Monday, June 30, 2008

More woes for 4th of July economy

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the economy is bad." We already pointed out how people may be buying less for the 4th of July here. So, what can possibly make things worse? When fireworks, that great prominent part of the holiday, become "a luxury many Americans and governments can’t afford in tight economic times." That is according to a story from MSNBC with the headline "Rockets' red glare to dim this Fourth of July." What is this world coming to when you can't even buy a bottle rocket or a sparkler to celebrate in your own backyard? Even worse, what is this world coming too when your local municipality may not even be able to afford fireworks?

It turns out there is a pretty tight market for fireworks, kind of like for oil. We get oil here in the U.S. from some specific places (link from ABC News). In the case of fireworks, we get most of them from China according to the MSNBC report, which states that "a massive explosion at fireworks factories in China created a global shortage that has driven prices beyond the means not only of many backyard revelers but even of many local governments, forcing them to cancel municipal celebrations." So our fireworks pipeline has just been shut down pretty much. Add to this the fact that various locations are just banning fireworks due to drought conditions and fire concerns, and thus, we get less fireworks. This certainly explains why I have seen less of those little shacks selling fireworks that seem to pop up like weeds around this time of the year. A lot of people just can't afford to buy them.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Perfect Library? Sure, if you want to get some sleep

The UK's Telegraph newspaper published its "110 best books: The perfect library." Basically, it is another one of those pretentious lists mostly filled with dead white males, or mostly white authors (almost dead or heading there). There are a couple of gems here, but not too many. And how Harry Potter got in while Alice in Wonderland did not is beyond me. A far from perfect library in my humble opinion. Maybe a future post might be writing about what I would put in my perfect library. Anyhow, since summer is coming up, if you need a reading idea or two, maybe some books here might work (especially if you suffer from insomnia). And for my amusement, let's see how I did. As usual, snarky commentary in parenthesis. A lot of the ones here I read either as an English undergraduate major (and I was an Ed. major, not a pure English major, which means I got a good exposure but not as deep) or during my first masters.

Bold = I read it.

