Friday, September 30, 2005

My hidden talent? As if I did not have anything else to do

I got this from the Library Shrine. Apparently she was procrastinating on her blogging. As for me, I am almost at the end of my shift at the Information Desk right before the library closes. And what do you know, the quiz was just one simple click, so here it is. By the way, not to worry, I will post some more "serious" stuff down the road. Then again, life would not be fun without the occasional itinerant detours. So, go on and find out what your hidden talent is.

Your Hidden Talent

You're super sensitive and easily able to understand situations.
You tend to solve complex problems in a flash, without needing a lot of facts.
Decision making is easy for you. You have killer intuition.
The right path is always clear, and you're a bit of a visionary.

Socialist? Moi? Who would have guessed?

As some of my readers will know, now and then I do one of these little quizzes for fun. I got this from the Library Despot. At least, he got labeled as just borderline socialist. I got the whole enchilada. At least on the results page, which this table does not include, it says that " You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness. " That I have to say is somewhat true, especially the sense of right and wrong part. Oh, well I suppose I have been called worse (or better) things. Anyways, why not go try it yourself. I found interesting that the quiz uses general issues, nothing from current politics. Actually, a part of me wonders how other librarians might fare.

You are a

Social Liberal
(68% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(18% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

First day back at work, ok, so it was a few hours

Today was the first time I went back to MPOW after the hurricane. I was so glad to see everybody made it back and seemed mostly ok. After putting my desk back in order (I had cleared it since my desk is next to a window), I was greeted by the director. I then got about the task of putting some order back to the chaos. As Instruction Librarian, I coordinate the instructional services, and we lost a lot of BI sessions from the campus closing and the hurricane emergency. My afternoon was spent rescheduling classes and sending out e-mails to professors. For the most part, I simply moved classes to next week or the week after if possible, then suggested dates for their approval. Seems to be working as I got at least two replies approving my suggestions. By the time I left today (it was only a half day, and students are not back until tomorrow), I managed to account for all the classes. I will admit I am a bit anxious. We open for the students tomorrow, and I have to teach two classes in the evening, per the instructor's request to reschedule for tomorrow from last week. It means unless I hear otherwise I will be teaching. It is not the teaching itself; I could not be happier than when I am teaching a class. I just want to know the students are ok. I just want to actually see them come back, and I want to be ready and enthusiastic even if my nerves are still a bit frazzled. Well, better than yesterday for sure. Last night was the first full sleep I had since Rita came over. From now on the only Rita I want to see is one that comes in a salt rimmed glass. In a way, I suppose I want things to be the same, but I know we are all different from the ordeal, some more than others. So, you know what? I am going to do what I always tell others I do: I am embracing the chaos and moving ahead. It's good to be back.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hurricane Rita was a close scare, much too close

I just spent what can only be described as two days of anxiety, tension, and rushing to prepare for Hurricane Rita (this post was started three days ago, so read accordingly. I have been adding to it 'til today). To my readers and friends, my family and I are safe and well. We live on the Northwest side of Harris County, so mercifully, we dodged the proverbial bullet. However, I have not been as concerned about a hurricane since I was a child. I am not stranger to hurricanes, having being born and raised in Puerto Rico, which is often in the path of hurricanes in the Caribbean. One of my earliest memories of hurricanes was of Hurricanes David and Federick in 1979. Readers may ask why do I find myself recalling hurricanes of my childhood. Mainly because I was at the age my daughter is now, the child who was afraid and wondered what would happen when Rita came. Would we be leaving? Would we stay?

