Friday, August 17, 2018

Dark Web "Thinkers"

A few months ago there was a Bari Weiss article in the New York Times where the reader would get to "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". I finally got around to reading it and it wasn't really at all about the dark web. The dark web, when being used by a librarian, usually means the portion of the web that's very difficult to see or access. Oftentimes for a very specific reason like data security. So if Weiss had found some sort of intellectual movement being conducted on the 21st century version of some speakeasy internet salon I was interested. It turns out most of the "thinkers" can be pretty easily found either online, in-print, or even on that legacy platform known as TV.

In fact, Weiss was on Real Time with Bill Maher twice recently (May 18 and March 9). Actually, in double fact, Weiss, Jordan Peterson (April 20), and Ben Shapiro (June 29) were all on Real Time within the past few months. Sam Harris's books are ranked pretty highly on Amazon in their various categories and it's not like Joe Rogan is hard to find. He was the host of Fear Factor, come on. Heck, Peterson's book was #4 on Publisher's Weekly, #1 on Amazon, #2 on the Washington Post's non-fiction, and #4 on USA Today's lists. Again none of these people are actually difficult to find.

My guess the reason they're "dark" is because their "thinking" is outside the mainstream. Again I was hoping for more than Weiss could deliver. It's the usual standard stuff about identity politics being bad and, according to Weiss, all "are willing to disagree ferociously, but talk civilly, about nearly every meaningful subject: religion, abortion, immigration, the nature of consciousness". Uh, dude, no they aren't. Here's Peterson Tweeting about slapping a critic (I could go on at length about Peterson but I'm not because I'll just worked up. People significantly smarter than I have analyzed his arguments and found them to be pretty lame.) Here's Shapiro civilly disagree with the movie Black Panther. Here's Shapiro saying that George Soros was a kapo for the Nazis. Here's Bari Weiss trying to get a Columbia University professor fired for disagreeing with her.

Ah ok I've found the darkness. Basically, it means, these "dark thinkers" purposefully say nasty/racist/sexist/mean things and if someone gets offended or upset, well, screw them! That's not really thinking, it's not even really being a provocateur it's being well, mean and dumb.

The article reminds me of another group of "dark" thinkers known as the "Dark Enlightenment". TechCrunch called them Neoreactionaries way back in 2013. Their "leader", if he can be called that, is Curtis Yarvin. A computer scientist by day and Mencius Moldbug by blog. His blog posts go all the way back to 2007. What's "fun" (I mean this sarcastically as their ideas are both horrible and terrible) is that their big thought is to basically bring back a monarchy and/or feudalism! Now there's some thinking! Another "great" (again sarcasm and disdain) is seasteading: the creation of permanent dwellings at sea! It's not super original (anyone can become royalty thanks to the Principality of Sealand) but hey, they're at least trying.

This post is, sort of, about the dark web and it seems like, until these thinkers think better thoughts, that it'd be better if their thinking took place on the real dark web.

**All views in this post are the author's own and do NOT represent the views of Mercer County Community College**

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Public Libraries are Kind of a Big Deal

Forbes recently managed to post a scalding hot take my an economics professor about how public libraries aren't very helpful and Amazon should be running them. Because, you know, Amazon does a great job running itself. The link to the Forbes piece "Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money" now gives a 404 error because, of not just the backlash, but even the editors at Forbes finally realized what an awful take it was. The article is archived here as a monument to human thought.

The actual piece is filled with the usual stuff of how private corporations can do things better. It's also pretty clear the author hasn't stepped inside of a library in, perhaps, his entire existence. For example, Mourdoukoutas the author of the piece, writes that

There was a time local libraries offered the local community lots of services in exchange for their tax money. They would bring books, magazines, and journals to the masses through a borrowing system. Residents could borrow any book they wanted, read it, and return it for someone else to read.
Last I checked libraries were still doing that. And they do it pretty cheaply as well. Just as an example the Sno-Isle Libraries in Washington state have a neat little calculator to help patrons figure out just how much in taxes they pay for libraries services. That's right, if the home is assessed for $800,00 that person is paying a whopping $376 in library taxes. If I did the math right that's 0.05%. That's about the same percent I'd have of dunking a basketball on a regulation height rim.

