Sunday, August 31, 2008

Happy Blog Day 2008

Blog Day 2008

I barely made it this year. What between the holiday weekend and the fact that I have been busy as heck. But I could not disappoint, so here are my five choices this year for Blog Day 2008. This is now my third year participating. To readers and bloggers here and around the world, a happy Blog Day!

  • In the librarianship realm, Director Who is one I just recently discovered. Get some library insights from a library director.
  • Also in the librarianship front, the Academic Librarian is a thoughtful, well, academic librarian in one of those larger research universities. When he write, I know I can count on something substantial, thoughtful, and well written.
  • When it comes to books, Paulo Coehlo is one of my favorite writers. I recently added his blog to my reader. There is always a little something interesting. I also follow Neil Gaiman's Journal among the authors I like.
  • Finally one from the world of science. Dr. P.Z. Myers writes a popular blog, Pharyngula. When he is not explaining how biology and evolution works, he is busy railing against those who would pretty much replace science with religion (disguised as something called "creationism"). Worth a look.
(Crossposted from The Gypsy Librarian).

(the Technorati tag)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Booknote: The Great Derangement

Find the WorldCat record here. After reading the first fifty pages or so, I saw that this is the perfect book for one of two things:

  • Have people read it in the hopes, infinitesimal as it may be, that the people will actually vote the whole lot of bums in government out once and for all.
  • Or, and this is the effect I feel it may have on me, to make people just say, "the hell with politics and politicians. I am just disengaging. It's not like I can do anything anyways."
This is not an easy book to read. The second chapter, which right away prompted me to make some notes, details how Congress really works in the middle of the night. It is basically work done behind closed doors that the people never see. And if lobbyists and special interests know exactly who to pay off (and they do), then they can get any legislation they want passed without even having to do a whole lot of real voting. The second chapter of the book shows us how, instead of passing legislation to help people after Katrina, Congress was more concerned with passing laws to basically repeal various environmental and safety rules and laws that the energy industry wants to get rid of. Basically, under the guise of dealing with gasoline price gouging, Congress really gave corporations some really nice breaks. To say I was disgusted after reading that chapter is to put it mildly. I just felt hopeless. It's a system that is not about to change anytime soon no matter who is power. I have known this for a while to be honest, but Taibbi has a way of presenting that just goes to the point. As usual with books like this, it's too bad that the people who should probably be reading it will not read it. And then the Democrats take control in Congress. It does not get better because the Democrats would simply prove that "it is possible in America to govern entirely on appearance of principle--while changing absolutely nothing" (113).

His experience with the Texas megachurch are not that much better. Reading some of this is only slightly disturbing that watching Jesus Camp (which I did, and it was not a happy experience). However, a lot of what emerges is the fact that certain religious leaders are doing nothing more than take advantage of very vulnerable people, brainwash them, and then use them for their purposes. That those same leaders put politics right into their religion only adds to the hypocrisy. That a lot of these folks vote on the basis of what their preachers tell them (which often ranges from barely literate to just plain bigoted, to put it mildy) should be of concern. Then again, in this nation, I don't think too many people would be surprised. Taibbi points out that some people advocate trying to reason with these extremist evangelicals and their ilk, but there is no reasoning with them. Here is some of what Taibbi learned from his experience:

"By the end of the weekend, I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to be 'rational' or 'set aside your religion' about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you've made a journey like this--once you've gone this far--you are beyond suggestible. It's not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc. that is the issue. It's that once you've gotten to this place, you've left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things" (87).

If that does not spook a few people, I am not sure what will. Personally, and I have probably said this before, I am not a religious person, but I am very live and let live. If your religion (regardless of which one) moves you to be a better person and to make the world a better place, go for it. If on the other hand it moves you to ignorance, bigotry, hypocrisy, and to try to impose your narrowminded view on the rest of society, then I have no use for you. And to those who say, "oh, but not all Christians (or Muslims, or so on, because they have their extremists too) are that way," I will say, "oh, and just what exactly are you doing to tell your loud and dangerous brethren to chill and shut up?" Because if you make that claim, but do nothing, you are simply enabling them, not to mention giving your tacit approval. And let's not even wonder why a church would need a potential member to submit social security number for a background check (see page 99).

