Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Meme

Just one of those memes found on the Internet, with a Christmas theme this time. Since it is Christmas Eve, it seems appropriate enough.

  1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? A bit of both. We mostly use wrapping paper, but there are one or two gifts we put in a gift bag.
  2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial in our house. I don't particularly like having to deal with the pine needles. I do like the pine scent, but we just burn a nice candle for the effect. Not that it matters. The cats try to nibble at it anyhow when it comes out.
  3. When do you put up the tree?
    Pretty much close to the holiday. We put up the tree without decorations for a day so the cats get used to it. We then put on the decorations and ornaments.
  4. When do you take the tree down?After Epiphany. We do celebrate Three Kings Day (Dia de Reyes) in our household.
  5. Do you like eggnog?I sure do. I also like Coquito, which my family back in Puerto Rico always makes. I have not made it in a while. Have to do so one of these years.
  6. Favourite gift received as a child?Hmm, I had a few. I had quite a Star Wars collection. I also like Legos quite a bit.
  7. Do you have a Nativity scene?Yes, we do. And we have another little tradition where Joseph and Mary make their way to the stable. Basically, we put out the stable. Then Joseph and Mary, with the donkey, begin their travel in some other part of the house. They gradually "move" towards Bethlehem. Baby Jesus does not appear on the manger until Christmas morning. Later, the Three Wise Men travel as well. Our daughter has fun keeping track of their movements.
  8. Hardest person to buy for? I can't recall anyone particularly difficult to buy for. Adults in our family don't exchange gifts as much. We do more for the kids. Adults may get a basket or gift card.
  9. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Clothes, and I mean basics like socks. I can get that any time of the year. Hated it as a kid, and I find it slightly annoying now. However, small holiday themed things like a tie would be ok. Actually, I have a small tie collection. I don't wear them as much as I used to, but now and then I do. If you find some rare tie (does not have to be Christmas themed; I have Star Wars, Coca Cola, Halloween, etc. Who knows, maybe that will be the subject of some future post?), that would be ok for example.
  10. Mail or email Christmas cards? I am personally moving to e-mail. Last two years have been so hectic (the wife and I work different schedules) we have not been able to send out the cards in the mail. This may be something we rethink at some point. We do like sending the cards, but as I said, last two years time caught up to us.
  11. Favourite Christmas Movie? I don't like holiday movies very much to be perfectly honest. I find them mostly predictable and too sentimental. Some, like A Christmas Story, I find irritating. As of late, I would say The Polar Express would be my favorite with a blend of sense of wonder without excessive sap. I always enjoy How The Grinch Stole Christmas (I prefer the cartoon version, but will watch the Carey film if it is on). I should add, my humor tends to be on the dark side. A film like Santa's Slay, cheesy as it may be, works for me (you can see a trailer for the film here. The opening scene certainly reflects what I wish I could do with some holiday gatherings. Not for the faint of heart, by the way.).
  12. When do you start shopping for Christmas? As soon as I get a chance. Usually sometime after Thanksgiving. We don't really shop on Black Friday. Anytime after that is fair.
  13. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I haven't. The missus has, usually for work exchanges.
  14. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? I happen to enjoy Puerto Rican typical fare for Christmas. My parents often make some of it at some point.
  15. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Colored lights.
  16. Favorite Christmas song? Puerto Rican holiday music. However, I do like some of the classics in English as well. I am pretty eclectic in this regard.
  17. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We stay at home. Often, it is due to the fact my wife may have to work on Christmas Eve, making any travel impractical. We usually travel to see family (mine; they live in Fort Worth), if nearby, on the days between Christmas and Epiphany.
  18. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? If I google them I can (ha ha). Let me see: Dancer, Rudolph, Blitzen, that is about it.
  19. Angel on the tree top or a star? Star, just a small one.
  20. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? In the morning.
  21. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Pretty much the shoppers, especially the traffic. Even though it is not as bad as Houston, there are still some boneheads on the roads, extra ones to the usual ones. I don't mind the shopping, but I do mind the crowds, so I try to shop at off times or online.
  22. Best thing about this time of year? Definitely the time to spend with the family.

Found via the Library Despot.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Still shopping for Christmas? Don't forget the writer in your life

I was watching TV and flipping channels last night while reading feeds, when I came across Suze Orman on CNBC. She was making the point that if you have not bought your Christmas stuff by now (as of last night), then you might as well forget it. Her basic point was that if you shop at this stage, you are probably doing it out of guilt, and the stores know this, so they put out all sorts of stuff you probably can do without. I think she may have a point.

Anyhow, in the spirit of putting something at the last minute, here is a gift guide for the writer in your life, written by K.G. Schneider. I was going to include it in my holiday posts, but in a moment of not being so organized, instead of adding the link to the clippings folder I had made for the holiday posts, I left it pinned. So I missed it. However, this is a good post I want to point to. Not that I am a writer anywhere near the league Ms. Schneider is in, but I can still aspire. She provides some interesting ideas worth a look.

Holiday Post 2007, Parte Tres

And now we make it to the final part of this Holiday Post, 2007. Mofos and other people who are not the sharpest tools in the shed do not rest for the holiday. Plus, there are also some amusing things out there. So, enjoy and have some fun.

  • The financial services firm PNC gives you the annual Christmas Price Index broadcast. You may have to pick between listening to the analyst or reading the ticker below. How Mr. Dunigan, the VP doing the analysis keep that straight face while doing the report is beyond me.
  • If you are stringing the Christmas lights yourself, remember: Safety First. Don't end up electrocuted like this guy in California. Found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room.
  • Be considerate of other parents when you buy presents for their kids. Make sure you have the batteries if needed. And for the sake of your deity of choice, don't go buying annoying toys like these. From Say No To Crack blog.
  • The annoyance factor also applies to Christmas music. According to this story from the Washington Post, "All I Want For Christmas is not to Hear That Song." Find out which songs. Do know that if you bring any of these into my home, my opinion of you will seriously suffer. The article does point out music people do like as well. Classics remain popular as ever. Found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room.
  • And speaking of classic Christmas music, here is the 1956 "Christmas in Jail." If you are one of those dumbasses who drinks and drives, you may end up in jail as well. Found via the YesButNoButYes blog.
  • And talking of those dumbasses who drink and drive, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the death toll from drinking and driving is the highest during the holiday season (link leads to press release. You can find the full study at the site too, which is a PDF). I found this via Docuticker. No one is saying not to have a couple of drinks during the holiday. Heck, I will be mixing one or two myself. All we are saying is do so in moderation, and for the love of the deity of your choice (or none at all if you swing that way), don't get behind the wheel if you have had one too many.
  • We just finished the semester here on campus. Things were mostly peaceful. However, not every campus is as peaceful, and there is always the one mofo who procrastinated and behaved like an idiot in the library demanding all sorts of things he or she can't get. To them, we dedicate this poem by the pseudonymous Stinkycheez, writing for the Society for Librarians Who Say "Motherfucker" (and yes, I am a member because some people just deserve to be called mofo).
  • From the website, here are "The 25 Most Baffling Toys from Around the World." There is a bit of an adult element, so the usual warning applies. One of my favorites? The Pee and Poo plush toys. No, I am not making that up. Go take a look.
  • And a last minute find: The Morning News has published a "2007 Holiday Christmas Survival Guide for Slackers Cultural Warriors." Worth a look. By the way, since you should always mind your matters, from the same site, here is a little guide on how to write thank you notes. Whether it's for a gift or for someone who let you stay at their place for a day or two, remember to say thanks.