My employer sensibly sent us home on Wednesday at noon (then again, in hindsight, maybe sooner would have helped). I commute, and getting home that day was not particularly easy. Already the roads were full of people wanting to leave. I usually take one of the buses that go on the HOV lane, but as often the case, they were travelling so full I had to wait for the next one. There was no next one, so I took a different bus that would get me to where I wanted albeit through the city, which I did not mind too much. However, given that the traffic was heavy, what would have likely been a trip of about 40 minutes to an hour became one of two and half hours. I got to the Park and Ride only to see that the highway next to it was already jammed with people trying to get on the Interstate to get out of Dodge. I knew my wife was likely on the road already, so I did what seemed sensible. I walked out of the Park and Ride, and I actually met her on the road. Yes, I walked out between cars, spotted her, met with her, and we then turned back to go home and pick up our daughter from school. At home, we began to make small preparations: making sure we had enough food, check the flashlights, you know, the stuff one usually does when a hurricane comes (well, I think of it as usual).

Our initial decision was to leave Houston. I have family upstate, so we would have been more than safe. Since my wife had to work on Wednesday night (her employer was not as sensible), we would not be able to leave until that morning. I kept an eye on the news, seeing how the traffic was only getting worse and worse, and then the stories began to flow about people being stranded out of fuel after only advancing a few miles. We had the hope things would get better. As we know by now, things did not get better, only worse. We waited on Thursday to see if there would be an opening to leave, by country roads if need be, looking up the maps for routes. In the meantime, I taped up glass windows, secured things like computers and some electronics in case of flooding (been here for only a year. I think my spot is high enough, but I hear the drainage in Houston in general is awful anyhow), and waited. We had plenty of water in a big trash can, food, batteries, flashlights, radio, candles, first aid kit, and the car had enough gas in case we had to make a quick run. We came to the realization by Thursday early evening that we would be staying here. I told my parents as much when they called. My dad, who is a hurricane veteran, having faced the likes of Hugo and others after I came to the states, was giving me a lot of last minute advice and reminders. My mom lit a candle. My middle brother (I have to younger brothers) would call now and then to check on us. Even though they felt so far, I felt them very close.

Which led me to think about David back in my childhood because it happened around the time I was my daughter's age. A child asking you if you have seen a hurricane and are we going to be ok sort of puts things in perspective. Part of the perspective was my memories of my father boarding up our house back in Puerto Rico. We had a nice house in the coast. The beachfront was about a block or so from my house. In fact, the subdivision we lived in was built over beachfront, so there were actual crab holes in the lawn since the houses were basically built on their land. My dad put up the plywood boards covering up the windows and glass doors. We had to make sure we had the needed supplies, and then we would sit in the house listening to the radio as the power went out. The wind howled, and it rained hard. All we could do was sit and wait for days. It flooded enough that the crabs came from the lawn to knock on our door to let them in the house. Ok, that last one was a joke, but the crabs did come out of the holes, though I am sure they managed better. By luck or providence, the flooding just came up to our front porch, but no further. I have not thought about that experience until now. And while I overall have a healthy respect for hurricanes, I did not really fear them (fact of life in the Caribbean), but Rita did make me think a bit more.

This brings me back to the present. Again by luck or providence, the hurricane turned away from Houston. It still did a lot of damage, and I was sad to see all the damage it did cause where it went, especially to areas that did not need it after Katrina. But it was a nerve wracking experience to wait for it. We took a small walk around our neighborhood before the landfall, and we talked about the likelihood things would not look the same when we ventured out again. We were fortunate that other than some wind and a little rain, we are well. Power flickered as did the water, but otherwise we are not the worse for wear as the saying goes. I will say I have not slept well in the last couple of nights. Last night was the first night I had a full sleep. My wife says it's leftover stress. Maybe so; I feel like we dodged a bullet, and yet, I know I could have easily been one of those people stranded on a freeway had we decided to try to leave. And that makes me angry. That so many people did as they were told in terms of leaving, and they were left stranded to their own devices due to poor planning. Had that hurricane struck as it originally intended, it would have been a disaster. I don't care about the politics; all I know is this could have been a major disaster because no one actually thought that all those people leaving would need efficient roads and fuel to do so. For now, I am thankful we are ok, and my thoughts go out to those who have suffered so much.

