Friday, July 30, 2010

Signs that the economy is bad, July 30 edition

Welcome once again to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I feel like it and can find enough links to make a post) feature where I scour the web for those oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Anyone can tell you that the unemployment rate is bad. I look for the ever so small clues, and I bring them together for my two readers. This week we have a mostly higher education edition. So here we go.

  • Via The Washington Post's College Inc. blog, it seems that most alumni these days are not about to loosen their purses to give money to their alma maters. Can you honestly blame them? The school already took oodles of money for our tuition, often in the form of loans with terms that make indentured servitude look like a bargain, and then the colleges have the gall to send cute pamphlets and letters asking for more money? Not to mention making phone calls during dinner time to beg for money. According to the post, "interviews with alumni from the nation's top 100 universities, as defined by the U.S. News & World Report rankings, found that eight in 10 young alumni -- those under 35 -- feel they have already given enough in tuition payments and don't see the need for further donations." I think if we expand the survey, we can find that those in the over 35 bracket are not feeling that much more sympathetic to the plight of their colleges. Maybe if many of those colleges would stop the arms race of building more posh dorms and rock climbing facilities and actually invested in good educational programs and faculty, not to mention scholarships, maybe the tide might change. Or I have a better idea. Maybe the states that all claim to value education can actually invest in their states' educational institutions for a change. They already got my money, and I am not giving them another penny as far as I am concerned.
  • As if things were not bad enough, it seems that work study will be harder to get for incoming freshmen and college students in general. My first job in college was a work study job at the library. Little did I know at the time that I would go on to become a librarian, but it was a good job back then. They liked it because the federal government paid part of my wages. This is still why many campus departments prefer to have work study students than just "regular" students (they would have to pay the full salary otherwise). Back in my day, many student works study jobs went unfilled; you could get higher pay (and more hours) working for a fast food joint. Not anymore. Now the students are trying to get any financial aid they can get, and work study has become competitive in terms of availability. (Found via U.S. News and World Report).
  • However, you know that things are in the crapper when a campus takes away toilet paper from the dorms. That is precisely what Texas A&M University is doing. Apparently the university "hopes to save $82,000 by ceasing to stock the bathroom essential in dormitories." And I thought we had it bad in my campus when they decided to shut off the hot water in the restrooms. In other words, after August 2011, bring your own toilet paper if you want to live in the Texas A&M dorms. (Found via Inside Higher Ed).
  • And even poor cows may be suffering from the bad economy. According to this story from The Boston Globe, agriculture colleges are selling off their herds of cows to make ends meet. The sad thing is that these herds are needed. According to the article, "the sales are taking place despite growing enrollment in agriculture programs. The herds are mainly used for faculty research." These are not just cows for fun. They are teaching tools; they are the textbooks students and professors use to learn and teach about good farming practices at a time when we probably need to learn more about growing our own food.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A little reading on who really controls the Tea Party

I just finished reading "Rogues of K Street: Confessions of a Tea Party Consultant." It was published in Playboy magazine online. I guess you can still read it for the articles. As I was reading it, I could not help but wonder why I was not reading about this in some other magazine better known for political coverage. I guess these days if you want some good writing on current affairs, you have to look in places like Playboy and Rolling Stone. The article is written by Anonymous, so take it with the appropriate grain of salt, but if you have done enough reading in other places about how the political machinery works in the United States, then this article will ring pretty true. In the end, the point is that the tea baggers (and I use the term aware that it may not be the preferred term anymore) are not as dumb as they appear. Actually, to be precise, the ones who are not as dumb as they appear are the ones whipping up frenzies behind the scenes and silently guiding the masses, who can be described by this graphic.

There were some lines from the article that caught my eye that I would like to jot down:

  • The consultant describes his people: "Combine the DNA of a flash mob, a news addict and a conservative who feels betrayed by the spending excesses of George W. Bush, sprinkle in some anxiety and you've got my people."
  • A very practical principle in politics: "donors don't contribute to lunatics." Some of those they contribute to may look like lunatics, but donors usually go with whoever looks like they have better odds of winning and then delivering what the donor wants. Those politicians may be devious, cheating liars, but they are not lunatics per se.
  • How the consultant does it, and herein lies the danger: "In other words, I talk to the same part of your brain that causes road rage."
  • Why you always need to be attentive, informed, and learn to read between the lines, so on: "It's what you won't see that's more important."
The article is certainly worth a look. I think readers may be interested also in the Michael Graham's book That's No Angry Mob, That's My Mom: Team Obama's Assault on Tea-Party, Talk-Radio Americans. I think the book was either on The Daily Show or Colbert Report, I can't recall which, but I was reminded of it as I read the article. I don't really think talk radio fans are being assaulted, but I may read the book anyways to learn a thing or two.

