Friday, November 30, 2007

The Biz

My brother (I would insert a link here if he had his own blog) asked me a while back to post something about the new librarianship. I usually don't take requests, my reaction normally being "get your own blog" (sensing a theme here bro?), so I begged off saying that I couldn't write coherently about my own profession.

That's not entirely untrue. Librarianship is undergoing a massive change as the world begins to feel the full impact of the information revolution. I'm at as much of a loss to describe it as anyone. Honestly, I don't think anyone in the profession has quite realized yet just how big a deal this revolution is going to be. Hell, I don't think anyone in any profession has quite realized how big this is. Information has never been more readily available, and it has never been easier to let everyone in the world know what you think about any given topic. We've barely scratched the surface of what technology can now allow us to do.

To really understand what has happened to libraries, we need to go back a few years. In the days before information was this readily available, libraries were the Internet. When you needed any sort of information, pretty much the only place you could get it was at your local library. And to serve that need libraries built massive reference collections and trained their staff to be serious and studious. Libraries were sacred halls of study and learning, where everyone went to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge.

But then the world began to change. Information could be found in any one of a number of places. Libraries were no longer the only game in town. When your own bedroom can be your hall of learning, suddenly the whole "sacred" thing falls by the wayside. We always knew that by the time people came to us they had already asked everyone they knew; but now in addition to asking everyone they know, they've also gone to bookstores, watched the TV, and surfed the net. Now they've most likely gotten their answer before they have to turn to us.

But libraries didn't give up their high seat. We had come to rely on the public's good will so much that we didn't realize that they weren't coming to us for the same things anymore. They still liked us, but they didn't need us the way they used to. The problem is that we knew that they did need us. Someone once described the Internet as the world's greatest library with the books all piled on the floor. Librarians looked at this mess and said "we know what to do with all this! We can help! We know how to work search engines! We know how to evaluate sources!" Any decent librarian can get better results out of Google than Joe Normal. But Google seemed to work well enough, so no one was listening.

So now we find ourselves in the position of knowing that we can help, but not being able to convince anyone that we can. What do we do about this? We can't just jump up and down and say "Listen to me, dammit!" They're not listening, and they won't. We need to show them that they need us. This has led a lot of old-school librarians to think that libraries are on the decline. They see the public turning to the Internet, and they see libraries building coffee shops and collecting DVDs and they think that we've thrown in the towel. But that's not the point of changing how we present ourselves. That's not why we adopt a retail model of customer service. We do it to make ourselves seen.

What we need to do is not assume that we are the preferred source for information (which we are not), but rather position ourselves so that when people are seeking information we are there. The fundamental difference between traditional library service and library service now is not about lessening the value of our professional expertise in the face of customer demands, nor is it about sacrificing our expertise in the name of meeting the customer where they are. It is rather about proactively placing ourselves where the customer already is so that when the customer needs information we are an assumed source rather than a last ditch.

Thus efforts to place the library online and to rearrange our spaces so as to be more appealing and become the "3rd place" are not playing to the lowest common denominator. They are an effort to bring customers to us so that when they need us we are already there. Even something as fundamental as collection development becomes part of this, as customers will not want to be in a place with ugly or outdated collections. By keeping our collections clean and up-to-date we are creating an environment that customers want to be in so that they do think of us first.

But the approach must be 100% integrated. If every aspect of our presence isn't aiming at that one goal of putting ourselves right under the customers' noses, the entire enterprise will fail. So collections, web presence, physical space, and customer service must all create a coherent experience that will place us in the customer's mind as the preferred source for any information need over other options already available. We also need to remove barriers to using our service, since other sources are so simple to use.

So when I'm out on the floor, my goal is to connect with people. I don't care why they're in the library. I don't care what they're checking out. All I know is that they've decided to come see me. If I can build a relationship with that person, then when they need information they won't turn on the local news. They won't listen to their Uncle Merv who just got out of lockup. They'll think "I'm gonna go ask that tall dude at the library. He'll know what I need." And I'll help them find exactly what they're looking for.

Librarians aren't the gatekeepers of the Information Age as some have named us. We're the guides. We keep the paths open, clear, and well-marked. We'll visit new territory first and mark the way. We will provide a friendly and safe place to explore from where anyone can find help. We will show people how to get the most out of the most exciting time in human history.

And that is why I'm a librarian.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Eighth Circle of Hell

Normally I try not pay any attention to Ann Coulter. As near as I can tell, she's insane. Not insane as in "Oh my God, are you insane?" but rather "The nurse will be here any minute with your meds, Ms. Coulter" insane.

Sadly, I work in a library. And as a dedicated public librarian I firmly believe that no matter how absurd I may find a particular title, my community has a right to see it. So it was that today I found myself face to face with Ms. Coulter among the new books.

To understand the nature of my complaint, you first have to see the cover of her most recent book. Those of you with a delicate constitution may want to disable image viewing on this site before reading further.


Putting aside the stereotypically provocative nature of the title, I want you to look carefully at Ms. Coulter's picture. Is it just me, or is she most definitely not selling this book on the basis of her brains? In fact, judging from the cover it would appear that the title should be "If Democrats were Republicans they'd have a chance with this." Either that or "If Democrats were smart they'd submit to Mistress Coulter's tender ministrations."

Ewwugh. I think I just threw up a bit.

However, for those of you who haven't cottoned on to the reference in tonight's title, my main concern is the fact that someone who is selling herself so blantantly, someone who is so clearly trying to sell a book on the basis of sex appeal, should not be the same person who in the pages of that same book doubtlessly references the Bible several hundred times. Here she is, supposedly so religious and so morally upright, on the cover of her book with a come-hither look that would put the Queen of Sheba or Salome to shame.

Thus it is that Ms. Coulter will doubtless one day find herself in the eighth circle of hell, clad in a lead-lined golden robe with the rest of the hypocrites. Dante placed you almost next to the Devil himself, Ms. Coulter. The only sin worse than yours is, ironically, treason.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bah Humbug


I am most definitely NOT in the Christmas spirit.

