Friday, March 31, 2006

A humourous look at abstinence

The folks at Happyville Library have rewritten a brochure about abstinence for the rest of us who actually believe in having some healthy fun. If you have a sense of humor, go right ahead and read it. On the other hand, if you offend easily, you may want to skip this one.

If I was an American City. . .who knew?

It's Friday, so readers know odds are good it's quiz time. Hmm, who knew? I moved to Texas almost two years ago after living in Indiana and the Midwest well over a decade. The scary thing is that the description of the city fits me quite nicely, which makes me wonder how I managed so well in the Midwest, supposedly a more "wholesome" kind of place. I am still making up my mind about Texas. I am hoping Houston will not bias me against the rest of the state (let's just say Houston has its moments, to put it mildly). Anyhow, feel free to take a try at the quiz.

You Are Austin

A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.
You're totally weird and very proud of it.
Artistic and freaky, you still seem to fit in... in your own strange way.

Famous Austin residents: Lance Armstrong, Sandra Bullock, Andy Roddick

Monday, March 27, 2006

Booknote: When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

Title: When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
Author: George Carlin
Publication Information: New York: Hyperion, 2004
ISBN: 1401301347
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Humor, comedy
295 pages

George Carlin pretty much rips on everything from euphemistic language to politics. He can be crude, funny, and thoughtful, often all at the same time. For example, here is an observation on political correctness, "I can remember when I was young that poor people lived in slums. Not anymore. These days, the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing in the inner cities. It's so much nicer for them."His voice is strong; one can practically hear him as one reads. I understand he actually reads the audio version, so when I check out another of his books, I may give it a try as an audiobook. The book's pacing is pretty good, so readers will probably get through it pretty quick. It does not have chapters; the book is more arranged into segments, which reflects the stand-up nature of his work. Overall, an entertaining read.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Seems some foreign students are applying again

Through the Kept-Up Librarian, a report from The New York Times that applications from foreign students are increasing again. This comes after a two year slump mostly due to September 11 events and security issues. However, application numbers are still lower than they were prior to 2003 according to the survey conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The NYT article is entitled "In reversal, graduate school applications from foreigners rise," and it was published in March 23, 2006. No link as the NYT requires registration. I read it myself on Lexis-Nexis. I wrote previously about the decline in enrollment for foreign students here and here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Article Note: On Thomas Jefferson, Thomas the Apostle, and Jesus

Citation for the article:

Reece, Erik. "Jesus Without the Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas." Harper's Magazine December 2005: 33-41.

I read the article in print.

I found this article in Harper's interesting from its opening. I thought I knew a few things about the Founding Fathers and early U.S. History, but I did not know that Thomas Jefferson did a cut-and-paste with the Bible. From the article, here's what Jefferson did:

". . .he took a pair of scissors to the King James Bible two hundred years ago. Jefferson cut out the virgin birth, all the miracles--including the most important one, the Resurrection--then pasted together what was left and called it The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. . ." (33).

Mr. Jefferson felt that the Church had hijacked the religion. As I started reading the article, I wondered how many modern day Christians feel the same way about those who do the hijacking nowadays. It is known that Jefferson and the Founding Fathers are often accused of being atheists when they were actually deists. There is a distinction, one that many today seem to affirm or deny depending on their own political agendas, but we can leave that for another time.

The essayist goes on to discuss the Gospels' stories and how Jefferson saw them. The writer suggests that Jesus' teachings were more important than what or how he lived. Jefferson was interested in Jesus' message, a message that calls those who hear it to be better persons as well as treating others well. It is not an easy path. Based on Jefferson's distillation, here is a list of what Jesus taught"

  • "Be just; justice comes from virtue, which comes from the heart.
  • Treat people the way you want them to treat us.
  • Always work for peaceful resolutions, even to the point of returning violence with compassion.
  • Consider valuable the things that have no value.
  • Do not judge others.
  • Do not bear grudges.
  • Be modest and unpretentious.
  • Give out of true generosity, not because we expect to be paid" (35).
By the way, Jefferson's text can be found as The Jefferson Bible, published by Beacon Press. A search on Amazon should yield some results or try your local public library. Now, getting back to the article, the list above reflects a tough and demanding way to live. However, it is a list that has potential to make the world a better place. If only Jesus' followers would actually follow such teachings. I find it fascinating that these ideas are not unique to Christianity. Other religions and philosophical writings present these ideas. Heck, I bet even atheists and pagans embrace such ideas, even if the phrasing may differ. Maybe such ideas embody a sense of basic human decency. I am certainly not a believer in a religious sense, but I like to think that I work at being a better person and at treating those around me with dignity, respect and charity. It does not always work since I am human after all, but I try.