A hat tip to STFU, Conservatives blog.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Booknote: The Repossession Mambo

This is my review as I posted it in my GoodReads profile. This book has become one of the my recent must-read selections. When someone asks me what to read next, this is what I am recommending. The book is the basis of the film Repo Men. I have not seen the film, and I am holding low expectations of the film when I get to see it (Hollywood pretty much fucks up anything in science fiction, especially when it comes from a novel. I mean, aside from Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick is a good example of an author constantly mucked up in film). Sure, Eric Garcia is listed as having been one of the screenwriters, but an author doing the screenplay is not always a guarantee either. The film does list Forest Whitaker in the role of Jake. I will admit after reading the book, I was not sure Forest Whitaker was the guy to play Jake (I visualized someone a bit leaner for one). However, Jake does have a psycho bend to him (to say anything more would spoil things), and Mr. Whitaker does that kind of role excellently. Having gotten to the end of the book, I can say that Mr. Whitaker could certainly pull off the role. I mean, his turn in Last King of Scotland still haunts me. I will have to wait and see. In the meantime, here is my book review.

The Repossession MamboThe Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a must-read for various reasons. For one, if you like the paranoia element in works by Philip K. Dick and Alfred Bester, then you will probably like this one as well. I would say it falls somewhat in the dystopian genre (the protagonist narrating in first person can be seen as a bit similar to Winston Smith), so if you like that, this work will appeal to you as well. Next, and this is a big reason why I tell this people to read this book: it is one hell of a commentary on why we need a good universal health care system that cares for everyone. This novel basically shows the worse case scenario for managed and for profit care systems. In a way, it does for health care and for financial extremism (think the recession is bad now, imagine it worse if those bankers so on are not regulated at all) what The Handmaid's Tale does for religious fundamentalism taking over the country. Plus, the book itself is a pretty good thrill ride.

This is a world where any organ or body part can be replaced...for a price. Can't afford it? No problem. The Credit Union will be happy to work with you on financing. However, can't pay the loan? They send their Bio-Repo men to get their assets back by any means necessary. You bleed too death during the repossession? Too bad. You should have read the fine print and paid your loan. Rate of the loan too high? Looks like usury? Hey, what's that when you get a new kidney or liver instead of having to die waiting for a transplant? Sure, this is a future dystopian scenario, but are we really that far away from it. What really keeps us from selling organs in an open market? We already do have artificial hearts? Who is to say those won't get better and better over time? And why not other organs? And as health care costs keep spiraling out of control to the point where only the ultra-rich can get it, how long before some entrepreneurs come along and offer financing? How much different is that from, say, a rent-to-own joint or any other shady loan operations now? The beauty and strength of this book is that the future it portrays is all too plausible. Therein lies the true terror of it.

I won't spoil the ending, but I did have mixed feelings about it, which is why I did not go for the 5 stars. But the ending will leave you thinking. And as I said, it is a pretty engaging book overall. Definitely recommend it.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Booknote: Warrant for Terror

This is the review as I posted it on my GoodReads profile. I did find myself making a few more notes and comments about the book as I read it, which I jotted down in my personal journal but did not include in the review. As I said in the review, I think a lot of people need to be reading this book. The book is well-documented in terms of footnotes (many of the fatwas that the author is analyzing can be found online. In fact, the Internet has been a boon to radicals since they can now get fatwas that legalize their actions, so to speak, online), and it also has a bibliography for further reading.

Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to JihadWarrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad by Shmuel Bar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book's conclusion is basically something I have been saying for a while: until the moderates in the religion (Islam in this case, but a lot of what is in the book could apply to a lot of Christians in the U.S.) not only condemn, but flat out reject, denounce, and kick out of their groups the radical elements, things are not going to change. Pure and simple. A lot of radical extremism in religion thrives because of the silent majority that either says nothing (because they do not want to create dissension within the religion) or approves tacitly of what the radicals do in the first place.