My employer is closed until Thursday, but I have to report back on Wednesday afternoon to prepare for the students coming back. My wife has been pretty much working the whole time. They closed until Sunday. My daughter is off until tomorrow. This has given me some time to gather my wits, and to reflect that, in the end, my wife and daughter are safe. Everything else is just things. Don't get me wrong, I am not wealthy. Losing our things would be terrible, but those can be gradually replaced. The ones I love are not. So, I am fortunate and hope we can catch a break. As for my blogging, I am slowly catching up on my readings, and I will try to get back to it. In the meantime, a small sigh of relief.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Itinerant Librarian Visits the Houston Hot Sauce Fest

For the second time, we decided to go visit the Houston Hot Sauce Fest. We caught it last year shortly after we moved to Houston for my job. This is a two day event, usually in the middle of September, where people can go sample and buy hot sauce and other spicy foods. As it is a fest, they have music and other craft vendors. There is also a competition for the spicy food makers, and people attending can vote on their favorites in various categories, such as the hottest sauce in the fest. I had to work this Saturday, but as soon as I got off work, we had lunch and then went over. The day itself was a scorcher, and we had not even tried out the first sample. The festival takes place at the grounds out on State Highway 6, and while it is under roof, it is still very hot overall. Maybe next year I will go in the morning. We got to try out various sauces, salsas, and jellies. Who knew you could make jellies and jams with stuff like jalapeños and chipotle? Actually, some of the vendors make some excellent jams with berries and peppers. They have just a little kick, but nothing extreme. Now, when it comes to trying out hot sauces, a little word of advice. If they tell you just a little, take just a little. I was lulled into a sense of false security after trying a sample of allegedly hot sauce that was anything but hot. So, as I walked along, I saw another booth with a sign claiming to be the "hottest sauce in the festival." After the previous sample, I told myself, "how hot could it be?" Never understimate the claims or the power of a really hot sauce. I tried that one sample, known as the Black Mamba, and I think I lost the top layer of my taste buds. Of course, like most good hot sauces, the kick does not hit right away. So, you swallow the chip with the sauce and figure you are ok until it hits about three seconds later. My mouth burned; I could barely stay still as my throat hurt and my eyes watered. There was not enough water to extinguish the burn, which lasted for about five to ten minutes. I think the guy at the booth had a good laugh over the fool who put such large amount on his chip. But damn, that was good sauce, well worth the burn. The event overall had a good sized crowd, but I don't think it was too crowded. You could walk around fine. As they also feature a kids area, we watched our daughter get her face painted (she chose a dragon design) and slide down the large air slide. As our time came to an end, we bought a few jellies, a jar of sauce or two, and a very nice margarita mix and a daiquiri mix both made out of cactus, which the missus and I will be mixing later with some Cuervo or Bacardi. She is more partial to rum and daiquiris; I am more flexible. All in all, it was a nice afternoon.

Friday, September 16, 2005

On being poor, or the next time you feel like judging...

From the Librarian's Rant, a link to John Scalzi's post "Being Poor." If nothing else, just a reminder to be grateful for what I have and to keep me humble. If readers go to Scalzi's post, they will also find a large number of reader comments, some adding to the original list. Well worth reading.

Booknote: Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit

Title: Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit
Author: Kyle Jarrard
Publication Information: Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2005
ISBN: 0471459445
Pages: 224
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: History

This book will make you want to go out and get some Cognac to sip as you read it. Mr. Jarrard has written an interesting and engaging history of Cognac. From the Middle Ages to the present day, Jarrard takes us on the journey of the eau-de-vie now known as Cognac. Cognac is a brandy, but remember, while all Cognac is brandy, not all brandy is a Cognac. Jarrard describes the rise of the business and how the business has survived and thrived in spite of wars and disease. What started out as a fairly poor grape for wine became an excellent grape to distill into Cognac. This book has a lot of interesting stories. One of them is how Texas actually saved the Cognac industry. I had no idea. It turns out that in the late 1800s, French vines suffered from an outbreak of Phylloxera. This is a yellow insect, very small, that attaches itself to the vines' roots and suffocates them. The solution was found in Texas in a rootstock that was resistant to the bug. So, they began grafting and working with that Texas stock to remake the industry. The man who saved the vines? Thomas Munson of Denison, Texas, who this day is remembered in Cognac. In fact, the cities of Denison and Cognac share an official sister city relationship.

