Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays Wish to All

(Crossposted from the Gypsy Librarian)

Well folks, my family and I will be taking some days for the holiday season. As a very small parting gift, I would like to leave readers with a few things:

The legalistic holiday greeting. This is what your lawyer friends might send. It comes from the Super's Blog:

From Your Lawyer Friends:

"Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher."

Otherwise, however you choose to celebrate the season, be it religious or secular, may you have a wonderful time with loved ones, some great moments to relax, gather your thoughts and reload the batteries, and may you celebrate in peace and safety.

Tomorrow evening, my wife and daughter will be baking cookies, and we will finish decorating the tree. Yes, you read that right, we are not quite done decorating the tree. Actually, we did not quite realize what happens when you have two kittens that have never been around a Christmas tree before. Last year, sans cats, we put the tree up pretty early in the month. This time, we took a cautious route, and we put the tree up first without any decorations, just to let the cats, Autumn and Isis, get used to it. Oh, they are used to it alright. They run around it, chase each other, hide under it, knock it over, and now and then take nips at the branches. We just pick up the tree and try again. Tomorrow evening we are decorating it. We always bake a batch of cookies because you have to leave cookies out for Santa. We already bought the Coke because Santa prefers a cold non-alcoholic beverage (he is driving after all) other than milk. We just figure we give the nice man a break at our apartment. The tradition is we leave one of those small holiday bottles Coke puts out around this time with some homemade cookies. The reindeer also get some carrots.

On Christmas Eve, we will be tracking Santa thanks to NORAD. Yes, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, that NORAD. Every year they set up a Santa Tracker to track the fastest object in the sky. The site is accessible in 6 languages, including English, and the Santa Tracker has been on the Internet since 1998. If readers go to the English section under downloads, they can download their really cool promotional video. There is a 30 second, and a 60 second version. I like the 60 second one best. The site also explains how they exactly track Santa throughout the evening from using satellites to scrambling an escort of jet fighters once Santa hits North American airspace. You can also read about the Santa Cam. The site also features other games and features that children of all ages will enjoy. Our daughter is always thrilled and checking every hour to see where Santa has moved.

On Christmas Day, after presents, we'll head up to Fort Worth to see family. That is when we will be offline for a few days. This will be my brother's first Christmas at his family's new house, so I am sure we will have a very nice celebration. We are also hoping to go see an exhibit at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas: "Santos de Palo from Puerto Rico." It is an exhibit of the wood carved saints from Puerto Rico now visiting the city. Find some small details here. Another page, this one from Valparaiso University's Brauer Museum of Art has a quick description of the art form here. Growing up in Puerto Rico, we actually knew some of the artisans known as santeros and attended their encuentros ("encounters," arts festivals). Maybe someday I will write a short essay on those experiences. In the meantime, the opportunity to see a collection of these works is one we can hardly pass up. If we make it, I will let readers know.

Finally, for readers who enjoy facts, the Census Bureau does have a press release with various facts about the holiday season here. For example, did you know that 20 billion is the number of letters, packages and cards delivered by the United States Postal Service between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We did manage to send out our Christmas cards nice and early this year.

So, for our Spanish speaking friends, "Feliz Navidad."
For others, "Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy Holidays (in case I missed anyone)."

Hope to see everyone again next year.

On a final note, we are about to close the library. My campus will be closed starting tomorrow and all of next week. As we are about to close, a mom with her children who was using one of our computers comes to the desk and asks me if we are about to close. When I say yes, in about ten minutes, the toddler starts crying. I guess that's not the answer he wanted to hear.

A List of Five Things I Wish I Knew in High School

I found this one through the Carnival of Education-Winter Hibernation Edition. Scott Elliot, of Get on the Bus, has a list of "Five Things I Wish I Knew in High School." The items in brief are:
  1. Math matters.
  2. Foreign language is a great skill to learn.
  3. Effort is important.
  4. You can change.
  5. Try to stay at your first job for three years.
This is a good little list. Please go over to Scott's blog and read the full entry. He explains in detail why these things are significant. Readers may want to consider if they would add other items to the list.

Cool,. . . uh. . . so I am what again?

It's not quite Friday, but since we are closing campus after today for Winter break, I am putting the quiz in today. Yes, I took another quiz. Allegedly this quiz measures how well I fit into a sex role. Apparently I am either the most undecisive guy around, or I just don't fit anywhere. Or, this is just one cool result (hey, who said I had to fit in anywhere? I am a librarian after all. We go everywhere and do almost everything). I am going with cool, as I did score high on both sides, and since it plays along with the fact I like being in the middle of things, you know, the whole mediator thing? At any rate, I found the test after Mark of . . .the thoughts are broken. . . took it. He claims he was robbed at birth. He links to other people who took it, and their responses are interesting as well. Anyhow, go have some fun and try it out yourself. Here are my results:

You scored 66 masculinity and 60 femininity!

You scored high on both masculinity and femininity. You have a strong
personality exhibiting characteristics of both traditional sex roles.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 61% on masculinity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 47% on femininity
Link: The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Article Note: On Nationalism and Beer in South Africa

Citation for the article:

Mager, Ann. "'One Beer, One Goal, One Nation, One Soul:' South African Breweries, Heritage, Masculinity, and Nationalism 1960-1999." Past and Present 188 (August 2005): 163-194.

I read the article via Project Muse.

African History is not an area of knowledge that I am strong at. What little I know comes from coursework in post-colonial studies in graduate school and from personal reading. However, I do try to know enough to be well informed. I previously read an article on U.S. involvement in Africa, so this seemed to go along as well. I will admit also that an article with "beer" on the title is something likely to catch my attention. As I began reading about South Africa's liquor monopolies and apartheid, and how South African Breweries (SAB, now SABMiller) was able to use the consequences of apartheid to its advantage, I found that I had some interesting reading ahead of me. The author says that the article "focuses on how beer advertising created brand identities, which influenced and responded to wider social and political changes" (165). This article then looks at advertising in terms of how advertising creates signs out of social values, which it then sells with the product, in this case beer. "Advertising then provides a structure through which goods and consumers become interchangeable, so that in place of the product--beer--it encourages the consumption of signs such as success, status or powerful male physicality" according to Mager (167). The idea behind looking at advertising this way is to gain insights on the society itself by looking at the context of the advertising as well as as the ads themselves and the times.

For SAB, advertising took off with the lifting in 1962 of a prohibition on selling European beer and liquor to African Blacks. Thus began the campaigns to create branding, brand awareness and appeal to consumers. And where did SAB learn its advertising strategies? In the good old U.S. of A. Mager writes, "the marketing managing director was sent to Harvard, where he learned how advertising could establish brand identities and generate brand recognition" (169-170). The company learned to "'talk about the beer itself;' portray sociability as the prime reason for drinking; and focus strongly on men's sporting activity" (170). It does sound awfully familiar to a casual reader like me.

It is interesting to note that the advertising was targeted to men; targeting women came later. Women initially could not be targeted due to morals and apartheid regulations. Unlike ads in the U.S., women were not shown drinking with men. By the way, I am mostly referring to White men and women. Advertising to Blacks came later. So, how did SAB overcome this issue about women? Mager provides the answer telling us that "to overcome ideological barriers and introduce the idea that female drinking was acceptable, the SAB produced a series of 'educational' advertisements whose aim was to turn social anxiety about female drinking into desire. Women beer drinkers were portrayed as companionable, intelligent and capable of female self-control" (172). All of this, and it still managed to sustain the manly male images of beer. The ads basically complemented the beer's manly image for the men drinkers. Manger explains further that "the advertisements affirmed that women's drinking was for male pleasure, took place under male control, and legitimized male drinking. Women drinkers were positioned in space that overlapped with those of men--the relaxed outdoor environment of the home, the swimming pool and the patio--reinforcing femininity as an adjuct to male sociability" (173). It must be noted that women were segregated in their own ladies' bars, so getting them out of that setting into something more respectable was part of the campaign as well.