For some reason this season has been less and less fun over the past few years. I used to think this was because I wasn't a kid anymore, or that I wasn't living in a place with a real winter. But no, this year I have finally decided that we have killed Christmas. It's entirely our faults, and we should be ashamed of ourselves.

I remember, and I swear I'm not imagining this, that at one point in time there were no Christmas decorations or products in stores until after Thanksgiving. This year I saw Christmas items for sale in September. I remember a time when Christmas carols weren't used as backing music for advertisements. I remember a time when the news wasn't full of stories about how well the stores were doing in the Christmas shopping season. I mean, all of that was still there, but it wasn't what it was about.

Now the only thing that this season is about is shopping. You've got to give people stuff. You've got to go out, find something that people may or may not like, wrap it up, and give it to them. And one present isn't enough. The tree has to be full of presents. The bigger the better. And that's all there is to it. Forget about altruism and giving and care and love and joy. It's all about how many presents you've got under how big a tree.

I have too much stuff. I have too much debt. I'm tired of being told I have to buy things. I don't want more stuff. I want a new pack for my bike and some new shirts. That's it. And if I didn't get them for Christmas I'd get them for myself anyway because I actually need them.

I know I'm still going to go hang my lights and trim my tree, because that's what is done. Hopefully my own small tribute at a more appropriate time will help me to feel better. And I'll do my best to tune out invitations to buy a Lexus for Christmas or the horrible R&B version of what used to be a lovely carol. I'll try to steer clear of the stores and out of the maddening rush of traffic and people trying to buy, buy, buy. I'll go to my midnight service and try to remember that what we're supposed to be doing at this time of year is recognizing that joy is found in the most unexpected places, and that the light will return.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In Memoriam

In July our then newest cat, a 1 year old kitten named Gandalf the Grey, suffered a severe asthma attack and died. I've owned a lot of cats in my life, and I can say without hesitation that he was the sweetest cat I have ever known. He is still sorely missed.

Since then I discovered the joy that is lolcats. If you haven't seen these yet you're missing out. Some of them a pretty cheesy, but every so often there's one that is perfect. My wife snapped a priceless picture of Gandalf that was made for lolcats, so I turned it into a lolcat picture.

Yes, he really was riding my bike.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Aren't You Glad?

It's Monday night, I'm tired, and there's only 5 days left in NaBloPoMo. I'm tapped out folks. So tonight I'll just leave you to ponder the following:

Aren't you glad you don't live in a country where you can be arrested for naming a teddy bear "Muhammad"?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if religious extremists actually read their holy books. Would Muslim extremists turn into peace-loving, altruistic intellectuals? Would Christian extremists turn into humble advocates for the poor and disenfranchised?

Sadly, I doubt we'll ever know.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

You Call That Music?

A piece from the 1970's followed by a Bach chorale in church this morning got me to thinking about "classical" music. I'm not talking about actual classical music, composed between 1750ish to 1810ish. I'm talking about what Joe Normal probably thinks of as classical music. That is, stuff you hear in church, at the symphony, or at the opera.

I've been thinking about how inaccessible modern classical music is. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of modern classical music that I love. It's just that unless you've grown up on it and trained your ear to hear what's good about it, a lot of the time it's just so much noise. The problem is that it's virtually impossible to tell the good noise from the bad unless you know what you're listening for. On top of that, there's a lot of jokers out there who think they can write good classical music who frankly can't.

What I can't figure out is how we got to this point. Classical music written from around 1600 or so up to the early 20th century was the popular music of the time. Bach was well known all throughout Germany. Mozart was a child star that could have put Macauley Culkin to shame. Thousands lined the streets of Vienna for Beethoven's funeral. Puccini was as close to a rock star as late 19th century Italy could have. And hundreds protested Stravinsky's Rite of Spring when it was first performed.

So what the heck happened?

I suppose it could be that the music has simply gotten too complex. There a very few people who can sit through a contemporary classical performance without being completely turned off. Even someone with a fair amount of training like myself has to concentrate extremely hard to appreciate contemporary music. And part of me doubts that music you have to concentrate on is really worth listening to.

But another part of me laments the loss of the fabulously intricate music that requires massive amounts of skill to compose. Obviously I love rock music, and I appreciate the art form very much. But let's face it: it's pretty straightforward musically. What happened to the multitudes being able to enjoy the intricacies of a Bach cantata, or be transported by a Beethoven symphony, or cry at a Puccini opera?

It's probably the fault of the composers themselves. There's something of an attitude that if you can't get it, you're just dumb. To my mind a perfect example is Michael Nyman. His soundtrack for the movie The Piano was fabulously popular. It was just as difficult in many ways as his other works, but infinitely more accessible. Does that mean he wrote more music like that? No, he continued with his esoteric, avant-garde music. Another good example is the novel Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, which shows how a supposedly great composer can become so fundamentally self-centered that he loses touch with reality.

I guess all I can do is keep listening to the great works and hope that others will hear it too and try to find out more. There's got to be a way to satisfy both the artists and the people.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aquadotty

We've all gotten fairly used to recalls this year. It seems like we'd had a long run of nothing more than a few scattered cases of small parts causing choking when suddenly lead-tainted toys appear from China. As if credit woes and a declining dollar weren't enough, now we can't even buy cheap Chinese toys.

Well, the recalls reached a new "high," so-to-speak, with the announcement that a company out of Canada has recalled the latest rage in grade-school crafting, Aqua Dots. Apparently what you're supposed to do is put the beads into patterns, spray them with water, and presto they're permanently stuck.

Yeah, small beads with a weird, water-reactive chemical on them, aimed at the 3 and up set. Couldn't see this one coming.

I don't want to make light of the fact that several children became seriously ill after ingesting these (I mean, what did they think kids would do with them? They look like frickin' Jujubees!). But you can't make this sort of stuff up. Apparently upon being ingested, the chemical coating the beads becomes... GHB.

For those of you who don't watch Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, GHB is more commonly known as the date rape drug. It renders the person non-responsive but with some level of consciousness. Exactly the sort of thing you want your kids to have.

