US Government and Others Trying to Block Access to Books

The US Justice Department is trying to stop Google creating a digital library.  It’s not just the government. Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon don’t like this either. I just don’t get it.

I mean, I get why the three companies are fighting it. Microsoft and Yahoo don’t like Google having such a large share of the internet marketplace, particularly in terms of searches and results. They want their billions of dollars, too. Amazon is doing e-books and other digital access – in fact, it has had almost a monopoly – and it doesn’t want to see its market share challenged. It seems the only people who want this deal are authors, publishers, the general public, and Google.

Google plans to scan thousands of books that are in the public domain and give everyone free access to them. Microsoft and Yahoo can do the same thing, if they so desire. The books are, after all, in the public domain.

Google has also struck a deal with the Authors Guild to scan millions of out-of-print books that are still under copyright. Authors and publishers will manage their own rights to access and can refuse to allow a book to be used. If they do allow a book to be used, they will receive 67% of revenue generated from it. The revenue they otherwise receive from out-of-print books? $0. £0. 100% of 0.

Every public library will get complete access for free. Every college and university will be able to subscribe to the  same service. Every home user will get free access to 20% of the text of each book, so they can decide whether to buy access to the rest.  These are in-copyright out-of-print books that would otherwise be completely inavailable.

What is Google going to do with the books that are in print? Absolutely nothing. The actual book market as it is today will be untouched. However, millions of books that would otherwise been unavailable will be available again. Not just the odd copy in a used book shop or off the shelves of a distant library.

As the Authors Guild puts it:

Here’s the math: we expect the settlement to make at least 10 million out-of-print books available, which, at an average of 300 pages per book, represents at least 3 billion pages of professionally written, professionally edited text.  20% of that is 600 million pages of text available at every desktop computer in the U.S. as a free preview. (For comparison, Encyclopedia Britannica is about 44,000 pages in print form; Wikipedia’s featured articles total about 5,000 pages. All English Wikipedia articles, including stubs, total perhaps 3 million pages.)

This is the next great step in the information age.

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Summer Reading Progress

It is only two weeks into the summer holidays and I have finished half of my reading list.

Thanks to a mention by Elizabeth over a year and a half ago, I finally read The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andrepoulos. I recommend it highly. It is very readable.

The anecdotal and historical parts of the book only take up the first 42 pages. The rest of it focused on the general needs for signs and symbols, the idea of the sign of the Cross as a prayer in and of itself, and some speculative ideas – in particular, juxtaposing the spiritual power of the sign with New Age ideas.

I finished Bernard Cornwell’s The Pale Horseman in the wee hours of this morning. It is the second of four books in his Saxon Stories series, set in the reign of Alfred the Great. It was a situation where I could hardly stay awake, but I couldn’t put it down. Even though Cornwell shows Alfred (and Christianity generally) in a not-so-favourable light, and downplays his contribution to literature and law, it is clear at this point why Alfred is called “the Great”.

Cornwell always tells a great story with interesting characters. As with the Starbuck Chronicles set nearly 1000 years later during the War Between the States, his principle characters are fictional but play a key roles in otherwise historical battles. For those unfamiliar with the period, he provides a helpful historical note at the end of each book to help the reader distinguish the fact from the fiction.

The history of this period is fascinating enough that I’m added a couple of books to my reading list,
Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources and The Anglo-Saxons edited by Campbell, John and Wormald.

Summer Reading

There may still be two weeks of school left, but my summer reading arrived today.

I first became acquainted with Bernard Cornwell when I read his Starbuck Chronicles set in the War Between the States. After a long period of contemplation, I decided to read his Saxon Stories set in the time of Alfred the Great. I have just finished The Last Kingdom and ordered the other three books in the series.

I have also been wanting The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andrepoulos. I thought I was getting it for Christmas, but that didn’t happen. I should have time to digest it this summer as well, so I bought it at the same time as the Cornwell books.

The only down side is that when I read books, I want to write them. Sadly, six weeks isn’t enough time to do that, too.

Bannaghtyn

I was reading the Manx Independent newspaper online this evening and looked at the regular Manx language feature. This led me to the Ynsee Gaelg website. Ynsee Gaelg means “learn Manx”.

From the first lesson, the long history of Christianity in the Isle of Man is evident in the idiom of greeting. One of the simple greetings in Manx is “Bannaghtyn”, which means “blessings”. What a nice way to greet someone.

Being a Celtic language (more specifically a Goidelic Celtic language, related to Scots Gaelic and Irish), it’s not easy to learn. It takes eleven lesson before it is time to talk about pets. Apparently an essential sentence is “Ta kayt aym as t’eh breimeragh” – I have a cat and he farts.

The website doesn’t make it clear, but I’m guessing this isn’t a nice way to greet someone.

Catching Up and Starting Over

Today is my grandmother’s 114th birthday. It is also the anniversary (31st or 32nd – I can’t be sure) of the first time I began reading the Bible cover to cover. Today I’m going to start again.