However you celebrate the holiday season, hope you do so in a peaceful, safe, and merry way. Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Post 2007, Part Deux

Previously, I gave you some odds and ends mostly related to shopping and gifts for the holidays. Today, we are looking at how to be less materialistic, some trivia, and a bit of etiquette. So, here we go again:

For some folks, the holiday is (as it should be) more than just exchanging gifts. Maybe they want to put less emphasis on the consumerism that seems to run rampant during this time of year. Here are some ideas for those folks:

  • The Money and Values blog provides "14 Ways to Give More Meaning and Less Stuff."Not all of the options are frugal; some do involve money, but there is some food for thought here. This same blog also has a very extensive list for "Socially Conscious Online Shopping," which includes links and some details on sales. I know the shopping segment is already done, but I added this hoping those of you out there who try to be socially conscious might find it useful.
  • From the Apophenia blog, here are ways of "giving back." These are ideas for causes and charities.
  • And over here, you can find "12 Ways to de-commercialize Christmas." Some of the tips here I would take with a grain of salt, but there are some good ideas as well. I found this via the AdFreak blog, which offers as well ways to "Have Yourself a Non-materialistic Christmas." My favorite from that list: "Go play in the snow. I don’t care if you’re 50. Put some Icy-Hot on your back and start building snowmen." If we had snow in the part of Texas I am in, I would go build that snowman.
  • If you are pretty handy, you may consider sending Christmas cards you made. Lifehacker has a roundup of DIY Christmas cards.
If you are looking for something to read this season:

Now, you can also learn about this holiday season:

In order to enjoy the holiday, you do want to take care of yourself. If you are one of the many who may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka winter blues or SAD), you can learn more about it here. How common is this? According to the site, "Between 4 and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD, while 10 to 20 percent may suffer from a more mild form of winter blues."

If you are traveling, you may end up as a someone's house guest. The Frugal Law Student gives you "10 Ways to Be an Excellent House Guest." Me? I prefer to book a cheap hotel room nearby and not impose on anyone, but that may not be an option for everyone.

Want more Christmas ideas? Lifehacker has a nice list of 20+ websites for Christmas. The list includes a favorite of mine, NORAD's Santa Tracker. Once again this year, we will be tracking Santa on Christmas Eve.

As it turns out, I have enough for one more post. In Parte Tres (that's Part Three), we will look at humor and mofos. Because it may be the holiday, but the mofos never rest. So, let's have a laugh or two next time.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Holiday Post 2007, Part One

Well folks, it's that time of year again when I take this moment to wish all of you out there a happy holiday season. Apparently this is becoming a bit of a tradition for me now (see 2005 and 2006). Whatever holiday you choose to celebrate, or more than one, or none at all, may it be a safe, happy, and peaceful time. Just to cover my bases, here is what the lawyers (if I had any) would probably allow me to say. Here is, once again, the legalistic holiday greeting (modified for this year, with a hat tip to the Super's Blog):

From Your Lawyer Friends:

"Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher."

Since I will be taking some time off from the blog sometime soon to enjoy the holiday with the family, I am leaving you with this collection of odds and ends I have recently found related to the holidays, with my snarky commentary here and there. Given that I found a lot of good stuff, we can actually afford to make this a three-part blog celebration. I hope you find some of them useful, entertaining, thought-provoking, funny, etc.

So here goes Part One:

First, one I have been saving for a while, and a new one.

  • Last year, I forgot to include this item about those holiday letters some of our distant relatives send to us. You know the ones. These are the various family newsletters that to be honest we probably don't care much about. Why? Because we probably have no clue who half of those people are anyways. Joshua Glenn, writing for the Boston Globe, takes on this topic and points to some parody newsletter examples. (Found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room).If you need some ideas on what gifts to buy (what do you mean you are not done shopping yet? What the heck are you waiting for?)
  • By the way, this year, Michael McGrorty has his take on those pesky newsletters as well. Go read "In Your Mailbox Soon" to see his version.
Here are some places where you can get some ideas for your holiday shopping needs.

  • NotCot has been putting out a list of presents for every day of the Christmas season. Maybe you want to check it out. (A hat tip to YesButNoButYes blog).
  • The Laughing Librarian offers a pretty big Holiday Gift Guide. See if you find some humorous or offbeat ideas there.
  • Lifehacker also has a holiday Gift Guide 2007. They even break it down by price range.
  • Are you stuck doing one of those workplace gift exchanges? From Wired's How To Wiki, "Choose Gifts for Office Parties."
  • Now, how about your child's teacher? Yep, if you want to show some appreciation for the person who puts up with your rug rat on most days (yep, it's a fact, children do spend more time at school than at home), then you may want to read this first before you decide on a present. The Washington Post had an article on December 15, 2007 related to "Teacher's Pet Peeve: Useless Gifts." The bottom line folks, try to be a little thoughtful in that regard. It's the least you can do for those who educate your children. (found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room. The comments there are, shall we say, priceless?)
  • On using gift cards. I think the author on the next piece may be way too harsh on those that use them. See link here. Anyhow, at least one party may be happy for gift cards, and that is the National Retail Federation. They recently reported that the "Number of Holiday Returns Decreasing Partially Due to Gift Card Popularity." Is this really surprising? It is known that gift cards are a good deal for retailers anyhow, especially when people lose them, forget to use them, or the cards expire. Why? Because the retailers already got the money anyhow. Always remember to use the gift card if you got one. If you are buying one, check the terms on it.
  • On some gifts, you may as well buy used. However, there are some gifts you definitely should not buy used. Learn the difference and go from there. Personally, I happen to like buying used books. A gift card to a place like Half Price Books always makes me happy (even if I have to drive a longer distance now to get to one).
  • And if you must regift. Actually, according to the article, it is more common than you think. Personally, could be ok, if you do it right.
  • Of course, if you did buy a present, chances are you have to wrap it up. I will admit that I am not the greatest gift wrapper, but I get by. Anyhow, here is some advice on how to wrap a present from WikiHow. The guide is very specific and includes photos. Step One is the most obvious: remove the price tags.
  • And just in case you have not gotten enough of the news on the holiday season and retail, here is a lot of coverage from MSNBC (I am sure you can find even more if you go to other news sites).
  • Finally, if your shopping needs go more into the adult and sexy, the Village Voice features Pucker Up's Eighth Annual Sexy Gift Guide. (first link is the site providing some of the ideas. The second is the article itself). If you offend easily or this is just not your thing, then don't click. If on the other hand, you are on the adventuresome side, go for it.
Perhaps the holiday season is one for nostalgia.

  • Check out some of the old Sears Wish Books here. I am sure a few of you remember those? I know I got a lot of ideas for what I wanted for Christmas as a child from them. They had great playsets for Star Wars for one.
Some items on safety because I do want all of you out there to be safe:

  • Beware holiday scams. The vultures are all over the place during the holidays. Don't fall for their scams.
  • If you have children, odds are good you are buying toys. The toy recalls have been all over the headlines. may be able to provide some help in choosing toys. They feature a search option for toys. For more information on the recalls, you can also see the report of the U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Groups) entitled "Trouble in Toyland: the 22nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety" (link leads to the press release. You then have the option to download the full report at the site).
Make sure you come back for Part Two of our Holiday Post 2007. Happy Holidays!

