Saturday, July 30, 2005

Get your favorite shows on DVD

Last week, we celebrated our library director's birthday with a potluck lunch and some time to just relax and talk about many things. Given our director's delight in television shows (she is a big fan of The Apprentice for example), talk eventually moved to shows on television and what does each library staff member likes to watch or skip. One of the topics in this conversation was all the shows one can get on DVD. For instance, our director mentioned that she was getting through The X Files. Actually, the adventures of Mulder and Scully are a favorite of mine, so I am making a note to myself to start getting those DVDs. I was a bit disappointed in the later seasons, around the time the arc went more into the larger conspiracy and new agents came in, but overall, it was one of the good shows on TV. At any rate, I am disgressing a little.

I will go on and admit that I probably don't watch as much TV as most people think; I am certainly not a fan of reality television (pausing here to allow readers to shudder). There are few shows that I feel a need to watch regularly For one, I am very picky about what I choose to watch. Like reading, if a show does not grab me in the first couple of episodes, it's gone. Maybe one of these days I will write out a TV viewers bill of rights, which should include "The Right To Not Watch a Program." (This would be similar to the Reader's Bill of Rights, about which I wrote in my other blog here.) So, even if people tell me it has gotten better, odds are if they lost me then, I am not coming back. However, a good knowledge of television is kind of a given in my profession. Librarians need to be current, and this includes popular culture. So, how do I keep current then on those items I just could care less or simply are not that into them? One simple word: internet. I can find all sorts of information about any television program I don't watch. You can get synopsis, reviews from experts as well as casual watchers and fans, commentaries, etc. If it is a show I have not seen, a good search will tell me all I need to know about who is who in a show, who did what to whom, who killed who, and who slept with who without me having to invest the time on a show that may be subpar (well, to me at least). Therefore, no need to feel awkward when people talk about such and such TV program. I am sure this little trick has saved many workers gathered around the proverbial water cooler. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy television very much, but I see no point in wasting time with something that is just the hype of the moment. At any rate, now readers know. If they want to know what I do watch, send me a note sometime, haha.

In addition to the internet, there are the DVDs. I know that if a show is worth anything, it will likely come out on DVD. If it comes out on DVD, I can then spend the time at my leisure watching it and enjoying it. No commercials, no having to remember when to watch it, even when they move the show around a few times, etc. While I was reading around, I came across this article from the Christian Science Monitor on instant reruns and DVDs. It was an interesting little discussion of how television is making profits from putting its shows on DVD. The article points out that DVDs are becoming a central part of a program's marketing as it brings the show to fans as well as to new audiences that may not have caught the show before. This includes those shows that may not have been popular but went on to become "cult hits," a concept I find debatable since a "cult hit" can either be utter crap or a piece of genius, but often do not see past the "cool" factor to see if the show in question had merits or not. But that is another debate. Point is DVD keeps all sorts of shows alive. According to the article, people buy them to avoid the commercials, to get the quality of DVDs, and to be able to watch a season of a show without waiting. Then there are the DVD extras, additional scenes and other bonuses. So, I feel a bit better if I miss something the first time around. If it is good, I know I can often catch it later. And if there is a really good show I wish I could see again, I can go get the DVD. Overall, just more choice for viewers.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Next Big Reality Show for Higher Education

Through the Kept-Up Librarian, a link to a column in Inside Higher Education describing the next reality show. By the way, Inside Higher Education is a great alternative to The Chronicle of Higher Education, often more interesting as well. In this one, graduate students vie for the rare and elusive tenure track job at a university. I had a small laugh here and there as I read it, and I am sure readers who may be going through a PhD program will find this more than amusing given how true some of the stuff is. To make it more interesting, some of the comments on the site actually give more suggestions of other elements to add to the reality show. Overall, reading the column makes me glad I got out of that doctoral program and went to library school instead.

While on the topic of the dismal job situation for professors in higher education, the blog Critical Mass has a post about David Rivers, author of What Color is Your Parachute? In the post, the author provides a good critique of Rivers's observations about going after a job in higher education. She points out that Rivers fails to point out the situation of adjuncts and and the fact that non-academic work for PhD's should be taken more seriously. It makes for interesting reading. She asked for people to comment and tell about their career paths. If you go there, you may see what I wrote along with others. I am glad to see I am not the only one who decided the Ivory Tower tenure gauntlet was not worth it in so many ways. And yes, I do work in higher education, but I am on a different path, one where I can make a difference for one. Not that professors do not make a difference. I just get to work with students without the grading.