In addition, SAB learned how to market their beers in the African townships through the shebeens (the illegal drinking spots) for Blacks. The company also had to deal with issues such as sports, which were segregated due to the apartheid rules. What emerges is an image of the nation and its historical moment through the advertising. It also reveals adaptability and ingenuity on the part of the beer company.

Once apartheid formally ended in 1994, the branding and advertising really took off, especially in soccer. However, while many ads portrayed multiculturalism, the notion of two markets, one for Whites and one for Blacks, survived. In conclusion, Mager writes that "in showing how a powerful firm seized opportunities in a period of volatile politics and unstable markets, this study adds to our understanding of the development of capitalism in South Africa" (194). This is a comprehensive article that shows not only the history of SAB but also a part of South African history as well.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Booknote: Identity Crisis

Title: Identity Crisis
Author: Brad Meltzer. Penciller: Rags Morales. Inker: Michael Bair
Publication Information: New York: DC Comics, 2005
ISBN: 1-4012-0688-3
Genre: Graphic Novel/Comics
Subgenre: Adventure/Fantasy/Superheroes

This is a compilation of a DC series of the same title. I did not know much about the author other than he was a writer of mystery thrillers. Well, this shows in the book. When the wife of the Elongated Man, a member of the Justice League, is murdered, it puts the rest of the superheroes on alert. It seems the killer knows their identities, and as result, knows who their loved ones are. The book reads like a thriller where readers are hooked wondering who is the killer until the very end. Like a good thriller, you have twists, and it is the person one least expects. In this regard, it is a very engaging book. However, the book is also engaging in the portrayal of the superheroes, for the murders are not the only element unraveling. Secrets from the past come to haunt them as well, and some decisions made in the past are now catching up to them. Some of the members have been keeping secrets from the others. It involves a moral choice. All I will say is a paraphrase from a line in the book: never understimate what others may do for the sake of those they love. The strength of this book, according to some critics I have read, is in the portrayal of the heroes as human beings. I think this is extremely accurate. For all their powers, they are vulnerable and moved like any other person. This is very well presented in the book.

The art on this graphic novel is excellent. It's not just the portrayals of the heroes and the settings. It is the use of light and shadows. The choice of what details to emphasize and which details to leave to the imagination. The art is another reason to buy this book, but when you combine it with the story created by Meltzer, you have an excellent book. I read it in two nights, and only because I started reading it late the first night. I think that fans of DC Comics will approve of this book. I will warn that for some readers who have not read DC Comics for a while, the fact that the heroes have evolved over time (in terms of generations, and so on) may throw people off a bit. For instance, keeping track of the current Flash as opposed to the one he succeeded. Since the heroes often refer to each other by first name, given that they know each other, it may throw casual readers off briefly. However, since the story is so engaging, you can catch up in no time. I know I did. It may make you want to seek out other stories and comics as a result. I probably will. I will probably reread this one soon as well.

The compilation includes a gallery of various covers that were used for the comics during the various printings. It also includes a section with commentary by the author and the artist in which they go over their favorite scenes. For those interested in the art, how it is done and how it works, this is a good read. I found it very interesting, and it allowed me to appreciate the story better.

Public libraries with graphic novel collections will definitely want to buy this one for their collections. I would venture to say that some academic libraries with popular culture collections may want to grab a copy as well. This is one I highly recommend.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I am Big Bird, What is Your Sesame Street Persona?

As a kid, I grew up with Sesame Street. I have to note that I watched two versions. On the English channel back in Puerto Rico, they ran the version we know in the U.S. However, one of the local Spanish channels ran the version from Mexico, which, while it still had the muppets we know in skits, the neighborhood was very different. For instance, instead of Oscar, the grouch character was a parrot named Paco. At any rate, Sesame Street always brings me fond memories, as I am sure it continues to do for many children, even if Cookie Monster had to go on a diet (cookies are a sometime snack? what the heck?). Thus, I could not resist this quiz. So, here are my results then. These results are brought to you by the letter A, and the number 5:

Big Bird
You scored 70% Organization, 75% abstract, and 62% extroverted!
This test measured 3 variables.

First, this test measured how organized you are. Some muppets like Cookie Monster make big messes, while others like Bert are quite anal about things being clean.

Second, this test measured if you prefer a concrete or an abstract viewpoint. For the purposes of this test, concrete people are considered to gravitate more to mathematical and logical approaches, whereas abstract people are more the dreamers and artistic type.

Third, this test measured if you are more of an introvert or an extrovert.
By definition, an introvert concentrates more on herself and an
extrovert focuses more on others. In this test an introvert was
somebody that either tends to spend more time alone or thinks more
about herself.

You are very organized, more abstract, and both introverted and extroverted.

Here is why are you Big Bird.

You are both very organized. You almost always
know where your belongings are and you prefer things neat. You may even
enjoy cleaning and find it therapeutic. Big Bird is never sloppy and
always under control... pretty good for a 6 year old bird living
without a family.

You both are abstract thinkers. Big Bird is a dreamer who always
wonders what the world is like. You definitely are not afraid to take
chances in life. You only live once. You may notice others around you
playing it safe, but you are more concerned with not compromising your
desires, and getting everything you can out of life. This is a very
romantic approach to life, but hopefully you are also grounded enough
to get by.

You are both somewhat extroverted. Like Big Bird, you probably like to
have some time to yourself, but you do appreciate spending time with
your friends, and you aren't scared of social situations. Big Bird is
always very comfortable around others, but he often prefers the quiet
low-key presence that Snuffleupagus provides.

The other possible characters are

Oscar the Grouch





Kermit the Frog


Cookie Monster

Guy Smiley

The Count

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 83% on Organization
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 97% on concrete-abstra
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 60% on intro-extrovert
Link: The Your SESAME STREET Persona Test written by greencowsgomoo on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Booknote: Don't Eat This Book

Title: Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Super Sizing of America
Author: Morgan Spurlock
Publication Information: New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2005
ISBN: 0-399-15260-1
Genre: Nonfiction

Morgan Spurlock went on a 30 day diet where all he ate was McDonald's food to prove the bad effects of fast food on people. He documents his experience in the documentary Super Size Me. The book provides a follow-up to that film, but it also gives more information and facts on the harmful effects of fast food and on the rising waistlines of Americans. The book combines facts, some figures, and a good amount of humor to make its point. The back contains extensive notes to show that everything stated is documented. The fast food companies, especially McDonald's, do not fare well in this book. Spurlock discusses everything from where the food comes from to the advertising campaigns. He discusses at length how children are targeted by these companies, and while it can be argued that parents should have a better role in educating their children on how to eat healthy, what Spurlock demonstrates is that parents find themselves in an uneven playing field.

The book also discusses the role of the American government, which pretty much is non-existent since Spurlock demonstrates that agencies like the FDA safeguard the interests of big food companies and not the consumers. For those readers concerned about schools, Spurlock talks about how schools have allowed fast food companies to run their food services with detrimental results to students health. Add to this the removal of physical activities like P.E. due to finding cuts and the fact that the food companies pay well for running those food services, and the results are clear.

This is a book that may make readers feel angry. For some, it may mean they will not want to eat fast food again, especially once they realize where it comes from. For others, it may spur them to at least try to modify their eating habits or get some exercise. For those who have not seen the film, Spurlock gives details of how he did on his physical exams before and after the experience. His health suffered considerably. This is a book that every person should be reading, and hopefully, it may spur them to do a bit more to take care of themselves. I certainly know I could do better, so it has given something to think about. It is highly recommended. It is very engaging, and Spurlock is a good writer who catches your attention. I could not put this book down.

Similar books:
  • Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2002). By the way, Spurlock makes various references to this book as well as others.
  • Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting By in America (2001). This is not about food, but I think readers of the Spurlock book may find topics like the ones Ehrenreich discusses of interest as well.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Scholars from abroad not welcome here. Meanwhile, we barely educate our own children.

