Friday, July 18, 2008

an old book

Have you been following the press coverage about the copy of Shakespeare's First Folio that showed up at the Folger Library recently? The Washington Post rushed in to somewhat breathlessly cover the story when it first broke and followed up later with a personality piece on the man who brought it in. The NYT has been somewhat more restrained. While the British tabloids are loving it up:
- Cuban lover of Briton at centre of Shakespeare Folio probe tells of her shock at his arrest

- 'I'm innocent', says book dealer arrested over £15m Shakespeare ...
And the British press in general has had some fun with it:
- I want my book back arrested man says

- Experts examine mountain of books at Folio suspect's home

- FBI investigate Shakespeare theft drama
I particularly like this from the Sunderland Echo: My innocent role in Shakespeare drama, by Ross Robertson.

It's hard to know how serious to take this. The alleged perp is far from the usual type of obsessive, clinically depressed, and reclusive rare book thief. Ditto his alleged accomplice. The persons connected with the discovery and all the academics called upon to spout about its importance are clearly reveling in their pleasant moment in the public eye. I suppose the story will ravel in time though may not be news when it does.

It does interest me that the Folger has nothing on its web site about the incident, not even in is "press room" section.

Also, I'm interested in the role played by Garland Scott, Folger's press secretary. She appears to have done her job well, fronting for the org and keeping its employees from being pestered by the press. She was clearly a main source in the original WaPo account:
"It's come back after all this time, and there is an interesting tale to it," said Charlie Westberg, a spokesman for the Durham Constabulary. "That is what will make this a great movie one day," said Garland Scott, head of external relations for the Folger library. . . . When the mysterious man arrived at the Folger last month, he had a story to go with his book: He said the work was from a family library in Cuba, and he was representing the family. "From time to time, people have asked us to help them to figure out what a book might be," the Folger's Scott said. "On the other hand, usually those people have called or e-mailed beforehand. It's a little unusual to just show up." Librarian Richard Kuhta met the man and examined the book. "It's clear to Richard immediately that this is something important," Scott said. Kuhta asked the man if the library could keep the volume for further study, and the man agreed to leave it for two days. "Alarm bells" were going off in the minds of the library's staff, Scott said. "It's the first time a genuine First Folio has walked into our doors unannounced."
You can read about her :here and in this brief profile in a local weekly freepaper, the Hill Rag: A Capital Person: Garland Scott.

Finally, this all interests me because I've been working with a whole lot of books published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I've read, skimmed, and glanced at somewhat more than 600 so far, and thought myself a bit blasé about old printed books when the Folger discovery hit the news. A Shakespeare first folio, I have to say, is another thing altogether.

Also, I was stirred to pull this stuff together now on reading this nice piece in Slate today: Folioed Again!
Why Shakespeare is the world's worst stolen treasure, by Paul Collins.

Some photos from sources cited above:

Scott with alleged accomplice and her mom.

Raymond Scott, of course.

Police hauling stuff away from Scott's place.


A young relative of mine is participating in a celebration of poetry this week. The event is amazing: gut-wrenching, funny, lyrical, pumped-up, engrossing, somber, and just, well, amazing. Strangely, you wouldn't know anything about it from reading the local press. There's no coverage. Not an inch. Bloggers, yes; newsmedia, no. This is sad because what's being presented are works of art, some of them really, really good. It's poetry that's written, staged, and performed by the authors, some individually, some in groups of two to four. The subject matter ranges from deeply and painfully personal to historical and topical to social and political. The writing standard is high and the emotions are strong. The audience becomes deeply involved in the performaces, encouraging, punctuating, feeding back deep feelings as they're being received.

Some details:

The event involves young people in their teens, participating as teams in a style of judged competition where you find kids responding to each other's work in a most uncompetitive way (cheering others' work as much as their own). They come from across the country. The venues are small theater spaces. A web page called UpWords calls the event a poetry party. In announcing the event this site says:
Across the land, teenagers participate in poetry slams and other events organized by teachers, schools, local poets, community organizers and youth workers. Although the slam is a competitive event, competition is de-emphasized and commitment to craft and growth in the writer as person and community member are encouraged. From these local events and programs, 4-6 poets (13-19 years old) are selected to represent their city at Brave New Voices. More than 400 young poets will participate in this year’s festival held in Washington DC July 2008 representing over 44 parts of the country and globe.
Here's a link to a video of the opening ceremony: Video from the 11th Annual International Youth Poetry Slam.