  • The Classics (uh huh.):
    • The Illiad and The Odyssey by Homer.
    • The Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope.
    • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
    • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
    • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
    • War and Peace by Tolstoy.
    • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
    • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.
    • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. (This was inflicted on me during my days as an English major).
    • Middlemarch by George Eliot.
  • Poetry:
    • Sonnets by Shakespeare.
    • Divine Comedy by Dante. (Yep, the whole damn thing.)
    • Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. (Yep, this whole damn thing too. In Middle English nonetheless. Not too bad actually.)
    • The Prelude by William Wordsworth.
    • Odes by John Keats.
    • The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. (A lot of this canonical poetry I read as an English major. Barely remember a lot of it.)
    • Paradise Lost by John Milton.
    • Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.
    • Collected Poems by W. B. Yeats.
    • Collected Poems by Ted Hughes. (I know I read some of this, but I don't recall it.)
  • Literary fiction (codeword for "yawn," except for one book. See below.):
    • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. (I read a few other of his works. Talk about seriously verbose.)
    • A la recherche du temps perdu by Proust.
    • Ulysses by James Joyce. (Somehow I was spared from reading this. Not that I am rushing to it either.)
    • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.
    • Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh. (I did read some other novel by Waugh, but can't recall which, only that I hated it.)
    • The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark.
    • Rabbit series by John Updike. (I had some of his short fiction inflicted on me. If I recall, the label given to him by a few back then was along the lines of literature about white male losers, or something like that. The Telegraph calls it "the great study of American manhood." Need I say more?)
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. (The greatest book ever written, and it comes from Latin America. Yea baby! I make it a point to revisit Macondo every so often, and it is always rewarding.)
    • Beloved by Toni Morrison.
    • The Human Stain by Philip Roth.
  • Romantic fiction. (In Spanish, this is usually a code word for "cursi." Spanish definition here. Somewhat close English translation for our friends who may not speak Spanish here. A few of the items on this list would classify as cursi stuff; I will let you guess which ones.):
    • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
    • Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory.
    • Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos.
    • I, Claudius by Robert Graves.
    • Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault.
    • Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian.
    • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. (Have not read the book. I did see the film. Another overrated piece that pretty much left me not giving a damn. Here is a much funnier version--YouTube link.)
    • Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.
    • Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
    • The Plantagenet Saga by Jean Plaidy.
  • Children's books:
    • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.
    • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. (I have only read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair, and that was years ago. With the new movies coming out, I may consider reading the whole thing soon.)
    • The Lord of the Rings by J.R. R. Tolkien. (I read The Hobbit too.)
    • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. (I am curious about this series, in part due to the recent controversies. May pick it up.)
    • Babar by Jean de Brunhoff.
    • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit.
    • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. (Yep, the whole thing too, not the Disney sanitized one, though I have read some of those too.)
    • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.
    • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
    • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (If you are a young boy, you have to read this at some point.)
  • Sci-Fi (quite a few things missing here, but that would be a whole new list. But off the top, what, no Heinlein, no Bester? What the hell?):
    • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
    • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.
    • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
    • 1984 by George Orwell.
    • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
    • Foundation by Isaac Asimov. (I have read other things by Asimov though.)
    • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. (I have read others by Clarke as well.)
    • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
    • Neuromancer by William Gibson.
  • Crime (what is criminal is some of the stuff that did not make it to this list as a whole. And by the way, no Spillane? That's just not right.):
    • The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
    • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. (I may have mentioned before. Have not read this one, but I have read some of his short fiction. Good stuff.)
    • The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Yes, I did read the complete stuff. Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorites).
    • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. (Same as with Hammett. Have not read this one, but read his short stuff.)
    • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. (I tried reading one of his other novels. I just could not get into it. Unlikely I will try again.)
    • Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. (I also read Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising. Hannibal the book is better than the movie, and that last one, Hannibal Rising, was not so good.)
    • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. (I have read a couple other Christie novels. I tend to like the ones featuring Poirot. I don't care for Miss Marple.)
    • The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe.
    • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
    • Killshot by Elmore Leonard.
  • Books that changed the world:
    • Das Kapital by Karl Marx. (I did read the Communist Manifesto).
    • The Rights of Man by Tom Paine. (I did read Common Sense.)
    • The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
    • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.
    • On War by Carl von Clausewitz. (What? No Art of War by Sun-Tzu? I did read that one.)
    • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.
    • Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.
    • On the Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.
    • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
    • L'Encyclopédie by Diderot, et al.
  • Books that changed your world (maybe their world, not necessarily mine. Hmm, that could be another post prompt sometime: Books that changed my world. And by the way, no Paulo Coehlo?)
    • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.
    • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.
    • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
    • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
    • The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.
    • How to Cook by Delia Smith. (If you have not figured out how to cook, I am sure there are a bunch of other books, starting with The Joy of Cooking.)
    • A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.
    • A Child Called 'It' by Dave Pelzer. (A bit much like James Frey one would think. Why it made it here is a good question.)
    • Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. ("Picks Up, glances over, and drops" is more like it for me when it comes to this book.)
    • Schott's Original Miscellany by Ben Schott. (I have not heard of this one before now, but it sounds interesting.)
  • History (What? No William Shirer? No Michael Grant? No Barbara Tuchman? No People's History of the U.S.? Ok, that last one I can see missing given this is mostly a Brit list.):
    • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.
    • A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill.
    • A History of the Crusades by Steven Runciman.
    • The Histories by Herodotus.
    • The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.
    • Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence.
    • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. (I had some of this inflicted on me too, and some in Old English.)
    • A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes. (What is really tragic is the stuff missing from this list.)
    • Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama.
    • The Origins of the Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor.
  • Lives (some of which we could probably do without, but let's not go there, shall we?):
    • Confessions by St Augustine. (I have read parts of this, but never the whole thing; I had it inflicted on me when I was in Catholic school. The idea of a hypocritical hedonist who converts at the last minute, after actually praying to God to make him holy, just not yet, is not exactly appealing. I happen to think you should be a good person out of decency, not because you are threatened by the afterlife. There, I said it.)
    • Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius.
    • Lives of the Artists by Vasari.
    • If This is a Man by Primo Levi.
    • Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon.
    • Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey.
    • A Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell.
    • Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves.
    • The Life of Dr Johnson by Boswell.
    • Diaries by Alan Clark.
So, how did I do? 36. Not too shabby considering the kind of list this is, and that a lot of it was obligatory reading. And by the way, no Cervantes either? Or Borges? Man, this people really missed the boat here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Stuff and 7 words: Rest in Peace George Carlin

I turned the news on this morning to the sad news that comedian George Carlin (1937-2008) passed away. He became known early on for his Seven Words routine (the seven words you can't say on TV. By the way, you still can't say them). Since this is not TV, and in rememberance of a man who made us laugh as well as think, here they are, the seven words you cannot say on tv:

  1. Shit

  2. Piss

  3. Fuck

  4. Cunt

  5. Cocksucker

  6. Motherfucker

  7. Tits
There ya go. There are also some auxiliary words. Hear the routine here:

He did cover a variety of other topics as well. So, go find one of his books, recordings, or do what I did, go to YouTube and spend some time laughing and remembering. We'll miss ya George.

