Bias in the Great Library at Alexandria?

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
on 66 Comments
bibliotheca alexandrina
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Not long ago I was in Alexandria, Egypt, where I visited the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the modern successor to the ancient world’s Great Library. It is a remarkable structure, a huge discus slanted at an angle, facing the Mediterranean. The Rough Guide to Egypt informed me that “the library was controversial even before its inauguration in 2002 (when an exhibition of books from every nation featured the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as Israel’s entry).”

This struck me as plausible; some Mubarak regime functionary a decade ago taking a meaningless cheap shot to cover up for its actual collaboration with Israel to suppress Palestinians and its massive economic and social failures in Egypt itself.
But what about the Alexandria Library today? Are its collections biased? I entered, passing hundreds of Egyptian university students doing their homework, and climbed up the slanted stairways toward the shelves that housed the History of the Middle East.

I found books in Arabic, English, French and other languages. I found pro-Israel books, by people like Barry Rubin and Walter Laqueur. And I found Six Days of War, the tendentious history of the 1967 conflict, by none other than Michael Oren, Israel’s present ambassador to the United States.

66 Responses

  1. Shmuel
    December 21, 2011, 9:35 am

    when an exhibition of books from every nation featured the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as Israel’s entry

    Where else would the Protocols come from? Russia? France? The Czech Republic? The organisers of the conference obviously supported the thesis that Jews are indigenous to Palestine. Bloody Zionist sympathisers.

    Anything interesting in the Egypt section?

    • Chaos4700
      December 21, 2011, 9:58 am

      Considering that, here at least, Israelis are THE MOST prolific promoters of Protocols of the Elders of Zion? I wouldn’t even know it existed, let alone heard anything about what was in it, except that people like hophmi and eee and WJ quote it all the frickin’ time.

      • eGuard
        December 22, 2011, 7:23 am

        Next step: Israel claiming Alexandria library keeps harboring the Protocols

        • Walid
          December 22, 2011, 8:18 am

          “Next step: Israel claiming Alexandria library keeps harboring the Protocols”

          Take heart, eGuard, the library also keeps an Arabic translation of Mein Kampf and what must keep fundies hopping, a copy of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”.

        • eGuard
          December 22, 2011, 4:19 pm

          Walid writes ;-) the library also keeps an Arabic translation of Mein Kampf

          I’ll say: Also donated by Israel to the Alexandria Library.
          Enter eee: “We’re not that kind of people. Israel found it in 1948 in a house”.
          I say: so Israel gives presents that are stolen goods?
          eee: “No, we have lived there for thousand years. It was ours”.
          I say: ???
          eee says: “you are anti-Semitic”.
          Israel says: “See, Alexandria also collects Mein Kampf. We in Israel don’t have these books”.

  2. Gellian
    December 21, 2011, 9:36 am

    You might say this is off-topic but my reaction is a bit different. Isn’t really sad, or pitiable, or laughable (depending on your sympathies) that the Egyptians and their donors spent a colossal fortune on that building just a couple years before the advent of Google Books?

    Here in the U.S. our universities are shuttering or repurposing physical libraries because the students and, increasingly, the faculty find it’s not really necessary in the contemporary digital age to go to them. You can sit at home in your pajamas and research all or most of whatever topic you’re interested in.

    And that makes the physical restoration of the Alexandria Library seem like one of those breakthru technologies that arrive just before they’re swamped by some more popular technology (betamax, high-def DVD, etc.)

    On a more related note it really doesn’t matter what books the Egyptian authorities (or anyone else) put in the libraries today because so much information is available on the internet. You can’t conceal anything anymore–unless you abrogate or control access to the internet.

    • droog
      December 21, 2011, 9:51 am

      “unless you abrogate or control access to the internet.” and who has the power to do that ? , real books are still important, maybe more so due to our great reliance on the net.

      • Citizen
        December 21, 2011, 11:11 am

        Considering how it’s not so hard to knock out electricity grids, and instantly, isn’t it a good thing there are libraries filled with paper books?

        • Gellian
          December 21, 2011, 11:35 am

          I’d disagree with you here–it’s a lot easier just to lock the doors of a library or burn its books than (ultimately) control access to the internet.

    • Chaos4700
      December 21, 2011, 9:59 am

      You might reconsider that after SOPA passes. There’s a reason who Google is crappin’ bricks about that law.

    • seafoid
      December 21, 2011, 11:03 am

      I had the same feeling, Gellian, when I visited the library in 2003. That was pre google books but the internet was already changing things. On the other hand only 20% of egyptians have internet access and a sort of Yad va Shem (name and place) institution for literary culture is important . I used to ride the Cairo metro regularly and the only book I saw people reading was the Qur`an. It has all the knowledge of the world apparently.

      • Gellian
        December 21, 2011, 11:40 am

        “only 20% of egyptians have internet access”

        That’s the crazy thing about the internet, and not just in Egypt but worldwide. Why haven’t national governments decided collectively that the internet is a public good and expanded universal access to it? I’m very far from being a Marxist but the internet (and Wikipedia in particular, despite its limitations on all politically sensitive topics) has altered social life immeasurably–like the invention of the light bulb or airflight.

        I don’t think the government should simply dole out computers to everyone but I do think governments should pay for web access.

        • Annie Robbins
          December 21, 2011, 12:16 pm

          I don’t think the government should simply dole out computers to everyone but I do think governments should pay for web access.

          yeah, if i was so broke i couldn’t afford the internet i love it how my government provides me access for free, at the public library.

