it is clear that a lot of fantastic progress has been made in the past year, which includes a rapid growth in OA Mandates, Hybrid OA journals, fully OA journals, OA archiving, OA text repositories like Google and Microsoft books, a gradual shift in funding from toll-access journal subscriptions to OA journal publication fees, governments mandating OA for their data, the rise of peer reviewed wikis, the continuing growth in importance of blogs as sources of information, and so on.

Peter Suber takes a look at the long-term progress of the OA movement and sums up his thoughts:

There are roughly three phases for a movement like ours. First, it’s known only to a small group of activists and opponents. Second, familiarity explodes and lots of newcomers start to think and talk about it, not necessarily with good understanding. Third, pretty much all the stakeholders know about it even if they don’t understand it or haven’t made up their minds about it. In my estimation, we entered Phase Two in early 2004 and we started entering Phase Three in 2006. Phase Three is by no means the finish line; the open source movement has been in Phase Three for many years and is still widely misunderstood and slow to make critical gains. And we’re not yet fully in Phase Three. I suspect that nearly all journals and journal publishers have heard of OA, and that the percentage is about as high among funders of research. There are people knowledgeable about OA in almost every university and academic library in the world. But familiarity among professional researchers is still woefully low and good understanding is even further behind.

Regrettably, progress towards OA has been slowest in my own field of humanities. There has been some progress, however. Here is his summary of the developments on this front:

The slowest progress toward OA has been in the humanities, but in 2006 we saw significant acceleration. The US National Endowment for the Humanities adopted a policy to favor applications that promise OA for their results. The long-awaited report from the American Council of Learned Societies not only recommended OA for the humanities, but recommended OA mandates by funders and supportive actions by universities. The EU funded the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH). The OA Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy took large strides toward building its endowment. MediaCommons began to self-assemble as a cooperative OA book press for the humanities. The Karman Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Bern committed itself to OA for all its future projects. The Task Force on Electronic Publication for the American Philological Association and Archaeological Institute of America recommended that American classicists self-archive and may later recommend that American classics journals convert to OA. Eight classicists issued an open letter to colleagues calling for more OA in the field. Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council reaffirmed its support for OA, though it still stops short of a mandate. JISC and two of the UK Research Councils –the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)– are extending the UK’s e-Science program to the arts and humanities. The AHRC is covered by the general RCUK commitment to OA but is still deciding on the exact form of its own policy. The British Academy wrote a report showing how UK copyright law hindered scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. The Modern Language Association recommended tenure reforms to encourage digital publication and departmental rewards for it. And there was wider recognition, approaching a consensus, that the journal pricing crisis in the sciences is a major cause of the monograph crisis in the humanities –and that OA will help both.

My own feeling is that there has to be a greater recognition of and accepted place for a wider variety of the types of contributions scholars can make. It seems to me that currently that the main forms recognized as productive scholarship are: full monograph, chapter in an edited volume, full length journal article; and to a lesser extent: conference paper, translation work, and book reviews. I think that the new mediums we have available to us to spread the results of our research should spark some new thinking and new appreciation for those who make valuable scholarly contributions in a range of new formats, lengths, and mediums.

A Response to Sion Touhig’s “How the Anti-copyright Lobby Makes Big Business Richer”

I just read Sion Touhig‘s article “How the Anti-copyright Lobby Makes Big Business Richer” on the Register, and I found it deeply problematic, even if I sympathize with the cause he wants to defend: empowering and preserving the livelihoods of freelance professionals. See also his posting at his weblog here. From his opening:

“I’m a freelance professional photographer, and in recent years, the internet ‘economy’ has devastated my sector. It’s now difficult to make a viable living due to widespread copyright theft from newspapers, media groups, individuals and a glut of images freely or cheaply available on the Web.”

Throughout his article Touhig argues that “media democracy” and “citizen journalism,” aggregated free content, Copyleft, Creative Commons etc. has destroyed the little man’s business and, if passed, the Orphan Works Bill will also rob the little man of his ability to defend his copyright.

As I understand it, the basic system works something like. You create something—a photograph, say—and find that it, having value, can be sold, or licensed, for a certain amount to certain companies or directly to individuals. Its eventual price, if it can be sold, is determined by any number of factors, including the demand for your kind of creative work and supply of other cheaper or free content. Your copyright to this work, certainly not a divinely bestowed right, is at least nominally protected by the laws of a society which believes that the protection of a creative work will, in the end, encourage its people to create more such content in the future.