Back in June of 2005, I made a small note on a couple of stories from the Chronicle of Higher Education about foreign scholars and students. At the time, I did it as a kind of light post, since the stories' gist was about how there was concern foreign students in the sciences might have access to lab equipment. This was due to a proposal from the Bush Administration to restrict access to foreign scholars to equipment deemed sensitive. While I am not insensitive to security concerns, the issue seemed a bit ridiculous to me at the time because that story was interposed with another story urging the recruitment of more foreign scholars. Later, in October 2005, again starting from a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I pointed to a story about how many foreign students are choosing Australia as a destination for their higher education needs. The concern from the story was, and still is, that the United States is not perceived as a place that welcomes foreign students and scholars. I also pulled together some articles to illustrate what the Chronicle piece was pointing out. The articles pointed out how students applying for visas often faced humiliation and other hardships in order to come and study in the United States. So, that was then.

I recently came across this link from Docuticker to white paper sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Find the paper itself as a PDF here. This paper is entitled "Security Controls on the Access of Foreign Scientists and Engineers to the United States." I saw the item on Docuticker, and I recalled the little pieces I wrote a while back. It just seemed timely. The paper brings up the concerns about making it more difficult for students and scholars from abroad to enter the United States. Now, some people may look at this and wonder, so what?

"When prospective students cannot readily obtain visas to attend U.S. universities, world-class universities in other countries--with the help of visa systems that are simpler, less restrictive, and more predictable--will successfully compete for them. When foreign scientists cannot readily attend conferences, participate in collaborative research, or visit professional colleagues in the United States, U.S. researchers will have a difficult time staying competitive. And when corporations cannot readily bring suppliers, customers, or foreign employees to visit U.S.-based facilities, they will move those facilities abroad. Any of these outcomes harms U.S. economic and scientific interests immediately, and all of them will harm U.S. security in the long run" (1-2).

Some people may say that we can always get our own scholars here. Well, back in October, I mentioned that this was not as easy as it sounded given recent reports that students in the United States are not very interested in math and sciences and that the number of majors in computer sciences was decreasing. To illustrate, I highlighted a CNet News for April 22, 2005 story that discusses a report from the Computing Research Association. The report cited by CNet says, "the percentage of incoming undergraduates indicating they would major in computer science declined by more than 60 percent between the fall of 2004, and is now 70 percent lower than it was during its peak in the early 1980s." In addition, the report from the CSIS adds a few reasons why this may be important:
  • "In 2003, foreign students earned 58.9% of the engineering doctorates awarded in the United States."
  • "More than one-third of US Nobel laureates are foreign-born."
  • "Nearly half the doctorate-lever staff at the National Institutes of Health campus are foreign nationals, as are 58% of the postdoctoral, research, and clinical fellows" (5).
Now, no one is arguing that the borders should be left wide open to let anyone in without any safety measures. The argument is to make the security procedures more streamlined, fair, consistent, and to work on conveying the message that the U.S. does welcome scholarship and learning from other parts of the world. This not only benefits its interests, but it also enhances the U.S. image abroad, which as of late has suffered significantly.

The paper argues that foreign scholars provide a very significant contribution to the United States' interests. They help the U.S. stay competitive, and they help the U.S. communicate its values to others around the world. The report provides a series of recommendations to address the issue. However, it also warns that the U.S. has to take significant steps to improve its image around the world. According to the report, "eliminating roadblocks and delays from the U.S. visa system will not improve this nation's ability to engage with foreign scientists and engineers if the perception remains that these problems have not been addressed" (13). It's basic public relations. On another note, for readers interested in the topic, the report also provides a summary of current rules that affect the visa process and explains the different levels of screening.

The paper cites a joint statement by leading scholarly associations on visa problems. In part, they expressed in the statement that "'the United States cannot hope to maintain its present scientific and and economic leadership position if it becomes isolated from the rest of the world'"(8). And yet, this seems to be exactly what is happening as "Americans are Tuning Out the World." I got this through YaleGlobal Online. The article draws on poll data to show how Americans have gradually and systematically become more isolationist over time. Even with the operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, it is common knowledge that a lot of people in the United States do not even have any idea where these places are at, let alone the significance of such bellicose campaigns. However, what the article points out is the fact that Americans take for granted that the rest of the world has learned or learns about the U.S., so the U.S. has no need to learn about the rest of the world. This includes less travel abroad by Americans as well as less students in the U.S. studying any foreign languages.

I think a better illustration of how this isolationism is a problem is to look at American classrooms. The Education Wonks, a teacher blog, recently posted an entry regarding "America's kids and two days of infamy." What he found is that a whole generation at war does not even have an idea of why the nation is at war in the first place. While 34 students present could recognize the name of Osama Bin Ladin, not one of them could connect him to Al-Qaida or even knew what Al-Qaida was. The context was an introductory unit on Islam required in California schools. These are 8th graders, and he does grant that the attacks ocurred when they were 3rd graders. However, I urge readers to think about this. This is the generation that will inherit what we leave for them. If you look at the children of December 7th, 1944 (years after the Pearl Harbor attack), I think it is a safe bet that they knew why the U.S. was at war and with who. The contrast should be one to concern us. Wonks writes, "I find it very sad that there is a whole generation of young Americans who are growing-up without any knowledge of this "war," why we are in it as a nation, and for what so many of members of our armed forces are sacrificing life and limb." And yet, this seems to be exactly what is happening. Add to this the lowering of science standards around the nation. Add to this the issue discussed already about collaborating with scholars from other parts of the world, and the picture gets worse. Fear, ignorance, some racism, and an attitude of indifference mean that the U.S. is in serious jeopardy of holding onto its leadership position. Opportunities are lost as the rest of the world is alienated by a nation that prefers to bully its way around than to learn and collaborate with others. These issues will not go away, and they need to be addressed. Now, getting to this point did not happen overnight, and the solutions will not come overnight either. It is necessary for the U.S. to get its head out of the sand, to seriously invest in the education of its own children, and to work on mending the bridges burned by pre-emption.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What kind of humanist am I?

Must be Friday, so it's time for a quiz. Well, it's fun anyways now and then. Hmm, as for this quiz, I knew I had a streak in this area, but did I did not think it was that big of a streak. At any rate, the questions are interesting, and I do wonder what other options they offered. I got the quiz from Pharyngula. My results below then:


You are an atheist, a rationalist, a believer in the triumph of science and of reason over libido. You can’t stand mumbo jumbo, ritual, spiritual nonsense of any kind, and you refuse to allow for these longings in others.

Astrologers, Scientologists and new–age crystal ball creeps are no different in your view from priests, rabbis and imams. They’re all just weak–minded pilgrims on the road to easy answers. Nature as revealed by science is awesome enough for you, but it’s a nature that needs curbing and taming by us on our evolutionary journey to perfection.

Your heros are Einstein, Darwin, Marx and — these days — Gould, Blakemore, Watson, Crick and Rosalind Franklin. Could you be hiding a little behind those absolutist views, worried that, if you let in a few doubts and contradictory ideas, the whole edifice might crumble? Loosen up a bit and try to enjoy the amazing variety of human belief systems. Don’t worry — it’s unlikely you’ll end up chanting your days away in some distant mountain cult.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

Booknote: Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders

Title: Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour
Author: Josh Peter
Publication Information: Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2005
ISBN: 1-59486-119-6
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Sports
Pages: 238

What little I knew about bull riders I pretty much caught watching television. I have been caught flipping channels and watching the OLN broadcasts of bull riding competitions. Therefore, when I came across this book, I was curious, and I picked it up. I am glad I did. Josh Peter spent a year with the PBR Tour, getting to know the riders and their stories as well as the politics and folklore of the PBR organization. In the process, he is on a quest to find a deep fried twinkie, a treat in some concession stands at fairs and other events.