I gave the book three stars, but it is not because it is a bad book. It is not a riveting book, but it is an important book that more people should be reading. Personally, I read it to further my understanding of Islam, the Islamist movement, and so on. The book works in that regard. The book looks at fatwas in Islam and the role of those documents in promoting and encouraging terrorism using Islam as the basis for said terrorism. In the end, if those who claim to be pious and decent (I am sure there are some of those folk out there) do not act, then they are as bad as the extremists. Read this book to understand how they think. To understand what motivates them. But not all may be hopeless. There is a small minority trying to use fatwas as a tool to condemn terrorism. True, they have not entered the Islamic mainstream (Islam is extremely resistant to any kind of change from within, another reason that allows terrorists to thrive), but those trying to change may be the only real way to defeat the radicals.

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Other notes I made, not included in the review:

  • Up front, I already see the problem with the religion's embrace of Islamic Law (shari'ah), which clearly does not make the concept of the separation of church and state possible. Not to mention it severely curtails individual privacy and liberty. The author writes:
". . .in practice, Islamic law tends to view the entire scope of human behavior--private and public, morality and immorality--as matters to be regulated by the precepts of shari'ah. . . ." (1-2).

  • In regards to the quote above, the last thing I want is a religion (any religion) trying to regulate my private life for openers, or impose itself on society. Yet if we look at it more broadly, we see that this aspect of Islam shares an awful lot in common with fundamentalist Christians who also want to impose their will and beliefs on the rest of us. And it seems the tendency is growing given how many so-called moderates fail to denounce the extremists, let alone counter them. It seems that the more I learn about these religions, the more clear it becomes that the extremes are not just the fringe. The extremes are a key part of the religions, and they are irrational and oppressive. As such, they need to be repudiated. If those in the religions who are pious and decent (I know they are out there) do not act, then they are as bad as the extremists. You are one of the decent ones, and you do not like me lumping you with the extremists, too bad. If you are silent, if you tolerate extremism, and do no more than just some token condemnation, you are as bad as they are. Work towards getting those extremists expelled from your religion, excommunicate them, condemn them to hell. If it makes dissension in your religion, so be it. Join the fight and purge the radicals.
  • I think the next quote makes a pretty good example of the arrogance of religion, presuming they are the only valid answer and damn everyone else. Islam and Christianity in particular share that arrogance and clear disregard for others. Bar writes,
"Indeed, Islam, like Christianity, sees itself as destined to be the only faith in the entire world, and can interpret the conversion of others as part of an obligation to implement a manifest destiny. Furthermore, because pagans are doomed to hell, converting them by force is an act of grace, saving them from eternal punishment" (22).

  • And let's not even add the fact that Mormons baptize dead people to covert them after death. Here we have another bit of evidence showing the dangers of religion to reason and decent civilization. They think they can just take over the world. Given that view, what exactly makes them any different than Nazis, Stalinists, Communists and other dictators and oppressors? (If you are planning on flaming me for saying it, don't bother. The evidence is pretty clear, and your sky fairy's book is not going to change it. In fact, your sky fairy's book might give me more ammunition to make the comparison).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Booknote: Book of Lists: Horror

My review as posted on GoodReads.

The Book of Lists: HorrorThe Book of Lists: Horror by Amy Wallace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Right away I can say that if you liked trivia, then you will like this book. If you like the horror genre in any form (film, books, tv, music, etc.), then you will like this book as well. Some readers out there may remember the Book of Lists series, and this is a pretty good entry in the series.

The book is arranged into major chapters. There is one chapter each for film, literature, music, miscellaneous trivia, and a little bit of this and that at the end. Personally, I like the literature chapter best, but that may be because I am a literature sort of person. I did find the film chapter pretty interesting as well. It does cover a pretty broad range of films, especially older films that may or not be available nowadays. You may find yourself longing to watch this or that film, or maybe watch again a film you may have enjoyed before.

The lists contain a variety of trivia and items. I do think a small weakness of the book, which is what prevented me from giving it five stars, is that a couple of lists are a stretch. There were a couple of lists of movies that "were not really horror movies but can be viewed as horror" and similar concepts that felt that the editors were just pushing. Those kind of lists just made it feel like the editors were simply pushing in stuff to fill up the book rather than something that was carefully thought out.Aside from those, and those weak lists are few, the content overall is pretty good. The editors do a good job of providing context for the lists in the form of introductory notes, which at times can be as entertaining as the annotated lists. Yes, most of the lists are annotated.