Another interesting chapter. Two actually. These are the chapters telling the tale of a large Cognac house (Hennessy) and a small Cognac house (Delamain). Delamain's tale is particularly interesting because it describes the little rituals and traditions that Cognac makers maintain in order to preserve the quality of the product. In the case of Delamain, this includes the daily 11:00 am tasting of new samples done by a select number of experts. This is a business that passes down from generation to generation. Fathers teach their sons the craft and so on. A convincing argument in the book is that this pursuit of perfection and quality is what has allowed Cognac to survive and thrive. The two chapters are interesting because readers can see the contrast between a large Cognac maker and a small one. However, readers will see that both are proud of their traditions and that they strive to offer the very best. Just because Hennessy is a large Cognac house part of a larger corporation, it does not mean their product is of any lesser quality. The makers there put a lot of work and attention to detail as well.

Readers will also get a glimpse at all the related industries and crafts that help Cognac succeed. The chapter "From the Nursery to the Glass" tells the story of barrelmakers, glassmakers, woodsmen who choose the trees for the barrels, and even the labelmakers for the bottles. Making the Cognac is important, but you have to move the product as well. For instance, once it could be shipped in bottles rather than barrels, the indsutry took a leap forward in transportation. However, you still have to age the liquor in barrels, so the barrels are not gone.

At a little over 200 pages, it is an engaging book and a pretty light read. It discusses the processes of distillation, but it does so in a way that lay readers will understand. Readers may feel they know a bit more about Cognac when they are done with it. And at times, the prose is so good, you can almost smell the Cognac in the cellars as the angels take their share. Angel's share, in the tradition of distillers, is the part of the liquor that is lost to evaporation during aging in the barrels. Actually, in the case of Cognac, which is often aged for very long periods of time, the angels are very happy angels. The Cognac makers accept this as just part of their art and trade. As I mentioned, the tradition of angel's share is not just for Cognac. I actually learned about it when I visited Bacardi's plant in Puerto Rico (this was a long time ago) as well as Woodford Reserve in Versailles, Kentucky (a stop on my way back from a conference, where I also learned another little phrase, that all Bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is Bourbon). At any rate, those travels are maybe stories for some other time. Note, I tried to see if the Bacardi plant in Puerto Rico had a website of its own, but all I could find was the official corporate site. So, in the interest of giving a link to both places, there it goes. In the meantime, I highly recommend this book for readers of history as well as nonfiction readers looking to learn something new. Needless to say, Cognac enthusiasts will love it.

Similar books include the works of Tom Standage: The Victorian Internet and The Turk. I have read these two and recommend them as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

College students more savvy about buying textbooks

Through the Kept-Up Librarian (great site, for well, keeping up), a link to an article from The New York Times for September 5, 2005. The article discusses how much smarter students are when it comes to purchasing their textbooks. Given how often editions change, and the fact that once a new edition is out, the resale value of the previous one becomes practically nil, students are learning about predicting when revisions are due to come out and avoid buying older editions if they know a revision is about to come out. The article discusses new research on the topic as well as provides an overview of the textbook sales process. From the article:

"The data collected by Ms. Chevalier and Ms. Goolsbee - covering sales at more than 1,000 colleges over five years - suggested that, if anything, students pay more attention to the age of an edition than they should. They almost seem more sensitive to a book's potential for resale than to its purchase price.

But there could be a rational explanation for that, too. Parents sometimes pick up the bill for the new textbooks that a student buys at the start of a semester. The cash that comes from reselling the book often has a way of not making it back to mom and dad."

Savvy indeed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Pizza for geeks is ok, what about the rest of us?

