Monthly Archives: May 2009


More News from the US China Conference

[Posted for Betsy McKenzie by Jim Milles.]

On the first day of the conference, a half-day, the visiting Americans sat with some of the Chinese librarians. The bulk of the Chinese librarians did not arrive until the next day, Friday. But on that first day, we had a welcoming address from Dr. Jiang Bo, Secretary General of the China Education Association for International Exchange. In that speech, Dr. Bo essentially told the attending librarians how the Chinese librarians could go about setting up their library association. It is apparent that the government is strongly in favor of such a library organization, and desires librarians to begin the work of building a cooperative profession in China.

On the second day of the conference, many more Chinese librarians came. This is a three day national holiday, the first time it’s been celebrated nation-wide. So the librarians and their families are sacrificing a good deal to attend the conference. I sat in an afternoon session in which Chinese librarians and one American librarian, Virginia Wise, participated in a series of reports on librarianship, issues, and comparisons between China, and the U.S.

One of the most interesting reports was an older librarian who told how he had visited Berkeley in the 1980’s and seen open shelving. He had brought that concept back to China, where they still practiced closed shelving. At that time, library users had to look up the book they desired in the catalog, order it from the librarians, and wait for delivery. This gentleman fought hard to implement open shelving in his Chinese university, where he encountered great resistance. People argued that books would be lost or stolen or even thrown from windows. He replied that it would be better for that to happen and the books to at least be read once than sit on the shelves forever, never used! He eventually carried the day and Chinese libraries today have open shelves. Now the fight is to improve customer service. We heard a wonderful Service Manifesto that included the translated phrase urging warm hearted careness for the users.

China is engaged in reforming legal education. Since 1978, when there were only 9 law schools in the country, there have grown to be 630 schools that teach law at some level. Law is taught as an undergraduate major, as a master’s level course, at the PhD level and at the post-doctoral level. In total, there are about 500,000 students in China studying law at some level. But there is deep dissatisfaction with the preparation of these students for the demands real world practice, as litigators, legislators, judges, and prosecutors. Speakers questioned whether undergraduate law students had adequate time to achieve true professional level training before graduation. Other speakers desired more practical training. The type and rules for what amounts to the bar exam recently changed. There is evidently a very low passage rate.

As the law schools grapple with sweeping changes in education, the law libraries also confront change. Many deans and other speakers or questioners at the programs commented on the inadequate nature of the law libraries at their schools. They referred to a lack of adequate books and a lack of adequate service. Several times deans asked that American law schools seeking partners for collaboration look beyond the Beijing schools. Conference organizers are preparing a list of participants with e-mail addresses so that contacts can be made and kept up beyond the time of this meeting. People are exchanging business cards like mad, as well. There is a real hunger for collaboration and a dissatisfaction with the status quo.


Jungle Justice

South Camp prison in Kingston photo by Christina Xu

South Camp prison in Kingston photo by Christina Xu

What I am about to write, is not unrelated to my last post about police in Jamaica dispensing their own kind of justice.

In a clear admission that the court system is not working, the Prime minister says the system is under “severe stress”; he and his Justice Minister have come up with this idea of  “restorative justice”.  It’s a project where, as far as I can tell,  ordinary people can get some kind of training and then dispense this within their communities.

I’d be interested in looking at the whole system of justice in Jamaica – or rather the lack of it.  Starting off at the gun court, where witnesses are afraid to speak out and murderers go free.  Then to look at how the law works through the eyes of one of the island’s lawyers.  I knew someone who always had to go to the police station to get her nephew bailed out all the time, but those youths (his friends) who did not have a family member knowledgable in the law, then there was an entirely different kind of justice for them – usually ending up in GP.

Then there’s  jungle justice that this new programme is trying to replace.

But why replace it?

Jungle justice is cheap, because it doesn’t involve expensive lawyers, it’s quick because no court delays hold it up,  it’s a deterrent because it usually involves an execution and it’s a clear for all to see, because it happens right there on the street.

Seems rather more effective than what happens in the Gun Court.


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The collectors (1): I could use that

That house where the front hedge has lost its fight against the oak trees, which stretch their limbs to passersby and yell shamelessly; where the grass is brittle with neglect and has bent under its own weight; where the window blinds, gray and yellow, look on, unmoved; that house that looks uninhabited (no, the person inside must be bed-ridden or crazy), I used to live there: my parents still do.