Have some wine, keep colds at bay

The New York Times has a small story today: "The Claim: A Little Alcohol Can Help You Beat a Cold." Now, before you go out and just have any old drink, it is not as easy as it sounds. Here's the deal:

  • "Nonetheless, two large studies have found that although moderate drinking will not cure colds, it can help keep them at bay. One, by researchers at Carnegie Mellon in 1993, looked at 391 adults and found that resistance to colds increased with moderate drinking, except in smokers."
  • "The study [this is a second study], in The American Journal of Epidemiology, found no relationship between the incidence of colds and consumption of beer, spirits, Vitamin C or zinc. But drinking 8 to 14 glasses of wine per week, particularly red wine, was linked to as much as a 60 percent reduction in the risk of developing a cold. The scientists suspected this had something to do with the antioxidant properties of wine."
In other words, the alcohol will not cure it, but if you drink a little wine in moderation, it may help keep that cold away. So, cheers friends. What I did find interesting is that the Vitamin C may have no relationship given that is a common piece of lore: stock up on Vitamin C.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

First Sentences in 2007

Yes, this is one of those memes people put around, and I fall for them. Anyhow, I picked this one up via Ruminations. The rule is simple: pick the first sentence of the first post/journal entry for each month. While I do have an "old school" journal (also known as paper), I will be using the blog for this. Since I have more than one blog, I will use this one (probably more fun anyways). Anything in parenthesis is me adding to the meme. Any links came with the sentence.

January: Today is my first day of work for the spring semester after the holiday break.

February: I got tagged for this by CW at Ruminations. (yes, it was a meme. Detect a theme here?)

March: Here is a study on reporting that "For College Students, Political Labels Don’t Always Reflect Attitudes on Social Issues or Religious Beliefs."

Once in a blue moon, the family will go out for a meal at one of those "casual dining" establishments.

May: Just when I thought I had seen everything, here comes beer jello from Japan.

June: Well, I can certainly use some more energy as of late.

July: Recently, Houghton-Mifflin, makers of the American Heritage dictionaries, released a list of 100 words every high school graduate should know.

August: I finally finished reading Fast Food Nation.

September: This list of "Useful Things College Taught Me," from the site The Best Article Every Day, should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

October: As my readers know, I moved to Tyler recently due to my new job.

November: For a long time, I lived happily without a cell phone.

December: This is certainly a ridiculous item.

A simple and playful way to look at the past year. I don't post as much here as I do over at The Gypsy Librarian, but I still had enough for a year, a lot of it fun stuff. If you are moved, go for it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Naming that alcohol

Well, we made it to another Friday. For us here, it is the last day of finals, so I am sure a few will be going out for drinks today. Thus, this quiz seems appropriate. This one was actually interesting. You basically get clues, and you try to identify the drink. No, you don't have to drink a lot to do well. I think if you are somewhat well informed, you can do well on this. If you must know, I do drink socially, but a few of the drinks on the list are things I only know from reading or asking around. Then again, the "drunkard" label, not sure about that, since I do drink in moderation. Anyhow, here is my result:


A writing sanctuary: wish I had one of those back when

The New York Times had an interesting article on December 5 written by Alan Finder asking if colleges recruit athletes, why not recruit writers too? Professor Al Filries is doing just that at the University of Pennsylvania. I wish that a place like the Kelly Writers' House had been around when I was an undergraduate; heck, even when I went to graduate school for my English masters, a place like that would have been nice. I like the idea, as he calls it, of a place as a sandbox or incubator of ideas. We need more places like that on our campuses.

As I take a moment to reflect, I don't think I would have been the most active of students in that setting. I would not have been the shy poet, but I would certainly not have been the active sportswriter either. Probably something in between. I do enjoy writing, but I am a bit more reserved about sharing. I am betting my two readers now are asking, "what the heck? You keep a blog." Well, a blog is a different thing. What I am thinking more about is in terms of being in a workshop setting. When I was in graduate school, I took two fiction writing courses. I enjoyed them very much, but the workshop concept of presenting your fiction to a group of 25 or more people like you are in an inquisition was a bit much for me. Overall, the experience was a good one, and I discovered that I could write fiction; fiction writing was something I had never attempted before then. I thought it was something novelists and such other famous people did. I certainly did not lack imagination, so I had a chance to explore that. I am thinking now that a place like the Kelly House earlier in my academic career would have been good for me. It's a writer's sanctuary blending the formal and the informal. I came to writing pretty late I suppose. I wrote here and there, but I did not really begin to see myself as a writer until I became a teacher and started writing with my students and then my colleagues. But that is another story.

I do keep dabbling in fiction here and there. Oh, it's nothing that is bound to appear in my blogs anytime soon. I do enjoy writing in the blogs as well. The nice thing about blogging is the conversational nature; it's a casual setting, at least for me. And it is a place where I can explore a little bit of everything.

Anyhow, go read the article and see how a writing sanctuary is created and nurtured.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Booknote: Nickel and Dimed

Title: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.
Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Publication Information: New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001.
ISBN: 0805063889
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Current affairs, Labor studies, economics.

I had been meaning to read this book for a while; it was a common choice for some freshman composition classes back in Houston. I saw some of the reviewers over in (where I keep my reading list), and a good number were less than sympathetic. I did try to reserve judgment until reading the book. Now that I have read it, I can see that a lot of those unsympathetic people probably have never had to do some hard "unskilled" work at any given time.

The author goes out from academia to work in "unskilled" jobs as a maid, a Wal-Mart employee, a waitress, and a nursing home assistant. What she finds is that these jobs require a lot more skill than it would appear. Also, it is very clear that the poor folks who work at these jobs are not making it in terms of their overall quality of life, to put it mildly. Basically, these are jobs that pay miserably, barely providing enough for anyone to make any kind of living. And these are hard jobs that also require some degree of skill and concentration. Add to this issues with housing and other needs, and you can clearly see why this is a problem. The author shatters the myth that poor people are so only because they are lazy or won't get a better job. The evidence points to the fact that the deck is stacked against them from issues in housing (for instance, it is not particularly easy to get an apartment without a substantial deposit and first month's rent) to geography to child care. One of the reviewers on the GR site actually expounded the elitist view of, to be polite, that certain people just should not breed. Let's leave it at that, shall we? In the end, it is not as easy as that. And that is just some of the conditions and obstacles they face from society. If you factor in some of the unethical (for example, withholding a person's first paycheck) and just downright abusive practices from these employers, then the picture is really bleak.

The book is not perfect. While the author does an excellent job in exposing the situation, she can get a bit preachy at times. This takes away from the narrative, and I think lessens the impact a little bit. However, the author does support a lot of her assertions with documentation in footnotes. I found those footnotes interesting; they added an additional element of realism and evidence to her arguments.

And if you think charity aid agencies are any better, you better think again. When the author finds herself in need of them, she finds a chilling degree of insensitivity and just plain cluelessness. See her passage about the box of food aid she gets in Minneapolis (mostly useless stuff like candy). And then people have the gall to say the poor have poor eating habits? This instance was during her stint at Wal-Mart, which is notorious for their workers needing to go on welfare or seek other public assistance to supplement Wal-Mart's meager salaries or miserable health insurance. But don't take my word for it. Read this book. And if Ehrenreich is not enough, you can also read Stacy Mitchell's Big-Box Swindle (see my note on that book here).