This falls under the "you can't make this stuff up even if you wanted to" category. Apparently Google hires students to buy pizzas for computer science majors. Yes, you read that right. The company has Google Pizza Ambassadors who do this work. I got the link through The Kept-Up Academic Librarian, who got his from Search Engine Watch. See also the actual job post from Google. Now if someone did something like that for librarians and students in library school, that would be an idea. Oh well.

Monday, September 12, 2005

On professional development for teachers

At the end of last month, the Education Wonks posted a link and some thoughts on professional development. I made a note of it, as it made me recall older days, but then the semester started. I have been busy, and I did not have much time to write this up to share with others. Anyhow, as an educator, I have had "professional development "inflicted" on me a few times. So, the post from the Education Wonks, and the links the blog shared, brought back memories of a certain high priced consultant the district I used to teach in hired. This was back when I was still starting out as a teacher, and yet, back then, I was already aware that this person was not going to tell me anything I did not know already. Heck, to be honest, I cannot even remember what the heck it was this person was trying to show us (if "show" is even the right word). What I do remember, quite vividly to this day for some reason, was one of the veteran teachers was knitting as the session was going on. I don't quite recall what it was she was knitting. Was it a sweater? Something for a grandchild? I don't think it matters as much as the image of her with her reading glasses and her knitting. Anyhow, Wonks points to what is called the dark side of staff development. Basically, it refers to those horrible presentations where professional educators are patronized and made to feel like children. Heck, I don't think children get treated in such an infantile way as some of those professional consultants treat teachers. And by the way, these consultants are everywhere in the educational chain. If that catalog cover reminds you of some sessions you may have attended, you know what I am talking about. I am sure colleges hire some for faculty and so do some libraries (though, with funding as it is, I can only envision a very large library district doing such, but it is not unknown). Then there are some conference presentations, but that is a separate post.

Then, there are the notes of the TFA Trenches, which Wonks also linked to, that discuss unprofessional development. He opens by wondering if those who can't teach, end up teaching teachers. I hope not. I have not quite lost my faith that much, but I do wonder about the educrats that end up "teaching" teachers at workshops and such. He does post some lessons he would keep in mind if he ever becomes a teacher trainer. I think these are valid lessons, so I will post the list, and go read the post to get his thoughts on each item:

  • "Teachers, even when in a learning role, do not cease to be professionals."
  • "There is a time and place for “lesson demonstrations:” in front of classes of children, tape-recorded for our professional critique and observation."
  • "Be meticulously planned, carefully prepared, and absolutely efficient."
  • "Do not take time to write norms."
  • "Lastly, do not serve bad food."
These are simple lessons, and they are very true. What most so-called trainers forget is that teachers are professionals, and they are not children. They know right away when someone comes to patronize them or treat them like children. I am sure that veteran teacher knew exactly that she was being forced to lose her time on a day of "professional development." Now, before anyone gasps over a teacher not paying attention at a workshop when they expect it from their students, I will say think again about the lessons above. Teachers are professionals; they deserve respect and expect it from professionals. Respect is something earned; it is not automatically given. So, when some consultant comes to insult you as an educator, respect is likely one of the first casualties. As a result, you have teachers who knit and others tuning out and others grading papers to at least salvage some of the time they are being made to lose.

Having said this, not all professional development is bad. Thank goodness, there are some professional development opportunities that are worthwhile. My experience is that those opportunities are run by teachers that still practice teaching. One good example is the National Writing Project, that brings teachers of writing at all levels to reflect on their writing and pedagogy, to learn about the latest theories and best practices, and to find time to do their own writing. These workshops usually take place during the summer, and teachers can often get graduate credit depending on their location. When you complete the training, you are certified as a teacher-consultant, and your mission becomes to take what you learned back to your classroom and your colleagues. It is a true model of teachers teaching teachers and a great example of teacher research at work. I am proud to say I went through the National Writing Project. It was a while ago, yet what I learned then has stayed with me not only during my time in schools, but in higher education as well. Do note, that projects like NWP are outside a school district; they are not "hired" educrats. I did have a chance to go out of the school, a summer, share some knowledge and good times with some excellent teachers, and learn a a thing or two. So, there is professional development, and then there is "professional development."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

History of Lesbian Pulp Novels: Article from American Quarterly

Citation for the article:

Keller, Yvonne. "'Was It Right to Love Her Brother's Wife So Passionately?': Lesbian Pulp Novels and U.S. Lesbian Identity, 1950-1965." American Quarterly, 57.2 (June 2005): 385-410.