Update note (same day): You can find a transcript of the seven words routine, which was part of the review the U.S. Supreme Court did here. The Nation has a pretty good article on Carlin here. Carlin's take on politicians is pretty much everything I could wish and more because it is true: for all the complaining about the bad politicians (and they all suck), in the end, it's the American people who go on electing the same bunch. Here's how he put it (quoting from The Nation piece):

"Now, there's one thing you might have noticed I don't complain about: politicians," he explained in a routine that challenged all the premises of today's half-a-loaf reformers. "Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky. They don't pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It's what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits ain't going to do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So, maybe, maybe, maybe, it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here… like, the public. Yeah, the public sucks. There's a nice campaign slogan for somebody: 'The Public Sucks. Fuck Hope.'"

If people want to change the way things are run in this country, then it is about time they stop being selfish, ignorant (often willingly ignorant) people, get informed, get educated, get back to a sense of the common good, to for once thinking about your neighbor instead of about yourself, and then vote accordingly. Hey, just a thought. But don't take my word for it. Mr. Carlin said it so much better.

A hat tip to the OIF blog.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Not even the 4th of July is safe from high gas prices

It's time once again for another edition of: Signs that the economy is bad. I am telling you people, we can make this go on and on. Once again, the fine folks of the National Retail Federation have commissioned another survey on the sentiments of people. This time they look at the impact that the high gas prices will have on the big summer celebration of Independence Day (also known as "fire up the BBQ and watch the fireworks day"). You can find their press release here. You can find the results of the study here (PDF file) which was done under NRF contract by the BIGResearch firm (yes, that is actually their name. Please keep all size jokes to yourselves. Yes, I know; the jokes practically write themselves. For example, "want me to show you my BIG research tool?"). Anyhow, here are some highlights from the study (using the press release):

"59.4 percent of consumers say increased gas prices will impact their spending for the holiday, up from 42.1 percent of consumers who said so last year."

The link in this quote is to last year's NRF press release. Hmm, not quite 60% yet. Ok, so people will buy a few fireworks less. Can that be a bad thing if it means less noise in my neighborhood? I certainly would not mind. Then again, less fireworks being bought by people who are less than smart might also avoid some accidents. Here is a little educational video, set to the all time favorite musical piece for the 4th of July, that ever popular Russian classic, the 1812 Overture (link to the great reference work on the web, also known as Wikipedia. That we celebrate the 4th of July with Russian music has to be ironic somehow).

So, maybe a little less buying of fireworks might be a good thing. On the other hand, what would doctors, nurses, and paramedics do on the holiday if there are less people getting their hands and crotches blown up by fireworks due to their cluelessness? Hmm, tough economic call there. Moving right along with the survey:

"Additionally, almost 200 million Americans (87.8%) feel the price of gas will cost more by the Fourth of July than it does now. On average, consumers expect that the average price of gas nationwide will be $4.39 per gallon on July 4."

They just feel it? Heck, I think I can predict gas will cost more by then. This is like another of those "no shit Sherlock" moments. So, we have about two weeks until the holiday? Should we go whole hog and say $4.40 national average for a gallon of regular? I am no expert, but somehow $4.39 seems a bit low given the way things are going. So, folks, place your bets. I wonder what odds I could get from a bookie for that prediction.

And in another "duh" moment,
NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin said that “Retailers are aware of the strain gas prices have on consumers’ wallets and will be offering special promotions on food and beverages for the millions of people planning summer barbecues.” Don't they do that anyhow? If any time is a good time to buy burgers, buns, cheap soda, beer (has to be cheap though, gas is expensive, remember?), chips, and watermelons, this is it. You can't help go to a supermarket and not see items like those on sale at this time of year. So, how come Ms. Mullin is not going on a limb and saying just how low the retailers will go? I am sure there is a survey for that. And by the way, since it is summer, it is important to stay hydrated, so drink your water too, just make sure it comes out of the faucet; bottled water is expensive too.

Then again, the NRF do not have the exclusive on "duh" moments. According to
Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy at BIGresearch, “A traditional Fourth of July trip to the beach or amusement park will be more expensive than it has ever been." Really? I wonder how big of a research effort had to go into that conclusion.

And because I am so nice, here are some more facts about the 4th of July, courtesy of our friends at the Census Bureau, the wonderful people who knock on your door every ten years to ask all the nosy questions that allow them to make summaries like this one. Go learn a thing or two. And please, whatever you do for the holiday, have a good time and be safe.

A hat tip to Docuticker for pointing to the NRF survey.

Oh, and those odds about gas? I did find one place giving 6/4 odds the gas would rise to $5 in 2008 (from the site Gambling 911). Find the posting from April here. And no, I am not advocating or encouraging anyone to actually gamble, but it is fun to see someone already thought of what I was thinking.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Does the Associated Press need to learn about fair use?