Booknote: Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy

Title: Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About TV
Author: Ken Tucker
Publication Information: New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005
ISBN: 0-312-33057-X
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Criticism. Popular Culture (Television)
Pages: 254

Ken Tucker, film critic for New York magazine, has put together his list of 100 things to love and hate about television. It seems a few of these books of lists are coming out recently, such as Bernard Goldberg's 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America: (and Al Franken is Number 37). I have not read Goldberg's book yet, but I have seen him do a couple of rounds on the news show circuit, so I guess I have an idea of the gist of his book. It does not seem a positive list, but I will reserve judgment until I at least look at the book.

Ken Tucker's book is a light and entertaining read. You may not agree with some of his choices ("you mean you love MTV's Real World but hate the videos?" He also hates The Brady Bunch, with a passion. Then again, so do I. ), but overall, it is well written. His explanations are well reasoned. He does provide some interesting insights on various television shows as well as on events in television history. I also found the book interesting for the various references to shows before my time, so I learned a few things in the process as well. He chooses the best and worst parents by decade starting from the 1950s. You may want to see if you agree or not. He does a good job of making a distinction between the artistic quality of a show and the nostalgia effect, namely when people who grew up idolizing a show as children see it as great even though the quality of the show is, well, tripe (ok, or not so good). All in all, he provides a good look at television, and I think it will give readers material to think about and argue about with their friends. Readers who watch a lot of television will likely enjoy it and argue some of the choices with the most energy. But even casual television watchers like me will find things to love and hate as well. The sections are short, and the tone is casual and conversational, making this book a good leisurely read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Follow up on the Hillsborough County Controversy

The LIS*Dom blog has posted the list of books that the Hillsbourough County actually did not want the patrons to see. Take a jump over there, make a note, then go get some reading material. The post also includes some links to other sources of book lists and resources on the gay experience. There is also a quote from one of the local Tampa papers by a library patron who says librarians should not be promoting books. I wish I was making it up, but this person actually said it. Here is the full article. People like that just make me wonder what exactly it is they do when they allegedly go to the library. Apparently that person just makes a beeline for a section of the stacks without looking at a single display, getting reader's advisory, or God forbid take one of the suggested book lists I bet the library provides. I am assuming that person can find the way to the books at all. I don't often get negative, but remarks like that just exemplify a lot of ignorance about what librarians and libraries do. When I took my courses in reader's advisory, a big part was promoting the books, to bring books and readers together. When I work in instruction, a big part of what I do as I promote information literacy is to promote books and other resources. Promoting a library's holdings is part of what a library does. It is a way to create awareness of what is available, a way to educate on timely materials related to various topics, a way to bring people and resources together. I certainly understand that some people could care less if there is a reader's advisor around; they can find their way without ever going to a reference desk. But there are many who appreciate someone who can give them new ideas on what to read, and there are many who like knowing that someone qualified to help them out is nearby in case they need it. As for me, I am planning on promoting books, as many books, and other resources, on as many topics and diverse subjects as possible. If they are banned or challenged, so much the better. A little defiance now and then is a good thing. And I can think of no better way to shed light on the darkness of ignorance.

Sex in the library test. . .and the results are. . .

Ok, so a little moment of fun. I came across this from another site, and I figured, sure why not. So, readers out there, now you know. I thought I would do a bit better than "definitely almost" (maybe in a different library?). At any rate, why not take a chance and see how you rate, hehe?

Hell yeah.
You scored 85 bookishness and 64 kinkiness!

You love books, you're down with the'd almost definitely
have sex in the library. Find a partner, find a good spot...and go for

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 80% on bookishness
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 7% on kinkiness
Link: The Sex In The Library Test written by missthang8 on Ok Cupid

Friday, July 22, 2005

Hillsborough County and Gay Pride Display: Some Thoughts

A library student puts up a display for Gay Pride Month, and it triggers a firestorm as the library board decides to ban the display and make policy so as not to acknowledge the event. Readers can read about this through LIS News. The comments are just as interesting as the story itself, evidence of how diverse the views of librarians and others interested in libraries can be. Here is the link to the story about the librarian reading banned books with a bullhorn, and I think readers can make it from there. In the latest development, the Florida Library Association has declared a boycott of the Tampa area until the library rescinds its policies. I dared to make a comment, which I reproduce here:

"I just love the idea of that person reading with a bullhorn, nice and defiant. On the responder asking why is this a big deal, for it is about advocacy, all I will say is the library is a public space, a community space. As such, it should give space to everyone or deny it to everyone. If they deny this particular group, they should be denying display access to everyone else (religious, cultural, social services, and so on). It is not a mere matter of advocacy; the library is providing a part of the community space and it is also providing information on a topic that is clearly important and significant. If this not part of what a public library should be doing, I am not sure what is. I am making a note of those Four Pillars, something sadly we see not only in the articles today, but in so many stories of challenges to libraries or their texts. Nice editorial by the way. Best to all. "

