Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Happy Blog Day 2005!

Today is , a day for bloggers around the world to recommend new blogs to readers and to find new blogs for them to read as well. I have placed my post over at my main blog with some blog suggestions you may want to read in order to celebrate the event. Please feel free to jump over and read the post, maybe go look at some of the suggestions. And if you have some time, go ahead, blog and tell us what you recommend as well. You can find details about the event itself at the BlogDay website.

Monday, August 29, 2005

On human exhibitions

A couple of interesting news items on exhibiting humans and borrowing them while you are at it (not at the same place). I am not sure what these mean other than maybe help us see a little of ourselves and others better.

  • Here is the story of the exhibit of humans at the London Zoo. They have men and women frolicking and almost au naturel. Basically, it is a reminder that we humans are primates as well, even if we like to play with board games when we get bored for example. An interesting little item. I just did a Google search for a link, and I chose the one from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but this has been picked up in various places.
  • This one is a library in Holland that is actually lending people. In an attempt to dispel stereotypes and foster better knowledge of your fellow human beings, this library in Holland is lending out people. You heard it right: people. The library has contacted people of different backgrounds to chat with people wanting to ask questions. You can take them to the cafeteria for up to an hour for a chat. Among the "items," they have some gay men, some lesbian women, and some Islamic volunteers. This particular article points out they are looking for members of the Roma gypsies. I know I don't qualify in that regard (I am a gypsy at heart, not part of the ethnic group), but if they ever need a Latino (Puerto Rican) fellow, I am their guy. Here's a link to the story.

Friday, August 26, 2005

It's not only finding new teachers, it's finding replacements for the ones that leave

The Chicago Sun-Times for August 18, 2005 reports on a study by the National Center for Education Information. According to the study, 40% of public school teachers plan to leave the profession within five years. For high school, the rate is expected to be 50% leaving by 2010. Retirement is a key factor as the teaching population is aging, and also many of the new teachers today are career changers who come into teaching in their 30s and 40s. In addition, if readers go to the NCEI Web site, they will find more information from the survey. In the news release about the study, it is revealed that this aging population is predominantly female (no surprise there), and that they mostly oppose standardized testing. The study does reveal that the teachers are overall satisfied with their job and that they are in it mostly because they enjoy working with young people. It is a reason for concern given the teacher shortages in the nation and the fact that there is a severe shortage of male teachers, which in spite of efforts, does not seem to be getting better. Add to this things like salaries being an issue, which the study does mention as well, and I think serious measures need to be taken, other than lip service, to staff classrooms with the best teachers available.

For further insights on teachers, especially new young teachers, readers may want to look over the "Elementary/Secondary School Teaching Among Recent College Graduates: 1994 and 2001," published by the National Center for Education Statistics. It looks at issues such as satisfaction with teaching experiences, perceptions of teachers, and it provides some interesting figures. However, it still mentions that attrition and retention are concerns for administrators and policy makers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

U.S. Involvement in Africa, a few little known facts: Article from African Studies Review

Citation for the article:

Barnes, Sandra T. "Global Flows: Terror, Oil, and Strategic Philanthropy." African Studies Review. 48.1 (2005): 1-22.

Article is available through Project Muse for those who may have access electronically.

This article provides an extensive overview of United States involvement in Africa. It discusses military and corporate involvement in the oil industries. It also provides a discussion of how the media has mostly been silent about these issues. For readers interested in foreign affairs, U.S. diplomacy and policy, African affairs, and international studies, this article is an informative read. The article presents how the United States has been involved in Africa due to terrorism and the desire to secure the oil reserves from the area, and it details how the media has mostly ignored this issue.

The article begins pointing out that the United States faces two dangers: the threat of terrorism and the risk of losing its oil supply. In addition, corporations can gain great profit from African oil resources, but they face problems of instability, corruption, weak or lacking infrastructure, and political order. The author then proceeds to demonstrate these elements.

On the issue of oil, the article mentions that "the United States consumes one-quarter of the world's oil supply--twenty million of the eighty million barrels produced every day. Much of it-- 13 to 18 percent--comes from West and Central Africa" (2). In addition, "currently, due to warfare in the Middle East, Nigeria produces more oil than Iraq, and Angola produces half that amount" (2). The article then details how the U.S. spends millions of dollars for that oil and in its development. A significant number of United States jobs are tied to the oil industry in Africa as well, and the United States exports a susbtantial amount of oil and gas equipment to the continent. The problem with oil supplies, as many know from the situation in Iraq, is the volatility of this supply. It can be easily disrupted, and supplies are often located in places that are not exactly very friendly to the United States. To this end, the U.S. is investing in military resources for the region as well as in corporate development.

