Shreddies and Libraries

I love this ad campaign.  I was in Toronto last week and saw it on a billboard.  More at the ad agency’s page: Ogilvy Toronto.

I picked up a copy of Alberto Manguel’s newest book, The Library At Night, which is due out in the US later this month (Amazon).  From the book’s description:

Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century
home near the Loire, in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer
on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries.
“Libraries,” he says, “have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places,
and for as long as I can remember I’ve been seduced by their
labyrinthine logic.” In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and
wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of

Manguel, a guide of irrepressible
enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his
childhood bookshelves to the “complete” libraries of the Internet, from
Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to
Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the
personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others.
He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to
preserve freedom of thought—the Polish librarian who smuggled books to
safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the
Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest.
Oral “memory libraries” kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned
books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books
never written—Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no
other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel’s mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.


James Howard Kunstler’s New Novel: World Made by Hand

Orion magazine has a review by John Galvin of James Howard Kunstler’s new novel, World Made by Hand.  An excerpt:

Islamic Fundamentalists have blown up Los Angeles and DC. That puts
the global economy into a smoking tailspin. A flu pandemic has wiped
out a good third of the population, maybe more. Oil, or access to
what’s left of it anyway, is as good as gone. The Chinese have
reportedly landed a man on the moon, but that’s probably more legend
than fact in these paranoid times. The federal government has retreated
to Minnesota, of all places (because who would attack them up there?),
and with resources limited, race wars have erupted across the South.
The globe is no longer flat (sorry, Tom Friedman!). It’s as round and
as large as it’s ever been.

Such is the fictionalized world envisioned by James Howard Kunstler in his new book, World Made by Hand. This isn’t a sci-fi view into a future one hundred or fifty years away. It’s anti–sci-fi, set maybe ten to twenty years out.

Link: World Made by Hand.

Kunstler is best known for his non-fiction.  His most recent is The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

FDA Says Cloned Food is Safe

The FDA has announced that cloned food is safe to eat, but many groups are still concerned.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says the FDA has "satisfactorily answered the safety question" but:

Congress should hold hearings on the animal-welfare, ethical, and environmental implications of cloning. […]

If companies begin using clones to breed food animals, they need to
explain why. Will it make any food product better, safer, cheaper or
more sustainable? Clear evidence of benefits must be generated if
consumers are going to accept cloned animals and their products.

Link: CSPI on the FDA’s Safety Assessment of Food from Cloned Animals.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says:

“Animal cloning is a controversial technology with few, if any,
benefits to consumers. […]

“The agency’s risk assessment is long on assumptions and short on
hard data. It fails to address ethical issues associated with cloning,
including the role of animal cloning as a steppingstone to human

“Nor does the risk assessment resolve trade concerns revolving
around this controversial technology. Other countries have more
rigorous regulatory systems and take ethical concerns into account. We
can afford the time to do additional studies.”

Link: FDA OKs Cloned Meat and Milk; USDA Keeps Moratorium in Place.

The Center for Food Safety is harsher:

"The FDA’s bullheaded action today disregards the
will of the public and the Senate – and opens a literal Pandora’s Box,"
said Andrew Kimbrell, CFS Executive Director. "FDA based their decision
on an incomplete and flawed review that relies on studies supplied by
cloning companies that want to force cloning technology on American
consumers.  FDA’s action has placed the interests of a handful of
biotech firms above those of the public they are charged with

Link: FDA Opens "Pandora’s Box" by Approving Food from Clones for Sale.

News stories on this topic: Wired, Washington Post.

Miscellaneous Stories

I’m starting to catch up on blogging after a lull because of a move and a new job.  Here are some links that have been festering in my feed reader for a while:

  • The Wall Street Journal explains the failure of Negroponte’s laptop: A little laptop with big ambitions.  For a shorter take on this, and the Negroponte-Intel feud, read Fake Steve Jobs: Give one, get one — right in the ass.
  • Print is Dead by Jeff Gomez, the latest book to rehash the perennial "future of books" debate, is now available.  I’ve listened to podcasts of a few chapters and was not terribly impressed.  He’s a thoughtful writer, and has done a decent amount of research, but his premises and arguments are seriously flawed, in my opinion.
  • Mark Hurst critiques a WSJ article on new e-mail software that tries to solve the problem of e-mail overload: Silicon Valley’s solution to overload: More technology.
  • Second and third graders draw designs for laptop computers: The laptop club.
  • "Google controls your e-mail, your videos, your calendar,
    your searches… What if it controlled your life?" — Scroogled, fiction by Cory Doctorow in Radar magazine.
  • New Greenpeace guide to greener electronics.  Nintendo, Philips, and Microsoft are at the bottom this time.
  • Novelist John Degen explains why copyright is important to writers: Copyright = Oxygen.  He includes an excellent rant by Harlan Ellison on the topic (at YouTube).
  • Derek Cheshire proposes a slow approach to innovation, taking its cue from the Slow Food movement: Slow Innovation (Change This).  I once considered rebranding this blog as "Slow Technology", for the same reason, but that didn’t get far.