Some other links:

- press release for the event (pdf)
- Festival home page
- Anouncement on the FreeinDc site.
- A blog post on the event
- Another blog post

Monday, July 14, 2008

Guizhou Weng'an riots

EastSouthWestNorth, a China newsblog by a Hong Kong resident named Roland Soong (wikipedia) has continued to update its compilation of stories and photos on the Weng'an Mass Incident. Currently, the article at the bottom of the page is a long summary of events from a Chinese newsmagazine called Southern Weekend, a weekly newspaper from Guangzhou, China (wikipedia). The article illustrates something that's interested me about coverage of the event: The official news agency, Xinhua, at first tried to whitewash the event, but was never able to establish its spin and suffered servere criticism on blogs and both foreign and domestic news coverage for its inept attempts: its bland weasel-worded accounts of the incident, its quotes from officials speaking bureaucrateeze and quotes from locals who were obviously, and painfully, trying to say what they thought officials wanted to hear. So, as things turned out, the Chinese press coverage was pretty thorough and pretty well balanced; raising questions and pointing out contradictions in different accounts. Other things about coverage are also interesting: (1) how much cell-phone photography there was, how quickly photos and videos showed up on blogs, how inventive people were in getting around internet censorship in China; (2) how the riot managed to limit itself to destruction of property with no loss of life and very little injury to participants or police; (3) how the frame enlarged from the tragic death of a 15-year-old to include the ineptitude of local officials and police and the legitimate grievances of residents; and (4) how much the current Chinese version of totalitarianism lacks totality -- police so unprepared to deal with crowd violence that the police station itself could be trashed, the family of the dead girl able to claim her body and display it (for payment of contributions) in a refrigerated coffin on the banks of the river where she died, the friends who were with her at time of death first sequestered by authorities but then released to be interviewed and, being interviewed, not mouthing official pieties, and the release, finally, of information that balanced against rumors of rape and murder (some plausible motiviations for the girl to be distraught because of actions by her family). I don't expect there will ever be a single "truth" that emerges from the story, but that's normal for emotion-charged events outside Communist societies as well as within them.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


This year's version of the Tour de France starts Saturday. Organizers promise us the cleanest Tour ever. They've said that before. But after the debacles of previous years, what are they to say? It's true that there's much more dope testing than ever before, but organizers are still on the defensive.

Here are some sites on which to follow the action:
- Cyclingnews: 95th Tour de France, July 5-27, 2008

- Velonews


- The official Tour de France site
There are also bunches of rider diaries to follow. I'm fond of the ones from Garmin-Chipotle.

One of these, Will Frischkorn's, isn't on the main site. Here's his latest: One last night of peace, and then — the Tour, By Will Frischkorn, Team Garmin-Chipotle, posted Jul. 1, 2008. Will also has a flickr photostream: willfrischkorn's photostream.

On the other hand, one of the best rider blogs is on the Garmin-Chipotle site. David Millar knows his stuff and writes well. Here's his latest: When Superbad is soothing, Author: David Millar.

The same site has an interesting post by the woman who puts together all the stuff that riders need to keep them going day by day: The Tour packing list!.

And there's a link to a profile on Taylor Phinney which leads me to mention a good post on one of the best Tours ever, the one held in 1986: Tour Redux: 7-11's Crazy Weekend, Wednesday, July 02, 2008, by Edmond Hood.

I'll be following the Rabobank Team in general and Joost Posthuma in particular, but I'm not confident that this will be a good year for either of them.

Here's a look at the week ahead: TDF08: Parcours Up Close - Week 1, Wednesday, July 02, 2008, by Richard Pestes.

If you're curious about the title of this post, look here. After Merckx made that memorable quote, the initialism it showed up repeatedly on the old bike racing newsgroup, and eventually found its way into the group's FAQ. (It's one of those internet shorthands that have so many uses.*) As David Millar says, " Having so many of the world’s most talented cyclists at 100% of their fitness and motivation racing against each other is something to behold. And that’s the biggest difference between this race and others, everybody is excellent."

* For example what the phrase Doing Push-Ups has now become. See here, and here, and here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

more on the Weng'an, Guizhou riots

Here's a short update to my post just below (a death in Guiyang). (I seem to be the only person refering to the event by the city where the riot took place, Guiyang. I've put the more common reference points in the subject of this post.)

There's still plenty of coverage in the news media, although it's not front page stuff. As Kenneth Tan says on shanghaiist, the best coverage of this story continues to come from the blog eastsouthwestnorth.

The ESWN bloggers are saying that Chinese web portals are deleting posts related to the event as quickly as they show up. On one forum it was estimated that Weng'an-related posts had an avererage lifespan of only 15 seconds. Because of this most discussion of the event appears as comments on the official Xinhua news reports.