        • seafoid
          December 21, 2011, 4:58 pm

          Food is more important in Egypt.
          And of course the Army.

    • Avi_G.
      December 21, 2011, 11:21 am

      Isn’t really sad, or pitiable, or laughable (depending on your sympathies) that the Egyptians and their donors spent a colossal fortune on that building just a couple years before the advent of Google Books?

      No, it isn’t. The world outside the United States has a centuries-old tradition of reliance on books, on learning, on acquiring knowledge. Americans treat knowledge like a disease, instead of bringing it into every facet of their lives, they shut it out.

      And yet, despite this glorious access to Google Books that you are promoting, very few Internet users in the U.S. are taking advantage of it.

      Never in the history of the human race have a people had access to readily available information at their fingertips. Yet, when it comes to world affairs, to knowledge about other cultures, to basic information about the world around them, Americans remain sheltered, and ignorant.

      So your criticism of the library in Alexandria is fitting, not because it is appropriate or relevant, but because it reflects that typical and crude American aversion to knowledge. Incidentally, Israelis are not far behind on that bandwagon.

      • Gellian
        December 21, 2011, 11:37 am

        oooookay. Very helpful and insightful remark!

        • Avi_G.
          December 21, 2011, 2:25 pm

          You can be as sarcastic as you want. But the truth of the matter is that this consumer culture hasn’t only taken over everything from electronics to appliances to fast food and microwave dinners, but has also infiltrated and changed the way Americans consume information, and by extension the rest of the world where American capitalism has a foothold. In the US, they like their ‘news’ (read: Infotainment) packaged, pre-digested, ready to go like fast food. Except, neither is healthy, for the mind or the body.

          That is why Bush was elected twice. That is why the infrastructure is crumbling while the knuckle-draggers are cheering on for more war.

          So yeah, ooooookay all you want.

        • Gellian
          December 21, 2011, 2:38 pm

          Well you’re making a different point now than you were before.

          I suppose your view of whether “Americans treat knowledge like a disease” (as you say) depends on your experience of America. My own is hardly representative but in it Americans are at least as well educated as anyone I’ve met in foreign travels, and I’ve traveled quite a bit (in Egypt, too).

          Which is to say, some Americans are educated and want to be so, and some aren’t; and that’s exactly how it’s been everywhere else in the world I’ve been. That goes too for your remark,

          “Yet, when it comes to world affairs, to knowledge about other cultures, to basic information about the world around them, Americans remain sheltered, and ignorant”

          Not my experience at all–but of course, my experience probably isn’t your experience. I was at a party last night, for example, with some of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. They could talk to you about Venezuelan politics or Japanese geography or Danish cuisine, most of them from firsthand experience of traveling there.

          It all depends on your point of view and the kind of circles you move in. What’s unfortunate about your remark is that you tarred us all with the same bigoted and slightly hysterical remark.

        • Dan Crowther
          December 21, 2011, 3:23 pm

          AVI FOR THE WIN!!!!

          I really couldn’t agree more, brother….

        • patm
          December 21, 2011, 5:23 pm

          Canadian funnyman Rick Mercer’s career was made after his video “Talking to Americans” was released. It’s quite hilarious and provides ample evidence that most Americans know absolutely nothing about their northern neighbour.

          link to

          The U.S. government pours money into weapons and wars, not education and health care. Most Americans are ill-informed and poorly schooled.

        • Avi_G.
          December 21, 2011, 6:01 pm

          Well you’re making a different point now than you were before.

          No I’m not. That you interpret the two as “different” only shows that you do not understand what I have been getting at from the start.

          And the fact that you are waxing eloquent about your travels goes to the heart of the problem. You are simply blind to the paradigm. And even that, you probably don’t understand.

          Not my experience at all–but of course, my experience probably isn’t your experience.

          Probably not. I got a scholarship and went to the Kennedy School of Government, you however, remain an ignorant buffoon. So, we agree on this point.

          They could talk to you about Venezuelan politics or Japanese geography or Danish cuisine, most of them from firsthand experience of traveling there.

          Anyone can BS about Venezuelan politics. The question is, how informed are they?
          But, I’m not going to sink to your level by engaging in the pissing contest you have started. Worse yet, you do not know me, what I do for a living or where I have lived. Yet, you presume to know the, “kind of circles [I] move in”. Fascinating.

          Your response tells me a lot about you. It tells me that you consider some chit-chatting at some party to constitute empirical proof.

          Needless to say, your feeble attempt at overcompensating for your deficiencies is quite pathetic. Nay, what’s unfortunate about your remark is that it’s a caricature of clueless, self-congratulatory, typical American exceptionalism.

          Incidentally, it is obvious that after you read about my being “Israeli” (i.e. a stereotypical immigrant in the US) you immediately concluded that you are somehow ‘more educated’ or belong to a different socio-economic status than I do.

          That, is yet another indicator of your own myopia and bigotry.

        • Taxi
          December 22, 2011, 1:26 am

          Long live books (the good ones!) – long live lovers of books!

          May we always enjoy the heady scent of ink on old pages!

          Books and dogs are man’s best friends.

        • RoHa
          December 22, 2011, 1:37 am

          Mmmm! Ink on old pages….[drool]

        • MRW
          December 22, 2011, 3:24 am

          I just like the smell of printer’s ink, period. (I used to do stone lithographs on limestone blocks.) Of course, we used that old Fuchs & Lang press for a few things besides printing, so the smell of it all brings back great memories. ;-)

        • marc b.
          December 22, 2011, 8:48 am

          That is why Bush was elected twice. That is why the infrastructure is crumbling while the knuckle-draggers are cheering on for more war.

          unfortunately, yes. that’s why i have to laugh when the resident hasbarists point to broad american support for israel, particularly among christian zionists, most of whom couldn’t find the gaza strip or on a map.