The book had a lot of passages that caught my eye. I am only going to highlight a few here:

  • "Or maybe it's low-wage work in general has the effect of making you feel like a pariah [this was during her stint as a maid, observing how maids are pretty much invisible in society]. When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I'm not just thinking of the anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or schoolteachers or lawyers, so it's easy for a fast-food worker or nurse's aide to conclude that she is an anomaly--the only one or almost the only one, who hasn't been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment" (117-118).
  • And to answer those people who say that the poor just don't behave in a rational way, you know, the ones who say, why not walk out and get a better job? Here is what the author has to say: "So, if low-wage workers do not always behave in an economically rational way, that is, as free agents within a capitalist democracy, it is because they dwell in a place that is neither free nor in any way democratic. When you enter the low-wage workplace--and many of the medium-wage workplaces as well--you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift. The consequences of this routine surrender go beyond the issues of wages and poverty. We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world's preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship" (210).
Now, this book came out in 2001. It is still very relevant today. Personally, I found interesting the experience of reading it right after I read Dobbs's book (note here). While Dobbs is focusing more on the middle class, he still manages to address some of the issues that Ehrenreich rises on her book as well.

In the interest of disclosure, I will say that I have worked as a waiter and in fast food. Little tidbit about being a waiter. Since I am fully fluent in English, I was able to work as a waiter. However, since I am a native Spanish speaker as well, it meant I could make friends with the dishwashers and kitchen help, which were mostly Hispanic (Mexican to be precise; I am Puerto Rican). I mention that because, as Ehrenreich notes in her book, when it comes to food service, there is a certain hierarchy. I was able to, well, navigate it a bit. Anyhow, it was hard and demanding work. Anyone who says it is simply "unskilled" work simply has no clue.

Similar books: well, for some, maybe Dobbs book may be of interest. However, I would recommend the works of Jonathan Kozol for a similar feel.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Booknote: Lou Dobbs's War on the Middle Class

Title: War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back.
Author: Lou Dobbs.
Publication Information: New York: Viking, 2006.
ISBN: 0670037923
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Economics, Politics, Current Affairs.

I have not made booknotes here recently because I have been keeping track of my reading in the Goodreads website. My profile is on the sidebar, and it links to the rest of my bookshelves. Feel free to take a look. Anyhow, when I started doing that, I decided I would still blog about a book if it it was one of those books I found myself talking to it or making small notes as I read. This one fit the bill, so here we are. This may get a bit lengthy. If you just want to know if I recommend it, the answer is yes. It does have a few things worth thinking about, even if I don't agree with everything Mr. Dobbs writes.

Let me start with a quote from the early pages, which I think sets the thesis of the book:

"Lobbyists for corporate America and special interest groups are the arms dealers in the war on the middle class" (37).

Previous chapters to the quote discuss the class warfare situation in the United States. This is on the basis of corporations more worried about greed and money than the concept of the common good. And while some have labeled Dobbs as a populist (and a few other choice terms I will leave out for the sake of civility), at times I can't help but wonder how low the U.S. has gone that they can't even make something as simple as a coffee mug or a pair of pants locally instead of shipping those and many other jobs overseas. And to make it worse, the government has helped those corporations do it. One has to wonder if instead of a democracy, we have more of an oligarchy or a plutocracy running the country. All one has to do is look at the current crop of presidential candidates: all wealthy and wed to special interests in one form or another. Nothing against wealth. If you work and make your money, that's great. It's when you run for office pretty much paid for by special interests and corporations while forgetting who you are really running for when there is a problem. It's not really democratic anymore since it is not representing the people.

"When it comes to issues of real importance to the middle class--education, public safety, the environment, infrastructure, economic security, and rising the standard of living--our politicians are for the most part deaf, dumb, and blind" (41).

These are issues that affect everyone, not just the middle class. But one has to agree that the record on these issues for Congress, especially in recent years, has been dismal. And then, there is what I would describe as a complete loss of empathy, compassion, and humanity. A manifestation of that is the infamous revision of the bankruptcy laws. It's not really a law to catch the deadbeats who declare bankruptcy in order not to pay their obligations. It was a gift to the credit card companies and the banks who care little for the ruined lives of those who really need to declare bankruptcy in order to satisfy their greed. Dobbs writes, "and as a recent Harvard University study showed, nearly 50 percent of bankruptcy filings in the United States are the result of illness and the enormous bills associated with it" (60). In other words, these are not deadbeats; these are honest, hardworking people who face a major medical catastrophe. These are people who need help and who deserve a break. Dobbs summarizes it then:

"So bankruptcies tend to be filed by hardworking people who have fallen on tough times. The new bill doesn't take that into account; it just makes sure that the interests of big companies who have well-placed and highly paid lobbyists are satisfied. In the process, the last safety net protecting the middle class from financial disaster has been yanked away" (60; emphasis mine).

Dobbs later observes about the recent occupants of the White House. He has this thought:

"How about somebody from a Midwestern state school who has actually worked for a living in his or her life; and whose intellect, character, and leadership would lift the nation with a clear vision of our future and a commitment to the common good and our national interest? Just a thought" (66).

It sounds great, Mr. Dobbs. But it ain't going to happen. For one, such a person would never be able to raise enough money for a serious campaign. He or she would have to run as an independent since neither national party would embrace such an individual, and we know that in this country nothing short of a miracle would get a qualified independent elected. However, in the end, even if such a person existed, had plenty of money to compete, and could mount a serious independent movement, that person would probably be a smart person who would know better than to run for office when the office is bought and paid for, so to speak. Nice idea. I would love to see it, but I know I won't. And on the off-chance the person did run, I lack faith in people. Sure, I'd vote for him or her, but most people in this country are probably too dumb to choose an alternative that would be good for them. And therein lies the fatal flaw. Sure, the government is corrupt as hell, but people keep electing that same set of corrupt politicians every time. Sure, the system is certainly rigged, but at one point I wish I could ask a lot of voters, "just what the fuck were you thinking? How hurt do you and your family have to be before you get a clie these people don't care about you and your needs?" In the end, there are no real leaders anymore; no one who is willing to nurture and care for the common good. In fact, this was also exactly what I was thinking when I read Foxes in the Henhouse (I reviewed it over on Goodreads). The authors of that book, in my humble opinion, fail to see this as well. Sure, in that case, the Democrats have pretty much taken their core voters for granted. However, they can only educate the electorate so much. After a while, people have to account for themselves for the government they elected. That's why my faith in people is lacking.

Now, in terms of the average worker, it is common knowledge that their wages have been stagnant or declining. Though the nation is, allegedly (ok, I am willing to grant that the numbers on Wall Street are very good), in a prosperous condition, it only applies to the corporations. Dobbs asks,

"But what about the employees who make it all possible? While the corporate profits increased in the last year, real wages have actually declined. While productivity is skyrocketing, the share of national income going to workers has fallen to the lowest level in forty years. At the same time, corporate America is cutting benefits and pensions. If this is Adam Smith's invisible hand at work, it's balled up in a fist and striking the solar plexus of the middle class. And outsourcing is playing a part in the decline of both pay and opportunity for American labor" (110).