The few visitors to this blog who actually visit the site, as opposed to reading it via a reader, may notice I have added a new small banner in the side bar under the section for "Causes, Events & Miscellaneous." It is a link to a campaign to boycott the Associated Press. Recently, the AP has come out with cease and desist letters to bloggers which basically overlook and ignore the basic concept of fair use. You can read about the story in various places. Here is the take from Terry Heaton at The PoMo Blog. For me, what did it were the words of Michael Arrington, author of TechCrunch, who is boycotting the AP as well. Here is what he said:

"The A.P. doesn’t get to make it’s own rules around how its content is used, if those rules are stricter than the law allows. So even thought they say they are making these new guidelines in the spirit of cooperation, it’s clear that, like the RIAA and MPAA, they are trying to claw their way to a set of property rights that don’t exist today and that they are not legally entitled to."

I think it is time that we take a stand for things like the doctrine of fair use. Not just because I want to link to a news story now and then (usually to go along with my snark). But fair use is applicable to academic research, creative endeavors, etc. It seems that certain corporate folks are taking it upon themselves to try to scare people so as to rewrite the law. And personally, I think it shameful that some maverick lawyer has not sued them back to put them in their place. Anyhow, this little blog is nowhere near the fame or reach of the many other bloggers out there concerned over this, but the last thing I want is some bully letter from the AP because I linked to one of their stories to poke fun at current events or just write a little commentary. So, until the AP gets a clue, I will be trying to link elsewhere. AP, only if it is absolutely unavoidable, which, given this blog, I can pretty much avoid them. Anyhow, go read up on this and learn a bit more.

Update note: (same day): Mark Glaser at MediaShift, a nice blog that often discusses issue of digital media pretty well, has a good summary of the issue. It does bring in a nice balance. For me, the issue is one I think about, not only as a blogger, but also as a librarian who often has to teach students about fair use, crediting sources, and avoiding plagiarism.

Update note (8/11/11): I went ahead and removed the banner from the sidebar as it seems the site has been neglected, and somewhat overrun by spam. However, it does not change what I have said about fair use and our need to keep testing limits and stand up for fair use.And I have not seen or heard AP has relented, so I will continue to avoid them as much as I can.

If you need another reason to register and vote, here ya go!

It is not very often that I talk about my political views, or at least I try to avoid it since it is one of those things not talked about in polite company. However, I do feel that if people don't get their act together, register, and then go vote out of the office the current crop of morons we have running the country, things will go from worst to truly tragic in the blink of an eye. So, to help you make your mind up, here is a little something I have seen making the rounds. One of my favorite parts has to be the minister saying how women can't be trusted (I winced when I heard that).

(Crossposted on my Facebook and MySpace pages).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Now it's the water

This may become a regular blog feature here at the rate things are going: signs that the economy is bad. First we had beer drinkers switching to cheap beer, then it turns out that people are using the rebate checks for stuff like gas (instead of spending on useless shit from retail stores), and fathers were not getting a whole lot of love on Father's Day due to, you guessed it, the economy. So, what is the next sign of the impending economic apocalypse? Water, bottled water to be specific. CBS News is picking up an AP story reporting that "Tapped Out Consumers Spurn Bottled Water." In plain English folks, buying bottled water is now too expensive and the poor snobs now have to drink it out of the faucet. What is the world coming to when you can't even spend your money on some bottled water packed in disposable bottles that just end up in a landfill for the most part? In a statement of the obvious:

"Heather Kennedy, 33, an office administrator from Austin, Texas, said she used to drink a lot of bottled water but now tries to drink exclusively tap water.

'I feel that (bottled water) is a rip-off," she said in an e-mail. "It is not a better or healthier product than the water that comes out of my tap. It is absurd to pay so much extra for it.'"

No shit Sherlock. How long did it take for you to figure that out? It was always a rip-off. I have been saying that for years, and I don't buy bottled water. I drink it out of the faucet, which by the way is apparently a shocking act to at least one of my coworkers who, when she saw me filling my plastic (refillable) bottle at the faucet in the break room, asked me, "are you actually drinking that?" in a tone that conveyed I may have as well been filling my bottle with poison. I simply told her that I was, and if I happen to keel over on the floor, she knew what may have caused it. By the way, the bottle I use at work was free; it was a "gimme" I got at some campus event, so my water drinking is even cheaper.

Now, personally I don't use a water filter at home or work. But I hear that even if you must have a filter, it is still more cost-efficient than buying the cases of water (the article does mention this). I am trying to drink more water these days, and I am slowly getting there, especially at work where I put some ice (made with tap water) in the bottle, fill it from the faucet, and then drink throughout the morning.