Taibbi also looks at the military, and he looks at the Left as well, where he finds that they can be just as dogmatic as the evangelicals. He even looks at the 9/11 conspiracy people. In all, what he details is a nation that pretty much has gone insane and become so polarized that they pretty much let the government to its own devices with the worse possible consequences. I bet the Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves. Citizens engaged in their democracy? That's pretty much gone by now. Taibbi tries to remain optimistic, saying that maybe by now people are not buying the bullshit anymore (265). But I just can't bring myself to believe that. I think, if nothing else, a lot of people are still drinking the Kool-Aid. Sure, a lot of people may trust their government less, and/or they may be disgusted by it after things like 9/11 and Katrina, but memories tend to be short term. So what I see is a lot of people disengage (instead of being deranged) while special interests simply keep on with business as usual. It may be a different guy in charge, but things will likely remain the same. So in the end, the book just leaves no real hope, and it displays a terrible picture of the people in this nation, not to mention the leaders they keep electing. It just shows that those who should be educating the people and giving them the truth have chosen not to do so out of greed and a desire to hold on to power. And it shows most people pretty much gave themselves to ignorance and their own (mostly flawed) narratives. Does not exactly make the work of a librarian any easier.

I want to believe, like Taibbi, that things may be looking up, even in a very small way, now, but I just can't quite see it. I already know this nation is pretty screwed up. I did not need this book to tell me (though it did make me angry at times). I don't want platitudes. I want to see some serious action, and I will go futher and say it: I want heads to roll.

So for me, this book had some funny moments, and it had some angry moments. But I don't think it is that much different from other political books I have read lately. However, for some people who may be less informed, this may be a pretty good book. I will warn readers that Taibbi can get a bit wordy at times. I would say it was an "ok" book to read during this election year.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Godfather character quiz

It is another Friday here at The Itinerant Librarian. My two readers know what that means: it's quiz time. This time we have a bit of a classic.

The Godfather
novel by Mario Puzo is one of my favorite books. As Tom Hanks, portraying Joe Fox in You've Got Mail, would say, "The Godfather answers all of life's questions. What should I pack for my summer vacation? 'Leave the gun, take the cannoli.'" But that is not the only life lesson from that book. One of my favorite lines from the novel, which you also find in the film, is one about family. Don Corleone is having to listen to his godson, Johnny Fontane, whining about his singing voice, and the Don finally snaps and chides him. He then asks, "Do you spend time with your family? Good. Because a man that doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man. " Those are words that I live by. True, I don't live them just because Don Corleone says so. Actually, my father was a good model of making sure he spent time with his family and cared for his children (and as far as I know, my dad was not a mobster). To be perfectly honest, I have no respect for a man who abandons his children. I don't care what the excuse is: if you are man enough to get a woman pregnant, you better be man enough to take care of your children. Pure and simple. I am not saying you have to get married; I understand relationships often don't work and going separate ways may be best for all involved, but you better be providing for your kids and spending time with them. But I am digressing.

Part of the reason I find myself posting this quiz this week is that I am in the middle of reading another Puzo book, The Sicilian. While not as good as The Godfather (hard to top that one no matter what you do. Kind of like Garcia Marquez after One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sure, he has written some good things since then, but that is his masterpiece against which all else is measured), it is still a pretty good read so far. Thus, it seemed appropriate that I came along this little quiz. To be honest, I am not sure I could see myself as the great Don Vito, who is extremely patient when he needs to be, unlike his eldest, Sonny, who had a fiery temper. Don Vito has that silent strength. He won't snap at you. He will simply wait and then let you have it, so to speak in a subtle yet deadly way. On the other hand, and you see this more in the book, and in those flashback sequences in the second film, Don Vito rises to power in a ruthless but reluctant way. He saw an injustice and did something about it, thus earning the position, and gradually rising in power. Kind of like having leadership thrusted upon you. And in some ways, my job these days feels a bit like that, having leadership thrusted upon me, but that is another story. And then there is the value of friendship, which proves the old saying, "it's not so much what you know, it's who you know." There is a reason Don Corleone has all those politicians in his pocket like so many nickels and dimes, as Sollozo points out. Right now, I am just working on putting some people in my pocket, if you catch my drift.