If you ask me, Adam Smith's hand is balled up into a fist alright, but it's not striking the worker's solar plexus. Let's just say it's hitting a whole other body cavity and leave it at that. Because at the end of the day, this is extreme free trade without the sympathy (read the Adam Smith link, and that will make sense). Again, we see the absence of any sense of common good. No one is saying that corporation should not make their profits and build their wealth. But the least they can do, if for no other reason than common decency, is to compensate those who make their profits possible in a fair and dignified manner. Those workers helped build the wealth; the least that corporation can do is share it with the ones who made it possible, not screw them.

Moving along, the next passage struck me as, well, ridiculous:

"With border patrol uniforms made in Mexico, what other brilliant cost-saving scheme can we expect from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection? Outsourcing of border patrol jobs?" (118-119).

The context is as follows: U.S. company VF Solutions, hired to make the uniforms, subcontracted the labor to Mexico. As for outsourcing the border patrol, hey, the Roman Empire did it in its provinces by employing native mercenaries in their armies. Yep, they basically recruited into the armies the same barbarians they were supposedly guarding against. And we know how the Roman Empire ended. I am just saying.

One of Dobbs' big issues is illegal immigration. For me, it is a bit of a Catch-22. I have mixed feelings because I feel we should treat those immigrants who do make it here humanely. However, I also feel that the employers who are basically exploiting them should be punished, and the punishment should be severe. When those employers say that no Americans are willing to pick tomatoes or clean hotel rooms, I say bullshit. You pay the wage the work is actually worth, and you will find plenty of Americans who would do it. Those employers simply prefer to cheat the law and hire illegal workers than pay for an honest day's work. I will just leave it there.

Dobbs also addresses education, which is a topic dear to me since I am an educator. He writes on the topic:

"Politicians are finding reasons not to put money into schools, not to pay teachers, and not to improve the education offered to every kid in every school. It's going to the bureaucracy, and it shows" (158).

This makes me think of a remark Jonathan Kozol made in one of his books I read a long time ago, wish I remembered which book now, about the hypocrisy of those who claim you can't fix education with more funding while sending their own children to expensive private schools. Who says you can't get better education by adding more money?

Overall, I found myself nodding at times. Arguing with the author at other times. So maybe for me that is good enough reason to recommend the book. Like many books written by journalists and pundits, it sort of has the style of the author. In other words, if you are familiar with Dobbs's program, that tone is found in the book as well. The book features appendices with the texts for the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. For some people, they may need to reread them again.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I am a cookie now?

Well folks, we made it to another Friday here at The Itinerant Librarian. And you two out there know what that means. Let's go with something sweet this time, a what kind of cookie are you quiz. See below for my result:

A hat tip to Library Tavern.

Hugo Winners I have read (as of now)

I picked this up from CW's Ruminations blog. The meme is to simply note the ones you have read from the list of Hugo Award winners. Clearly, I have some catching up to do. Then again, when it comes to SciFi, I often read more short fiction. So, I have read more of these authors than the list would indicate, just not the particular works. Anyhow, here is the list. I have italicized the ones I have actually read. By the way, going to the Hugo site is a good way to get other writing ideas, since they give you the winners as well as nominees (at least for some years) plus the Hugo is also awarded to short fiction works. I will add any remarks in brackets. Anyhow, here we go.

The list:

2007 Rainbows End,Vernor Vinge
2006 Spin, Robert Charles Wilson
2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
2004 Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
2003 Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer
2002 American Gods, Neil Gaiman [Gaiman is another of my all time favorites. I have read a few of his other works, and I will certainly read his others]
2001 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling [This is probably why I will never get this list complete. I have no interest in reading Rowling's works. And since I already know the plot, less of an incentive too]
2000 A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge
1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis [I have read some of her short fiction in anthologies]
1998 Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman [It's on my to-read list]
1997 Blue Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
1996 The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson [I did read his Snow Crash]
1995 Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold
1994 Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
1993 Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
1993 A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
1992 Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold
1991 The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold
1990 Hyperion, Dan Simmons
1989 Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh
1988 The Uplift War, David Brin
1987 Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
1986 Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card [This is one of my favorites. I have to reread it soon]

1985 Neuromancer, William Gibson
1984 Startide Rising, David Brin
1983 Foundation’s Edge, Isaac Asimov [Looking at this, I can't believe I have not read the Foundation Books. Oh well, one of these days. I have read some of his short work ]
1982 Downbelow Station, C. J. Cherryh
1981 The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge
1980 The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke
1979 Dreamsnake, Vonda N. McIntyre
1978 Gateway, Frederik Pohl [I have read Pohl's work. One that did not make it here was his novel with C.M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants. I highly recommend it]
1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm
1976 The Forever War, Joe Haldeman [Another of my favorites I have to revisit soon. I read around the same time I read Heinlein's Starship Troopers.]
1975 The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
1974 Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke [I just finished this one. Was not too impressed]
1973 The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov
1972 To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
1971 Ringworld, Larry Niven
1970 The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
1969 Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
1968 Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
1967 The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
1966 Dune, Frank Herbert
1966 And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal), Roger Zelazny
1965 The Wanderer, Fritz Leiber
1964 Here Gather the Stars (Way Station), Clifford D. Simak [Have read his short fiction. Pretty good stuff actually]
1963 The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick [I have read some of his other works. Most recently, read A Scanner Darkly]
1962 Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M., Miller Jr

1960 Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
[I have also read his Time Enough for Love, which is one of my favorites, though a bit long. Heinlein is sort of a love-hate thing. I tried to read his Job: A Comedy of Justice, and I dropped it. Too boring. Farnham's Freehold was not that great either. However, a good number of Heinlein's early short fiction is really good.]

1959 A Case of Conscience, James Blish [I am reluctant to read this. I read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, which I hated then, and I still hate. I don't hate too many books, but this is one of the few I do. Since I read this particular Blish novel is similar, you can see my reluctance. This may be another reason I will never get this whole list done].

1958 The Big Time, Fritz Leiber
1956 Double Star, Robert A. Heinlein
1955 They’d Rather Be Right (The Forever Machine), Mark Clifton & Frank Riley
1953 The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester [I love Bester. I also read his The Stars My Destination, as well as some of his short fiction.]

Hmm, 11 out of the 55. Not too good if you are one of those people who feels a need to read everything on a list, which I am not. However, there are some works on this list I am definitely interested in reading. And there are a lot more that are not listed I would rather read. CW asks readers if they are fans of science fiction, to which I would answer that I am, even if I have not read most of this list. I will say I don't consider Harry Potter science fiction by any stretch (it's fantasy, and yes, I do read some fantasy as well). As I said, I read a lot of short fiction. Often, I "keep up" in this area by reading one or more of the "Best Of" Annuals that come out. I tend to favor David G. Hartwell's anthologies, but I do read Gardner Dozois's now and then too (my wife goes for both).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

So, if I check out that book, I can then buy more crap?

This is certainly a ridiculous item. Let's not even consider the privacy invasion issue of the matter. Let's look at how the Leesburg (Florida) Public Library tries its hand at marketing:

"The program, Youniquely 4 U, is free for anyone who holds a Lake County Library card, and it offers personal recommendations and coupons based on what a library patron checks out, drawing from general categories of the patron's book or video selections to suggest similar events or businesses."

