A good letter can still be powerful

Anthropologists, historians, and scholars of many disciplines have long used personal correspondences as vital sources of data, especially of times and places where we can no longer interview or do participant-observation. With cyberspace, such possibilities have expanded, as can be seen in this digital archive of the Japanese 2011 (or 311) disaster.
from Letters of Note
Historically, there are still many good sources that reveal the personal insights of everyday people; these insights are crucial in truly understanding the impact of historical events and practices. Here is one website (Letters of Note) that features these everyday commentaries from the perspective of personal letters.

Andrew Ma emailed me this link to a letter written by an emancipated slave to his former master. It powerfully reveals much of what happened during slavery. I’m amazed that the former master even asked his former slave to come back to Tennessee to work (albeit for wages), and I’m even more amazed at the tone Mr. Anderson took in his response.

It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I’m left curious as to how the former master reacted after reading the letter. Here’s how Mr. Anderson closed the letter – in a subtle yet powerful damnation of the whole issue.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

Funny, but true: the magic school bus has reached its destination

When Wikipedia first came out, I had the typical academic response to Wikipedia – don’t use it, especially don’t cite it. I mean, how can something legitimate come out of a source that can be written by anyone with an internet connection, the same internet where no one knows that you are a dog and that has produced such phenomena as Rebecca Black, Michael Jackson-dancing inmates, and has given new life to Rick Astley.

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Information Gluttony?


Like cravings for sugar, anthropologists have argued that human beings have a craving for information – the human hunger for knowledge can be seen as an evolutionary adaptation, something that helps us survive. The question for today is whether this trait is now possibly harmful, with the tremendous amount of information now available on the web.

The question now rearing its head is whether we now know too much. Does the recent explosion in available information, primarily thanks to the internet, bring dangers we have not anticipated? Bostrom fears that it might. “Research and education have become like motherhood and apple pie: harmless, wholesome and completely unobjectionable,” he says. “It behoves us to develop a more reflective and qualified view about the value of knowledge.”

Read the full article from the New Scientist.

Google vs. China – washingtonpost.com

Chinese netizens lay flowers at the Google headquarters in Beijing

In response to “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack,” Google decided to stop censoring google.cn, attacks from within China that Google must have decided are somehow linked to efforts by the Chinese government. In China, Google is not the number one search engine (that title belongs to baidu, a Chinese search engine), and Google has also  been fighting Chinese claims of copyright infringement of Chinese books that were posted on Google Books.  

The Washington Post reports:

Until now, Western companies and governments have mostly gone along with Beijing’s polices — though U.S. computer manufacturers successfully resisted an attempt by China last year to require that censoring software be pre-installed on all new computers. Now Google has taken the admirable step of embracing open and public resistance. Skeptics point out that it was losing the search market battle inside China to the domestic brand Baidu. But Google.cn still attracts tens of millions of Chinese users, who will have questions for their government if the company is driven out. U.S consumers, for their part, should want answers from companies such as Apple and Microsoft, which continue to kowtow to the Chinese censors. Internet activists say Microsoft censors Chinese language searches of Bing both in and outside of China; Apple has blocked Chinese from downloading applications related to the Dalai Lama

via Google vs. China – washingtonpost.com.