Of course, some people use the drug recreationally. (Why anyone would want to use what is essentially degreasing solvent or floor stripper mixed with drain cleaner is beyond me, but hey, whatever floats your boat.) Which leads one to wonder if the remaining Aqua Dots on the shelves might become hot commodities...

Despite this being a very dangerous and highly unfortunate turn of events for this company, there was very little chance that this could have been determined before the product was released. The GHB only forms after the beads are ingested. What kills me is the reaction some people have to this, making it seem like the company is out shooting kids. Even worse is that somehow this has gotten entangled with the Chinese lead-paint business and now it sounds as though the blame is getting thrown at China again. The Chinese manufacturers made the product to spec in this case. It was the product itself that was bad.

So even when people have a legitimate reason for concern they overreact. }sigh{

Friday, November 23, 2007

Beware Black Friday!

A little bit of a cheater post today, but after watching local news provide 10 minutes of coverage for "Black Friday" including tips from the Columbus Police about how to not get mugged, this post from 23/6 was just too good to pass up. Apparently my local news missed FEMA's update on how to protect yourself on "Black Friday." Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Middle America

A combination of my entry from yesterday, a most excellent commentary by Daniel Schorr last night, the holiday today, a drive to Cincinnati, and a piece on NPR in the car about The Great Gatsby made me realize an important truth about America. No matter how messed up we seem, no matter how insane Wall Street, corporations, major Industry, and all the rest seem to have gotten, what makes us who we are and what makes us strong is the vast majority of the population known as middle America.

Where Gatsby comes into this is in the undercurrent behind the New York glitterati in the novel. What I realized in the car on hearing an extended passage is that the crux of the novel isn't Gatsby's death. Nick's final meeting with his father demonstrates that Gatsby is just a casualty of bigger problem. The crux of the novel comes with Nick's recollection of heading west from the east coast for the holidays. As he gradually recedes from the insanity that is New York into the small whistle stop towns of the Midwest, he seems to be moving away from the superficiality that defines Daisy and Tom and towards the people who make the country real. Gatsby dies not because he tried to flee his mundane roots for the glamor of the big city-- a sort of Icarus story-- but because the big city is death. Life comes from the "normal" world of middle America, and that is where our strength lies. Gatsby isn't an ode to New York of the roaring twenties. It's a condemnation of it and an effort to show that America is at its best in the heartland.

Immediately following 9/11 that was the first thought that crossed my mind: the terrorists had gotten it wrong. They thought that by destroying a financial and political center they would destroy America. But what they failed to realize is that those things aren't America. America is in the farmhouses I drove past today flying the flag out front. America is in the trucking distribution hub in the middle of nowhere Ohio. America is in the rusted hulks of industry around Cincinnati where new offices and technology spring up like crocuses out of dead leaves.

Sadly, I think what went wrong post-9/11 was that we turned the World Trade Center into a symbol of more than what it was. We should have acknowledged the loss of those who died and then moved on. There should have been no "Ground Zero." There should only have been all the rest of America, standing together united and saying "three buildings ain't gonna take us out."

What makes us who we are is the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Our narrative since 9/11 has only been about fear and desperation. There is no overcoming. There is no return to greatness. There is only reaction and defense. To my mind, Gatsby is the definitive American novel because it gets it right. We are at our worst when we sacrifice others for personal, immediate gains. We are at our best when we come together to do more than we could by ourselves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Getting Home

On the drive back from work this evening rush hour was strangely reversed. At 6:00 on most days I'll run into traffic just north of downtown where 670 and 71 merge bringing six lanes of traffic down to three. But tonight it was clear sailing from downtown to Clintonville. But southbound 71 was solid, bumper- to- bumper traffic. The traffic wasn't moving southbound from when I got on the highway until I got off.

The reason for this is pretty obvious. Everyone got off work early so they could head over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house. So rush hour out of downtown was negligible, but everyone trying to get from north of the city to south, east, or west was getting hung up on the east-side splits.

I saw this exact same thing last year. I don't remember if I saw it before that. But all I could think both times was, "why?" Why do we put ourselves through this? So that we can show up at the relatives stressed and grumpy, burn the turkey, and watch uncle Merv drink too much and puke on Grandma's antique rug?

And frankly, the drive is probably mild compared to the flights. Horror stories were already coming over the air about delays and the first real snowstorm of the season in the Midwest. Add that to the post 9/11 paranoia about shoes and liquids and you've got a recipe for disaster. Who actually wants to sit on uncomfortable chairs and eat indigestible food for the better part of the day just so you can spend a weekend with relatives?

So why do we do it? I think that a lot of us are trying to recapture some idealized holiday of the past, where everyone was happy to be in each others' company and food and cheer were plentiful. We've seen it in the commercials, surely our childhood was like that, right?

Well, no, it wasn't. And it's foolish to try to recreate it. The word "nostalgia" is a neologism from the Greek "nostos" meaning homecoming and "algos" meaning suffering or pain. The original connotation of the word isn't positive. It's a pathological longing for home that causes you to ignore the things that are right in front of you. We are a society suffering from cultural nostalgia. And worst of all, the "nostos" for which we long was invented anyway.

When we first moved to Ohio, it was too far to drive to visit family for Thanksgiving weekend, and since everything was closed on Thanksgiving we started our own tradition. We locked ourselves in the house with a bunch of movies, made popcorn, and cooked a turkey dinner and a pumpkin pie. It was perfect. A day spent with the people closest to me with no pressure to do anything more than just be there.

If we could all find that place I think we’d all be a lot happier.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hold It

"Hey... . . .. ... .. .hold.. . .. .... ..red hat...."

"What?" I said to the young man standing in front of me.

"Uh, the guy in the red hat upstairs asked me to hold these for him but I gotta go."

"So you want me to hold them for you?"

"Nah, I gotta go. Can you hold them for him?"

"Who am I supposed to be holding them for?"

"Uh, the guy in the red hat."

"Do you know his name?" I asked, oddly enough still trying to help.

"Uh, yeah. It's Ali."

"Is that his first name or his last name?" I said, thinking to myself that given how common the name is for both first and last it probably wouldn't help.

"Uh, it's his name. His first name."

"Look, I'd be happy to hold these for you but I really need to know the guy's name. Ali just isn't enough information."