We find ourselves in a situation now where people of lesser talent, dedication, or financial means (for surely you need at least one, if not two of these three to succeed as a photojournalist) can easily share what we produce with the entire world. Our motivations may be many. Some of those who share what they create, or contribute it to large news corporations or other websites, may hope that they can eventually develop their art into a future career. However, many if not most of people are motivated out of the desire for fame or out of altruism—out of the sincere hope that what they created might be enjoyed or found useful by someone else out there.

Touhig’s article insults those people. It belittles that desire, and it reflects a bitterness about change which is found everywhere and in every generation.

No one is forcing Touhig to use a Creative Commons license. No major corporation is the malevolent puppet-master of the Copyleft movement. These are tools, admirable ones in my opinion, which have in mind not just the producers of content (including both those who wish to profit and those who do not wish to profit from their creative work) but the consumers of content. It gives them both a wonderful set of choices related to how they distribute, use, and modify creative works. In the case of the Creative Commons, it is designed to compliment, not replace, copyright protections.

Touhig is perhaps accurate in, and I am in no position to challenge, his claims about the specific changes within his industry that relate to the increasing difficulties of photojournalists to charge certain amounts for their work or be paid certain amounts to be dedicated to their craft. However, he is completely off the mark when he says that supporters of the various movements above are the “unwitting allies, or shills” of big business. If individual copyright holders have few means to protect their copyright by legal challenges, this is hardly the fault of the Creative Commons movement or Flickr or OhMyNews. If the photojournalist’s photographs are not selling at the same price they used to because there is a sudden flood of cheap alternatives created by people who have no profit motive, it is hardly appropriate to chide the charitable for giving away their content. If the consumer is satisfied with the less skillfully snapped photo, the less grammatically correct article, the goofy home video, or even the factually imperfect article on OhMyNews, WikiNews, etc. it is disingenuous for an elitist photographer to lament the world’s decline in standards by criticizing the movements which make it possible for us all to easily share content.

I used to put together some free macintosh software which I host My creations are all but useless now but there was a time when at least one of the free programs I created competed favorably with other commercial and shareware software out there. Before the rise of the internet amateur freeware developers such as myself did not have the means to distribute our creations. Other software developers, large and small sold their products via catalogs and shops. When a freeware product is well done, and it offers a comparable or least nearly comparable feature set with a shareware or commercial option, it out-competes the latter. Touhig’s position in his article is comparable to a small-time shareware developer accusing people like me of being the shill or unwitting ally of the commercial software companies. “You bourgeois running dog scum, how dare you give away your labor? What about proles like me who make a living out of this? What about my labor? How dare you undersell sell me with your free software. Don’t you see how this plays into the hands of the capitalists?”

All I can say to Touhig is that I hope he thinks through his position again and reflects on the two successful approaches that both small and big businesses (after all, things like Youtube started as a small business) have taken in response to these new developments. When they can, businesses try to co-opt these energies for its own benefit. When they can’t, they resist, with all their legal, lobbying, and coercive power any attempt to dilute their copyrighted assets. The fact that they can do the latter far better than any individual artist or professional is a matter of course. That is why movements such as the Creative Commons and those supporting serious copyright reforms need to be organized, committed, and highly vigilant in order to prevent a stifling of the very forces of creative energy that the internet has unleashed. However, Touhig completely misses the fact that creative professionals stand a much better chance, if not an equal chance, in the former approach—competing with large corporations when it comes to making use of these new developments for their own benefit. Individuals can adapt faster than corporations. This will require a change of thinking on their part; a change of business model; a change of their whole sales philosophy. A failure to do so may indeed, as Touhig predicts, lead to the destruction of his kind. The onus, however, is on him and professionals like him to take the initiative and adapt.

Populating the Past

I have recently finished a fairly close reading of David Harlan’s The Degradation of American History and some articles by Thomas L. Haskell on “objectivity” in the practice of history. Below are some of my own comments and criticism on them. Because the article is around ten pages when printed out, you can also download a PDF version of this essay here.
Continue reading Populating the Past

Rory Litwin: Critique of the Google Library Project

My sister just passed on to me a scathing critique of the new project to digitize some or all of the contents of several major research libraries by Google (my own posting on this here). Rory Litwin‘s article, entitled “On Google’s Monetization of Libraries” has almost nothing positive to say about the project and fears that this will spell doom for librarians and the enterprise of truth and knowledge. I found the article completely unconvincing, even if it seems to be motivated by a healthy progressive librarian’s skepticism for mammoth corporations like Google and the darker side of capitalist markets. I address some of his specific points in this entry, but the article’s biggest weakness comes from an assumption that the libraries have sold their books and souls to Google and that this demonic internet giant can now proceed with the destruction of mankind’s common quest for truth.