So, they take your private information from the book checkouts to advertise to you. As I said, I am not even going to consider the fact they are invading my privacy by sharing what I am checking out with advertisers, which by the way is none of their business. I thought librarians were supposed to protect patrons from this kind of thing. Sure, the librarians in Leesburg will likely refuse the man in the black trenchcoat and dark glasses a request for my records (unless he has a valid warrant), but they clearly have no problem letting advertisers get a look at them. So, let's leave that aside and look at what might actually happen if I did check out books from that library. What kind of advertising might I actually get? Hmm.

Here are some books I have recently read. Let's see how Leesburg's marketing would give me ideas for shopping and consumption:

  • Art Spiegelman's Maus and Maus II. Hmm, probably an ad for a local pest control company.
  • Kinky Friedman's Texas Hold 'Em. This could go a couple of ways. One could be a coupon for a casino nearby. Kinky's name might trigger an ad from a local adult bookstore or lingerie shop.
  • Kinky Friedman's Cowboy Logic. Probably a coupon for the local western wear store. After all, the book is about cowboys (ok, it's about more, but remember, this is what the ad program would think you need to buy).
  • Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements. Advertisements from various local lawyers.
  • Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. This is a no-brainer: coupons for McDonald's.
  • John Scalzi's Old Man's War. Advertisement for a local retirement community. Discount coupons for seniors and/or veterans to the local diners.
  • Brian Fies, Mom's Cancer. Advertisement for the regional oncology center, or for a cancer support group (ok, I found it kind of hard to joke about this one since it deals with a serious topic, but be honest, we are talking thoughtless advertising here).
  • Michael Jan Friedman's The Federation Travel Guide. Travel agents.
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards 4: Intelligent Design. Advertisements from the local nitwits advocating teaching "intelligent design" so schools teach all sides (sorry, I don't give intelligent design people the benefit of any doubt. These are basically people advocating ignorance of real science).
  • Andy Rooney's Out of my mind. Ads for local mental health facilities.
  • Maureen Ogle's Ambitious Brew. Ads for local bars and other drinking establishments. (This one actually makes a bit more sense. Harder to do in Tyler, since it is a dry county. I just drive over). You could also have ads for beer brands if there is a local distributor nearby.
  • Adrian Gostick, The Carrot Principle. Ads for the local farmers' market, or just any local supermarket (never mind the book is about management).
  • Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. Ad for local electronics shop or store like Best Buy (you know, so you can buy that scanner).

Folks, libraries are supposed to be one of the last sanctuaries of democracy. They are supposed to be the place where you can go and find information and reading material in a neutral environment with help from dedicated professionals. Now, this library is, implicitly at least, endorsing certain products and services by allowing advertising. Do these librarians really need to sell themselves off like that? If I want advertising, I will go to the local bookstore for my books, thanks.

A hat tip to Barbara Fister writing for ACRLog.

Friday, November 30, 2007

My blog addiction

And, since it is Friday, we have our semi-regular feature. In terms of the result for this quiz, well, I suppose it could be worse. Anyhow, have a good Friday and weekend.

71%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 - Dating Site

Secretaries and others, remember to treat them well

When I started my first school teaching job, many years ago, I was told that the most important person I would know would be the secretary. I don't recall who gave me that piece of advice, but it is very valid and true. My father always gave me similar advice; he knew that in an office, a secretary was the one who really ran the office. He was an industrial salesman back then; he drove a lot. But I also remember how he treated the secretaries with respect and dignity. True, he treated everyone that way, but the point is he made sure his secretaries felt appreciated and well-treated as well as janitors and other workers. I can say, as I look back, that I never saw him act as if he was better than anyone else. He also made sure his three sons learned that valuable lesson: treat others with dignity and respect. Just because so and so may be a plumber or a janitor, it does not mean they have any less worth.

I work at the university level now. If I had to give that "treat your secretaries well" advice, I would modify it as follows: treat the secretaries, the janitors, the IT techs, and the campus police well. If you get on their good side, you'll be in good shape. Of course, you should do this out of common decency, but I will add that if you follow my advice, they'll remember you in a good light. And when you need to get some light fixed, you may just get it done a bit faster.

Note: this small post was prompted by this piece from Inside Higher Ed on "The Lasting Impact of a Departmental Secretary." The comments on the piece are mixed in terms of interest. Seems that, as academics often do, they have to focus on making it a class/privilege war issue when it is a tribute to a woman that clearly had an impact on many people. My two cents.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lose Pot? Call the cops

Apparently some dudes either lost or tossed a couple of large bags of marijuana on the side of the road in Florida. According to the AP report, entitled "Dude, didn't we have 60 pounds of pot?," highway workers "picking up litter from along Interstate 4 near Tuesday morning made an unusual find: two big plastic garbage bags stuffed with freshly harvested marijuana."The Florida Highway Patrol, wanting to do the right thing, "says anyone missing two big bags of pot can call their Tampa area office."

I can imagine how that phone call might go:

FHP: "Florida Highway Patrol, Tampa Office, how may I help you?"

Stoned dude: "Oh, yea, like, dude, I lost two bags. . ." (silent pause). . ."along the highway, kinda big, with some, uh, plants in them. . ."

FHP: "Sure thing, sir. Just give us your address, and we'll bring you right over to claim them."

Now, I am sure the cops meant their remark in a light spirit, but you know someone out there is dialing their headquarters as we speak.

I can decide for myself what I want to read, thank you much

This has to be the quote of the day for me. It comes from the story of yet another woman who refused to return a library's book she checked out because she considered it offensive once she got her hands on it. I posted about another mofo in this category here. And before anyone says anything, if you are thief, you lose any credibility for your cause later. On this story, the book in question is Ellen Wittlinger's Sandpiper. The author, on learning her book was challenged, said what I pretty much always think about people who, having the freedom not to read something, choose to complain about that thing they themselves don't want to read and deprive the rest of us. So, here is the quote of the day, from Ellen Wittlinger:

"'I know that there are people in this country, who, in the name of religion, feel high school students should be kept as ignorant of sex as possible, but I was shocked that the girl herself was equally afraid of knowledge,' Wittlinger said. 'Of course, the bottom line, as always, is that Lysa Harding didn't have to read the book if she didn't want to. But there are no doubt other students who do want to read it and she should not be able to decide what anyone else can or cannot read.'"(emphasis is mine)

While I have my opinion about people who choose to keep their children ignorant, unfortunately, that's their parental right. However, don't go around with your self-righteousness trying to censor for the rest of us. Don't want to read it? Fine by me. But you don't get to tell the rest of us what to read.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A few more Thanksgiving links

Just when I thought I was done with my post for Thanksgiving 2007, I found a few extra things. Rather than putting them in the previous post, I just figured it would be better to make another post, so here it is. Here are some extras for your amusement (maybe you learn something too).

I will be back sometime in the weekend. I am certainly unplugging tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving.

Why Thanksgiving Dinner Could Cost More? Could it be the gas?

I came across this report from the Renewable Fuels Association discussing the "Impact of Higher Oil Prices on Thanksgiving Dinner" (note: PDF file). This pretty much sounds like common sense to me. If the price of gasoline has been going up, it is going to have an impact on a lot of things. It will cost you more if you are driving. It will drive up the price of food items since they have to be transported, and transport has higher fuel costs, which I am sure get passed down to consumers. It really is a chain reaction, so to speak.

One example from the document:

"At today’s prices, Americans will spend more than $1.8 billion on gasoline over the Thanksgiving holiday, nearly $520 million, or 39 percent, more than Thanksgiving 2006. That is $520 million that cannot be spent on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season."