"Uh, okay, whatever."

The young man then walked off with the DVDs. I noticed him set them by one of the checkout machines before he headed off for the teen area. About 45 minutes later they were still there, so I checked them in and shelved them.

Apparently Ali the Red Hatted decided to go with some other selections.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hello, My Name is Ste... Ste.. Stephanie


No it's not. It's Anandita or Jagrati or Nishtha or some equally lovely Indian name. Why on earth do call centers make Indians use western names when answering the phone? I mean, I can hear the accent. I know I'm calling India! You're not fooling anyone and you're making this lovely girl stumble over a strange name for nothing!

I think that part of why I'm mad is that when I called and heard the accent, the first thing that crossed my mind was "Oh no, I'm in India." I hated myself almost as soon as I thought it. I'm not that sort of a person. I don't hate people from other cultures just because they're from other cultures! I don't think people are dumb just because they have an accent!

So what happened? Why did I have this reaction? I guess it's that I just wanted someone who could immediately understand everything I was saying, and whom I could understand in return. When you're trying to troubleshoot problems on a website, you don't want to have to keep saying "Huh? What?" every ten seconds. You want the problem fixed so you can get on with your life.

I don't think that outsourcing is inherently evil. I'm glad that we can provide jobs in countries that need them, and I don't think Americans are losing as many jobs as might be thought because of it. But there are some things that shouldn't be outsourced. And tech help is one of them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Throwing it All Away

I hate shaving. I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't, honestly. If it weren't for the fact that my face itches like hell when I don't shave I'd probably not shave. Well, that and the fact that my beard is a little thin in spots and since I'm in the public eye I should probably only grow a beard if it doesn't make me look like one of the transient "all-day customers" at the library.

Aside from the discomfort inevitably involved in shaving though, the other aspect of shaving I hate is razor blades. First and most problematic to my mind, is that there's absolutely no guarantee when you get a new blade out that it's actually going to do the job without burning you. Sometimes you'll get a good one and everything will be fine, sometimes the new one you get is even worse than the one you just threw away.

Given the unpredictability of the quality of the blades, you'd think that maybe the companies that make the blades would put some more effort into improving the blade itself. But no, apparently their solution is to add even more blades to the cartridge, probably in the hopes that more blades will increase the likelihood that one of them will be halfway decent.

Of course, the more blades and other bells and whistles there are, the more expensive the things get. I started using a 2-blade cartridge with a conditioning strip and a rubber strip when I was in college, because it seemed to work pretty well. I get 5 of these things for about $9. Y'see, to me that's just insane. The problem is that the generic ones are even worse than the brand name ones, so you pretty much have to stick with the brand names. Worse than that, I got a free sample of a 3-blade one once, tried it and almost tore my face off, so I'm sticking with my 2-blade, thank you. But those 3-blade ones are like 4 for $11. The 4 blade ones are even more ridiculous. So here I have to shell out all this cash for something I have to do daily.

I hate being over a barrel like this.

On vacation this summer I forgot my razor at home, and so found myself needing to pick up something to shave with in the interim. Obviously I wasn't going to buy a whole new kit, so I got some disposable razors instead. Son of a gun if these things didn't do a better job than the ones I had been getting. Even more amazing was that I could get 10 of them for $8.

How much sense can this possibly make? A complete razor-- handle, cartridge and blades-- is cheaper than just the cartridge? And apparently just as good? These guys really do have a racket going! But now I'm stuck with a quandary: I'm now throwing away even more plastic than I was before.

I hate this, I really do! Why can't companies just do something that makes sense? Why do they drive us to be wasteful? Why is conservation so damn expensive? It's completely counter-intuitive!

Moral of this post: buy a straight-edge razor.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

You Bet Your Life

I have absolutely nothing to write about today. Okay, not nothing. I've got some random thoughts about several things banging around in my head, but for whatever reason they don't want to come out yet. So I was casting around for something, thinking about changing seasons and time passing with Thanksgiving bearing down on us, and all I could think was:

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."

Ah, good old Groucho. Why can't we have something on TV like "You Bet Your Life" now? Probably because no one's like Groucho. A few more of my favorites:

"Outside of a dog, a book is Man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men, the other 999 follow women"

"I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception."

"One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Locavore

The New Oxford American Dictionary selects one word that was added to its pages each year as the "word of the year," and this year the word is "locavore."

A locavore is a person who consumes locally produced food. This all comes back to the idea that the less miles your food has to travel to get to your plate, the less of an impact it has on the environment and the better off everyone will be.

Honestly, I think this is a great idea. I love it when I can get locally grown and produced food. Not only is it always fresher and better-tasting, it feels good to know that you're supporting the people who live near you. The environmental aspects are just icing.

Following this idea through to its logical conclusion, shouldn't we try to accomplish the same thing with everything we consume? That is, why are we purchasing clothing made in China from fabric made in India from cotton grown in Georgia? Your clothes might have literally traveled all the way around the world to get on your back. Even if it might save you a few bucks to buy that made-in-China shirt over one made locally, surely the costs in resources and labor to transport that shirt offset those few dollars!

Bellingham, Washington has tried to expand the idea of a local economy across the town (props to Marketplace for a great report). The idea is that there are so many resources in and around Bellingham that the town could be effectively self-sustaining: a return to the 18th and 19th century models of towns where everyone pulled together to provide for what's needed.

Doesn't that sound cool? Everything you need is right there next door. No more container ships, freight trains, and semis. It all comes from up the road apiece. Why did we ever look further afield?

Well, there are two good reasons. First, they have stuff we want that we don't have, and we have stuff they want that they don't have. Free market, do your stuff. Second, if something bad happens to us-- depression, drought, flood-- we can still get what we need to survive from those others. Marketplace once again did a great job of presenting the opposing view, but unfortunately Mr. Frum played down the benefits of the local economy. It's more than just about things tasting good. It really can be better for us and for the Earth. But that doesn't mean we abandon the global economy. We just need to use it sparingly. Get everything local that you can, and only search further afield if you have to.