I believe he is wrong on almost every count, although a final verdict on my own response will have to await more details about the specific agreements between the major research libraries involved and Google. He fails to fully recognize the fact that Google has not muscled its way into the stacks of Harvard, U Michigan, and others to rob them of their treasures – even if, as he says, Google’s “back-room deal” was “not worked out in cooperation with the [broader] library community”. It wasn’t, but it was worked out with a select number of huge libraries who are extremely protective of their holdings. These libraries are powerful agents in this discussion, and at least in Harvard’s case, hardly paragons of democratic virtue. Their key future role in this project are not sufficiently addressed by Litwin.

Overall, I think the article represents the last gasp of a bitter and dying breed of specialists who are either unwilling or unable to adapt to both the technological changes of our time, and on the theoretical level, the problematization of the Enlightenment project of progress and knowledge production. I’m sure that many others in the library community, or more broadly information and knowledge specialists, are more willing to recognize their own failure to enlist the massive public support and financial resources needed to digitize their holdings and confront the significant changes to their profession that a digital information world entails.

What gets lost in Litwin’s article, in which the shadow of a deeply commercialized and inequitable world of knowledge hangs over the pursuit of “truth”, is the fact that we already have a deeply inequitable world of knowledge. As a student at Harvard, but a former student of Columbia, Western Washington University and frequent visitor to Stavanger and Bartlesville libraries I can personally attest to the huge gap in access to resources, both digital and traditional. Harvard’s libraries have exceeded all of my expectations but I am only a very temporary guest at the table of its highly restricted library system. I feel a deep sadness that these resources are not available to everyone. I am delighted that Harvard and other similar institutions are opening up, and if it takes a massive corporation to help them take the first step, then I welcome it with open arms.

I seriously doubt that Harvard and the other libraries have signed away control to the eventual digital collections that result, and that we will likely see competition between commercial companies to provide access under some sort of licensing agreement, and potentially, a non-commercial public-supported alternative once the extremely expensive process of digitizing is complete. I believe that hosting such resources is less expensive than the massive investment of digitizing them, and it will be easier for the library community to mobilize behind a more modest public solution to the former (for public domain materials), than the latter. There will then continue to be room for commercial services which add additional features, for-pay access to copyrighted materials, and so on, as well as room for libraries to continue providing free access to those copyrighted materials they cannot legally host online.

As a side note, my own radical opposition to the current regime of intellectual property law also gives me hope that this will advance the revolutionary cause of copyright reform or, should that fail, at least the rise of a massive underground P2P market for huge databases of books and archives.

The appropriate response to the Google project is not a luddite call to arms, but reflection on why the library community could not launch a huge project like this themselves, followed by serious debate about how librarians can ensure that their considerable skills and knowledge will help guide the future use of these new digital resources, in whatever form they take.

Librarians have won incredibly important legal battles to protect equal and public access to (public library and archive) collections. Though some may not see it in these terms, they are in fact the guardians of a deeply socialist conception of knowledge as a public good. The sooner we get all of them on board for the next generation’s war to implant these values in the digital world and establish the legal foundations to protect them, the less likely that the commercialization of most human knowledge will become a real threat.

Since this posting has already grown a bit long, I’ll address specific points by Litwin in a future update to this posting.

Testing Theories of Japanese Security Policy

Over on the EAIA blog I mentioned and summarized an article in International Security on the US-Japan alliance. I brought it up as a kind of controversial Realist article. Sayaka took the bait and bit a chunk out of the essay in a response she wrote in the next posting. She makes several excellent points about the article, which completely dismisses Constructivist approaches to Japanese security policy in favor of a clean “Passing the Buck” Realist interpretation. Sayaka accuses the author of oversimplifying the opposition with a straw man argument.

It is wrong to assume that Constructivists only look at notions and ideas even if Realists only look at power and the structure of international society.

Third, related to the previous point, the attempt to answer the question “Is [Japan’s policy really about] Pacifism?” by looking at the size of the military is off the point. The questions should be, “Why do[es Japan] not exercise normal military power even though it has acquired a huge military capability?”