Reece goes on to discuss Jefferson's other views. He was very in favor of an agrarian society in contrast to Alexander Hamilton's advocacy for manufacturing and industry. It moves on to compare Jefferson's Bible with the (apocryphal to most Christians) Gospel of Thomas, which also emphasizes Jesus's teachings over his life. Actually, the discovery of that gospel makes for an interesting story itself, which Reece summarizes in his essay. In terms of the comparison, the writings of Thomas the Apostle and Thomas Jefferson are very similar. On another interesting note, Reece notes that scholars have noticed an "Eastern feel" to the Thomas' Gospel, similarities to Taoism and Buddhism. This is something that makes many contemporary Christians uncomfortable, yet I ask why not? Some scholars suggest that followers of Thomas the Apostle travelled as far as India. Could modern Christians be uncomfortable because their gospel of wealth and calls to eliminate all opposing faiths are in direct contradiction to what their teacher actually preached? I just wonder. Maybe some of the discomfort comes from this:

"The idea of making two into one is central to the theology of Thomas. Unlike Paul's lawgiver and eternal redeemer, this Jesus rejects the verbal and psychological dualisms that divide the world into good and evil, black and white, heaven and hell, body and soul, male and female, straight and gay. Like Zen Buddhists, Thomas's Jesus believes that to divide the world up into abstract categories is to miss seeing the world as it is" (38).

I think it is easier to condemn others. It can be very comfortable to stay within a group and judge others as lower or different. But one misses so much when one spends (or wastes) time judging others instead of embracing them and learning from them. Sadly, many Christians prefer the dualism that alienates. Sadly, Christians are not the only ones who fall for this. Many religious followers fall for the trap as well. I personally don't worry about religions; I worry more about their followers who usually try to repress my rights and that treat others less than decently in the name of their deity or belief system. It is worthy of notice that such discomfort likely caused early bishops to see Thomas' Gospel as heretical.

Reece notes that Jefferson would have been nervous with Thomas' mysticism. After all, Jefferson was a rationalist as well as deist. Reece also draws on Ralph Waldo Emerson to illustrate Thomas' work further. Reece also discusses his own experience, his loss of faith, and his discovery of Thomas' Gospel, leading to an uplifting conclusion. Overall, a thought-provoking essay.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Some facts for St. Patrick's Day

(Crossposted from The Gypsy Librarian)

A Happy St. Patrick's Day to readers everywhere. In the United States, there is a long tradition of celebrating the holiday of the Irish patron saint. It is not only a Catholic holiday, but it has become a day for people of Irish heritage to celebrate their heritage. The Census Bureau has a page of facts for the holiday here. One of the facts you will find at the Census Bureau's page:

  • 93.3 million: Number of people who reportedly planned to wear green last St. Patrick’s Day.
By the way, I am one of those who is wearing a little green today. Other resources of intest include:

Monday, March 13, 2006

What do the Chinese tell each other about coming to the U.S.

I recently discovered Watching America, a blog site that finds news from around the world looking at the U.S. In other words, it is a place to go to see what the rest of the world says about the U.S. They pick up all sorts of news, and they often provide translations. Anyways, they just featured this piece entitled "If you or your relatives go to America." It is an article, translated into English, out of the China Youth Daily. Some of my favorite lines from the article. The writer of the article advises that these things happen in America, so try not to think too much about them:

  • "In America, if you order a pizza and an ambulance at the same time, the pizza will get there faster than the ambulance."
  • " In America, when people order a double cheeseburger and a large fries, they may order a diet coke to go with it."
  • " In America, banks will leave their doors wide open, but because of "safety" concerns, secure the fountain pens on the counter with string."
  • " In America, there are many restrictions on under-eighteens being able to drive, but at the same time, the army allows teenagers of the same age to drive tanks and airplanes."
That last one was my personal favorite. Anyhow, go over and read the rest of the article. For a state-run paper, they are not too far off the mark, are they?