Solutions almost always lie in a mean. We may have pursued the global economy too far, but that doesn't mean it's inherently bad.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Short Post

A homework assignment, put off to the last minute, prevented me from posting until now. Those of you who have children younger than teens: this is what you have to look forward to.

So in the interests of getting my blog in for NaBloPoMo, I offer you these candidates for the Darwin awards:


Road rage certainly takes on a new meaning with these two. What could possibly drive two people to this extreme hatred that they put both of their lives in jeopardy just so they can beat the shit out of each other?

Honestly, sometimes I fear for the human race.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who's on First?

Interestingly enough, both political parties seem to be in the odd position of being lukewarm about the candidate leading their respective fields. On the one hand, Rudy Giuliani is leading the polls among Republican candidates, but many conservatives have doubts as to just how conservative he is. Hillary Clinton is leading the polls among Democratic candidates, but many liberals have begun to question exactly what her stances are and her methods of deflecting criticism during this campaign.

So the obvious question is, why are they leading the polls?

Honestly, I couldn't care less about the Republican side. I don't like any of them (although I've been greatly disturbed to find myself occasionally agreeing with things I hear Ron Paul say). Clinton worries me though. She seems to be very hard to pin down on many issues and seems to be more devoted to not appearing to rock the boat than actually affecting significant change.

NPR had very good discussion of the differences between Clinton's stance on health care now compared to her attempts to create universal coverage in her husband's first term. I took two things away from this article. First, Clinton has natural problems with compromise and working with others of differing views. To be clear, I'm not talking about compromise that results in a watered-down version of what you're trying to accomplish. I'm talking about giving in one area of less importance to gain what you want in the area of more importance. Second, Clinton seems to either have or be developing a tendency to be revisionist about her own history or record if it will keep her from having to take a stand that she might be challenged on. Frankly, that is precisely the behavior we've seen from the current administration.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. She seems to have become more and more slippery lately and the behavior of her campaign has begun to resemble the current administration more and more. From playing both sides of the fence in recent debates, to planting questions in a press conference (and before you believe the claim that she had no idea the question was planted: how did she know to call on that person?).

I'm seeing Hillary as more and more of a washed-out moderate and frankly I've had enough of that in the Democratic party. Apparently, I'm not alone. And the Republicans have the same issue on their side. Giuliani doesn't seem to have anything substantive to say about anything, and his social views and personal life are anathema to most conservatives.

Why isn't a more charismatic figure like Obama or a more qualified candidate like Richardson leading the Dems? Why isn't a true fiscal and social conservative like Huckabee or Paul leading the GOP? Unfortunately, I think we can lay this squarely at the feet of the press and how the campaign is being reported. All we hear is about how much money Giuliani and Clinton have raised, so those are the only names and facts that the public ever hears. Why doesn't the media report on something substantive?

I just don't want to get stuck with Clinton as the inevitable candidate. I want a choice. And I'm worried that if things continue like this we won't get one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Music is My Radar

The missus and I were out to eat tonight, and Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" came on. This song has two very different connotations for us. For me, I want to make fun of it by doing a silly little dance and try to remember the alternate lyrics I've heard for the song. For my wife it reminds her of the elementary school teacher who made her entire class sing his songs.

At any rate, this led to a discussion of musicians who appear to be gay. I assured her that Manilow was straight, although she still has her doubts. The conversation then veered to Liberace, and the inevitable point that anyone who thought Liberace was straight was either clueless, deluded, or both. Bringing things to a more contemporary period, we then discussed Elton John and finally Michael Stipe. Just as we reached this point in the conversation, "Copacabana" ended and to our utter shock "Radio Free Europe" came on.

You just can't make up coincidences like that.

From there the conversation drifted to how, for people of our generation, there isn't really any stigma attached to a performer being gay. When Elton John came out, as far as we were concerned it was no big deal and no big surprise. Michael Stipe was so annoyed that people would even ask that he tried for a long time not to dignify the question with an answer.

But then my wife said that really we are so accepting because of the music we listen to. That is, that we're progressives because we listen to progressive music. I said, "So if I grew up listening to country music, I'd be a Republican?"

Hmm... there might be something to that.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday, Monday

Monday is my night to work. Those of us in public service at the library who work at a location that's open until 9:00 typically work one night each week. At the smaller locations that are open until 8:00 people typically work two nights a week.

Honestly, I'd take the two nights again to not have to work until 9:00.

You wouldn't think that one hour would make a difference, but it does. That hour from 8-9 provides crucial wind-down time. If you get off at 9:00, you don't get unwound until 10 or later, and then you can't really get to bed until 11, which means you're not asleep until 12, and then you have to get up at 6:00 the next morning despite the fact that you've gotten one less hour of sleep than normal.

It sucks.

Another danger of the 9:00 night is that you start at noon. This means that you think you can get all sorts of stuff done before work. That may be true, but you pay the price later when you start crashing around 6 because, well, aren't you supposed to be off work now?

Today was a typical Monday. After getting the stepkid to school I took advantage of the late start to program the new automated bell-ringing system at the church, which took me right up to lunch. Then off to work, but unfortunately it was destined to be one of those "sit in front of the computer all afternoon trying to get work done by e-mail" days. Since I'm normally a fairly energetic person, those sorts of days just take it right out of me.

Then after dinner I get some public time, but since it's Veteran's Day everyone assumes we're closed so the place is dead. So what do I do? Start moving the furniture, of course. Our circulation desk is impossible to work with under our new "let's actually go talk to people instead of sitting behind a desk all day" customer service model. I've been trying to get it arranged better since June. But at least it looks we'll get to remodel next year. In the meantime I'm moving computers and monitors and storage all over the place trying to make it accessible from both sides of the absolutely monolithic desk. Yeah, good luck with that one...

Now I'm back home and I'm tired but too keyed up to go to sleep and I've got a blog entry to write. So you, dear reader, get stuck listening to me complain about it.

Oddly, that makes me feel a little better.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spamalot

Like most major organizations, my library uses a spam filter to keep spam e-mail from even getting to my inbox. However, on the off chance that a real e-mail might get caught, we're sent a digest several times a day of all the spam that's been caught by the filter.

