Argleton: the world mapped imprecisely, sort of…

It may be an unpromising place to look for Xanadu, but just north of Liverpool off the A59 there is a town that is already entering the annals of myth. This town, “Argleton”, appears on Google Maps, by mistake, and nowhere else. Mike Nolan and Roy Bayfield of Edge Hill University are the modern-day Marco Polos who discovered it, and there is now a “save Argleton” campaign on the web which is urging Google not to correct the error.

The preservationists have poetry on their side. Argleton is a fortuitously evocative name, sounding a bit like Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop, that village in deepest England known only by its railway station; and even more like something out of an old Ealing comedy, about a town fighting for its autonomy against the faceless drones of Whitehall.

Perhaps the save Argleton campaign also marks the beginnings of a dissident movement, a reaction against the speed and stealth with which Google is mapping every last blade of grass in the world. It is easy to overlook how quickly this has happened…

Now Google Earth allows us to fly from deep space to our own back garden in a matter of moments, and then switch to Google Street View and check out the state of our neighbours’ curtains. And while I don’t agree with the anti-privacy campaigners who have tried to stop the company doing this – Earth is not copyrightable, after all, and a street is a public space – it is still disconcerting to discover, as I did recently, your front door in high resolution on the web…

Perhaps this explains the schadenfreude that some people feel when they hear about motorists deposited in village ponds by their satnavs. The discovery of Argleton is part of the same reassertion of the local, the happy realisation that the world is not completely mappable, that not even Google knows as much as God or the people on the ground. The Argletonians are the contemporary equivalent of the apocryphal local leaning on a gate who, when asked directions by a motorist, sucks his teeth and says: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.”

While I understand and mostly agree with the sentiments of the author – I’m one of those people who enjoys correct maps. In fact, just a week ago, I corrected Google Maps record of a road ending in my neighborhood – which, as a matter of fact – had been extended by a group of neighbors with a borrowed backhoe and a free [somewhat decrepit] culvert pipe to join a nearby legitimate road. Quite illegally – but, now, it’s there.

I have traced disappeared roads – El Camino Real for example – via Google Earth. I love real places as much or more than imaginary – but, I guess I can support the Save Argleton campaign, too.

Should Auschwitz be left to decay – and disappear?

Reminder at the edge of Track 17, Grunewald Station, Berlin
Daylife/Getty Images

On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, two experts on Auschwitz argue for and against the idea that the former Nazi death camp should be allowed to crumble away.


Many Auschwitz survivors have told me that a visit to the camp can teach little to those who were not imprisoned there.

Their view is best summarised in the text of Alain Resnais’ celebrated movie Night and Fog (1955), written by the camp survivor Jean Cayrol. As the camera pans across the empty barracks, the narrator warns the viewer that these remains do not reveal the wartime reality of “endless, uninterrupted fear”. The barracks offer no more than “the shell, the shadow”.

Should the world marshal enormous resources to preserve empty shells and faint shadows?

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Judge leaves decision on Cheney’s records – to Cheney

Daylife/AFP/Getty Images

A federal judge has ruled that Vice President Dick Cheney has broad discretion in determining what records created during his eight-year tenure must be preserved.

Absent any evidence that Cheney’s office is failing to safeguard records, it is up to the vice president to determine how he deals with material, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled.

At issue is whether Cheney had impermissibly limited the scope of the Presidential Records Act, a post-Watergate law aimed at protecting White House records.

Cheney has taken the legal position that his office is not part of the executive branch of government, triggering a lawsuit by several groups including three organizations of historians and archivists concerned that the record of Cheney’s time in office might not be adequately safeguarded.

A polite way of saying, “Cheney is a crook and a liar, corrupt to the bone.”

The judge leaves the decisions on protecting information for other courts, other times – to the criminal in charge.

Cheney must keep records, judge orders

A federal judge has ordered Dick Cheney to preserve a wide range of the records from his time as vice president. Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were sued to ensure that presidential records are not destroyed…

The Bush administration’s legal position “heightens the court’s concern” that some records may not be preserved, said Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

A private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is suing Cheney and the Executive Office of the President in an effort to ensure that no presidential records are destroyed or handled in a way that makes them unavailable to the public…

This summer, Cheney chief of staff David Addington told Congress that the vice president belongs to neither the executive nor legislative branch of government but rather is attached by the Constitution to Congress. The vice president presides over the Senate.

It’s become a cliche; but, not only is this the least competent administration in the history of these United States – they raise the standard almost daily for corruption.

I sincerely hope the next administration has the courage and integrity to pursue these thugs in the courts. Wishful thinking, eh?