      • seafoid
        December 21, 2011, 5:18 pm

        Not just Americans, Avi. It’s the same story in Europe.
        All the downmarket newspapers are the same. Sex and sport and death reports.

    • MRW
      December 21, 2011, 11:44 am

      Isn’t really sad, or pitiable, or laughable (depending on your sympathies) that the Egyptians and their donors spent a colossal fortune on that building just a couple years before the advent of Google Books?

      Not at all.

      (1) Many in Egypt don’t have computers, least of all children of poor families. Only 22% of the Egyptian public has access to the net, but the library does.

      (2) Contrary to the bad reading habits of the majority of Americans and their sorry-ass use of community libraries, libraries the world over perform valuable functions for the citizenry beyond stacking books. They introduce succeeding generations to the world of knowledge. Teach immigrants. Perform outreach to the communities. Provide study areas for researchers and writers. Agitate the status quo with ideas through rotating exhibits. Contribute to national pride. Trolling the stacks at the NY Public Library was a joy for me. Ditto getting into the restricted research rooms.

      (3) The Library at Alexandria is a national heritage. Egypt is old. It has to have somewhere to house its magnificent collection. They burned the last one 2,000 years ago, not in 1980.

      (4) Libraries sponsor talks with new and old writers, new and old policy wonks, new and old world thinkers, etcetera. And these events help contribute to a community’s cohesiveness.

      (5) Libraries like the award-winning Edmonton Public Library in Edmonton Alberta, Canada actually charges $12 (!) for a library card, and won international awards for their rebranding campaign, which was one of the cleverest things I ever saw a library do. Check out their library cards, and billboards/videos, and look at their enrollment stats as a result.
      link to

      (6) Librarians are a nation’s unsung heroes. I was in love with the poet Walter de la Mare when I was six. I was obsessed with him. I learned about him at the library and I never forgot the librarian who ordered in all his books, and would teach me the music of his lines.

      • James North
        December 21, 2011, 11:56 am

        MRW: Thanks for an eloquent argument for libraries. I wish my mother, a librarian, were still alive to read it.
        We in the wealthier countries forget just how limited internet access is in the Global South. The technological utopians suggest that all you have to do is wire up the poor countries, and they will catch up to us in a few short years.
        In fact, as you point out, only a minority of Egyptians can afford the internet. There are internet cafes, but they are not on every street corner. The connections can be slow, and the cost is insignificant for us, but a lot for an Egyptian who is trying to live on 300 Egyptian pounds ($50) a month.
        As I mentioned, the Alexandria Library was filled with Egyptians, mostly university students, the afternoon I visited.

        • MRW
          December 21, 2011, 12:24 pm

          James North,

          I buy a lot of used books from Amazon. (My house is starting to look like that grim photo of a living room stacked with Collier’s newspapers with aisles, only mine has stacks of books.) I own every e-reader device and prefer reading on my MacBook Air, but I still buy used (and new) books.

          What is profoundly sad for me is that the majority of these books are library copies! US libraries are selling off their inventory. This is a crime, IMO.

          Friends ask me why I continue to buy them, when I could have digital (which I have anyway). I’ve got books that are out-of-print, will never be digitized, but that tell the story of the last 50 years in a way that would never be believed unless you had access to footnotes of research docs. And I tell them because when I die, I’m going to make it a condition of anyone receiving any dough from me that these books are preserved somewhere. (After all, my heirs can get an enormous tax break for donations, which are allowed at retail price.)

          The algorithms that Google has put in place in the last year make it almost impossible for people searching Google Books to even get at the material. Those who have a Mac should check out DEVONagent, which gets past Google’s search history bullshit. To see how bad it has become–and it will only get worse–watch this TED talk. [And skewers that prick Zuckerberg's jejune thinking while he's at it, too. Which is why I scream incessantly about Eben Moglen.] Don’t miss watching this!
          Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”
          link to

        • Walid
          December 21, 2011, 3:17 pm

          “Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”
          link to”

          I’m constantly annoyed with Google deciding for me what I’m searching. It’s like being put on the wrong bus and not to allowed to get off. Google used to be great until this filter business started.

        • MRW
          December 21, 2011, 4:37 pm

          If you”re on a Mac, Walid, get DEVONagent.

          ‘Google used to be great until this filter business started.”

          And the lie that it’s filtering for us is outrageous. It’s for advertisers, the majority of whom are American…for us.

          Also, download Ghostery and install. It’s free, but it will reduce your online history by about 95%. You’ll need to experiment with the tracking companies you’ll want to exclude, like Disqus if you use it, until you get it right.

      • marc b.
        December 21, 2011, 12:06 pm

        i’d add, mrw, that i don’t think that people appreciate enough the impact that the medium has on how people read. my observation is that ‘reading’ material on the internet is a much more superficial experience than reading a book. and i don’t just mean for middle-aged guys/gals like myself who find the computer screen less appealing than the printed page. my kids’ generation flits around, pulling this tidbit and that off the internet, and think that 30 minutes of jerking from one website to another is as enlightening as an afternoon of deep reading. it’s the ‘jeopardy’ version of knowledge.