Article is accessible electronically through Project Muse.

Readers interested in popular culture, with attention to the 1950s and early 1960s, may be interested in this excellent article. Clearly, scholars and readers in GLBTQ studies will find it interesting. It is also recommended for readers interested in the larger story of pulp fiction in the United States. Ms. Keller has written a comprehensive and engaging account of lesbian pulp novels in the United States. In doing so, she demonstrates how these works, largely ignored by scholars, played a crucial role in lesbian identity formation during a time when homosexuality was taboo and more often than not a crime. This article "gives a brief history of lesbian pulps, defines the genre, and argues for pulps' importance as a readily available, popular discourse that put the word lesbian in mass circulation as never before" (387, emphasis in the original). The article is successful in this regard.

The article goes on to provide a history of the genre; lesbian pulp novels flourished between 1950 and 1965. Their covers are their best known feature, as it was with other pulps, and the author later in the article discusses the importance of those covers. According to the article, the genre began with the 1950 novel Women's Barracks by Tereska Torres, a novel about a group of women in the Free French Forces during World War II. Next, the author goes on to discuss other works of the time, highlighting connections along the way. She also presents her definition for the genre with four criteria:

"I define lesbian pulps through four criteria. First, they are published between 1950 and 1965; second, they have some lesbian content; third, they must be mass-market paperbacks; and fourth, they are classifiable as potentially lesbian by their covers" (396).

Professor Keller distinguishes at least five types of lesbian pulp novels, but the two most salient ones are the pro-lesbian pulps (written by women mostly, or authors with female pseudonyms, with a woman's point of view, a positive variety of the genre) and the virile adventures (written by males using pseudonyms for voyeuristic males, in a way, the predecessor of a lot of the lesbian porn today). Additionally, the author shows how the books were distributed through the paperback trade. We get a little history lesson on the paperback trade and its evolution as well, something that people into book history may find interesting. This is done to aid our understanding of how the genre was able to find success thanks to distribution through traders like Pocket Books and Fawcett.

The covers, as mentioned before, were crucial for more than just sales. Professor Keller writes, "since pulps were typically not bought by libraries, the covers were crucial markers of lesbianism--the closest thing to a Dewey decimal system for dykes--for generations of lesbian and incipient lesbian readers" (398). This is one way in which Professor Keller argues how these pulps were survival literature, that is, books that fed the need for lesbians to find representations of themselves. On the topic of libraries, Professor Keller has a little passage asking where a woman of the time might find information about homosexuality; the passage is a good illustration of the situation at the time. She writes that a library might have a copy of The Well of Loneliness (1928) and some medical writings, but these materials were not necessarily easy to access. She adds, quoting Karen Vierneisel, that "librarians contributed to the conspiracy of silence about lesbians" (401). Professor Keller also cites a description, by Judy Grahn, which is worth posting:

"In 1961, when I was twenty-one, I went to a library in Washington, D.C. to read about homosexuals and Lesbians. . . .The books on such a subject, I was told by indignant, terrified librarians unable to say aloud the word homosexual, were locked away. . . . Only professors, doctors, psychiatrists, and lawyers for the criminally insane could see them, check them out, hold them in their hands" (qtd. in 402, emphasis in the original).