This book is a moving and at times humorous account of the lives of the riders and other people involved in the PBR. By other people, I mean the contractors who provide the bulls, the safety people who distract the bulls to keep riders safe (formerly the rodeo clowns, but they do not wear white faces or clown outfits anymore), the administrators and officers of the PBR, the fans, and the buckle bunnies, who are the groupies that follow the riders. We also learn about the bulls themselves, and they are as important to the event as the riders. You can't have one without the other. In fact, the bulls compete for a Bull of the Year Award, which nets some financial bonuses for the owner. The riders compete for a one million dollar purse and the championship buckle, but it is a long and arduous journey to even get to the finals.

The book is interesting and engaging. It gives good details of the events and the rides, and it also tells the stories of the riders in the tour. Riders from around the world come to the United States to compete in the PBR: Brazilians, Australians, and Canadians amongst others. They compete out of passion. Some compete out of college; others never went to college. When compared to other sports, the pay is extremely poor, and the risks are extremely high. Risks range from bad injuries to paralysis to even death. Peters provides details of the various injuries the riders endure, and very often the riders ride with lesions or injuries. The details are so good that at times readers may flinch in pain. As for the riders, they are all looking for a good 8 second ride. I learned in reading this book that 8 seconds may not be a long time, but it can be an eternity for the riders as they strive to stay on their bulls. What emerges from the narrative is a very human portrait of these folks from the riders who are very spiritual to the ones who are, shall we say, more worldly. We also get a glimpse at their families and what they endure as the riders chase their dreams. Often they have to pay out of their pocket to travel to the competitions, and if they do not win, they barely make enough to make it to the next event.

This is one of the best books in nonfiction I have read this year. Readers do not have to be fans or even know much about professional bull riding to enjoy it. However, I think that people who do follow the PBR will likely enjoy this book as they read about stars like Justin McBride, Mike Lee, and Jody Newberry. It has a good pace, so the book moves along. Before you know it, you are done. As for the fried twinkies, he did find them, in a very interesting place.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On Tattoos and Literature

Through Mark Lindner's . . .the thoughts are broken. . ., a link to an article in The Believer on the art of tattoos and its literary connections. The article tells the story of Shelley Jackson, a writer who is writing a 2,095 word story one word at a time as tattoos on various people who agree to carry one of the words. Talk about carrying a text, and indeed they will be the ones carrying the text. In fact, the story, "Skin," will not be published on paper, and only the carriers will read it. I have to admit that it made me think of the living books in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Of course, one has to also think of Bradbury's The Illustrated Man in this kind of discussion, and the article's author, Margot Mifflin, does so. The article looks at how tattoos and body marking has been present in literature in various forms and the symbolism in various cases. The article also tells the story of tattoos from early America to today, where middle class women are actually the fastest growing tattoo demographic in America, according to Mifflin. I think what is fascinating is what the tattoos say both about the people who wear them as well as those who gaze at them. Also, what does the art itself say or signify? The article is definitely a very interesting read and worth a look.

P.S. For those who are curious, no, I do not have any tattoos, but I do find them fascinating, in large measure because of what people choose to have inscribed on their bodies, and it is an inscription, using oneself as a canvas to express something, whether whimsy or something more profound. Would I get one? I don't know if I could shock my mother (haha), though since one of my brothers already has some, I am sure the shock would be less. On a serious note, who knows. I am not one to say never.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Public Service Information for Guys, or "Hey, check yourself out now and then."

I am very aware of the need for women to conduct a breast self-exam to help detect cancer early. My awareness comes in large part from being married and having a daughter; they are the women in my life. However, I don't often think about taking care of myself as often as I should, so I am using this as a reminder to other guys and myself. From Pharyngula, a reminder for guys to now and then do a testicle self-exam. Apparently 25 to 35 is a prime time for guys to develop this type of cancer. So, get some information on how to do it here along with other links for information. It should be done once a month. Ladies and significant others, you can help the guy in your life check if need be (and viceversa). Other sources for information include:
And since I mentioned breast cancer, a good public service post then would not be complete without some resources in that topic as well:
Keep in mind, these are just some selected resources, and that if you do find something, you should consult your physician. Of the resources listed above, I found the Medline pages to provide the most information in one place, well organized, and it also had some links to resources in Spanish, for our Spanish reading friends. Take care of yourselves and each other, as Jerry would say (yes, that Jerry).

Booknote: Marijuana for Dopes

Title: Marijuana for Dopes: A Pop Culture History of Cannabis
Author: Joseph Romain
Publication Information: Toronto: Warwick Publishing Inc., 2001
ISBN: 1-894020-97-9
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 138, including notes and glossary

This book is pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about marijuana. It is written in the style of books like the For Dummies series, which makes it very accessible and easy to ready. The author covers a lot of terrain from history of cannabis to the prohibition to the present day efforts to decriminalize the use of marijuana and efforts to allow for medical use. The author tells us what cannabis is, what uses it has besides smoking it, and its history from ancient times. He also summarizes the major studies which all conclude that the continuing criminalization is more damaging than some people smoking a little here and there. The book also looks at the business of hemp in terms of the many products possible from rope to clothes to alternative fuels. I had no idea you could make a good fuel out of cannabis to power cars for example. There is also a chapter on cannabis in religion. The references in the book are documented in the notes, and there is even a glossary so readers can keep all the slang and terms straight. The author in his preface is clear about his beliefs. He writes that "he believes that prohibition is flatly immoral and impossible to enforce. . .The author will attempt to bring you along into the anti-prohibitionist camp" (10). However, this does not mean he advocates breaking the law or smoking it. His arguments are very persuasive, and as I mentioned, very accessible with a casual tone. There are some humorous stories, and there are some moving moments as well such as the accounts of sick people using marijuana to ease their pain. This is a highly recommended book. It is entertaining and very informative, and it just may make you think a bit as well.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Article Note: Fasting and Feasting on Literature

Citation for the article:

Machosky, Brenda. "Fasting at the Feast of Literature." Comparative Literature Studies 42.2 (2005): 288-305.

I read the article through Project Muse.

This article discusses the condition of humanities and literary study, and it looks at the scholar in these fields as a starving artist. The basic idea is that "the literary scholar desires literature and, at least to a point, is willing to fast in reality in order to feast in print. The current crisis in the humanities centers on this 'point.' At what point is one no longer willing to fast in order to feast?"(289, emphasis in original). This is a fair and valid question. It is a question that those outside humanities, usually in more lucrative careers, simply answer as "one should not starve at all. Go do something else that actually earns money." And this is not just a crisis in humanities. Education and librarianship are two places that starve their workers. Machosky further writes, "from what I have seen and heard, the choice to leave academia is a traumatic one, which I take as evidence that literary scholars are as devoted to their profession as any artist is to hers, no more, but also no less" (289). Again, teachers in public school who decide to leave due to pay (or the lack thereof) face a similar trauma. Moulthrop in the book Teachers Have it Easy have a chapter that discusses this trauma for teachers who choose to leave the field because they cannot afford to stay.

Machosky summarizes the findings of the Modern Language Association (MLA) regarding professional employment. She mentions the suggestions of the report: decreasing admissions and degrees, offer alternative career paths, and work to increase tenure lines. If you ask me, these seem pretty empty. Reliance on part-timers and adjuncts with no benefits is a shameful part of academia that is pretty much accepted now and will continue to rise. I don't think a sudden spurt of common decency is going to overtake academic departments to increase those tenure lines or ever offer the adjuncts full-time employment with benefits. Machosky points out as well why the suggestions are empty: "The MLA neglects to acknowledge the uncommon ground that is common to all professionals they represent: the uncommon ground of literature and language, which, for most of us, constitutes the appeal of our profession" (291).

I will go on to add that suggestions like the ones MLA gives its members are why librarians, especially candidates, find ALA's constant platitudes about a librarian shortage empty. For one, they fail to reflect the reality, and when they suggest there are other career paths, paths which are very worthy, ALA does not acknowledge the reason(s) many chose to pursue the MLS or MIS in the first place. The similarities in fields like literary studies, librarianship, and education seem clear in this regard. Going into these fields is not an easy choice. The hunger for what we do drives us, but I think it does so only so far.