Interesting way to look at it. You may have less to spend on the crazy Friday because you spent more getting there. Yes, for me, it is crazy Friday. The limited "specials" retailers offer for their wares at the crack of dawn don't justify my family or me getting up to buy anything. We may however go do some people watching later in the day, but buying anything is not part of the plan. Besides, most the time you can find a good price anyhow later in the season if you do some comparison shopping or shop online.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving 2007

I will be doing a short road trip to visit with family for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

For those of you who are traveling, whatever your mode of transportation, may it be a safe one, and may you enjoy a great meal in the company of friends and family. If you are not traveling, and instead people are coming to your home, may the stress be low or nonexistent, and may you have a great time. And just in case you want some reading before or after you head out, here are some things I have found:

  • The Census Bureau has their feature on Thanksgiving Day. Here are some highlights:
    • 272 million. The preliminary estimate of turkeys raised in the United States in 2007. That’s up 4 percent from 2006. The turkeys produced in 2005 together weighed 7.2 billion pounds and were valued at $3.2 billion.
      Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service <>

    • 144,086. Number of certified organic turkeys on the nation’s farmland, as of 2005. Most of these turkeys were in Michigan (56,729) or Pennsylvania (48,815).
      Source: USDA Economic Research Service <>
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that "Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Inches Higher This Year."
  • Unfortunately, not everyone may be as fortunate in sharing the bounty.
    • For instance, the National Coalition for the Homeless recently issued a report finding a situation of "Feeding Intolerance: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness." According to the press release about the report, "the report details how local governments across the country are using a wide variety of ordinances, policies, and tactics to restrict groups that share food with poor and homeless people. The report also offers examples of more constructive alternatives to these counterproductive laws." Now, I am sure that in spite of such findings, many charitable organizations will provide a meal to those in need.
    • Meanwhile, Second Harvest issued a report finding that "in the United States, one out of six children in small towns and big cities lives in a food insecure household, which means they do not always know where they will find their next meal." Something to think about while you are watching the traditional football games after the meal: "That’s enough children to fill every seat in all of the professional league football, baseball, basketball and hockey stadiums and every Division One NCAA basketball stadium across the country at the same time."
    • However, I cannot just give you the bad news and leave no hope. So, I urge people who are able and willing to consider volunteering. For example, here in East Texas, the East Texas Food Bank may use some volunteers not just now but during the year. Visit the site for details.
  • Do you need some help with the recipes? Epicurious has a nice thanksgiving guide. So does the Food Network here.
  • But what happens if you are vegetarian? We got you covered here with some recipes that are friendly to our vegetarian and vegan friends.
  • And what about the leftovers? Personally, I am not much for Thanksgiving leftovers other than the pie. However, I know plenty of people who like the leftovers, so here are some ideas from Mr. Breakfast. Apparently, that is all that guy does; I may have to revisit the website during the year for other ideas.
  • Does this holiday give you stress? Well, getting together with family, especially if some things are a bit tense, can be stressful. Dr. Joyce Brothers offers some tips on dealing with the stress.
  • If you are one of those people who just have to watch the Macy's Day Parade, find some information and trivia here about it.
  • Learn a little history about the festivity from the Smithsonian here. Learn a few more facts from this CBC article on "Talkin' Turkey," including the answer to the question, "why do I feel sleepy after eating that turkey."
  • If you somehow manage to stay awake after the turkey, maybe you want to do some reading. Here is a list of some books with a Thanksgiving theme. If you like cozy mysteries, this may be your list for Thanksgiving. And here is a list for children.
  • And talking about the football games, it is not just sitting down and watching them. James Alder has some advice on "NFL Football on Thanksgiving." There is strategy to it as it turns out. Make sure you know what games are going on. The NFL's site has some information along with a list of memorable Thanksgiving games from past years. Do check your local listings accordingly then.
  • Of course, for you to have your holiday, you either have to make it (see the recipes and tips above), or you have to travel someplace.
    • If you are traveling by car, you may find Google Maps useful. When you open it, there is a link in the map area that says "Traffic." Click on that, and the map shows some traffic lights. Click on a traffic light and zoom in to get some local traffic information.
    • If you are flying, may the deity or higher being of your choice have mercy on you (can you tell I do not have a high opinion of flying? And no, it is not fear of flying itself, but let's leave that for another post, shall we?). A quick look at the news using Google as well reveals a few stories about delays in flights. You may want to make sure you leave with plenty of time. If you need some information about delays, the FAA site has it here with an interactive map for airport information. Calling ahead to your carrier or looking online may be advisable as well.
  • Finally, if you are feeling frisky, and you happen to be holding on to that turkey baster, here are "15 Ways to Use a Turkey Baster for Sex." Now, this is where I do the usual warning: If you offend easily, or you are underage, DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK. On the other hand, if some graphic suggestions don't bother you, and you feel like trying something different, go right ahead and click here.
So, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sure, she stole the book, but the library having it was the real problem

In what I can only classify as the "mofo du jour" (heck, I may make that a new category for the blog), this lady out in Lewiston, Maine checked out a book title. She decided that the book offended her sensibilities. So instead of returning it, she took it upon herself to be the moral police and stole it so that other people would not be able to read it. She claims the book, It's Perfectly Normal, violates local anti-obscenity laws. And it is not like she is denying the theft. According to the story, she did check the book out at two library branches. At least, the thief was "thoughtful" enough to write a check to cover the cost of the books. How nice. Folks, the reality of this story is that the lady is a thief pure and simple. If she did not want to read the books, all she had to do was leave them alone on the shelf. She could have even filed a complaint or request for review at the library without having to resort to theft. The minute she chose to become a thief, she lost any sympathy and credibility. It is not an act of civil disobedience no matter what her wishful thinking may be. To even consider labeling her actions as such simply gives a bad name to the actions of such noble people as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We can only hope that the people in Lewiston, ME have a little more reason and common sense than that lady.

So. it turns out college students DO drink more during football games

According to a study from the University of Texas at Austin (also known as the flagship), "College students drink larger amounts of alcohol on football game days, comparable to well-known drinking days such as New Year's Eve and Halloween. . . ." What do you know? I am not terribly surprised or impressed. Of course, there is always a catch:

"The researchers found students were especially likely to drink more during high-profile games against conference or national rivals. However, the increased drinking rates only occurred when students were on campus. For instance, drinking levels were high for the 2005 regular-season Ohio State game, but were relatively low for games against rival Texas A&M (played during Thanksgiving break) and both Rose Bowl games, including the national championship (played during the semester break)." (emphasis is mine.)

Sure, drinking is not as high on campus when the students are not there. Really? I wonder why that could be. It might not be because they are drinking someplace else, could it? Or, to be more optimistic, they may be drinking less if they went home for the holidays, and they can't drink at home. Although, they could be drinking at home, but that would not matter to the study since they are not on campus. I cannot help but wonder who paid to have this study done, let alone how much it actually cost.

A hat tip to the Bold Types blog.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Children in many states live with hunger

"One of every four children in New Mexico and Texas and one of every five in a dozen other states, live in households that struggle to provide enough food at some point during the year, a report released Thursday says." So opens a report in USA Today entitled "Study tracks hunger among children." I cannot help but wonder how in a nation like this one people can so casually allow this to happen. All those billions of dollars spent on a questionable war abroad while children are allowed to live with insecurity about where the next meal might come from. Add to this the price in gasoline that continues to rise as well as the cost of food, and this is not bound to get better. As I often ask, is there a magic number? Is there a moment when people in this nation will look at their own children, finally say that a single child going hungry is wrong and immoral? And when they do so, will they finally vote for people who will work towards ending such a problem here at home?

