Friday, February 8, 2013

Is Reading Becoming Another Scoring Opportunity?

Readers for Seniors - well, it's now officially time to buy us older folks an e-reader. A researcher at the appropriately-named Johannes Gutenberg University has recently found that over 60s can follow text better on one than on any other digital device.

My overseas brother, all of two years younger than I, believes me a techno-peasant. To help me get out of that rut, he generously proposed an internet radio for my Christmas. Knowing that I already own three of those, my wife whispered that I'd better come up with another idea fast. As an avid reader and recently at a seminar on borrowing library e-books, I realized that now could be the time to take the plunge into e-reading. After some toing-and-froing around the fact that a Kindle wouldn't be right because its Amazon mother ship hasn't yet got a library deal in Canada, a Kobo postmarked from Britain duly arrived under our tree .

I soon found that a snag I hadn't expected is that an e-reader works very hard to be as much like a book as possible. As a result it doesn't work like the computer laptops and tablets I've taken years to master.  I'm also finding trouble grasping that any e-books I buy are mine for as long as the reader functions. No exchanging an e-book at a used bookstore, or donating it to a thrift shop once I am done. New e-books can be as pricey as the real thing, plus library e-lending periods are shorter, so there's some angst involved in tanking up the device, not to mention trying to remember which in its library will time-destruct, versus be for keeps.

Nevertheless I must admit an e-reader is a handy little thing to have. No losing your place because the bookmark fell out, and so easy to slip in a pocket for those read-over-coffee interludes between the day's commitments. You can even create linked comments about what you read totally free of the guilt that comes from scribbling over a printed page. Your e-reader confirms for you the sum of the pages you have read plus scores for you exactly just how much or little of each book you've so far got through.  Mine even awards you 'points' for being a heavy reader.

Space in my home isn't an issue so I have a large library. It's a proper one with bookshelves all the way up the walls. In addition, books and physical media line two other rooms. The concept of one day having all my books on a hand-held gizmo is a long way from the joy of possession to be got from shelf upon shelf of spines and covers.

I am also starting to wonder if my new e-gadget could end up turning reading time into another of life's route marches. All those old-fashioned shelves might actually prove to save me from a totally quantified leisure life. Although I can't always recall when, or even which, of  my book collection I've actually read, having them on open view seems so comforting. They work for me in the same way that my LP collection affirms my devotion to our culture's richness. This a nondescript little MP3 player can never do. Every time now that I set eyes on my many books, discs or tapes, I see confirmation of my diligent attention to the life of the mind. And, mercifully, they have no scorecards!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Custodial Blues

"It is perfectly clear that France has intervened because American policy in Mali has failed dismally. The U.S. counter-terrorism training mission in Mali made the stupefying mistake of choosing three of four northern unit commanders to train who were Tuareg. These three Tuareg commanders defected to the rebels, bringing soldiers, vehicles, ammunition and more to the anti-government side. France has better connections in its former African colonies than the U.S. ever will. The French seem to be approaching this in the vintage manner of suppressing a rebellion – something they did frequently in their old empire – rather than counterinsurgency in the current 'Petraeusian' understanding. It bears noting that the French, crushing rebellions every few years back in the old days, built far more durable local institutions than anything the U.S. has managed to pull off anywhere since 2001. So "leading from behind" with no boots on the ground (provide intelligence and logistic support and diplomacy to facilitate collaboration and authority), that is where the world’s greatest power should take the lead. When outside ground force from a major power is required, it should come from a nation with historic roots in the host country."
From a British reader of the N.Y.T.

We Europeans who were brought up through the sunset of empires can ask to be excused for  scratching our heads at the intervention strategies of today's Great Power in the affairs of post-colonial countries. The White Man's Burden of our imperial youth has been replaced by a made-in-USA concept of Custodian of the World's Democracy.  While a few times France, Belgium and Britain have gone back into former colonies to forestall invasion or civil war, the politically non-U label of Former Colonial Power makes the current French-led invasion of Northern Mali remarkably rare.  The humiliating rush to exit empire that characterized my younger years in Europe left many potential Malis and Syrias on the world map. Too bad we weren't granted the time by Roosevelt (for whom the new world order couldn't arrive fast enough) and his successors to figure out a peaceful way for the inhabitants of soon-to-be former colonies to decide how they wanted their new international boundaries to look.