At the end of the day, people will pull out their definitions of concepts like "advocacy" and "collection development" and so on. Readers can choose their favorite dictionary. I am not bothering with placing a definition or two here. What I will say is that at the end of the day, this boils down to a form of censorship pure and simple. People can say it was only a display, or they can say it carried a message and debate what the message was. But by eliminating the display, they are saying, we have these books, but we don't want you to know about them. Regardless of where readers stand on the political divide, hiding information and materials is not the way to go. I can only wonder how long before they quietly decide to begin removing such books. The argument may be if they are not advertised, then they will not be read. If they do not circulate, why have them? You should have them because you are supposed to promote and encourage the presence of various points of view. That is what a library, especially a public library in this country is supposed to do. Do I think it is a "free for all"? No, I do not. I know decisions of what to put in the collection have to be made and are made all the time. But that is what professional librarians get paid to do, and while I know librarians are human and that they have views, they should strive to give access to as many diverse points of view as possible, even if they disagree. Does it become advocacy? Only if the opposite point of view is not represented as well.

The problem comes then when it becomes discrimination. Because discrimination is not something that we as a society should tolerate. Peter Gamache of Tampa expresses very well the need to stand against discrimination. It is interesting to see the op-ed piece after another piece with the exact point of view. I am not someone who is eloquent or about to go on a crusade, and I sure am not a talking head. But I know that discrimination against one group is wrong. It is a simple thing really. And as a librarian and an educator, I see it as my task to use my skills to educate to help eradicate discrimination in any small way I can. If it makes me an advocate, which from some parts of the debate seems to be bad word, then so be it. I have been called worse (you hear all sorts of things in public schools). Some people will say, "but it is against the Bible" or against other religion and so on. I will simply say what I have often said before. If your faith moves you to make this a better world by helping out your community and embracing your neighbors in love and charity, good for you. If on the other hand, your religion moves you to be a bigot, to condemn some, to hate others in the name of your deity, then you can keep it to yourself. Your right to believe it, my right to educate others against it. Initially I was going to say my right to ignore it, but discrimination is not something you ignore. It needs to be confronted. I guess this is what concerned me so much over this. It concerned me because the policy is one that discriminates, and in my book, that is not right or fair.

I guess this post went on a bit longer, but it was important, to me at least, to think some of this through. I can see where I stand. On a final note, I also like the idea of the boycott. I think it addresses nicely those who say that the library has to adopt such rule so as not to alienate those who pay the taxes or the levy. If it boils down to economics for the county, they can likely do without the business of the association's librarians. It is a good message that of the boycott because it does go back to the economics, and another form to say that discriminatory policies are not acceptable.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

High Schoolers' Volunteer Hours More About Getting into the Right College

The Christian Science Monitor features a small opinion piece by Kevin Zhou, a high school student who takes a look at his own generation. In the piece, he shows how his peers try to pack as many volunteer and fundraising hours as possible on their resume. They do this not for altruism but to make sure a good college notices them. Readers can find the article here. He argues that the students are not necessarily uninterested in helping others; it is just that they are so caught up in the process that they worry more about packing the hours than the good that they actually may be doing. As an example, he writes:

"After the tsunami last winter, a group of students from my school decided to organize a fundraiser for the survivors of the catastrophe. While this appeared to be a noble endeavor, they told me that they decided to pursue this option as opposed to donating money to UNICEF or to the International Red Cross so that they could have one more thing to add to their resume."

I know this can sound harsh, but when you think about it, donating the money to a charity would likely be just as, if not more efficient, than setting up the activity. However, it does not look as glamorous on a college application to say you wrote a check to charity as it is to say you organized a fundraiser for a cause. The author argues that students should pursue good causes for good reasons. The article is well worth reading, especially by parents who may have a junior and/or senior going through the application treadmill. I think it puts at least a little bit of perspective out there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Booknote: Schwarzenegger Syndrome

Title: Schwarzenegger Syndrome
Author: Gary Indiana
Publication details: New York: New Press, 2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Political writing
133 pages

This is an irreverent narrative of how Arnold went on to become the governor of California given that he had no political experience, and he certainly was not the most qualified candidate. In the process, Gary Indiana reveals how the media and celebrity helped Arnold to reach the governor's mansion in California. The books says as much about Arnold as it says about the voters who put him there in the first place. The book employs research, facts, and some dark humor to illustrate how the people of California were taken by the celebrity status of the man they sent to Sacramento after they got rid of Gray Davis. At the end of the day, the author concludes, what mattered was the image, not the substance. Recommended for readers who may be interested in California politics as well as national politics since Gary Indiana also makes some interesting observations about the national political arena. The book is a quick read as well.

