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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Monday, February 19, 2007

What it takes...

"At present, when belief in the witches of Endor is displacing the Darwinian theory... people's minds appear...to be moving backwards rather than on." That's Thomas Hardy, writing in 1922, at the age of 82. He was dismissing the fantasies of fellow poets--Yeat's visions, Eliot's piety, and Pound's politics--as well as displaying his own singular atheism and rationalism. The post-WW1 era, we now know, was the birthplace of the reactionary and fascist atavism that produced the prodigious atrocities of the 20th century. That reaction is still with us, only now in the enfeebled forms of Christian and Muslim "fundamentalism." Simpletons like Bush, Cheney, and bin Laden are the benighted heirs of narcissistic pyschopaths like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, but still capable of inflicting violence and suffering. Yet they can do so only because their fantasies still appeal to the meanest and most ignorant. The influence of such people will dwindle in direct proportion to the rate at which humans abandon religion and all its forms of wishful thinking...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The new paradigm...

Reading Jeffery Toobin’s essay on Google’s library-scanning project in last week’s New Yorker over my egg and toast this morning, I encounter a remarkable insight. A David Clancy, director of the scanning project, remarks that the web “is a network…Books are not part of a network.” So the scanning project aims to create a network of books that will, imaginably, replace the existing system of individual texts seeking individual buyers, or at least readers. For the first time I see the revolutionary paradigm that the combination of the web and search engines embody. It occurs to me that the new system will be a global version of the tiny networks created by library-classification schemes, consisting of all the works clustered on adjacent shelves, read by the “search engine” each scholar became when scanning along the rows of titles. The once nearly random connections I made while researching will become available on a planetary scale. Then the entirety of the written universe will become searchable, and in the coordinated way made possible by Google’s algorithms.