“Ah, the kind that brings property values down in the neighborhood,” a contractor friend noted.  “Cool.”

My mother complains that people throw garbage in front of the house, that the neighbors actually refuse to pick up after their dogs when caught by my mother, that someone even left their dead cat behind the hedge.  But how did she know the cat hadn’t just gone there on its own, to close its weary eyes?  I didn’t ask.

“I’m sure they litter on other lawns, only the other homeowners clean it up.”

My mother shakes away this notion.  “Your father, he comes home from work tired, he can’t be bothered.  And I can’t complain, I know how exhausted he is after work, he needs the weekends to recover.  He’s not lazy, you know, but he was never the same after the cancer.”

“Why don’t you just hire someone to do the garden work?”

“Your father doesn’t want any help: he says he can do it himself.  And I can’t do all the work, can I?  I’m always out anyway, I never have time.”

“But it’s unfair to the neighbors; it’s a jungle.  If it’s too much to do yourself, why not just get rid of it, pull out the hedge, put up a fence?”

“Your father says he needs his oxygen.

Iron Lungs

“Ever since his surgery, he’s always talking about how he needs his oxygen.  He would go berserk if I got rid of the hedge.  I can’t even bring it up with him.”

I tell her of an article I read about how more people are getting rid of their lawns to create parking space.

“Oh, that would look ugly.  It’s good to have a garden.”

She makes excuses for him, but she has her reasons.


Should you go inside the house, you will see an assortment of bags: paper shopping bags, plastic grocery bags, leather handbags.  You may think the family has just returned from a day of shopping, how nice to be able to get so much at once, but then you see the pile of cloth laundry bags, still full, folded clothing spilling out from them, blocking the entrance to the living room.  And then you will look more closely and see dust has settled on those shoeboxes stacked in the hallway to the kitchen.  And in the kitchen, on a hook by the door to the back porch hang two plastic bags filled with plastic bags that have lost their shape with the weight of former contents and are waiting to be reused and remolded.  And on the floor beneath the hook are two brown paper bags with unused plastic bags waiting their turn, one day.

Another commodity in the household is tape, tape and post-it notes.  Walls are not just for structural support, doors not just for privacy: they are bulletin boards.  My mother reasons that she needs all these phone numbers, ticket stubs, and appointment dates on hand, otherwise she would lose them.  Unfortunately, with all this information so conveniently displayed, she can never find the information she needs, or the Singaporean dollars she taped to the door, or the voucher she received for a free ticket anywhere in the States.  Have I seen the voucher anywhere?

“I know it’s somewhere,” she said.

“Hasn’t this doctor retired?”  I pointed to a paper with an appointment two years past.  “I don’t think you need her number anymore”

“Never mind.  There may be information that I need on that paper.”  Because on any one sheet is scrawled not just one piece of information but incoherent fragments on dozens of people, addresses, and appointments; no paper is without its potential value, no post-it ever expires.

“I could use that”: this is my mother’s mantra, how she justifies keeping everything.  It is not that she needs something now or that she knows she will need it later, but that she might be able to use it one day.  It’s as if she were only waiting to prove that her clinging to the past in fact showed foresight (you see, I told you so!).  For my mother, the worst sin is to be caught unprepared, but she would never let that happen to her.  The house stands on its tiptoes in a state of perpetual readiness.

You say all the lights in the house need replacing at the same time?  No problem: ten boxes of lights, four bulbs in each, lie eagerly in wait.  Long, pleated skirts are back in?  It’s about time.  Comfortable black flats are no longer being manufactured?  No need to worry, she has enough stocked up for a century’s worth of scurrying this way and that.

“It’s not garbage,” my mother insists, and she’s not entirely incorrect.  Many of the items are in mint condition, never used, never even removed from their packaging, not valuable per se, but not junk either.

My mother calls me up and asks, “Where’s my jade bracelet?  You didn’t throw it out by accident, did you?”

“No, I didn’t throw it.  I’m more careful than that.  You must have put it somewhere and forget where.”  She found it an hour later and apologized, to which I said, “I don’t know why you don’t just have one place for things.”  But I do know.  Because she’s afraid of being burglarized and having all her prized possessions stolen, so she has to hide them, even if it means forgetting where she put them.   She only needs to remind herself occasionally that her jade bracelet exists; it calms her nerves.  It’s much too valuable and fragile to wear to her job; I told her it made no sense to get things just to look it and not wear, but she insists jade is good luck, even when lost among all her things.  And this was the best jade, from Burma, so it gave especial luck.  Elsewhere in the house are hidden jade pendants: a dragon, a pear, an apple, I believe even an awful scaly fish, all kept in little Ziplocks.  Can good luck escape air-tight plastic?