In terms of the military, the United States is doing various things in the region, most of them unknown to the general public. There are full military bases. Then, there are access points, technically called "secure co-operation locations" where the U.S. can do things like refuel planes, store weapons, house soldiers for short periods of time, and do intelligence work. A thrid way is to establish special programs in Africa like training local police in antiterrorism. In addition, the U.S. engages in various operations to strengthen the African military forces. This includes increasing peacekeeping forces, training their military, joint military exercises, seminars and education for their officers, and direct supplying of weapons. It is necessary to keep in mind that very often the results of all this involvement can be the increase of regional conflicts rather than the diminishing intended by the efforts. It is, from my understanding, a very tricky balance, and the author mentions that herein lies the paradox of the issue.

In terms of multinational corporations, their main tactic is what is known as strategic philanthropy. The author notes that this is not like the philanthropy of organizations like the Gates Foundation giving computers to a local library. This is a new type of corporate development where corporations become actively involved in developing the communities that will support the corporation. According to the article, this strategic philanthropy is "devoted to sustainable development projects such as improving infrastructure, education, and agriculture, or providing seed money for growing local businesses" (12). Many of these projects are good and very innovative, but they can carry a price. Very often, the corporations set themselves in a relationship that makes the locals dependent on them, and more importantly, corporate accountability can be lost. Also, very often, corporate taxes and other revenue to the nation gets lost in corruption to heads of state and their henchmen, meaning the money never gets distributed to the country, creating resentment against the corporation. Yet, this corporate strategy has become a significant component of how businesses operate in that part of the world. Very often, companies will compete with each other to see which one can provide better packages to nations. It is part of doing business by now.

As for the media, it has practically ignored these issues. The author goes on to describe the press coverage of Africa, pointing out that it has been mostly negative if at all, to the point that the general public that does not seek further sources of information past the mainstream media are conditioned to expect only the bad news, if any at all. Readers that seek information on these issues need to turn to print sources and the internet to find it in places like Africa Action, Washington Notes on Africa, and Jane's Defence Weekly. Barnes Another factor influencing the silence of the mainstream media to African news and issues is the deep history of racism in American society (16).

I highly recommend the article for readers interested in being a little more informed than what is usually found in the mainstream media.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Too many customers in those large bookstores?

The New York Times for August 21, 2005 has a piece entitled "Hell is Other Customers" by Charles Taylor. It tells the travails and woes of a customer trying to browse in one of the megabookstores, which seem to have become "flophouses" for people who simply park on aisles for hours with their coffee, blocking traffic. It is a piece I can relate to. A trip to the B&N nearby confirms this. It is not as bad as the ones the author describes, but indeed, I know what he means about the couches being like a land grab. In the science fiction area, which happens to also be near the manga, there is a nice set of easy chairs that is always occupied by teenagers reading and sprawled out as if it was the living room of their home, books strewn all over the area as if a hurricane had gone by. I am all for browsing and reading, but I do have to wonder at times, especially when it seems they are the same kids every time I go in. What the author seems to find most disturbing is the lack of common manners on the part of the flopped people, and this is why the article caught my eye: I am not too tolerant of poor manners or lack of common courtesy. Readers have to wonder how long before this becomes a problem for the chains. Maybe something like this may be a point in favor for the smaller independents? Only time will tell. I picked up on this story at LISNews.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Interesting article on Houston's Joel Osteen

Texas Monthly is one of the magazines on my personal reading list, but it is one that I usually just scan to get a sense of what is going on around the state. If I find something interesting, I usually read it. This month (August 2005), the cover story is the article "Prime Minister" written by William Martin. It covers the life and ministry of Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church and widely known for his television program and books; his bestseller, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, is a book that I have often seen people read on the commute to work. As a note, you need to be a subscriber to read the article online, which is why I did not link to it. However, if you live in Texas, odds are this is one magazine most public libraries will pick up. While the article is a bit on the rosy side, rosy in the sense that it seems to be very favorable to the pastor, it is still interesting nonetheless. For anyone who does not know much about the pastor, and that includes me), the article gives some background on the church, how Joel Osteen came to become its pastor, and how the church is moving into the future. I found particularly interesting how he answers some of his critics who see his brand of religion as "Christianity Lite." I will note that I am transplant to Texas, and before I came here for my job, I had seen the preacher while channel surfing, but kept on surfing (ok, so maybe I stopped for a minute or two. The guy does have an enthusiasm that is hard to ignore, even for heathens like me who do move on after the minute or so of peeking). I have come to learn that he is quite the presence in Houston, enhanced by the church's move into the Compaq Center. Regardless of where readers stand, the article presents a very optimistic man who seems sincere in his faith. Overall, the article is well written and worth a look. While readers do not have to read the Harper's piece, for me at least, it made a nice complement.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Revisiting school parents who lack any sense of responsibility

My few readers know that I have little tolerance for parents of school children who think their little darlings can get away with murder on the basis of how obnoxious they can be. It's people like that who give parents a bad name. So, just when I think I have seen it all when it comes to certain school parents who will make every excuse so their kids don't actually have to do schoolwork or be inconvenienced by their education, along comes this story of a Momzilla who, had it been me, I would have called the cops and have her charged for assault. The sad part is that mom's kid could have possibly done well in school in spite of the ADHD were it not for her. Anyhow, just go over and read it at Scheiss Weekly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The paradox of Christianity in the United States: Article from Harper's Magazine

Citation for the article:

McKibben, Bill. "The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong." Harper's August 2005: 31-37.