It's absolutely astounding to me how much of this stuff is out there. Each of my digests routinely has 15 blocked e-mails. What I can't figure out is why people keep sending this junk. I mean, even my super-basic, free Mozilla Thunderbird has a spam filter. How many people are still getting fooled by these things?

And of course, who would think these things are real anyway? Who says, "Oh, I just got an e-mail from Kiriharan Loies that says 'May i ask why you're so unhappy with your dick?' I think I'm going to read that." Or who thinks that a subject line that says "Shock action! Vi@gra free! no Money!!" is actually going to send you Viagra for free, even if you do want it?

For a while I thought that maybe people keep sending these things because enough people are stupid enough to open them that it makes it worth their whiles. Now I'm starting to think that it really is only malicious hackers who keep sending it. They really are just trying to make a better virus for the sake of making it, and they don't care who they bring down in the process. I mean, can you imagine how much more bandwidth would be available if there wasn't all this spam floating around?

I have to say though, that these make for some entertaining reading. I haven't seen any of the really good "English is my second language" ones lately; but seeing how many different ways they can suggest that you need a bigger penis, or need viagra, or need software, or stocks, or watches, is fun all on it's own. From "1, 2 oh no 3 orgasms! WOW you can have them too" to "Beat her womb with your new big rod" (ouch!) to "This is not a fly by night company" (if you have to say it...). And of course, the senders. Who can forget Lenore Jackman McCracken? Or Guadalupe Sutherland? Or Devin "Powderpuff" Maldonado?

Maybe if you actually open these things, you deserve what you get...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Random Quote Tag

Caterwauller apparently thinks I've gotten too serious lately and tagged me with the random quote meme. Okay, fine. Maybe I have. I guess I feel like I actually have to say something meaningful for NaBloPoMo, which if you think about it is pretty silly considering the name for a start.

I was going to try for a little more light-hearted piece until I read what I got tagged with, which apparently requires a response. So here's what you have to do: take the book you're currently reading, turn to page 161, and read the 5th sentence. Why that particular sentence? No idea. Maybe it's to ensure that only books of more than 161 pages are included? After that you pass the task on to 5 other bloggers. Wait, do I know 5 bloggers...?

Like most people who work in a library, I'm reading three books right now. First the book that I actually want to be reading, The Savage Garden by Mark Mills. I've actually recommended the book to several people, including the entire city of Columbus, but have yet to finish it myself. Maybe I should stop blogging... Anyway, everyone's said that it's great, so apparently I've mastered the librarian's trick of knowing enough about a book to recommend it without actually reading it. So, page 161, sentence 5: "I'm not screwing her, Harry."

Hmm... better get reading on that one!

Next, the book I started reading when I didn't have The Savage Garden with me at work: The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz. Another promising book that I haven't gotten to yet. ::sigh:: So, page 161, sentence 5: "But maybe he was also ordinary like the rest of us." Not quite as good as the last one. Ah well.

Finally, what I'm reading before I go to bed and am too tired to read a normal book: Gotham Central: Dead Robin, a Batman graphic novel. I grew up as a Marvel kid, so the DC comics always throw me a bit. A friend orders these for me though, and I do enjoy the Vertigo imprint, which is a DC company. So I'm giving some DC a try. Thus far I only really like the Batman ones. So, page 161... well, there's only one sentence on this page, but there are 5 frames, so I'll give you the 5th frame: "...then my husband has died for nothing..." Good note to finish on.

So, on to my fellow bloggers: LARC, Guppybork, The Well-Dressed Librarian himself (maybe now he'll start blogging again instead of typing resumes), and rather than bug some random blogger I'll tag Cat back. I know it seems as though I'm one short, but LARC and Cat have two blogs, so it's really six.

So there.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Are We to Live or Perish Forever?

I've been dimly aware of the history of Pakistan, with most of my knowledge coming from a combination of Gandhi and The Jewel in the Crown. As excellent as both of those works are, Pakistan is treated as somewhat secondary to the story. A sort of, "Oh yeah, this country started too" sidebar in the story of India's independence.

As always, there's more to it than that. Both of those films do a good job of indicating that there was a push for an independent Muslim nation in that area of the world long before the British left. My title today is taken from a seminal work by Choudhary Rahmat Ali written in 1933 describing such a state. A sort of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" for the Indian subcontinent. What is the most remarkable to me is how much sense the essay makes. We have a picture of Gandhi as a sort of Abraham Lincoln figure, desperately trying to hold the nation together. But there really wasn't that much cohesiveness to begin with. Add to that the distrust between Christians and Muslims that had been growing for 500 years and the creation of a Muslim state seems inevitable.

But even from these early days it was clear that this wasn't going to be easy, and that it wasn't going to be handled well. From the massive relocation of people to their separate states, uprooting families and turning half a nation into refugees; to an almost instantaneous war with India and tensions that continue to this day.

Sadly, Pakistan hasn't done much to help itself out through all this. A string of military dictators leading the country spelled by corrupt administrations has left Pakistan as a huge question mark between a highly unstable area and an area that while poor seems to be relatively stable and have opportunities for growth.

The events of 9/11 only complicated the situation, as the United States needed Pakistan's help to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan. This meant relying on the military dictator currently in power. Once the war in Iraq was started, the U.S. effectively had to turn the fight against the Taliban over to the Pakistanis entirely. This may not have been the best decision, given that there is a strong undercurrent of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, and Musharraf came to power through the Islamic parties.

Now Musharraf has again suspended the Constitution and placed the country under an outright military dictatorship. Not only does this spoil any chance of even quasi-democratic elections, it once again opens up the possibility of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan. It also puts us in the awkward yet all too familiar position of supporting a military dictatorship because it supposedly serves the interests of national security. I can't help but wonder if we had focused all our attention on Afghanistan and left Iraq alone, would Musharraf have been in a position to do this now?