      • Annie Robbins
        December 21, 2011, 12:43 pm

        (2) Contrary to the bad reading habits of the majority of Americans and their sorry-ass use of community libraries

        maybe in some parts of the country, but that’s not really my experience. the last few times i visited libraries they have all been packed. not long ago i was taking a walk w/my mom in novato along a creek bed on a sunday (just exploring) and we stumbled upon the back of the library
        link to

        we had never been inside it before and it was packed on a sunday. they had some loungy like comfortable chairs and all of them were taken of course.

        also, there’s a library in san rafael, not the main one but one of the branches i had never been in before down in the canal district in pickelweed park where we walk and once time we stopped in to check it out, also bustling. there was a room for the computers with a large glass wall and it looked like every computer was in use.
        link to

        i provided a photo down below of seattle’s fantastic new library and the few times i have been in there is was packed. homeless people really like libraries too, they like books and computers.

        right before i left seattle the neighborhood i lived in, ballard, built a new library. at first i thought, why would they do that? this one is so great..i’ve spent so much time here, my son loves it..etc. but the new one is more centrally located with a smashing design.
        link to

        it’s usually pretty full. it just bugs me most of the chairs are for tall people. i can’t stand that.

        i love libraries and i think lots of americans do too.

        one more library i like is the one in bisbee, right in the center of town..the two stories on top of the post office. it gets lots of action. i used to sign kids up for their library cards there and sponsor them. i could not believe how many children in that town (my sons friends) didn’t know you could take home books for free.
        link to

        • MRW
          December 21, 2011, 1:02 pm

          Uhhh, annie, I would expect Marin County to have a great library; in fact, anywhere in Northern CA. We’re not exactly talking about the typical suburban crowd in that neck of the woods. ;-)

          But Bisbee’s was a delight!

          I think libraries should have cafes, wine & beer bars, and exercise (walking) machine rooms where you can read as well. And great big old comfy furniture a la Shakespeare & Co in Paris. The reverential refectory tables with the good reading lights section should be reserved for serious researchers there to get a job done, and leave.

        • libra
          December 21, 2011, 6:29 pm

          annie: “i love libraries and i think lots of americans do too.”

          I agree, and I think many places in America have really good, well-used libraries.

          Once again today with acknowledgment to Richard Witty, I can only say I love the internet #AND# I love libraries.

        • Taxi
          December 22, 2011, 1:43 am

          My personal favorites are small bookshops and them second-hand bookstalls in Camden Town and Charring Cross, London, circa 1980′s, where I used to thrill to find limited editions of poetry books and out of print literary essays. I would walk in the rain and wind to get there early on Saturdays to score the written treasures. Books were my TV when I was young – they still are. I just love love love them!

          I prefer the printed page to the electronic screen, especially if I’m lazing on the beach.

          I also made a coffee table frame out of some of my old books, with a round piece of stained glass I purchased for a top. Yip.

        • Annie Robbins
          December 22, 2011, 4:22 pm

          I also made a coffee table frame out of some of my old books, with a round piece of stained glass I purchased for a top. Yip.

          wow, i would love to see that taxi.

    • Annie Robbins
      December 21, 2011, 12:11 pm

      gellian, clearly you don’t live in seattle

    • RoHa
      December 21, 2011, 6:51 pm

      There are at least two problems with using the internet as a replacement for libraries.

      First, not all books get put onto the internet.

      Second, when you use a search engine for research, you usually find what you are looking for. When you wander through the stacks of a library, you find things you weren’t looking for, but are, sometimes, far more useful than the things you were looking for. You find things that take your mind in another direction and give you a totally unexpected perspective, or will be helpful later one when you are working on another project. You find things that are no use at all, but so thoroughly fascinating that you cannot resist reading them.

  3. Walid
    December 21, 2011, 12:42 pm

    Fascinating structure mostly naturally lit by sunlight through all these roof openings seen in the picture above. Prior to its opening, the Telegraph in 2001 wrote:

    “The new oval building, designed by a Norwegian architect, has been widely hailed as a masterpiece. Its marble walls, inscribed with the alphabets of known and forgotten languages, sweep out majestically over the Mediterranean shoreline. Papyrus, the ancient source of paper for the old library, grows in a moat that surrounds the circular building.

    The interior offers some of the most expansive research and reading space in the world. But even as the library, whose predecessor was built in the 3rd century BC and used by Euclid and Archimedes, is reopened alongside the ancient site, there are growing concerns that Egypt’s academic pretensions are threatened by censorship.

    Under mounting pressure from Islamists, President Mubarak has urged government officials to press ahead with a strict censorship regime against works deemed offensive to Islam. Bookshops, book fairs and public libraries are frequently raided by government censors.”

    The Alexandria University library collection of about 700,000 books is relatively small. It also has a section for the blind. It has Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” but under lock and key. The library’s million square feet include a science and conference center with a planetarium seen in the corner of the photo. Great architecture and great accoustics control.

    Gellian, the library and science center have hundreds of computers. You have to remember that most of Alexandria’s students don’t have computers. The library, its computers and the Planetarium are mobbed by thousands of students of all ages every day that use them. The planetarium was closed for maintenance on the day I was there 3 years ago. Your gloating is out of place.

    For photos of the interior:

    link to

    • Gellian
      December 21, 2011, 1:22 pm

      “Your gloating is out of place.”

      Gloating? Certainly not what I intended to convey, not at all. I love libraries and I love monumental architecture. My only thought was that monumental internet cafes, rather than dusty stacks, seem to be humanity’s preference going forward (at least to judge from universities back here in the U.S.)