So folks, what say you? Get your water out of the faucet and help the environment in the process. Now, if I could cut back on the green tea I like, which I do buy by the case for my lunch, that might help me a bit more. Wonder if maybe brewing it by the batch and filling a bottle or such might help, but that is another post. In the meantime, go have some water.

By the way, here is the link to the Tappening site mentioned in the article, which has a campaign to get people to drink tap water.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Americans not totally pissed with air travel just yet.

I have been vocal about expressing my dissatisfaction with air travel. I even went so far as to say that a few airlines have to go broke and shut down for good before anything resembling improvement in air travel actually happens. So, to go along with my musings here is a study from the Travel Industry Association (the nice folks who lobby for the travel industry) stating that "Air Travelers Avoided 41 Million Trips in Past Year - U.S. Economy Takes $26.5 Billion Hit" (PDF documents. Executive summary here. Key findings with more detail over here). The thing that strikes me about the study is that there is such an economic impact, and yet the airlines continue to operate like cattle cars in the sky. Heck, I am willing to bet that in some cattle ranches the cows get much better treatment than airline passengers. Thus my notion that Americans are just not pissed off enough. After all, they keep flying. Let us look at this study a bit. Who knows how much it cost to do the study, but here you get it for free with my snark.

  • First of all, it seems that for all the hysteria, people are just not pissed off just yet. "Looking at all Americans who have taken at least one air trip in the past 12 months, two-thirds (66%) are satisfied with 'the entire air travel system of airports and airlines including security, boarding, the in-flight experience, and baggage' and one-third is dissatisfied" (from the findings document). Only one third are dissatisfied? Well, when we get to two thirds or more, call me.
  • Of course, it is the frequent travelers who are most vocal. "Again, the more often someone travels by air, the more likely they are to find fault with the air travel system, and for travelers who fly more than three times per year, the negative outweighs the positive, as 'frustrating' tops the list of descriptors." What I wonder is if any of these studies would take into account people who pretty much gave up on air travel. In other words, not the customers they could lose, but the ones they already lost that they are making no effort to get back.
  • And by the way, it is the air travel. Other elements of the travel process such as renting a car or getting the hotel are usually fine. "Compared with other parts of the travel experience including renting cars, staying at a motel, hotel, or resort, and eating meals away from home, the air travel experience is the least pleasant part of taking a trip. A 56% majority of travelers say that getting through the airports and flying to and from their destination is a bad part (40%) or the worst part of travel (16%)."
  • The economic impact: "Travel hassles, long lines, flight delays, and cancellations caused 41 million trips not to be taken last year, including 29 million leisure trips and 12 million business trips. This is a total cost to the travel industry of $26.5 billion: $9.4 billion to airlines, $5.6 billion to hotels, $3.1 billion to restaurants and $4.2 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue." I don't think it has had enough of an impact yet. If it had a larger impact, rest assured that the lobbyists for restaurants, hotels, chambers of commerce, tourism organizations, and so on would be yelling at Congress to finally do something to demand the airlines get their act together. Money usually speaks loudly, but it seems it is not talking loudly enough yet. I say give it some time, lose a few billion more dollars in restaurants, hotels, amusement parks, travel destinations, and so on, and maybe then something will finally happen.
  • Now some of you may think I am being too pessimistic. Well, according to the study, I would not be alone in my pessimism: "Despite recognizing that the air travel system needs significant improvements, travelers are not confident that the airlines, airports, and the federal government will make the needed changes in the next few years."
So, I am thinking things have not gotten bad enough yet. They have to get worse before something serious happens in terms of reforming air travel. The question is how long before people say enough is enough.

A hat tip to Docuticker.

Friday, June 13, 2008

If your Father's Day gift sucks, blame it on the gas

That gas prices are going from bad to worse is something that everyone knows by now. I don't need to discuss it in this blog. However, I always take notice when the gas affects other things. Previously I pointed out that the economy was in trouble as indicated by beer drinkers. And now, it turns out fathers may not be getting a whole lot of loving when it comes to gifts this upcoming Father's Day. Who says so? Well, the National Retail Federation, the same friendly folks who get concerned when people don't buy stuff the rest of the year. The NRF conducted a survey and concluded that "Dad Takes a Back Seat to Gas and Food Costs." It seems we fathers can't catch a break. As if the lousy ties were not bad enough, we might not even get that this year. From the press release which I linked:

“When it comes to dad, a simple greeting card and family dinner really goes a long way,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. “Unfortunately, consumers are torn between their love for dad and their need for gas this year.”