Machosky observes that the MLA looks at the problem in terms of the institutional system. She asks what if the problem is actually the literature itself? She argues that literature, something that hard to define, is a part of the crisis in literary studies. That the problem is that literary scholars have no footing because "we are too often trying to stand on someone else's ground--the social-scientific ground of anthropology, the economic ground of commerce, the factual ground of history. These territories can and should be shared, but literature must maintain its own field, slippery though its slope may be" (294). I recall in my days as an English major that a running joke in literary theory was all the theorists from other fields, such as psychology, practicing literary theory. Some of us thought they were just rejects from their fields and ended up in literary theory. I know, maybe pretentious on our part, but those were the days. Fascinating as other fields are, it does beg the question of where does literary study actually stand. I think this slippery slope or lack of definition reflects how scholarship is becoming more interdisciplinary, which I find exciting. Is Machosky suggesting a backing away from this? I don't think so, but she is asking tough questions from her colleagues. She states that,

"not only do the MLA reports and committees not resist the power of a repressive system, but its representatives cannot define the term 'crisis' and do not even ask the question, 'what is literature?' Even the most practical and banal concerns of departments that profess to teach literature are inextricably bound to this question and should be held responsible for defining the terms. The surest way to hasten the disappearance of literature from the curriculum is to ignore it by neglecting to define it" (295-296, emphasis in the original).

I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we replaced "literature" with librarianship in that last statement. Our profession is undergoing a process of change and evolution, yet in the haste to worship at the altar of technology, or the concern that libraries will lose relevancy (closings, funding cuts), are we neglecting to define what it is we actually do? Change and evolution are good if they mean improvement and better lives. In this process, definitions will be rewritten and/or new ones adopted, but we should be the ones defining. The surest way to extinguish our profession, to paraphrase Machosky, is to neglect or refuse to define where we stand and what we are. I have seen other writers point this out: it is not what libraries do, it's what librarians do. The library is a building, a tool, and we are the ones who wield it to best serve the patrons. It is what we do and how we do it that defines librarianship, and there is a lot we do by the way. This in itself I find intriguing and alluring, but it can also be a threat to some. Going back to the question of what is literature, Machosky reminds us that "there is no one answer--such is the unique difficulty and limitless reward of literary scholarship" (298).

The article suggests that the professional crisis in literary studies is an allegory for the crisis of literature itself. However, literature has always been in crisis when it asks questions of itself, and we hunger for the answers to the questions. "Literature demands hunger, and we cannot fast in the presence of literature any more than we can feast on it" is the author's conclusion. The article sparked connections to my experiences and profession. Maybe others should be asking some questions as well.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I Skipped the Extreme Shoppers, Thanks

The Christian Science Monitor feature a story entitled "'Tis the Season of the Extreme Shopper" on November 30, 2005. This is probably a significant reason why I don't bother getting up at the crack of dawn on the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday seems to be asking to be renamed Black Eye Friday if the brawls at some shopping centers and Wal-Mart stores are any indication. The article puts the phenomenon into perspective by outlining how the day works and more importanly reminds us that people these days will regift anyways. Think about it? You get up to be at the store at 5:00am, buy some expensive gift that was probably overhyped anyways (can we say Cabbage Patch Kids?), and then the person you got it for simply turns around and sells it on the Internet. According to the article, there is a Website just for that called Whabam. Of course, for some people, E-Bay will do quite nicely, or if you are not that savvy with selling online, you can likely wrap it up again and pass it on. This passage I think sums the situation nicely:

"Today these practices grow out of affluence. Everyone still talks a good line that it's the thought that counts. But increasingly, it seems, it's really the gift that counts for some recipients. Sophisticated consumers know what they want, right down to the model number. Woe to the giver who gets it wrong, or who arrives at the mall long after the 5 a.m. doorbuster bargains are sold out."

Well, woe onto them. I did not get up, and I am not losing any sleep over it. In fact, my family and I slept very well that morning, thank you very much. You see, for us, this was time to spend with the family. And we did. We ate, and drank, and had a jolly old time laughing and having fun. Besides, every one knows that if you wait long enough the stores will lower the prices anyhow as the season gets closer to Christmas itself. But there is also the matter of keeping your dignity. The last thing I want is to end up on CNN or the local news because the store had a brawl of some people who clearly don't know how to behave. Just do a Google News Search to get varied news coverage of the event.

Now, I will say we did go out and browse on some stores, but it was well in the afternoon after the hordes (can we say hyenas maybe?) had long left. Since I like wine, my father suggested we visit a World Market store they have nearby. He said they have an excellent wine selection from around the world with nice prices too (read affordable). The store did not disappoint. It had all sorts of things in addition to the wines. We took our time, browsed a little, bought some vino (nothing fancy, some special edition Zinfandel with some reindeer on it. Hey, at a less than a few bucks, why not? It will go nicely with some pizza later in the month.) and then headed for the Half Price Books store next door. All in all, it was a nice leisurely afternoon for my mom, my wife, and daughter; Dad had to work. No one was pushed or shoved, and we still found a few nice things. Am I devastated I did not get some laptop for 200 bucks? Nope. Actually, I have never understood the deal with people acting like crazed maniacs on Black Friday. I don't see how any bargain can justify such behavior, and I am not saying every single person who gets up at that time behaves like a jungle animal, but a lot of them do, and all they do is make the rest of those people look bad. Not to mention they totally disparage the spirit of the holidays.

At the end of the day, it is the thought that counts. According to the article,
"December serves as a reminder of the pleasure of giving, and the satisfaction inherent in every act of generosity, however modest or grand." I think that is the key: the satisfaction in an act of generosity. And by the way, generosity can take various forms. Sometimes the fact that you came together as a family can be the best gift of all. How about helping to cook a nice meal? How about helping out at a charity or community center? You won't see people rushing to break through doors for things like that, and yet they can be just as good if not better. And hey, if you are not sure, there is always the option to give a gift card. If you know someone is a book lover for example, get them one for a bookstore. Overall, there is no need to become an extreme shopper. Sure, I am shopping for a few things; in fact, I already have a small list. However, I am not about to go crazy over it. Part of the holiday is actually taking the time to browse and compare prices, and just watching people. Sometimes that can be the most interesting part of the experience as long as they are not killing each other over the latest incarnation of Elmo. So, I hope the extreme ones got what they wanted. As for me, why bother? The holiday is about more than that, and it is that "more" which will make it memorable.

Can you pass the U.S. Citizenship Test? A quiz

I am always amazed when I hear news about how bad people in the United States do when it comes to history and geography. So, in the interest of that, here is a little quiz. Try to see how you do. It's pretty easy. My results then:

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day: Be Aware, Educate Yourself, and Take Action

(Cross-posted to the Gypsy Librarian)

Today is World AIDS Day. It is a day for people to get facts about HIV and AIDS, to become aware, and to find ways to take action against this terrible disease. According to the website, "World AIDS Day is now in its 18th year. The first international health day was initiated following a unique summit of health ministers who met in London in January 1988. They realised that a united global effort was required to halt the spread of HIV and AIDS. The first theme was 'Join the Worldwide Effort'." In support, you will find the red ribbon on the column area of the blog.

Other places for information include, but are not limited to:

Johns Hopkins AIDS Service
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Medline Plus

And in case you need convincing why this is a significant issue, this article from the BBC might shed some light.