I definitely enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to any fan of the horror genre as well as anyone who just likes reading trivia books. I know there are a few items listed that I may look up to experience later, and for that, I think the book is worth it.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Booknote: The Quotable Atheist

My review of the book as I posted it on my GoodReads page. I am sharing it because I think the open-minded, skeptical people should have some ammunition in their search for truth.

The Quotable Atheist: Ammunition for Non-Believers, Political Junkies, Gadflies, and Those Generally Hell-BoundThe Quotable Atheist: Ammunition for Non-Believers, Political Junkies, Gadflies, and Those Generally Hell-Bound by Jack Huberman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want ammunition to answer the religious zealots and their less than enlightened ilk, look no further. The subtitle of this book is pretty accurate as it will give skeptics, non-believers, etc. plenty to think about and to toss back at those who like to cite verse of whatever their sacred text might be. However, do not think that this is a book of just non-believer quotes. The book does feature quotes by popes, preachers, ministers and other assorted religious leaders as well. The result is that not only do you get a quotations book, but you get a sense of arguments and conversations and debates over time. You also get some pretty interesting quotes from people you might not expect. I personally found a quote by Anton LeVay to be particularly interesting and relevant to our time. You may end up finding something relevant to your experience as well.

Besides the quotes, another strength of the book are the notes from the editor about each personality. There are a lot of people quoted here that I had never heard of before. That is not an obstacle because Mr. Huberman does give pretty good notes on each person. In addition, he often injects a bit of humor into the biographical notes. Sometimes, those little jokes are more entertaining than the quotes. I think non-believers, atheists, agnostics, and other free thinkers and open-minded people will like this book, and they may want to keep a copy handy. As for the religious, if they happen to be of the liberal stripe, they might appreciate it. The close-minded right wingers probably should skip it. OK, they probably should be reading it to expand their mind, but it is know that they would not like anything that could make them think.

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Signs that the economy is bad, July 9th edition

Welcome once more to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular feature (as in when I have time and can find a few stories to amuse myself) where I look for those ever so subtle signs that the economy is bad. Sure, we have massive unemployment, a very slow recovery, people losing their homes left and right, deficits, so on. But anyone can tell you those. It takes a little bit more work to go out there and look for the small details, the somewhat odd stories, so on that tell you that the economy is really bad. And I am happy to do it for my two readers.

Here are the stories for this week:

  • Do you want to go out to eat? Because the economy is bad, people have been cutting back on eating out. Cooking at home is suddenly becoming popular again. However, once in a while, you just feel like you want to get out of the house and have someone else do the cooking for you. That is perfectly understandable, but the money is tight. Well, if you want a chicken sandwich, Chick-Fil-A has a solution for you. In celebration of their Cow Appreciation Day, you can dress like a cow today (July 9). The promotion is "providing free combo meals to customers who arrive in full cow costume from head to toe." Now, you say things are tight, and you do not have a full costume. No problem. You can still "get a free entrĂ©e with a partial costume."
  • Things are bad all around. Not only do the middle and lower classes suffer. Even the high class folk suffer. And the Queen of England and her royal household are no exception. The horror. According to this article out of The Christian Science Monitor, "royal accounts published on Monday by Buckingham Palace suggest that the Queen, like many of her subjects, is going to have to embrace austerity by cutting spending and putting off repairs to palaces." Yes, like the rest of us she is getting a salary freeze. Maybe she should count herself lucky. At least no one is talking furloughs or lay offs for the royals just yet.
  • Romanians are trying to sell a sort-of Dracula castle for $100 million. I say sort of because apparently the only connection to Vlad the Impaler is that he was "once imprisoned in the 13th century castle for two weeks. That’s the strongest connection with the Dracula myth." Things are so tight their insurance does not cover midnight tours (I think that is a joke, or so I hope). In reality, the castle belongs now the former Romanian royal family, and like everyone else, they need to make a buck.
  • But at least the Romanians former nobles have a castle. If you are a single Chinese male hoping for some love, you can kiss that notion good-bye if you do not have a place of your own to live, preferably a house you own. According The Los Angeles Times, young men now get dumped by their girlfriends if they lack a house. The author of the article writes, "put succinctly, homeownership has become the ultimate symbol of virility in today's China." And I thought gold digging women whining about their now broke banker boyfriends was bad. Chinese women have nothing on those gold diggers. Just read about their personal ads for what they look for in a man. A sample from the article: "'I'm 25 years old, looking for a boyfriend.... I want you to have an apartment and a car.... The apartment has to be built after 2000 and the car has to be better than a minivan,' read one post on the popular Chinese Web portal Baidu."
  • Now here is a creative way to raise money. The actual event happened a few years ago, but the idea is being revisited again recently. What's the idea? Renting out a hospital (or part of it) to make adult films. Hey, if they have the space, and the filmmakers are willing to pay well for prime space, why not? (A hat tip to Jezebel).