But she is right in guessing I’ve gotten rid of some of her things: I had to.

“Do you know what happened to my Cartier bag, the one Aunt Nora gave me?”

“I know which one.  No, I haven’t seen it.  It must be in a closet somewhere.”

“No, I’ve checked.  You didn’t throw it, did you?” she asks.

“No, no, it has to be somewhere.  I’ll try looking for it.”  I wonder if she can tell I’m lying.  She must know; she throws my dad’s things without telling him, though it makes him furious, makes him call her a tyrant, worse than back in Russia.  But how does she remember this bag?  She’s never used it, never looked at it since she brought it home from Singapore.  She must be cursed with outstanding long-term memory: how else could she maintain such an extensive mental inventory?

“And where’s your Kate Spade bag?”

“It’s somewhere,” I say.  It must be in storage.”  But this bag, too, is gone; it looked so old, though she’d bought it for me only four years before.  I couldn’t see the point of keeping it.  The material was no good; the canvas had aged forty years for every trip around the sun.  She’s so afraid of aging herself, why would my mother ever use something so shabby?  But I suppose that wasn’t the point.  She could have used it.  She still can, if she can only find it among all the bags.

I didn’t throw them all away.  I saved one she’d bought but never once used.  I suppose it would have felt like throwing away money, even though she got it at a sample sale for less than half-price; a Marc Jacobs tote in Pepto-Bismol pink, it could hold three encyclopedia volumes, the ones we still have from 1984.  It didn’t deserve to survive any more than the others, but to me it represented everything ugly she cluttered her life with for its perceived status.  There, have this ugly thing!  Does it make you feel less ashamed of your life?  Because it is about shame, shame she didn’t marry a doctor, shame she doesn’t have a mansion with stone walls encasing it, like her friends back in Singapore.  She left and she failed, she’s embarrassed by her life, but she has her jade and her handbags to remind her she has something.


Maastoprojekti: Viidakkomaastoa osa 2.

Juuh… Tuossa sitten eilisen illan ratoksi puuhastelin yhden viidakkomaastonpalasen lisää. Eli


Off to Imbaimadai in the Jungle Interior of Guyana

Waterfall in the jungle interior

Waterfall in the jungle interior

Flying out tomorrow on the one hour flight in the smallest plane I will have ever been on. Tonight we are weighing all our bags and ourselves as they need to know exactly the weight of everything for such a small plane.  The flight will take us over the jungle towards Imbaimadai an Amerindian town situated near the mountains deep in the jungle interior of Guyana which is an area part of the Amazon Basin. Imbaimadai is a small gold and diamond mining town far in the jungle interior of Guyana. We will be there for two weeks working to help build and improve houses in the area as well as helping out in the local school, community in many practical ways and helping to take a few church services. During the two weeks we will be travelling up to Akwioh tribe villages in the jungle and helping out in their communities also.

  • Please pray for protection from illnesses, against animals particularly from snake bites and venomous spiders. The hospital is very small there and apparently “sometimes has anti-snake venom, sometimes it doesnt”!
  • That we be a good example to the community regardless of times where we are on or off duty making as much of the “off duty” times to help and encourage others as the on duty times.
  • Please pray for safety when travelling in small planes, canoes and other methods of transport.
  • Team Unity.
Plane we will be flying in to Imbaimadai

Plane we will be flying in to Imbaimadai


Why our science fiction future fizzled

At the 1964 New York World’s Fair, people stood in line for hours to check out “Futurama.” Forty years later, we’re still waiting for congestion-free highways, jet packs and the paperless office. What’s holding up our “Star Trek”-like gadgets?


New position will guard online security

President Obama announced today he is creating the post of cyber security coordinator to oversee “a new comprehensive approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure.”


New astronaut reveals greatest fear

He’s a helicopter test pilot who spent 18 years in the British Army. He just beat more than 8,400 others to become one of Europe’s newest astronauts, destined for the International Space Station.


Space Spotlight: Exploring galactic depths