A hat tip to the Moorish Girl's blog. She also points out to some authors who provide a literary take on this. The Dewey Blog also has a note on World AIDS Day including telling us under what call number works on this topic fall.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Booknote: Reading Oprah

Title: Reading Oprah: How Oprah's Book Club Changed the Way America Reads
Author: Cecilia Konchar Farr
Publication Information: New York: SUNY Press, 2005
ISBN: 0-7914-6258-7
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Reading and books
Pages: 164, including appendixes and index

This book is a fast read, but only because after a while it gets repetitive, and you can pretty much skim your way to the end. If you like Oprah, this is definitely a book you will want to read. If on the other hand, you do not care for Oprah, then the author's lavish praises of Oprah's genius at creating a book club will get tiresome. On the positive side, the author gives Oprah credit for getting a lot of women to read. Yes, women. The readers of the club are pretty much the women who watch the show. Oprah gets credit for getting them not only to read, but to read good literature. Well, good literature if you keep in mind that the books on her list are the books that Oprah chose, and that they are not without their flaws, which the author points out, but usually in the context of her students mentioning such and her pretty much saying they are not savvy enough to know. Readers should also keep in mind that the author teaches a course on Oprah Books. Additionally, the book mostly focuses on the first form of the Book Club. As readers may know, Oprah took a hiatus, then came back with a new version emphasizing classics of literature.

On the positive, Oprah is given credit by the author for getting the women of her club to read critically. Oprah is portrayed as this teacher who manages to get women to read these complex works of literature. By literature, we mean contemporary literary fiction. There is no room here for any genre fiction, which right away alienates readers like me who read things like science fiction and can argue it can be of as much if not better quality than things on Oprah's list. However, that would be a different discussion. By reading critically, the author means talking about the books and looking both at the issues a book presents as well as the book as art and craft. Also, Oprah is shown as making a smart move by having Toni Morrison as her mentor when it came to teaching about literature. The author does see what Oprah did with the club as a form of teaching. I think that may be open to debate, but I am a male reader, which pretty much leaves me out of the target demographic. Also, between the passages about the club, the author provides discussions on the history of the novel and on book clubs, which I found interesting and learned a thing or two. The book also discusses briefly how the book publishing world works. It is worthy to note that Oprah does not make any money from her book list or recommendations. The publishers are the ones who reap a lot of benefit when a book that would sell only a few thousand copies can suddenly have a run in the hundreds of thousands of copies.

On the negative side, the author points out that these books were Oprah's choices. In other words, the books she likes to read. Very often, this translates to books about women who usually face some problem or issue and then overcome it. The author shows how the chosen books often echo aspects of Oprah's own life and of her show. For instace, she cites D.T. Max, a writer for the New York Times who wrote about the club. He said that fans "are looking for her [Oprah] in the books she gives them to read" (qtd. in 64-65). She goes on to ask if the question is whether Oprah and the books she chooses are nothing more than the latest form of the Horatio Alger stories, only this time for women. I think many readers will answer yes. There are other issues. For instance, the author tells how the book discussions in the studio seemed to usually be stacked with readers who faced a certain issue, for example divorcees or victims of domestic abuse. This often meant that the actual book discussion was shorter as the issue of the day took precedence. This is seen as a reflection of the show itself. However, the author seems to ignore these and other criticisms, or at least minimize them. This passage is a good example of what I mean:

"Sure, Oprah's status as a celebrity leads viewers to dwell on her rags-to-riches story. Sure, her ratings numbers demand confession and easy affirmation, and her format requires a carefully organized and coherent one-hour program. And sure, her commitment to self-improvement leades her to overemphasize this aspect of novels. But despite it all, Winfrey does good work with the Book Club, work professional educators and critics have failed to do on a scale anywhere near this one" (72).

It did strike me a bit condescending, maybe because I was a teacher and taught literature at one point. I don't think I was a total failure, and I don't think many teachers out there are failures either because they have smaller audiences and the more restricted classroom space. I do note that the author does not include herself in this, after all, she teaches a course on this. What I am trying to say is that I get the impression she dimisses the objections too easily. It is true that Oprah has done some positive things with the Book Club, but dismissing the criticism because of those good things is just an easy way out. I know by typing this I will probably incur the wrath of some fan who may read this, but I am not too worried in that area. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the points of praise get repetitive after a while, so halfway through the book, you pretty much know what the rest will be. I think this could have been done as an extended paper or presentation.

Additionally, for readers wondering what the deal was with Jonathan Franzen, winner of the National Book Award and author of The Corrections, when Oprah chose his book for the Book Club, it is explained here. Pretty much it boils down to the author felt uncomfortable, and Oprah withdrew the invitation so as not to make him uncomfortable. He made some remarks about some of Oprah's other book choices, which were not exactly nice; he saw them as "light" to put it mildly. The media ran with it.

Overall, I think that fans will love this book, and detractors will likely see the negatives more without seeing the positive. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that as a reader, the types of books on Oprah's list are not what I read in terms of my preferences. I have only read two authors on her list. One was Toni Morrison; I read Beloved for a class in graduate school, and I actually like some of Toni Morrison's work, heavy as it can be. The other was Isabel Allende (not "Isabelle" like Professor Farr seems to think. Either she does not know how to spell the author's name or her proofreader did not catch it. Actually, this book has quite a few typos like that. Robert Ludlum's name is also mispelled as Ludlam. I found such little carelessness distracting when reading). I read Daughter of Fortune, which was an Oprah pick, but I did so before it became a pick; I have been reading Allende for years, thanks to my mother who is a big fan. Allende writes beautifully. In terms of what do I read, in brief, I read in genres, science fiction being both a personal and an academic interest, and a lot of nonfiction. Down the road, I am planning on posting my reader profile, a reader's advisory exercise, but for now, this will have to do. For readers more interested in what I read, I have written a reflection here and there. Here is one about librarian reading. Overall, I recommend the book, but with some reservations. Public librarians who do a lot of reader's advisory and likely have to be very familiar with Oprah's list may want to read this book. For academic study, this book probably needs to be balanced with other works, such as Kathleen Rooney's Reading with Oprah: The Book that Changed America. I have not read that book yet, but our library ordered along with Farr's book. If I read it, I will post a note as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Experimenting with

(Cross-posted from The Gypsy Librarian)

Readers can note that I have placed a small link to my page on the side column under links. There is not many things yet, but it seems to be slowly growing. At the moment, I am trying out as a way to back up bookmarks I have on my computer. It seems to be ok so far. I have not gone about trying the other social things yet, but we'll see. In the meantime, it seems it can certainly work as a good reference tool of things I want to keep track of.

Plagiarism, you need more than technology to counter it

Through the Kept-Up Librarian, a link to a small article from the BBC News about plagiarism and software. The article reports on the work of Professor Jean Underwood of Nottingham Trent University. The professor argues that parents and teachers have to show students what constitutes plagiarism. Technology is not the solution to every problem. True, there are some tools out there to help detect plagiarism, but there are also a ton of tools to help students plagiarize, including paper mills where papers can be be bought. Professor Underwood also points out the problem of parents who do the work for their children. This is something commonly faced by public school teachers: over-eager parents. Some do the work for their kids thinking there is nothing wrong with giving Susie a little extra help; others actually do it knowing it is wrong but not caring, which makes me wonder what kind of message does that send a child? Back when I was a student, plagiarizing in any form was seen as stealing. Period. This was non-negotiable. You got caught, and you got a failing a grade along with the shame that you got caught. I guess things are not so black and white these days when it comes to cheating and plagiarism.

This article made me think a little because recently I put together a little guide on plagiarism resources for students. While it was something on my mind, I will admit it was not on the top of my to do list. However, some events moved it to the top of my list. Basically, the faculty were requesting something to "send their students to so they could learn about plagiarism." No need to go into the details; the basic idea was to have something the teachers could put in their syllabi and thus cover the topic. An optimist would say this was wonderful, that the faculty are attempting to address the problem. The pessimist would see it as the faculty just covering themselves, as having something to link to so when anything happens, they can say, "you had the information." I fall a little towards the pessimistic side, maybe because I have seen faculty once too often simply want a magic bullet, something that will simply detect plagiarism anytime by typing something somewhere. And I am not saying this necessarily as a librarian, but as a former composition teacher (high school and college).