This essay caught my eye because of the headline, but as I read more of it, it kept my attention because the writer strives to show how the concept of Christianity in the United States is very different from what the Bible states it should be. The author opens by pointing out how the common refrain of "God helps those who help themselves" was said by Benjamin Franklin, and it is not found anywhere in the Bible, even though most Americans think it is a Bible verse. From there, the author argues that much of the Christianity in the United States is focused on the individual and on making individuals feel good rather than focusing on others, like Jesus suggested when he said that line about loving thy neighbor as you love thyself. This passage stuck with me:

"But one day it ocurred to me that the parts of the world where people actually had cut dramatically back on their carbon emissions, actually did live voluntarily in smaller homes and take public transit, were the same countries where people were giving aid to the poor and making sure everyone had health care--countries like Norway and Sweden, where religion was relatively unimportant. How could that be? For Christians there should be something at least a little scary in the notion that, absent the magical answers of religion, people might just get around to solving their problems and strengthening their communities in more straightforward ways" (35).

The passage stuck with me because it made me wonder much as the author wondered. He goes on to say that the United States will pretty much remain a Christian nation. And before someone out there says something about how the Europeans are mostly socialist heathens or something similar, it does bear thought the fact that such nations place a higher priority in providing basic needs like health care to all their citizens, caring for others besides themselves in, dare I say it, a Christian fashion. Personally, I think I have said a few times that I have not much use for religion in this regard: if religion moves you to do good deeds, make a better place of the world, make you a better person and help you help others, that is great. If on the other hand, it moves you to be a bigot who cares only for him/herself without regards to your neighbor, and in the process of realizing your fullest potential, you destroy the rest of the world, you can keep your religion to yourself. Maybe that is what I find so disturbing about so-called Christians in this country: the fact that they seem more worried about having the latest, about reaching their own fullest potential while not really doing much of anything for their neighbors. And the thing I find sad is that the United States has such potential, and its people can be very generous, but those who have hijacked religion for the sake of power take that potential away, and they should be condemned. But we should also be condemning the so-called Christians that sit silently and let those powers that be do such terrible things in the name of the religion. I am sure there are many decent and true Christians out there, but if they do not take a stand, tell their leaders, that this is not how things ought to be, then they become accomplices in the process. Anyhow, just some food for thought.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Finding good teachers is not easy, then, there's getting them to show up to class.

As an educator, I am interested in issues related to education, and while I am more interested in higher education, that being my line of work, I still keep up with public education since I used to be a secondary school teacher, and my daughter is in school. At any rate, seems that within the last couple of months, there have been some articles on teachers and teacher quality. This is something that I tend to have mixed feelings about. For one, I am not a big fan of unions, but on the other hand I know that without them teachers would probably be much more exploited than they are right now. For all the talk about teacher accountability and better incentives, it often boils down to that: talk. Having said that, I do think unions for teachers should be behaving more like professional organizations, like the AMA, and less like labor unions. Yet, as some readers know from reading this blog, I usually have a greater issue with parents who think that just because they "pay their taxes," that they own the teachers. For one, guess what, the teacher pays their taxes too. Second, it is a matter of respect and dignity. What message does it send your child if you yourself disrespect the persons that you allegedly entrust to educate your child? I have actually written about it here and here. I happen to believe that parenting involves personal responsibility, something that seems sorely missing these days, but I am disgressing. So, on to the articles that caught my eye these last few days:

Critical Mass points to an article from The Indianapolis Star dated August 7th asking where are the teachers at? It is a report on the issue of abseentism of teachers in the classroom and how it affects the students. The Indianapolis Star also features an editiorial discussing Indiana's low graduation rates and how the state "doctors" them to make themselves look better. The piece on abseentism notes that teachers can often take long leaves of absence due to generous policies of rolling their sick days and other nice options. Now, before readers jump on the wagon of cut those days away, I will point out that given the low pay teachers get, those days are likely one of the few perks they actually get. And no, I am not advocating teachers should take off weeks on end. However, teachers do need their little mental health now and then, and they do take the occasional day off to reload the battery. It happens. I am just making a little point for some sympathy. Readers who have not been in a classroom with 40 or so students will probably not understand this. Now, what the Indianapolis newspaper describes about a continued use of substitute teachers who may or not be qualified is both appalling and unacceptable. Yet given the bad conditions in some of those schoools, you have to honestly ask yourself if you can blame the teachers. An interesting point also is the fact that many new teachers may get hired in a place like Indianapolis, hone their skills, get some experience, then flee for the first suburban school district with better conditions that offers them a job. Again, one has to wonder.