Hell, you may not even get the dinner this year. It's either you or the gas, and guess who will likely win out. It's not the families' fault. Your family does need to put gas on that big SUV to get to the nearest Outback (this one, not this one). Tough choice. However, there will still be some shopping going on according to the survey. The NRF does make it sound like a panic, but look at the numbers:

"According to the National Retail Federation’s 2008 Father’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, consumers plan to spend an average of $94.54, compared to last year’s $98.34. Total spending is expected to reach $9.6 billion."

Do you realize that is only $3.80 cents less spending? Based on that, you may just have to settle for going to Taco Bell instead and a nice card. Which proves that in the end, joking aside, the most important time about the holiday, or any holiday like this, is the time spent with the family. As the old Master Card ad would say, that is priceless.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

This may explain some of the morons in the roads.

Once again, GMAC has put out its annual National Driver's Test Survey (link to the executive summary. Also on that page you can find the test itself, if you feel brave enough to take it). For those of you who are wondering, yes, I passed (85%). I passed it as well last year, when I was pondering about how much better my commute is now that I am out of Houston. The highlights are not good, and they are pretty indicative of the fact that there are a lot of lousy and/or clueless drivers out there. Those of us who drive carefully and diligently do not appreciate your ilk. So, how bad did people do?

"If taken today, 16.4 percent of drivers on the road – amounting to roughly 33 million licensed Americans – would not pass a written drivers test exam."

That is 33 million people. On the good news, the national average was passing with a 78.1%. Where are the high scorers at? Sorry, not in Texas. Texas ranks 18th this year, but they did go up from 24 last year. The high scorers are over in Kansas.

The site also gives you some other interesting bits of information. For example, learn about the top mistakes that cause crashes. The first on the list is a major peeve of mine: multitasking while driving. Nothing that ticks me off more than the lady applying make-up with one hand while holding a cellphone in the other driving the largest Tahoe made by GMC at speeds exceeding the speed limit. And lest you think I am being sexist, these are often followed by the guy with the cellphone on his ear sipping hot coffee driving the biggest pick-up truck made by Ford. And no, I am not making that up. I have actually seen drivers like that and made sure I kept my distance from them. Now, for those who still want to say I am sexist, here is a bit more that does not bode well for women in the study:

"While average test scores between the genders were similar, women were more likely to fail the test than men (20 percent versus 13 percent)."

Sorry ladies, but you were more likely to fail the test. Maybe you should pay more attention to the road and learn the rules better instead of applying make-up while driving. The fact I have seen some of you actually do that, including and not limited to plucking your eyebrows (how you do not poke an eye out is beyond me) with children in your back seat only makes me cringe more. And by the way, lest some people think I am picking on distracted drivers, here is a little study on driving while distracted (PDF document). That study was done by Nationwide. Some of the findings include:

"Similarly, the most dangerous distraction for drivers is “Using technology such as a cell phone or e-mail or electronic device,”as reported by nearly half (48%) of the National Sample. “Reading”while driving and adjusting music are also considered dangerous distractions (18% and 9%, respectively)."

The scary thing is that I have actually seen people reading while driving. One time I saw someone reading a paperback novel while in traffic. I think it was some fantasy like a Robert Jordan novel. Of course, here is why these distracted people are a major peeve of mine:

  • "The majority (86%) of drivers in the National Sample claim that they had to swerve or apply their brakes because 'Of the actions of another driver.'”
Not that you inconsiderate drivers would even notice when one of us has to swerve to avoid getting in an accident with the likes of you. And of course, if one of these bozos cuts you off, and you honk at them to let them know they barely ran you off the road, they have the audacity to actually flip you the bird. I can only hope they drop their hot Starbucks coffee on their lap when they raise that finger, hehe.

So go ahead folks, try the test. It's only 20 questions. See if you can pass or if you join 33 million people who need to learn how to drive again.

A hat tip to Docuticker blog.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Four Variables in Politics

Well, we made it to another Friday. And the two readers of this blog know what that means: quiz time. Since we are in an election year, you may be seeing a few more political theme quizzes here. Anyhow, here is one. Notice I scored 0 in the puritan area. That is because I am as easy going as can be in that regard, and I happen to believe that what consenting adults do when it comes to sex is no one's business but their own. As far as I am concerned the "religious" (and I use the term loosely) can stay out of it. I was not so sure about the isolationist score, other than it probably reflects my feeling that it is about time the government of this country starts taking care of their own for a change. Then again, not that they are taking care of anyone outside the country either. And before anyone argues, "look how much aid the U.S. gives to so and so," keep in mind often a lot of that is private aid given by individuals to agencies. But I am talking more in terms of actually helping out society here. You know, for instance, that pesky poverty thing. Oh well, here are the results this time:

Your Score: Populist

You scored 33 capitalist, 0 puritan, 66 isolationist, and 66 democratic!