Here in Texas, it does not look good either. "In Texas, [Jan] Pruitt [chief executive officer of the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas] says, demand for food has steadily risen in recent years as working poor families struggle to pay for gas and housing."

This blog's readability level

It's Friday once again, and the two readers of this blog know what that means. This readability for blogs thing has been going around a few blogs already. I have no idea what exactly they use to measure this. Add to it that I am not sure if I should take the result as a compliment (i.e. the blog is fairly easy to read) or an insult (i.e. only high school level?). Anyhow, go put in your url and see what turns out. The result then:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

No "ho ho ho" for you

Just when I thought I had seen it all, along comes this ridiculous story out of the AFP: "Santas Warned 'ho ho ho' Offensive to Women." Apparently, a company in Australia has told its Santas that they should say "ha ha ha" instead so as not to offend any sensitive women (or sensitive anyone else) out there. After all, "ho" could be taken to mean the certain slang. What do I say to that company? Get over yourselves and take a fucking chill pill. How ridiculous is this? Do people honestly think that children are going to think anything other than Santa is being jolly and laughing when they hear "ho ho ho?" How many women will actually feel offended at Santa's mirth? Let the jolly one laugh to his heart's content. And enjoy the holiday folks. Leave the PC crap to those who have nothing better to do. Better yet. Tell them to get over it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I should go here for vacation

Well, we made it once again to Friday. No meetings today, so that is a good thing. I do have to work this weekend, so maybe not so good. But it's still Friday. I would like to see Europe sometime in my lifetime, but given my librarian salary, and my current distaste for flying, it probably won't happen anytime soon. I can still dream and read though. Overall, there are a lot of places in this world I would like to see, but that may be the subject of another post. In the meantime, here's the Friday quiz.

Where should you go on vacation?

Southern Europe

Europe is full of interesting old civilizations, perfect for a knowledge hungry person like yourself.

Personality Test Results

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Quizzes and Personality Tests

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Damn, that is one expensive dessert

The AP reported on a $25,000 dessert. Some restaurant in New York City is offering this concoction:

"The dessert is a frozen, slushy mix of cocoas from 14 countries, milk and 5 grams of 24-carat gold topped with whip cream and shavings from a La Madeline au Truffle.

It is served in a goblet with a band of gold decorated with 1 carat of diamonds and served with a golden spoon diners can take home."

Well, at least they let you take the spoon home. I guess they figured they had to give you some sort of memento after you plunked down 25K for some chocolate slushie in a fancy cup. Go figure. It does make my little cup of applesauce that I am having with my lunch seem kind of puny, but I bet it's healthier.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pancakes in a can

When I saw this, I thought it was a joke. It turns out that Batter Blaster really provides pancake batter in a can. And for the finishing touch, it is organic too. What's truly tragic is that apparently there are no stores here in the area that carry the product. I love pancakes, and I would certainly appreciate being able to save some time when making them. The whole "shake, point, blast, and cook" sounds easy enough. Then again, do we really want to shake, point, and blast pancake batter? I can only imagine the nefarious uses this canned item could have. Batter fights anyone? When I saw it, that was what I envisioned: two brats in a kitchen grabbing hold of the cans and bombs away. Anyhow, the site features a nice little advertisement clip. Man, I could use some pancakes.

A hat tip to Say No to Crack.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Believing in luck?

Well folks, we made it to another Friday, and it is the start of a new month. Halloween has moved on, and we are headed towards the holiday season. As far as I am concerned, we can skip Thanksgiving and go directly to Christmas. But that's me. Anyhow, here is the Friday quiz. In terms of luck, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I think this quiz caught that pretty well. Anyhow, do you feel lucky? Maybe you should try it out then.

You Are Balanced - Realist - Powerful

You feel your life is controlled both externally and internally.
You have a good sense of what you can control and what you should let go.
Depending on the situation, you sometimes try to exert more control.
Other times, you accept things for what they are and go with the flow.

You are a realist when it comes to luck.
You don't attribute everything to luck, but you do know some things are random.
You don't beat yourself up when bad things happen to you...
But you do your best to try to make your own luck.

When it comes to who's in charge, it's you.
Life is a kingdom, and you're the grand ruler.
You don't care much about what others think.
But they better care what you think!

Cell Phone Users: Get Some Manners

For a long time, I lived happily without a cell phone. After living in Houston for a while, I finally had to cave and get one. The commute and having to worry over picking up a child on time from school made it a necessity. But even though I have one these days, I still make every effort to mind my manners. I usually keep it on vibrate. I don't talk on the cellphone while I am driving. I don't start yakking out loud in public places, and I sure as heck don't interrupt talking with people in person to pick it up. It's a matter of common courtesy and manners, which are clearly sorely missing with a lot of cell phone users. Don't like hearing it? Tough. Get a clue and some manners. The world does not revolve around you.

This little rant was prompted by an article from CNET Reviews posted in MSN entitled "On Call: Mind Your Cell Phone Manners." Kent German, the article's author, gives us some reminders of common manners to maintain when using a cell phone.

  • "Be nice to the person behind the counter". German tells the story of some self-absorbed guy who can't even bother to place an order at the lunch counter. He has to hand a note to the attendant because his call is just too important. I am sure a lot of librarians can relate to this. I get that once in a while. Some student comes to the reference desk to ask for something, but they are yammering away on their cell phone. They can't be bothered to hang up or put their friend on hold for a moment to deal with their reference transaction. Usually, if I am not busy, I will signal that I will wait, but otherwise, I tell them to either wrap it up or come back later. Overall folks, have some common decency. The person giving you service deserves some dignity and respect from you as well. They are there to help you. Least you can do is give them your attention.
  • "Take it outside". This one is a peeve of mine. If you go to some restaurant or other public place with a lot of people, take your call outside. I really don't need to hear about your Aunt Hilda's hemorrhoids, your sister Wilhelmina's fourth (failed) marriage, or your crazy Uncle Jimbo who failed to make bail (yet again). People who answer their cell in a movie theater should be tasered and/or shot on sight. Between that and the bozos that just can't be quiet in a movie theater are the reason movie rental places get my business and not theaters. This should be non-negotiable. It's not your living room. Have some manners. Personally, there is no fate bad enough for someone picking up the phone in a church, funeral, etc. If you are a doctor, put it on vibrate and step outside. This goes along with German's other point: "Yes, they're talking to you". It means when they announce in a theater or play to turn off the cellphone, it means you. Last thing I need when I go see a live play is to have the actors distracted because you thought the request to turn off the phone did not apply to you, and your stupid ringtone now broke their concentration.
  • The point about using the cell phone in the bathroom should go without saying. Just don't do it.
  • As for the Bluetooth headsets, other than proclaiming you can spend money on the little gadgets, you look like a geek, or worse. If you are not actually talking on the phone, take it off. We don't need confirmation of your self-importance.
Don't get me wrong. I think a cell phone can be a useful device. And given all the advances they keep adding, they are bound to get better. But it does not mean you have to behave like a barbarian because you have one.