As if things were not complicated enough, the Chicago Tribune featured an article on July 20th on reversing the lack of male teachers. The article states that "as a new academic year approaches, school districts, education groups, and universities are exploring ways to get more men into a field long dominated by women. Their goal is to provide more male role models in class and to diversify the labor pool of dedicated teachers." The article goes on to mention that only 21% of teachers in U.S. public schools are men, and for elementary, that figure goes down to 9%. According to Bryan Nelson, founder of MenTeach, a non-profit that recruits men into teaching, "men must often overcome concerns about their salaries, a perception that teaching isn't masculine, and even public fears that they pose a danger to kids." Mr. Nelson is not saying anything new. For one, I discussed such concerns about the lack of male teachers two months ago. Back then, I had mixed feelings about it, and I still do. I was saying I would probably not advice a guy considering teaching to pursue it, and I gave some of my reasons why, which echo Mr. Nelson's. However, for me ,the big concern was the issue of people thinking male teachers, especially in elementary, can be dangerous. I still think the way some of these scandals are handled and the way a reputation is destroyed, especially if a person is proven innocent, are not worth the risk. A pity in my view because I still enjoy teaching very much, and I am glad I still get to practice it in my current career, but it is very unlikely you could get me to step back into a public school classroom. However, I have a little reason to be more optimistic this time around. My daughter has a male science teacher in fourth grade. He will be teaching science and math. We went to meet him on "Meet the teachers" night two days before school started, and he seems like a good enthusiastic fellow. From what little I saw of him interacting with my daughter and other children that came by, the guy has a charm so to speak. He seems sincerely interested in the children and seems able to get along with them well. He does seem knowledgeable as well. I have to admit that I have admiration for the guy to want to teach fourth grade, but the teacher part of me wonders if he ever had some of the concerns articles like the one from the Chicago Tribune describe. If he does, he is at least is not letting those concerns bother him (or at least hides it well). I do hope he does well, and if he does, I hope we do find more like him. Because at the end of the day, children need to have good role models of both genders, and this includes seeing an example of a good man. I do try to be a good role model at home, but I can certainly use all the help I can get, so another good role model is a good thing. They are starting out with astronomy, so sounds like my daughter will be having fun. Do note that the teacher is a science and math teacher, which is a very marketable set of subject areas if someone is planning on going into teaching. I am not saying it to be cynical; I just need a transition to the next article I want to point out, and I did not have something wittier.

The Washington Times for July 25th had a piece about the school systems in Maryland. Over there, they are struggling to get qualified teachers in the classrooms. Actually, this story has also been in other national newspapers. Part of the problem is due to federal acccountability laws that require districts to have "highly qualified teachers." Also, job seekers can now afford to be more savvy when it comes to seeking positions since they know schools are scrambling. Susan Mascaro, head recruiter for Howard County, says about job seekers that "they'll come to your booth and ask about incentives and signing bonuses, unlike three years ago. They ask about new-teacher support and mentoring programs." Things have changed indeed, and now you can add the career changers who often get some kind of emergency credential to go into a classroom, usually if they already have a subject degree. What has not changed is that math, science, special education, and foreign languages make a candidate very marketable. The problem I see here are all those regulations they added along with NCLB to make teachers "more accountable." So, on the one hand, they make it harder for people to become teachers, but on the other hand, districts which are strapped go ahead and hire who they can whether qualified or not. The article about Maryland does not mention the issue of "emergency" credentials, but a good search on the topic will likely yield a few results. What the Maryland article shows is that the requirements are making it harder to find good teachers, and it is not because there are not talented people out there. You look at the concerns that Mr. Nelson cited for men, add bad conditions in many of the poorer districts, and actually NCLB is just an "icing on the cake" of a larger problem. As a new school year starts, I find myself thankful that my child will have good teachers this year; I am also thankful we are in a good school district, much of the reason I commute to work a long distance, so we can live in an area with good schools. That is the parent in me talking. The educator in me is concerned over these trends, which don't seem to get better as long as people who have no clue about education continue to impose "standards" that are more punitive than constructive. As long as some parents through their actions devalue or degrade their teachers, this will not get better. And as long as good teachers are not supported and rewarded as they should, things will not get better. For now, I am trying to keep the faith. But it's not easy. As for what would I say to a student that came to me asking if he or she should become a teacher, I would have to tell them to think it long and hard.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Denver city librarian asked to resign over fotonovelas, or using a book challenge to promote racism (Part Two)

Yesterday, I was writing about the issue of the fotonovelas and providing some clarification about the claims that they are pornographic materials, which they are not. I then went on to comment that this book challenge issue is being used as a smokescreen for a larger issue: a racist anti-immigrant campaign.