      • Walid
        December 21, 2011, 1:50 pm

        The gloating was of your misconception of the Egyptians having spent so much on a library that was no longer of any use by the time it was built. When I visited it 4 years after it opened and I had to wait in line for about an hour to get in. Looks like you have the same computer/internet access problem as the kids in Alexandria. Admision to students is free there.

        • Gellian
          December 21, 2011, 2:33 pm

          But that gets to my point exactly — we should build monumental internet cafes, not “libraries” in the traditional sense. That’s what the great research libraries at american universities are transforming into. It’s amazing to see, and not necessarily a bad thing either.

        • MRW
          December 21, 2011, 4:32 pm

          Now, you’re being stupid, Gellian: ‘But that gets to my point exactly — we should build monumental internet cafes, not “libraries” in the traditional sense.

          Internet cafes can’t hold the original copies of a nation’s literary treasure, or sponsor speakers, or hire custodians (librarians) to help a young mind find information it didn’t know existed. Internet cafes don’t let you while away the hours. You need money/hr to use them. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

          Your faith in the over-weaning power of technology (algorithms) is sweet but misguided; it lacks the normative value component. I’ve been at this tech thing for three decades (Bell Labs, etc) and I’m more knowledgeable than most, but I wouldn’t put my faith in the commercial end of it as being all that enlightening. (The packaging convenience of what Apple does is delightful but the underlying technology is nothing new.) Developing as a human being is an internal process; it isn’t something that an internet cafe can do. A library can. Also, Eben Moglen’s FreedomBoxes, which should be out within the year.

  4. Gellian
    December 21, 2011, 1:18 pm

    I had great replies lined up to all of you, ready to zing you all each in turn.

    Then the internet access at the cafe I was killing time at blipped and I lost them all.

    So I suppose that’s the best reply I can make, though not the one I’d planned.

    • MRW
      December 21, 2011, 2:19 pm

      Your comment made my day, Gellian. :-) ;-)

  5. Charon
    December 21, 2011, 4:08 pm

    The Internet has reached a point where it is a threat to the establishment. The influence of the Internet has reached critical mass and more than ever these guys want to police it. Even if intelligence agencies had a hand in helping to provoke protests, they certainly didn’t act as guides thanks to the Internet allowing for the people to take control of them. Ron Paul is proof that traditional MSM outlets are losing influence, especially in the under 45 crowd. Now it’s hitting home where it hurts the most and they are panicking.

    SOPA today and bill to fight ‘internet terrorism’ (hackers like anonymous) tomorrow. Not cause they care about IPs or anonymous, because they want to control the internet. I’m personally not even concerned about whether SOPA passes or not. These politicians have absolutely no idea what they are asking for or how DNS and the Internet in general even works. They are asking for the impossible. I wouldn’t worry about any bills to police the internet because it can’t be policed. You can work around everything.

    IMO, that library is a new-age library full of books that condition people to the status quo. The Internet has shown be factual and reliable sources that Israeli history is invented (seriously, that’s not a pun on Newt). Probably all history is invented by the victor of war. We don’t know anything. Ironically, it was the library in Alexandria of antiquity that was burned and history was destroyed.

  6. Nevada Ned
    December 21, 2011, 5:43 pm

    Dead-tree books vs. on-line books?

    Many of the comments here are in favor of the internet, and many readers see no use for dead-tree books (old-fashioned books).

    Here’s something to think about:

    Would you like to have your books stored on
    a Commodore-64 computer?
    What about a Betamax videotape?
    An S-100 computer?
    An 8-track tape?
    A laserdisk?

    All these media formats are now obsolete.

    Professional archivists don’t want to deal with anything except paper. After all, you can still read a Gutenberg bible, 5 centuries old. Do you think a book on an Amazon Fire e-reader will still be readable 500 years from now? I don’t.

    • MRW
      December 21, 2011, 8:55 pm

      Nevada Ned,

      Good point. None of your PDFs will be available unless you store them in PDF/A format. They (Adobe engineers) are claiming a shelf life of 300 years for PDF/A, but the format does not permit embedded audio-visuals. I should know better than to print to regular PDF, but I have a fantasy of finding some printer in China or Mexico and have all my stuff printed off, put in binders, and saved. Ha! PDF, however, is now an official Supreme, Federal, and State court electronic format, so there will be a means of upgrading and accessing them in the future.

      Any text docs you want to save for the next two decades should be .txt or .rtf.
      No Word docs. No Adobe CS3/4/5 files. Zero. Zip.

      Same goes for databases. For a Mac, at least there are database programs like DEVONthink that let index your files as opposed to embedding them so you wont lose them down some mighty craw.

      But you’re right. It’s an issue.

  7. patm
    December 21, 2011, 6:16 pm

    My concerns about the long term viability of the internet revolve around server farms and climate change. These farms take vast quantities of water for cooling the servers and more and more servers are built each year. How is this sustainable?

    Also, what happens to this fragile network when we start getting more and bigger storms each year, which is bound to happen as the earth warms?

    • RoHa
      December 21, 2011, 7:40 pm

      Since the earth is entering a cooling phase of its climate cycles, cooling the servers is not going to be a big problem.

      “what happens to this fragile network when we start getting more and bigger storms each year, which is bound to happen as the earth warms?”

      What has actually been happening over the last few years is earlier, heavier, more extended snow. That is a danger to the fragile network.

      • patm
        December 21, 2011, 8:27 pm

        Since the earth is entering a cooling phase of its climate cycles,…

        Are you referring to the El Nino and La Nina cycles, RoHa?

        If so, I believe these two alternating cycles are not the chief factors impacting global warming.