You want government to listen to its people and care about only its people, especially the downtrodden.

Link: The 4 Variable Politics Test written by newtonfan on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
View My Profile(newtonfan)

Yet another book meme list

It seems that this month memes of readings lists are the rages. Since I happen to like reading, I tend to fall for them like a sucker. Here is another one I found, which caught my eye because it actually asks about books I may have started but not finished. Is that something a librarian should admit? Maybe some other librarian. Personally, I subscribe to the Reader's Bill of Rights. One of the rights clearly states: "The right to not finish." The way I see it, life is way too short to waste it plodding through a bad book or just a book that you does not engage you. Drop it and move on. Why keep adding to the misery? There are many good books out there, go get one of those instead. Anyhow, here is the meme as seen in Ruminations (any snarky comments are all mine):

The106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. Bold the ones you’ve read, italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish and underline the ones read for school.

The list itself:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude (did I mention this is the greatest novel of all time, well, in my view at least)
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary (I read this an undergraduate. Not impressed.)
The Odyssey
A Tale of Two Cities
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations (Read it when I taught it to high school freshmen. This is so not a book for that age group. Pretty much ruined Dickens for me).
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged (damn this was bad.)
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books (this was bad too. That author is probably among the most condescending people I have met in writing. Boring as hell book too; I have no idea why others think it's such a big deal.)
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys (just bought it. May take me a while to get to it.)
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
A Canterbury Tale
Tess of the D’urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved (read it for African American lit. class in graduate school. You do what you have to, what can I say?)
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye (one of the biggest wastes of time I ever inflicted on myself. I hear the author pretty much became a recluse after. I hope he stays that way. Holden Caufield has to be classified as one of the greatest losers of all time. Why this is inflicted on high school teens everywhere is beyond me. This was definitely one I should have dropped.)
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

So, how did I do? 26 read plus 3 read for school. Meh. It is not exactly the greatest list of all time, and once again, it is mostly "classics," which is leading me to think that a lot of these memes are just people with guilty consciences for not having read X or Y. Look folks, the world will not end if you have not read X or Y. Bad comes to worse, remember Wikipedia is your friend. Look some of them up so you can have a sense what the big deal may be and then go read what you like. Kind of tough advice from an English major, but then again, my interests in that field were always to the unconventional and more interesting like science fiction. If anything, after grad school, I lost a lot of the "fear" (or maybe "respect" is a better word). If a writer is good, I will read him or her. Otherwise, there are plenty of other books out there.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Higher Ed. needs to find other sources of revenue

That the economy in the United States is bad at this moment, and getting worse, is pretty self-evident. Well, except to certain people in the administration and their lackeys that is. Anyhow, the point for me this time around is that I am seeing a few stories here and there about how the economy is affecting colleges and their students. For example, I posted these two stories over on my Facebook:

Now, I am not going to go on some rant about how some of this could have been prevented or handled differently. What caught my eye, in addition to the stories above, are these two other pieces about higher education posted in the Wired Campus blog:

  • First, we have the end of campus computer labs. Apparently, some colleges like North Carolina State are moving to have virtual computer labs. In plain English, they put online tools on servers, and you have to access them on your own computer or laptop. No more campus lab as we know it. This by itself raises a few concerns on my part, but I will leave them for a different post later.
  • Then they were asking if colleges should sell advertising to pay for technology. It's the idea of selling ad space on campus websites in order to pay for technology needs.
I hate to say this folks, but I think we may have a solution, and it may be selling the advertising. States pretty much are giving up left and right on funding higher education for the people. And a private college education is pretty much prohibitive unless you are a trust fund baby. Right now, on many campuses, students are charged a fee for technology. We do it here. Often, students don't even notice it since it goes in the bill along with everything else the financial aid covers. But these days, financial aid means more loans given grants and free money are also on the way down and out. So, I am wondering if students may start noticing what is on their bill a bit more. More than that, it may get to the point where colleges are just going to have to fend for themselves.

Now I am talking about the state colleges and universities, especially the small, less popular ones. Places like Harvard with their obscenely rich endowments they keep piling on to need not apply in this conversation; after all, using it to help the less fortunate is not exactly on their radar. Putting up a new building or fountain is probably more glamorous than setting up some scholarships for example. Most campuses think that way, even my own where getting a nice garden in front of the library is more important than actually putting books that are up to date inside that same library. But I am digressing. So, what could be a solution? Advertising.