Confronting plagiarism, or any other form of cheating, is not a pleasant experience. Having to make sure to put together the proof before confronting a student, then the confrontation, and then letting the consequences take course are all parts any teacher would soon rather avoid. And I will tell you why. Because plagiarism and cheating are a breach of trust. As a teacher, you want to see the best in your students, and when a student pulls one of these stunts, that image is shattered. It does not matter whether they cheated out of stress, without knowing, or with all intentions to deceive. You never will see that student in the same light again even if they make up the work and start over. There is no magic bullet. It takes education at all levels--parents, teachers, and administrators--to make sure students learn what is appropriate and what is not. You can give all the information in the world, but if it is not discussed in the class, if it is not modeled, the students will not learn. This has to be a collaborative effort. The composition teachers have to address it. The librarians can help in this area by reinforcing what the teachers do and by making sure that the best information on practices is available. This can take the form of guides, workshops, online tutorials, instructional sessions, visits to the classroom, etc. This should not include for the teachers to expect the librarians to do plagiarism hunts for them. In a way, that is passing the buck in my estimation. I will not deny a small sense of bias because when I was a teacher, I was expected to gather the evidence myself. I was not expecting someone else to do it for me, and I don't think others should. However, that is my philosophy. As a teacher, you are responsible for your own students. The librarian, and also the writing center on a campus, can serve to reinforce and enhance what is taught in the classroom.

The point of the article is that technology is not the only solution. Just like educators can come up with ways to use technology to detect plagiarism, the students who want to cheat will find new ways to cheat. It's pretty much a continuing war, so the best way to counter it is through education. Give the students the tools to learn. In making a small guide in collaboration with colleagues and providing it fo faculty to put on their syllabi, I have provided a tool. The library can also educate and provide tools for faculty in order to address the issue. Librarians in positions like mine who teach can discuss these issues, provide some modeling in the classrooms, and show examples of what could be plagiarism and/or cheating. Librarians can be a substantial resource for faculty, not just in composition, but in any class that requires writing. They can be a resource for their students as well as for the faculty themselves. Our role as information experts and as educators means that we are often up-to-date on best practices and know where to find the best information and how to make sure it is good information. But it should be a collaborative effort with the welfare and learning of the students in mind. It should not be a matter of simply adding something to the curriculum in order to cover a requirement or in the hopes that the problem will somehow go away because a tutorial was made available or a guide was provided in a link as part of the syllabus. This is an active process where teachers, librarians, tutors and others come to together to educate the students. In the end, my intention was not to rant. However, I do think this is important enough that to expect for a simple technological solution is to do it a disservice. In the meantime, I will do my best to continue reaching out to students and teachers in these and other topics.

For a little further reading on this topic, Steven Bell, writing for the ACRLog, also picked up on the article and writes some observations in his post "Stopping Plagiarism Takes More than Software." Much of what he said goes along with my feelings on the topic, but in a way, I think he was much more diplomatic than I could be. A couple of points he makes are worth highlighting:
  • "Developing more creative assignments that avoid repetition, that require the use of local or locally unique resources, that call for a series of drafts, and that have higher expectations for research methods and content can all make plagiarism more difficult. But, these methods require more front-end development and greater effort from faculty. It’s certainly easier to require the same term paper assignment year in and year out, and then let a piece of software catch those who weren’t clever enough to mask their plagiarism."
    • I am going to take a risk here and say I tend to have a low opinion of teachers who simply allow themselves to give the same paper assignment every year. Yes, I know it is easy to assign the same essay every year, but you open yourself to things like plagiarism if you do. Teaching is not about complacency.
  • "Academic librarians have certainly been doing their part to combat plagiarism on their campuses. Through workshops, creative digital learning materials, and efforts to promote sensible research, we are on the frontlines of helping faculty to help our students to avoid plagiarism. But if the researcher has correctly determined that plagiarism, like many problem behaviors, must be confronted early on by parents and teachers, then we may need to realize combatting plagiarism will be an ongoing challenge."
    • I think this says it well. Librarians can and do their part, but it comes down to the teachers to do their part as well instead of expecting technology, which really savvy students can likely thwart, to do the work.
I will say I had a bit of difficulty deciding on whether to post this or not. I probably sounded a bit harsh, and I am not apologizing for that. I think some things need to be said. What I am hoping is that more people in academia will pick up on the article and carry on the conversation. I am hoping librarians will continue to be on the frontlines as Steven Bell suggests, and I am hoping that teachers will do their part as well. And I am hoping we can all work together in educating the young people who will some day be the leaders of tomorrow.

Hmm, so museum should show off its own stuff now and then

Through the Cranky Professor, a link to an article out of the Washington Post for Sunday November 27, 2005 (usual caveats about duration apply). The idea is that some museums now are beginning to give precedence to the items that they actually own. If any readers have recently been to a museum, they may have noticed the constant presence of travelling exhibits and basically materials from other places that the local museum brings in. I have been to such exhibits myself: a few years ago I went to the Star Wars one in Chicago, and recently the Lord of the Rings here in Houston. These are usually interesting and extremely popular (read crowded), and the local museum uses them as a way to increase revenue. However, this means people often forget about the stuff the museum already owns. The professor writes, "just think - no loans to arrange, no special insurance, no last-minute research on unknown pieces (well, assuming we've done our research as we go along)." It does sound like a good idea. I am not saying we should do away with special exhibits, just that some balance may be desirable.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What I was thankful for. . .

The main thing I was thankful for was family. I had the chance to be with my parents, my brother and his wife, my nephew, and my brother-in-law (my sister-in-law's brother) along with my spouse and daughter. Also, my brother's compadre (his son's godfather) and spouse were there as well. Though my parents and brother don't live that far (in Fort Worth, Texas), it does feel distant from Houston, so any chance we get to go up there is highly cherished. The nice thing about celebrating Thanksgiving in a Puerto Rican household is the food because in addition to things like turkey, we have all sorts of other dishes. For instance, instead of ham, we make a nice pork loin ("pernil," for the Spanish speakers). We also had some arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and homemade tembleque (a type of coconut custard) for dessert. This year we had a fried turkey; my brother-in-law brought a deep fryer for the occassion. I must say it was good eating. We told jokes and stories; we laughed; we had fun; we had music. The spirit of the season was in the air. We just left Houston behind and had a great time.

My brother has a new house, and his family is expecting a new baby, due in May. He is desperately hoping for a little boy, while my mom and most the women are praying for a girl. He figures, or so my mother thinks, that he is worried he would have to actually behave decently if he has a girl. Go figure. Either way, the new family member will be welcomed and loved I am sure. So, I am thankful for that.

I am thankful that my family survived the first year down in Houston. The job has gone well, even though it had its moments (and still does), but overall, it has been and continues to be a good experience. My wife is doing well in her work, and our daughter has adjusted well to school, and she is involved in Girl Scouts as well. The part I am sure she is thankful for is the weather. I mean, it is great there are days in November you can still wear summer clothes, or so she thinks. During this year, we added to members to our family: Autumn and Isis, two kittens who are very curious, and are pretty much happy as they try to point out who really owns the apartment. I think we are reaching a happy medium.

As my father said during our prayer back home, we are thankful for our health, and we hope we will have good health in the coming year.

I am thankful for small wonders. For the fact my daughter reminds me of such small wonders. Innocence can be a wonderful thing. I am also thankful for the small wonders that some of my students show me at work. I am thankful for the opportunities to learn and grow. And I am thankful because in some small way, I have the chance to make the world a bit better than I found it.

I have a lot to be thankful for, and this past holiday was an opportunity to reflect on that and to look towards the year ahead. Now, I am not terribly religious (ok, I am almost a heathen if readers need to know), but I consider myself to be spiritual. So, in the words of one of my old scout leaders, I pray, "in the manner most convenient to each," that we will all have good health in the next year and that we can all be together one more year.

Booknote: Teachers Have It Easy

Title: Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers
Authors: Daniel Moulthrop, Nínive Clements Calegari, and Dave Eggers
Publication Information: New York: New Press, 2005
ISBN: 1-56584-955-8
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Education
Pages: 355, including notes
Similar book: Brian Crosby's The $100,000 Teacher. I have read this book (before I started blogging). Crosby does not pull punches, and he is very strong on the concept of accountability. His arguments are compelling and well-made for teachers being paid as any other professional.