At any rate, the purpose of this entry isn't to say anything definitive about the situation, but just to show how important this is. To really begin to understand what is involved in this, I recommend today's commentary on NPR by Mohsin Hamid, as well as his most excellent book The Reluctant Fundamentalist. These are much more dangerous times in Pakistan than you might think.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

In Defense of Cycling II

I was extremely disappointed that after my last impassioned defense of cycling the Tour descended into an even greater morass than in the previous year. But regardless of the mess created by bastards like Rasmussen (Honestly, I really never did like him-- arrogant prick) and misdirected overachievers like Vinokourov, I stand by what I said. I think that Cycling has turned a corner, and that the majority of professional riders are clean.

Unfortunately all you ever hear about are the ones who mess up, and screw up the sport for the rest of us. I've begun to suspect that Fuentes and the other folks involved with the Operation Puerto scandal were targeting pro riders, and that the "papers" that keep turning up with the names of seemingly every single pro rider with a shot at the big time were just Puerto's files on who they wanted to nab. All of this just serves to give the sport a black eye.

But it's still a beautiful sport, and it's still worth preserving and fighting for. I was thrilled to hear Linus Gerdemann vociferously denounce doping after a thrilling stage 7 win in the Tour where he hugged his top tube on the descent from the Col de la Colombiere to minimize every last possible bit of his profile and shave milliseconds off his time.



Gerdemann represents the new generation of cyclists, and I don't doubt that all of them are sick of doping taking away from the glory of their sport.

A couple months ago Bicycling magazine published a wonderful article by David Millar, who had previously been found guilty of doping, served his suspension, and is now back. This article was moving not only as the testament of a reformed doper, but also simply as an homage to the beauty and power of the sport. I was pleased to see that Bicycling has put it on the web, and I sincerely hope that you all might take a moment to read it and maybe begin to understand why some of us are so passionate about the sport.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Close But No Cigar


You can be forgiven if you missed the blip in the news cycle late yesterday regarding the greatest debate that never happened in the Senate. Republicans very nearly forced the Senate to a debate on whether or not to impeach Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Amazingly enough, the event that I mentally refer to as "Liberation" was foiled at the last minute by the party that I have been for some time assuming shares my interests, namely the Democrats. Here I was merrily voting along, thinking that the Democrats were a) liberal, b) opposed to the Bush White House, and c) not idiots, when suddenly they ran from the very debate I've been itching for.

I suppose I could be charitable and think that since this wasn't on their terms maybe they didn't think they'd have enough time to put a case together. But in my heart of hearts I know that's not the case. I know that they just don't have the politcal cojones to force this administration to face its sins. Yet again the Republicans were able to run the table. Even the White House jumped on the opportunity to make it look like the Senate was avoiding "real" work while talking about impeachment. Never mind the fact that in reality it's this administration's pigheaded determination to not budge from its positions that is keeping "real" work from getting done.

I can't help but wonder if this is really what the framers of the Constitution thought would happen if it came to impeachment. Did they realize that the political repercussions around impeachment would be so severe that it would only be pursued in the worst possible case? Or did they fail to realize that the message could be spun against the party seeking impeachment in such a way as to render the tool meaningless?

Debating the impeachment of this reckless, stubborn, ill-informed, deceptive, misleading, and close-minded administration should be a priority for this congress. As much as I look forward to January 20th, 2009, I would have hoped we could make it come sooner.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Write Off

So as we all tuned in to John Stewart, expecting to hear the requisite jokes about Election- Day-tomorrow-but-we're-not- voting-for-president-yet, instead we hear "Happy Halloween!"

That's right, the Writer's Guild of America is on strike, and so we head into the barren wasteland that is reruns. That's okay with me though. I'm a big fan of Unions generally, and in this case the writers are definitely getting shafted.

Writers have always been the red-headed stepchild of the motion picture industry. In reality nothing gets done without them, but for some reason studios have always treated writers as essentially unnecessary. I think that the majority of studio heads figure that worst case scenario they can yank someone off the street to slap together their latest project.

This is really a very strange attitude, though, and seems to me to be a fairly recent development. Prior to the arrival of motion pictures, writers were definitely the most important part of any production. At the end of a successful play, the crowd doesn't chant "Producer! Producer!" or even "Director! Director!" No, they chant "Author! Author!" We all remember William Shakespeare's name, but who knows the name of the Lord Chamberlain who was the troupe's sponsor?

For some reason with the advent of motion pictures suddenly the producers and directors were thrust to the front. Have you ever wondered who those schmucks were who got up to accept the Best Picture award at the Oscars? Those are the producers of the film. Essentially, the bankroll. Even the Best Director gets his award closer to the end than the writers. But without the script there wouldn't have been anything to direct or produce! Why do they get all the glory?

And now the writers are getting shafted again as the industry changes. Just like the music industry, motion pictures can't figure out what to do with the Internet. All that anyone seems certain of is that there's money to be made, and the studios don't want to cut the writers in on it.

But if the writers can't make their money through the industry, maybe they'll start self-producing. I think the main reason producers became so important was that it used to be really expensive to produce a professional-looking film. Now there are lots of quality films that are being produced for (relatively) little. If the writers can make as much or more working for themselves as for the studios, they'll do it.

All of this brings to mind the origins of the industry. One of the earliest motion picture cameras was invented by Thomas Edison. Edison was extremely possessive of his inventions, and held many patents and rights to the technology that he exercised with an iron fist around his home base of New York. Because of the excessive fees he charged for use of his patents, many early filmmakers sought somewhere they could make their films away from Edison's influence. Hollywood provided that refuge. Note that New York is no longer considered the center of the film making universe.

So I'm with you, my brothers! Stand fast against the Hollywood Hegemony!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Protest Song

My uncle was in college in the late 60's, and did the whole college-protest thing. He had a VW microbus and was in a rock band that actually pressed a 45. I've still got a copy around here somewhere. When I was in college in the early 90's and there was something of a garage-band revival going on I played it for my cohorts at the college radio station, and the music director liked the cut so much that we actually put it on rotation and got it charted in our listing with CMJ.

Sadly, we're once again stuck in a nowhere war that no one seems to know how to stop. So it's time to bring back the protest song. My uncle rewrote the lyrics to that A-side cut, and my cousin who's in video production put together a video for it.