Well, that wraps it up for this edition. Keep checking in as the Itinerant Librarian scours the Web and searches the world for the oh so subtle signs that the economy is bad.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Five or so movies I like

The Blag Hag (Jennifer McCreight) did it, so did Pharyngula (P.Z. Myers), so why the heck not? Like Dr. Myers, I am not sure I have best movies. I am more into movies I like a lot. So, let me just type a while, and see how many I get. These are basically movies that I like a lot, and they are movies that I can watch over and over. These are the movies that if they come up on TV, I will sit down and watch. It does not matter if I catch it at the beginning or not. If it's on, and I find it flipping channels, I will stop and watch it. For what it's worth, I am adding a comment or two.

  • The Godfather. I have the complete set on DVD, and I still watch it when it shows up on cable too. The first one is the best one. The second one is good; personally I think the segments on the rise of young Vito Corleone are a lot more interesting than the main story, but that's me. The third one is not so good, but I end up watching it anyways. Since I have read the book, I also find it interesting to note where the movie deviates and what it leaves out. Still, the film captures the novel pretty well. In the end, there are a few good lessons in this film. I may have mentioned this elsewhere, but one of my favorite lines is Don Corleone reminding Johnny Fontane, his godson, that " a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
  • Patton. I find the general's life interesting, but I also like it because it is the story of a guy who takes no guff from anyone in order to get results. Sure, the movie does romanticize him, but George C. Scott puts forth a fine performance, as does Karl Malden. One of my favorite lines: Lt. Col. Charles R. Codman, who is handed a letter while riding through the newly liberated Palermo tells Patton, "This is from from General Alexander, sir, reminding you that you are not to take Palermo." Patton's reply is just classic: "Send him a message, Cod. Ask him if he wants me to give it back."
  • Pulp Fiction. I love the structure of this film. It has great performances from a great cast, and it is just a cool movie overall. My favorite character in the film is Mr. Wolf (because he solves problems), followed by Jules. A lot of good lines here, but this one by Mia is good in its simple truth: "That's when you know you've found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence."
  • Conan the Barbarian. In the fantasy genre, this is one of my absolute favorites. While not perfect, the film does capture the feel of Howard's character and world. There are a couple of lines in the film I like, but this has to be my favorite, uttered by Valeria: "All the gods, they cannot sever us. If I were dead and you were still fighting for life, I'd come back from the darkness. Back from the pit of hell to fight at your side." I will also watch the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, but I will admit it is not as good as the first one. It is still entertaining.
  • Krull. I have not watched this in a while, but it remains one of my favorites in the fantasy genre. A scene that sticks with me is Ynir's meeting with the the Widow of the Web, where he sees her as beautiful as she used to be when no one else does so. The Widow of the Web tells him, "Your vision is your gift to me," to which he replies, "And your vision [as in her power of prophecy] can be your gift to me. " If that is not romantic, I am not sure what is. Plus, it's an entertaining quest movie overall.
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales. Not sure why, but I always end up watching this. I like some of Clint Eastwood's westerns better than others. High Plains Drifter is another favorite. In that one, I love the whole eerie element to it. Maybe some of it is appeal of the quiet guy that just wants to have a peaceful life, and people have to come and mess with him. Then all hell breaks loose.
  • Tombstone. Here is another one I end up watching when it is on. My favorite scene is when Wyatt Earp returns to town to exact his revenge. I love the whole "you messed with the wrong guy" vibe. The guy just wanted to retire and earn a few bucks. Is that really so hard? But nay, nay, nay, the bad guys have to come and ruin everything. Sometimes you have to draw the line. As Wyatt says, " You tell 'em I'M coming... and hell's coming with me, you hear?..."
  • Blazing Saddles. This movie is just a hoot, pure and simple. And it has plenty of good lines. Hedley Lamarr's list is one of my favorites: "I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists." Unfortunately, Taggart was not quite able to write all that down.