I can only hope that, as a profession and individuals, librarians have come a long way from that. However, given the current climate in the United States, it looks like there is still a some work to do. As for the woman back then, "she was most likely to find lesbian representation during the 1950s and early 1960s in the form of lesbian pulps. Books are a solitary purchase, consumable in the privacy of one's own bedroom or apartment--a significant advantage in a homophobic world" (402). Today, I suppose you could say the internet fills this role. That is likely the topic of a different paper, but I am disgressing now. Readers need to keep in mind that books back then were not perfect; lesbian usually meant white and middle class in the pulps, but the books were significant nonetheless. They were significant as tools of representation, for identity formation. Professor Keller writes that "clearly, lesbian identity was formed in the context of homophobia, in which it was primarily lesbian pulps that offered "how we are constituted and who we are' " (405). By looking at the genre, defining it with clear criteria, considering the book trade for paperbacks and pulps, its writers and readers, Professor Keller demonstrates the validity of the statement.

The article is well written and engaging. It also features various book covers as illustrations. In addition, some of the sources cited in the endnotes would make good sources for further reading.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Booknote: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior

Title: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior
Author: Horacio Verbitsky
Publication Information: New York: The New Press, 2005
ISBN: 156584985X
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Current events. Latin American studies.
Note: Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen. This book was first published as The Flight in 1996.

Pages: 215, including a list of key figures, a chronology and notes.

This is the confession of an officer in the Argentine Navy during the time period known as the Dirty War. This was a space of time between 1976 and 1983 when the country was under a military dictatorship, and some of the worst crimes against humanity were committed under the excuse of fighting insurgents. The flight in question refers to various flights that the navy undertook to get rid of political prisoners. Basically, after torture, prisoners would be loaded up on navy transport planes and dumped into the ocean while they were still alive. To make it "more humane," the prisoners were given tranquilizer drugs so they would be barely aware of their fate. At the same time, the fate of these prisoners, and many others who were tortured and killed in other ways, was never revealed to the families. These prisoners became "desaparecidos," the disappeared ones. The tactic was to keep families uncertain of the prisoners' fate as a way to inflict terror and thus keep control. And I am describing this in very simple terms. The officer that Verbitsky interviews goes into much more detail.

This is a very engaging book, but it is also a book that can be hard to read. The officer, who participated in one of the flights, is haunted by the memory of what he did. At first, he wants to keep a high ground by saying he was under orders, but he gradually comes around to see his role and how he was responsible. That officer was the only one with some credibility that actually dared to even come forward and admit his role during the Dirty War. You see, as the dictatorship was coming to an end, the military put measures in place to make sure they could not be prosecuted by civilian authorities. To make things worse, the successive governments of Alfonsín and Menem reinforced this, making it next to impossible to prosecute these criminals. This is a book that will make you angry at times at seeing how the military got away with terrorism. One must note that some of the subversives they were fighting were terrorists as well, but when one tallies the balance sheet, the military was the worst offender. The book goes through the interview by Verbitsky of the officer, then describes what happened in the aftermath, any prosecutions that may have happened, the trials seeking to release names of those disappeared, and how some of these criminals were prosecuted by other countries using criteria for crimes against humanity. The Dirty War is a very dark and distressing period in Argentine history, one that some would rather forget, yet the book reveals how this will live on. In fact, even if the criminals were never prosecuted, the society has moved to condemn them in other ways. One example is just plain social ostracism. Some of the former officers may show up at a restaurant with their bodyguards, and people will move away or leave the establishment; waiters will refuse to serve them; some people have gone as far as confronting the criminals, defying any bodyguards. This example is a small gesture, but it reveals that even if the government wants to forgive and forget, refusing to prosecute, the people themselves will never forgive. As for people during the Dirty War, no one was safe from the military. Even family members of some military officers were kidnapped.