Sunshine Week: Because it is your right to know

(Crossposted from The Gypsy Librarian)

March 12-18 is Sunshine Week 2006. From the website,

"the first national Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know was launched March 13, 2005 and continued through the following Saturday. The spirit of Sunshine Week, however, lasts through the year, as newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, Web sites and others continue a dialogue about the importance of open government to the public."
During this week, the Web site for Sunshine Week will feature news, editorials and other resources to promote the importance of freedom of information and the need to keep the government accountable as well as keeping it open to all. This effort is sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. ALA is also doing its part here. Readers can find a bibliography of books and resources here. The site even features resources in Spanish.

A hat tip to Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine.

Update notes (3/14/106):

A couple of reasons for "bothering" with a foreign language

Readers of my blogs may know that I always advocate for people learning foreign languages. Personally, I think knowing other languages makes a person into a "well-rounded" individual, and it opens more opportunities. Other reasons I could present include that a person can have better critical thinking and cognitive skills, gaining an exposure to cultures and literatures, and with recent events, better opportunities to enhance intelligence efforts in the conflicts against terrorism. But, I will leave those for a future post and focus on a couple of things.

I was prompted to write this when I saw this small post from The Literary Saloon. The blogger cites Jason Sheltzer of the Daily Princetonian, who sees learning foreign languages as an aggravation. The Literary Saloon often discusses the severe lack of good foreign works translated into English, something I have discussed as well before. Anyhow, Mr. Sheltzer says:

Thankfully, for those of us who could never master le subjonctif, English is the dominant language in nearly all fields of scientific endeavor, business and diplomacy and is generally recognized as the de facto standard for international communication. Requiring proficiency in a foreign language as a prerequisite to graduation is an unnecessary source of aggravation to many students and is tangential to Princeton's present-day goals as an institution.

This remark made me wonder, and it inspired me to write a thought or two on why learning a foreign language is more than a mere aggravation. So, why bother with foreign languages?

First, there are all the benefits a person gains from knowing other languages, some of which I mention at the opening of this post. Sandy Cutshall, in a short article for Educational Leadership, writes on this topic:

"Multilingualism carries many benefits. Individuals who speak, read, and understand more than one language can communicate with more people, read more literature, and benefit more fully from travels to other countries. Further, people who can communicate in at least two languages are a great asset to the communities in which they live and work."

From my own experience, being bilingual means I can have a broader range of choices in reading material. Also, being bilingual is extremely helpful in my workplace where we serve a large Hispanic population, many of them Spanish speakers. While most can speak English fine, they do find it reassuring and welcoming when a librarian can speak their language. And then there are the patrons who are not as fluent in English. This is just a small example.

Allow me to offer a couple of thoughts for future librarians. Those seeking jobs may see a good portion of job postings asking for folks with foreign language skills. While Spanish is a popular language request in such ads, I have seen requests for other languages as well. Knowing Spanish opened a few more options for me. Imagine if I was also fluent in, say, Arabic or Chinese. For future librarians, foreign language skills are not just for high level academic bibliographers.

Again, there are plenty of opportunities for those willing to learn other languages. Overall, whether for librarians or those in other career paths, being bilingual or multilingual can give people an edge in seeking employment. Tenille Robinson, writing for Black Enterprise, cites a scholar on this topic:

"'Learning a foreign language is absolutely another evolutionary step that we don't have a choice but to take on in order to remain competitive,' explains Jason Chamber, assistant professor with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 'We're clearly seeing that people who speak multiple languages have employment advantages.'"