CAIR is not the only group promoting the flames of hate and ignorance. The Colorado Minutemen, another one of the volunteer border watching groups, had their representative, Robert Copley, quoted in the Rocky Mountain News as saying, about the immigrants that come to the city, "our city's sanctuary policy acts as nothing but a magnet, pulling people from across the border. You hear they come to work hard. They also come to kill, destroy our work opportunities, and demean our quality of life." The notion of immigrants as criminals can be refuted in various ways. We are not saying that there are not immigrants who are criminals; there are some just like there may be some anti-immigration people who may be criminals. The point is that being an immigrant does not automatically mean criminality. However, a way to refute this is to point out the part about the hard work because these immigrants do come to the United States to work hard. They usually do the hard labor that many of the "locals" refuse or are unwilling to do. In the process, not only do they do the work, but they also spend money in this country, which helps the economy. Helping the economy with their contribution, along with the contributions of other workers is a far cry from demeaning the quality of life. What can be labeled as demeaning the quality of life is the way these workers are often exploited by their employers in the work they do, diverse jobs from construction to the food services (including much of the food people like Mr. Copley likely puts on his table), and the gardens so well kept in the areas that enjoy a better quality of life. The exploitation is what exemplifies the "demeaning in the quality of life" mentioned by Mr. Copley. It is a form of degradation and dehumanization that oppressive racists like Copley, the Colorado Minutemen, and CAIR will conveniently neglect to mention in their attacks. And how do I know this? Just a little research. How do we make others aware? A little education (a little extra in some cases). Research skills and educational dispositions seem to be lacking in such groups. And, just so my readers can't say I am taking a cheap shot at people like the members of CAIR, I will provide an illustration.

On the CAIR website, there is a list of questions and allegations that the organization makes against the city library and its director, Rich Ashton. One of the things they cite is Mr. Ashton's statement that DPL staff travel to the Guadalajara International Book Fair for materials selection. First, a little thing, readers should notice that the people in CAIR did not even bother to check the spelling of Guadalajara, spelling it "Guadalahara" instead. Their statement about Mr. Ashton is that "it is hard to imagine a "book fair" being able to afford such expenses. " Let's look at this statement because it does not require imagination, but it can show what a little reading and looking over a website can do. And, since CAIR does link to the book fair site, I decided to go ahead and look at the Guadalajara International Book Fair site too. Now, CAIR links to the English version, so they should be able to at least look at it before making that statement. So, what did I learn?

On the website to the book fair, if readers go under the link for , there is a section on support programs. On that section, there is a link to ALA's Free Pass program which is available to library staff. The package includes a hotel stay for 3 nights (6 nights if you share the room with a colleague), 3 breakfasts, and the registration fee. These are paid by the book fair itself. ALA kicks in $100.00 towards airfare. While it is not all-inclusive, it certainly provides a good package for library staff to be able to travel to the fair. In addition, on that section of the web page, there is information for support for other attendees like translators and other professionals. So, can CAIR imagine that? I suppose not given it is a reality. Now, they may ask, "but where does the fair get the money?" That is where sponsorships and the fees charged to exhibitors come in, not hard to imagine. Does it mean all the staff can travel for free? Probably not, but it certainly allows them to travel at a good rate and minimal expense to the taxpayer, assuming the city even pays them to go. In some cities, the library staff would have to pay the difference out of their pocket. Overall, it seems CAIR did not bother to read the web site they linked to, preferring to make an inflammatory statement to get attention.

If readers look at the CAIR website, and they probably should to get a sense of what the other side is alleging, they will see that many of the allegations are phrased to be irritating and confrontational. The allegations against REFORMA, made in the context of Mr. Ashton being a member, are mostly a form of innuendo, trying to make it sound as if there is some vast Spanish speaking conspiracy. While it may be valid for a group of taxpayers to question how their funds are being used, the tactics are despicable to say the least, which takes away from any credibility they may have had. I am sure that once readers look over their site, and then give it some thought, maybe do a little research, they will see the allegations for what they are: part of a plan to promote a racist anti-immigrant agenda.

As I wrap this post, I have to share one more quote. During the protests, both sides were quite intense in their arguing. There was an exchange between Wanda Weatherford, a long time resident, and Gabriela Casillas, whose parents are Mexican and moved to the United States when she was a little girl. The exchange went like this (quoting from the linked article):

"'You need to speak English,' Weatherford told Casillas.

'I am speaking English, but I can speak Spanish too,' Casillas replied.

'You need to speak (English) all the time,' Weatherford said."