Think about it folks. Most of you out there who may stop at this blog probably use the Internet regularly. You are used to seeing ads online for all sorts of sites: news, sports, the weather, so on. The ads are just there, and they make it possible for you to read The New York Times, to pick an example, mostly for free (well, you still have to pay for the Internet access somehow and a computer. It is never really free). So why not take it a step further and put ads on campus websites? On the piece about advertising above, one of the commenters said that donors naming stuff is not really the same as advertising. I say, oh really? They "donate" a lot of dough, with a lot of conditions very often, to get their name out there and remind everyone of their legacy. Sounds like advertising to me. They are paying to have their brand (i.e. themselves) be known. Like this guy. So, let us see how that would work:

  • For the campus athletics section, ads for ESPN, Gatorade, and maybe the NFL and/or the NBA, especially if your campus is big on those two sports.
  • For the library, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and similar are naturals. If the library has a cafe, well, Starbucks branding/franchising is a no brainer (personally, I prefer indie coffee, but oh well).
  • For math department, Texas Instruments calculators.
  • Let Facebook run your course management system. I mean, we are already halfway there. For example, see here.
You get the idea. You can probably find an advertiser that would be a natural for your campus department or unit. This is the kind of thing that, to be honest, I wish we did not have to think about. I wish that people would actually see the value of an education to the citizenry and fund it accordingly instead of wasting billions on wars that yield nothing other than dead soldiers and a huge debt. But at the rate we are going, I don't see the change coming, so we may as well brace ourselves for a future with more advertising. Personally, I find the idea intriguing and scary at the same time. Maybe I have seen one dystopian film too many where advertisers seem to be running everything. By the way, want an interesting look at a future where advertisers and corporations run the show? Take a look at the novel The Space Merchants. Anyhow, just a little speculating given the news, which do not look very good for higher education.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

50 Cult Books, or just another book list

We could also label this post as "a list of books I could not care less." With a couple of exceptions, the definition of cult books here seems to be books no one has read, but they claim they want to read them or wish they had. If they read them, they would not admit it (The Celestine Prophecy? Have you met anyone who has read this?). I will be honest. A lot of these books, some of which are considered classics, are books that I simply do not care for. In terms of readers' advisory, they do not have the appeal factors for me as a reader, and I have no problem admitting it. Life is too short to spend it worrying about not having read a book, especially when I can just go on any number of sources and read a summary and critical commentary of the book. Thus, in seconds, I can have the information I need for when I go to that next social function and someone mentions some book I have not read. At least I can talk about it. You get the idea. Not that I lie about what I read, but as a librarian, you should have the common reference points. Overall, I tend to be rebellious about lists that purport to make you look well read if you have read the items on the list. Yes, I know: shocking for a librarian to say that, but no one said I was your granny's librarian either.

Anyhow, here is the list, with any comments of mine in parenthesis.


*= I read it (and this can be I either own it or borrowed it. Hey, it's reading, so it's all good)
** = Own it, have not read it (i.e. it is part of the eternal TBR pile)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (1957-60)
A Rebours by JK Huysmans (1884)
Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961) * (I liked this when I read it. Would probably read it again.)
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951) * (I hated this piece of tripe. This day, I have serious difficulty seeing the allure of this story about a teenage loser. Salinger owes me for the time I wasted reading this "classic." The really sad thing? I read it on my own, so I can't even say I was forced to read it in school.)
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993) (Have not read it. Maybe some day. I am curious what the fuss is.)
The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken (1968)
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950) (Might actually pick it up out of curiosity.)
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954) (I did read Brave New World.)
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) * (and I own it too. Cool book)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979) ** (Meaning to read it. However, I could not get into Pratchett's first Discworld novel recently, and I hear Adams is similar, so it is not boding well. Then again, I think I was just not in the mood at the time, so may try later.)
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943) * (It was ok, but it is nothing great.)
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter (1979)
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)
Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970) * (Read it ages ago, in a Spanish edition. I may have to revisit it.)
The Magus by John Fowles (1966)
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1962) * (I have read an awful lot of Borges. I bet a lot of so-called "cult book" readers can't say that, ha! And in Spanish too.)
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957) * (Another overrated piece.)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956)
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1923)
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914)
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald (1859) *
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda (1968) (This is another one I am curious about.)
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1883-85)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) (This is kind of amazing. I was never forced to read it in school or college, and since I already know the story of Atticus Finch, I am not planning on reading it either. No incentive.)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (1974) (Fifty-fifty chance I may pick this up someday. If it's like Kerouac though, I will likely drop it.)

Well, I got 8 books read. I may read two or three more on the list, mostly the ones I labeled as being curious about, but that is about it.

I found the prompt from the blog Ruminations.