Anyhow, go try it out yourself. As long as you don't get Fredo as your result, you should be ok.

Your Score: Don Vito

You scored 90%!

I kiss your ring, Don Vito!

You are ruthless, cunning and diplomatic all at the same time. You understand the value of friendship and the importance of patience and timing in the execution of all the family's many business interests. Strong families need strong leaders.


Link: The What Godfather Character Are You Test written by Searun on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Friday, August 22, 2008

My political compass

Once again, we made it to another Friday. Since it is an election year, and the conventions are soon kicking off in the states, a political quiz seems like the right thing for this week. While personally I tend to dislike talking about politics, I don't make an effort to hide my views. While, on reflection, I am probably more on the liberal side, I share a lot with libertarians and some conservatives. If I could have a blend of good safety nets for those that need them and strong personal responsibility and accountability, we'd be to a good start in my humble opinion.

Well, here are my results for the Political Compass Test. Given it measures you on the basis of attitudes and beliefs in general, I find it pretty interesting, and when compared to other political quizzes I have tried, pretty accurate (well, for me anyways). Go give it a try.

The Political Compass

Economic Left/Right: -8.62
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.79

Monday, August 18, 2008

College kids spending less for back-to-college

Welcome once again to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. Continuing with college student woes, it seems that we have a new report that spending may be tight for those going to (or back to) college this year. According to USA Today, "College Kids Scrimp This Year." Jayne O'Donnell's article draws on the ever popular, and Itinerant Librarian somewhat regular source by now, National Retail Federation, who has put out yet another survey on how bad retail might or not do on a particular season. Some of the highlights from the article:

  • "Consumers polled say they plan to spend 7% less this year on back-to-college, or an average of $599 per family. That comes even as spending for grade-school students is expected to rise from about $563 in 2007 to $594." This is drawing from the NRF survey. It cannot be that bad if there is a little rise in the back-to-school spending. I know we just did most of our shopping for the little one, and we did spend a few bucks. But I think we did buy less this year. The better half does recall we bought less last year too. Coincidence? Who knows?
  • Who will do well? Wal-Mart: "Still, retail consultant Craig Johnson predicts Wal-Mart will continue to outperform competitors for back to school and college because of low prices and improved apparel and electronics options." I hate to admit this, but guess where we did most of the back-to-school shopping. And we did go shop during the tax holiday for clothes. Hey, every little penny counts.
And what are we blaming it on? That's right, those darn rebate checks just did not go too far. In what can only be described as a blinding statement on the obvious: "'The tax-rebate checks weren't as effective as they could have been,' says Davis of the NRF. "Nobody expected gas prices would go up so much.'" Really? Nobody could have seen this coming? Are you sure? I am thinking it may be more of nobody wanted to see the gas prices going up so much. But that would be another post.

As if things already were not bad enough that college students have to furnish dorms on the cheap, now this.

Update note (8/19/2008): Here is the NRF press release to the survey that USA Today draws from. The press release includes links to the school and college expenses surveys. A hat tip to Docuticker.

Friday, August 15, 2008

There is more to life than getting naked?

Who knew? Anyhow, it's Friday. It's not a happy Friday here at work since the campus e-mail server crashed (I am leaving it at that). The two readers of this blog know that Fridays here are often quiz Friday, and just for fun, what better than a quiz on sex, haha? Because in the end, you either have it, or you don't. Seriously folks, I don't go around flaunting, but I certainly don't hide it either. There are enough repressed people out there, and I refuse to add to their numbers. I don't think I am obssessed, but I do admit I like sex, that it's a fun part of life, and rock on. At any rate, here is the result:

You Are Extremely Sexually Powerful

Your sexual power is obvious - you don't do anything to hide your sexuality.