One always has to wonder when people see bilingualism as a liability. Notice that Ms. Casillas points out that she does speak English, but that she can also speak Spanish. Just a little trivia: according to the U.S. Census in a recent press release, " 30 million is the number of U.S. residents age 5 and older who speak Spanish at home. Spanish speakers constitute a ratio of more than 1-in-10 U.S. household residents. Among all those who speak Spanish at home, more than one-half say they speak English 'very well.'" What needs to be noted here, besides the large number of U.S. residents who speak Spanish, is the fact that more than half say they speak English very well. So, it is not that immigrants refuse to learn English or don't know it. The numbers show that they are interested in learning it when they get here, and that they learn it along with their native language. Every time I hear someone put down someone else because they are bilingual I remember the old joke:

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual
What do you call someone who speaks more than two languages? Polyglot
What do you call someone who speaks only one language? An American

I know, that one was a cheap shot. But given the need in the United States to have a better understanding of the world, refusing to learn other languages is not the answer. This does not only apply to Spanish. Right now, the U.S. military and intelligence communities have a serious problem because they lack translators who can speak Arabic or other Middle Eastern languages. One of the children of some Middle Eastern immigrant, for instance, could have grown up to become one of those sorely needed translators, but it is attitudes like Ms. Weatherford's that make it difficult. In the long run, it is a sad commentary on the nation that a nation built by immigrants who brought their cultures and languages to this nation now wants to turn away from the diversity that made it strong. Contrary to what racists and other detractors would say, no one is proposing the replacement of one language over another. What is being proposed is a co-existence between two or more languages, and in the case of learning centers, such co-existence serves to facilitate the learning of English in order to be a better citizen. Better citizens contributing to the strength of the nation is supposed to be a good thing. But readers may get the impression that is not the case from the negative rhetoric.

Finally, since I know that newspaper links often expire after a short period of time, here are the citations to articles:

Quintero, Fernando. "Protesters Cite Porn on Shelves--'Fotonovelas' Drive Crowd to Demand that Librarian Resign." Rocky Mountain News (CO). 9 August 2005: 6A

Quintero, Fernando. "Library Sparks Debate--Bilingual Branches Would Cater to Needs of Hispanic Patrons." Rocky Mountain News (CO). 9 August 2005: 6A

Crummy, Karen E. "Library Protest Becomes Rift Over Immigration." Denver (CO) Post. 9 August 2005.

Update note (8/22/05): The Mayor of Denver provides a written response to Congressman Tancredo's inflammatory inquiries in writing. Well worth a look as they show clearly there is no conspiracy to turn DPL into some Spanish-only sanctuary as the "detractors" claim.

Update note (8/25/05): DPL cancels subscription to four titles of fotonovelas after review. Do note however the incident apparently still left a chilling effect since the article notes that the library decided " they won't order similar publications in other languages unless someone files a complaint." The article is from the Washington Post for August 24th, 2005 with the headline "Denver Library Nixes 4 Spanish Books."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Denver city librarian asked to resign over fotonovelas, or using a book challenge to promote racism (Part One)

To my few readers out there, you better strap yourselves, for it is going to be a bumpy ride. It is not very often that issues get my blood boiling, but the outright racism and ignorance like that being displayed over in Denver, Colorado does the trick. The recent calls for the resignation of the city librarian and the objection to the presence of fotonovelas in the libraries' collections have become an event for some anti-immigrant groups to promote their racist agendas. The stories exemplify how these folks will use innuendo, ignorance, and inflammatory rhetoric (if you can call it rhetoric) to achieve their goals.

For folks in librarianship, and other interested readers, LIS News has been featuring bits and links to the various stories recently. You can find links here and here. In fact, I left a comment on the first link when it came out, since it was dealing with the issue of outreach to Spanish-speaking communities. At the time, I responded and gave some thought to writing a little about reasons to provide such service, why are they siginificant? After seeing what is going on out there, I felt a need to write something a bit more immediate to answer and refute some of the inaccuracies and racist remarks in the press. So, readers can consider this part one. I will have at least one other post, a part two, and the more measured piece on outreach as a part three of an unplanned short series of posts. I will likely have the third one in a couple of days as I have been looking over some nice articles and some Census items that I want to integrate. So, here goes part one.

The issue in Denver began with the objection to the library carrying Spanish fotonovelas. In addition, the library is planning to provide more focus on Spanish resources at its branches. The issue has become a heated argument over immigration issues. So, let's go down the line.