Xinhua, the Communist Party news agency, is reporting that a high ranking official is investigating the death of the teenage girl. The report says the "incident was a simple affair that a small number of people with ulterior motives managed to manipulate and leverage, with the direct participation of organized crime forces, to provoke and challenge the Party and the government publicly." The blog comments on the Xinhua article: "The above Xinhua article is just about unreadable because it is just another stream of homilies without content. Is this how people really think and talk?"

ESWN also points out the confusion caused by government efforts to take control of coverage, to put their own spin on it, and give it the frame they wish it to have:
The second phenomenon was the amount of noisy chaff released. On one hand, there is the legendary "50-cent gang." These are supposed to be professional Internet writers who get paid 0.50 RMB for every post favorable to the government position. When yet another version of the Weng'an mass incident gets published as being the ultimate truth, the author is accused of being a member of the "50-cent gang" who is trying to confuse the public. Indeed, if you read through enough versions, you will probably throw up your hands and decide that you don't know what the truth is anymore. Instead, you change your investigation to questioning the motives of the people who are producing these versions.

On the other hand, there is the legendary "Internet special agent (??)." These are supposed to be professional spies who are paid by anti-China hostile forces to publish unfavorable information about China. For example, some of the posts mentioned that the People's Liberation Army has been dispatched to Weng'an with tanks and artillery, with the hint of a Tiananmen-like massacre to follow. Immediately, the other netizens reacted by pointing that these posts are coming from "Internet special agents." The netizens want to draw a very clear line: they may be protesting against what is happening in Weng'an but they will not serve the purpose of the anti-China hostile forces. This is very clear.
ESWN also provides a link to another blog site which gives a quote from a local Communist Party newspaper that is unaffiliated with Xinhua. In an editorial comment, the paper criticizes the response by government leaders and the national press, saying that there wouldn't have been a riot with great property damage and the rest if leaders had addressed the core element in the story. The editorial writer says:
But the actual fuse that led to this incident, the details on the actual case involving the death hasn’t been explained or described. The short description that “some people are dissatisfied with the determination of ’cause of death’” isn’t enough of a conclusion. This is no different than wrapping gunpowder with paper (ed: similar to the English idiom walking on land-mines), and will lead to guesses and assumptions, and the people’s dissatisfaction is completely understandable.
A comment on the posts in this other blog site says that Xinhua has now published a report by editor Yan Liang giving many more facts and indicating for the first time why local residents were so upset. The article says:
But the police account proved difficult to accept for the girl's family and their supporters. Li's classmates and her landlord said she was a good student and couldn't have killed herself.

"She was a quiet and nice child. She seldom hung out or played around. I don't think she killed herself," said landlord Liu Jinxue, who helped pull her body from the river. Li's hometown was a rural township and she lived in a rented apartment in the county.

Liu told Xinhua that the girl's uncle, Li Xiuzhong, had several serious confrontations with the police, and was beaten by unidentified men in the street.

The uncle was in a county hospital last week, but had since been transferred elsewhere, Xinhua learnt.

Li's grandmother Lu Xiuzhen said the girl's father had departed for provincial capital, Guiyang, to petition the government and could not be reached. The mother had "gone mad" since the incident, she said.

"I demand the government thoroughly investigate the incident and give us a justifiable explanation," she said.
What's interesting -- according to other commenters on the blog -- is that Xinhua put this up on the English-language part of its web site. The version of the Chinese-language side of the site is apparently much more bland:
The English one was written by writers working for Xinhua, and contains a fairly reasonable report of the incident with quotes from various parties. The Chinese article, however, comes from local Guizhou news report (????-????), and is, frustratingly, of the typical style of official non-sense and white wash everyone hated so much. That article basically reported that the party boss of Guizhou held meetings with local officials to discuss the incident, already casting it as mostly caused by misguided people incited by a few and laid only light blame on officials who “didn’t do a good enough job” locally.
Here's the blog post in shanghaiist:
More on the Weng'an, Guizhou riots

As usual, Roland Soong of EastSouthWestNorth is on top of the incident, busy piecing together all the information he can find. He informs us that Weng'an is now a sensitive word, the uncle of the female student is still alive, and the body of the student is still resting in a refrigerated coffin awaiting autopsy despite this popularly-believed story. Soong also observes that the Xinhua story (which all Chinese media are made to carry) opens more questions than it answers, paving the way for all sorts of unsubstantiated rumours to dominate public opinion.

An AP story has some photos by Andy Wong.
Chinese paramilitary police officers patrol in Weng'an county of Guizhou province, China, Monday, June. 30, 2008. Authorities detained hundreds of people suspected of setting fire to police and government buildings in southwest China in protests over a teenage student's death, a human rights organization said Monday.