In fact, if there's such a thing as a person with too much sexual power, it's you.

Your life and thoughts are dominated by sex. And while it's good to be sexually liberated, you're starting to have a one track mind.

You don't always have to use your sexual power. There's more to human interaction than getting naked!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A little travel and relaxation in Summer 08

I took the road this past weekend for some rest and relaxation. Most of the summer is gone, and this past weekend was likely the last opportunity I would have to get out of Tyler. With our little one visiting her grandparents out of state (my in-laws), and the better half actually able to take a couple of days off from her very busy schedule, we left on Friday evening to spend Saturday and Sunday in Fort Worth. Fort Worth is one of our favorite destinations, and it is not too far from Tyler, which was a requirement given we only had two days to spend. We came back on Monday the 11th of August (I took some of that comp time I keep accumulating. I still have time left).

On Saturday the 9th, we visited the Kimbell Art Museum. This museum is located in what is known as Fort Worth's Cultural District. If you like museums like I do, this area of the city is well worth it. Just plan on spending a good part of the day. Initially, we wanted to see more than one museum. However, by the time we were done with the Kimbell, it was time for a late lunch, and then we wandered off as itinerant people are prone to do. Anyhow, back to the museum. This time they were featuring an exhibit of "The Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute in Chicago." Usually, when a museum has a featured a exhibit, we try to see that as featured exhibits are rare opportunities. The exhibit itself was very good with a very nice selection of works by various artists such as Gauguin, Manet, Monet, and Renoir. Personally, what I found fascinating were the works where they depicted common people and events. Maybe I have a warm feeling for ordinary folks, who knows, but such paintings were the ones that spoke to me the most. For the admission price, an audio tour was included. This is the only part of the tour where I have to give a negative review.

My better half is hearing impaired; she has what is classified as a severe loss, which as I understand it, is barely a step above being totally deaf. She is very interested in places that will provide additional materials to read along or audio, if it works with the hearing aids. This is where the staff at the Kimbell simply dropped the ball. Either they are insensitive or incompetent, or a combination of both. Allow me to explain. Once we got our tickets, we went over to the exhibits entrance. You could also pick up your audio device at the entrance, which was included in the admission price. My better half simply asked the employee how the device worked. The particular device they use at the Kimbell is similar to a telephone. Think of an old fashioned cellphone (one of the first, the bulky ones), and you have a pretty close picture of the device's size. On being asked, first the worker simply was unresponsive. His interest was mostly in "do you have a ticket?" to which my better half replied, "yes, I do, but I would like to know how the device actually works." The guy would not budge until I finally pointed out the lady was hearing impaired, and that she simply wanted to know if the device was hearing aid compatible. A simple question which he could have answered had he paid a little attention to more than whether we paid our admission (we had our tickets in hand, very visible) or not and had he shown a little charity and compassion. I guess that asking a question outside of the little routine of "take ticket, hand out device, rinse and repeat" was a little too much for him to handle. When he finally realized what we wanted to know, he had no idea of what the answer was, but my wife guessed from looking closely at the device that it would likely not work. She explained to me later that headphones tend to work better since a hearing aid (especially if you have good ones, which she does) usually has a setting to accommodate them; that is not always the case with phones and phone-like devices. We declined the devices and moved on to the exhibit. And you know what? To be honest, not having to worry about pushing the right button to hear some guided tour material was nice. We could simply view the exhibit at our own pace. Plus we got a bit of an "evil satisfaction" since apparently even normal hearing people had trouble with the darned things if the various people needing help using them was any indication. The point of this momentary rant is that the museum was clearly not prepared for someone who would not be able to take advantage of the whole exhibit experience. We were charged the full admission, regardless of whether we used the audio device or not (i.e. no discount for declining, and by the way, no other supplementary text that we could at least borrow). Even movie theaters provide devices for the hearing impaired. But what was most striking was the basic lack of sensitivity their employee displayed. And in terms of any way to complain, asking for a manager was pretty much out of the question for them. All we were told was "there is a survey form you can fill out with a suggestion." Very helpful indeed. I am tempted to send them an e-mail with a piece of my mind, but their contact section on the website does not seem to have a link for complaints or comments, and my guess is I would probably get some generic e-mail answer back anyways.