Secret History of the War on Cancer

Salon has a good interview with Devra Davis, whose new book The Secret History of the War on Cancer
is causing quite a stir (well, it’s a good interview if you ignore the snide, dismissive title and introduction): Life Will Kill You.

Some excerpts:

Davis, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of
Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and formerly served in the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, argues that the United
States’ $40 billion "war on cancer" has focused far too much on treatment, and not nearly enough on prevention. […]

Davis argues that again and again, from tobacco
to benzene to asbestos, the profit motive has trumped concerns about
public health, delaying, sometimes for decades, the containment of
avoidable hazards. And, as in the current scientific "debate" about
global warming, the legitimate need for ongoing scientific research
about many possible carcinogens has been exploited by industry to
promote the idea that there’s really no need to worry.


How have recent court rulings made it harder to try to prevent cancer?

We have gone backward since the ’70s. In the ’70s, in the decision
on lead in gasoline, the court said we could use experimental evidence
that something was a threat to human health in order to prevent harm.
The court repeatedly ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency
could use theories, models and estimates to prevent harm.

Now, we have to prove that harm has already happened before taking
action to prevent additional harm. In the area of cancer this is a
travesty, since most cancer in adults takes five, 10, 20 or 30 years
[to develop]. It means that we have no opportunity to prevent cancer,
because we must prove through human evidence that it’s already
happened. I think that is fundamentally wrong public policy. Ninety
percent of all claims now for toxic torts are denied.

What the court decisions have done is to make the burden of proof
close to impossible when it comes to human harm and environmental


Why are you concerned about cellphones?

I can’t tell you that cellphones are safe, and I can’t tell you that
they are harmful. That’s the problem. The reason I can’t is that there
isn’t really independent information, and the cellphone industry has
been so quick to spin information.

Studies that you hear about that don’t find a risk are often extremely limited, like the Danish Cancer Study.
That’s a ridiculous study. Anybody who used a cellphone for work was
kicked out of the study, which is crazy, because those are the highest
users. And they put all of these people together who were not using it
for business — the high users, the low users — and they didn’t find

A study
just released from France showed that people who used a cellphone for
10 or more years have double the risk of brain cancer. And people who
owned two or more cellphones had more than double the risk of brain
cancer. The level of this increase wasn’t what we call statistically
significant, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t important.

I do advocate that people use them with speaker phones, and with a
head piece, and that children not use them. In Bangalore, India, and in
Scandinavia, they recommend that children not use cellphones. It’s
illegal to sell a cellphone to someone under the age of 16 in
Bangalore, India.

A cellphone is a microwave, and basically the reason your ear gets
hot is that you’re warming it with a microwave. You like cooking your
brain? How would you like to cook the brain of your child? We’re not
cannibals. We shouldn’t be doing that.

Link: Life Will Kill You (Salon)

Davis was also interviewed on Fresh Air last week: Fresh Air October 4, 2007.

Risks of Drugs in Your Food

In an article in today’s New York Times, Denise Caruso (author of Intervention) writes about new "BioPharma" crops and how the current processes for assessing risk are inadequate.  Excerpts:

A new generation of genetically engineered crops that produce drugs and chemicals is fast approaching the market — bringing with it a new wave of concerns about the safety of the global food and feed supply.

The plants produce medicinal substances like insulin, anticoagulants
and blood substitutes. They produce vaccine proteins for diseases like
cholera, as well as antibodies against tooth decay and non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma. Enzymes and other chemicals from the plants can be used for a
range of industrial processes.


Once the rogue seeds are replanted, could the plants thrive in their
new home and possibly overtake native varieties or wild relatives?
Could the pharma trait increase in frequency and concentration, until
it reaches a “dose” that causes health effects in those who consume it
unwittingly? The probability for any one of these situations may be
low, Professor Ellstrand said, but the scientific answer to each
question is yes.

What is most worrisome is that the Agriculture
Department seems to reject such reasonable, science-based public safety
concerns. Agency policy allows developers to withhold data on pharma
crops from the public as confidential business information, and the
public is not allowed to comment on biopharma planting applications
until after an official risk evaluation is completed.


Scientists often dismiss the idea that people without technical
knowledge can help them make risk assessments. As a result, biotech
scientists and regulators have long made safety determinations from
within an opaque system of their own design, using only the evidence
they accept as valid.

But scientific evidence is not a constant,
like the speed of light or pi. Especially in biology, where we still
know so little, “evidence” is often just a small circle of light
surrounded by the darkness of the unknown. Decisions about risk cannot
safely be made in a private club that accepts only its members’ notions
of scientific evidence.

The best research on risk declares the
opposite to be true: that risk evidence is particularly subject to
distortion by conflicting interests, and that the best foil for such
distortions is to ensure that the people whose fate is at stake
participate in the analysis.

We need a new policy framework for
scientific evidence that is built on this foundation. If developers
want to sell their products, they must subject their inventions to the
helpful scrutiny of people outside the club — before radical
technologies like biopharma are brought to market.

Link: How to Confine the Plants of the Future? – New York Times.

There’s more about the article at Denise Caruso’s blog,