CAIR (Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform), one of the groups adding fuel to the fires of racism and ignorance, has presented the issue in inaccurate and sensationalistic terms. A visit to their website now proclaims the presence of porn in the library in red letters. This is clearly designed to draw attention. They define fotonovelas as pornography, and thus, they are trying to portray the library as a promoter of porn, which is far from the truth, but it is also meant to strike a chord with some people who may be concerned sincerely over what their kids read. Now, let's look at some facts. On their website, they define a "novela" as "the name sometimes given to Spanish language pornographic comic books." They also add that "these Novellas are pornographic and reflect serious violence against women." This is certainly inaccurate and only reflects a very superficial reading of the fotonovela genre. For starters, a "novela" literarally refers to a novel. This can be anything from the latest Harry Potter to The Sun Also Rises to short fiction in some cases (novellas and novelettes for instance). In simple terms, a "fotonovela" is a type of graphic novel, closer to a comic book. Now, fotonovelas are being considered here in terms of the fact that they may contain, and many do, some steamy scenes. What the people at CAIR fail to mention is that the content in the fotonovelas is no more terrible than the content in a Harlequin romance (or any other steamy romance for that matter). It has to be noted that many public libraries do carry romance novels, which may include graphic novels, to the great delight of their patrons, with bodice-ripping covers and all. It also must be noted that fotonovelas cover more than romance and sex. Fotonovelas present stories in various genres. This includes western (the English equivalent could easily be Louis L'Amour or the Lone Ranger comics some people read as a child), police and crime (think something like Ed McBain or other police thriller writer), politics, and even biographies. In the biography genre, fotonovelas cover both famous lives as well as lives of saints. These are not unlike graphic novels in English that would narrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King or tell the story of John Paul II. What is interesting with the CAIR allegations is that they took some photos of selected passages from a narrow selection of fotonovelas, and they made a display for adults on their website with the purpose of making others think that the library is peddling pornography. It is clear they have not looked at the genre as a whole, and it is unlikely that they looked at every single issue of fotonovelas in the library branches. Furthermore, if readers look at the website, they will see that before they can access the photo samples, a warning is given to readers in terms of being over or under 18. It is an inflammatory tactic, and if you look at it closely, it could even be similar to what actual porn sites do in asking if a visitor is over 18 or not before granting access. It does look like a form of titillation as well as flaming.

Now, these observations of mine in no way negate parental rights and responsibilities. These rights and responsibilities apply to any choice of reading material in any language. If a parent does not wish for his/her child to see material that may not be age appropriate or against the family values, this is a laudable goal. Now, to set aside one specific genre and labeling it as Mexican porn as the CAIR people and their followers are doing on their websites and allegations in the press goes against the parental rights (who are they to tell someone else what to read or not?), and it shows a racist attitude since other works which could be arguably objectionable were not singled out. This is not to say that works should be singled out. A library should be a haven for all ideas and forms of expression (and no, I am not saying they should include pornography, as opposed to say erotic fiction or even sex education materials). Librarians should be responsive also to their communities, and it is clear that the librarians in Denver have done just this in selecting the materials for their Spanish-language users and then reconsidering their procedures when the objection arose in a reasonable and calm manner.

If this was a mere book challenge (not that there is such a thing as a "mere" book challenge), we would probably not hear as much about it outside of the local press of where it was happening. I certainly would write about it, but my focus would probably be different. This issue is outstanding because the challenge of the fotonovelas is being used as a smokescreen to foster an anti-immigrant racist campaign. I will look at that tomorrow.

Update note (3:36p): There is an excellent article that was published in Library Journal on fotonovelas and how to decide on selecting them for your library. It provides a nice primer that also addresses some of the possible concerns. For librarians as well as any other interested readers, it would be a worthy piece to read.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Conections between Chinese and Mexicans in Hollywood Cinema

Curtis Marez has written a very interesting article entitled "Pancho Villa Meets Sun Yat-Sen: Third World Revolution and the History of Hollywood." The article is published in American Literary History 17.3 (2005): 486-505. For many libraries, it may be available through Project Muse. The article presents a discussion of the connections between the Chinese and Mexican communities in the United States in various cultural forms with a focus on film. The article looks at the careers of Californio actor Leo Carillo and Chinese American filmmaker James Wong Howe. The article is divided into four parts.

In the first part, the author begins by stating that "both Mexican and Chinese cinemas have revolutionary origins, and this fact has enduring consequences for Hollywood's world dominance" (487). He then goes on to establish various common elements between the two groups, paying attention to their anarchist elements. He demonstrates how these groups had similar views even though they were very different. In both cases, the groups revolutionary history can be seen in their film history. The author also discusses the role of speculative fictions in anarchism as a tool to educate the revolutionaries. Though both film industries from these groups were small, the author goes to show that they posed a threat to the Hollywood establishment.

In the second part, the author discusses the career of Leo Carillo. Leo Carillo is best remembered as the sidekick Pancho in the Cisco Kid television program during the 1950s. "A descendant of one of the most prominent families of Spanish and Mexican California, Carillo was largely raised by several Chinese servants, including Leung Chung, a Chinese immigrant whom he would eventually rehire when he became a star" (495). Carillo went on to become fluent in Cantonese, and he spent a lot of time among Chinese immigrants. He even impersonanted Chinese characters. However, in his film career, he was typecast as the Mexican bandit. He had to struggle, much like Chinese immigrants, with issues of racism rampant in his time. In this section, Marez also makes a small note on vaudeville and how often Asian and Latin American performers would alternate in shows in the U.S. This is an area that the author says needs further research.

In the third part, the author looks at the career of James Wong Howe. , who emigrated from China to the U.S. shortly after the Boxer Rebellion. He also faced the racism rampant at the time in the U.S. While working for Hollywood, he would often get the worst equipment, and white workers resented taking orders from him. The author goes on to discuss his film career and his involvement in Chinese nationalism.