At any rate, putting the unpleasantness aside, as I said, the exhibit itself was great. The selection they borrowed from Chicago's Art Institute was very good (by the way, I have been to Chicago's AI too). They featured a very diverse set of works that depicted various aspects of French society at the time. The exhibit was laid out so as to get a sense of how impressionism evolved over time, with a very nice highlighting of women in the movement too. We spent a good amount of time admiring the works, and for me, it felt great to be immersed in the works of great art geniuses. After the featured exhibit, we went on to look at the permanent collections. They have a good collection worth a look. If you choose just to see the basics, so to speak, admission is free, which if you are just passing by, may work fine. On a very hot Texas day, spending some time in a well air-conditioned building looking at fine art is certainly a good thing.

Anyhow, by the time we left the Kimbell, it was time for a late lunch. We had lunch at Hoffbrau (the one on University Blvd). Good steak and good service. We are definitely going back when we get back in the area. The afternoon then we wandered off to find a Half Price Books (which we do not have in Tyler; Tyler overall has a serious lack of a decent bookstore), our favorite bookstore. Next door to the bookstore was a World Market (which we also do not have in Tyler), so of course we had to go in there too. We bought a few things, especially some wines. World Market is known for their wine selection, and we happen to like wine. We see wine, and we say, "ooh, shiny." Got a couple of nice bottles of some Portuguese white wine, which I hope is good, along with a few others. Usually in regards to wine, when I take a chance on something new, I am not disappointed. As for the books, we found a few things. My highlight was finding some used copies of Mickey Spillane novels. After reading I, The Jury, I have been interested in reading other Mike Hammer mysteries. Finding three of Spillane's titles was nice. Two of them were older paperbacks. You know, the ones with the pulp art. They also had a cheap copy of Paulo Coehlo's La Bruja de Portobello in hardback which I snatched right away. By the way, I read Coehlo in Spanish. Here is the Wikipedia entry about the novel I mentioned for anyone interested. We discovered Half Price Books up in Indiana, so we were happy they have them here in Texas (well, here not being Tyler). The better half, who is an avid scifi reader (reads even more than I do) got herself a few books to feed her fix.

Sunday the 10th, after sleeping in a bit, we went to the Fort Worth Stockyards. For us, when going to Fort Worth, this is always a stop. We got there in time to see The Herd in the morning, followed by a historical recreation of a gunfight. Cool, huh? Another big reason we like going to the Stockyards is Lone Star Wines. These folks feature Texas wines. In case some of you did not know, this state does produce some very good wines (learn a bit more about it here and here). The nice thing about going to Lone Star Wines is you can sample wines from all over the state without having to go all over the state (hey, Texas is big, and gas is a bit pricey at the moment). Every time we go, we usually get at least half a case (6 bottles). This time I told the nice lady there to surprise me when it came to wines to taste. I like my wines dry; the better half however likes them on the sweet side. We have learned to compromise. I was given a nice selection of two white wines and two reds (one a merlot, the other an interesting blend of reds; you can taste up to four wines for a price). After some good wine tasting, we made our selections. By the way, I do not work for them. We still have managed to visit some of the wineries in this state (that could make another blog post sometime). After all, when you have a gypsy spirit, you have to wander now and again. I did take a couple of photos, which are over on my Flickr account (see link to the account on the right bar of this blog). Overall, a couple of nice days.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Now college students may have to furnish their dorms on the cheap

Welcome to yet another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. I am starting to think that some of these practically write themselves. With serious problems in terms of the economy, the latest sign is that college students have to buy "basic" things for their dorms. According the linked article, from The Washington Post for August 5th, apparently some college students this fall have to buy cheaper stuff for their dorm rooms. Well, boo hoo hoo. I guess not having those monogrammed towels may be putting a crimp on some people's style.

