Friday, April 30, 2010

Five characters I relate to

This is just one of those writing for fun blog posts. Although the title of the post that inspired this is "Top 5 Characters I Relate To," I decided not to say "top" since there are more than five. For purposes of the prompt, I am sticking with just five. Here go my choices (in no particular order):

  • Ciaphas Cain, Regimental Commissar. Though Cain claims to be a coward at times (or at least very interested in self-preservation), he is more often than not very pragmatic and down to Earth. The man just wants to do his job without much fuss or fanfare. That is kind of the way I see it. I just want to do my job, do it well, and no big deal. Cain finds himself the hero, mostly because others see him as such. Don't get me wrong. He is heroic, and in spite of his instincts, usually does the right thing, which is another reason I admire and relate to this character. And though he may seem like a slacker to some, he is actually an accomplished military officer and warrior. Another trait I like: you can be good at what you do without having to tout your horn about it. Let others do that for you.
  • Admiral Festina Ramos (first featured in the novel Expendable). For starters, Festina Ramos is part of the Explorer Corps, known as The Expendables. I hold no illusions that I am not expendable as well (granted, not in the extreme that Festina is). Two, Festina is willing to do what it takes, take any risk, in order to uncover the truth and do what is right. And she has to fight a lot of bureacracy and hierarchy to do it. In a way, that is a lot of my story as well, having to fight a lot bureaucracy and entrenched interests to get done what needs to be done. That Festina is a little different (every explorer in this series is basically someone different in some way--deformed, less than perfect, so on) helps me relate as well. I am far from perfect. If I lived in her universe, odds are good there would be a black uniform of the Explorer Corps waiting for me as well.
  • Judge Joseph Dredd. There are days when I just feel a serious need to lay down the law. Unlike other lawmen, Dredd is judge, jury, and executioner. There is no middle man, so to speak. He does have a quote that can be troubling for some, but that on some days I cannot help but agree with: "Democracy is not for the people." All I have to do is look at a lot of the current climate in the United States to be convinced of this. Then again, maybe I am being influenced at the moment by the fact that I am recently finished reading Idiot America. Dredd is a man that stands alone and stands tall against a world full of corruption and evil. And there are days when I just want to say, "I am the Law!" However, I have no aspirations to management, so that is not likely to happen. But believe you me, if by some miracle it did, heads would roll because I have little to no tolerance for bullshit.
  • V, from V for Vendetta. The man is refined, cultured, a revolutionary, and an efficient killer. In the end, he is a man fighting a repressive and corrupt government. We need a good revolution, and I don't necessarily mean this in a violent sense. Having said that, a lot of administrations should go down if for no other reason than to erase their incompetence, inertia, genteel behavior (which is usually a mask for an incoming stab in the back), and overall lack of will to do what is actually right. And he is so theatrical. One has to love that. Plus, sometimes you just need to go on a good vendetta.
  • Hannibal Lecter. This may seem like a very odd choice for me, but Lecter has two traits I can relate to. One, he is cultured, refined, appreciates the good things in life, is sensual, and an intellectual. Two, he hates rude people with a passion matched by few, and he deals with them in his own way. I hate to admit this, but if I could unleash Lecter on a good number of the rude people I meet fairly often, the world would probably be a better place.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Signs that the economy is bad: the body parts edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular feature (namely I do it when I find the time and feel like it) where I go around the Internet looking for those oh so subtle signs that the economy is still bad. Sure, there may be some optimist people out there trying to claim things are getting better. They are not fooling me. So, here are the stories for this week:

  • Things are so bad that people are losing body parts. As my two readers likely know, the Apple iPad is a hot and popular commodity at this time. Thieves are out in force to steal them when the opportunity arises, and if they have to take a piece of someone's finger to do it, well that is a small price for the thieves. The poor man, who went to buy an iPad for a coworker, ended up losing part of his pinky finger when the thief grabbed the bag from his hand, taking the finger along with the merchandise off his hand (found via Obscure Store and Reading Room).
  • There is a new booming market for bull semen. Yes, you read that right. Apparently high quality bull semen, which is used to help breed high quality cattle, is a hot commodity in the black market. The product can be valued at least 20K according to the article (found via Obscure Store and Reading Room).
  • The U.S. birth rate is declining, and this is linked to the recession according to the Pew Research Center. According to the study, "the analysis suggests that the falloff in fertility coincides with deteriorating economic conditions." Could it possibly be that some people are being a bit more responsible, or at the very least, more cautious when it comes to deciding to have a child or not? Could it be some people are actually realistic and deciding to use contraception in this economy? And personally, I always wonder about stuff like this when the religious wingnuts who condemn contraception clearly show no regard for families who may have economic issues. Maybe we should have those wingnuts be the ones who pay for any unwanted children, since they seem so willing to judge and advocate personal responsibility in others but not themselves. Oh wait, deciding to put off having a child in order to maintain some economic balance would be personal responsibility. What a radical concept. I say provide the best sex education available to our youth, and I mean comprehensive sex education, and go from there. And in case any nutjob out there is planning on a flame about how "abstinence only" is the way to go, allow me to point you to some evidence to the contrary, like this study from SIECUS on "Sex Education in Mississippi: Why 'Just Wait' Just Doesn't Work" (link to press release. You can get the full report there as well).
  • And if the bull semen black market just does not work for you, maybe you can get into the Japanese stewardess uniforms black market. Japan Airlines is going bankrupt, and as a result, there is a booming black market for their stewardesses' uniforms. According to the article, "for decades, the crisp, no-nonsense outfits have appealed to male Japanese tastes. New Japan Airlines (JAL) uniforms have long been in demand in the local sex industry for customers keen on role-playing fantasies, while rare specimens that have actually been worn are hugely sought after by fetishists and are worth their weight in gold." If anyone takes a fetish seriously, it's the Japanese. So, with the airline going out of business, everything has to be liquidated, including the outfits (found via Boing Boing).
  • And speaking of airlines having financial troubles, you know that your airline is really down the crapper when it can't pay its stewardesses (or anyone else for that matter). Air Comet, a budget Spanish airline, went broke and stopped paying its workers. The stewardesses decided to make a nude calendar and sell it to raise some money (WARNING: Link NSFW for some. They do have some additional photos at the link for those interested).
  • Now, when you need to get sponsorships or sell advertising space to cover your final funeral costs, that is certainly a sign the economy is bad. Now I don't want to make light of this story about a dying man who is selling ad space on the urns that will hold his final remains, but there has to be something wrong with this world when such is necessary. On the other hand, he is handling it with some humor, and in the end, this is a story about a man who wants to make sure his wife is not burdened with the final expenses. I only wish I had some money to spare; I'd be happy to buy an ad. But I also think how long before other people feel a need to do this kind of thing?(Article found via AdFreak).
  • And a last minute entry. You have to wonder how could the economy be in any good shape when those tasked with being watchdogs so banks and financial institutions don't do shenanigans spend more time watching porn than doing their work. It turns out SEC staffers were downloading and watching massive amounts of porn while the economy was going down the crapper, you know, when all those banks and financial institutions were pretty much robbing us blind. Now, those who know me know I have a fairly liberal attitude when it comes to porn (heck, I like some porn), but for the deity of your choice, watch it in the privacy of your home, NOT at work. I would think this could go without saying, but apparently some people are not too bright.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Booknote: Idiot America

If you want a good explanation of why so many Americans (and by "Americans," I mean those residing in the U.S.) behave as ignorant idiots, then Idiot America is the book for you. The main issue is that Americans have forgotten that cranks belong in the fringes, and that cranks should stay out in the fringes. Instead, Americans have not only embraced their cranks, but they have also made them into the centerpiece of their major discussions and decisions in terms of the direction of the nation. In doing so, they have basically given up the fine traditions of education and pride in knowledge in favor of quick sound bites, willful ignorance, and pride in being plain stupid. Pierce does a good job of outlining the history of this phenomenon as well as providing examples that illustrate it. The situation is guided by three great premises which Pierce outlines at the start of the book.

I have seen a reviewer or two who claim this book is not well organized. The book reads like a good series of narratives. Each chapter features a specific story. Chapters do combine some early American history, mostly looking at James Madison and his contemporaries, and then brings in some current event to show how things have decayed. Pierce discusses events such as the Terry Schiavo case, global warming, the rise of talk radio (along with the increasing stupidity of the nation as a result), and the Dover case. I personally did find the last chapter, which looks at the last election, a bit long, but it is still worth a look as well.

This book combines a good narrative, with a little bit of humor. The text is well informed, and the information is out there if anyone feels a need to verify things or do some further reading. Pierce does cite a couple of books I have read, which were relevant to his discussion. One of them was Damon Linker's The Theocons, and the other was Allan Brandt's The Cigarette Century (this last used to show how the advertising and pseudoscience techniques of Big Tobacco have been used in more recent contexts).

I do recommend this book. Anyone interested in current affairs as well as in the situation in the United States should be reading this. However, I get the feeling that mostly people who are already part of the choir will be the only ones reading it. The less than bright ignorant people who embrace their ignorance will probably not even hear about it, and that is a shame because they are the ones in desperate need of an education. And I mean an education in the sense that people like James Madison meant, that is, a well educated citizenry able to be well informed and prepared in order to make the necessary decisions of a democracy.