OK, so let's look at it from a business angle if the above is not convincing some people yet. Many businesspeople in the United States figure that everyone else knows English, so there's no need to learn other languages. Cutshall writes on this:

"In addition, the widespread perception of English as the international language of business has contributed to a pervasive belief in the United States that everyone should learn English and that Americans simply don't need to learn another language. In fact, the international language of business is always the language of the client or customs. If businesses in the United States don't speak the language of their customers those businesses end up a competitive disadvantage."

Competitiveness is supposed to be a trait of American business, yet by failing to address the need of knowing other languages they lose a bit of that competitiveness. Mr. George Green chief executive of Hearst Magazines, may illustrate this point. An article in The Wall Street Journal describes him as an executive who does not feel a need to learn other languages. When he travels, people he deals with speak English, and he uses translators in places like China and Japan. However, he may be missing out on certain details and subtleties. According to the WSJ article:

"But failing to speak the native language of a parent company could hamper a manager's advancement and even his or her ability to do a current job well. And whether at companies based in the U.S. or overseas, executives can miss out on informal conversations, or risk being misinterpreted, literally, if they don't speak the local language."

Sure, Mr. Green can afford translators, but what can him and others like him be missing because they themselves don't know a language or know a culture? You see, language knowledge can help you understand other cultures as well. This may include small cultural cues and nuances. If that is not enough, here is another item to consider for businesspeople. This comes from the same WSJ article:

"Not only are more U.S. companies now owned by overseas parents--including DaimlerChrysler AG, Bentelsmann, Diageo PLC, and Anglo-Dutch Unilever PLC, to name a few-- but international mergers and acquisitions often mean companies are owned by a succession of overseas corporate parents, each with a different native language."

I could argue for the benefits of learning a foreign language with other reasons as well. We could look at how learning a foreign language can enhance cognitive skills and at how such studies could help to dispel racism and ignorance regarding people in other parts of the world. We can even look at the situation today with the conflicts around the world. Maybe we can do that in future posts. For now, this is a small start. I can say that being bilingual has worked for me. If nothing else, it could help us better understand others around the world or around the corner. For some people, it may keep them from being the butt of the old joke:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.

References used for this post:

Please note I used a periodical database to locate some of these articles, so no direct links here. However, the citation should enable readers to locate them or ask a librarian to find them if interested.

Cutshall, Sandy. "Why We Need 'The Year of Languages.'" Educational Leadership 62.4 (Dec. 2004/Jan. 2005): 20-23.

Kranhold, Kathryn, et. al. "Lost in Translation?" The Wall Street Journal 18 May 2004: B1.

Robinson, Tennille M. "Hable Espanol." Black Enterprise 36.2 (Sep. 2005): 72.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hmm, there's algebra here

I picked this basic math quiz up via Pharyngula, Professor P.Z. Myers' blog. I was a bit more inspired to take it after I read Professor Myers' post pointing to an article by Richard Cohen that basically advises that knowing algebra is not really a big deal. Professor Myers' critique of Cohen's argument is worth a look, and he also links to Cohen's article. If you ask me, I would say that I am not one who uses algebra on a daily basis. Does it mean that I can do without it? No. Now and then I get some question, or I am faced by some small problem, and then algebra comes to the rescue. I missed two, and unfortunately, like many of the quizzes on the site, one cannot really get to see what was missed, though I have an idea. However, that I was able to pass is a bit of an accomplishment since I have not taken a solid math course since my days as an undergraduate, and I had to struggle a little to get through it. The problems were actually pretty easy, I thought, so my guess is I may have missed a definition or two. If nothing else, learning algebra, and math in general, is something that is part of being a well-rounded individual. I sure as heck would encourage my daughter to study and do well in math, not tell her it is useless like Cohen tells his advisee. And as I said, one never knows when it may come handy. Anyhow, here are my results.

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 8/10 correct!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Celebrate International Women's Day

Crossposted from The Gypsy Librarian)

March 8 is International Women's Day. According to the website, "around the world, International Women's Day (IWD) marks a celebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements for women.

The first IWD was held on 19 March 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and further European countries. German women selected this date because in 1848 the Prussian king had promised the vote for women. Subsequently over one million leaflets calling for action on the right to vote were distributed throughout Germany before IWD in 1911. Now IWD is always celebrated on 8 March and is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. Women in every country, often divided by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate this important date that represents equality, justice, peace and development."