Anyway, I was reading a very interesting take on the take and I had a bit of a thought on it. Over at Current Affairs Nathan Robinson wrote an excellent piece on just how important libraries are. Robinson writes that
Extreme as this article may seem, it’s worryingly close to the political mainstream
He's completely correct. It reminds me of a book excerpt the Atlantic published back in January called "The World Might be Better Off Without College for Everyone". The author of that article excerpt/book, Bryan Caplan, is another economics professor who argues that, basically, it's pointless to spend tax payer dollars to send students to college because, basically, "From kindergarten on, students spend thousands of hours studying subjects to the modern labor market." Because why would one want to read for subtle and subtext when one can just be told Orwell or Fitzgerald is useless?

It's all very rich and ironic coming from a professor who's got tenure at a public university. It's even richer and more ironic that Caplan is a fellow at the Koch brothers backed Mercatus Center. If this isn't a case of pulling up the ladder behind you on the way up I don't know what is.

This is all to say that whenever a boiling hot take like Caplan's or Mourdoukoutas's gets published it's a good idea to put the whole thing to the CRAAP Test. Most pieces of information will get dinged pretty badly by the last letter of the test: Purpose. What's the purpose of Caplan's book? To make a well informed case about the uselessness of a liberal arts degree? No. To further the agenda of corporate donors to the think tank and university he works at? That seems much more likely.

Of course, that's the rub: if everything is for sale, everything can be bought.

**All views in this post are the author's own and do NOT represent the views of Mercer County Community College**

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Importance of Using a Proper Citation Format

When I tell people I'm a librarian they, for some reason, assume I kick back and read books all day. Now while I do get to read quite a bit it's not really of my own choosing, For example, literary criticism on Roald Dahl isn't something was well versed in until a student asked me for help. Same goes for anything to do with psychology or sociology (two classes I managed to sneak out of taking in college by taking more history/political science courses). Or I get to read exciting stuff related to the librarian profession, riveting! I actually don't get to do that as often as people seem to think.

Instead I spend probably spend more trying to find something for someone else to read -an article on a novel or a report on some sociological problem. This is pretty standard for librarians: find something on a topic to help the patron research further and understand said topic better. That's probably, like, 85% of the job. Sometimes though a patron will not only know what they want (an article, a book, etc.) but they'll have a specific title or author. Sometimes they'll even have a citation, which, makes my job so much easier.

Now the thing is book publishers and periodicals all have different ways of formatting citations such as footnotes, endnotes, in-text, bibliographies, etc. and the actual citations formats (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) used create an endless combination. Kind of like pizza toppings or ice cream flavors. But not pizza flavored ice cream cause that'd be gross.

Usually, their in some sort of comprehensible format which helps to facilitate the finding of information quickly. I'm sure there's some library school word for it but I've forgotten it. Accessibility? Findability? Anyway, as seen here just because the publisher puts the author's last name and published date doesn't make the source easy to find. That Davis & Needham source published in 2009 is a good example.

It's either a book, journal article, or dissertation about the TV show Alice. That should make the search easy: just search a catalog or database for with the authors as Davis, a new author field below that for Needham, the keyword as Alice, and the publication date as 2009. Done! Search! Except well, wait, what if it isn't an article in the database? It won't show up. What if it isn't a book MCCC or the MCL doesn't have? It won't show up. And I'm pretty sure they don't let two people work together on a dissertation. The Alice keyword is great but if the database or catalog doesn't do full text searching and Alice isn't in the title or abstract it won't show up. Wonderful.

This is why having a properly cited source is so gosh darn important. Again using Davis & Needham. They're the editors of the book that the source is referring to. There's a different author for the specific chapter and page number that citation is pointing to. If the publishers just went with a standard MLA or APA or Chicago format I could have found this book chapter and requested it or found it in the stacks or whatever significantly quicker. It's not like 2009 was the dark ages. The iPhone came out in 2007! Come on guys!

The point is: having a properly formatted citation saves anyone looking into your sources loads of time and headaches.

Monday, June 11, 2018