Big Brother Really Was Watching Orwell

The Guardian has a report on its books section discussing a report that George Orwell, author of the dystopian novel 1984, was actually under government surveillance. According to the report, a secret Metropolitan Police file that was released to the National Archives shows that the writer was under surveillance for 12 years or so. The article provides details of the surveillance, including notations about how Orwell would dress like a Bohemian at work as well as off work. And here I was worried I may be wearing blue jeans a little too often at work. I taught 1984 to seniors when I was a high school teacher, so this definitely caught my eye. This was pre-9/11, so students often could not believe governments would do such things. We had some very interesting discussions back then. I can only wonder what it would be like to teach such a novel in the current climate where the government is more active in the surveillance business. I guess Orwell was more prescient than we gave him credit for.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Long Term Costs of the War in Iraq...and Afghanistan...and so on

Harper's Magazine for July 2005 has a very interesting as well as moving article on the real costs of the war in Iraq. Ronald J. Glasser writes the article "A War of Disabilities." It was nice for me to see someone write about a topic I have wondered about myself from watching the news. That is the topic of the soldiers who get wounded in the war. We hear a lot in the news about how soldiers need better body armor (they do), how their vehicles need better protection (they do as well), and we hear of the deaths. But we don't often seem to hear about the wounded, and that is the focus of this article. The article focuses on discussing and summarizing the long term costs of caring for wounded veterans. He provides a good discussion of the differences between a war like Vietnam, where soldiers often died from being shot in the chest, for instance, versus the urban war in Iraq where the body armor protects their torso, but they are more likely to lose an arm or a leg to an IED or from some other explosive. In addition, there are the soldiers who may be near a blast, but the effects on their head might not surface until much later. This is due to shockwaves from explosions which can be as bad as a piece of shrapnel flying to a soldier's head. The helmet may protect them from some flying piece of rock, but the weight of the helmet on the head can still be an issue. It is like having a bell on your head and having someone hit it with a hammer. On these head injuries, the author writes, "indeed, soldiers walking away from blasts have later discovered that they suffer from memory loss, short attention spans, muddled reasoning, headaches, confusion, anxiety, depression and irritability" (60). The military calls this TBI for Traumatic Brain Injury.

The article goes on to point out that the larger issue is not the immediate care of wounded soldiers, which is important, but the long term care of them as veterans once they leave active duty. The problem will come as they need long term care, and they have to go through the VA to get their care. The article then describes how the VA is currently severly underfunded, not even able to care for current veterans, which means it is nowhere near to being ready to handle a flood of Iraq veterans. The conluding line of the article is the part that wrenched my heart.

"Ultimately, if the Bush Administration continues its refusal to accept the realities of this conflict, the most enduring images of the Iraq war will be the sight of legless and addled beggars on our street corners holding cardboard signs that read: IRAQ VET. HUNGR AND HOMELESS. PLEASE HELP."

I just find such a situation terrible. Young men and women are sent to fight wars for this country. In a volunteer army, they volunteer to serve their country, and the least this country should do, especially those in power who sent them to war, is to take good care of those who were wounded serving their country. The situation is grim, and it does not look like it will get better unless those in power get serious about providing decent, dignified, and adequate care to the veterans who fought for their country.

A quick look at the news will reveal information about how the VA has been underfunded and will continue to do so. All I did was do a Google News Search, typing something as simple as "VA underfunded" with results here.

This kind of reminded me of that line that Sylvester Stallone, playing the character of John Rambo, says at the end of the second film when Colonel Trautman, played by Richard Crenna, asks Rambo not to hate his country. When Rambo replies he would die for it, the Colonel then asks him what he wants. Rambo replies, "I want, what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us as much as we love it! That's what I want!" Readers can find the quote here through Internet Movie Database.In the end, I don't think America's veterans are asking for much, considering how much they gave their country. Just something to think about.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Booknote: _Freakonomics_