Verbitsky points out that the officer he interviewed is very credible, and he points out the reasons why in the book. The officer's tale is chilling, at times moving, at times leading to anger for the reader. Yet, one thing that stuck with me is how the military justified some of its actions. The rhetoric is eerily similar to some of the rhetoric used by the current U.S. administration for its treatment of prisoners in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. It is the idea of the ends of justifying the means, and in the case of Argentina, that idea went terribly wrong. Yet, it is an idea that we should learn from, and it is an idea that has the potential to happen again in other parts of the world. Listening to the officer explain how they were keeping the homeland safe by taking away rights from citizens, and then taking subversives away, many of them innocent or guilty by association, in the middle of darkness, is scary stuff. Not just scary for what happens to those people, but it is scary because some of those words used to justify those actions are heard in places like the U.S. today in the fight against terrorism. The book is highly recommended. It is pretty easy to read in terms of length and pacing. The afterwords and notes serve to place the events in context and are very informative as well.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: Give money to Red Cross, and some information

(I am placing this post in both of my blogs)

I have steered away from posting about the hurricane since so many places have been doing it. Also, reading the news only angers me as I see a lot of incompetence at high levels of government and things that should have been done that were not done. My thoughts go to the victims. One of the things I thought about doing was putting together a little list of information resources, after all, being a librarian, information is something I know a thing or two about. However, finding this information is not as easy as it sounds. After doing some searching, here are some things I have learned, and if in some measure, they help others, so much the better:

  • For people who are not there or anywhere near it, probably the best thing they can do is donate money to the relief organizations. I personally recommend the American Red Cross, but there are other organizations as well that are looking for donations.
  • Often people wonder why it is that organizations ask for money and often turn away goods and volunteers. The Red Cross has an excellent explanation here. Basically, it has to do with logistics and cost. Often, transporting goods to far away places costs too much to be effective. The money helps in various ways, including giving people cash vouchers, buying stuff locally, and other needs.
  • Another resource is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They have various information items, including the list of places to donate money listed above as well as some information on avoiding donation scams. Yes, it sounds terrible, but there are actually vultures out there (actually, I could put in some choice expletives for those low life forms, but I won't) who prey on the victims and what little they may have left. They also prey on the goodwill of those of us who want to help. In terms of donating money, do so to reputable charities and agencies such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. They also have some tips on how to locate relatives. This is also another thing to be careful about as some people will use this as a scam.
  • Locally, states often have state emergency management agencies. Here are the links for the ones in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. These are places that will list items such as shelter locations. Sometimes they have a list; other times they will give a phone number to call. Also, the Red Cross site I have linked above, if you enter a zip code, you can get local information. However, the Houston Chapter of the Red Cross where I am at does not seem to have as much yet. Either that, or not as easy to find.
  • Which leads me to the next place to find information: the local news. I jumped at some of the local television stations and the newspaper, and I found listings of local shelters available, where to make donations, who is taking supplies, and who may be asking for volunteers. By the way, I just picked one of the local stations as an example. The other local affiliates of the big networks will have similar information as well. I have found that these are a lot quicker to get information out on community information.
  • My bet is that down the road, as people get somewhat settled (if anyone can get "settled" after such a horrible disaster), people will be looking for other information sources. Down the road, many of the victims may not be able to go back home. Some may well realize they have to make a new home someplace else. This is where libraries, especially public libraries, come in. We should probably be preparing lists of local information and resources to help refer people to shelters, agencies, jobs, places to live.
Update note (at 5:30p): American Libraries (online edition) has a report collecting short articles and pieces on libraries affected by the hurricane. The site promises to keep adding updates.

Advice to new teachers

Through Education Wonk's excellent Carnival of Education, Ms. Smlph has posted her list of advice for new teachers. New educators may want to go on over. Even though I do not teach high school anymore, some of the items on the list are things that I still practice as an instruction librarian. For instance, the idea of being visible applies to outreach in general. I make it a point whenever possible to go to all sorts of campus events from plays to exhibitions at the art gallery. This not only makes for some visibility, but I often get to see some excellent productions and works. Being visible is number 7 on her list. The importance of kissing butt comes in at number 3. This was something I learned pretty quick on my first teaching job: it is not the principal who holds the real power in the school. Sure, he may be the head honcho, make your life heck at times, and evaluate you when he deigns to actually visit your classroom. But the real power is held by the janitors, the secretaries, and the master teacher who knows how to work the bureaucracy. So treat these people very well, and they will remember you accordingly. Definitely worth reading.