* * *

Teachers Have It Easy is one of the most engaging and infuriating books I have read in a while. No, I am not furious at the authors. I am furious at the revelations of how the teachers of America are treated so poorly (to put it politely). Read this book and find out why many teachers hold down second jobs. Read the story of the brilliant teacher, loved by the school and his students, who left to sell real estate. He did not leave because he disliked teaching. On the contrary, he loves teaching, but he could not afford to stay in teaching. This book shows the shameful way in which teachers are treated.

In the introduction, the authors debunk seven myths about teachers and their pay. For example, the ever popular "teachers get the summers off." As a former public school teacher, I know this is far from the truth. However, I will let the authors speak on the topic. When it comes to summers:

  • "In order to maintain their credentials or move up the salary schedule, 23 percent of teachers must attend classes during the summer, an expense for which they are reimbursed meagerly, if at all."
  • "As much as 42 percent of teachers teach summer school or work a different, non-teaching job."
  • "Much harder to track are the hours teachers spend writing and revising curriculum for the upcoming year" (7).
The first four chapters allow the teachers to tell their stories. After that, the authors look at what truly makes effective teaching. Chapter 7 is a very insightful. Entitled "A Day in the Life," the chapter is set up as a table, hour by hour, comparing a teacher's typical day with that of a pharmaceutical sales representative. For his day, the sales representative would get $391.30; the teacher would be paid $256.00. Let's just say the chapter makes an excellent illustration of the authors' arguments.

The authors also analyze why teachers leave the profession. At the end of the book, they look at some reforms that have worked. To balance, they also explain why other short term popular reforms, like hiring teachers from places like the Phillipines to fill shortages, are doomed to fail. The chapter on reforms can actually be scanned because the authors provide a good three page summary at the end. So, for readers more interested in the basic mechanics of the programs rather than the drama behind the implementation of the reforms, the summary is good enough.

Overall, the book is highly recommended for anyone interested in education and teachers. In fact, this book should be required reading for any student or career changer considering a career in teaching public schools. The result may be that more people may choose not to go into teaching, but in my humble opinion, that may actually be a good thing. Maybe the nation needs a substantial drain of good people who can teach before people finally put their money where their mouth is. And if the argument of paying well for various reasons such as getting a better education for children and decent treatment of teachers do not convince readers, the authors also consider the economic consequences of not paying to have the best teachers possible and simply allowing the best and brightest to choose other careers. The authors do not say that better pay and better teachers are the panacea, but they demonstrate in a well-rounded argument that "spending money to find, keep, and support the best teachers is simply the most effective investment they can make in the future of their children, their communities, and their country" (287).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Facts about Thanksgiving from the Census Bureau

(Cross posted at The Gypsy Librarian)

In preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, readers can go over to Census Bureau's Facts for Features page. This one contains various fun facts and figures about the holiday. For example:

"13.7 pounds
The quantity of turkey consumed by the typical American in 2003 and, if tradition be true, a hearty helping of it was devoured at Thanksgiving time. On the other hand, per capita sweet potato consumption was 4.7 pounds. (From the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2006)"

I wish readers a safe travel if they are travelling and a happy holiday with family and loved ones. I will be travelling tomorrow early to be with family upstate and will be offline until the weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hmm, here is an idea: wait until the stars line up favorably

From the Eclectic Librarian, a nice idea for when you are about to snap at someone who pesters you, or when you have had enough of classes, or better yet, when you just about had it with the rudeness of some patrons. Just follow the lead of Thailand's Prime Minister, who has vowed not to speak anymore until next year because Mercury is not in a favorable position at the moment. The story itself comes from The Guardian for November 21, 2005. Actually this reminds me of a faculty member in a foreign languages department I used to work at. He was very much into astrology, and while he never took a vow of silence, he certainly worried over doing certain things on certain days if the stars were not right. I am sure he could explain to me exactly why Mercury would not be in a favorable position for the Prime Minister. I remember him because once in a while he would come "check up" on me. He knew I was a Capricorn (probably came up in casual conversation), so once in a while he would tell me to be careful of such and such on a given day. Now, before readers crack up laughing (some readers), he was very sincere, and I am sure his concern was genuine. I guess what I am trying to say was that he was moved to make sure we were ok. Hey, I need all the help I can get.

What Jedi or Sith Am I?

Being a Star Wars fan (classic being my preference), I could not resist taking this test. In a way, the result made sense because it had some questions about teaching, and for a teacher, those are a dead giveaway. Anyhow, if you are so inclined, go try it out. This was my result:


You scored 69% wisdom, 55% aggression, 67% power, and 62% morality!

One of the most powerful Jedi of all time, you possess the best of all
worlds. Your wisdom is vast and unquestioned, and you use it for good.
You are an amazingly powerful and skilled fighter, and only use
aggressiveness for battle, and only battle when necessary. Lastly, your
sense of morality is without peer. You always do what is right, and
know that the dark side is hollow and unnatural.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 41% on wisdom
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 64% on aggression
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 63% on power
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 35% on morality

Link: The Famous Jedi or Sith Test written by SarumantheMad on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Monday, November 21, 2005

Broadband Trends in the Latino Community: A Report

Through Docuticker, a link to a report from the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI). The report (in PDF), entitled "Trends and Impact of Broadband in the Latino Community," discusses how broadband has become a standard and how the Latino community has been eager to adopt it. However, it is not as easy as that given issues of inequality in terms of income and education. Some findings and statements from the report which seem interesting:

  • "These studies suggest that Hispanics who are online tend to be savvy users with high bandwidth needs (7)."
  • "Hispanics are more likely to download entertainment content and communicate via chat and IM than Internet users in general" (7-8).
  • "Conversely, Hispanics are much less likely to use the Internet as a news or media source. This may be due in part to a lack of Hispanic-oriented content. According to TRPI studies, Hispanics would spend more time online if there was more content geared to their needs, meaning online content that was culturally-specific, community-relevant and language appropriate" (8).
    • By the way, I do question this somewhat since based on experience, younger Latinos often prefer things in English language, specially if they have been raised in the United States. It does not mean they do not want things that are specific to the culture, but it does mean that often they prefer English as their language. See the next item.
  • "Non-English speaking Hispanics, who are also more likely to be less affluent, recent immigrants, and/or living in rural areas--all factors predicting lower Internet usage rates--represent an untapped market for broadband services" (8, emphasis in original).
  • "The affordability question regarding telecommunications services and devices is complex. Latino households have lower incidence of PC ownership (53.6%) than non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans, yet Latino households have higher incidence of cellular usage (76.3%) than do non-Hispanic white households" (10).
    • The report comments that Latinos will use services that make sense to them. Right now, using a cellphone is something that makes sense for staying in touch with family and business. Add to it a calling card, and calling distant relatives is easy. What this shows is that to an extent the Internet is not as relevant to them; it is not meeting their needs. Also, affordability may be an issue, especially monthly access fees. However, if they can afford cellular, it is evidence that they can likely afford the broadband (see findings above on Internet usage).
The report includes various tables and charts to support the findings. It reaches the following conclusion, which provides a good summary of the report:

"A variety of factors will need to be addressed in order to further deploy broadband services within the Hispanic community: lower prices, applications geared toward Hispanic youth and Hispanic businesses, greater accessibility to broadband service, more Spanish, bilingual and culturally-relevant online content, and continuing to drive home the value of computers and the Internet to Hispanics who are not yet online along with training and e-literacy programs" (17).

Now, in case some readers are wondering why this issue is significant, maybe a look at some of the Census figures of the Hispanic community in the U.S. will put this report in context. This link leads to the minority links section of the Census site. From there, readers can choose various reports. For a quick summary, the page that the Census created for Hispanic Heritage Month provides some quick facts.