Steven D. Levitt's analysis and insights on various statistics are compelling, interesting, and well explained. In Freakonomics (William Morrow, 2005), he teams up with journalist Stephen J. Dubner to illustrate what teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common, why drug dealers live with their mothers, and he asks whether or not a name makes a difference in employment. The authors challenge common wisdom to provide some very revealing insights. The strength of the book for me was the fact that the authors take the time to explain how they come up with the conclusions. For instance, in explaining the decline in the crime rates during the 1990s, he takes the common wisdom reasons and debunks them one at a time. He then makes an interesting connection to what seems an unrelated event (the Roe v. Wade decision). I warn that some readers may not like the conclusion, but the argument Levitt makes is both compelling and clearly explained. The chapter on parenting is very enlightening. All that obssessing over kids does not make a difference. Read the book and find out what does make a difference in raising a good child. This book will make people at least stop and think about how they see things. I highly recommend it; this is not your average book written by an economist. It has a good pace; it is fairly easy to read, and it will go fast. I guarantee readers will learn a few things, and they will likely come from the experience asking more questions. In between the chapters, there are quoted passages from a previous interview that the New York Times Magazine did with Professor Levitt, which adds a bit more insight into him. The book does include notes at the end for readers who wish to verify some of the information. I can definitely see why this book has been a bestseller. It is well written, and it tells a compelling story. Some readers complain that the narratives are not connected, that the professor presents various separate events. I think that is not really an issue because the book is so engaging that readers will not notice this. The book shows an intuitive scholar who asks various questions and then seeks for answers. "Steven Levitt may not fully belive in himself, but he does believe in this: teachers and criminals and real-estate agents may lie, and politicians, and even CIA analysts. But numbers don't" (from the NYT Magazine interview, quoted in the book). He proves that in this book. Readers who enjoy nonfiction will likely enjoy this book; if you are reader who would not pick up a book about economics, this is the book for you.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Booknote: _Crossing the Rubicon_

Michael C. Ruppert's book, Crossing the Rubicon: the Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil (New Society Publishers, 2004), is a very thick book, over six hundred pages, and while length should not be a deterrent to reading, I do give the warning (I know, not the best way to start a review or commentary, but as I said, it is fair warning). The author, a former LAPD detective who now works as a investigative writer, handles the connection between Peak Oil and 9/11 as a criminal investigation in the sense that he presents evidence, names suspects, gives motives, and leaves the materials to the reader to decide as a jury. The book contains a lot of numbers and figures, but these are gradually connected. The main thrust of the book is the connection of the events of September 11, 2001 to the problem of Peak Oil and the United States' need for new sources of fossil fuels to feed growing energy demands. In the process, the book looks at geopolitics, roles of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and the actions of various multinationals such as Halliburton. The early chapters look at how the Soviet Union was brought down in large part due in large part to the desire of outsiders to exploit the oil resources of the Caspian area. The irony rests in the fact that the oil reserves in the area were not as rich as they were first thought to be. So far, the book makes for interesting reading, but one has to read a little bit at a time. The reader gets a sense there is some cabal controlling world affairs, but if one looks at the evidence, one has to at least ask the questions.

The chapter on Osama Bin Laden and his connection to the Bush family makes for interesting reading. Specifically, the author argues that the Bin Laden family did not really cut off Osama as they would have the world believe. In addition, here is what I find compelling, the Saudi Bin Ladin Group, part of Osama's family business, holds various investments in the United States, including holdings of companies like Citigroup. Add to this the family's connection to the Saudi royal family, and again, one has to at least ask the questions. Readers interested in foreign affairs, terrorism and policy, and issues of the Middle East may find this book interesting.

Friday, July 01, 2005

June 2005 _Smithsonian_ article on Mexican immigration

Jonathan Kandell writes "Cross Purposes" for the June 2005 issue of Smithsonian. This is the article I referred to in my previous post. It is a brief, but very well-written article on the issue of immigration. It gives the Mexican point of view in terms of how many migrants come to the United States, work, and send remittances back to Mexico. According to the article,

"The surprising reality, however, is that Mexico's immigrants--a population exemplified by the half-million or so Poblanos living in the New York area, but with another 500,000 concentrated mainly in Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago--fuel a complex economic dynamic, both here and at home. In taking on menial work in this country, Mexicans have not only raised their standard of living and that of their families, they've also created a flow of capital back to villages across Mexico, especially towns throughout Puebla. That transfer of wealth--around $17 billion last year, double what it was only four years ago--has transformed life across the border, where new housing, medical clinics and schools are under construction. 'Many government officials both in the United States and Mexico would argue that these remittances have accomplished what foreign aid and local public investment failed to do,' says Oscar Chacon, director of Enlaces America, a Chicago-based advocacy group for Latin American immigrants" (92-93)

The result is that such conditions challenge the misconceptions and assumptions that many hold about Mexican immigrants in the United States. The article provides some background, then focuses on some specific areas in Mexico to show the effects of the immigration in the local communities. As I said, it is well written, and it includes photographs. This is another item to add to the list of reading on the topic.