* * * *

What follows now is aside from the review. You can read on or stop reading here. As I read the book, I found myself making some notes. These are some of the notes I made in my personal journal of things from the book I wanted to remember:

The Three Great Premises of Idiot America. This is basically how America is functioning these days. Don't believe me? Just watch most pundits on any cable news channel.

  • "Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units" (35).
  • "Anything can be true if you say it loud enough" (41).
  • "Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it" (43).
The next note comes from the chapter on talk radio, which does an excellent job of dissecting why AM radio is pretty much an idiotic wasteland of ignorance, bigotry, etc.
  • "After an extensive study of talk radio, and of the television argument shows that talk radio helped spawn, Professor Andrew Cline of Washington University in St. Louis came up with a set of rules for modern American pundits" (104). In other words, if you aspire to be like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Sean Hannity, these are the rules for success:
  1. "Never be dull."
  2. "Embrace willfully ignorant simplicity."
  3. "The American public is stupid; treat them that way."
  4. "Always ignore the facts and the public record when it is convenient to do so" (104).
Those four rules clearly illuminate why Rush Limbaugh on radio and Beck and Hannity on television succeed; they appeal to the lowest common denominators with entertainment and a total disregard for integrity. It does not say much about such a large segment of society that it falls for such bullshit on a regular basis while people like Rush and Beck laugh all the way to the bank.

  • "Talk radio pleads entertainment as an alibi for its most grotesque excesses while at the same time insisting on a serious place in the national discourse. It seeks camouflage against the not unreasonable notion that it's mainly a very noisy freak show. It justifies both claims by the simple fact that it moves the ratings needle. This confers upon a talk show advertising revenue, but it does not confer upon its host any real level of expertise. It does that through the Three Great Premises" (114).
I labeled this from the "people should remain stupid and illiterate department, so they are easier to indoctrinate:"

  • Pastor Mummert, one of the creationists in Dover, PA, said shortly after the case was decided (against the creationists, thank goodness): "'It seems to me,' he said, 'that it's the educated segment of society that reads the books and gets the new ideas, and that's the basis of the culture wars that we have going on now" (158).
I have a feeling that Pastor Mummert and the Taliban would get along just fine, if it weren't for that whole competing deities issue. After all, it is clear both prefer to recruit followers who are as illiterate as possible in order to brainwash them. They would not want followers asking questions. Mortenson mentioned that about the Taliban, given they dislike that Mortenson's schools teach Arabic. If the kids learn Arabic, they could read and understand the Qur'an for themselves. The mullahs would hate for that to happen. Kind of like Pastor Mummert.

On the War in Iraq, which became the current War on Terror:

  • "Americans chose not to believe those people who really knew what they were talking about. They chose to believe those people who seemed most sure of everything about which they had no clue. Expertise became a liability, a form of softness in the face of an existential threat. Expertise was not of the Gut. In the months and years after September 11, the worst possible thing was to know what you were talking about. People who knew to much were dangerous; on this the country largely agreed" (224-225, emphasis in original).
I guess being a well informed, well read, and a thinking librarian makes me dangerous now. Ther is quite a bit more from this book that made me think, but I think this will give my two readers an idea.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Dewey Number

Yep, we made it to another Friday here at The Itinerant Librarian. The two readers here now what that means. It's time for another one of those silly online quizzes. For this one, since I am a librarian, so how can I resist? Anyhow, just a little amusement, and yet, eerily accurate.

Angel 's Dewey Decimal Section:

199 Philosophy in other geographic areas

Angel = 14752 = 147+52 = 199

100 Philosophy & Psychology

Books on metaphysics, logic, ethics and philosophy.

What it says about you:
You're a careful thinker, but your life can be complicated and hard for others to understand at times. You try to explain things and strive to express yourself.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at

Friday, April 09, 2010

Open Letter to the Tyler (TX) Civic Theater

It is not very often that I use my blog to discuss local issues. But this particular issue concerns me because it is just another example of local censorship and bullying by a very vocal group of people who prefer bigotry, ignorance, and the business as usual of good old boys. What follows is the e-mail that I sent to the Tyler Civic Theater. You can find out more information about the Laramie Project on Facebook. If you are local, and you feel that the Civic Theater should not be held hostage by one or two board members reacting to some community segments that are less than enlightened, then go ahead and drop them a line.

The theater's e-mail is info (AT) tylercivictheatre (DOT) com (just replace with @ and a period in the right places).