        Global Carbon Emissions Reach Record 10 Billion Tons, Threatening 2 Degree Target

        ScienceDaily (Dec. 4, 2011) — Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by 49 per cent in the last two decades, according to the latest figures by an international team, including researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

        Published Dec. 4 in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new analysis by the Global Carbon Project shows fossil fuel emissions increased by 5.9 per cent in 2010 and by 49 per cent since 1990 — the reference year for the Kyoto protocol.

        On average, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1 per cent each year between 2000 and 2010 — three times the rate of increase during the 1990s. They are projected to continue to increase by 3.1 per cent in 2011.

        Total emissions — which combine fossil fuel combustion, cement production, deforestation and other land use emissions — reached 10 billion tonnes of carbon* in 2010 for the first time.

        Half of the emissions remained in the atmosphere, where CO2 concentration reached 389.6 parts per million. The remaining emissions were taken up by the ocean and land reservoirs, in approximately equal proportions.

        link to

        • RoHa
          December 21, 2011, 10:09 pm

          I’m referring both to the short term climate cycles like the North Atlantic Oscillation and the PDO, as well as the longer term climate cycles that brought us the Roman Warm Period, the Dark Ages Cold Period, the Mediaeval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age, and the recent warming period. (The recent one doesn’t seem as hot or as long as the Roman or Mediaeval Warm periods, so the current cooling may well be a result of one of the shorter cycles.)

          There may be a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere right now. but the effect of that is not known.

          link to
          link to

          Overall, though, changes in CO2 level don’t seem to affect climate much. CO2 has been increasing while the temperatures have been cooling since 1998 or thereabouts. Increased CO2 is great for promoting plant growth, though. It is much easier to grow food in a warm, CO2 rich atmosphere.

          Observation, rather than theory, suggests we are in for a cooler period.

          As for the storms…

          link to

          (I don’t like the politics of this site, but they do anchor the science down.)

        • MRW
          December 21, 2011, 10:42 pm

          But patm, considering that CO2 is only .03% of the entire atmosphere, that would mean that the rise would go to .04%. Those “target” threats you mention are model-based. The actual observable satellite data in the lower troposphere are not confirming the projected model temperatures.

          85% of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are water vapor. They (It? I’m getting grammar stupid…) have a far far greater effect.

          389.6 parts per million is nothing alarming. The actual CO2 count under any forest canopy is 600 ppm. We need carbon for plants to produce oxygen. That’s where we get our oxygen from.

          Now, pollution is another thing….

        • patm
          December 22, 2011, 7:21 am

          MRW, RoHa, re Carbon in the atmosphere

          The excerpt below comes at the end of “Keystone XL: Game over?” published on the website:

          “Commentators who argue that the Keystone XL pipeline is no big deal tend to focus on the rate at which the pipeline delivers oil to users (and thence as CO2 to the atmosphere). To an extent, they have a point. The pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels per day, and assuming that we’re talking about lighter crude by the time it gets in the pipeline that adds up to a piddling 2 gigatonnes carbon in a hundred years (exercise: Work this out for yourself given the numbers I stated earlier in this post).

          However, building Keystone XL lets the camel’s nose in the tent. It is more than a little disingenuous to say the carbon in the Athabasca Oil Sands mostly has to be left in the ground, but before we’ll do this, we’ll just use a bit of it. It’s like an alcoholic who says he’ll leave the vodka in the kitchen cupboard, but first just take “one little sip.”

          So the pipeline itself is really just a skirmish in the battle to protect climate, and if the pipeline gets built despite Bill McKibben’s dedicated army of protesters, that does not mean in and of itself that it’s “game over” for holding warming to 2C. Further, if we do hit a trillion tonnes, it may be “game-over” for holding warming to 2C (apart from praying for low climate sensitivity) [my bold], but it’s not “game-over” for avoiding the second trillion tonnes, which would bring the likely warming up to 4C.

          The fight over Keystone XL may be only a skirmish, but for those (like the fellow in this arresting photo ) who seek to limit global warming, it is an important one. It may be too late to halt existing oil sands projects, but the exploitation of this carbon pool has just barely begun. If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it surely smooths the way for further expansions of the market for oil sands crude. Turning down XL, in contrast, draws a line in the oil sands, and affirms the principle that this carbon shall not pass into the atmosphere.”

          link to

          “(apart from praying for low climate sensitivity)” We must all start praying?? Is that it? Is that all we’ve got?

          I sure as hell hope not!! What about implementing some Risk Management strategies, like the one outlined here.

        • Woody Tanaka
          December 22, 2011, 9:45 am

          “CO2 has been increasing while the temperatures have been cooling since 1998 or thereabouts.”

          That’s a myth based on the notion that 1998 was the hottest year on record. It is false, because not only was 1998 not the hottest calendar year on record (overall 2005 was), the hottest 12 month period was mid-2009 to mid-2010. But, further, even if 1998 were the hottest year on record, the post 1998 trend is still a warming one, even if 1998 were a temperature outlier.

    • MRW
      December 21, 2011, 9:48 pm


      That’s all changing. Server farms are going the way of the Great White Whale; they were copies of the original AT&T 1910 switchboard structure anyway. I won’t give my Eben Moglen speech, but within a year the entire paradigm of some big daddy server like Facebook or Google having all your stuff shared across virtual servers worldwide and dictating to you what you can and cannot do with your data, and handing off your stuff to governments that are offended by what you save or engage in, will start to die.