I recently made a post in relation to National Women's Month, which has links for further resources on women's history and accomplishments. It may be of interest to some readers.

A hat tip to Emily's Musings for the information.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Booknote: My Freshman Year

Title: My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student.
Author: Rebekah Nathan
Publication Information: Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005
186 pages, including notes, index, and references.
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Higher Education, anthropology

I had read about this book in a couple of places, so when we bought it for our library, I was intrigued and picked it up. It is a very interesting look at undergraduates in a large American university. The author took a year off, and then she registered as a freshman, taking a typical load of classes as well as being involved in things freshmen do. Though she is an older woman (in her fifties), she passed just fine. Students just took her for another nontraditional student (some thought she was some divorcee with a tragic past).

The writing style is good. The book itself is pretty engaging and interesting. What she learns is that undergraduates have their own culture and norms. In a way, this is not new, but the way in which she discovers all the rituals is fascinating. One of the key ideas was the concept of a student's personal network, which they often already bring to campus. This network is made up of friends and acquaintances. Some bring the network to school in the form of high school classmates, and then they build upon it in college. Others build it when they enter college, but the point is that this is the student's life center. It also explains why so many university attempts to get students to mingle through diversity initiatives are doomed to failure. If you are not part of the network, you may as well not exist. The whole dynamic of who eats dinner with who as seen in the dining hall further illustrates this.

I personally found interesting the chapter on international students because it gives a glimpse of American students that Americans themselves don't see. It is fascinating to see American habits through their eyes because these are things that Americans don't even think about. It is also sad how foreign students fall victim to the false American friendly veneer. What these students often found is that American students were not interested in meeting people from around the world. Some of it may be reflective of American individualism, but a lot of it is just plain lack of interest. In fact, Nathan writes that "the single biggest complaint international students lodged about U.S. students was, to put it bluntly, our ignorance. As informants described it, by 'ignorance' they meant the misinformation and lack of information that Americans have both about other countries and about themselves" (84). As someone from another country, albeit a U.S. colony, I can certainly understand that. In this chapter, Nathan makes a small list of questions that American students actually asked international students, when they bothered to ask at all. To say these are embarassing, or should be, to Americans is to put it mildly. I am posting a couple to illustrate:
  • "Is Japan in China?"
  • "Is North Korea or South Korea that has a dictator?"
  • "Where exactly is India?" "Do you still ride elephants?"
And my personal favorite (I laughed when I read this one):
  • "Do they dub American TV programs into British?" (84)
Nathan learns a lot also about how students see the faculty, including her. As a result, she gains insights into her classroom, now able to answer questions about why students often seem unprepared for class or seem to do the minimum effort. A lot of it has to do that students do figure out as soon as possible how to do the least effort and stay in good shape. College management is an art and science for students. Overall, the book provides a look at American higher education and its students. We get to see this rite of passage through the eyes of students, and we have to ask, what exactly is a university education supposed to do?

For readers worried about any possible research ethics questions, Nathan, a pseudonym, does explain her methods in the book as well. Overall, I highly recommend this book.

Friday, March 03, 2006

What Scifi Crew Would You Belong To?

I guess my idealism gave me away when I got the result. Anyhow, I picked this up for fun. The questions, some of them, are interesting. So, go try it out, see where you would belong, and see if it reflects you in any way. I think for me it was good, probably came out a bit more optimistic than I give myself credit for. My results then:

You scored as Enterprise D (Star Trek). You have high ideals and know in your heart that humanity will continue to evolve in a better people. No matter what may happen, you have faith in human beings. A rare quality. Now if only the Borg would quit assimilating people.

Moya (Farscape)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Serenity (Firefly)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Small Tribute to Teachers

At a time when teachers are often under fire, usually by people who would never dream to do what we do, this reminds us of the difference that a teacher can make in someone's life. I picked this up from the Happyville Library blog. The Bonanza Jellybean writes about "Smiling at Chaucer."I know I can only aspire to such dedication. A toast to all teachers and educators, no matter what classroom or level.