* * * *

To whom it may concern:

I was glad to see that the Tyler Civic Theater is going to present a performance of The Laramie Project. I figured it was a great educational opportunity for the community as well as an opportunity to see a well produced play and a play that presents actual events. So I became concerned when I heard that some members of your board have taken it upon themselves to censor the production and try to remove the performance. I would hope that you are not following the example of other communities, such as Tarleton State University and their cancellation of Corpus Christi. I hope to add my voice to other voices in our community to express support for the performance. I would like to ask a few questions.

  • Are you willing to fall prey to the bullying of some close minded people guided by hate and ignorance?
  • Are you saying by your willingness to cancel this performance that there is no place in this community for presenting the truth? That there is no place to provide for dialogue about important issues that are significant to many people in this and other communities?
  • Are you saying that you prefer to be known as part of those who prefer ignorance, bigotry, falsehoods, and prejudice?
  • Are you saying that there is no room in your theater for plays and productions that may be controversial? Very often, conveying the truth does invite controversy. Controversy should be seen as an opportunity for dialogue and for education. It should not be seen as a path of fear.
  • Are you saying that the only kinds of productions you would present are only ones that are comfortable, that are easy (to produce, that will not raise a fuss, so on)?
  • Are you hoping that if no one notices, that no one will talk about this? And are you hoping that if no one talks about it, or writes about it, or brings attention to it, that the issue will simply disappear?
  • Are you saying that, in the end, there is no room for truth in your theater?
I sincerely hope that your board stands their ground, and that the production of the Laramie Project will go on as planned. I am certainly looking forward to purchasing tickets so I can come see it. In fact, I hope that you get enough support so that you can see that productions like these will be welcomed in our community and will receive a good reception.


Angel R. Rivera, MA, MLS
Tyler, TX

Signs that the economy is (STILL) bad

Welcome to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. I have not done this semi-regular (as in I do it when I feel like it and have time) for a while now. When I do it, I try to keep things light, and I try to poke fun at things here and there. However, the economic news seem to persist on things being really bad, so this edition has a blend of the amusing and the very serious.

The stories then:
  • The airlines continue their petty charging for basic services and travel needs. If you need to go to the bathroom, you better go at the airport, or you better hold it for the flight's duration, unless you want to pay. For instance, this airline is now considering charging you to go to the bathroom (via CNN) if it is a short trip. Short trip is defined as "flights lasting one hour or less." So folks, you may have to bring your own mason jar if you need to pee while in flight. No comment on how much the airline may charge you if you take a dump on the seat. Meanwhile, the asshats at Spirit Air are planning on charging passengers for carry-on luggage (via Reuters). Yes, you read that right. Bad enough you have to pay for bringing luggage that you check in, but now you have to pay for your carry-on bag. While I understand that some people bring way too much stuff in an aircraft's cabin, it does not follow you have to start charging for the carry-ons to make up for your poor financial performance. I am starting to wonder how much it might be to pack yourself in a big crate and have UPS or FedEx deliver you to your destination. Their record of getting things from point A to point B is certainly competitive in comparison to commercial airlines for one.
  • America's first (legal) male prostitute is out of work (via SF Gate). You know that the economy really is in the crapper when prostitutes go out of business due to lack of clients. Yes, I will grant that male prostitution has different mechanics that female prostitution, given that male prostitutes more often than not actually serve men, but still the story is interesting nonetheless.
  • On a more serious note, it seems that liberal arts programs are taking a very big hit (via Newsweek) in colleges and universities. Let's be honest. This is basically a matter of people wanting more value for their money and wishing to be able to get a job when they get out of college. I agree with this part of the article where it says that "among liberal-arts proponents, the concern is that students who specialize in specific careers will lack critical thinking skills and the ability to write, analyze, and synthesize information." On the other hand, I hate to say this, but how much of those skills do you need to do a lot of menial work? That is certainly what the critics on the other side will ask. What college teaches you through the liberal arts, besides giving you a good well rounded education essential to a well educated citizenry, is the ability to learn and continue learning. It is a sad day when society feels it must jettison the liberal arts because it just wants to teach job skills as in "the basics to get a job."
  • From Time magazine, it seems personal bankruptcy numbers keep going up. Of course, those poor folks who have to make the decision to declare bankruptcy may face harder restrictions thanks to the thoughtless and heartless members of Congress who gave their banking buddies a gift when they placed further restrictions on bankruptcies without regard to the people they actually affected.
  • Hell, things are so bad, even Spider-Man, or rather his alter ego Peter Parker, is getting laid off. You know things have to be bad when even comic book characters are out of work.