The cool part to me is that since the song is so clearly 60's in style this sounds like an old-school protest song. So, props to Chris and Mark, and I hope the rest of you enjoy it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hizzoner

Election Day is Tuesday, and while the rest of the nation focuses on an election that will take place a year from now, we here in Cowtown actually have some stuff to vote on, namely City Council, the School Board, and the Mayor.

Our School Board is run by a bunch of very well-meaning people, some of whom I've met and most of whom I like. My problems with the city's schools lie much more at the feet of the State than the District. Now, maybe they could be doing more, but I don't think anyone else is in a position to do more than those who currently hold the seats. So that's a no-brainer.

Similarly, City Council by and large does a decent job. About the only thing they could do better would be to abolish themselves and go to Ward representation. But again, in the current state, the folks who are there are doing a good job so I'll keep them in place.

As you can see, I'm not overly enthused about those races. My attitude is basically "eh." However Mayor Mike Coleman is a great guy. And he's doing a great job. On top of that his opponent, Bill Todd, is one of the biggest assholes I've ever seen in politics. His mere presence in the campaign is dragging absolutely everything down and stressing out the residents of this city. In the old days, I would've led the group to tar and feather him and ride him out of town on a rail.

What's he done? Well, for a start he can't say enough about how horrible the schools are. First, he's not running for the school board. Second, the schools aren't horrible, they're underfunded and suffering from bad press like what Todd's spewing. Finally, he owns a stake in a company that runs charter schools, which are essentially competing with the public schools (and still doing a crappy job of educating kids).

As if that wasn't bad enough, he's been spouting about how dangerous Columbus is (Please see yesterday's post for my views on this matter). However, he really took this to new heights with a radio ad featuring the the sound of a woman being raped while talking about how Columbus' rape rate is highest in the nation. Utterly tactless, offensive, and completely ignores the possibility that Columbus' stats are high because we actually report accurately.

Then on the other hand we have Mike Coleman. I was out with a bunch of friends at a spot in the Short North last night when we hear, "Excuse me, I just wanted to say 'hi,'" and turn around to see Mayor Coleman stopping by to chat. Yes, I know it's campaigning, and yes I saw his handler standing right behind me. But he stopped and talked to us, and one of my friends who chairs a political action group engaged him for a bit about what the mayor's already done for them.

I assume Bill Todd was out looking for rapes to record.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Fire Fox



I really hate Fox News. No, REALLY hate. And I try not hate anyone or anything. There is very little in the world that I hate. Fox News is one of the few.

I know, this seething, blinding rage that boils in my blood for Rupert Murdoch and all things Fox-y is extremely un-Christian. And I will pray for forgiveness on Sunday. But for now, I hate Fox News. There is something about blindly reporting whatever opinions support your world view as fact that makes me mad. But this? This is right up there with Jerry Falwell blaming 9/11 on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians": totally invented and designed only to scare the bejeezus out of people.

Ever since I saw Bowling for Columbine I've been hyper-aware of the tendency of news, especially local news, to focus on the horrific instead of the informative. And every May and November every report that begins "Your child may be in danger" sets my teeth on edge.

By and large we live in a safe society. The things that we really should fear are poverty, racism, and the loss of civil liberties. But instead for whatever inane reason we focus on kids killing kids, drugs, pedophiles, break-ins, and terrorists. C'mon people! 3,000 people died in 9/11. Over 40,000 people die each year in car accidents. Why are we so obsessed with terrorists?

Or maybe all the bad drivers who cause fatal accidents are terrorists! That's it! They're going to burn down California and kill of the rest of us with bad driving! Quick, call Dick Cheney! We've got to invade Detroit!

Friday, November 2, 2007

What Street Do YOU Live On?

From this week's The Other Paper:

Ah, dear old Columbus. We've got a substantial enough Gay community near downtown that the presence of an actual "Gay Street" in downtown Columbus is always cause for amusement. Nevermind that the street was named for some family named Gay. You can even take it further and point out that Gay Street is the East-West street between Broad and Long.

Just so you know I'm not making this up:


My favorite of all time though, was when someone called into a local radio station's rapid-fire "Taking Calls" segment (basically people call in and spout nonsense for 5 seconds) and said "I was standing at the corner of Gay and High, and I thought to myself, 'Yes I am!'"

Thursday, November 1, 2007

We Are the Champions

Okay, I admit it. I postponed this post until today so it would count for NaBloPoMo.

That's right folks, the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions for the second time in 3 years. Sure beats 86 years. But it really was a lot different this time. In 2004 I stayed up to watch every game of the Pennant and the Series, sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time. This time (admittedly because I had a couple very busy weeks) I couldn't stay up past the bottom of the 8th for games 2-4. In 2004 I called my brother and my Dad after both the Pennant win and the Series win (I couldn't get through to Boston after the Series win in 2004). This time I still haven't checked in to talk about the games.

So I've been trying to figure out why. Is it because the 2007 team was so much better than the 2004 team, so that victory seems inevitable? Is it because we didn't have to fight the Yankees for the Pennant? Is it because the NL West was so atrocious that there was no doubt that the AL team would win, whoever it was?

An NPR story made a good point. Kids in their early teens now only know the Sox as winners. They don't have the backstory of my generation, watching Clemens' wild pitches leading to his benching and the inevitable slow roller down the first base line. They don't have the disappointment of game 7 in the 1975 series or Bucky Dent's homer 3 years later from the generation before. So the long trial is over. We're just another team now.

Well, not really. I still love the team for the stories, the players past and present, and of course the beloved park. No other park is like Fenway, and no other park will ever be like Fenway. Only at Fenway can you be sure that the entire crowd will rise not just for the last strike of the game, but for a significant strike in the middle of the game. No other park will give the recognition of a good play that goes against our team (grudging though it may be). And no other park has all the wonderful nooks, crannies, and big-ass wall that make for so many interesting plays.

Postscript: The Onion had not one, but two great stories about the series. First, in the "laugh out loud" category:

Second in the "what the fuck was he thinking?" category:

I was completely pissed off when the Yankees stole A-Rod out from under the Red Sox in 2004, but given his behavior since we are well rid of him. This last stunt is just one more thing proving what a self-centered bastard he (or at least his agent) is.