      Take 15 minutes and watch this, patm: link to
      If you have time, watch what started this, which specifically addresses your concern: link to
      Or, take two minutes and watch this CBS show from nine months ago. (The critic at the end doesn’t know what he’s talking about): link to

      As for global warming, Liu, et al, just published an important paper in the Chinese Science Bulletin that examined a 2,485-year Tibetan tree ring. The scientists were able to ascertain the long arc of climate change. Abstract here:
      link to

      They concluded and forecasted the following. Note the overlay of cycles.

      [...] Climate events worldwide, such as the MWP [Medieval Warm Period] and LIA [Little Ice Age], were seen in a 2485-year temperature series. The largest amplitude and rate of temperature both occurred during the EJE [East Jin Event 343-425 AD], but not in the late 20th century. The millennium-scale cycle of solar activity determined the long-term temperature variation trends, while century-scale cycles controlled the amplitudes of temperature. Sunspot minimum events were associated with cold periods.

      The prediction results obtained using caterpillar-SSA showed that the temperature would increase until 2006 AD on the central-eastern Plateau, and then decrease until 2068 AD, and then increase again.

      The regularity of 600-year temperature increases and 600-year decreases (Figure 3) suggest that the temperature will continue to increase for another 200 years, since it has only been about 400 years since the LIA. However, a decrease in temperature for a short period controlled by century- scale cycles cannot be excluded.

      Obviously, solar activity has greatly affected temperature on the central-eastern Plateau. However, there are still uncertainties in our understanding of climate change, and the concentration of CO2 affects the climate. Further investigations are thus needed.

      The charts are fascinating because they show the regularity of climate change over 2,500 years, the rise and fall. Full text here: link to

      Here’s the scientific reference.

      Liu Y, Cai Q F, Song H M, et al. Amplitudes, rates, periodicities and causes of temperature variations in the past 2485 years and future trends over the central-eastern Tibetan Plateau. Chinese Sci Bull, 2011, 56: 2986 2994, doi: 10.1007/s11434-011-4713-7

      • patm
        December 22, 2011, 9:08 am


        I watched and listened to the 2 Eben Moglen videos. A very compelling lecturer, indeed. His message is this:

        We all need personal portable web servers in which our own files, messages, etc. (he uses the term “logs”) are kept—logs that are not stored anywhere else on the web. He calls this personal web server a “freedom box” as in free from governmental and corporate spying.

        Well, let’s have one, I say! What are the odds, do you think, of such a device coming on the market? How far has EM come in the development of the freedom box? The videos are a year or so old.

        • MRW
          December 22, 2011, 2:50 pm


          “What are the odds, do you think, of such a device coming on the market? How far has EM come in the development of the freedom box?”

          A long way. Check out the FreedomBox Foundation. There are 200,000 developers worldwide working on this. Diaspora ( is the product that the 18-21 year old computer geniuses from NYU started as a result of the Feb 5, 2010 talk.

          BTW, the 15-minute talk in NYC is only six months old. That was late June 2011.

          In the meantime, you can buy a PogoPlug and use it as the designers intended, or search LifeHacker and install your own server, a la EM.

      • patm
        December 22, 2011, 9:48 am

        Roha, MRW,

        “As for global warming, Liu, et al, just published an important paper in the Chinese Science Bulletin that examined a 2,485-year Tibetan tree ring. The scientists were able to ascertain the long arc of climate change.” MRW

        I hope I’ve got this straight, i.e. that you both consider a 2500 year time span adequate for assessing the “long arc of climate change.”

        Well, I sure don’t. There have been many ice ages in earth’s history. How can we possibly know where we are in this much longer arc of climate change? We can’t, imo.
        I”ve been fascinated by the new understanding of how the American Scablands were created. Here’s Wiki on this topic:

        “At the end of the last Ice Age (the Wisconsonian Ice Age), a branch of the Cordilleran ice sheet moved out of Canada into the Idaho panhandle region. There it formed a 2,000 feet (610 m)-high ice dam that blocked the mouth of the Clark Fork River, creating glacial Lake Missoula, which impounded greater than 2000 cubic kilometers (500 cubic miles) of water. The lake extended up the valleys eastward for over 200 miles (320 km). The periodic rupturing of the ice dam resulted in the Missoula Floods – cataclysmic floods that swept across Idaho and Eastern Washington, and then down the Columbia River Gorge approximately 40 times during a 2,000 year period. The flood front swept in a wave across Idaho and Washington at speeds approaching 100 kilometers per hour (65 miles per hour), and Glacial Lake Missoula drained in periods as short as 2 days.[2]

        The Columbia River channel downstream was blocked by the Okanogan lobe of the Cordilleran, impounding water in Glacial Lake Columbia. As a result the floods could not continue down the Columbia River, being forced instead to flood over the highlands of Eastern Washington, vastly transforming the landscape by forming the Grand Coulee, Moses Coulee, the Channeled Scablands, Dry Falls, Palouse Falls and many similar features. The cumulative effect of the floods was to excavate 210 cubic kilometres (50 cu mi) of loess, sediment and basalt from the channeled scablands of eastern Washington and to transport it downstream.[2] Over a period of 2,000 to 2,500 years, the repition of ice dam failure and flood was repeated 40-60 times, leaving a lasting mark on the landscape.”

        link to

        • MRW
          December 22, 2011, 2:55 pm

          patm, (also RoHa…and definitely Shmuel, because he started me on this quest by challenging me. ;-))

          Listen to this August 2, 2011 lecture at the Sydney Institute by Professor Murry Salby. [30 minutes with a Q & A afterward.] His lecture, and previous presentation of his findings at the XXVth International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics General (IUGG) Assembly in Melbourne in July 2011, have rocked the Climate Science world.