Now, before someone out there says I am being mean, or that I have something against people with money, let's clarify that. If you have the money to spend, and you choose to do so, by all means live it up. You earned it, so go spend it if you feel so moved (even if I think some of your choices are less than bright). However, putting yourself in debt and living outside your means just to maintain your lifestyle or because you want matching trash can and desk set for your dorm room is not right. Learn to live within your means and stop whining about it. Articles like this, and the one I linked to previously on the rich having to cut back remind me of an old quote:

"You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question."
-J. P. Morgan Sr., in answer to a question by Henry Clay Pierce on how much it costs to own and run a yacht.

If you can't afford it, then do it. Pure and simple. Anyhow, let us look at some of the ridiculous items from The Washington Post article:

  • Incoming freshman Shira Rosenthal has a big decision: deciding which trash can for her dorm room to buy. "There is one from Pottery Barn spinoff PBteen that costs $29 and is painted in pastel colors and emblazoned with catchy eco-slogans like 'Think Green.' Then there is the plain white wastebasket from Target for just $4 -- less than the cost of a gallon of gas. Rosenthal went with the latter."
    • Are you freaking kidding me? It is a trash can. You put trash in it. Heck, I have in my home office some cheap plastic trash can bought at Wal-Mart ages ago, and I use those plastic grocery store bags to line the trash can. When I went to my dorm, I just used whatever trash can came with the room. I am so sorry for you the $4 trash can is just not as attractive.
  • But at least Ms. Rosenthal made a small sacrifice. A pity it may cramp her style. "In recent years, students stocked up on bold bedspreads, matching clothes hangers and iPod sound systems to outfit dorm rooms that increasingly resembled urban lofts, driving double-digit increases in sales in the emerging back-to-college market."
    • Back in my day, I had to "steal" a couple of towels, a twin sheet or two and a pillow case from my parents' house for my dorm room. Clothes hangers? Wal-Mart or the local thrift shop. Sound system? I was lucky if my roommate had a tv, which he brought too from his parents' house. Give me a break.
  • It is truly tragic that the days of pimping your dorm room may be at an end. Now we are talking serious sign that the economy is bad. It's not that a family may lose their house due to a bad mortgage. It's not that gasoline prices are high. The sign of the moment is that no longer will dorm rooms compete for a spot on MTV's Cribs. But don't take my word for it. Marshal Cohen, an analyst for NPD Group that does consumer behavior research, says the following: "'I don't think it's going to be about pimping up your room,' Cohen said. 'I think it's about making sure the basic essentials are up to speed.'"
  • And you know things are really up the creek when you can't even afford to have a poster in your room. Just ask 18 year old Jeff Blazer. He is having to do with the basic look of the chair, the desk, and a bed. The humanity!
Go on and take a look at the rest of the article. There are details of how some retailers are dealing with the possibility kids may be spending less (they are providing coupons and having sales. Surprised?). Of course, if mommy and daddy are doing the shopping, it seems the kids are bit less considerate. Take the example of Gia Teppers, the 17 year old headed to Rutgers this fall:

"'If I know I'm getting it, I'm probably going to get the cheaper thing. But if my parents are getting it . . . ' she said, trailing off. Well, that's a different story.

"'They have steady jobs.'"

That's nice to know Gia. We'll see if your kids say the same thing when your turn comes to send them to college.

Update note (8/18/2008): On a follow-up, Ms. Rosenthal actually sent me a note to my Facebook. She stated in the note that the monogrammed towels in question mentioned in the article were a gift, a fact that the reporter left out of the article. Just adding in the interest of balance.