I have Instapaper now! Which means I read more stuff. Which means that every so often I will share things with you. On Sundays, sometimes.
This week is biased towards American stuff, because Instapaper’s Browse page tends towards longer stuff from The New Yorker, The Atlantic and so on.
This is one post in a series of discussions among skeptics about whether they should apply skepticism to evaluating their own outreach (see Skepticism means caring about evidence for the main thrust of that). This is an interesting side-note, which is that the Overton window, which is often cited casually by at least some of my activist friends, is not actually a very rigorous or reliable phenomena. (The idea of the Overton window is that the existence of radical voices helps establish a moderate version of the radical’s position by including that radical position in the window of visible opinion.)
Robert Merkel sketches out some sums suggesting that on various models, pricing carbon and other climate effects into Australian domestic air travel still makes flying cheaper than high speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne.
Don Peck in The Atlantic on the growing gap between the upper-middle (or “professional middle”) and upper-class of Americans (the top 15% or so) and the rest of the middle-class, particularly the non-college educated. Has some interesting observations on gender too, namely that while service and caring jobs are growing in number and manufacturing and construction shrinking, men are not making the switch to the growing fields.
More typical Instapaper Browse fodder, this time from Business Week. Revolutions, unrest, and un(der)employed, highly educated, young adults.
An older link I was sent earlier this year as part of a discussion about geeks wanting to make sure their activism makes sense to people who aren’t already converts. It’s criticising the Free Software Foundation’s Defective By Design campaign.
I dug this up after a discussion about the process of discovering that puerperal fever could be greatly reduced by birth attendants washing their hands before attending. This is an overview of the eighteenth and nineteenth century theorising about what caused puerperal fever, namely a tension between inflammation theory (a theory that blood was pooling in some part of the body, setting off a general inflammation chain-reaction and requiring blood-letting) and putrid theory, that the body had been poisoned by some external matter and the fever was either the result of this poison or an attempt to throw it off (this theory regarded bloodletting as harmful and focussed on protecting the post-partum woman from breathing fresh air, in many cases).
The interesting thing here, not directly addressed in this link, is that the sheer disgustingness of dissecting corpses and not washing your hands before attending a childbirth is only obvious to us because of germ theory. In fact, regular hand-washing as etiquette is really an artefact of that (see also Karl Schroeder on science-informed etiquette this week). Sometimes the puerperal fever sequence is portrayed as if man-midwives must have been actively callous or hateful to not be washing their hands: in fact, it’s (more?) that they entirely lacked any theoretical framework for believing that what you touched half an hour ago had any serious impact on what you were touching now.
Was Aaron Swartz Stealing? I haven’t been following closely, so this was a good overview from a point of view a little closer to my own perspective on copyright than US governments.
I was pleased to come across this, again via Browse, because previously I’d only read the indictment text.07.29.11
I was talking to Valerie Aurora and others on Twitter over the last day talking about Ada Lovelace’s letters, and whether there are copies freely available publicly.
The short answer is no.
The long answer is that many/most letters by historical figures are held in private collections. The collectors are often not doing it for the sake of public history: they are either doing it for family history, or collecting letters in the way one might collect artwork, including for monetary value. Access might or might not be granted by the owners to people wanting to use the letters as source material for biographies and so on. Sometimes a volume of letters (or diaries) might be directly published (eg Juliet Barker’s The Brontës: A Life in Letters, which contain excerpts ordered and edited for biographic interest, or Margaret Smith’s The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, which I think is a more complete edition), however the editor of the letters will assert copyright, not unreasonably perhaps given the editing chores and the addition of footnotes, context and so on.
Lovelace’s letters themselves are out of copyright, if I understand correctly (in the US, which is likely to be the strictest, it seems unpublished works authored prior to 1978 are held to the author’s death+70 years rule) but a public domain resource would need to be typed up from the letters themselves rather than from anyone’s existing editions.
It seems what would be most useful would be high definition scans of the letters themselves, without the scanner asserting copyright, hosted by the Internet Archive or similar. Turning these into high quality text transcripts is not trivial, but probably amenable to the efforts of, for example, Distributed Proofreaders, who now provide most of Project Gutenberg‘s new material. Therefore a campaign encouraging people who own collections of historical letters to allow images to be made available is the missing link. Is there such a campaign, or is one needed?