In the fourth part, the author concludes with a call to globalize U.S. cultural studies. The author is interested in further exploring the transpacific triangle between the U.S., Mexico, and Asia. Marez also provides various suggestions for further research in this area. For example, marez writes, "as I suggested earlier, Chinese and Mexicans partly share histories of immigration, and our understanding of Asian exclusion laws in the U.S. might be enriched by comparing them to similar laws in Mexico. Hu-DeHart has done pioneering work on this project, but much remains to be done on the history of Chinese trade with, and immigration to, Mexico" (503).

This article is recommended for students and others interested in film history as it presents a little known time of film history in the United States. It also provides various suggestions for further investigation that others could follow.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Booknote: Nothing's Sacred

Title: Nothing's Sacred
Author: Lewis Black
Publication Information: New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005
ISBN: 0-689-87647-5
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Humor
Pages: 217

This is the first book by The Daily Show's resident curmudgeon Lewis Black. If you have seen him on the show, or you have seen his stand-up routines, then you know what to expect in this book. In fact, a part of the book has material that you may have seen in his stand-up routines. However, the book is also a memoir as Mr. Black tells of his childhood, his days in college during the turbulent sixties, and his struggling career as a playwright. Jon Stewart is quoted in the back cover as saying about Lewis Black: "Lewis Black is the only person I know who can actually yell in print form. Very entertaining read." This is definitely very true. The tone of the prose almost sounds like he is yelling and ranting at times. If you have heard him before, then you can practically hear his voice as you read the book. For fans, this may be a strength. Yet, the humor can be appreciated and enjoyed even if one has not seen his performances before. He blends humor and some warmth (not much, a little); he makes you think at times, and at times, he makes you want to yell as well. His story about auditioning for a television role where the character was basically him is worth reading, and this is just one example. He challenges authority every chance he gets, and he delights in pointing out the foibles and snafus of those in power. Then, he explains how working for the government really works, and asks what is the deal with so many Starbucks locations. In terms of pacing, this is a fast and easy read. It is written pretty much as he would speak in a performance. There is some language; I don't think it is much, but a warning to other readers. I do recommend this book for a good laugh and an entertaining time.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Internet Dependency. . .or is it addiction? Anyhow, just for fun.

Here is another momentary slip into doing something fun and then putting it in here. At any rate, I took this little quiz to see how I would do. Actually, I thought I would do worse (haha). I wonder how other librarians might do given we often spend so much time using the internet just for work. Anyhow, link is at the bottom if readers wish to try it. I scored a 60%.

Are you Addicted to the Internet?

60% (41% - 60%)
You seem to have a healthy balance in your life when it comes to the internet and life away from the computer. You know enough to do what you want online without looking like an idiot (most of the time). You even have your own Yahoo club or online journal! But you enjoy seeing your friends and going out to enjoy life away from your computer.

The Are you Addicted to the Internet? Quiz at Quiz Me!

Abjection and Performance: an article and a response

I am sure the specialists in the fields of Latino Studies and Queer Theory have read these by now, but for those of us with a more generalist interest in ethnic studies, it makes for an interesting piece of reading. In my other life as an English Studies major, a life I somehow have not totally left, one of my budding areas of interest was performance studies. What can I say, I had an excellent and inspirational professor back then. At any rate, I still do some writing in literary studies and do the occasional conference, so I read as widely as I can. Maybe I should not call it my other life, since being a scholar is still a part of me (I note I am not in a faculty position, so I am not required to publish, but I am certainly allowed and welcome to do so. Which is nice, I can explore other writings and do some scholarship without pressure). It at times seems so different from what I do now though.

These short pieces caught my eye for a couple of reasons. One, because in the first one, the author is setting up a proposal for a line of study. He is using his own experience to explore how the queer Latino body enacts and brings forth a performance of identity, where identity is not consistent. Professor Sandoval states that "as a Latino gay man with AIDS and as a scholar, there is no way I can draw a line between my body and my scholarship: my body pushes me to the limits, my writing always makes me put into practice the interdependency between body and mind" (543). In the process of articulating what he would like to investigate, he makes a performance that integrates poetry as well as his own experience. The second piece is a response to the first piece, and the author poses some further questions to explore. Professor Larson offers an explanation of what Professor Sandoval is doing. She writes: ""But what we have experienced here today is not just the presentation of a theory or a politics of survival through abjection but an example of abjection as a performative act in the disruption of the typically dry academic conference or symposium paper, with the inclusion of autobiographical information and a short performance in Spanglish, a language that always seems to remind me that identity is constantly in the process of being made" (550). Second, I liked the idea of the academic conversation that seems to be taking place, which can be an example I could use with students to illustrate the idea of the academic conversation.

The articles are available through Project Muse for those who may have access to that resource.

Sandoval-Sánchez, Alberto. "Politicizing Abjection: In the Manner of a Prologue for the Articulation of AIDS Latino Queer Identities." American Literary History 17.3 (2005): 542-549.

Larson, Susan. "New Avenues for the Politics of the Abject." American Literary History 17.3 (2005): 550-552.