I got my Orthodox Study Bible today on the way home from work. A friend picked it up at Church for me on Sunday and we made the exchange at the petrol garage in the town through which we both travel on our way to our respective schools. Despite having been briefed ahead of time as to it’s shortcomings (with thanks to Michael) I am looking forward to reading all of the Bible for the first time.

It will take some time to get used to the differences. It’s not just that I’ve not read all the books excised by Luther or the bits edited out of others. I didn’t realise until today that in the Septuagint, Job comes after the Psalms and the major prophets come after the minor ones. Not that it really matters . It’s not like Job is where it is in Protestant Bibles for a particular reason. The only thing that makes prophets “major” or “minor” in popular nomenclature is the length of their writings. There’s no reason they have to be in a particular order. Neither collection is based on chronology, nor do they need to be. The only important chronological fact is that they come before the Incarnation.

While I intend to do the Genesis to Revelation thing, I am also going to catch up on what I’ve missed in the meantime.

Christians Are Just Too Happy

As Western Easter approaches, it seems the voice of disbelief has gotten louder. I don’t know if I just happen to be surfing to the wrong blogs, but especially being post-Christian seems quite fashionable. That’s not to say that never-have-believed crowd is being pushed to the side.

Andrew McKie, the Obituaries Editor of The Daily Telegraph dared to blog today “Why I believe in God“, and most of the responses are the same atheist drivel. Stuff like: “After Darwin kicked away one of the major supports of Christianity, it was downhill all the way. Because only Flat-earthers and Americans buy that Creationist/Intelligent Design crap.” You gotta love that poncy British air of superiority.

But the most ridiculous of all is, “Over time religious people will die off and nonbelief and science will triumph over ancient mythology.” The only problem is that there are more and more religious people. Christianity is growing at a far greater rate in the global south than it is dying out in western Europe. And not only do religious people far outnumber non-believers, but they also have a much higher rate of procreation.

As I commented in response on McKie’s blog, what’s actually dying is western Europe itself. At well below the replacement rate of population, nonbelief is on pace to die out pretty quick. This is because humanism has a very selfish, personal side. A significant number put off procreating until it is biologically too late and if they do it at an inconvenient time, and miss the morning-after pill, they elect to have one of the 200,000 abortions recorded in the UK each year.

The same commenter then said something even more ludicrous: “Some recent studies indicate that religious people are happier than nonbelievers. People are always happier when they are deluded because they do not realize there is a reason for them to be unhappy. Couple that with the fact that nonbelievers in the United States are marginalized and attacked by believers it should surprise no one that nonbelievers are less happy.”

That’s right. Christians are happier because they are deluded. If they knew the truth, they would be as unhappy as everyone else. What a depressing worldview. And non-believers are not just unhappy because they are not deluded. No, it is the fault of those happy Christians! Or more specifically, those happy American Christians. They are compounding the depression of nihilism already oppressing the unbelievers! Roving gangs of happy Christians attacking random unbelievers. No doubt stopping unbelievers on the street and when they can’t pass the Christian shibboleths, marginalising them right then and there.

And it would appear that according to this commenter, the impact of these American attacks is felt world-wide by non-believers, making all of them less happy. Who knew? Well, clearly not believers. They have been blissfully deluded.

Forever Young

The difference between adults and children is that children want to grow up and adults wish they didn’t have to.

I mentioned earlier in the week that I might have further reflection on Peter Pan. Kids love Peter Pan because of all the adventures. They want to fly and fight pirates. Adults just wish they could stay forever young.

I think that’s part of the reason I like to listen to Taylor Swift. Her music, with themes of innocent love and summers past, is nostalgic. It’s a false nostalgia, but sentimental nonetheless. I never had those idealised relationships or breakups – just wished I had. It’s not that I now wish that I had, but rather that I wished it back then. So maybe I’m nostalgic about how I wish I could have been nostalgic. And then there’s the whole wishing I could have been as talented and successful at that age, when I was starting to write music and wanted to be a professional musician but had none of the talent or connections. That’s a lot of layers, but it still gets to the same place.

So part of it is the desire to re-live what was and what could have been, or even what never could have been but would have been really great. But Peter Pan is also about avoiding the consequences of mortality. It’s not just that he stays a boy – he never dies.

Regardless of how old I get or how old I feel, I never think I’m old. It doesn’t seem like I’m 26 years away from my three score and ten. When I dream, I’m not a fat one-legged almost 44-year-old. No, somehow in my mind I’m still in my 20s. I’m grown, but just. Until I remember the truth, I still feel like I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. When I think of the truth, and think of how little I’ve done with the time I’ve been here, it’s just a little depressing

I think about death constantly, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to die. With every season of the year that passes, I think about how I have one less to experience ever again. And it’s not like 70 years is a guarantee. Northern Illinois University yesterday is evidence of that. Four years ago, my own brother died at 34.

Sadly, nostalgia is ethereal and mortality unavoidable. The only Neverland is eternity. There is only one way to be forever young, and that is to (hopefully grow old and) die. My favourite Psalm is the antithesis of Peter Pan, perhaps because my desire for a life like the latter brings into clear focus my need for the former. Moses, as recorded in Psalm 90 (in the LXX it is Psalm 89) says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”