          Salby is a highly-respected mainstream global warming scientist who appears to have reversed his opinion on the causes of global warming based on these new findings (which he said he sat on for a year because of their explosive nature).

          Salby was a lead reviewer of the IPCC 2007 report.

          In this podcast, Salby says that if these results had been available in 2007, “the IPCC could not have drawn the conclusion that it did.” He concludes his presentation with “anyone who thinks the science is settled on this topic is in fantasia.”

          When Salby, subsequent to his discovery, discussed these findings with a colleague at MIT, and showed him the results, the colleague said, “Someone should have done some serious checking.”

          Professor Murry Salby, an American, is Chair of Climate Science at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He’s been a visiting professor at Paris, Stockholm, Jerusalem, and Kyoto and has been assigned twice to the Bureau of Meterology in Australia.

          His talk, “Global Emission of Carbon Dioxide: The Contribution from Natural Sources” is available here:
          link to

          The subhead of his Sydney Institute lecture was “It’s not just that man-made emissions don’t control the climate, they don’t even control global CO2 levels.”

          Salby’s IUGG paper has been peer-reviewed and will be published in the first half of 2012.

          [Even though there are no charts or video, Salby is a clear and entertaining enough speaker in referencing the visuals that you can follow easily.]

        • Woody Tanaka
          December 22, 2011, 3:48 pm

          Salby’s talk has been taking quite a hit among the climate community, so I wouldn’t take anything he says until his paper is released and examined.

        • patm
          December 22, 2011, 5:12 pm

          Woody’s right, I’m afraid MRW. He’s taken a thumping at
          Here are a couple of comments”

          grypo says:
          4 Aug 2011 at 12:13 PM
          This seems to be the crux of Salby’s argument:

          “The trend in CO2 derives from a hysteresis in its
          annual cycle: More is emitted during half of the
          year than is absorbed during the other half. The
          residual, which accumulates to fo rm the trend,
          provides a record of net emission. It is shown
          to track the satellite record of global -mean
          temperature, which fl uctuates b etween years.
          Temperature changes of 0.5 – 1.0 K are attended
          by modulations o f C O2 emission as large as
          100%. Much the same dependence is exhibited
          by isotopic composition. The temperature
          dependence o f CO2 parallels that of water vapor,
          the dominant greenhouse gas. Such dependence
          governs CO2 emission for temperature changes
          that are clearly of different origin, including the
          eruption of Pinatubo and the 1997-1998 El Nino.”

          link to

          [Response: Yes. Having now listened to the podcast, I thnk he has done a regression of growth rate to temperature (and soil moisture) over the recent period. The sensitivity he then derives is projected back using the 0.8 deg C warming over the 20th C. However, this is ludicrous - the sensitivity in the recent period can't be more than say, 1 ppmv per 0.1 deg C. Projected back you would have say a 10 ppmv (max) change over the 20th C. Paleo-climate constraints demonstrate that CC feedback even on really long time scales is not more than 100 ppmv/6 deg C (i.e. 16 ppmv/deg C), and over shorter time periods (i.e. Frank et al, 2010) it is more like 10 ppmv/deg C. Salby's sensitivity appears to be 10 times too large. Someone might want to have a look at the data and redo the regressions, but the physics is screwy. - gavin]

          rustneversleeps says:
          4 Aug 2011 at 12:37 PM
          Curry highlight’s Salby’s Fundamentals of Atmospheric Physics as “a popular introductory graduate text”. Don’t know if that’s true, but it’s interesting to see who the “Senior Editor” is. One Roger Pielke Sr.

          She also points to a synopsis of some talk Salby was to deliver. With nothing more than that, it’s hard to say what his points are, but there do appear to be some howlers. For instance, in the concluding paragraph he states:
          “The satellite record of global temperature, in tandem with the instrumental record of CO2, provides a population of climate perturbations. Of natural origin, they establish the climate sensitivity of CO2 with respect to changes of temperature. The climate sensitivity enables the natural component of CO2 to be evaluated.”

          So, in his definition, “climate sensitivity” is a measure of the response of CO2 to temperature. That, he implies, is determined using just the satellite temperature record and corresponding atmospheric CO2 record. And then you use that derived “climate sensitivity” to determine the natural contribution of CO2????? Wha???

        • MRW
          December 22, 2011, 6:22 pm

          Woody, well the GISS gang are up in arms (the climate modeler Schmidt, for eg, at the home of Hansen, who would be pissed at Salby dissing his models) and the former editor of Nature the Netherlands-based ecologist and zoologist Jeff Harvey, not to mention a Skeptical Science writer who accuses Salby of not understanding the carbon cycle (the SS’s writer’s credentials are environmentalist, scuba diver, spearfisherman, kayaker and former police officer, has researched climate science, in an amateur capacity, for 4 years).

          I can’t find an atmospheric physicist of Salby’s stature and impressive publication record on Climate for the last 30 years offering an opinion. Can you?
          link to

          Should be interesting when his paper comes out.

  8. Henry Norr
    December 21, 2011, 7:38 pm

    > I … climbed up the slanted stairways toward the shelves…

    Aren’t all stairways slanted, by definition?

    (focusing on the big issue here)

  9. talknic
    December 23, 2011, 8:19 am

    Don’t need electricity to read a book.

    Oh and … collectible books are rising in price and much sought after. Granny’s library would now be worth millions, except …… in the name of progress and granny cleansing, anything of the slightest value was probably picked through by some estate disposal company and the rest trashed when she passed away

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